Kings County winery wins awards with new grapes

A Kings County winery is capitalizing on a hardy crop of grapes and making some award-winning wine.

Gillis of Belleisle credits new winemaker, Hyun Suk Lee, with turning around quality of wine

Hyun Suk Lee is winning awards with his Gillis of Belleisle wine. 1:44

A Kings County wine-maker is capitalizing on a hardy crop of grapes and using that fruit to produce some award-winning wine.

Alan Gillis, the owner of Gillis of Belleisle Winery, is toasting the recent success from many of his wines.

While wines from his vineyard have taken home several recent awards, Gillis said he is very proud of the double gold award that his 2011 premium red wine won at last year's All Canadian Wine Championships.

Alan Gillis, the owner of the Gillis of Belleisle Winery, said his winery's success started rolling in when he hired a new winemaker. (CBC)
“I can comfortably say and I love making this statement. In 2013, the best red wine in Canada, in its category, was made in Kings County, New Brunswick,” he said.

It wasn’t long ago that Gillis grew grapes that were common in the region. He said that didn’t make for the best tasting wine.

However, success started when Gillis ripped out all of his old grape vines and started over.

Gillis said his vineyard is adopting a similar grape as those used in other wine-making regions in Canada.

“We replaced [the old vines] with these Michigan hybrids. Actually, Niagara is converting over to them all now,” he said.

“They grow great in our climate. They produce a wonderful grape, even in a short growing season, which is important to us.”

The idea of switching to the new vines came from Gillis’s winemaker, Hyun Suk Lee.

Gillis discovered Lee after he posted a job ad in 2010 for a winemaker. Gillis said Lee has taken his wine “to a whole new level.”

Winemaker moved from South Korea

Lee also has an interesting story on how he wound up in New Brunswick.

He started off in finance in his native South Korea reporting to an office tower in Seoul's polluted skies. But he said his dreams were always a million miles away.

“I was always thinking about something else, my life is going to be something else, something different,” he said.

Gillis said he is very proud of the double gold award that his 2011 premium red wine won at last year's All Canadian Wine Championships. (CBC)
Lee developed a passion for wine and traded his white-collar life in Seoul for that of a student in St. Catharines, Ont.

He travelled to Brock University to study the art and science of wine-making.

With that education, Lee eventually gave the order to Gillis to have the old vines ripped up and to start over.

So far the gamble has paid off for the southern New Brunswick winery.

Gillis said New Brunswick is still finding its place in the wine-making world.

But that's where he sees opportunity.

“Now we're starting to think international awards. The Berlin Wine Trophy is one of the big awards around the world. We are thinking, let's see what New Brunswick can do, why not?” he said.

The wines are not currently available for sale at NB Liquor stores. Gillis said the wine can be purchased at his winery or at several farmers markets around the province.