Welcome to Kirby Estate

Welcome to the inaugural communication from Kirby Estate. Our story is one about “place” and as newly minted vignerons, about “stewardship” of an 18-acre vineyard terroir nestled along-side the Four Mile Creek in the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation in Niagara-On-The-Lake.

 In 2017, the farm was populated with 10 acres of 20+ year-old vineyard bliss bounded on 2 sides by the Four Mile Creek and a Southern Revival story-book home along with a weathered barn.  There were 4 varietals of vinifera vines:  2 reds – merlot and gamay noir; and 2 whites:  chardonnay and pinot blanc.  Maria and Scott Kirby chose the road less travelled as they immersed themselves in the grape growing and wine making culture of the Niagara Region.

In 2017, Maria and I were married for 33 years, and were ready for a new adventure. We commenced a real estate search in earnest and gravitated to the Niagara peninsula owing to many factors:  the extended good weather season, as well as our appreciation for the agrarian culture, not to mention many other cultural features including fresh farm-to-table food experiences, wineries, theatre,  and many outdoor recreational opportunities.

After many weekend stays at the Oban Inn, our sojourns were rewarded with finding Kirby Estate in Niagara On The Lake.  It was evident that the property had rich soils as the entry laneway was lined with mature fruit and nut trees and teeming with wildlife.  While the description of “the place” conjures romantic images of holding hands and skipping through rows of the vineyard with wine glass in-hand, the reality is that a small farming business is integral to the property – and one that requires constant attention, work and sometimes capital inputs.  At the time, we had little appreciation for the significance that nature and an extended seasonal weather window would figure in our future.

In the lead up to closing of the purchase of our new Eden, we were introduced to some wonderful people.  The Wismer family and Glen Elgin Vineyard Management have been our unshakeable Northern Star in guiding us through the hurdles of understanding, evaluating, and managing the farm.  Once we had convinced ourselves that we were not signing up for merely an expensive landscaping project, we embraced farm life and its challenges with gusto, and Maria’s initial hesitation quickly melted away.   I would like to think that we were relatively quick studies on grape growing, but as in most multi faceted endeavours, one quickly appreciates that it is a lifetime of learning – the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.  Our confidence was bolstered when we successfully navigated our first harvest in 2017, and we have never looked back since then.  Glen Elgin has suggested and we have made viticultural improvements to the property every year - everything from trellis management, to pruning, tucking and hedging, de-leafing, and pest management.  Our objective is to achieve a healthy vine regime that is well balanced and disease resistant.

The vineyard was first planted in 1995 with nearly 4 acres of chardonnay. These gnarly vines produce mineral rich fruit as they are planted in the silty lacustrine floodplain deposits of a former tributary of the Niagara River tens of thousands of years ago.  This was followed by a further acre of Pinot Blanc in 1996, nearly 4 acres of gamay noir in 1998, and an acre of merlot in 2002.  The latter 2 reds are planted in distinctly different sandy loam soils on the table land above the floodplain.  All of the soils are free draining.  

However, no story would be complete without a little tragedy.  Despite being only 2.7 km from Lake Ontario with its moderating atmospheric characteristics, the winter of 2021-22 wrought havoc amongst grape growers in many areas of the Niagara Peninsula and Kirby Vineyards was no exception.  95% of our chardonnay vines were devastated by mother nature thus diminishing the capacity of our boutique vineyard until this year; whereupon, we have planted back more than 7,000 vines and modified the varietal mix and the planting density.  We expanded the planted footprint on the property and introduced varietals that suited the terroir and reflected our personal preferences in wine.  At present, we have 2 white varieties of chardonnay and pinot blanc, and 5 red varieties including gamay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot.  All of this entailed careful selection of varietals, rootstocks,  and clones as well as new trellis infrastructure.

In 2018, we realized that the wineries who were purchasing our fruit were producing high quality wines and, in many cases, winning awards.  This fact, along with our desire to produce our own high quality wine from our own property, prompted a foray into our Kirby Estate Wine project.  Once again we were introduced to great, experienced people.  Cloudsley Cellars captained by Adam Lowy, along with winemaker Matt Smith have produced not only their own branded great wines, but also provided custom crush and wine making services for Kirby Estate.  In addition we have supplemented our advisory team with inputs from Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling.  Kirby Estate has recently received its own Farm Winery licensing from the AGCO as well as the Town of Niagara-On-The-Lake.  The winery physical premises is a current work-in-process and we will modify our existing barn to accommodate our farm winery.   We have been blessed surrounding ourselves with highly talented, experienced people of integrity.  This is the formula for success in any significant project of scale.

Our wines exhibit the unique characteristics of our creekside terroir.  We have produced merlot every year since the 2018 vintage, and chardonnay every year since the 2019 vintage – all fruit sourced exclusively from our vineyard.  We hope to share our passion for these varieties, our terroir-driven wines, and our story with others that appreciate the quality and elegance of these wines, made in the Niagara Lakeshore sub appellation

The opportunities to stay productively active, experience the beauty of nature, meet new friends and neighbours, and immerse ourselves in the local culture have been very rewarding.  Maria has artfully and successfully directed the renovations to our home and created our “elegant zen” farm environment.  The vineyard has evolved over 6+ years under our stewardship and has taken on a new more sophisticated vibe that more fully reflects the wonderful attributes of the land.  Our friends who visit constantly remark how we speak in animated tones, along with unconscious silly grins on our faces, reflecting our undiminished and growing appreciation of “the place”.  As I say to Maria, “it gets grander - but it doesn’t get better –we are truly blessed.”