Paul Pender, the award-winning winemaker for Tawse Wine & Spirits and Redstone Winery in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula, died Feb. 3. He was 54. Details are limited, but Ontario Provincial Police have arrested a man and charged him with second-degree murder.
Paul joined Tawse in 2005 and became winemaker in 2006. He was instrumental in the small producer earning Canadian Winery of the Year honors four times. He was also awarded Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards in 2011. During his tenure at Tawse, Paul spearheaded the conversion of its vineyards to organic and biodynamic farming.
"Paul first came to work with me in 2005 fresh out of the Niagara College wine program. We pretty much learned the business together," owner Moray Tawse, who founded the winery in 2002, told me. "Paul was always enthusiastic about the same things I was. Believing in the terroirs of Niagara and understanding the importance of healthy soils. He was convinced that respectful farming lead to terroir driven wines."
I first met Paul in 2007, when I visited Tawse with Pascal Marchand, the Montreal native who became a leading winemaker in Burgundy and consulted for Tawse. Pender's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in particular were terroir-driven, utilizing single vineyards on the Tawse estate such as Cherry Avenue and Robyn's Block from the Twenty Mile Bench subappellation and Quarry Road and Tintern Road from Vinemount Ridge subappellaton.
In December 2016, I had the chance to taste with Paul again while visiting my family in Ontario for the Christmas holidays. My wife and I were traveling with her dog, and Paul, an animal lover and dog owner himself, welcomed us along with Gidget during the tasting and sent us on our way with a few of the opened bottles to share with my parents.
"Paul was generous in his time with industry and consumers alike, sharing his passion and ideas about bringing out the best of Ontario wines," said Tawse. "Many of the area's winemakers studied under him over his 17 years. His friendly, enthusiastic and patient personality made him a favorite of the industry."
A month later, on a visit to Burgundy, Paul was there with Moray Tawse when I tasted at Marchand-Tawse, a négociant project with Pascal, and Domaine Tawse, the Burgundy estate founded by Tawse in 2009. We all had dinner together after tasting, with a number of excellent Burgundies.
Marchand worked together with Pender over the years, but hadn't seen him since 2019. "He was such a nice, easygoing and wise person with an incredible palate directly connected to his brain," he said, via email. "It was always nice to be around him."
Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Paul Pender was a talented winemaker and generous man who contributed enormously to the Niagara Peninsula wine community. He will be greatly missed. He is survived by his wife and their three children.