OXFORD STATION – She’s a federal public servant, he’s an Ottawa software designer. Marie Saverimuttu and Richard Deslandes share much in common… but not in their day jobs.
Where the couple really comes together is along County Road 44 south of Kemptville where they’re reviving Green Gables Vines Winery bottle by bottle.
Steady-as-she goes Deslandes is the winery’s Mr. Fixit, repairing and expanding equipment, building new washrooms, managing the harvest, trimming and supporting vines, testing new varieties in the five-acre vineyard. With her percolating personality, Saverimuttu is out front, welcoming wine tasters on weekends and taking care of the bookkeeping.
In the tastefully decorated retail shop, Saverimuttu ensures COVID-19 precautions are in place such as social distancing and masks upon entering. Customers remove the masks for tastings while Saverimuttu keeps hers in place.
Saverimuttu is a reluctant winery owner. Seven years ago, she bought the Green Gables classic white and green homestead. The vineyard came with it. Rather than plow the vines under, she decided to rehabilitate the property and continue making wine.
Deslandes lives nearby. For about 30 years, he made wine as a hobby and is stepping up his game as Green Gables winemaker. He says the partners chose to offer an organic, high-quality product which means lower volume: “There are no herbicides or pesticides used . . . we accept a few weeds in order to get better, healthier wine.’’
There are 4,000 winter-hardy vines planted on the Green Gables property, varieties which have withstood temperatures of -35 C. The vineyard is situated next to a climate modifying hillside, surrounded by mature forest, with plenty of southern exposure. It’s rocky soil with sandy loam and a limestone base.
Deslandes is pleased with the progress of the lush vines this season, pointing out recent heat waves and intermittent showers have the grapes ahead of where they would normally be, potentially leading to an earlier harvest when he expects to collect seven to nine tonnes of grapes.
The samples coming across the bar on a recent Saturday are all palatable whites, roses and reds, some made with the grapes growing outside the door and others with grapes shipped in from Niagara Region. The offerings have catchy names like white Honey I’m Home, Blushing Daisy, a rose, and red Kissing Bridge; they have equally catchy labels including the Green Gables homestead on Honey I’m Home, a bouquet of pink daisies and a covered bridge matched with the obvious titles.
Honey I’m Home is a blend of five Green Gables grape varieties including Delisle, Louise Swensen, Prairie Star, 6-16-10, and Frontenac Blanc; there’s a related label, I am Home, a dry version. Blushing Dairy is made from the vineyards hardy hybrid Sabrevois grapes, while Kissing Bridge, with its “cotton candy aroma,” is derived from Frontenac red grapes. Most selections are $15 a bottle.
Green Gables is one of a handful of wineries which have sprung up around Eastern Ontario over the past 15 years, a region where wine snobs once decreed decent selections couldn’t be produced because of cold winters, late springs and lingering frosts.
But that all changed with hardy grapes developed mostly in Minnesota, varieties resistant to cold, allowing for enough maturing time.