NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — It was two years ago, almost to the day, that Wayne Gretzky and Andrew Peller Ltd. announced they would be opening a winery and distillery in the heart of Niagara’s wine country. This weekend, they’ll celebrate the official opening with a three-day party.
The 23,000-square-foot winery and distillery, which had a soft opening last month, marks the largest single investment in a winery to date by Andrew Peller Ltd. The design is a modern barn-like structure meant to pay homage not just to the hockey barns Canadians, like Gretzky, grew up playing hockey in but it also harkens back to the large red barn on his grandfather Tato’s farm.
Guests entering the winery will find themselves stepping into the Family Room where they can see an enlarged picture of the Gretzky homestead, along with several other snapshots from the family throughout the generations. Like Gretzky’s parents, Walter and Phyllis on their wedding day, childhood snaps of him with his four siblings and shots of the famed hockey player with his wife, Janet, and their five children.
Personal touches are rampant throughout the winery, with visitors walking down “memory lane” as they make their way to the tasting bar. Lining the hallway walls are photos of Gretzky throughout his hockey career, including a shot of his first goal ever on the family’s backyard ice rink. In the tasting room there are framed photos of Gretzky meeting other sports icons and celebrities.
On the way down to the barrel cellar, which can play host to intimate tastings and special events, there are alcoves where certain aspects of Gretzky’s career and accomplishments are highlighted, including his time with Team Canada, the Edmonton Oilers, and major milestones from his time in the NHL.
In the stairwell on the way to the Club Lounge several of Gretzky’s framed jerseys hang, including one from his days on the Los Angeles Kings. The lounge, has a loft feel with its private tasting bar and scenic views of the estate’s backyard that features a whisky patio and a water feature that will turn into an ice rink once temperatures hit seven-degrees Celcius or lower. Gretzky buried a loonie at centre ice during a groundbreaking ceremony in October 2015. The Club Lounge will be used for private receptions and for club members.
The new building is more than just a museum for Gretzky and hockey fans alike, it’s also a functioning winery and distillery where wine and whisky lovers will meet.
Driving down Niagara Stone Road, the distillery’s copper stills, visible through floor to ceiling windows, are hard to miss. Joshua Beach was brought on board as the master distiller, overseeing production of Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask Canadian Whisky, launched last October, as well as the more recent products, a new Ice Cask premium whisky and Ninety Nine Proof, a small batch premium whisky. Those are both available exclusively at the distillery for purchase.
Craig McDonald, vice president and winemaker at Wayne Gretzky Estates, said the Red Cask gets its name from the whisky’s aging process — it is finished in wine barrels. The Ice Cask is a golden bronze-coloured whisky finished in Wayne Gretzky Vidal Blanc Icewine barrels and the Ninety Nine Proof is a deep amber bronze-coloured whisky finished in Wayne Gretzky Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
“It gives the whiskies a unique and refined taste,” he said.
The wine and distillery sides have collaborated on a line of artisanal spirited wines, with McDonald selecting the finest Muscat and Vidal grapes for Beach to use. The spirited wines are available in the retail store.
Fresh off a big win for best red blend at the Ontario Wine Awards, McDonald said it was the perfect timing for the opening.
“We’ve been a sub brand within a big company, we now have a sense of place and a presence in wine country,” he said. “You’ll see more of our high quality offerings.”
Andrew Peller Ltd’s other properties in town, Peller Estates and Trius, have become known for their estate experiences; Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery is no different. In addition to winery and whisky tours, there is also a Red Line wine-and-food pairing experience held on site, and the Whisky Bartender experience held daily where guests learn insider tips on how to create the ultimate whisky cocktail, with recipes provided by mixologist Zac Kvas.
This weekend, the facility will be on full display during the three-day grand opening happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day has a different theme.
Things kick off with Food Truck Friday featuring fare from Johnny Rocco’s and Wickedly Sinful, along with vinyl spinning in the vineyard. Sounds of Saturday will have live music along with whisky cocktails and games. Seafood Sunday features seafood selections from Buster’s Sea Cove food truck and Chef Frank Dodd’s Shrimp BLT.
While the winery and distillery, located at 1219 Niagara Stone Rd., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., opening weekend events take place from noon to 9 p.m.
By Melinda Cheevers, Niagara This Week