Days of Wine and Chocolate — a Passport to Enjoyment

Have you ever participated in one of the coordinated passport events wineries run in a particular region? If you haven’t, you should… And if you have – let’s compare notes about it.

The Days of Wine and Chocolate event is currently going on all this month. The marketing folks at the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake gave me a pair of passports, and a friend and I checked it out on Friday.

The Basics

Passport programs are brilliantly straightforward. You buy the passport (the pass) and then head to your favourite participating winery – or better yet, one you’ve never tried! At each winery, you get a sample of some nibble and a wine they’ve paired with that delectable bite. The pairings are based on the theme – in the case of the Days of Wine and Chocolate you can guess what the theme is….IMG_3981

Planning Your Day?

Because I invited my friend, I felt responsible for planning our day a bit. I know my friend didn’t care – she looked at it as just a great way to spend some time together, which is another great excuse to order up a couple passports!

So, I decided to frame our day around a few specifics – a few specific pairings that intrigued me and a few wineries that I was especially interested in visiting. First, I wanted to stop in at The Hare Wine Company – it’s a brand new winery on Old Stone Road. I also planned on stopping in at Konzelmann Estate Winery – I thought it would be interesting to compare a brand new winery (Hare) with one of the original wineries of the area (Konzelmann). I also wanted to stop in at Lailey – it changed hands last year and I wanted to learn a bit more about their plans going forward.

I also had the list of what each winery was serving and I had marked some that I thought might be especially interesting. One of the impressive things about the Days of Wine and Chocolate theme is how creative the wineries are with incorporating chocolate into different food. For example, cocoa aioli on a smoked meat sandwich, chocolate drizzled popcorn, a dark chocolate and bacon brownie, dark chocolate mole sauce.

The Hare Wine Company

The Hare Wine Company has only been open about three months. I had perused their website before we left and it had a lot of interesting information about the loyalist history. But, you never get a sense of what the winery is aiming to be from a website – you need to see it in person to get that.IMG_3994

Sommelier and assistant cellar master Alina Trefry was excited to tell us about the winery and their plans. I had passed it before and was amazed at its size – not exactly a roadside stand. Alina explained the architecture and how well planned it is – everything from space to let food trucks into the courtyard, to the fact that the displays are all on wheels so they can move them around for different events and weddings and such. Here’s a short video of Alina talking a bit about the winery.

I had read that the building is crafted from re-claimed building materials and Alina confirmed that. As well, someone had given me a heads-up about one of the unique side rooms, so I asked about it. Indeed, they have a private tasting room off the main hall whose walls are made of old barrels. If you visit the winery and they aren’t too busy, ask if you can see it – the three dimensional effect is very neat!

They have 12 acres under vine: half are planted with Riesling and half with Vidal. They also locally source other grapes. They have four different series of wines in different price ranges – from their Jack Rabbit series ($14-$16 range) to their Noble series, which currently features a $120 Cab Franc appassimento blend. Here’s a short video of Alina describing the Noble series.

For Days of Wine and Chocolate they were serving the 2013 Crown Land Red with Ecuadorian bitter dark chocolate with freeze-dried strawberries. To be honest – when we read the description, it didn’t appeal to me OR my friend. But, we were there and it would have been rude to turn it down.IMG_3987

Well, what a delicious surprise. The chocolate and the Cab Franc were Delicious. Alina said the chocolate was made for them by a local chocolatier and, it featured a dusting of raspberry powder n addition to the freeze-dried strawberries. The whole thing – the chocolate and wine – creates an explosion of sweet and tart. I was hoping the chocolate was available for purchase at the winery, but it wasn’t. But, Alina was happy to share that it came from Willow Cakes and Pastries (Mary and Mississauga Streets in Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Lailey Winery

Our last stop of the day was Lailey Winery. As I mentioned, I knew that the winery, which used to be called Lailey Vineyard, has changed hands. The new owners are John Chang and Allison Lu. Besides the subtle name change, the first thing you notice that’s different is the totems – there’s one outside and one inside. The new owners also own wineries in BC and, as the woman who served us explained, the totems are meant to greet visitors and as a connection to the new owners’ ties to BC.

The other immediately noticeable difference is that the tasting room has tripled in size. When I mentioned that, our server explained it’s because they now get a lot of buses and it’s easier to accommodate groups.

Owner Allison has taken over the winemaking. (Derek Barnett is now working out of Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County.) Many of the wines on the shelves – including the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Fume that was featured in the Days of Wine and Chocolate pairing – are vintages that were crafted by Barnett.

Despite the reference to fume in the name, I didn’t pick up much smokiness in the Sauvignon Blanc. They paired it with a petite lemon tart that was to die for! Again, I asked who made the tarts and I was told they sourced it from the Watering Can in Vineland (3711 King Street) – definitely a café that would be worth checking out.

It will be interesting to watch how Lailey Winery will change. Rumour has it that they’ll focus primarily on icewine and that much of their production will be for export. We’ll see… Meanwhile, for the many folks who loved what Derek produced, stop in to stock up before it’s all gone.

Lunch

The only other pre-planning I had done was finding a place for lunch. I had a short list of places I had wanted to try. One of them was The Old Winery Restaurant on Niagara Stone Road. When I happened to ask someone at Konzelmann for lunch suggestions, he mentioned that one. So, that’s where we went. The menu’s diverse, the prices reasonable and the food and service were good. In short – it’s a place I feel confident recommending.

Grilled Chicken saltimbocca, Prosciutto, Fontina, Tapenade on a Kaiser
Grilled Chicken saltimbocca, Prosciutto, Fontina, Tapenade on a Kaiser

I’ll be heading down to NOL again for Days of Wine and Chocolate, and so stay tuned.  Oh – and watch for a separate post about Konzelmann – we did their Junk Food Pairing tasting, which was great!

Lamb burger with a greek salad
Lamb burger with a greek salad

 

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.

 

 

A few days of pre-Christmas R&R in Prince Edward County

I love Prince Edward County but I’ve always wondered what it’s like in the “off season”. So my sister and I decided to enjoy a few days rest and relaxation on Dec. 22 and 23 with a visit to the County.

Hinterland Winery Dec 2015 IMG_3295
Hinterland Winery
County Road 33 Beer Co. at Hinterland Winery Dec 2015 IMG_3294
County Road 33 Beer Co. at Hinterland Winery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, our first stop was a winery — we stopped in at Hinterland Wine Company to see what’s “brewing”. You see, I had heard that owners  Vicki Samaras and Jonas Newman didn’t have enough to do (they also have an interest in a winery in Greece!) so they are starting to make craft beer. The brewery, which hasn’t officially opened yet, will be called County Road 33 Beer Co. Unfortunately we just missed Vicki and Jonas — but next time I’m in the county, I’m sure the brewery will be open and hopefully they’ll show us around and tell us what inspired the new venture.

From there we stopped in at Sandbanks Estate Winery. The colourful Muskoka chairs, which I always think are so welcoming in the summer, added colour to an otherwise grey December day. There we did a horizontal tasting of Baco Noir, which was fun. We also discovered one of my new favourites — their Baco Noir Reserve.

Side Street Gallery - Wellington Dec 2015 IMG_3297
SideStreet Gallery — Wellington

We stopped in Wellington and Bloomfield for a bit of browsing. In Wellington we enjoyed SideStreet Gallery, and had a pleasant conversation with owner Paulette Greer.

In Bloomfield we were quite surprised at how HUGE Green Gables Gifts and Greetings. The welcoming front of the building makes you think you’re walking into a quaint little shop. But as you make your way from room to room, you realize it’s a quaint BIG store with lots to look at and tempt you.Green Gables Gifts and Greetings -- Bloomfield PEC Dec 2015 IMG_3300

Saylor House Cafe - Bloomfield Dec 2015 IMG_3301
Saylor House Cafe – Bloomfield, PEC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re peckish, as we were, I suggest you stop in at Saylor House Cafe. We didn’t want lunch, per se, just some tea and something sweet. The most tempting sweet was a frosted number that looked like a carrot cake. When I asked about it, I was told it was a Hummingbird Cake. Not too helpful a description, I thought. When I made a face, the owner smiled and explained that it’s name coconut banana cake that gets its name from the fact that those who eat it end up humming with joy. Well, with that explanation — how could we not try it! Trust me, it was worth its name.

Apples for Ice Cider - Waupoos Winery Dec 2015 IMG_3316
Apples for Ice Cider – Waupoos Winery

We also made it out to Waupoos Winery because I wanted to show my sister the different fruit trees that they grow — things you wouldn’t expect to find in Ontario — like lemons. To my sadness, the trees were gone. Thinking that maybe I had imagined that from earlier visits, I asked. Turns out, they take the trees in during the winter. (That explains it!) Across the street from the winery we had noticed a grove of apple trees with the red gems still on. My guess was that they were left for pressing in winter after they’re frozen. Indeed, that’s the case — they’re hoping to make an iced cider.

Claramount Inn December 2015IMG_3323
Claramount Inn December 2015

Since it was the holidays, we decided to go first class and stay at the Claramount Inn. Turned out to be a great choice. The spa was open, as was the indoor pool, not to mention Clara’s Restaurant. The view of Picton Harbour was terrific — definitely a place to return to.

Picton was buzzing with last-minute shoppers. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t shop too much, but we couldn’t resist the shops. We especially loved the UnGallery and Arts on Main. One of the especially noteworthy things that reinforced my warm feelings for The County is the fact that the day we were there (Dec. 23rd) parking on Main Street in Picton was free, with any money put into the parking meters going to the local food bank! (One of the rare times I didn’t mind paying for parking!) What a terrific idea, eh?

This trip was more balanced than my usual trip to The County because we took more time to enjoy the different things there are to do — from wine to food to arts and hospitality. Truthfully, it only made me love The County more!

Post Script: , we didn’t have a chance to stop at Karlo Estates, but I hear that Derek Barnett, formerly of Lailey Estates, has taken over as winemaker at Karlo.

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.

Traynor Family Vineyard  IMG_2995

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.

Videos from Broken Stone Winery and Hubbs Creek Vineyard

In June when I was in Prince Edward County I stopped at some old favourites and some that I hadn’t been to before — including Broken Stone Winery and Hubbs Creek Vineyard.  At both I was lucky enough to catch the winemaker/owners who were gracious enough to speak on video.

Click here to see Tim Kuepfer (winemaker and co-owner with Micheline Kuepfer) of Broken Stone Winery talking about the winery and their goals for the future. Broken Stone Winery has been open for three years.

Broken Stone Winery IMG_2988

 

 

 

Broken Stone Winery IMG_2990Click here to see John Battista Calvieri (winemaker and co-owner with Joseph Calvieri) of Hubbs Creek Vineyard explaining his ambions as a garagiste.

Hubbs Creek Vineyard IMG_2962Hubbs Creek Vineyard IMG_2964

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…

Great Way to Warm Up and Chill Out in January

IMG_0776_2The 20th Niagara Icewine Festival is kicking off this weekend with the Xerox Icewine Gala on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 at the Fallsview Casino Resort. If you didn’t get your fill of fine wine and food over the holidays – or perhaps you just want one more reason to show off your holiday dress up clothes – the gala is for you. It’s a bit pricey ($185+HST) but the VQA wine – icewine and table – is flowing, and the food chefs from the casino’s finest restos are sure to serve up lots of fine foods.IMG_0778

If the gala isn’t in your price range or your style, don’t worry. The Icewine Festival goes on for three weekends throughout the Niagara Region with a variety of events.

My personal festival favourite is the Twenty Valley Icewine Celebrations this weekend in Jordan Village. Main Street in the village becomes a winter wonderland of ice sculptures and ice bars, with more than 30 wineries pouring their luscious Ontario special nectar: icewine (and some other wines, including bubblies). A number of local chefs also brave the cold and serve up their delectable. This year Chef Michal Smith will be on hand doing cooking demos on Sunday. There’s also free entertainment and cozy fires – trust me, you won’t even notice the cold!

IMG_0773Chef Smith will also be hosting a dinner Saturday in the Windows Room and an Icewine Sparkling Brunch at On the Twenty Restaurant. Check on-line for tickets for these events.

IMG_0777The second weekend and third weekends (Jan. 17-18 and Jan. 24-25, 2015) the party moves to the downtown area (Queen Street) of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The format is similar, with the 26 Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries pouring their icewine, and Signature Kitchen Chef showing off their skills. There will also be an icewine cocktail competition on Saturday night (Jan. 17th).

Discovery Pass Program at the Wineries

Beside the streetscape events in Jordan Village and Niagara-on-the-Lake, 37 wineries (19 in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region and 17 in the Twenty Valley) are participating in a Discovery Pass Program ($40+HST/Designated Driver Passes are $30+HST) that features wine and food pairings.

Because the festival is just days away, at this point, the Discovery Passes are only now only available at the wineries. (My experience is that the wineries are only allotted a limited number, so I suggest you head out fairly early and get a pass sooner rather than later!)

Here are the wineries participating this year:

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wineries

Twenty Valley Wineries

To find out what the wineries are pouring and serving, check the festival website.

 

Cuvée is on Sale!

That’s right – there’s still time to get your Cuvée 2015 tickets for the Feb. 27, 2015 Grand Tasting (along with a passport for the weekend) at the early-bird price of $175/person. After Dec. 31, 2014 it’ll cost you $200/ticket. Tickets can be purchased on-line.IMG_1551

Cuvée was the most fun event I attended this year – and that’s saying a lot, as there were many great wine events. Lots of things stand out in my mind about the Grand Tasting, including the fact that the winemakers were especially enthusiastic (and proud) to be pouring their favourite wine. Besides the wines, the food stations were lavish and the dance floor was hopping at the after party. In short, Cuvée was a terrific chance to dress up and spend the evening with friends and fellow wine and food lovers.

I know, with the holiday party season in full swing already, you might be starting to think that after January 1st all you’ll want to do is diet. Well, I’m with you there – but that’s ok because Cuvée is the last weekend of February. Believe me, by then you’ll be so tired of winter activities (or inactivity, as the case may be) – there’s no better way to break the doldrums than with a terrific party.IMG_1562

Cuvee 2015 marks the start of a new era – last year the Niagara Community Foundation, the charity that had been in charge of event for a number of years, handed over the reins to Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

A block of rooms have been set aside at the Fallsview Hilton at special rates – I suggest you grab one of them too, while they’re still available. (That way you can party without concerns about driving or even putting a coat on – your room will just be an elevator ride away.)

Tis the weekend?

Tis the season for celebrations of all sorts and this weekend (Dec. 6 and 7) sure seems to be the weekend of open houses at wineries. And of course – this is the last weekend of Wassail – a celebration at wineries throughout Prince Edward County.

I’ve been getting a ton of invitations to open houses and other festive events at Ontario Wineries. Here’s a sample of some things going on this weekend:

  • 13th Street Winery is hosting Holiday Tips & Tastes Sat. from 11-5
  • Aura Wines is having a Sip & Shop Christmas Open House Sat. and Sun. from 11-5
  • Calamus Estate Winery is having a Holiday Open House on Sat. from 11-5:30
  • DiProfio Wines is having a Christmas Open House both Sat. and Sun from noon-6
  • Foreign Affair Winery is having an Open House both Sat. and Sun.
  • GreenLane Estate Winery is having a Holiday Open House Sat. from 11-5
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery and Brewery is having a Holiday Open House Sat. from 11-4
  • Kacaba Vineyards is having a Holiday Open House both Sat. and Sun.
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery is having a 5th Anniversary event both Sat. and Sun. from noon-5
  • Vineland Estates Winery is having The Five Elves Yuletide Tour on Sat. and Sun.

Channeling Lucille Ball?

If you’re of a certain age you may remember I Love Lucy – a t.v. show in the 1950s (and re-run throughout the 60s and 70s) featuring Lucille Ball. One of the episodes I remember best (apparently it was in season 5) was called Grape Wrestling. In it, Lucy pulls up her skirt and climbs into a large vat of grapes to join an Italian woman stomping grapes. It’s a Classic.

Anyway, this episode immediately popped into my head when I read about an event that Flat Rock Cellars is hosting called: Pick, Stomp & Taste. The event, which started last weekend and is continuing this weekend (Sept. 27/28, 2014) involves hand-picking grapes and jumping into a barrel and stomping around. It sure sounds like an opportunity to channel your inner Lucille Ball as you feel the squish of the grapes between your toes. (Mind you, the I Love Lucy episode ends with Lucy and the Italian woman wrestling in the grape-filled vat — I’m sure that’s NOT part of the Flat Rock Cellars event!)

The cost for partaking in the stomp is $25 and it includes a tasting of their 2013 wines (I have NO idea if they did this last year, btw) and a tasting of the newly pressed 2014 grape juice (if you dare). The event is from 11 a.m. -1 p.m.

I’m not sure I’ll make it down to Flat Rock for it – but I have to admit – it sounds fun! If you go, let me know what it was like!