A fountain is often quiet but rarely still. When Sam Pillitteri decided to use the image of his hometown’s fountain as his new winery’s logo, he probably didn’t see the connection to his own life. Now, surpassing its 20 year anniversary Riverview Cellars continues to spring forth; Sam is still at the helm and ready for another 10 years. But the winery didn’t begin with just one man.Riverview Cellars started as a family affair, and still very much remains a family affair.
Lina worked as a Registered Nurse while Sam worked as an Electrical Designer in St. Catharines. The pair married in 1965, and purchased their current Niagara-on-the-Lake farmland home in 1975. There, they raised daughters Connie, Maria, Angela, and son Michael. The property came with a small, historic storefront running along the Niagara Parkway which the Pillitteri family maintained as a fruit market. As somewhat of a rite of passage, all of the children helped out on the farm during the summer.While the girls pursued different careers in different cities, Michael felt a strong connection to the land.
In 1992, Sam redeveloped some of the farm by growing grapes for his brother’s winery. Seeing Michael get older and sensing the fruit market was the past, Sam placed his future in the ground… one vine at a time. Slowly, methodically, the fruit orchard was uprooted in favour of vitis vinifera grapes. By mid-1998, about 6 acres of grapes were planted with plans in place for the remainder of the farm. While Sam and Lina had a sense of satisfaction from grape-growing, they also thought about opening their own winery. Michael began a Bachelor of Business Economics degree at McMaster University, but returned often to develop Riverview Cellars with his family. Conceiving the new business as a family-project, everyone took on responsibilities. The sisters developed the Riverview brand. Angela proposed that the winery use the family’s ancestral town-fountain as a logo, inspired by her recent trip to Sicily. Maria’s talents as a designer and decorator were put to use creating the bottle-label template and sprucing up the storefront. Connie championed the name “Riverview Cellars,” upholding the reputation they’d cultivated for years as a friendly, family fruit market. Even though they lived off the farm, they hoped that every part of the business could feel like home.The plans bore fruit in September of 2000 when Riverview Cellars officially opened.
Today, Sam oversees the business as President and Michael acts as General Manager. You’ll still find Lina helping out in the shop front from time to time — her welcoming smile always encouraging strangers to return as friends. Connie, Maria & husband Terry and Angela & husband Rob are always happy to pitch in whenever they break away from their busy routines. They’re often joined by Michael’s wife Sarah, continuing the family tradition of gracious hospitality. The family and the staff at Riverview Cellars are committed to providing warm, courteous service. Not just for guests, but to set an example for the seven grandchildren who sometimes pop in to say hello: Matthew, Michael, Christopher, Alex, Lucas, Leo and Sophia.Like wine, positivity flows.
We knew from the first walk through the vineyard that its terroir was special. Though subtle, the topsoil variations impart unique thumbprints on the grapes. The soil closest to the Niagara River is a pliable, silty loam. Further West the soil becomes a denser, clay loam. That density increases in small patches of tougher clay before closing out the vineyard with fertile sandy loam. Typically, tougher soil helps to control vine vigour, especially in wet years. To our knowledge, the farm was first planted in 1910 as a fruit farm and market. In fact, the back portion of our farm once maintained a railway-station and fruit-canning factory. In 1975, Sam and Lina Pillitteri bought the farm and maintained the storefront as Riverview Booth. The history of fruit farming would serve the vineyard-to-be quite well as it became Riverview Farms in the 1980s. The first vinifera to break ground were Gewurztraminer in 1992, with additional plantings of Vidal Blanc in 1993 and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1998. Currently, approximately 23 acres of the property are under vine in 18 demarcated blocks at an average density of 900 vines/acre. We like to focus on French and German cool-climate white varietals, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The vineyard is also outfitted with the primary Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Over the years we’ve scaled back emphasis on hybrid grapes, but still use Vidal to make classic Niagara Icewine, and Baco Noir for our most popular limited-edition table wine. Grapes can define regions because they’re suited to specific climates and soils. We like to think of Niagara-on-the-Lake as an intersection of viticultural strengths. Our daily summer temperatures, humidity and rainfall patterns are incredibly similar to those of Bordeaux. Our soil profile of sand, clay, and limestone strikes familiarity with the Mâconnais district of Burgundy. Our fertile loams mimic the generous textures of the Rheinhessen. We combine these natural gifts with the best techniques we can employ. Grapes are cane-pruned using a ‘Double Guyot’ method to increase sun-exposure and air circulation. Leaves are pulled and many grapes are dropped to the ground to promote better ripening. Weeds are hoed manually to reduce herbicide quotients in the topsoil. Pheromone traps are deployed to reduce insecticide sprays on the grapes. In all, we’re moving toward greener viticulture and brighter futures.Vineyards wouldn’t be much without the land, and as many winemakers can tell you, the land wouldn’t be much without water. We grow our grapes adjacent to the Niagara River on a premium parcel of land in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our property’s 25 acres stretch East-West in a narrow strip from the Niagara Parkway to Concession 1.
Alyssa Bator grew up minutes from the winery on her father’s 80 acre tender fruit and grape farm which prepared her to be the hard working farmer and winemaker she is. She began her career at Riverview Cellars in 2008, serving and selling wine in our boutique prior to attending Brock University’s Oenology and Viticulture program.
Alyssa took on the title of Winemaker in 2014 and has never looked back.
Our Assistant Winemaker
Nicholas Salvatore was born and raised in wine country finding home in Niagara Falls. Like Alyssa, Nick began his career at Riverview Cellars in 2015 in the boutique. Nick quickly transitioned to working in the cellar alongside Alyssa prior to completing his course at Niagara College. Nick graduated in 2020 from Niagara College’s Winemaking Program.
Nick has since produced numerous award winning wines such as our 2019 Sauvignon Blanc