© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Jim and Heather Matos pose with five of their wines that won medals at the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition held in Rochester, N.Y. from March 29-30. The wines shown, from left, are Angelica, Bagaco, Anisette, Chadonnay and Gamay-Noir.
ST. CATHERINES ‚ÄĒ A small winery here is celebrating after being notified of some big wins at an international competition.
Matos Winery had five brands, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Bagaco, Angelica and Anisette, all win a bronze medal at the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, held in Rochester, New York from March 29-30.
The winery, which has already won national and regional awards, is operated by couple Jim and Heather Matos and saw its first harvest in October 2010.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going into our fourth year so it‚Äôs not bad for a little winery in P.E.I.,‚ÄĚ said Heather. ‚ÄúI keep thinking we‚Äôve created a monster... a good monster though.‚ÄĚ
The highly-regarded Finger Lakes competition sees more than 3,700 wines from more than 20 countries compete for a collection of international judges.
While U.S. visitors to the winery have often told the couple they should enter, eventually they even got emails and phone calls from organizers urging them to compete.
Jim said he had initially refused their offer to enter.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want to get into all these aggravations of crossing the border and with the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.,‚ÄĚ he said.
However, a week after turning down the invitations, the couple got another phone call from organizers saying they could ship their product to a depot in Beamsville, Ont. and the rest would be taken care of.
‚ÄúThen it was their responsibility to cross it into the border,‚ÄĚ said Jim. ‚ÄúI said, ‚Äėif that‚Äôs the case then OK‚Äô.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe thought, ‚Äėwhy not?‚Äô,‚ÄĚ added Heather. ‚ÄúIt pays to put your name out there. I wasn‚Äôt sure we were going to win anything because I didn‚Äôt realize the level of competition. There is 75 judges from all over the world.‚ÄĚ
The wine was a hit with the judges, as it has already been with both Islanders and tourists, and has signaled the operation‚Äôs first taste of international recognition.
Heather said while she knew the quality would be good when the winery began ‚ÄĒ the two had previously sold a wine business in 2008 before moving to P.E.I. ‚ÄĒ neither imagined the Matos brand would take off the way it has.
The company has now produced seven varieties, some of which are exclusive to the winery‚Äôs location while others are available in restaurants and liquor stores, and have seen some of the flavours completely sell out.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre pretty proud,‚ÄĚ said Heather, noting the high amount of traffic to the winery. ‚ÄúLast year from June 1 to the end of August, I went through two guest books.‚ÄĚ
However, starting the winery wasn‚Äôt without a significant risk especially given its Maritime location. With the area‚Äôs climate previously being seen as unsuitable for growing grapevines, several climatology and horticulture professors from universities in the Maritimes and Ontario have been stunned upon visiting the location.
‚ÄúPeople go, ‚ÄėI didn‚Äôt know you could even grow vines here‚Äô,‚ÄĚ said Jim. ‚ÄúWell, I guess you could.‚ÄĚ
In addition to being recognized through the awards, Heather said the biggest medal they‚Äôve won has been the support of Islanders.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve embraced us, they‚Äôve supported us and they‚Äôre so proud of us. They bring family here, even the ones that don‚Äôt drink,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúTo me it doesn‚Äôt even compare. The support we‚Äôve gotten from them and loyalty they‚Äôve shown is phenomenal. That to me is bigger than any medal we could have won.‚ÄĚ
While the couple are not planning on introducing any new products this year, the winery will see an expansion of about 1,000 square feet to make more room for storage. More information on the company and its varieties can be found at www.matoswinery.com