Walking through the rows with an award-winning winemaker

As a student, Thirty Bench winemaker Emma Garner travelled abroad, learning about Old and New World winemaking styles, before settling into her coveted position at Thirty Bench Winery in the Niagara region. Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and British Columbia were all on the list, and Garner’s passion for food and wine grew with each trip. Today, Garner’s winemaking style allows the vineyard to express itself, by making wine with minimal intervention. She loves working with Rieslings and her expertise across her portfolio won her the title of Winemaker of the Year at the 2015 Ontario Wine Awards, recognizing Garner’s consistent quality, her success and status, and her contribution to the wine industry. We sat down with Garner to learn more about winemaking.

How did you become a winemaker?
I studied enology and viticulture at Brock University. After my studies, I worked very hard in various positions, ranging from vineyard worker to retail positions. From here, I landed a contract being an R and D winemaker and eventually worked my way up to senior winemaker—15 vintages later!

How do you transition from someone who enjoys wine to wanting to be a winemaker?  
Good question! I think it takes an internal desire to understand something you love in more depth. What better way than to find a job that lets you do that, year after year?

What is a typical day on the job like for you?
Very diverse, and there is never a dull moment. My days are filled with barrel tastings, guiding other winemakers, meeting with wine writers, scouting vineyards, promoting our wines within the industry etc. At harvest, all of my attention is spent walking the vineyards, deciding upon harvest days and times, processing schedules, tasting juice and making wine. I am always using my senses (sight, smell and taste) everyday, all year.

Would you encourage more women to pursue this profession?  
Yes. It is a very rewarding career and a very demanding one. A good support system is integral to being successful.

What is the best part of your day?  
My favourite part of my workday is getting an early start in the vineyards. Walking through the rows as the sun rises is incredible. At the end of the day, I love coming home to my family and enjoying a glass of wine with my husband.

What’s your favourite wine?
My favourite wine to make is the wild cask Riesling. I love its rich textural character and the difficulty in making it.

Does a winemaker bring or impart a particular style to the wine he or she makes? If so, what do you bring to the wine that you make?
Absolutely, the same way artists leave their mark on their art. I try to allow the vineyard to express itself with little intervention, just some guidance.

What are the best types of wine coming out of Niagara?  
I love the Rieslings, the new increased interest and focus on sparkling and Cab Franc.

What is your favourite wine and what do you serve it with?
Really depends on the day and time! I love Champagne with oysters, but in the wintertime a nice hearty Barolo with a roast is spectacular!

By Cindy McGlynn

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