Canadian wine industry in ‘profound mourning’ after death of Niagara’s Paul Pender

As Canada’s wine world comes to grips with the loss of Niagara winemaker Paul Pender, he’s being remembered as someone who worked to elevate the domestic industry, without being pretentious and with a willingness to help up-and-comers. 

“He was a mentor to many of the young winemakers in Niagara today, especially those who wanted to learn about organic farming,” said wine writer Rick Vansickle, publisher of WinesinNiagara.com.

“He was the kind of guy that spent a lot of time at his own winery, but almost an equal amount of time helping other people around the region… The greater Niagara community is in profound mourning.”

Pender, 54, is remembered through his work at Tawse and Redstone wineries. He leaves behind several children and grandchildren, and his wife Allison Findlay, the winemaker at local winery Flat Rock Cellars.

Pender died Feb. 3 after an encounter at his cottage in Selkirk, Ont., near Lake Erie.

Police have released few details of what happened, but have charged Hamilton resident Bradley House, 31, with second-degree murder.

Det.-Insp. Shawn Glassford of Ontario Provincial Police said Monday there were two crime scenes, and Pender and the accused did not know each other. On Tuesday, Glassford confirmed to CBC that police are not looking for any further suspects. 

House made a court appearance by telephone on Tuesday, speaking little beyond acknowledging his presence. His lawyer, Beth Bromberg, told the court she had not yet received disclosure and asked the case to be put off for two weeks. 

‘He had so much more to give’

Vansickle said he met the winemaker about 17 years ago when Pender started at Tawse, in Vineland, Ont. He said Pender’s interest in organic and biodynamic farming made him a pioneer in the region.

“Nobody was doing that kind of farming back then, and he made it a thing,” said Vansickle. “He became the beacon that everybody looked to for organic farming in Niagara, at least for grapes.”

The winery quickly rose to prominence, winning multiple awards under Pender’s watch.  

You’d think that someone who might be a competitor in the industry wouldn’t share his trade secrets, but he was just incredibly generous.– Sherry Karlo on winemaker Paul Pender

“He loved Pinot, and he loved Chardonnay and he loved Riesling,” said Vansickle. “He was a student of Burgundy wines… and he tried to get that kind of soulfulness out of the wines they made at Tawse, and really achieved it. They are incredible wines and well noted by critics around the world. He was known.”

Vansickle said Pender’s talent, combined with his unassuming manner, made him a well-loved fixture in the region.

“He would show up at a grand tasting in a plaid shirt and his worn-out Blundstones [footwear],” said Vansickle. “He had so much more to give.”

‘A legacy for the winery that won’t go away’

When Sherry Karlo met Pender years ago, she had gone from Prince Edward County to Tawse to buy a piece of equipment for Karlo Estates, the winery she was starting with her husband Richard. 

Paul Pender, right, speaks to Richard Karlo in the vineyard of Tawse winery in Vineland, Ont. Karlo’s wife Sherry says she first met Pender when she was starting her wine business with her husband, who has since passed away. (Supplied by Sherry Karlo)

“Paul was already well known in the industry as a very talented winemaker. We were kind of nobodies,” she said, noting her surprise when he offered to walk them through the vineyard, while sharing lots of information about cultivation techniques.

“You’d think that someone who might be a competitor in the industry wouldn’t share his trade secrets, but he was just incredibly generous.”

Karlo considers Pender one of the top 10 winemakers in Canada at the time of his death, and said she feels for his family and his colleagues. Her husband was the winemaker at Karlo Estates until he died in 2014; she said it was hard to balance grieving and moving on with the business.

“Even in the winter time, we’re making wine,” she said Tuesday. “The wine waits for no man, so you have to keep going. I think that’s one of the most challenging things, trying to process the grief at the same time as keeping the winery going.”

Fortunately, she said, Pender had winemaking assistants at Tawse who would have learned his craft. With his innovations in cultivation, he set in place processes that will live on after him.

“They have wonderful terroir and they have a wonderful winery, and all the methods Paul put in place are there,” Karlo said. “That creates a legacy for the winery that won’t go away.”

Back To Top