Out on a Limb

In the face of skepticism, Kacaba Vineyards & Winery took a chance and planted the rare Syrah grape in Canada, with award-winning results

John Tummon left a successful career in the fitness industry to pursue his passion for winemaking.
John Tummon left a successful career in the fitness industry to pursue his passion for winemaking.

The leaves have fallen off the trees along John Tummon’s drive to work. It’s mid-November in a town called Vineland, which sits just west of Niagara Falls and near the southern coast of Lake Ontario. Tummon is the winemaker at Kacaba Vineyards & Winery, and as he makes his way through the region on the morning commute, the trees and vines are mostly bare and dead, until he crosses over a bridge and things begin to change: everything is still green, and the roses are in bloom at the ends of the vineyards on the Kacaba estate. Because of where the vineyards sit on the terrain, they experience higher temperatures than other vineyards located even a mere 500 metres away, but just a few degrees can make all the difference.

Tummon’s path to Kacaba is as serendipitous as the accommodating growing climate, being exactly the kind of winemaker that Michael Kacaba was looking for. The result has been a product line that includes many varietals of award-winning quality, all as inspired and unique as the circumstances that produced them.

Tummon, who had a successful career in the fitness- and workout-equipment arena, began making wine as an amateur in the 1970s, participating in amateur wine competitions on both the national and international level. He then joined the K-W Winemaker’s Guild, the top wine club in Canada, to advance his winemaking and exposure. “K-W had amazing equipment,” says Tummon. “It was on par with what you would find at a small winery.”

He also put his experienced palate to use and became involved in wine judging through the Wine Judges of Canada and eventually became an instructor with the organization, as well as teaching a few wine courses at Niagara College. “I enjoyed all aspects of it—wine judging, wine education, and giving seminars,” says Tummon. He retired from the fitness industry in 2004, and at his family’s urging put together a winemaker’s résumé and began networking for his second career.

What came was an introduction to lawyer and entrepreneur Michael Kacaba and a meeting in his corner office, down on Bay Street in Toronto. “He had been working with a number of younger individuals at his winery,” Tummon says. “For some reason, winemakers tend to relocate frequently—the position has a lot of turnover. [Kacaba] wanted someone who was willing to make a commitment for a number of years.” So Tummon, combined with his farming background and small-business administration experience, brought a level of maturity to the position, which was exactly what Kacaba was looking for.

Top Wines

Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010
Enticing with aromatic elements of blackberry, violets, and dark cherry, with hints of toasty oak and spices.
• Gold – Intervin Wine Awards 2012
• Bronze – All Canadian Wine
 Championships 2012
• Bronze – Canadian Wine Awards 2012

Meritage Reserve 2007
Full bodied and complex. Aromas range from black licorice and espresso to black currant and dried fruit.
• 2012 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence
• Gold – Cuvee 2012, Winemaker Choice
• Gold – Ontario Wine Awards 2011
• Silver – All Canadian Wine
 Championships 2011
• Silver – Intervin 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007
Floral, bitter chocolate, and ripe black fruit nose. Crushed coffee beans enhance the sensational blackberry fruit.
• Gold – Ontario Wine Awards 2010
• Gold – Cuvee 2012, Winemaker Choice

The real star of the Kacaba Vineyard and winery is the wine itself. Kacaba is in its 8th harvest under Tummon’s management, and the wine’s excellent quality can be attributed to a combination of his talent and the very high quality of the grapes the vineyard produces.

“We have extraordinary growing conditions here; it’s like being a chef and having access to the very best ingredients possible,” says Tummon. The high quality of the product hasn’t gone unnoticed and has garnered Kacaba a reputation for excellence in the wine community. “We bring our wine around to fine restaurants—top chefs and sommeliers in the region taste the wine, but we also have a pedigree of awards, which helps,” Tummon says. “Every red wine I made in 2007 has won several gold medals. We’ve got a following for high-end, intense reds.”

Perhaps the most notable accomplishment has been the successful planting of the Syrah grape, Kacaba being one of the first to do so in Canada. Michael Kacaba had always loved wines from the northern Rhône region in France, where the Syrah is grown most famously. He had a dream to bring that to Canada—a dream that involved reshaping his property and the ravine that ran through it. Syrah is a borderline grape, temperature-wise, and planting it in a colder climate brought about its share of skeptics. But soon Kacaba Winery & Vineyard would put that skepticism to rest.

“We proved it could survive, and now it is the grape in demand,” Tummon says. The winery has been recognized for the achievement: Kacaba’s 2007 Syrah Reserve won a Canadian Wine Award for Best Red Wine in Canada, and was named the best red by Wine Access Magazine, one of the top wine publications in Canada.

For Tummon, being in the vineyard and seeing the grapes grow and mature throughout the season is reward enough. “This time of year, I spend a lot of time in the vineyard,” he says. “It’s great to get out of the office and walk through a vineyard every day. You really see the fruit of your labours: the vine was planted and cared for all year and now you finally get to see and taste the fruit.”