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 Cellars’ Pick, 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
You can also get a commemorative poster ($10) that features all the different labels and the story – actually, the history – behind each.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
I never go to markets with much of a shopping list. Instead, I like to be inspired by what’s in season and on offer. Well, today it was garlic scapes, fresh onions, and my favourite – sea asparagus!
The other thing on offer at the Brickworks and many other farmers’ markets is Ontario wines. This morning there was a wealth of wines to choose from too, with Cave Spring Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Malivoire Wine, Tawse Winery and Sratus all on hand.
Eating and drinking local tonight! Hope you are too…
A couple weeks ago I was at a German wine tasting sponsored by Wines of Germany. It featured 36 wineries from most of Germany’s major wine regions and showcased winemakers of the so-called next generation – those under 35-years-old.
The afternoon had a more than a few surprises for me – the biggest of which had to do with the names of certain grapes in German. I started the afternoon trying whites, so when I read Weissburgunder on a label, drawing on my high school German, I silently translated that to White Burgundy, which made me think it might be a blend of grape varieties that grow in Burgundy.
Boy was I surprised when I tasted it and realized it was a Pinot Blanc. Who knew? I guess I always assumed that most winemakers simply used the French (or Italian – or at least some phonetically similar) name for the most well-known grape varieties. Well, that’s not the case in Germany.
Another example you’re likely to see is Grauburgunder – that’s Pinot Gris! The other white grapes commonly used in Germany – Riesling, Rivaner, Silvaner, Kerner, Bacchus, and Scheurebe – are called the same in German and English.
Similarly, on the red side, Pinot Noir is called Spätburgunder and Pinot Meunier is Schwarzriesling in German. The other red grapes commonly used in Germany – Dornfelder, Portugieser, Trollinger, Regent, and Lemberger – are called the same in German and English.
So, next time you see a Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, or Schwarzriesling on a German wine list – you’ll have to do your own translation!