Wine event eclipsed by mother nature           

Totality meets wine country Ontario – that could be the alternative title to this post.

I live in Toronto and I wasn’t overly excited about the idea of the eclipse. At least, not until I got an email from Cave Spring Vineyard in early March about the Solarbration they were having at their Vineyard Tasting Room.

I’m on a lot of winery mailing lists and Cave Spring’s announcement was the first to hit my inbox – and it sounded like fun: a box lunch catered by RPM Bakehouse (one of my favourite cafés in Jordan Village), a glass of wine, a pair of eclipse glasses (for viewing, not of the drinking kind) and live music. As soon as I got the announcement, I asked a friend who agreed that it sounded fun, and I booked two tickets.

The Niagara region had pre-emptively declared a state of emergency – but that was mainly to help with crowd control right at the Falls. Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is in Beamsville and it’s up on the ridge of the escarpment, so fewer crowds than going directly into Niagara Falls.

We figured it might take a couple hours to get there, but traffic wasn’t much worse than normal. And, when we were in Beamsville a bit earlier than expected, we stopped in at another nearby winery first. They were busy for a Monday morning and it was fun to hear others talking about where they were headed to view the eclipse. One couple I knew from wine events said they were headed to Sue Ann Staff (a bit further along) and another couple behind me were talking about Cave Spring’s event. It was fun to know others would be enjoying the region – eclipse or not. (It turns out many of the main Ontario wine regions were in the path of totality and there were winery events – formal and informal – at many.)

Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is a beautiful glass building with a nice patio. Because March weather is unpredictable, they set up dining tables inside the building. They had limited the number of people and they did a lovely job – name cards and everything! It turns out indoor dining was a good idea, as it was quite overcast and cooler than I expected.

After lunch we headed out to the patio. As I said – it was quite overcast but there were a few blue patches far off – so most of us just hoped that the blue skies might head our way in time. It took a few minutes to figure out where the sun might be (behind the clouds). I was looking more toward the horizon toward the south west. Thankfully others were looking more up, and soon I too located the elusive sun. It was so cloudy that regular sunglasses were sufficient for the first bit – when the moon shadow made the sun look like a crescent.

Every now and then we’d try the eclipse glasses and as the clouds moved, you could see a snatch of the sun and moon. I had NO idea how dark the eclipse glasses were. Unless the sun was visible through the clouds, you would swear the glasses were opaque! But, we kept watching through them – and hoping… And, low and behold, as totality occurred, the cloud cover thinned enough that we could see exactly what we came to – the bright ring of the sun glowing behind the full moon. We were a small crowd, but you couldn’t help but clap – at the sight and at the good fortune that the clouds moved just at the right time.

Because of the clouds, the day was pretty dark to begin with. I think it made it even more surprising that we noticed how much darker it got during totality. And because I had read something about looking at the horizon looking behind you, I did turn my head (toward the north) and it looked like day break. I snapped a quick photo of that (quite unfocused) – just to remember what it looked like.

Anyway – though I’ve never had anything less than a good time at an Ontario winery – this was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime highlight. Mother nature deserves the credit, but a big thank you – and well done – goes to Cave Spring Vineyard for hosting a great event!

A few days in The County

I’m just back from a few days touring around Prince Edward County with two food and wine-loving friends. My friend Sandy and I were visiting Susan and her dozen chickens, who live just outside Belleville. 

Before arriving at Susan’s, Sandy and I did a bit of exploring of the western end of Prince Edward County (The County). Our first stop was Loch Mór Cider Co. on Danforth Road in Hillier. Sandy had been there before and she raved about their sour cherry cider. I warned her that I don’t tend to like flavoured ciders, but she assured me it was dry and delicious. We shared their Flight 1, which included their Hopped Cider; Savvy Pomme Sparkling, which is made using Russet apples; Sour Cherry; and Pommeau, which is a fortified cider.

We both loved the Hopped Cider and I must agree – the dark amber Sour Cherry is delicious. The County is known for its ciders and the Loch Mór Ciders do The County proud. Their tasting room is comfortable and their large patio overlooking the young orchard is very relaxing. They serve light bites that they source locally and that change often, but there’s likely to be something you’ll enjoy with a tasting flight or with a glass of your favourite cider.  

From there we drove into Wellington for lunch at LaCondesa – a Mexican restaurant I went to last year for the first time and I loved it. They do tacos and tostadas. We ordered two tacos each and they were as good as I remembered. It’s a cute spot with lots of space indoors and a small, well shaded front patio. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a casual, tasty dining option in Wellington.

The next day Sandy, Susan, and I headed back to explore the southern and more eastern end of The County. Susan was kind enough to be the designated driver and our first stop was Lighthall Vineyards in Milford. We had all been there before, but not recently. They have expanded their tasting area and have also started making cheese. (They buy ewe’s milk from a local farmer and they craft the cheese at the winery.)

Sandy and I shared their White flight, which included their Riesling 2022, Pinot Gri 2021, Foundation Chardonnay 2021, which is aged in egg-shaped cement barrels, and their Estate Chardonnay 2019, which is lightly oaked. They do a lovely job of pairing each wine in their flights with their cheeses. My favourite wine was their Estate Chardonnay 2019. My favourite cheese was Frenchie, which they served with their Riesling. All their cheeses are very nice and we noticed them sold at other shops in The County, which speaks to their popularity.

Tasting
at Lighthall Vineyards

Our next stop was Exultet Estates, which is also in Milford. Exultet is unusual in that it doesn’t advertise. It’s open to the public, but you won’t find it in the WineCountryOntario guide or even in the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce map. In 2004 Gerard and Lia Spinosa purchased a 200-acre former cheese factory and planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Vidal. Gerard is the winemaker and Lia leads the tastings. Their wines have have won many awards and they are focused on high end restaurants, but you can buy their wine at the winery.

Lia Spinosa of Exultet

It’s definitely worth finding, especially if you like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They offer flights that feature “a splash” of six of your choice. Lia is very knowledgeable about the different expressions of the wine that the winemaker (her husband) was focusing on for each offering and it’s nice to compare different craftings of the same variety.

From Exultet we headed to County Road 8 where we came across Del-Gatto Estates. This is another winery you won’t find in the WineCountryOntario guide. The three of us had all been to Del-Gatto before but not since before the pandemic – so we stopped in. When I looked at the tasting menu, I noticed the 2020 Petite Pearl. I asked what that is and the woman helping us said, “it’s Petite Pearl”. I was still confused, so I asked, “but what variety of grape is in it?” She explained the grape is called Petit Pearl, which is wintery hearty. She explained that they’re the only winery in The County that features winter hearty varietals.

I looked at the tasting menu again and saw that a Frontenac Noir and Marquette and then I understood. I asked her if those varietals grow in places like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and she said yes, though they source theirs from Minnesota. I know that the winemakers in The County bury the vines to guard against the cold, so it makes sense to use varieties that are particularly cold hearty. They also have some of the more traditional varietals (Pinto Grigio, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Vidal for example). The service is friendly and it’s a lovely spot to try something different.

Our next stop was Cressy Mustard on County Road 8, near Waupoos Estates Winery. I had never heard of it, but Susan is a fan and she was determined to find it. I was expecting a farm stand of some sort. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in addition to a shop that sells all sorts of Cressy Mustards and relishes, they have a bit of a café. It was truly our lucky day – they were featuring pickerel tacos and truffle fries. We shared an order of each and they were amazing. The basket of fries was HUGE and about the crispiest I’ve ever had – not to mention the truffle aioli and shaved parm that was on top. Go for the mustard – stay for a bite!

We ended the day stopping at Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park. As the name implies – there’s a lovely lake that is located on a crest that sits about 60 metres up with views of the surrounding waters of Picton Bay. We stopped briefly and walked around the small boardwalk along the edge of the lake – but our main destination was the beautiful patio across the street at the Miller House Café. The view from the patio is spectacular! Directly below is the ferry dock for the Glenora Ferry, which is so fun to watch.

The Miller House has a lovely menu of unique light fare including “flambées” (which are elongated flatbreads with different toppings), creative platters (similar to charcuterie boards), and tartines (toasted French bread with different toppings).   

I only get to The County about once a year – and every time I go, I think I should go more often. It’s hilly and curvy and fun to drive around. Every curve brings a surprise – you might see a field with cows or sheep, or rows of vines, or an apple orchard, or a beach with a sailboat off in the distance! And every time I go there, I’m surprised at how many new great cafes and restaurants there are, not to mention great wineries, cideries, distilleries, and more.

Hollyhocks a Miller House Cafe

Pre-release event at Henry of Pelham

This afternoon Henry of Pelham hosted a pre-release of six wines, including its 2021 BIN 106 ‘Lost Boys” Baco Noir. This is a limited edition wine that is well worth heading to the winery to snag before it runs out. It’s from some of the oldest vines in the region (planted in 1984) and it is luscious. I’ve always thought of Baco as being one of Henry of Pelham’s outstanding offerings and so I was looking forward to trying it – but this exceeded my expectations!

Daniel Speck

I was talking to Lawrence Behler, the winemaker, about how much I enjoy Henry or Pelham’s Bacos and he said the winery has always treated Baco with a great deal of respect. I think he hit the nail on the head and I think that is particularly evident in the 2021 BIN 106.

On our way to the winery, I confessed to my friend that I didn’t know who the winemaker was. So naturally, that was the first question I asked Daniel Speck, one of the brothers who own the winery. I was so pleased to learn that it was Lawrence, who I first met at an ice wine weekend when he was the winemaker at Peller Estates in 2008. After that he headed to Colio in the Lake Erie North Shore region (Harrow) and then I knew he went out west for a time. After that I lost track of him – but he’s back in the Niagara, which is great news.

Lawrence Buhler, winemaker

The other standout for me at the tasting was their 2021 The Shadow Rock Sauvignon Blanc. Daniel Speck was pouring it and he explained that this particular parcel is near a pond. In the late afternoon it gets partially blocked and the slight coolness from the shadow helps the fruit develop different from other parts of the vineyard. Apparently, it’s also interesting because being near the pond the darkness brings out the night insects and frogs and it gets pretty lively in that patch. One other important note about the wine that makes it different from other Sauvignon Blanc is that it is lightly oaked, which makes it – yes, a Fumé Sauvignon Blanc. I asked Daniel why they decided to de-stress the “fumé” and he explained that they did so because some people think they don’t like oaked whites and so sometimes they won’t even try it. Go figure…

I’ve always enjoyed a nice Fumé Blanc – and The Shadow Rock is delicious. It has the grapefruit and pear you expect from a Sauvignon Blanc but the bit of oak gives it a round, fuller mouth feel. Next time you’re at Henry of Pelham be sure to try it – it might surprise you. Indeed, among today’s crowd, it clearly was a big hit – by the time we got to the retail shop to buy some, they had run short of it. They will have it re-stocked tomorrow morning, so we ordered it. I look forward to serving it to some friends this summer. I won’t tell them it’s an oaked Sauvignon Blanc until after they’ve tried it. I’ll be they will enjoy it and will be more open to trying a fumé blanc in the future.

The other wines introduced at the tasting were: the 2021 Dry River Riesling, the 2020 Smith & Smith Gamay, the 2020 Cabernet-Merlot Speck Family Reserve, and the 2020 Pinot Noir Speck Family Reserve.

A side trip to Jordan Village

On our way to Henry of Pelham we were a bit hungry so we decided to stop at Jordan Village to see if we could grab a bite. The GPS had us turning from Nineteenth Street onto Wismer Street and then to Main Street in Jordan Village. Well – that was a no go, as Main Street in Jordan Village is completely closed for construction. Fortunately, if you stay on Nineteenth Street (rather than turning onto Wismer St.) the Jordan Village parking area is open and you park and walk through the Village around the construction (which is supposed to be completed this summer, so we were told).

We knew there was a coffee shop in the Village but we didn’t know the name. Well, it turns out is now the RPM Bakehouse and it’s run by the folks who run the restaurant at Pearl Morissette winery. They had a lovely light menu featuring interesting sandwiches on their house made breads, as well as some coffee shop type sweets. There was indoor and outdoor seating and so we had a light lunch outside (in mid-April!). The Bakehouse was an excellent find – a very nice choice when you’re in the mood for more than just a muffin and coffee but not quite a full-service meal. It’s definitely a place to remember and return to.

RPM Bakenhouse

Sunday Fun – Enjoying Big Head Wines and a Variety of Pies

I’ve always been a fan of Big Head Wines and so when I got an email blast about a weekend event at the winery, I was intrigued. They were hosting a pop-up featuring General Assemblies Pizza. I had heard about GA pizza (as they are known) from some foodie friends but I’d never tried one.

So, a girlfriend and I decided to make a day of it. Given that traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels (even if other things aren’t quite), we headed down early on Sunday. I waited a bit too late in the week to get a reservation for a structured wine tasting, but they put our name on a waiting list. So, we agreed it would be good to arrive on the early side. They opened at 11.

Well, we were a tad earlier than necessary so we decided to go for a coffee. My friend knows Niagara-on-the-Lake like the back of her hand, so she suggested coffee at the Pie Plate. I had been there before and thought it was a brilliant suggestion. To our surprise, when we got there, we found out they moved. To our relief, we were told it’s now just around the corner at 1607 Four Mile Creek Road (rather than on Niagara Stone Road).

The new place is huge and it was hopping, which was nice to see. I have to say, as we watched people leave with two and three pie boxes each, I wondered whether there’d be much of a selection left. There was plenty to choose from and we could see a team of four busy rolling out dough for more pies in the glass-surrounded kitchen area. With my coffee I had a fabulous peach pie in tart form and my friend had a bacon and date scone.

Then we headed to Big Head Winery on Hunter Road. The pizza oven was set up next to a large tent where the sour dough, naturally leavened pizzas are crafted. Nearby there were stand-up tables where people could enjoy a glass of wine with their pizza.

I mentioned to the person who greeted us that we didn’t have a reservation for a tasting, but that we were on the waiting list. I told her we were happy to wait to see if there were any cancellations or if they could accommodate us. Andrzej Lipinski, the winemaker and owner, was at a nearby table speaking with a guest. We had met before and – though I don’t think he had any reason to remember me – so when he was free, we went up to him to say hello.

I asked him how the grapes are doing this year and he said, “So far, ok – but it’s too early to know.” He said he likes to pick late and there always the concern about possible downy mildew if there’s too much rain.

We talked about the fact that, though most Ontarians will remember 2020 as the year of the pandemic, for winemakers in Niagara, 2020 will be remembered as one of the best vintages ever. This year, in contrast to the lower yields of 2020, the vines are full of grapes. So full, in fact, that he’s had to prune bunches out. He also mentioned that 2021’s been a busy year for Big Head because they’re moving from their current location to a new place they’re building on Concession 6. They hope to be in there sometime this fall.

A new way of experiencing bubbly

Waiting a bit paid off. When space opened up in the tasting room, Andrzej led us through a tasting. He gave us the tasting menu, but I prefer to let the winemaker decide what to pour. He asked if we like bubbly and we both quickly confessed we do. (It’s my favourite thing to drink.) So, he started us with their non-vintage Big Bang Black, which spent 68 months on the lees.

He served it in a regular glass and with the wine sitting in the bottom of the wide bowl, it was difficult to see any bubbles. He scoffed when I mentioned I would have liked to have tried it in a flute because I thought it would be easier to see the bubbles. He explained that what matters is tasting the bubbles on your tongue – not seeing them climbing up the wall of a glass. So, we took another sip with this in mind. It was very interesting… I had never really thought about experiencing bubbles on my tongue. By the third sip, we were both sold. Not only did I leave with a bottle of Big Bang Black, I left with a new way of experiencing bubbly.

We ended up trying a number of reds and whites, with both of us preferring the reds. I think my friend might have been a bit concerned with my candor when he described a few of the whites as being very aromatic and I disagreed because I didn’t get much of a nose on a couple of them. I don’t think Andrzej minded though because he thinks that each person perceives different things in each wine. Mind you, he did tease me at one point saying maybe my nose is broke!

Always new things to learn

One of the reasons I love doing to tastings at wineries or with winemakers is to hear about various decisions they made for each wine. For example, I find it interested to hear why they decided to ferment in steel, or clay, or concrete, and so on. And, if they mention a term I’ve never heard, I don’t mind asking them to explain a bit about it. Most of the time they don’t mind answering because they appreciate people taking an interest in their work.

So, when Andrzej described that the 2018 Raw Malbec underwent “carbonic” and was fermented in concrete, I asked what carbonic means. He explained it’s where – before pressing – whole grapes are placed in a tank and fermented using carbon dioxide for a certain period. That basically starts the fermentation. It was also interesting to learn that Big Head’s “Raw” series are all unoaked.

Andrzej was very generous with his time and as it started to get busy, we realized others might want to speak with him too. So, we thanked him and said next time we’d see him in the new location. After putting the wine we purchased in a cooler in the trunk, the next decision was about pizza.

Choosing from a list that all sounded good

With a long list of options, we decided we’d order two pizzas and share them. We got the King ‘Shroom, which featured mushrooms with gorgonzola and mozzarella, and Loving Cup, which featured a ridiculously delicious amount of pepperoni, mozzarella, and parmesan. We also shared a glass of the Big Red, which we figured would be good with both.

The pizzas were fantastic. The crusts were about as thin as you can imagine while still being sturdy enough to support all the toppings. As we were starting on our second pieces, the person who brought the pizzas to our table passed by. I stopped him to ask what their top seller is. He thought for a moment and said, “To be honest, I think the two you ordered are our most popular. But you know, next time you should try the Dilly Goat – it’s amazing.”

I had seen a photo of it the Dilly Goat – it’s a sea of a green rappini-based sauce with goat cheese and zucchini and then grated cheese (I think it was Grana Padano, but I’m not sure) and a ton of fresh dill. Based on the recommendation, we figured we should try the Dilly Goat too, so we ordered a third pizza! It too was delish…

Taste of Normal

Our day at Niagara-on-the-Lake was fun and relaxing – a nice change of pace after many months of staying close to home due to the pandemic.

August and September are the perfect time to visit Ontario wineries. The vineyards are spectacularly lush right now and winemakers are around but not yet crazy busy with harvest and the crush.

Enjoying a picnic at Creekside Estate Winery

Three girlfriends and I rendezvoused yesterday at Creekside Estate Winery in Jordan. I knew they have a good-size deck (patio) and that the Creekside Kitchen & Grocery was featuring box picnic lunches that you can enjoy on the patio along with a glass of wine (or a flight, as we did). It was hot, but the well-shaded deck made for a relaxing afternoon. I had pre-booked the lunches because we were converging from different places, but clearly other folks took their chances and dropped in.

So – if you’re doing a staycation but you’d like a bit of a change of scene – check out Creekside Estate Winery … a great place to relax and enjoy some summer sipping. The box lunch included a huge sandwich (there were two choices available), two side salads, and a tiny taste of dessert for $18+tax. They also have charcuterie boards available for $32+tax. They serve wine by the glass or pre-set flights of three wines for $15+tax.

A Visit to Queenston Mile Vineyard

Queenston Mile Vineyard is one of the newest wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It opened in November 2018.

I had read that Rob Power is the winemaker at Queenston Mile and I wondered if that meant he’s moved on from Creekside Estate Winery, where he’s been winemaker for years. Indeed, that was one of my first questions when I visited. Jodie Larmond, who was minding the tasting when I visited, explained that Creekside and Queenston Mile are sister wineries (owned by the same group) and Rob is the winemaker at both.

Queenston Mile has a very different vibe than Creekside. It’s housed in a warehouse-looking building that was on the property before the winery took it over. The tasting room is quite large, but it has a comfortable feel, with clusters of tables here and there, and private space in a loft area. Currently, they aren’t serving food, but Jodie thinks that’s in the works (likely something along the lines of the casual fare available on Creekside’s Deck). So, stay tuned…

 

Queenston Mile specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They also make a variety of sparkling wines, including one made using the Pét-Nat method. I’d never heard of that and Jodie was kind enough to explain it. Pét-Nat stands for pétillant naturel. It’s an ancient method that involves bottling wine that’s partially fermented. That means that the first and only fermentation continues in bottle and the gas absorbs into the wine quickly and is ready to be drunk within a shorter period of time than other methods.

Queenston Mile’s Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé is a vibrant, dark rosé. Because it’s unfiltered, there’s a fair bit of sediment, making for a cloudy, deep rose.

 

 

Here’s a video of Jodie talking about the winery and demonstrating the decanting of their Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé.

Prince Edward County’s Craft Distillery: Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

On a recent visit to Prince Edward County friends and I stopped in at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits. It’s at 66 Gilead Road in Bloomfield. If that address rings a bell, that’s because it used to house Gilead Distillery. The distillery was re-named Kinsip when it was sold a couple years ago.

Jamie Moody, Retail Manager at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

I had been to the distillery in its previous incarnation and I wondered whether it had changed much. I’m happy to report the cozy tasting room is still in the same historic farm house. According to Jamie Moody, the retail manager, Kinsip has continued to use some of Gilead’s recipes, but it has also crafted new products. My friend Sandy was glad to hear it, as she was especially fond of the Gilead’s Duck Island Rum, which they still make.

Jamie led through a quick tasting flight that included the Duck Island Rum, their Maple Whisky, and County Cassis. Sandy confirmed that Kinsip’s Duck Island Rum is as good as when it was made under the Gilead name. I was especially interested in trying their Maple Whisky to see how it compared to my favourite – Sortilège from Quebec. Kinsip’s Maple Whisky is quite a lot lighter on the maple than the Sortilèege.

And then there was the County Cassis. We decided to try it based on Jamie’s description. Well, I’m so glad we did. We were all pretty blown away by it. Its a silky smooth, delicious sipper.

Though Jamie had described the County Cassis it before we tried it – after tasting it, we all wanted to hear the description again. Jamie was kind enough to let me shoot a short video of him describing it. Click here to see the video.

If you’re in the County and you like fine spirits, you owe it to yourself to stop in at Kinsip. They craft a variety of spirits, liquors, and bitters – there’s bound to be something to your liking.

New strategies for coping with extreme cold?

As pretty much the whole province has experienced spurts of on-again/off-again arctic cold, it’s only natural to wonder (even worry) about what these extreme temperatures must be doing to the vines.

After the last polar vortex winter a few years ago, I couldn’t help notice how many wineries have purchased wind machines. And who can blame them, when a fraction of a degree more warmth in the air swirling around the vines on a cold night can make the difference between a healthy yield and an increase in the amount of bunches that end up as verjus.

On the recent family day weekend, I visited the EPIC wine region (Essex, Pelee Island, Coast) on the shores of Lake Erie. Though the region is further south than other regions in Ontario, it’s not immune to extreme weather. Indeed, wineries in the area no doubt vividly remember 2014 when they lost most of their crop due to cold winter temperatures.

Helping Ensure Winter Heartiness?

A few weeks before my visit, I was in touch with Ann Wilson of Oxley Estate Winery. I asked her whether they were concerned about this winter’s extremes. She basically said that they manage what they can manage, but they won’t know till spring what the impact really is. But then she added a comment that intrigued me. She said it’ll be interesting to see whether their experiment in “blanketing” their Merlot and Syrah pays off.

I didn’t get a chance to ask what that meant, but as I headed to the region, I kept my eyes out to see if I could figure out what she was talking about. As I neared Oxley on County Road 50, I saw white, pup-tent like coverings on various rows of vines on the corner of one of their properties. Clearly this was what she was talking about. After stopping to snap a few pictures, I found Ann and Murray and asked them about it.

An experiment at Oxley Estate Winery

They said they heard that some wineries in Prince Edward County (PEC) and Quebec have used these blankets (geotextiles) as a way of protecting the vines and that the wineries have had success with them. So, last year Murray and Ann visited PEC to learn more about it.

They decided to give it a try this winter. According to Murray, the idea behind the blankets is to create kind of a greenhouse effect atop the vines. When the geotextile gets wet, it freezes and then the warmth of the sun and the heat from the ground stay trapped beneath the blanket.

While it sounds simple, actually placing the blankets on is quite labour intensive, he said. For one thing, they have to prune in the fall, rather than in the late winter/early spring. They also have to lower the trellis wire and tie the canes to the lower wire. Then they have to find a way to deal with the metal poles that run the length of the row to hold up the trellis system. One of the blanket edges has a wire on it that helps keep it down, but the other edge they weight down with dirt.

Since this system is not widely used, the timing of when they’ll remove the blanket is another matter. The fact that there aren’t many wineries using this system means there’s limited experience to draw on. And, since the growing season starts sooner in the EPIC region than in PEC, it’s a decision Oxley will have to make on its own.

I think many local growers will be paying close attention to how this trial works at Oxley. One thing’s for sure, they couldn’t have picked a better winter to test this technique. If it’s successful and proves worth the added time and expense, growers will have another tool to help manage the impact of climate change.

 

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.]