Getting to Know Foreign Affair Winery

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Getting to know foreign affair winery, nestled in a tiny community in Southern Ontario is a winery like no other. 

The Foreign Affair winery (FA) is the product of one couple’s interest and passion in appassimento style wine while stationed in Italy on diplomatic business. When they moved back home to Canada, Len and Crispino were looking for a new adventure and decided to bring this style of wine to the Niagara region

They bought a plot of prime farmland, planted some vines, and began the hard work necessary to create a piece of Italy in Canada. Through sheer will, persistence, a “whole lot of passion” they did what few expected they could – created a successful Canadian cold climate winery devoted to a classic Italian style of wine. 

A truly Foreign Affair.

General manager, Rae Gibson, shares some of the things that make FA worthy of your notice, and your glass.

In the beginning

Foreign Affair’s was always intended to specialize in appassimento style wine, where the grapes are dried before fermentation. The traditional way to do this is to lay the grapes out on straw mats and let them shrivel and dry in the sun. This concentrates the flavor and makes the wine intense and pronounced. 

When the Crispinos created the winery in 2000 they planted it with completely new vines. The first vintages were a challenge. Gibson says the first vintage was stored in a friend’s garage and, despite some grapes freezing, they managed to produce 96 bottles. The numbers may have been small, but the wine was already great. 

Since then they have experimented with greenhouses (the humidity proved dangerous and damaged the grapes). Before moving on to drying barns, which is now their preferred appassimento method. 

All in on Appassimento

Appassimento style has helped to differentiate the winery. While they weren’t the first do it (that was Magnotta Winery in the early 2000s), FA is unique in that every wine they make has been some kind of appassimento process. 

Working with the climate and the ambient environment of the barns, the hand-picked grapes are placed on racks and stacked, ready for time and air to work their magic. The grapes can take 1-3 months to dry depending on the varietal, which means fermentation at FA often happens much later than other wineries in the area. Gibson said that it is sometimes Easter before the winemaking team begins the bulk of their work, making for a kind of perpetual harvest at the winery.

Enter Corby Wine and Spirits

2017 FA was purchased by Corby Wine and Spirits, a Canadian wine and spirits importer and marketer. Both parties were invested in a smooth transition and committed to the longevity of the winery. 

The Crispinos stayed on for the first year to provide guidance and input before moving into retirement. Gibson, who came to the winery from Corby, says that Corby Wine and Spirits looks at the acquisition more as an evolution and not a revolution. 

Looking ahead, there will be small changes to the labels to help differentiate the wines and a new winemaker has come on board. We have plans to introduce new wines to the FA family. The purchase allowed FA to buy a new press and plant new vines. Beefing up their existing varieties and adding Malbec to the roster.

Flagship Cabs

Two flagship wines at FA are the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Ontario cabernets can be overshadowed by more famous cab regions like California and Bordeaux, but Gibson insists that Niagara can do big, luscious cabs too. FA’s cabs challenge people’s perceptions of Niagara wines and of what a truly great cabernet can taste like.

FA’s 2015 cabernet sauvignon contains about 20% appassimento style grapes, adding weight and body to the wine. This shows blackcurrant and dried cherry flavours with vanilla and hints of tobacco and spice and is similar to the warmer climate Cab Sauvignon that people are used to. This is a great wine to pair with grilled red meats, especially steak.

The 2016 Apologetic Red is prime Canadiana. With an adorable moose on the label that says “Sorry” in script across it. Rae Gibson encourages us to defy conventional wisdom that red wines should be served at room temperature. “Room temperature was right … when we lived in castles,” she quips. Put it in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to give it a slight chill. Pour it into a glass with a big bowl. This will give the wine ample room to breathe, channeling the aromas and directing the wine to hit your palate in all the right places. 

Gibson recommends giving both a chance. “A lot of people don’t think of a cool climate like Ontario first for cabernet sauvignon, but we have some amazing ones,” she says. “Cabernet Franc can be a polarizing wine, but it grows incredibly well in Ontario. It’s a matter of experimenting and finding a cab franc you really like.”

The 2019 vintage

Gibson is not one to say too much too soon. 

“You really don’t know for sure how the vintage is going to be until we get the grapes off the vines. Crush and ferment them,” she says. “You truly never know what you are going to get with each vintage. We have had favorable conditions so far.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait a see – or taste.

Scroll to Top