St. Catharines ‘virtual’ winery just missing the actual winery itself


Published May 10, 2022 at 11:47 am

There’s a St. Catharines winery that’s missing one small component – the bricks-and-mortar winery itself.

That said, Nyarai Cellars showcases the Niagara grapes, unlocking unlimited potential for the winery.

So how does a virtual winery work exactly? Pretty much the same as every business has worked though the pandemic – customers go online, order their wine and it shows up at the doorstep, no muss, no fuss. That’s certainly a system everyone is used to at this point.

The name Nyarai (pronounced Na-Rye) is derived from the Southern African Shona dialect meaning Humility. “Our aim is to craft wines that are sourced from prime Niagara Peninsula vineyards that speak proudly of their origin.” the winery says on its website.

Nyarai Cellars winemaker and founder, Steve Byfield, is one of a small but emerging collection of highly motivated, vintner directed, brands in Niagara.

Born and raised in Kitchener, Byfield was introduced to the culture of wine during his university studies as an amateur winemaker. Fascinated by its cultural influence upon Society’s perception of cuisine and drink, his curious, artistic, mind was fuelled to explore further.

Coming to the Beamsville (Lincoln) Bench Region in 2006 after six years with Southbrook Organic Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Byfield worked as assistant winemaker with Ridgepoint Wines, Calamus Estate Winery while also holding the position of winemaker-general manager at Thomas and Vaughan Estate Winery.

In 2008, Byfield embarked on his own project and created Nyarai Cellars with business partner Rod Ingram with one main purpose – to convey a sense of place, the Niagara wine region.

It operates under the license of Coffin Ridge Winery, where Steve is the consulting winemaker, though its office is in St. Catharines and the wines’ ingredients are from Niagara. Located along the shores of Georgian Bay in Grey-Bruce County, Coffin Ridge has been the host winery to Nyarai Cellars since 2013.

In forging relationships with conscientious wine growers, the virtual winery model was set into motion with Nyarai’s inaugural release in the spring of 2009, showing “an unflinching commitment to quality, combining dedication to sound viticulture practices and a focus on winemaking detail.”

Said Byfield to a wine publication a year ago, “Even though the industry is so competitive, Ontario winemakers will help each other because we know that if one wine succeeds then everyone succeeds because we’re promoting the Ontario brand. The wine industry is considered an essential service and in cases like this where we’re dealing with COVID-19 winemakers will help each other out.”

Sharon Little came onboard after growing up in the countryside of Niagara-on-the-Lake, to living close to Napa and Sonoma in California before returning to Canada to live minutes from the Beamsville Bench as her life has constantly been a part of vines and wines.

In 2003, Little left a successful career as an ICU nurse to follow a passion in the Niagara wine industry. Her thirst for learning led her to take courses with the International Sommellier Guild, and courses in Winery Management, Sales, and Marketing at both CCOVI and Niagara College.

Sharon has had the privilege of working as a Winery Retail Manager for several award-winning wineries in Niagara, but quickly found she had a knack for Marketing, which is she now putting to good use at Nyarai.

“With minimal intervention during the winemaking process, our wines develop naturally; yielding a product that is true to its varietal character,” the website says.

“The cool climate of the Niagara Peninsula along with its diverse soils offers a bounty of flavours and textures that are indicative to this wonderfully unique wine growing region.”

If you want to check Nyarai Cellars’ inventory and place an order, check HERE.

Left, Sharon Little receives a letter of appreciation from St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik while to the right, Steve Byfield is Nyarai Cellars winemaker and founder

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