A Visit to Queenston Mile Vineyard

Queenston Mile Vineyard is one of the newest wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It opened in November 2018.

I had read that Rob Power is the winemaker at Queenston Mile and I wondered if that meant he’s moved on from Creekside Estate Winery, where he’s been winemaker for years. Indeed, that was one of my first questions when I visited. Jodie Larmond, who was minding the tasting when I visited, explained that Creekside and Queenston Mile are sister wineries (owned by the same group) and Rob is the winemaker at both.

Queenston Mile has a very different vibe than Creekside. It’s housed in a warehouse-looking building that was on the property before the winery took it over. The tasting room is quite large, but it has a comfortable feel, with clusters of tables here and there, and private space in a loft area. Currently, they aren’t serving food, but Jodie thinks that’s in the works (likely something along the lines of the casual fare available on Creekside’s Deck). So, stay tuned…

 

Queenston Mile specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They also make a variety of sparkling wines, including one made using the Pét-Nat method. I’d never heard of that and Jodie was kind enough to explain it. Pét-Nat stands for pétillant naturel. It’s an ancient method that involves bottling wine that’s partially fermented. That means that the first and only fermentation continues in bottle and the gas absorbs into the wine quickly and is ready to be drunk within a shorter period of time than other methods.

Queenston Mile’s Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé is a vibrant, dark rosé. Because it’s unfiltered, there’s a fair bit of sediment, making for a cloudy, deep rose.

 

 

Here’s a video of Jodie talking about the winery and demonstrating the decanting of their Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé.

An EPIC Detour

I was in Cincinnati last weekend for a family event and on Victoria Day, I drove back to Toronto via Detroit/Windsor. I decided on that route because I figured it’d be an opportunity to have lunch in the EPIC (Erie, Pelee Island, Coast) winery region. It proved a delightful detour.

I wasn’t sure what my timing would be, so I didn’t want to make a reservation. My plan was to have lunch at the Bistro at North 42 Degrees Estate Winery . Fortunately, I was a bit on the early side for lunch and it wasn’t too busy at that point, so getting a table wasn’t a problem.

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery

I had stopped in to see the Bistro last time I was in the region. The new building (opened in late 2017) is unique and quite impressive. It’s designed to be a compass rose, with angles jutting out over the vineyard. On the first floor, there’s a large tasting room and lavender store featuring product from Serenity Lavender, which adjoins the winery. The main dining area for the bistro is on the top floor, which means it has panoramic views of the vineyard.

The menu is pretty standard bistro fare, including “small and shareable” plates including a cheese board and charcuterie board, mussels, shrimp, and so on. The mains were also pretty standard – a pasta dish, a chicken entrée, salmon, a steak, and a lamb shank. In other words – something for everyone.

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed at the menu’s lack of creativity and the fact that there was nothing that was particularly local (or even regional) or seasonal. (I was hoping for some perch, as I know it’s local and available now.) Indeed, seems the Bistro’s menu hasn’t changed much since November.

That said, I ordered the stuffed chicken and my friend ordered the daily gnocchi, which featured four types of mushrooms. After we placed our order, the server brought a bread basket that featured three different types of breads – all house made. The focaccia was good, but the miniature corn muffin was exceptional. Hmm, I thought… things were looking up despite the standard menu choices.

Stuffed Chicken at the Bistro at North 42 Degrees Estate Winery

The chicken turned out to be very good. And, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a square of au gratin potatoes rather than just a few fingerlings. My friend reported that her gnocchi were delicious. Indeed, she’s been to the Bistro two or three other times and she said the gnocchi was one of the best things she’s eaten there. Because I needed to get back on the road, we didn’t take time for dessert.

The Bistro at North 42 Degrees is definitely worth checking out. The service is friendly, the food is tasty, and the view is relaxing. Yet another reason to explore the EPIC region – or even just stop on your way through the region, as I did on my way back to Toronto!

Late – but encouraging – signs of spring

Bud Break at Oxley Estate Winery May 2019

While in Harrow, I also stop at Oxley Estate Winery  to check in with Murray and Ann Wilson to see how the vines are faring.  Of course, I could see for myself that the buds are out and leaves are just starting to pop – such a happy sight. The region’s had a cool, wet “spring” which seems to have delayed things quite a bit, but the Wilsons aren’t concerned. They’ve heard from other growers across the province and this year all crops are delayed.

Bud Break at Oxley Estate Winery May 2019

As Murray pointed out, a late start isn’t that critical for the EPIC region because they’re so far south, grapes usually have extra time to ripen at the back end of the season (late summer and fall).

Requirements for being organic

The last couple Vintages bi-weekly catalogues have had some interesting copy. (Not sure if I’d call it articles – especially since no by-line is given – shame on Vintages.)

In the catalogue for items available April 13, 2019 they’re featuring organic wines. So, interspersed in the catalogue is interesting snippets of info about what it takes for a winery to be considered organic.

One of the pieces of information that was news to me was that: “For certified organic wines, local yeasts must be used in fermentation.” (p. 4) I’d not heard that about requiring use of local yeasts… Mind you, I there are different certification bodies out there and the Vintages catalogue doesn’t specify the certification body, but still, it’s interesting. (Note: on p. 9 it says all products sold as organic at the LCBO is vetted by their Quality Assurance department. And, if you follow the link they provide, they say that the LCBO QA department requires the Canadian Organic Regulations be satisfied.)

Anyway, the reason that comment about the yeast caught my eye is because I typically think about the vineyard management aspects of being organic – not so much on the production aspects.

What about you? Do you shop for wines that are certified organic?

Prince Edward County’s Craft Distillery: Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

On a recent visit to Prince Edward County friends and I stopped in at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits. It’s at 66 Gilead Road in Bloomfield. If that address rings a bell, that’s because it used to house Gilead Distillery. The distillery was re-named Kinsip when it was sold a couple years ago.

Jamie Moody, Retail Manager at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

I had been to the distillery in its previous incarnation and I wondered whether it had changed much. I’m happy to report the cozy tasting room is still in the same historic farm house. According to Jamie Moody, the retail manager, Kinsip has continued to use some of Gilead’s recipes, but it has also crafted new products. My friend Sandy was glad to hear it, as she was especially fond of the Gilead’s Duck Island Rum, which they still make.

Jamie led through a quick tasting flight that included the Duck Island Rum, their Maple Whisky, and County Cassis. Sandy confirmed that Kinsip’s Duck Island Rum is as good as when it was made under the Gilead name. I was especially interested in trying their Maple Whisky to see how it compared to my favourite – Sortilège from Quebec. Kinsip’s Maple Whisky is quite a lot lighter on the maple than the Sortilèege.

And then there was the County Cassis. We decided to try it based on Jamie’s description. Well, I’m so glad we did. We were all pretty blown away by it. Its a silky smooth, delicious sipper.

Though Jamie had described the County Cassis it before we tried it – after tasting it, we all wanted to hear the description again. Jamie was kind enough to let me shoot a short video of him describing it. Click here to see the video.

If you’re in the County and you like fine spirits, you owe it to yourself to stop in at Kinsip. They craft a variety of spirits, liquors, and bitters – there’s bound to be something to your liking.

Sugarbush Vineyards’ Experience with Geotextiles

Geotextiles Covering Vines at Sugarbush Vineyards, PEC

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Oxley Estate’s current experiment with geotextiles. Murray and Ann Wilson of Oxley had mentioned that in researching the idea they met with – and learned from – a winery in Prince Edward County that has been using them. That winery was Sugarbush Vineyards.

Last week when I was in the County, I stopped in at Sugarbush to speak with Rob and Sally Peck – owners of Sugarbush – about their experience using geotextiles to protect their vines. They’ve been using them since winter 2011-2012. Rob explained that they tried them because they were looking for an alternative way to protect the vines because he doesn’t think burying them – which is standard in the County – is good for the vines or the soil. (Wineries in the County have bene burying their vines for years to protect them from the cold, harsh weather that often moves through Prince Edward County.)

Rob was generous with his time and was kind enough to allow me to video him answering my questions about geotextiles. Click here to see the video.

Their wines

After the chat about geotextiles we had a tasting of the three remaining wines they have in stock: Viognier, Riesling, and Cab Franc. (They’re running low but Rob assured us that they’ll restock soon – it’s just they’ve not had a chance to do any bottling!)  Of the three, we all went home with some 2017 Riesling – it was flinty and refreshing.

EPIC’s Thriving Winery Restaurant Scene

Keeping up with what’s new in the Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Escarpment regions each year usually means checking out new wineries. Keeping up with what’s new in the Erie, Pelee Island, Coast (EPIC) wine region means visiting old favourites that are kicking it up a notch and becoming destination wineries.

I’ve just returned from the region and here’s a taste (no pun intended) of what I’m talking about…

North 42 Degrees Estate

My first stop last weekend was to North 42 Degrees Estate Winery. A couple years ago they had posted artists’ drawings of the restaurant they were planning. It looked impressive from the drawings, but it also looked like it might take awhile to build. Then, at some point last year I thought I read an announcement that they had opened the restaurant.

So, in planning my trip, I went on their website to find out a bit about the restaurant – things like the menu and the hours. Their website made no mention of the restaurant, so I figured it wasn’t yet open. Just to be sure, however, I also checked their Facebook page. On it there was reference to various special events at Bistro 42, but nothing indicating they had regular hours of service. Curious to see what was going on, I planned to stop there.

To my terrific surprise, at the far end of the driveway I saw the new building. It looks as though it organically sprung forth from the ground. In the front there’s a trio of huge beams reaching up at odd angles to support a massive front portico. Similar beams support a glass room off to one side. The main part of the building looks like a two+ story glass cathedral.

From the inside, the feel is more intimate than you’d expect. The main floor features the tasting room and a room that houses Serenity Lavender, which is owned by the same couple who own the winery. When I visited the winery, the door to the lavender store was wide open and – though I love the smell of lavender – I wondered how folks at the tasting bar might find the clash of smells.

Though I couldn’t stay for a meal that day, the host graciously encouraged me to check out the main dining room upstairs and I’m glad I did. The view over the vineyard was lovely – even in the dead of winter. I can imagine it is spectacular in summer and fall.

Their menu features small and shareable plates, as well as a nice selection of salads and mains. As it was just after Valentine’s Day, they also had a special menu that weekend. From the crowds, it looks like it’s quite a popular spot. Now that I know it’s open, next time I’m headed to the region, I’ll make a reservation at Bistro 42 – I can’t wait to try it.

Oxley Estate Winery

The restaurant at Oxley Estate Winery keeps landing on different “best” lists. I think it’s been on Open Table’s list of best winery restaurants and most recently their list of “most romantic” restaurants. I’m really not surprised that it’s on so many “best of” lists. The atmosphere is casual (the restaurant was, after all, a barn at one point) but elegant and the service is friendly and knowledgeable. All those things are notable, but the food is really the main event here. Chef Aaron Lynn has been at Oxley for about five years. Over that time, he has created all sorts of dishes and he has really grown. His regular, seasonal menu is always interesting, but the special dinner menus really showcase his talent.

Crab Toast at Oxley Estate Winery
Bison Ribeye at Oxley Estate Winery

I was lucky enough to enjoy dinner there last weekend when they were featuring a Valentine’s Day menu. The Crab Toast appetizer was nothing short of divine. Huge chunks of crab with a luscious hollandaise atop a perfectly toasted brioche. Because rib eye is my all-time favourite cut, I couldn’t resist the bison ribeye. When I ordered it medium well, the server gently mentioned that the chef recommends rare or medium, as bison is so lean. I took the advice and I’m glad I did. It was perfect.

Potato Wrapped Halibut at Oxley Estate Winery

My dinner companion was equally happy with her choices of a Wild Mushroom Pastie as her appetizer and Potato Wrapped Halibut for her main.

Wild Mushroom Pastie at Oxley Estate Winery

Next time you’re headed to the region, make a reservation there. Trust me, you’ll be sorry if you can’t get in …

 

 

 

 

 

Other Notable EPIC destinations

CREW – Colchester Ridge Estate Winery – is right next door to North 42 Degrees Estate Winery. A huge new building is going up at CREW. Currently, their small tasting room is at the far end of their driveway in a non-descript building. The new building is far along, but wasn’t quite finished, so I didn’t snoop around. But, given its size and location in the front of the property, it wouldn’t surprise me if they too are planning a restaurant or some other food-serving facility.

As for new things happening at another winery I always enjoy – Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards – they are now making cider. (Cider is hard to come by in the region – it’s not taken off there like it has elsewhere in the Province.) Their Iler Road Cider, which is no doubt named after the street the winery is on. is made from 100% Essex County Apples. So now, in addition to their wines and The Vines restaurant, there’s yet another reason to visit Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards.

 

New strategies for coping with extreme cold?

As pretty much the whole province has experienced spurts of on-again/off-again arctic cold, it’s only natural to wonder (even worry) about what these extreme temperatures must be doing to the vines.

After the last polar vortex winter a few years ago, I couldn’t help notice how many wineries have purchased wind machines. And who can blame them, when a fraction of a degree more warmth in the air swirling around the vines on a cold night can make the difference between a healthy yield and an increase in the amount of bunches that end up as verjus.

On the recent family day weekend, I visited the EPIC wine region (Essex, Pelee Island, Coast) on the shores of Lake Erie. Though the region is further south than other regions in Ontario, it’s not immune to extreme weather. Indeed, wineries in the area no doubt vividly remember 2014 when they lost most of their crop due to cold winter temperatures.

Helping Ensure Winter Heartiness?

A few weeks before my visit, I was in touch with Ann Wilson of Oxley Estate Winery. I asked her whether they were concerned about this winter’s extremes. She basically said that they manage what they can manage, but they won’t know till spring what the impact really is. But then she added a comment that intrigued me. She said it’ll be interesting to see whether their experiment in “blanketing” their Merlot and Syrah pays off.

I didn’t get a chance to ask what that meant, but as I headed to the region, I kept my eyes out to see if I could figure out what she was talking about. As I neared Oxley on County Road 50, I saw white, pup-tent like coverings on various rows of vines on the corner of one of their properties. Clearly this was what she was talking about. After stopping to snap a few pictures, I found Ann and Murray and asked them about it.

An experiment at Oxley Estate Winery

They said they heard that some wineries in Prince Edward County (PEC) and Quebec have used these blankets (geotextiles) as a way of protecting the vines and that the wineries have had success with them. So, last year Murray and Ann visited PEC to learn more about it.

They decided to give it a try this winter. According to Murray, the idea behind the blankets is to create kind of a greenhouse effect atop the vines. When the geotextile gets wet, it freezes and then the warmth of the sun and the heat from the ground stay trapped beneath the blanket.

While it sounds simple, actually placing the blankets on is quite labour intensive, he said. For one thing, they have to prune in the fall, rather than in the late winter/early spring. They also have to lower the trellis wire and tie the canes to the lower wire. Then they have to find a way to deal with the metal poles that run the length of the row to hold up the trellis system. One of the blanket edges has a wire on it that helps keep it down, but the other edge they weight down with dirt.

Since this system is not widely used, the timing of when they’ll remove the blanket is another matter. The fact that there aren’t many wineries using this system means there’s limited experience to draw on. And, since the growing season starts sooner in the EPIC region than in PEC, it’s a decision Oxley will have to make on its own.

I think many local growers will be paying close attention to how this trial works at Oxley. One thing’s for sure, they couldn’t have picked a better winter to test this technique. If it’s successful and proves worth the added time and expense, growers will have another tool to help manage the impact of climate change.

 

Announcing The Founders Series

I’ve started a new feature on the website – a video series focusing on the founders of the Ontario wine industry. The passing of Karl Kaiser in December 2017 got me thinking about the fact that it’s not just the industry that’s maturing…

So, I thought it would be interesting to interview some of the folks instrumental in bringing old world wines to Canada. That’s the idea behind The Founders Series of interviews.

The folks featured in these videos had a vision of what Ontario’s climate and land could produce. They were risk takers, hard workers, and “all in”. They were competitors, yet collegial, knowing that while they were making their own wine and creating their own brands, they were also building an industry.

I’ve set up a dedicated page for linking to the video interviews – it’s called The Founders Series.

Herbert Konzelmann

The first video in The Founders Series is of Herbert Konzelmann, owner and founder of Konzelmann Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. At 81, Mr. Konzelmann is still the driving force behind the winery that’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

I offer a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Konzelmann for agreeing to speak with me and to Jessica Chorosinski from the winery for helping set this up. Click here to view the video of Mr. Konzelmann.

 

Owning a Winery Means Facing ― and Managing ― Risks

One of the things I especially enjoy about driving around wine country is seeing the lush, straight rows of vines tethered to the delicate-looking trellises. I love seeing vineyards because they remind me that the delicious nectar that I so enjoy has its start on a farm.

And, when I visit a winery, I love seeing all the gleaming stainless-steel tanks and rooms full of beautiful, hand crafted barrels. At the same time, thinking about the huge investment required for all the specialized winemaking equipment makes me catch my breath.

The winery owners I’ve met come from all different backgrounds. For some, it’s their fir st or only business. For others, it’s a second career, or even a retirement project. And yet, despite the differences, they do have some things in common. The most obvious commonality is their passion for wine. But beyond that, they also are all risk takers and careful business persons (well, at least those who manage to make a go of it).

Though I’ve always assumed the business of owning a winery was risky, a recent writing assignment I got from the Chartered Insurance Professionals (CIP) Society gave me a whole new appreciation of the types of risks involved. The CIP Society asked me to write a paper on insurance issues faced by wineries. It was a fun and interesting assignment that gave me an excuse to “talk business” with people involved in the Canadian wine industry.

The primary audience for the paper was insurance professionals, so the paper is admittedly a bit technical. But, for those of you who – like me – are inherently interested in the business of owning a winery – you might find the paper interesting.

The CIP Society has graciously given me permission to share the paper – called “From Rootstock to Bottle” – with my readers. You can find it by clicking here.

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.