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.

Sometimes Grandma Knows Best …

Shauna White, winemaker and vineyard manager

A friend and I were out for a drive in Caledon on a recent Saturday. It was a lovely day and so I suggested we head up to Hockley Valley Resort and the Adamo Estate Winery. I had been there when it first opened in September 2016 but Shauna White, the winemaker, was not there during my previous visit.

My recent visit was spur-of-the-moment and it never crossed my mind that Shauna might be there. To my pleasant surprise, she was. But, she was leading a private tasting when we got there. JP Adamo, one of the owners, was also there and since I had met him before, I decided to ask if he thought Shauna might be free later. I also mentioned that I happened to have my camera and if she were willing, I’d love to do a short video with her. (Whenever I’m headed out for a drive, though visiting wineries isn’t always the plan, it’s always something I’m up for, so I usually take the camera and I made sure the battery is fully charged, just in case!) When Shauna was done with the tasting, she agreed to a video interview.

Adamo Estate Winery

As with so many winemakers, Shauna has travelled the world to hone her craft. And, as with so many winemakers, the story of how she got into winemaking is personal and tied to family. Click here to see the video. When you’ve finished watching, you’ll probably have one question that you wish I’d have asked.

Well, I don’t know why I didn’t ask it on camera, but I did ask afterward. For the answer to the question of who Shauna’s aunt is, I’ll just say it’s someone who’s well known in the Canadian wine world. [Click here to see a video that will reveal who it is.]

Spirit Tree Cidery: A Terrific Caledon Destination

The Caledon area is a lovely place to go for a ride or drive. Indeed, a coffee and dessert or ice cream in Belfountain used to be the way we’d finish a visit to the Forks of the Credit area.

img_2924But now, we often head to that neck of the woods just to visit Spirit Tree Estate Cidery on Boston Mills Road. The cidery is the ideal destination for lunch (Wednesday – Sunday) – they have a terrific bistro – or even just to go to have some of Ontario’s finest craft ciders. (I suggest you try their tasting flight – it’s a great way to sample the different styles they make. You’re sure to find one that becomes your favourite.)img_2931

The building is a labour of love – a northern take on adobe-craftsmanship. The bistro has a cozy French country feel, with small tables and a lovely bar. My favourite is the deck off the side – it’s a peaceful place to kick back and relax, enjoying the countryside.

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On a recent visit, Tom Wilson, proprietor and cider maker, was kind enough to chat with me about his inspiration for the cidery and about the craft cider movement in Ontario.

Click here to see a video of that conversation.

Adamo Estate Winery – a new reason to head to Hockley Valley

Over the past 18 months, I had heard rumours about a new winery in Mono – a “non-traditional” area for a winery. Among the news tidbits about the winery, I remembered reading that Jonas Newman of Hinterland Winery in Prince Edward County was somehow involved. Earlier this summer I found out it’s called Adamo Estate Winery and so I contacted them to see if they were open to the public. They said they’d be opening in September.img_3694

So, last Friday was a beautiful day for a drive in the country and a friend was game to head to Mono. Before we left, I phoned the number on the winery’s website to find out if they were open. I was surprised when they answered as “Hockley Valley Resort”. That was unexpected – I had no idea there was a connection between Hockley Valley Resort (a ski/golf destination) and the winery.

Mono is about an hour north of Toronto, near Orangeville, and we were there in about an hour. The winery is on 3rd Line, just up the road from the resort. I was quite surprised by the huge, attractive structure that houses the winery. Because it’s so new, I was expecting something more on a start-up scale.

img_3671We headed through the welcoming red doors and were wowed by the gorgeous high-ceilinged tasting room and bar area. We were immediately welcomed by JP Adamo, one of the owners of the winery.img_3673

 

 

JP was happy to tell us about the winery. They have 20 acres under vine and are increasing that in the near future. They primarily grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they also have some Riesling, Vidal, Merlot, Gamay, and Chardonnay Musque. When I said I was surprised that they aren’t focused on hybrids that are less susceptible to cold (they’re next to a ski resort, for heaven sake!), much less that they are growing Merlot, he explained that – like the wineries in Prince Edward County – they bury the vines. (One of the things they turned to Jonas for experience about, no doubt!)

img_3691I had hoped to meet their winemaker, Shauna White, but she was not at the winery that day – she was down in Niagara overlooking the harvest of some grapes that they get from other vineyards. They plan on producing small batches of estate wines, which means consumers have the opportunity to judge for themselves the impact of the different terroir.

Though it’s always tempting to taste a variety of different wines – especially at a winery you’ve never been to – we opted for a Chardonnay flight and a tasting of two Pinot Noirs. All the wines were very good. Of the Chardonnay, I especially liked the 2011 Sogno (which apparently means dream in Italian) un-oaked Chardonnay.

Both 2014 Pinots were quite nice, though we both had a mild preference for the Lowrey (from the St. David’s Bench area of Niagara-on-the-Lake) over the Parke (from the 20 Mile Bench area). Indeed, if you’ve ever had any of the Wes Lowrey’s Five Rows Craft Wines, the similarities are amazing.img_3675

Adamo Estate Winery is a terrific addition to the Ontario wine scene. If you’re the type who likes to drive through rolling hills – maybe to take in the fall colours – it’s a great destination. It’s off to a spectacular start and it’s definitely a place to enjoy now – and likely long into the future.

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JP Adamo was kind enough to let us shoot a short video of him describing the winery. You can find the video here.

 

 

Late Summer Visits … Icellars Estate Winery

Icellrs Estate Winery NOL IMG_3645As I mentioned in my last post – last week a friend and I headed down to the Niagara region to visit a few wineries. Our hope was to stop in at a some of the newer ones that we’d not been to. Because it was a Tuesday, I had told my friend that we’d be taking our chances, as some of the smaller – or newer – ones may not be open seven days a week.

Icellars Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake was one that I was interested in, but that is open by appointment – and I hadn’t made one. But, after a delightful visit to 16 Mile Cellar in Jordan, we continued to NOL. We came off the QEW at Glendale (by the White Oaks and Niagara Teaching College) and made our way on York Rd. to Concession 5.

Because I had seen a photo of the winery, from a distance I knew we were headed to the huge red industrial-looking building just beyond Coyote’s Run Estate Winery. There were no cars, but as we got to the door, Adnan opened it and welcomed us.

Given the name, my friend and I figured Icellars probably focused on icewine. We soon learned, however, that the winery name comes from the owner’s last name: Icel. It turns out, the gentleman who welcomed us was Adnan Icel, the owner and winemaker.

Adnan Icel of Icellars Estate Winery
Adnan Icel of Icellars Estate Winery

One of the first things I mentioned to Adnan was how attractive the winery’s logo – a stylized stag – is. With this, Adnan proudly explained that the chose the logo because it represents icons included on ancient drinking vessels from the Hittite region of Anatolia, which is in modern day Turkey. Adnan, who hails from Turkey, was also very happy to explain the 2000 year history of winemaking in Anatolia. He is a very captivating, genuine teacher and it was a fascinating history lesson…Icellrs Estate Winery NOL IMG_3648

Adnan is a mechanical engineer by training, but he has long had an interest in owning a farm. In about 2008, the family decided to grow grapes and Adnan set out to look for a property that is warm, as he is focused on producing big, bold reds. He purchased the 60 acre property on Concession 5 because the temperature in that area is consistently warm. Like its neighbor Coyote’s Run, Icel’s property has both red and black soil.

When I was asking how this year’s growing season has been, his engineering background emerged. He mentioned that he has installed two weather stations in the vineyard and is constantly monitoring the temperature. He even ran into the back and returned with his laptop to show us a graph showing that as of that morning, the August temperatures this year exceeded those in 2012, which was one of the best Ontario vintages.

Though it is a fairly large parcel (especially for a new winery), Adnan intends to keep the production small. He will make a few single varietals – for 2015 he expects to have a single varietal Cab Sauv and a Cab Franc – but he will also focus on blending. And, as another homage to his Anatolian roots, the Bordeaux-style blends will bare names that relate to Hittite history. So, for example, his 2014 Arinna, which is a blend of 66% Cab Sauv, 33% Merlot, and 1% Cab Franc, is name after a major Hittite winemaking city.

Icellars has four wines available at this point: 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Merlot, 2014 Pinot Noir, and the 2014 Arinna, which was my favorite. Though it’s still quite young, it was quite complex. I can’t wait to see how it ages!

Be sure to check out Icellars’ website – it’s rich with information about the history of Hittite winemaking and there are lots of photos of archaeological finds from that region.

End of Summer Visits: 16 Mile Cellar

For many of us, summer can be pretty hectic – or at least it certainly seems that way. As a result, weekends seem to fill up with visits with friends and family and outdoor activities. If you’re like me, you find it pretty unbelievable that we’re already into September. Of course, it’s not all bad that it’s September already — it means vineyards are lush with fruit and grape picking is just around the corner.

Regan Kapach - Winemaker at 16 Mile Cellar IMG_3638
Regan Kapach — Winemaker at 16 Mile Cellar

So, on Tuesday I played hooky from work (pretty easy since I work for myself) and a friend and I headed out toward Niagara to stop in at some new wineries that I’d not been to. It was a Tuesday, so I was mindful of the fact that some places – especially newer wineries – might not be open early in the week, but we decided to take our chances.

IMG_3636Though I don’t usually make an appointment for visits, on our way down I decided to phone 16 Mile Cellar to find out if they were open. The call went into voice mail and I left a quick message saying we’re headed down and I wondered if they were open. A few minutes later, I got a call from Regan Kapach, the winemaker, and she welcomed us to stop in.

16 Mile Cellar IMG_363716 Mile Cellars was founded in 2010 but it hasn’t been open to the public for too long. It’s in Jordan and – as you might guess from the name – it’s on the 16 Mile Creek. Regan said that of the 28 acres, about 10 are planted with Vinifera grapes. Though they grow a bit of Geisenheim, they focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They produce two lines: their basic line is called Rebel – and they have Rebel Chardonnay and Rebel Pinot Noir. Their higher end wines are their Civility Chardonnay and Incivility Pinot Noir.

For a newish winery, they’re clearly on a good path. Their 2012 Rebel Chardonnay was the gold medal winner in the 2016 Ontario Wineries Oaked Chardonnay under $20 category.16 Mile Cellar IMG_3640

As I said, I rarely make an appointment for tastings. I’m really glad I broke with tradition this time and phoned ahead. It was a real treat to have Regan take us through the tasting. She took over the winemaking in 2013. Thomas Bachelder was consulting for the winery before that. Regan described the winery’s production goals and about their plans in terms of using less and less new oak over time. I found it especially interesting that they have established a target of about 12% new oak.

I’ll be keeping 16 Mile Cellar on my radar and I’ll definitely be stopping in again – to try 2013 and later vintages.

I’ll write about a couple of our other stops in subsequent posts.

If you’re out and about in PEC and you need to charge up…

Traynor Family Vineyard IMG_3000Traynor Family Vineyard is one of the newest wineries in Prince Edward County – they opened in September 2014. When we stopped there in June they had a big crowd for their Open House and folks were enjoying the live music.Traynor Family Vineyard Tesla Charging Station IMG_2998

 

 

 

They also had something I’d never seen – a Tesla Charging Station.

I spoke with Donna Traynor (mother of owner/winemaker Mike Traynor) and she wasn’t quite sure how Mike convinced the Tesla folks to put them in – but it’s a terrific idea – especially if you’re out and about in PEC and you find your Tesla could use a charge.

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Even if you don’t have a Tesla, it’s worth a look, so why not stop in this long weekend. Picnickers are welcome and the Traynor family (Mike and his wife Rebecca) would be happy to help you choose the right wine for you to enjoy there or to take home.

That time of year…

Summer weekends … so much to see and do… and what better way than to start the day at a fabulous farmers’ market.IMG_3006

This morning I headed over to one of Toronto’s best markets: the Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market off the Bayview extension.

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!

IMG_3003IMG_3004IMG_3007The 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.

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Eating and IMG_3002drinking local tonight! Hope you are too…

Evidence of Prince Edward County’s Record Cold in May

A couple weeks ago visiting wineries in Prince Edward County I got the chance to see – first hand – the impact of the cold snap that hit on May 22-23. Our first stop was Hillier Creek Estates. As we drove in my friend wondered whether the vines planted out front were new, as they were very small and virtually no leaves. I said I was pretty sure that that in years past those vines were tall and hearty with leaves.Hillier Creek Estates Damaged Crops May 2015 IMG_2951

Woody Cassell, the vineyard manager at Hillier Creek Estates told me the sad news – all their vines were damaged in the cold snap in May. The primary and secondary buds were so damaged that they won’t be harvesting anything this year. Woody was kind enough to take me into the vineyard to show me. Here’s a short video of Woody explaining what they’re doing this year.

Hillier Creek Estates  a Snapping Turtle IMG_2954Though walking through the vineyard was sobering – leave it to Mother Nature to provide a reminder that just because there won’t be grapes this year, doesn’t mean there aren’t other signs of life. Sitting smack dab in the middle of the row was a huge snapping turtle. Woody explained they get them every year. Apparently they wander over from a nearby creek and they bury their eggs in the vineyard. So, in a few months’ time little turtles will be scurrying about — as usual.Sandbanks Estate Winery -- Fog Rolling In IMG_2955Sandbanks Estate Winery IMG_2956We then headed to Sandbanks Estate Winery, which is much closer to the water than Hillier Creek Estates. En route we passed through lots of fog. Indeed, the closer you got to the water, the better you could see the fog literally rolling in. The moderating impact of the water was clear at Sandbanks Estates, as their vines looked healthy and green. Unlike Hillier Creek Estates, the late May cold snap didn’t impact their vines at all.

Nearby Keint-he Winery & Vineyards suffered some loss, but like Sandbanks, they were luckier than some. And of course, they – like other growers in the county – did all they could to try to keep the air circulating those cold nights, but with record low temperatures, there’s only so much they could do.

When in Stuck in Traffic … Get Off the Highway and Enjoy!

Sunday a friend and I headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for Sip & Sizzle. It was a beautiful day and I had the list of participating wineries and a bit of a plan about which we might stop at.

My friend picked me up at 11:30 and we headed out. From here it normally takes just under an hour to get to the NOL region. A few exits after we hopped on the expressway, we saw a sign warning of slow traffic. My friend’s GPS traffic monitor concurred – but we continued on, thinking that it was just some minor slow-down. After all – it was a Sunday afternoon. Well, traffic didn’t let up. If anything, it increased – a lot – the further we went.

As we crawled along, I suggested that we alter our plan and instead of going to NOL, we hit some of the wineries that are closer to Toronto. My friend didn’t really realize that there are wineries en route to NOL, so he was fine with my suggestion.

Ridge Road Estate Winery  IMG_2251We got off the QEW (the main highway) at Fifty Road. We follow the wonderfully curvy road (lots of hairpin turns – it’s one of the routes ideal for motorcycles, though I should warn you that it’s a bit of a rough road) to the top of the Escarpment to Ridge Road Estate Winery. (Look for their signs and you’ll find it no problem.)

It’s a lovely spot, high up on the top of the Escarpment. They had a $3 Flight & Bite sample. The flight included their 2013 Intersection, which is a Viognier-Chardonnay blend paired with a rosemary shortbread, their 2014 Riesling, paired with aged cheddar on a rice cracker, and their 2011 Call Me a Cab, which is red blend. It was the perfect way to de-stress after two hours (YES, 2 hours!!) in the car.IMG_2900

From there we headed back down the hill to Highway 8 (that’s the road that curves along the bottom of the escarpment – it’s lovely) to a Leaning Post Wines. Ilya Senchuk and his wife Nadia just opened last summer. They were hosting a wedding celebration in a tent out back – but they tasting room was open and Ilya and Ryan were pouring and happy to tell us about their wines.

IMG_2903 The Senchuks have planted their own grapes, but they’ve been a virtual winery for a while with grapes from other vineyards. One of the things I loved about their wines is that they specify which vineyard they sourced the wines from. We tried two of their whites – both of which are from the Foxcroft vineyard: their 2013 Riesling and The Fifty, which Ryan described as an “unoaked, oaked Chardonnay”.

IMG_2912They also had three Pinot Noirs – a 2011 and 2012 from grapes from the Lowrey Vineyard (the vineyard tended by Wes Lowrey of Five Rows Craft Wine) and a 2012 from McNally Vineyard. The opportunity to taste the same variety from different years and different vineyards is a great treat! It is very interesting to taste the two Lowrey’s from different years (2012 being the more spectacular year in Niagara) and then compare it to the 2012 McNally. The McNally was our favourite and my friend brought home a bottle (I didn’t drop any hints about sharing it with me sometime… but I’ve got my fingers crossed). I left with a bottle of The Fifty, which I’m putting away for an afternoon with some other friends who I think will really enjoy it.IMG_2911

From there we continued along Hwy 8 to Peninsula Ridge. We were hoping that their restaurant was still serving – but they had stopped serving brunch at 3 and we were there closer to 4. We did, however, try some wines and, though I was very disappointed with their 2008 Fume Blanc, we loved their 2012 Syrah and my friend took some of that home too. After that, since it was already late, we called it a day and headed home.IMG_2918

 

 

Driving home I realized that despite the fact that the traffic was horrendous and we didn’t make it to our originally planned destination – we had a terrific day. In fact, the day really was the epitome of what exploring Ontario wine country is all about: getting off the main roads and following the signs and simply stopping in at a few wineries and trying the wines!