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.

Re-imagining the sound of bubbly: from pop to click?

Few sounds are as magic to me as the pop of a champagne cork. It signals the promise of pleasure and celebration – even if it’s just the celebration of enjoying a glass of bubbly. But, the down side of popping a cork on a bottle of bubbly is that if you don’t finish it fairly straightaway, there won’t be any bubbles left the next day.

Of course, you can find small bottles of bubbly, but unless you’re willing to pay a premium for a 375 ml bottle of some French champagne like Moet & Chandon or Veuve – some producer that uses real cork in its small bottles, chances are you’re sacrificing the pop for a twist.

Now, thanks to the folks at the Genesis Wine Group, Inc. – the Wertsch brothers (Yannick and Greg) who own Between the Lines Winery and their partners Philip Chae and Lucian Cao – you can now get Origin, an Ontario-made sparkling wine in 250 ml pull-tab cans.  

Origin debuted in January 2016 and became a hit quickly. Crafted using the charmat method, it’s make of 100% Vidal with a dosage of Vidal icewine. Yannick Wertsch, the winemaker, explained that they wanted to create a signature product that’s uniquely Canadian. They chose Vidal because not only is it the most common grape in Ontario, it’s a grape that isn’t grown in Europe. Also, using Vidal icewine for the dosage is another uniquely Canadian attribute of the wine.

Click here to watch a short video of Yannick Wertsch talking about Origin.

The young entrepreneurs behind the Genesis Wine Group have invested in innovation (not to mention bottling equipment) that they hope will be a game changer for the industry. They’re also intent on setting the standard for canned wine and with the launch of Origin, it seems they’re well on their way.

Origin, a VQA product, is now available in about 60 LCBOs throughout the province.

Out and about at Days of Wine and Chocolate

It’s Family Day weekend here in Ontario – a long weekend designed to give folks a mid-winter break. Most years, that means a weekend of snow-filled activities. With an unusual early spring thaw (temperatures topping  10°C – over 50°F), I’m sure lots of folks had to change their plans.

Fortunately, for me and my friend Cory, the weather was perfect for a day of winery visiting in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOL). As I mentioned in my last blog, the Wineries of NOL provided me with a couple of passes to the Days of Wine and Chocolate event that’is going on all month. Here are a few of the highlights of the day.

Our first stop of the day was Pondview Estate Winery. They were serving their 2013 Bella Terra Cab Sauv with ribs in a chocolate infused sauce. I have to say – Pondview never disappoints for these events. They always showcase one of their nicer wines and they always serve something tasty. This year was no exception. The ribs were outstanding. The Bella Terra is a lovely wine, but because they were serving in their barrel room, the glasses and the wine were very cold, which was a shame. Regardless, it was a great pairing and both of us agreed that it would be hard to beat.

The only pre-planned part of the day was lunch at Backhouse restaurant. I was keen to try the restaurant because I’ve sampled Chef Ryan Crawford’s charcuterie at different events. Crawford and his partner Beverley Hotchkiss opened the restaurant about 18 months ago and it has been very well received, so I made sure to make a reservation.

I knew exactly where it was (242 Mary Street in a small plaza where Mary Street intersects Niagara Stone Road), but from the outside, the restaurant is easy to miss. And, because the windows are all covered over, it almost looks like they’ve  gone out of business. Indeed, we followed a couple in and we overheard one of them saying to the hostess that he thought maybe it was closed. But, it’s so attractive and welcoming inside, you quickly forget about what the outside looks like!

The host asked us if we wanted a seat at the Chef’s bar or at a table. Normally I don’t like sitting at the bar – but it was clear that that was where the action was, and the seats were very comfortable looking. When I asked what she’d recommend, the hostess said, “Definitely the bar – that’s considered our premium seating”. So we took her suggestion – and boy were we glad we did.Sitting there gave us a chance to talk to the staff and watch as they lovingly plated different things. We didn’t want anything too heavy and since I knew that Chef Crawford is known for his charcuterie, we settled on the Backhouse Plate for 2 and a side order of frites. The Backhouse Plate features a selection of charcuterie, bread, cheeses, preserves, and pickled green beans and pickled sour cherries. It was delicious.

We had a peak at the dinner menu. They have some items a la cart, and a selection of tasting menus that sounded amazing. I’ll definitely be back to try a tasting menu – and I’ll definitely book the seats at the Chef’s bar. We purposely didn’t have dessert at the restaurant because we wanted to try some of the Days of Wine and Chocolate dessert pairings.

 

 

 

We had noticed that Trius Winery was serving S’mores, and that sound fun. Turns out we didn’t read the description that carefully, so we were surprised when it wasn’t a traditional S’more – it was S’more fudge. They paired it with their 2015 Gamay Noir. That turned out to be one of Cory’s favourite wines of the day – and the pairing made both somehow richer.

Another standout in terms of a wine/dessert pairing was at Pillitteri Estates. They were serving their 2013 Cab Merlot with a dark chocolate cup with milk chocolate mousse with a drizzle of Cab Merlot raspberry compote. The lightness of the milk chocolate mousse and the tartness of the compote paired very well with the wine.