Apple wine a natural fit

Twin Pines Orchards and Cider House
(519) 296-5556 or (519) 296-5558

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

There’s a wonderful surprise fermenting on a dirt road northwest of Thedford, and it won’t be long before the wines being made at Twin Pines Orchards and Cider House are well-known in this area. The only winery (to our knowledge) in the near vicinity, the Vansteenkiste family at Twin Pines started stocking their signature dry apple wine and hard apple cider over the weekend.
“There have been many steps to getting here, and they’re all part of the same direction,” says Mark Vansteenkiste, who lives at the property at 8169 Kennedy Line. He and his brother Mike saw an interest in fruit wines developing and incorporated it into their business as an agricultural attraction.
“It was sort of something we both came up with,” he says from the store the two built four years ago that also houses the wine making facilities. “People are looking for good food and entertainment and this is more of a personal experience. People want to learn about what we do and this is where we excel. It’s forward thinking in a traditional way.”
Surrounded by orchards and growing one million pounds of apples a year makes you think of new ideas to use the fruit, especially considering the current economic climate is not favourable to apples as a commodity.
“You won’t go bankrupt,” Mark says, “but you won’t make any money.”
“You get enough to do it again next year,” Mike says.
That’s why they’ve been working for the past decade to develop their wine and hard cider (many readers will be familiar with the sweet cider they sell at the Thanksgiving weekend farmers’ market in Grand Bend).
“We started pressing apples for sweet cider,” Mike says, “and eventually you move toward hard cider. The goal was always to create wines and hard cider.”
The technology requires a large investment, but it’s one that allows for complementary processes.
“Now we have the technology and the produce to start making other wines also,” Mark notes.
Visitors can sample their dry wine (12.6 per cent alcohol) and hard cider (6-8 per cent) in the upstairs tasting room, and by Christmas, Twin Pines will launch a sweet wine (12.6 per cent) and an iced wine (10-11 per cent). After that, expect an apple brandy and other fruit wines using produce from their farm. There’s also the longer-term goal of producing organic products using apples from trees currently growing on a plot nearby (organic wines would be at least two years away). The farm grows a variety of organic vegetables, including squash, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and peppers, all available seasonally from late August to early October.
The Vansteenkistes view their wines as premium products, and lean toward the natural side of processes if they have the choice. They rely on integrated pest management to avoid pesticide spraying. Plus, to increase sugar content for the fermentation process, they had the choice of adding sugar or removing water; the latter choice is more natural and preserves the quality of the product, so that’s what they’ve done.
“We pick by taste for our place here,” Mark notes. “Instead of a date on a calendar, we look at how the apples taste that day. That’s completely different than what you get at a grocery store. We can pick what we want to the standard we want and that gives us a much better tasting product for our shelves here.
“We have a unique climate, which goes from extremely hot to extremely cold, so that allows us to grow a wide range of apples so we can get a lot more variety in flavour for our ciders and wines.”
With their recipe 10 years in the making, what can people expect from this year’s wine?
“It’s a dry apple wine with a nice apple nose,” Mark says. “What we’re very happy with is that it has a very long finish. It’s something that, for a dry late harvest apple, it’s reflected the fall very well.”
Considering the nature of his business, you might expect Mark to be familiar with the taste of his wine from intimate experience, but he’s not a heavy consumer.
“I don’t drink much, but I love flavours, and we’ve been experimenting for 10 years. And I don’t think we’ll ever stop experimenting.”
Don’t expect to see their wines on the LCBO shelves any time soon. Twin Pines is a small-scale winery and it’s going to stay that way.
“We never want to be a factory. It’s not what we’re about. We always want to be small and personal.”
To experience the wine for yourself, you’ll have to visit the store at 8169 Kennedy Line, which is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A 750 mL bottle of wine is $11.95 and a 1L bottle of hard cider is $9.95 (return the bottle for $1 off your next one).