Digging Stratus Vineyards’ Roots

This weekend the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are hosting a new event called Dig our Roots. Unlike the popular passport programs, the idea behind this event is to learn more about the unique properties of the appellation from the roots up. For the event, each winery designed its own unique “experience” around the general theme. Stratus Vineyards put together a tutored tasting with the intriguing title: Tried and True, Quirky and New.

Stratus, which opened in 2005, is best known for its luscious blends – the signature Stratus Red and Stratus White, as well as its more moderately priced Wildass Red and Wildass White. To create the blends, winemaker J-L Groux started playing around with growing some grapes you don’t find too often in the region (for example, Tempranillo and Tannat).

These experiments proved rewarding in many ways. Besides providing varieties that add colour and depth to their magnificent assemblages, Stratus has also released some as single variety wines. The tasting was designed to showcase some of these varieties.

Ben Nicks at Stratus Vineyards

Ben Nicks, senior wine consultant, led the fascinating seminar. From the comfort of the large private tasting room that overlooks the vineyard, Nicks explained the unique geography of the 55-acres. The show-and-tell wasn’t limited to the wines – to show the different strata that lies below the surface, he showed us an oversize glass vase containing a cut-away sample of the vineyard’s soil.

Soil Sample from Stratus Vineyards

He also described some unusual aspects of the winemaking processing. For example, he explained the difference between domestic yeast, wild yeast, and the process they often use (for example, with their Chardonnay), which is to simply rely on the yeast that naturally adheres to the grapes.

It was also fascinating to learn about why and how they aerate wines during the fermentation process. I had heard Nicks describe micro-oxygenation before and how they use a hydrosieve and I was interested in hearing more about it. After the seminar he was kind enough to take my friend and me into the production area for a look at the sieve. He even let me shoot a short video of him describing how it works. You can find the video here.

And of course, during the seminar we tasted some wine – six different varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay, Cab Franc (Stratus’ most widely planted variety), Tempranillo, and Tannat. And, to reinforce the fact that winemaking is an interesting combination of art and science, they provided facts and figures about each wine, including the year the vines were planted, the number of blocks planted of each type, the specific harvest dates for each, and the exact number of days each spent in oak.

An aptly-named event

Hats off to Stratus Vineyards and to the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the innovative Dig our Roots event. It’s clear that the experiences created under this aptly-named title are meant to provide wine enthusiasts with a unique way of learning about the appellation – from roots to bottle.

For a taste of the seminar, click here for a short video of Nicks introducing the event and Stratus Vineyards.

A home with a storied history

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery has always been one of my favourite spots.

There are a number of things that make Ravine special – the wines are lovely, they have one of the best restaurants in the area, and it’s a family-friendly place.

What I think a lot of visitors don’t know is that the house at Ravine has an especially interesting history. Though I knew the unusual history of the building, when I was there earlier in February, I thought it would be interesting to ask some of the staff about it. To my delight, Sally, one of the retail associates was happy to tell us about it. She was so knowledgeable, I asked her if she would let me shoot a short video of her telling us the story. She kindly agreed and you can watch the video here.

After I got back, I decided to dig up my original description of Ravine – the one that was included in the app back in 2012. My description of the winery is still on point, so I thought I’d re-publish it here – for those who might not have seen it:

Tucked Away Gem

I had never heard much about Ravine Vineyards and had really never even driven past it. So, when I went looking for it, I knew I’d be surprised. Turns out I was surprised and charmed. There’s something about the clean lines and symmetric look of the restored historic Georgian home that appeals to my aesthetic sense. Then, when I noticed what looked like food being served on the charming patio, I was more than intrigued. (More on the surprises about the food in a minute.)

Walking into the house you step back into history. The home is lovingly maintained and information is thoughtfully on hand for folks like me who didn’t know of the rich – and unusual – history of the unusual home. Though I knew a bit about the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake, I had never heard of the Wm. Woodruff House – the house that replaced the original 1802 house of David Secord that used to stand on the property before being almost totally destroyed (the original fireplace and chimney from the original house still exist) by the Americans toward the end of the War of 1812.

But the history of the home does not end with its being rebuilt after the fire and eventually purchase by William Woodruff and his brother Richard in 1824. The Woodruffs expanded the house and in the early 20th century three to four families lived in it at a time. In the 1960s the house was sold a couple of times and in 1967 it was sold to a couple from Caledon Ontario (a town north-west of Toronto) who dismantled it, numbering all the posts and beams, and moved to Caledon where it was reassembled. In 1992 the house was sold and moved to Bond Head, Ontario.  Then in 2001 it was sold and moved to Port Hope, Ontario. Finally, in 2003 it was sold to Norma Jane and Blair Harber who returned it to the village of St. Davids and it became the hospitality centre of Ravine Vineyards on the Lowrey Farm.

Of course, the buildings are just part of the story of any winery. Another important story is the terroir – and the property Ravine Vineyard Estate is also noteworthy. Ravine Vineyards’ 34-acres of vines are on the St. Davids Bench, which is about 20 percent warmer than other locations in the region.

The 100-acre Lowrey farm has been in Norma Jane’s family (the Lowreys) since the 1860s. The family grew tree fruit and grapes and through the mid-1970s they sold their crop (mainly Labrusca grapes) to another local winery. The vineyard then went fallow for a period until 2003 when Norma and her husband decided to plant vinifera grapes on the 34 acres and to found Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. The winery is certified organic.

 

Winter, Wine, and Chocolate – these are a few of my favourite things!

To some, February is the last hospitable month in Ontario. (I say “to some” because, well, it’s actually one of my favourite months!) But, the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have the perfect antidote to those who think the only good thing about February is that it’s only 28 days long – The Days of Wine & Chocolate. The Passport program runs every weekend (Friday-Sunday) in February. As the name implies, the 20 participating wineries have paired one of their wines with something that has chocolate as an ingredient.

N/V Brut Sparkling Methode Traditionelle with bread pudding at Chateau des Charmes

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake invited me to attend and so a girlfriend and I hit the road yesterday, despite the snowy forecast. It so happened that I took this friend last year, so I tried to find some places she had not been to. On our drive down, I mentioned that I had been thinking about the route we might take to make it a bit different from last year. She didn’t seem to care – she was just excited to be spending a day in wine country. That’s the right attitude for sure!

The day ended up being so fun and relaxing. The wineries were quieter than they might otherwise be for such an event – but that meant that we had more opportunities to chat with winery folks, which is one of best things about visiting Ontario wineries. You can learn so much and most folks you come across are only too happy to chat.

Mamiko behind the tasting bar at Inniskillen

One of our favourite encounters of the day was at Inniskillin Wines. That was one of our early stops and our timing was great – apparently a large crowd had just come and gone.  Mamiko – the woman pouring – was an absolute delight. They were featuring their 2014 Reserve merlot with a dark chocolate chili with white chocolate sour cream and green onions. She explained why she thought their chili was so much better than what she makes at home – “the chef here uses lots of wine when he cooks – at home I don’t use as much, but it makes it much better!”

We both really enjoyed the pairing – and the white chocolate in the sour cream was absolutely delicious.

Inniskillin Wines
A great place to learn to skate — the rink at Ravine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend had never been to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, so that was on my list of places to stop. It’s a lovely spot. Though it’s quite large, it feels secluded and cozy. Though I’ve been there many times, it seems every time I go there, there’s something unexpected. (Last time it was the beautiful free-range hens and rooster roaming through the fines.) This time it was an ice skating rink nestled in a spot between the restaurant and the vineyard. A staff member was out on the ice with a snow blower, with a family waiting to hit the ice. It turns out the rink is open to the public – free of charge – and the gang that was there were locals who have been there before. (One of moms there explained that one of the kids on the ice had learned to skate there.)  It’s a home-made rink – so if it’s cold enough for ice, it’s open. What fun!

2014 Bella Terra Reserve Cab Sauv with pork back ribs

When we looked at the list of pairings, I mentioned to my friend that I was surprised to see that PondView Estate Winery was serving pork back ribs, as they served that last year, though this year they are serving it with one of my favourite Pondview wines: their Bella Terra Reserve Cab Sauv. My girlfriend had the right outlook – she said, “Well, if there’s something you’re good at – and the ribs are awesome – why not stick to it!” How right she is – so off we went.

Cold fermenting tanks at PondView

Another fun thing about this kind of passport program is that they often host the pairing in different locations in the winery that you might not normally get a chance to see on a regular visit. PondView, for example has set up the tasting in their fermentation room. I’ve been in there before, but this was the first time I saw what looked like ice frozen on the outside of some of the stainless tanks. Naturally, I asked about that. Apparently, the ice crystals are on tanks where they are doing cold fermenting. (Something I’ll have to ask about next time I’m chatting with a winemaker!)

Cozy space at Reif Estate Winery
An inventive — and useful — re-purposing of a wine barrel at Reif

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Reif Estate Winery we got into another back room that I’d never been in before. A big, but cozy space, thanks to the barrel-lined black walls. Very different… (and check out the clever re-purposed barrel).

Lacing up at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery

Another place we made a point of stopping at was Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery. We wanted to check out Wayne’s ice rink – I mean, really… It was a popular spot, as you’d expect. The crowd was definitely more millennial than boomer (my demographic) – so it has a different vibe – very fun and VERY popular. The winery has a separate building where the spirits are. Neither of us are into whisky, but cream whisky is… well, dessert, which we are into. We had to try it. It is quite nice – think Bailey’s Irish Cream, with (to me) a hint of cocoa.

The rink at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery

Another surprise was that there were a few families with kids. I thought that was unusual, but the little ones were happy – and the wineries all serve non-alcoholic drinks for those with a designated driver passport. In watching the children, it’s clear that they enjoyed trying different things as much as their parents did.

We ended our day back at the restaurant at Ravine. We didn’t have a reservation, but they had room for us and, to our delightful surprise, the were running a prix fixe special that was unbelievable: any appetizer, main and dessert from the regular menu for $35. What a treat! I had smoked arctic char, braised short rib of beef (normally $36 alone), and sticky toffee pudding. My friend had the mushrooms on toast, pork loin, and a chocolate tart. The food was spectacular and the service was exceptional. If you’ve not been to the restaurant at Ravine, I can’t recommend it enough.

On the way home we were talking about the day. In terms of favourites, we especially enjoyed the savory food (Inniskillin, Pondview, and Jackson-Triggs). My favourite pairing was Jackson-Triggs’ 2016 Grand Reserve Pinot Noir and the smoked chicken and chocolate cheddar panini with mushrooms and preserved cherries. My favourite wine was the 2013 Stratus ‘Weather Report’ Red.

There are still two more weekends to enjoy the Days of Wine & Chocolate and you can order your Passports ($45+ tax or $25 for designated drivers) online. I hope you have the opportunity to check it out.

More Taste the Season in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yesterday I was down in Niagara-on-the-Lake for my second round of Taste the Season. Like last week, a girlfriend and I made a day of it.

Also like last weekend, our first stop was less than inspiring. I was looking forward to stopping in at The Lakeview Wine Company because it’s been awhile since I was there and they re-built the tasting room. (It used to be a modified construction site trailer that they inherited when they bought 20 Bees Winery.) The new building is quite spectacular and worth seeing, especially if you remember their previous digs.

Gnocchi at Lakeview Wine Co.

Unfortunately, the Taste the Season pairing was not as exciting as the new building. In fact, the butternut squash gnocchi was a bit of a disaster, despite the effort. The caterers had set up a lovely prep station and they were sautéing the mushrooms and carefully plating each with a lot of love. Lakeview chose a nice wine to pair the gnocchi with – their 2016 FRESH Riesling Gewürzt blend. The crisp, refreshing wine was quite nice – and very reasonably priced ($12.95) – but the gnocchi was hard (you had to stab it with a fork to pick it up). Disappointing, to say the least. But, there were plenty of other places to try, so I was sure the day would improve.

My plan was to visit wineries on or near Niagara Stone Road – the highway that runs through the heart of the region. So, our next stop was Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. Though it opened earlier this year, I hadn’t yet stopped in. The Gretzky brand is part of the Peller family of wines and it’s been around for a number of years, but the venue is new. Also new is the addition of a line of whiskys.

 

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

The winery is a two-winged expanse situated on a can’t-miss-it location along one edge of one of the (newish) traffic circles on Niagara Stone Road. Everything about it is designed to impress. The first thing you notice as you walk up to it is the beautiful copper and stainless steel still that’s visible through the two-story window in the front of the building on the left. Our guess was that the Taste the Season event was going on in the other building. But, before going in, I wanted to poke around toward the back, to see the buildings from a different perspective.

Outdoor bar at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery
Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

I’m sure glad we did, as there are some delightful surprises there: an inviting bar that looked cozy enough to enjoy a drink even in the dead of winter – especially since it’s next to an ice skating arena they’ve built – a very nice touch! Though it was too warm for ice at this point – you know it’ll be a big draw once the temperature drops. Honestly – you can’t help but think that’s just the kind of arena Walter Grezky probably set up every winter in the back yard for Wayne and his friends …

As for the Taste the Season offering at Gretzky’s – well, they were serving their 2016 No. 99 Baco Noir ($15.95) paired with white bean, smoked paprika and ham hock cassoulet. Apparently, the cassoulet was prepared by the well-known restaurant at Trius – one of the other Peller wineries. As the server was getting ready to serve us, she made sure to mention there was bacon in, asking us if we were ok with that. Sadly, the bland white bean soup they served bore no resemblance to cassoulet. I couldn’t believe it was from Trius’ well-known restaurant. The wine was alright, but nothing to write home about and certainly no way to know whether it would pair well with real cassoulet.

Smoked salmon cones at Trius Winery at Hillebrand

After the shockingly bad offering from the Trius kitchen, I was curious to see what they were serving up as part of Taste the Season at Trius Winery at Hillebrand. So, we stopped in there next. Well, talk about night and day. As you can see from the photo – at Trius they were serving exquisite miniature cones filled with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and pickled red onion paired with their 2016 Trius Chardonnay ($15.10). The petite cones were to die for and the unoaked Chardonnay was perfect with it. It’s hard to believe that the same kitchen that turned out that little bit of heaven made that tasteless white bean soup at Gretzky’s. I guess it happens…

Our next stop was Pillitteri Estates Winery – one of the few places featuring dessert. They were serving a cinnamon candied pecan crusted pumpkin cookie paired with their 2015 Canada 150 Select late Harvest Vidal. Though I didn’t much care for the texture of the cooking, the wine was terrific and it paired well. The wine is an exceptional late harvest and a terrific value ($15 for 200 ml). Of all the wines I enjoyed as part of the 2017 Taste the Season event, I think this wine offered the best value and would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys a dessert wine.

Pillitteri Estates Winery Taste the Seasons 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fat Chance” Smoked Salmon at Stratus Vineyards

I was keen to stop at Stratus Vineyards, which I generally think of for their reds, because they were featuring their 2015 Stratus Weather Report Chardonnay ($28.00) paired with “Fat Chance” smoked salmon. After the exquisite salmon-based appetizer at Trius, I thought the simplicity of the Stratus pairing might be a bit of a let down. I could not be more wrong. The buttery, melt-in-your-mouth salmon and the light oak of the Chardonnay proved the best pairing of the day. Another reason the pairing was so inspired is it actually represents something simple enough that all of us could serve our guests. Hats off to Stratus for the pairing – and for spreading the word about Imant Malins’ Fat Chance salmon, which is locally-sourced.

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake provided me with two passes to the month-long event. As I’ve said before, I think the passport programs are a terrific idea and a great value. They’re brilliant because you can visit 25 wineries per passport and you have the entire month to use them. Also, they’re fully transferrable so you can share them with different friends.

There’s one more weekend to enjoy Taste the Season. If you don’t have a chance to get out next weekend, mark your calendar for February – they’ll be running the Days of Wine and Chocolate.

Taste the Season – Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

As a friend mentioned the other day, November is kind of a buffer month – it’s a time to re-charge before the busy holiday season and, for many of us, time to start to think about what we might serve – both in terms of food and wine – at our holiday get togethers.

With all this in mind, the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have a holiday tradition called “Taste the Season” – it’s one of their popular passport programs and it runs every weekend (Fridays through Sundays) in November.

I was given two passes to the event by the tourism folks and a girlfriend and I spent Sunday popping in to different wineries to sample their food/wine pairings. It was a dreary day, which might be why most of the places we stopped in at were not overly busy. Mind you, that was great as far as we were concerned because it meant more of an opportunity to speak with the folks at the wineries about the recent harvest, and about the wines and food.

The choice of which wineries we visited was based strictly on our route. We started at Niagara College Teaching Winery, which is right off the QEW. I hate to say it, but I was very disappointed with the pairing there. They were serving their 2011 Dean’s List Pinot Noir ($17.15) with a grilled zucchini, tomato, and Havarti tart. It sounded so promising, but was a total disappointment because the tart was stone cold. It’s true, it was early, so they had just opened, but no wine would taste good with the fat of the cold pastry dough. Too bad…

Fortunately, the day improved quickly at our next stop – Chȃteau des Charmes. They too were serving a Pinot Noir (their 2015 Estate Grown & Bottle Pinot) ($16.95). They paired it with a delicious smoked chili spiced meat ball served in a lovely little bamboo cup with some tomato fondue and parmesan cheese. (The food was catered by Vintage Inns.)

Taste the Season at Ravine Vineyards

Our next stop was Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – always one of my favourite spots. The served their 2014 Sand & Gravel Redcoat ($18.95) paired with a beef stew with a parmesan pastry. I was surprised when they served the wine in a plastic throw-away glass, but I figured it’s because of the numbers of people that come through for the tasting. The server – clearly concerned about the presentation – gave us a card offering a complimentary tasting flight at the tasting bar where, he assured us, “they use proper glassware”. We promptly went over to the other room and one of the wines I chose to (re)sample was the Sand & Gravel Redcoat. I’m glad I did – though I enjoyed it well enough in the plastic cup, in a real glass is was quite nice. In fact, that’s the wine I ended up purchasing.

Taste the Season at Marynissen Estates

Another stop we made was Marynissen Estate Winery. They were serving a 2015 Gewürztraminer ($16.00) with a warm corn and red pepper bisque. The server made a point to tell everyone that it wasn’t a particularly sweet Gewürzt – I guess many folks are put off Gewürzt because they associate it with sweetness. I didn’t care much for the wine – I actually found it a bit too dry for – but the soup was delicious. Indeed, when we were re-capping the day, my friend and I agreed that the soup was our favourite of all the food samples.

Taste the Season at Inniskillin

Inniskillin Wines gets kudos for an innovative pairing: their 2015 Vidal Icewine ($29.95) paired with aged cheddar grilled cheese with a garden tomato chutney on top. I think it’s a terrific idea to show people that icewine isn’t just for dessert. They also get high marks for a very simple, but effective presentation. Though the server didn’t know we’d be taking a photo – he made sure that the name of the winery was visible on the napkin. (Nicely done!)

Taste the Season at Peller Estates

Our last stop was  Peller Estates. They were serving their 2016 Private Reserve Gamay Noir ($19.95) with a smoked pork and duck terrine. That pairing a true standout. The wine on its own was light and refreshing (as you’d expect from a Gamay) and it balanced the richness of the terrine quite well. (It was my friend’s favourite wine of the day, by the way) Also, there was a young chef (I’d guess a chef-in-training) serving the terrine and he happily answered my questions about the difference between terrines and pates. It’s opportunities to speak with folks from the wineries that are familiar with food and wine that make these events really enjoyable.

The Restaurant at Peller Estates

We ended the day with a long, late, relaxing lunch as the Restaurant at Peller Estates, which was lovely.

If all goes according to plan, I will be headed down to Niagara-on-the-Lake next weekend with another girlfriend to see what some of the other wineries are up to.  Stay tuned – or better yet – head out with some friends and enjoy Taste the Season yourself.

 

Celebrating Women in Wine

Raising a Glass to Outstanding Women in Wine

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits, a wine agent here in the Toronto area, hosted a fantastic event in Toronto a couple weeks ago: Celebrating Women in Wine.  The event featured women from 20 wineries around the world.

The list of women was impressive – there were owners, winemakers, enologists, and women who hold important behind-the-scenes functions that no modern winery can do with out: positions related to sales, marketing, and export. Though many attendees were there primarily to taste the wines, I saw it as a rare opportunity to chat with a bunch of incredible women who are driven by hard work and a love for wine.

The first woman I spoke with was Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, Proprietress of Badia a Coltibuono, a winery in Siena, Tuscany.  Though she grew up in Milan, the winery has been in the family for 170 years. In the 1980s she began doing marketing for the winery and she now manages it, with her brothers looking after sales and the restaurant.

Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti of Badia a Coltibuono

Since I was unfamiliar with Badia a Coltibuono, I asked whether it’s the type of winery that’s considered a destiny. In a wonderfully modest fashion, Emanuela indicated that the winery, which used to be an abbey, is very much a destination, with rooms, a restaurant, and even a cooking school. When I asked her how the cooking school came about, she explained that her mother was a “food writer”. When I asked what that means, she explained that her mother was a well-known cookbook author who also had a cooking show on PBS for a time. Indeed, it turns out her mother is Lorenza de Medici, author of over 30 cookbooks. In terms of their wines, Emanuela described their Chianti as a wine that “shows the history of Chianti” – and with the pedigree of the family and the winery, it’s hard to argue with that!

I then went in search of Beth Nickel, Proprietress of the famed Napa winery Far Niente  With the recent news of the devastating fires in California, the first question was about the fate of their winery and vines, and of the general region. She said a few wineries were damaged, but theirs were not. She also affirmed reports that the vineyards proved to be a natural defense to the fires because the vines hold so much moisture. Nonetheless, she showed photos and said it was a frightening experience and she and her family were evacuated for 10 days.

Beth and her husband Gil launched Far Niente in the late 1970s and I thought I read that they had just sold it. She explained that they took on a new partner last year, but that they are still very much involved. She was especially excited to talk about their Nickel & Nickel wines, which are all single vineyard.

Marta Casas, winemaker of Parés Baltà , a winery outside Barcelona, had an interesting story too. It turns out she and the other winemaker there married into the business. Marta is married to Josep Cusiné and Elena Jiménez, the other winemaker, is married to Joan, Josep’s brother. Together, the brothers manage the winery.

Marta, who began her professional career as a pharmacist, was always interested in wine and she eventually decided to go back to school to study it. I’m not sure when exactly she and Josep met, but clearly their common interest in wine must have played a part in them being together and working at Parés Baltà. Given that Barcelona’s been in the news lately as well, I took the opportunity to ask Marta about it. She confirmed that things are a bit tense now, and they don’t know what the future holds. But, she was much happier to talk about winemaking and about the fact that their winery is organic and biodynamic. One of her wines – their Cava Brut NV – which is made of the classic Catalan blend of Parellada, Macebeo, and Xarel-lo, was one of my favourites at the event.

Barbara Widmer of Casa Brancaia

Barbara Widmer, owner and winemaker at Tuscany’s Casa Brancaia, was there pouring her “super Tuscans” – basically Bordeaux-style blends that feature Sangiovese and other grapes that are not indigenous to Italy. Her TRE, named because it’s a blend of three wines: 80% Sangiovese with a mix of Merlot and Cab Sauv, was lovely. Widmer, who doesn’t look or sound Italian, is, in fact, from Switzerland. Her parents bought the property and started the winery in Tuscany while living in Zurich. Having summered at the winery while growing up, Barbara realized she wanted to be in the business and in she took over winemaking there in 1998.

The wine business – especially when it comes to Old World wineries – is often a family business. So, it’s not surprising that some of the women I spoke with had family connections. But, that doesn’t mean their entrée into the business was a snap. Indeed, the story of Françoise Antech, Proprietress at Antech Limoux, is an example of the fact that even within a family, women can face barriers. Though her grandmother had been involved in the winery, when she expressed interest in working in the family business, her father discouraged her. So, she made her way in the world, working in the perfume business for many well-known French firms. Eventually, with enough business experience behind her, she reasserted her interest, and the rest is history. Since 1996 she has worked alongside her father and uncle at the estate that specializes in sparkling wines.

I’m very pleased to note that the event also featured a few women from the Ontario wine scene: Elisa Mazzi, who has been assistant winemaker at Malivoire for seven years, and Beth Whitty, Proprietress of 13th Street Winery. I am embarrassed to say that though I’ve frequently visited both these wineries, I had not met either of them. I promised both that at a future visit I’d speak with them at length and write about their journey through the wine industry.

In closing, I just want to say hats off to Mark Coster of Noble Estates Wine & Spirits. I understand he played a big role in putting this event together. It is a terrific idea and one that I hope is repeated and perhaps grows, celebrating more women in wine.

Pick, Stomp & Taste at Flat Rock Cellars

If you’re a wine enthusiast and you see yourself as someone who is “hands on” (not to mention if you have fond memories of Lucy and Ethel getting down and dirty in a wine barrel) – Flat Rock CellarsPick, Stomp & Taste is for you!

I had seen this annual event announced a few years ago, but I hadn’t had a chance to attend. This year I happened to see it announced in a tourism newsletter and when I checked my calendar and found it was clear – I called the winery to book it. (I was surprised that the event wasn’t listed on the winery’s website – I asked them about it and they said it’s so popular they only advertise it through signs at the winery and on social media.)

Yesterday was the perfect day for it – sunny and hot. Ed Madronich, owner of the winery, was our enthusiastic host. (Click here for a short video of Ed talking about Flat Rock Cellars and about Ontario being the idea wine-growing climate.)

After welcoming us, he explained how the afternoon would unfold, warning – a number of times – that the shears were sharp AND when you’re getting into the vines to clip with one hand “you can’t see your other hand”. Though his repeating of the warning may have seemed a bit much to some, I didn’t mind. (I didn’t hear of any injuries among the group, so clearly everyone took note.)

We were picking not-quite-ripe Riesling. In groups of four or five, our task was to fill a bin.

 

 

 

 

 

 


When our bins were full, we dumped the grapes into a half-barrel and, with the warning that it can be slippery, the first person gingerly stepped in. Though shy at first, we soon found the more the merrier in the barrel.

And, we soon realized there’s no “right way” to do it and different folks had different techniques!

 

 

 

When we felt the grapes had given up their last bit of juice, it was over to the garden hose for a quick wash.

Then we went upstairs to the hexagonal tasting room to taste, and enjoy the lovely view of the vineyard and Lake Ontario in the background. Ed led the tasting that included a sip of fresh Riesling juice. (It was not the juice we had just made – it was juice they had squeezed that morning – not by folks stomping on it, we were told.) The tasting was surprisingly fun too – mainly because of Ed’s enthusiasm and candor. He explained why you should always start with reds and move to whites – and he had us taste in a particular order to demonstrate the wisdom of this approach.

My favourite comment of the day was when Ed admitted that at tastings, he doesn’t spit – he can’t bring himself to waste the wine! Hear, hear!

 

 

 

Flat Rock Cellars hosts Pick, Stomp & Taste again next weekend (September 23/24). Reservations are required, and it fills up fast – so call the winery now (905-562-8994 or Toll Free: 1-855-994-8994)  – or mark your calendar to book it next year.

 

Sometimes Grandma Knows Best …

Shauna White, winemaker and vineyard manager

A friend and I were out for a drive in Caledon on a recent Saturday. It was a lovely day and so I suggested we head up to Hockley Valley Resort and the Adamo Estate Winery. I had been there when it first opened in September 2016 but Shauna White, the winemaker, was not there during my previous visit.

My recent visit was spur-of-the-moment and it never crossed my mind that Shauna might be there. To my pleasant surprise, she was. But, she was leading a private tasting when we got there. JP Adamo, one of the owners, was also there and since I had met him before, I decided to ask if he thought Shauna might be free later. I also mentioned that I happened to have my camera and if she were willing, I’d love to do a short video with her. (Whenever I’m headed out for a drive, though visiting wineries isn’t always the plan, it’s always something I’m up for, so I usually take the camera and I made sure the battery is fully charged, just in case!) When Shauna was done with the tasting, she agreed to a video interview.

Adamo Estate Winery

As with so many winemakers, Shauna has travelled the world to hone her craft. And, as with so many winemakers, the story of how she got into winemaking is personal and tied to family. Click here to see the video. When you’ve finished watching, you’ll probably have one question that you wish I’d have asked.

Well, I don’t know why I didn’t ask it on camera, but I did ask afterward. For the answer to the question of who Shauna’s aunt is, I’ll just say it’s someone who’s well known in the Canadian wine world. [Click here to see a video that will reveal who it is.]

Ardiel Dry Cider — Worth looking for

Found another fantastic Ontario craft cider: Ardiel Cider House Dry CiderA friend brought it sailing — I think he got it at an LCBO in Bolton.

The label says it’s from The Blue Mountains, Ontario. So, my guess was that it’s somehow related to Georgian Hills Vineyards — they’re up in the Blue Mountain area and I had a recollection that one of the winery owners was named Ardiel and was a big apple grower in the area. (Another owner is a  Puddicombe — a fruit growing, winemaking family that’s also behind Sir Isaac’s Pear Cider; the third owner, Robert Ketchin, has been involved in the Ontario wine industry for years.) Sure enough, Ardiel is produced by Georgian Hills Vineyards.

I wish I had a photo of the cider for you — it’s very pale. (We also had some Brickworks Batch 1904, which was the same colour of the beer others were enjoying. Ardiel Dry Cider is the pale straw colour of a Sauvignon Blanc.) It’s very crisp — one of the driest Ontario ciders I’ve tried, which is how I like them. It’s 6% alcohol/vol.

It’s available at Georgian Hills Vineyards and at some LCBOs — it’s definitely worth looking for!

I love discovering new Ontario craft ciders — they’re a wonderful expression of Ontario’s bounty and craftsmanship.

 

Hunter Bottling – a mobile innovation that would make Rube Goldberg proud

I often wonder how wineries can afford all the different types of equipment needed for that precious nectar to go from grape to the bottle I enjoy with dinner. If you’ve ever been to a winery, you’ve probably seen a press, tanks and barrels. But there’s also a raft of special-purpose equipment involved in bottling and labelling.

If a winery can’t afford their own bottling equipment – or if they don’t want to tie up precious space for equipment they may only use a few weeks a year – they have to make alternative arrangements. Sometimes that means shipping their wine via tanker to another winery for bottling. Turns out, another alternative for wineries is Hunter Bottling, a company that’s been offering mobile bottling services for about 15 years. A number of Ontario wineries use them (particularly in the Niagara region, which is where Hunter started).

Intrigued by the idea, I began asking around to find out more about Hunter Bottling and their services. I soon found out that Malivoire Wine Company uses them. So, since Malivoire’s winemaker Shiraz Mottiar is very approachable, I dropped him a line and he put me in touch with Glenn Hunt, founder of Hunter Bottling.

Video

Mottiar was also kind enough to let me stop in (in mid-May) and see the bottling line in action. Click Here to watch a short video of Hunter Bottling at work bottling Malivoire’s 2016 Gamay. Special thanks go to Mottiar for explaining the process and to the crew of Hunter Bottling who let me into the truck as they worked.

Hunter Bottling’s Back Story

Shiraz Mottiar, winemaker at Malivoire Wine Company

Glenn Hunt, who grew up in St. Catharines, was in the winery business long before he started Hunter Bottling. Early in his career he focused mainly on the sales and marketing side (though he also had a successful virtual winery for a while). He was working at Hillebrand at the time Peller (the owner of Hillebrand) was building Peller Estates’ winery on East-West Line in Niagara-on-the-Lake. To satisfy regulations that required Peller to conduct a certain amount of processing on-site at their wineries, Peller had the idea of transporting its bottling line between its two properties: Hillebrand and Peller Estates. So, it outfitted a 53-foot semi with a bottling line.

Because Peller’s mobile bottling trailer sat idle for a fair bit of time, Hunt approached Peller with the idea of him renting the truck from Peller and offer bottling services to other wineries. Peller was agreeable and so in 2002 Hunter Bottling debuted, using Peller’s truck. At about that time, Martin Malivoire was thinking about putting a mobile bottling facility together. Malivoire’s idea was to put the bottling line in a smaller truck, as not all wineries have the space to host a full-size semi.

Malivoire designed a line that would work in a truck’s 22-foot box and Hunt bought the plans from him. Hunt affectionately described the original 22-foot box as a cute little truck and Hunter Bottling used it for quite some time. In 2012 they expanded it a bit and its current fleet is three trucks, each with a 28 foot box (40 feet overall).

In Ontario, Hunter Bottling focuses mainly on the Niagara region, though they also service wineries in various “emerging regions” of Ontario. As well, they service a number of wineries in Virginia. They’re also the Ontario sales rep for the French bottling equipment maker they use for their bottling lines.

And, in case you’re wondering – as I was – Hunt says each fully outfitted truck costs about $750,000. Obviously, it’s quite an investment. So, it’s no surprise that for many wineries it’s more cost effective to hire Hunter Bottling, rather than invest in equipment for a bottling line that sits idle much of the year.

A Typical Bottling Day

Mottiar says that on bottling day, Hunter Bottling’s truck typically arrives at the winery at about 6 a.m. It takes Hunter about 90 minutes to set up and by 7:30 or so, they’re ready to start. The bottling activity involves a combination of winery staff and Hunter staff. Malivoire’s retail staff does the repetitive manual work on the line – things like loading the empty bottles onto the line, taking the full cases of wine off the line and onto the pallets for storing/shipping. Hunter’s staff runs the equipment, cleans it out between runs, and so on.

Speed and other Variables

In terms of the speed of the process, Mottiar says it averages about 3,000 bottles per hour. A variety of factors impact the speed, including some variables I wouldn’t have considered. “It can depend on the wine – some flows quite easily. Reds with some age, for example, usually flow very well. The bottle shape also impacts how fast the bottle is filled, as does whether we’re using a screw top or cork,” said Mottiar.

Another interesting variable they’ve had to contend with is labels that don’t want to adhere. If the wine is too cold, for example, the bottles sweat and then the labels don’t always want to stay on. The day I was there was unusually hot and the stainless steel tank holding the rosé they planned on bottling later that afternoon was starting to sweat. To compensate, Mottiar thought that they’d probably end up having to turn on the air conditioning in the bottling truck to lessen the chance of the bottles sweating.