Between the Lines
THE WINE ECONOMIST: GREG WERTSCH
My focus is on running the winery and setting the tone. We have created wines with an international profile and a heavy emphasis on cold climates. We have very little competition. That’s what makes us so successful. People recognize the wines, but they’re different. Not too different, but unique enough to create interest. We decided to bet on varietals that grow well, instead of just having the popular names here at Between the Lines. This was partly based on our education and knowledge of cold regions and styles and also from our experience as grape growers.
A lot of times people try to imitate the wine styles from other places in the world, but we believe Niagara has its own story to tell.
My brother and I are solid partners. Yannick is focused on details — he doesn’t miss a thing. He works long hours and is as willing as I am to put in whatever it takes to put Between the Lines on the map. What do you say about a guy who finishes his workday in the middle of the night with a smile? He’s very skilled and knowledgeable. This place was built on our ideas and sweat. If we were both winemakers, it would have imploded years ago.
It took us a little while off the farm to learn that we wanted to be on the farm. I started in microbiology but our program was moved into the basement. No windows! I thought I would die down there. I spent that summer working on the farm and knew then that that was where I wanted to be. I went back and studied Wine Economics at Geisenheim.
With my background, I also looked at teaching and began working at Niagara College. With our combined training, my brother and I decided to not only grow the grapes, but to produce wine. Our ignorance was a blessing. Had we known how much work it all was and how long it would take, we might not have started.
Some people assume we’re a couple of rich kids who inherited a winery. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
A good family friend was an early investor and gave us a great deal of business insight. He passed away recently and it was a major loss for us. He spent a lot of late nights out here. He waded in and got dirty, lifting and moving buckets. He was fantastic. Getting the business off the ground, it was great having someone with his expertise at our side.
I love all of our wines, but our flagship is the Lemberger. It’s hard to grow the kind of reds the market is familiar with because they’re sensitive to cold and the fruit can rot during warm and rainy falls. We’re very proud to use the Lemberger varietal from Austria. It’s just right for the region and no one else that we know of has it. Our Vidal is also special. As a hybrid, it’s generally not that popular but we created a great wine and it’s one of our best sellers. Everyone has a favourite, but the Vidal is a surprise to skeptics.
People come here for the wines. You can put on a show, but that doesn’t mean people will be back. Our customers enjoy coming here and supporting us. When I ask them why, they mention the wines and atmosphere… oh, and that my brother is cute. Of course, our support relies on the continued quality of our wines. We take that very seriously. Next, we’ll be making a sparkling wine. It’s exciting. We’re young. We can play around a lot. Our core wine styles are set and very successful. It’s a labour of love, but when it’s perfect, you have to leave it alone. Or make new wines.
Some people assume we’re a couple of rich kids who inherited a winery. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything we built here we worked for. Really, we are just two wine fanatics who started a winery on their parents’ vineyard and have put everything they made back into it.
I used to have ‘hobbies.’ I used to play saxophone, soccer… If I had spare time, I’d fill it with friends and family. Now my hobbies are running the winery, wine marketing, and selling wine. Sometimes I think of taking out a gym membership, but I’d buy it and never go.
THE WINEMAKER: YANNICK WERTSCH
I started home winemaking in high school, then studied winemaking and viticulture at Niagara College. Then, I went to Weinbauschule University in Weinsberg, Germany to further my studies. At Between the Lines, we try and combine best of two worlds: the old world traditions and new world innovations adapted for the Niagara grape.
My brother and I get along very well, so our business works. Greg has always liked talking more than I do. I’d rather be in the background, the quiet one, so it’s nice to disappear into the cellar sometimes and work by myself. We’ve worked together in the vineyard for 14 years, so something must be right.
Greg is very good with planning. He develops our business strategy and is great at forecasting. He designed our retail spaces himself. We want people to feel comfortable visiting us. They shouldn’t feel out of place walking in wearing a pair of shorts.
In Germany, my grandfather had an old-style, mixed farm — agriculture, livestock, and grapes. When we came to Canada, my father purchased the farm and we went back to our roots. We actually tried to get out of the wine world at first — I was looking at computer programming and my brother started studying microbiology. I just couldn’t stand being inside, staring at a computer screen all day.
I have a good start, but no one can know everything about wine. The winemaker’s job, simply put, is to not screw up. There is no ‘better’ wine, just different wines. It’s fun producing the varieties we have here. We make a lot of unique wines.
For our main line up, we wanted to be as down to earth as possible. People like easy drinking and don’t always want a heavy, complex wine. We only barrel-age our reds three months. Some people get fussy about it, but I’m allowing the region to speak for itself instead of influencing it through aging or other winemaking processes. Most of the quality comes from the grape itself and I aim to maintain and flatter that quality. The grape influences 60% of the final wine. 30% is the fermentation, and the last 10% is the art of finishing.
There is no ‘better’ wine, just different wines. It’s fun producing the varieties we have here. We make a lot of unique wines.
We finish our wines through our wine club. The first year, we got 50 people together, a mixed group of casual wine, beer, and spirit drinkers. We poured different wines and when even the beer and spirit drinkers liked one, we knew we were on to a style. With our wine club, we want to invite different people in for their insight. They’ll taste five versions of each wine blind and then pick their favourite of the group. The highest score dictates the wine we move forward with. We will engage our community in the wine styles we produce.
I do love meeting the people who tour the winery. I’ve gotten quite good at bringing people in to what we do. Most people are very interested in our wines, so there’s a lot of great conversation. It’s long hours, but it’s one of the most rewarding jobs. You see it through everything, from planting to harvest to finishing to watching people enjoy it.
I’ll tell you a secret… part of my studies was also distilling. I want to make schnapps someday. There’s so much fruit that’s wasted in the region and it’s perfect for schnapps.