In July of 1985, Stoney Ridge Cellars became the 18th licensed winery in the fledgling Ontario wine industry. The winery had inauspicious beginnings at the Weylie farm on Ridge Road in Stoney Creek, consisting of a small barn and garage that served as a retail boutique. Under the direction of Winemaker Jim Warren and his two business partners, Stoney Ridge’s first vintage consisted of 500 cases of 11 different wines, produced entirely by hand. Stoney Ridge Cellars had a commitment to “make small amounts of the very best wine possible from Ontario Grapes.”
Four years later, Stoney Ridge Cellars had increased production to 4,000 cases annually. With the uncertain beginnings of Free Trade and its effects on the young Ontario wine industry, the government came to grape growers with ‘The Pull-Out Program’, providing wine grape growers a financial remuneration to remove all of their vines. Jim’s partner agreed to the government’s offer and removed his grape vines, replacing them with Christmas Trees. Jim realized he needed a new partner/grower more committed to Ontario wine.
In 1989 Jim formed a new partnership with a Winnona grape and tender fruit farmer Murray Puddicombe. The new facility was upgraded with more sophisticated winemaking equipment and was located just below the escarpment from the original location. With greater access to a wider selection of grapes, a new bottling line and more tanks and barrels, the Stoney Ridge wine portfolio grew by leaps and bounds.
By 1997 production was at 26,000 cases annually with over 60 different wine products. Stoney Ridge developed a reputation for having unique and exotic wines that all possessed the inimitable style that was a signature of winemaker Jim Warren. Jim and Stoney Ridge became very well known by wine writers and enthusiasts alike, garnering more awards than any other Canadian winery. Innovative products such as Canada’s first Unoaked Chardonnay and Cranberry Fruit wine captured the attention of the public while award winning classic varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc boosted the winery’s industry status. Jim’s efforts were officially recognized when he was awarded Winemaker of the Year in 1997. Although tremendously successful, the partnership between the two owners dissolved as the two decided to singularly re-direct their respective business practices.
Stoney Ridge’s third phase was generated by a new partnership with an Ottawa-based investment group and a re-location to the heart of the wine industry, Vineland Ontario. A small operation called Wines of Woods End merged with Stoney Ridge to lend their marketing expertise. The winery continued to produce benchmark wines winning international acclaim such as the Civart Trophy in Bordeaux France. Jim made the decision to sell his ownership portion of the winery to better focus on winemaking.
In the spring of 1999, Jim announced plans for his retirement from Stoney Ridge, and began to mentor assistant winemaker Liubomir Popovici to take over his role. Liubomir was the former chief winemaker for Romania’s largest wine and spirits producer, and brought excellent credentials to his role, making a smooth transition in 2000.
As a business, Stoney Ridge Cellars entered a tumultuous time for the remaining owners had differing views of the company’s direction. All was resolved in April of 2002 as Stoney Ridge began refocusing the winery towards the craft production of premium Niagara wine. With the edition of a Pinot Noir vineyard to the winery property, the winery name was changed to Stoney Ridge Estate Winery. This decision reflected the commitment to continue the Stoney Ridge tradition of honouring viticultural excellence and winemaking expertise begun by Jim in 1985, while maintaining its strict quality-controlled output of 40,000 cases of VQA wines.
Today, Stoney Ridge Estate Winery produces a wide array of 100% Niagara wines, featuring more than 30 products that include a full complement of VQA varietals, ports, and Icewines. In addition Stoney Ridge continues to produce one of its trademark products – the popular Cranberry Wine. In a unique return to his winemaking roots, Jim Warren created a new Founder’s Signature Collection for Stoney Ridge. Representing a creative partnership between the current winemaker, Gordon Robert and Jim, this unique bottling will reflect Jim’s personal winemaking philosophy of producing the best wine possible from the best grapes grown.
In October of 2002 the Stoney Ridge Wine Library was unveiled, a unique collection of limited edition wines and back vintages previously unreleased to the public. The library is a unique window into the history of winemaking at Stoney Ridge and of the Ontario Wine Industry as well.
The Stoney Ridge name has always been synonymous with quality and outstanding vintages. With Gordon’s passion and talent Stoney Ridge continues to receive accolades, recognized for the uncompromising commitment to quality. The discovery and opening of the Stoney Ridge Wine Library is testament to that continuing quest for quality, proof of Niagara’s depth and winemaking expertise, and the development and maturation of the Ontario wine Industry. Stoney Ridge will play a key role in this continuing evolution.