Two Sisters’ Unique Place in Niagara

By David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Two Sisters Vineyards.

On leaving my interview and tasting with Two Sisters’ winemaker Adam Pearce on November 10,  I was dazzled by the brilliant sunlit vineyards, dappled with the reds, greens and yellows of the best fall foliage fireworks we have seen in years. It confirmed everything he and I had just discussed about the special place (terroir) of Two Sisters’ John St Vineyard within Niagara’s increasingly complex tapestry, and the outcome of his wines.

You can enjoy a special WineAlign curated 6-pack or a 12-pack of Two Sisters wines. More information below.

In 2015 the high-profile Marotta family, headed by real estate developer Benny Marotta and his two daughters (who are the Two Sisters) Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli and Angela Marotta, landed in small-town NOTL with a splash. The winery with its Italian villa architecture and its popular Italian-influenced restaurant called Kitchen76 are both very impressive. And there is more to come, with their new Stone Eagle Winery just beginning construction on prime Highway 55 space on the other road into town.

Two Sisters Vineyards Estate
Two Sisters Vineyards Estate

Then in 2018, after only three years in business, Two Sisters earned the accolade of Best Small Winery in Canada at the blind tasted WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. So, there was clearly more going on here behind the grand scheme. Which brings us back to that blazing late season fall foliage, winemaker Adam Pearce, and how it all comes together so well and informs what’s in the bottle.

The original estate vineyards of Two Sisters lie within the small Niagara River appellation, with the air-drainage created by the flow of the mighty river mitigating against frost and winter damage. There is double indemnity by being situated near the mouth of the river where it empties into Lake Ontario. In autumn the summer warmed waters of the lake extend the growing, ripening season.  This is ideal for later-ripening varieties like cabernet franc, merlot and especially cabernet sauvignon. It is not a large area and, until Two Sisters came along, it was not well delineated — in the glass — by estate winery production.  

“We need to celebrate the unique position we have here, where the Niagara River and Lake Ontario intersect,” said Adam Pearce. “Our vineyards are the most north-easterly in Niagara. We have a later spring but a long growing season that ripens the Bordeaux varieties better than anywhere in Niagara.”

Barrel Room
Barrel Room

Winemaker Adam Pearce

Adam Pearce is an important link in the success of Two Sisters. He is a Niagara College oenology graduate who spent time in B.C. before coming back east. I have tasted with him one-on-one a couple of times and admire his passion for what’s in the glass and his practicality and intellect in terms of how it gets there. He informs so much of why Two Sisters wines needs your attention, and is driving some new initiatives for Niagara.

In terms of Two Sisters all-important Bordeaux reds, Pearce talks about basic principles. “We are making our wines to pair with food. Most of our sales are through our restaurant and others in Ontario. I am aiming for firm food-friendly structure in our reds,” he says.

Pearce has transitioned away from small oak barrels to large 5000- and 3500-litre wooden casks from the 2018 and 2019 vintages and going forward. There are 20 such high-volume casks now in place. “The casks allow better expression of the fruit, florals and the vineyard. They build the wine while some time in small French oak barrels adds the salt and pepper.”

Two Sisters’ Merlot

But Pearce’s expertise, passion and leanings are not just with Bordeaux reds. In fact, he is smitten by sauvignon/semillon based “Bordeaux” whites in his region. “I love Niagara sauvignon blanc,” he says. “It is not trying to emulate Sancerre or New Zealand. Maybe a mid-Atlantic style?”  

With which I agree, being a fan of NOTL sauvignon in recent years from neighbouring wineries. Pearce is experimenting with acacia barrels in place of oak because “acacia wood better respects pretty fruit aromatics.”

Pearce pioneered the hugely successful and highly acclaimed sparkling Blanc de Franc, the first sparkling wine made from Niagara’s ubiquitous red cabernet franc variety. The inaugural 2016 vintage claimed a Platinum Medal at the National Wine Awards of Canada, and it has continued to turn heads ever since.

From left to right: Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, winemaker Adam Pearce and Angela Marotta

“I was travelling in Champagne in June 2016, and I was struck by the thought that we should try do a blanc de noir with cabernet franc. It is done all the time with pinot noir, but we don’t grow pinot,” Pearce explained.

“I made a batch in 2016. We cropped more heavily, picked it earlier and pressed immediately to avoid coloration from skin contact, and it was a huge success.”

Other dabblings by Adam Pearce include the Margo Rose, again based on Bordeaux varieties. The 2022 vintage will be based 75 percent on cabernet franc with a portion aged in acacia barrels. He also makes Senza, a wine club offering only, that is wild-yeast fermented, unfiltered, receives no sulphur treatment and is not topped off in barrels. So, call it old school Italian, or natural — it is a somewhat volatile and rustic wine loaded with flavour.

Two Sisters' Aerial View
Two Sisters’ Aerial View

The Vineyards

Planted in 2007, the original 68-acre John St estate vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake is primarily growing red Bordeaux varieties, the heart of the portfolio. Again, the extended season allows better ripening of these varieties, with the open water of Lake Ontario during the winter being especially helpful to the growing of winter-nervous merlot. But of the three, cabernet franc is the most consistently successful in my mind, producing very fine, textbook single varietal wines and blends.

In 2017 Two Sisters began planting new sites. The 31-acre St. David’s Bench Vineyard — one of the warmest in Niagara — was planted to later-ripening red varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. In 2020 two new vineyards were planted. The Hunter Road site – which will also be home to the new Stone Eagle Winery – is primarily given to cabernet franc.  The Niagara Parkway site very close to the Niagara River has some cabernet franc as well, but riesling and sauvignon blanc dominate.


While this vineyard matures, most whites are being made from fruit purchased from Niagara Escarpment sites. There is a small portion of chardonnay on the John St site as well but notably, Two Sisters has purchased fruit from the Lenko Vineyard in Beamsville, the oldest chardonnay site in Ontario, planted in the late 50s. The lovely 2019 Unoaked Chardonnay contains some of that Lenko fruit. And the scintillating 2019 riesling comes from “The Bench” as well.

All the vineyards are farmed sustainably with canopies groomed to allow maximum sunlight exposure. The wines are also officially vegan, which means that non-animal derived fining agents are used.

My session ended with juice samples from the 2022 vintage. It was a catastrophically short-cropped vintage due to a one-night temperature plunge last January. Two Sisters lost 50 percent of its crop on the John St Vineyard, even more elsewhere. But the quality due to that lower crop yield and an excellent growing and harvest season has rendered fully ripe and very concentrated results. “It is going to be a great vintage, and something to look forward to,” says Pearce.

You can choose from a special WineAlign curated 6-pack or 12-pack which includes 2 bottles of each wine.

6-Pack: $290 (includes taxes and delivery in Ontario)

  • Includes a 10% discount on the regular price of the wines
  • Complimentary shipping within Ontario only
  • 2x complimentary Wine Boutique tasting vouchers

12-Pack: $550 (includes taxes and delivery in Canada)

  • Includes a 15% discount on the regular price of the wines
  • Complimentary shipping across Canada (to all provinces where wine sales are permitted)
  • 4x complimentary Wine Boutique tasting vouchers
  • $25 gift certificate (redeemable for wine purchases or at the Kitchen76 restaurant)

Here are the six wines in the curated cases:

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018,

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, Niagara River

Two Sisters Riesling 2019, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Two Sisters Riesling 2019, Niagara Escarpment

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019

Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019, Niagara Peninsula

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2018

Two Sisters Eleventh Post 2018, Niagara On The Lake

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2018

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2018, Niagara River

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2016

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2016, Niagara River

This feature was commissioned by Two Sisters Vineyards. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines — good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.