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.

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.

 

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.

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.

.com is so passé

A couple weeks ago I was chatting with John Rode of Hardwood Estate Vineyards and he mentioned .wine and .vin domain extensions are now available. I haven’t seen one (mind you, I haven’t really looked) but today I got an e-mail from Go Daddy, my domain register company announcing them – so I’m sure I’ll start to see them. (“The connoisseur’s domain”, so the ad copy says.)

My first thought when I got the e-mail today was that these new extensions aren’t really something I, as a consumer, find particularly helpful. Would it make finding a particular winery on-line any easier? Doubtful. In fact, if anything, I mainly see the potential for abuse: trolls buying up .wine and .vin domain names for well-known wines and wineries and then being willing to sell them for a fee.

So, I called John Rode to chat about it again. He had a more positive take – at least for winery owners who take a pro-active approach. He said he sees these extensions as a chance to have a defacto trademark of a name at a pretty low price. In other words, now that Harwood Estate Vineyards has locked up the .wine and .vin extensions – no other winery – whether here in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, the U.S., or the world, can have a web presence with the name Harwood Estate Vineyards. True enough…

But still, seems like overkill to me – and just more stuff wineries have to pay attention to…

On being … a celebration of home

I write a bi-weekly blog called On being … that’s more general musings on life. Because my most recent post for On being … was inspired by a recent event at Oxley Estate Winery, I thought I’d share that post here…

On being … a celebration of home

I was visiting some friends who live in the wine region along the north shore of Lake Erie, south of the Windsor/Detroit area. It’s the kind of place where people often give the name of the county, rather than the town where they live, because they figure more people have at least heard of the county. It’s primarily an agricultural area, but it’s got more of a small town feel than a rural feel, if you know what I mean.

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Chef Aaron Lynn at Oxley Estate Winery

One of the highlights of the weekend was a special dinner at Oxley Estate Winery. The formal title was: Oxley Celebrates Home. If you guessed they were doing the locavore thing, you’d be right – but with a few added twists. It so happens their young chef (Aaron Lynn) is a local kid who went away for culinary training and, after honing his craft working in some fancy restos, he returned to the area last year. Lucky for Oxley Estate and for those who have a chance to eat at the winery.

Todd's Perch
“Todd’s Perch”

Not only did each of the five courses feature local ingredients, the chef named the dishes after the local purveyors – a nice touch, I thought. So, for example, we dined on Todd’s Perch (named after Todd, the local commercial fisherman the restaurant buys from), Rick’s Lamb, and Farmer Doug’s apples. But that wasn’t all. Before the meal, the chef introduced all of the local suppliers and asked them to stand so we could honour and recognize them as the people responsible for all the good things we were about to enjoy.

And, the celebration of things local didn’t end with the food. Ann, one of the owners of the winery, introduced the musicians who would be entertaining us. Turns out they too were from the area and when they’re not in town, they’re in Nashville working as backup musicians to some well-known country music stars.

During the dinner I was chatting with a woman sitting next to me. She was a local and so I was asking her a bit about the area. We talked about one of the bigger towns in the county and about how much it’s growing. The town’s population is up to about 21,000, which is pretty big, as towns go. And, like many Ontario towns, there’s a definite centre with some small shops, a few restaurants, a couple banks, and a library. But, the pickings were pretty limited in town. I wondered aloud where people go if they have any kind of serious shopping to do. She laughed and said that these days, she can get pretty much anything on-line. But, if there’s something she can’t order, it’s probably available in Windsor, which is “only about 25 miles away”.

Then I asked about grocery shopping. I had noticed that there are two well-known supermarkets, but I’m used to checking the weekly fliers of at least four major chains before I go grocery shopping. She said she didn’t care that other major grocers weren’t around. “I love shopping at those supermarkets. The people that work there are my neighbors and friends – why would I go anywhere else?” I was really struck by her response.

Later in the conversation, the topic of the refugee crisis came up. She mentioned she’s catholic and she said that in the next few weeks her church would be deciding on whether they will take in a refugee family, as the Pope has suggested. She said she’s going to push hard for them to do so.

I hadn’t heard about the Pope’s suggestion that every parish should sponsor one family, but it struck me as being in line with something else I read the Pope said about the current wave of refugees. He urged people to not see the crisis as involving hundreds of thousands because it’s just too overwhelming. Instead, we should respond to them as individual people – just one at a time. Though it’s such a simple idea, it’s about the most concrete, constructive idea I’ve heard from any leader about how to deal with the situation. I smiled at the idea of some refugee family settling down there and eventually calling themselves locals.

After dinner, I was thinking about how the theme of the evening could just as easily have been “the joy of human interaction”. Living in the city has its conveniences, opportunities, and even independence. But, if you’re not careful, city life can also bring with it a loss of connectedness. Fortunately, the condition isn’t irreversible. My weekend in the country reminded me that the best way to feel connected again is to celebrate what each individual brings to your life. If you do that, I think you’ll feel at home wherever you are.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona