Charles Baker is amused to be referred to as a “virtual” winemaker. “I do exist,” he says. “My wine is real.” No argument there. Baker’s eponymous award-winning Vintner Quality Alliance (VQA) Riesling crafted from Niagara grapes is served at top restaurants across the country, including Vancouver’s Vij’s, as well as Terroir wine bars in New York City. It blows off liquor stores shelves: amassing a complete “vertical” of Charles Baker Picone Riesling from the first 2005 vintage to the latest 2010, at $35 a bottle, is a bragging point among wine geeks. But Baker is “virtual” in wine-speak because his is a brand without land or buildings: he works in the shadow of another winery’s licence, making and selling his two Rieslings through Stratus Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., where he’s the director of marketing and sales. The supportive relationship allows him to sidestep the Ontario law that requires winemakers to own a minimum of five acres of vineyards to sell wine—a threshold that rises to 20 acres in Niagara (in B.C., the minimum is two).
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