Alton Farms Estate Winery began as a bucket list dream.
Marc and Anne Alton purchased the property in September 2005, moving their young family from Bright’s Grove to Aberarder Line in Plympton-Wyoming, with a goal of creating a vineyard and winery, making delicious wines and developing a new wine region. Marc knew that geographically, this location in the middle of the world’s wine belt, the zone between 41 and 44 degrees north, would be an ideal one.
Preparations began right away that Fall, so that planting could start in Spring 2006. A test acre was planted with more than fifteen different varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, as well as hybrid cold temperature varieties like Frontenac and Marechal Foch. A second test acre followed in Spring 2007, with even more varieties including Shiraz and Baco Noir. The vineyard was then thoughtfully planned out, with an additional acre being planted in each of the next four years. Today, we have six acres of producing vines.
Once the vines were mature enough to harvest for wine making, the real fun began! Today, we hand craft 13 to 17 different wines each year.
Our winery is housed in a century old drive shed, where we process and age our wines. Our Barrel Room was completed in Fall 2016, and our Tasting Room and Wine Store stock a large selection of wine-related merchandise.
For a birds-eye view of our vineyard and an inside look at our winery, check out this video by Ontario Southwest.
We try to be sustainable in all our practices; in other words we try to work the vineyard so that it can produce quality grapes with minimized chemical inputs, but also continue to produce grapes in the long term.
Cultivation, to keep down weeds, is mechanical, not chemical. This is labor intensive, but it reduces chemical input into the final wines. We mow alternate rows during the growing season to maintain the beneficial insect population. As the grapes start to ripen we allow the weeds and grasses to grow, reducing nutrients and water to the grape plants which helps to shut down the vines. We don’t use chemicals to shut down the vines.
We also use our herd of sheep to keep the vineyard weeds (somewhat) under control and remove the lower vegetation on the vines. This opens up the vineyard to winds, allowing better drying of the vines and less chemical use. Sheep also digest seeds and help to reduce the weed burden in the long term. Sheep manure is also our main source of fertilizer for long term vineyard health.
Insecticides are seldom used as they disrupt the ecology in the vineyard – we accept the fact that we will have some insect damage to the plants and the fruit. If necessary, we remove insects by shaking the grape bunches prior to making our wine. We do lose grapes to insect damage, but this practice reduces chemical input into our wines. We leave damaged fruit behind in the vineyard for the birds.
The worst problems are birds and mildews. We use propane cannons, bird scare calls, plastic owls and scare eyes, reflective tape, netting, noisy equipment and other noise makers to help control the bird population. Bird watchers are welcome – we have lots of birds in the vineyard even with the controls. One of the few things we cannot ignore, Downy and Powdery Mildew, are controlled with chemicals. Some of the control chemicals are organic, some of them are best practices for sustainability. For example, we could use 3 kg of copper per hectare, or 300 grams of Sovran to combat Downey Mildew. The copper can be considered organic, but it is left behind in the soil forever. Sovran, on the other hand, has low toxicity and is readily degraded by microbial activity, so we choose to use this commercial product as it is the better sustainable choice.
We don’t irrigate, which keeps our wine quality up and reduces our water use.
We try to minimize the chemical inputs in the winery as well. We use grapes, yeast and yeast nutrients mainly in the processing. We minimize filtering and clarification additives by allowing our wines to almost freeze over the winter. During this low temperature soak, the natural tartrates drop out of the wine, carrying down much of the sediment. We rack and bottle using a gentle gravity method.