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.

EPIC Celebrates – and Commemorates – Canada’s 150th in Style

I’m continually impressed with the ideas Ontario wineries come up with and I’ve been wondering what some might be doing to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

Well, 10 of the EPIC wineries (the acronym stands for Essex, Pelee Island, Coast wineries) have released a special, limited collection of VQA wines under the EPIC 1867 banner. Each of the participating wineries have produced one wine that features a custom-designed label that talks about an aspect of the region’s rich winemaking history, which actually pre-dates confederation by a year. And, in keeping with the theme, each bottle retails for $18.67 (plus bottle deposit).

The idea behind the project was three-fold: to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, to commemorate the role the region had as the birthplace of the Canadian wine industry, and to showcase the vibrancy of the region’s wineries today.

The limited edition wines (Melissa Muscedere of Muscedere Vineyards Estate Wines says that each winery produced only 100-150 cases of their featured wine) were released May 27th and are available while they last.

 

Here’s an alphabetical list of the participating wineries and their commemorative wine:

  • Aleksander Estate Winery – Cabernet France
  • Colchester Ridge Estate Winery (CREW) – Sauvignon Blanc
  • Colio Estate Wines – Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio
  • Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards – Cabernet Merlot
  • Mastronardi Estate Winery – Pinot Grigio
  • Muscedere Vineyards – Vidal Blanc
  • North 42 Degrees Estate Winery – Summer Chill (a Riesling-Sauvignon Blanc blend)
  • Oxley Estate Winery – 21st Century Red (a blend of HG 1, 3 and 4)
  • Pelee Island Winery – Cabernet
  • Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery – Sacré Blanc (an un-oaked Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling blend)

Special Exhibit at Windsor’s Chimczuk Museum

From August 4, 2017 through December 31, 2017, Windsor’s Chimczuk Museum will host a special exhibit called “Toast to the Coast – an EPIC 150 Years”. The exhibition will tell the story of the region’s winemaking history. To compliment the exhibit, the museum will host a series of speakers later this year. (Details about the speaker series have not been announced – for more information, check the museum’s website.)

You can also get a commemorative poster ($10) that features all the different labels and the story – actually, the history – behind each.

EPIC Commemorative Poster

You can also get a commemorative poster ($10) that features all the different labels and the story – actually, the history – behind each.

Winemaker Amélie Boury’s Favourite Childhood Game Really Paid Off

Winemaker Amélie Boury

Like many winemakers, Château des Charmes’ Amélie Boury attributes a love for the outdoors and growing up on a farm as a reason she’s at home in the vineyard. But, she attributes her interest in winemaking to a creative game her mother played with her growing up. The “Nose Game”, as she referred to it, was “a simple game”: her mom told her to go outside and smell things and then come back and describe them to her.

She loved the game so much, as a young girl growing up in France, she initially thought about a career was in the perfume industry. Somewhere along the line, however, she focused her nosing talents on winemaking, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Amélie was gracious enough to show me around the cellar at Chateau des Charmes and to talk about winemaking –  the unglamorous parts and the joy of seeing people enjoy the wine she’s made. Here’s a video of our chat.

Sip & Sizzle through the long weekend — and next weekend

A friend and I popped down to Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday for Sip & Sizzle. A few years ago we enjoyed this event, but I must say, this year the selections are even better. The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Konzelmann Estate Winery had invited me and I had plans to go earlier in the month but I didn’t get a chance to go earlier.

Grilled prawn at Chateau des Charmes

We stopped at Chateau des Charmes, Ravine Vineyards, The Hare Wince Col, Konzelmann Estate Winery, Strewn Winery, Peller Estates, and Two Sisters.

One of the fun things about these passport events is seeing how the wineries interpret the theme. Given the name, it’s easy to assume that the food would centre on something on the BBQ. Some wineries certainly did interpret the theme that way. For example, Château des Charmes is serving a grilled prawn atop a shoot and sprout salad with a garnish of a citrus zest emulsion paired with their newly released, refreshing 2016 Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Halloumi Cheese at The Hare Wine Co.

The Hare Wine Co. served with their 2016 Jack Rabbit White (a Riesling/Vidal/Gewürztraminer blend) with small pita wedge with a (very small) piece of Halloumi cheese marinated in tikka sauce and then melted a bit by frying it on the flat side of a panini press and then topped with a slice of canned peach.

Braised veal cheek rillettes with gnocchi at Konzelmann Estate Winery

Konzelmann Estate Winery served their 2015 Cab Sauv paired with braised veal cheek rillettes with parmesan and potato gnocchi in a grilled butter sauce. When I asked the person serving where the “sizzle” came in, she was a bit stumped. Then I re-read the description and saw that the food was created by a local restaurant called “Grill on King” – so, I guess Konzelmann at least had the spirit of the theme in mind.

Cabernet wild boar sausage at Peller Estates Winery

At the end of the day, my friend could not choose his favourite wine – he enjoyed them all. In terms of food, he liked what Peller Estates Winery served: cabernet wild boar sausage on a ciabatta bun with Quebec maple mustard, fried chili shallots and mustard seedlings served with their 2015 Private Reserve Gamay Noir. I think Peller’s choice of serving a hearty, tasty sausage is brilliant. It was a clear crowd pleaser – especially for the men who were there – and showing folks how well the wine pairs with something many of us will be gilling up this summer makes perfect sense.

Harissa grilled chicken thigh on mixed grains salad at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery

In terms of food – I loved what Ravine Vineyards served: Rossco’s harissa grilled chicken thig on a mixed grain salad. Indeed, if there was one recipe I’d LOVE to get, it’s for the grain salad – so flavourful! I will confess that I didn’t much care for Ravine’s 2015 Cabernet Rosé – but, the food really paired well with it and it brought out the best in the wine.

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s mixed grain salad — YUM!
Cod potato fritter with grilled zucchini, tomato and basil salad at Two Sisters Vineyards

The other food that I adored was Two Sisters’ cod potato fritter with a grilled zucchini, tomato and basil salad. It paired beautifully with their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. The food was prepared by Kitchen 76, the restaurant at the winery. I’ve not yet eaten at Kitchen 76 because it seems rather pricey (even for NOL) but the fritter and salad were so tasty, maybe next time I’m looking to splurge on a meal, I’ll give it a try.

In terms of my favourite wines, I couldn’t choose just one. But, in whites the Sauvignon Blancs were the winners. That said, I ended up coming home with the well-priced 2016 Estate Grown Sauv Blanc from Château des Charmes ($14.95). The Two Sisters’ version was lovely, but at $34, I took a pass. In terms of reds, Konzelmann’s 2015 Cab Sauv was lovely and quite a bargain at $13.95.

 

If you’ve already got plans for this long weekend, don’t worry – Sip & Sizzle continues this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and next weekend (Friday-Sunday).

Catherine Langlois – winemaker and owner of Sandbanks Estate Winery

Catherine Langlois

I love Prince Edward County and always look for reasons to visit. This week I had a sad reason – the funeral of a friend’s mother. Because it was a planned trip on a weekday, I decided to see if Catherine Langlois – the winemaker/owner of Sandbanks Estate Winery might be in that day. I dropped the winery an e-mail to ask about meeting Catherine. They got back to me right away and we set it up a meeting.

I love meeting winemakers and have found it especially interesting chatting with women winemakers. Catherine was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to meet with me and she let me film a short video with her. Click here to watch the video.

As I mentioned to Catherine when we were done shooting the video, I think Sandbanks is an incredibly inviting place. I’ve often thought about why that is. I think lots has to do with the colour scheme and the welcoming lawn full of colourful Muskoka chairs. From the very first time a friend and I were tooling down the Loyalist Parkway headed toward Picton, as we came upon the winery, we were drawn like a magnet to stop in. I imagine that’s how lots of people “discover” Sandbanks Estate Winery.

After meeting Catherine, I now realize that the winery’s ambiance is nothing less than a manifestation of Catherine’s friendliness, enthusiasm, and warmth.

A Sample from Taste Ontario

Yesterday I was at Taste Ontario — a VQA tasting featuring over 40 Ontario wineries. Nice to see some new wineries, including Meldville Wines, Derek Barnett’s virtual winery (you can find it a Legends Estate Winery in Beamsville). I especially liked his Chardonnay 2015 (Retails for $20).

It was also nice to have some wineries from further afield, including two from the Lake Erie North Shore area, four from Prince Edward County, and two from the so-called Emerging  Regions.

Here are a few random notes about a some of the wines and wineries:

  • PEC’s Coopers Hawk Vineyards’ Baco Foch, which retails for $14.95, is a particularly good value.
  • Closson Chase, which traditionally only made Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is now making Pinot Gris. Their Watson Pinot Gris 2016 is the second vintage they’ve produced.
  • Good Earth’s Viognier 2015 (retailing for $24.95) is quite lovely. They barrel age it so it has an unusual fullness for a Viognier. Sadly, only available at the winery. But then again, Good Earth is a terrific destination – they have a bistro and they offer cooking classes too.
  • Icellars Estate Winery was there – first time for them. Adnan Icel, the owner/winemaker, was excited to be there and he mentioned that they will be at Cuvee this year too. So, plenty of opportunity for you to try their exceptional wines, which at this point are only available at the winery and on-line.
  • Vieni Estates Wine and Spirits’ Momenti Sparkling was one of the best values on hand yesterday. Retailing at $13.95 this Vidal/Pinot Grigio Charmat method sparkling would be a perfect addition to summertime socializing.

 

A new version of PB & J?

The folks at Konzelmann Estate Winery invited me to visit during Days of Wine and Chocolate. Joanne, a friend from Hamilton, had never been to Konzelmann and she was happy to play hooky with me one Friday.

Because I’ve always found tutored tastings fun – and a great way to really experience a winery – I checked on-line to find out what activities Konzelmann offers. I was expecting to see the usual – a tasting flight perhaps with some cheese. I was tickled when I saw they have a Junk Food Pairing. It sounded fun, so I booked it.

We didn’t know what to expect, especially given that one person’s junk food may be another person’s dietary staple!

The tasting was upstairs in a cozy, wood-panelled loft room. Ken Dubois, who led the tasting, ushered us to the table where the tasting was set up. At each place setting was a plate with four different junk foods: ketchup flavoured potato chips, Reese cups, kettle popcorn, and fuzzy peach candies.

My first thought was, “well, I’d certainly agree – those are all junk food”.  My next thought was “who would ever drink wine with Reese cups?” Fortunately, I was professional enough not to say that out loud…

Before we started, I asked Ken how they came up with the idea of a Junk Food Pairing tasting. He explained it all started as a bit of a game among winery staff. They’d bring in some food they like, or had on hand, and they’d have a competition to figure out what wine might pair best with it. Chips and popcorn – things you and I might serve with some wine – were too boring for some staff members.

Ken’s favourite was when someone brought in Fruit Loops. Given that Konzelmann produces over 30 different wines, I can imagine the challenge – and delight – of trying different combinations. They had so much fun with it, they decided to turn it into a proper tasting.

Here’s a short video of Ken talking about the genesis of this unique tasting.

Ken started us on a lightly oaked 2015 Chardonnay Reserve with the kettle corn. The light butteryness of the Chardonnay complimented the light sweetness of the kettle corn. Next, he poured us some of their 2015 Canada Red – it’s a Zweigelt/Cab blend. That was paired with the ketchup chips. For me, that was the first real Wow! The wine transformed the tangy vinegary flavour of the chips into something mildly sweet.

Next up were the Reese cups. I confessed to Ken that Reese cups are a real weakness for me and so I try to only have them on rare occasions as a treat. So, to me, it seems a waste of good wine AND a waste of the pleasure of a Reese cup to have them together. But, of course, we were there to try something new…

Ken poured us their 2015 Pinot Noir (1) and invited us to try the Reese cup with it. The effect was quite unbelievable. Seeing that I was struggling to describe the taste, Ken smiled and said, “Kinda like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, isn’t it.” That was EXACTLY it! Quite amazing.

The last pairing was the fuzzy peach candy and their 2015 Peach Wine. That was my least favourite pair because I don’t really like that kind of candy. I’ve had Konzelmann’s Peach Wine before and it’s lovely – I’d pass on the candy and just enjoy the wine.

I knew the tasting would be fun and I expected it would demonstrate how a wine can complement a food – like the Chardonnay/kettle corn pairing did. What made the tasting especially interesting, however, was the chance to experience how wine can actually transform the taste of a food, creating a whole new taste sensation.

I left the winery with a bottle of the Canada Red and the Pinot Noir (1), determined to recreate the unique pairings with some friends.

Click here to see a short video of Ken describing the idea behind the Junk Food Pairing.