Canada’s wine community is mourning the sudden loss of beloved Ontario winemaker Paul Pender.
Passing away at the age of just 54, Pender died ‘unexpectedly under tragic circumstances’ on 4 February, 2022, as announced by sister wineries Tawse and Redstone.
Before becoming director of viticulture and winemaking at Tawse and Redstone, he was a carpenter. When he developed an allergy to the dust and solvents, he went back to school to study winemaking at Niagara College in 2004.
Pender’s internship placement landed him at Tawse in 2005. He stayed on, stepping into the role of head winemaker the following year.
During his tenure, he helped build Tawse to its current 30,000-case annual production and guided the estate to EcoCert organic certification. ‘It was the first thing we did when I started,’ Pender said in an interview with Decanter in 2020. His use of the plural “we” speaks to Pender’s humility. He always considered himself part of a team.
He went on to a achieve Demeter’s Biodynamic certification for Tawse. Though the winery subsequently withdrew, Pender continued to manage the vineyards according to biodynamic practices.
There was no artifice or flamboyance around Pender as a person and this translated to his wines. He was clear and focused in his non-interventionalist winemaking approach.
‘We are interested in making elegant and balanced wines that speak of place,’ Pender once told me. He was also driven by curiosity and a desire to improve. ‘Every year I learn a lot and every year I say – how do I not know that?’
When the news of his death was made public, there was an inevitable outpouring of condolences and tributes on social media.
‘Last night I lost a brother, a mentor, a partner and one of the nicest human beings I have met,’ wrote Moray Tawse, owner of Tawse and Redstone. ‘Over the last 17 years, we jointly built a vision to increase the quality and reputation of Ontario wines. Our family is crushed and will never recover from this loss.’
Magdalena Kaiser, director of public relations – marketing & tourism at the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario echoed these sentiments. ‘Paul’s wines helped shape Ontario’s wine industry and created new benchmarks for winemaking in Canada. I will cherish the many memories of watching him share his passion and beautiful wines across our country and beyond.’
Pender’s winemaking achievements are cemented in numerous accolades. Among these, he was named Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards in 2011 and led Tawse to achieve Canadian Winery of the Year on multiple occasions.
Pender was particularly proud when the estate’s 2011 Chardonnay made the cover of Decanter in 2015 being named one of the world’s best Chardonnay outside Burgundy. He also received lofty praise for Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
Beyond his talent and dedication as a winemaker, Pender is remembered for his character and the contribution he made to the industry. ‘Paul Pender was one of the most genuine and generous people that this industry has and may ever see. A mentor and beacon, he was always the first to offer support and lend assistance,’ said Gurvinder Bhatia, editor-in-chief of Canada’s Quench magazine.
David Paterson, winemaker at Tantalus winery in British Columbia meanwhile recalled the mentorship he received from Pender when he entered the Canadian wine industry. ‘It floored me how he always had so much time for others. As one of Canada’s best, he leaves the industry with such a huge void.’
Pender will be deeply missed by all his friends, colleagues, the team at Tawse and Redstone wineries, and above all, his family.
He leaves behind a legacy of stunning wines that will serve to honour his memory.