One question that often arises in the wine world is: “Where did your love affair with wine begin.” For me the answer was in a glass of 2006 Foreign Affair Cabernet Franc. This Niagara wine was made from 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes to which an appassimento process had been applied. While a true appreciation of this wine cannot be had through a breakdown of its components, it had aromas of raisin, licorice and black cherry and a palate of raisin, chocolate, black cherry and plum, with a luxurious, rich mouthfeel. Most importantly, it was a wine which left me wanting much, much more.
Since then, I have come to love the whites even more than the reds because they are like no other wines I have encountered. This winery specializes in Amarone style wines and applies the appassimento process to all of its varietals (including the whites) save for their icewine. Foreign Affair’s white wines are also rich with a full mouthfeel, and a lingering finish. They are not for the typical white-wine drinker. I doubt they are designed to simply be quaffed; instead these are wines which should be taken seriously.
As a student of oenology and viticulture at the time, I needed to know more. How was this wine made? What made it so much better than everything else I had tasted before? Why were all of the wines at this winery so spectacular?
And thus my quest began. My journey led me to discover that the winemaker, Andrzej Lipinski, also was working for another winery – Organized Crime. While the wines at this winery were very different in style (more reminiscent of Bordeaux), they, too, were spectacular. The more of Andrzej’s wines I tasted, the more I needed to know about the man responsible for the wines I had grown to love.
What I found out was as interesting as the wines themselves. Andrzej Lipinski came to be a winemaker quite by accident. He was born and raised in Poland. As a young adult, he achieved much success as an auto-parts salesman. In 1989, he decided to emigrate to Canada. Prior to moving, he quit his job in order to learn construction. Upon his arrival here, he worked odd construction jobs and supplemented his income by picking grapes. Later, he worked doing maintenance for John Howard at his home. In 1992, John Howard bought shares in Vineland Estates. After the carriage house burned down, Andrzej was hired to do renovation work. The winter of 1993 was very cold and there was little construction work available. In order to support his family, he asked John if he could work in the cellar. Over the course of the winter he began cleaning and organizing and was eventually asked to stay. He then began the process of developing his palate as he had never really been a wine drinker. After two years, in 1996, Andrzej became the assistant winemaker. Finally, in 1998, Andrzej was asked to make his own wine.
He was permitted to choose any white varietal and had full control over the winemaking process. He chose Chardonnay due to both its popularity and the vinification options he had available to him at the time. Like everything Andrzej does, he gave this project his full attention. Every decision he made had a focus on quality; he chose old vines, watched the vineyard daily, hand picked in bushels, hand sorted and destemmed. He made eight barrels of this wine and when complete, it was chosen to be the reserve Chardonnay for the 1998 vintage. The winery decided to submit his wine to Vinitaly in 1999 and his wine won a gold medal.
In 2002, Andrzej left Vineland and has since gone on to win many awards and much acclaim at wineries such as Legends, DeSousa, Fielding, Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime. He feels it is important to keep moving in order to keep evolving as a winemaker. Andrzej’s need to learn and apply himself can be easily seen in his love of winemaking in poor vintages because of the challenges that they present, and cool climates for their need to adapt to each vintage. His much deserved pride in his work was evident when I asked him what he finds to be the biggest problem facing the Canadian wine industry today, and he replied the lack of a true free market. He feels as though Canadian wine should be treated as a food product as it is elsewhere in the world and that if this were to happen, then Canadian wine would be able to compete with wine from anywhere else in the world.
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber once said, “What I love about wine is the joy of discovery. It’s the fact that wine is so obviously affected by what people do to create it.” I feel that as long as Canadian wine continues to be made by individuals such as Andrzej, he is correct in his assumption that there is the potential for Canadian wine to be among the best in the world, as his wines have clearly already demonstrated.