Quarry Rehab Adds Flavour to Niagara’s Wine Industry

What started as an experimental 10 acre vineyard has become an agricultural success and a benchmark for rehabilitation practices in the aggregate industry. Edgerock Vineyard, Walker Aggregates’ quarry rehabilitation project, began in 1999 through a partnership with the University of Guelph to research and develop a protocol for agricultural rehab. The goal was to create a successfully functioning vineyard on extracted land.

The vineyard area, currently sitting on 26 acres of the quarry’s licensed property, is situated near the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, south of Vineland. The area was extracted in the 1980s and rehabilitated to agricultural land according to the site plans.

In 1999 during Phase 1 of the experiment, the remaining quarry overburden was moved and regraded to shape the vineyard’s south-facing slope. During Phase 2, soil was tested and amended and a cover crop was established. Phase 3 began in 2000 with the planting of 12,000 vines comprised of six red grape varieties. By the end of the growing season that year, the vines were well established.

The vineyard’s first harvest came in October 2002 and it has since continued to develop. The next 15 years saw an additional 16 acres of plantings, improvements including a drip irrigation system, and the introduction of a new compost product (produced by Walker’s sister company Walker Environmental) to enhance the growing process.

Over the years, grapes from Edgerock Vineyards have been used by many local wineries, some of whom are neighbours to the quarry. In early 2018, Walker Aggregates formed a new partnership with Vineland-based Megalomaniac Wines, and the winery is now set to purchase this year’s entire harvest.

“Niagara has so much variety in terms of what it can offer to the wine industry,” says Sebastien Jacquey, head winemaker for Megalomaniac. Jacquey, who has been involved in the wine industry for 17 years, notes that Walker’s vineyard is of particular interest to him when creating his wine blends. “Everything under the ground has an effect on the taste of the grape. The limestone bedrock in Vineland’s vineyards, including Walker’s, tends to add more flavour to the grape varieties and the wines,” he explains. “In other growing areas, you may find less flavour and higher acidity. The key to making good wine is finding the right balance when blending together grapes from different growing regions.”

Ken Lucyshyn, executive vice-president for Walker Aggregates is proud of the partnership and says, “having Megalomaniac use our grapes to produce their wine is a perfect partnership for us. It allows us to contribute to the local community and economy in new and innovative ways as we continue to revolutionize rehabilitation practices for our quarries.”

So, how many bottles of wine can be produced each year from the grapes of Walker’s Edgerock Vineyard? “Roughly 65,000 bottles,” says Jacquey as he looks out across the vineyard. For Walker and the community, that’s an experiment that’s turned into a rehabilitation accomplishment they can harvest for years to come.