A Conversation with Winemaker Allison Christ
Founded in 1980, Colio Estate Wines is one of Ontario’s oldest wineries and the first in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region to receive a winery licence following prohibition. The wines are available at the winery in Harrow and at any of the 14 retail stores located throughout Ontario. They can also be found at many LCBO and grocery stores.
With production exceeding 580,000 cases of wine in 2017, Colio is one of Ontario’s largest wineries, making wine with familiar labels such as Bricklayer’s, Lake and River, Girls’ Night Out, Lily Sparkling, Prism Icewine and the Colio International Series.
Following in the footsteps of winemakers Carlo Negri, Tim Reilly and Lawrence Buhler, Allison Christ is Colio’s first female winemaker. I asked Allison some questions about the Ontario wine industry, making wine at Colio and her thoughts on the growing Ontario wine industry.
What inspired you to become a winemaker?
AC: I’ve always had a love for wine; it was always a part of our family dinners growing up. I was looking for an interesting career that could utilize my chemistry degree when I stumbled across the wine industry. It ended up being an entirely natural fit and the perfect career path for me.
How did you become the winemaker for Colio?
AC: I was on a tour of Colio five years ago when I got talking to the winemaker at the time who was looking for an assistant winemaker. My passion for wine and the transferrable skills from my degree helped me to get that position. When Lawrence left almost three years ago for another opportunity I was fortunate enough that Colio saw my value and it’s been an amazing whirlwind ever since.
What are you trying to achieve with your wines?
AC: I am trying to make approachable value-oriented wines that showcase the beauty of the Ontario wine region. I think sparkling wine has great potential in Ontario and I think we need to focus on both charmat and the traditional method of sparkling wine production.
Tell us your favourite part of the winemaking process?
AC: My favourite part is our blending session in February. It’s the point in the process where every single wine is evaluated blindly to assess the quality and you really get to see the results of all the hard work through the fall. It’s the best time to celebrate the successes and really look at what you want to do differently the next year.
Is there a winemaker that you modeled yourself after, or whose skill you appreciate?
AC: I really have only worked under Lawrence but I couldn’t ask for a better mentor. I admire his skill and his management style. I owe him a lot.
Are there varietals that grow better in Lake Erie North Shore than other regions?
AC: Being so far south in Canada allows us to make some really big reds, like Cab Sauv in great years. It’s a tough variety to ripen in Ontario and I believe we have the best chance. I also like Sauv Blanc in Lake Erie North Shore because we can get some really pretty tropical notes, again because of the warmth.
What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
AC: Our industry is really fair towards women and there are lots of opportunities. Due to the creative nature of the job, women and men bring really different ideas, which is what we need to grow the Ontario wine industry.
Does being a female have any bearing on winemaking?
AC: Just in that we bring a different perspective to the process. I really think it takes both men and women working together to create the best wines.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
AC: It’s still something I’m working on, to be honest. Harvest is such a busy time of year that it can be difficult to maintain a life outside of work so I end up scheduling simple things like dinner or yoga classes like an appointment to keep myself accountable. You balance this out the rest of the year by taking more time for yourself.
Anything else you would like to add? Proud moments at the winery? The Lily Sparkling Rosé? Any upcoming projects that you can share?
AC: This past year we had the largest harvest we’ve ever done —50% more than last year, which was an enormous accomplishment for us. And yes, I am so proud of the Lily Rosé! I hope it’s a great example of Ontario sparkling wine! We are looking at some traditional method sparkling in the next few years, which should be exciting.