I love Prince Edward County and always look for reasons to visit. This week I had a sad reason – the funeral of a friend’s mother. Because it was a planned trip on a weekday, I decided to see if Catherine Langlois – the winemaker/owner of Sandbanks Estate Winery might be in that day. I dropped the winery an e-mail to ask about meeting Catherine. They got back to me right away and we set it up a meeting.
I love meeting winemakers and have found it especially interesting chatting with women winemakers. Catherine was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to meet with me and she let me film a short video with her. Click here to watch the video.
As I mentioned to Catherine when we were done shooting the video, I think Sandbanks is an incredibly inviting place. I’ve often thought about why that is. I think lots has to do with the colour scheme and the welcoming lawn full of colourful Muskoka chairs. From the very first time a friend and I were tooling down the Loyalist Parkway headed toward Picton, as we came upon the winery, we were drawn like a magnet to stop in. I imagine that’s how lots of people “discover” Sandbanks Estate Winery.
After meeting Catherine, I now realize that the winery’s ambiance is nothing less than a manifestation of Catherine’s friendliness, enthusiasm, and warmth.
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.
It’s Family Day weekend here in Ontario – a long weekend designed to give folks a mid-winter break. Most years, that means a weekend of snow-filled activities. With an unusual early spring thaw (temperatures topping 10°C – over 50°F), I’m sure lots of folks had to change their plans.
Fortunately, for me and my friend Cory, the weather was perfect for a day of winery visiting in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOL). As I mentioned in my last blog, the Wineries of NOL provided me with a couple of passes to the Days of Wine and Chocolate event that’is going on all month. Here are a few of the highlights of the day.
Our first stop of the day was Pondview Estate Winery. They were serving their 2013 Bella Terra Cab Sauv with ribs in a chocolate infused sauce. I have to say – Pondview never disappoints for these events. They always showcase one of their nicer wines and they always serve something tasty. This year was no exception. The ribs were outstanding. The Bella Terra is a lovely wine, but because they were serving in their barrel room, the glasses and the wine were very cold, which was a shame. Regardless, it was a great pairing and both of us agreed that it would be hard to beat.
The only pre-planned part of the day was lunch at Backhouse restaurant. I was keen to try the restaurant because I’ve sampled Chef Ryan Crawford’s charcuterie at different events. Crawford and his partner Beverley Hotchkiss opened the restaurant about 18 months ago and it has been very well received, so I made sure to make a reservation.
I knew exactly where it was (242 Mary Street in a small plaza where Mary Street intersects Niagara Stone Road), but from the outside, the restaurant is easy to miss. And, because the windows are all covered over, it almost looks like they’ve gone out of business. Indeed, we followed a couple in and we overheard one of them saying to the hostess that he thought maybe it was closed. But, it’s so attractive and welcoming inside, you quickly forget about what the outside looks like!
The host asked us if we wanted a seat at the Chef’s bar or at a table. Normally I don’t like sitting at the bar – but it was clear that that was where the action was, and the seats were very comfortable looking. When I asked what she’d recommend, the hostess said, “Definitely the bar – that’s considered our premium seating”. So we took her suggestion – and boy were we glad we did.Sitting there gave us a chance to talk to the staff and watch as they lovingly plated different things. We didn’t want anything too heavy and since I knew that Chef Crawford is known for his charcuterie, we settled on the Backhouse Plate for 2 and a side order of frites. The Backhouse Plate features a selection of charcuterie, bread, cheeses, preserves, and pickled green beans and pickled sour cherries. It was delicious.
We had a peak at the dinner menu. They have some items a la cart, and a selection of tasting menus that sounded amazing. I’ll definitely be back to try a tasting menu – and I’ll definitely book the seats at the Chef’s bar. We purposely didn’t have dessert at the restaurant because we wanted to try some of the Days of Wine and Chocolate dessert pairings.
We had noticed that Trius Winery was serving S’mores, and that sound fun. Turns out we didn’t read the description that carefully, so we were surprised when it wasn’t a traditional S’more – it was S’more fudge. They paired it with their 2015 Gamay Noir. That turned out to be one of Cory’s favourite wines of the day – and the pairing made both somehow richer.
Another standout in terms of a wine/dessert pairing was at Pillitteri Estates. They were serving their 2013 Cab Merlot with a dark chocolate cup with milk chocolate mousse with a drizzle of Cab Merlot raspberry compote. The lightness of the milk chocolate mousse and the tartness of the compote paired very well with the wine.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
But 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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!)
I 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.
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.
JP Adamo was kind enough to let us shoot a short video of him describing the winery. You can find the video here.
As 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Though 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 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.
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.