A Niagara College graduate of viticulture and award-winning winemaker, Casey Kulczyk’s work emphasises the role of ‘place’ in producing complex and high-quality grapes. “They act as a canvas for the environment they come from,” he says. As lead winemaker at Westcott Vineyards in Jordan, Kulczyk’s work reflects a deep curiosity toward the unique relationship one can have with wine, particularly those created through the lens of pinot noir and chardonnay.
We caught up with Kulczyk, this month’s winemaker-in-residence, to talk about all things winemaking—including new innovations and the impact of a Canadian climate.
Tell me about your introduction to the world of wine?
I discovered wine as a university student when I was seeking something to enjoy with friends that offered a bang for my buck. I naturally found myself growing more interested in the background and complexities of the wines I was choosing—it very quickly captured my attention and imagination. I eventually went on to study viticulture at Niagara College, and developed a real curiosity for the impact place and craft have on winemaking. That curiosity has ultimately led me to where I am now.
How did you know Westcott was the right fit for you?
The Westcotts and I have a shared intrigue and appreciation for the concept of pinot noir and chardonnay. Our relationship started about four years ago with a conversation over one too many tastings. We were an immediately good match based on our paralleled visions and interest in the nature of these wines, and an emphasis on things like soil health and climate.
How does your typical work day evolve with the seasons?
In late summer into fall, the harvest is the crucible of the entire wine season. I believe deeply that the vineyard’s characteristics provide a great deal for the end product, so we spend a lot of time in the vineyard tasting, testing and evaluating, which leads to the picking process. Pinot and chardonnay tend to be early ripening varieties, so our vintages tend to rely on an intensely busy period in the late fall as we prepare them. Winter is the time of year when we complete a lot of prep work, especially for the busy summer season where we see an influx in visitors to the vineyard.
Westcotts’ wine library emphasizes pinot noir and chardonnay, what makes these two grapes special?
For consumers, the ability these grapes have to reflect and characterize the place that they’re grown is a really special thing. They’re always varietal in their own way, which makes our product especially unique. The way that these grapes can tell a story; I don’t think it is paralleled by any other variety.
How does Canada stand up against the rest of the wine world?
There are a lot of unique challenges in Canada when it comes to growing grapes, not only considering our winters but also the humidity we experience year-round. Though I think we’re producing a resilient wine that reflects this challenge, and working with it. Canada can certainly hold its own in the global arena of wine, and I know we’ll only continue to develop an international interest.
In winemaking, what do you consider more important: tradition or innovation?
I’d like to think that Westcott operates with a combination of both. It’s important that we find innovation that furthers the quality of our product while, as a newer market, also establishing our own sense of tradition. We use technology where we know it can benefit us and we’re certainly trying to find new ways to be more efficient and sustainable. We also tend to lean more often than not to the traditional, patient style of winemaking. One of the most important things that I’ve had to learn is to trust the process.
Which wines have you selected to share with Toronto Life Wine Club members?
We’ve got three quintessential Westcott wines: our 2019 Sparkling Rosé, 2020 Estate Chardonnay and our 2018 Estate Pinot Noir. I’d say it’s a pretty good reflection of our work.
Is there a wine and food pairing you can’t live without?
I love pairing sparkling wine and buttered popcorn. It’s a good balance between the fatty butter on the popcorn and the acidity and effervescence of the sparkling wine—a bit of a classy-trashy combo.