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.




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!

Being thankful for having a reason to use bird bangers

After posting the video of Ann Sperling talking about the Green Harvest I realized that viewers of the video may be wondering about the loud bangs in the background. (Indeed, one viewer even posted a comment on YouTube asking.)

Those are the bird banger canons used in the vineyard to scare birds off. At this time of year they’re a common sound in wine country. Though they’re jarring and sometimes annoying (like when you’re trying to shoot a video) – this year I think they’re almost reassuring, as it means there’s something growing that’s worth keeping from the birds!IMG_2092

Indeed, given the lack of grapes this year in the Lake Erie/Pelee Island wine region, there the cannons were moved from the vineyards to the rows of corn, as the birds have had to turn elsewhere for foraging.

So, rejoice in the sound of the bird banger canons – and please ignore the extra background noise in the video!

Cool Climate Chardonnays

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C for short) is this coming weekend – July 18-20, 2014. This is the fourth year of the celebration and there will be 58 wineries participating from nine countries.IMG_2361

I love structured events like this because they help me look at wine a different way. For example, those of us living in Canada – the great white north – realize we live in a cool climate. And the particularly harsh winter we had this past year certainly drove home to all wine lovers that growing grapes in this climate carries special risk. But I don’t often think about the unique characteristics the climate imparts on the grapes – and that’s what this festival is all about!

The other thing that this event has helped me focus on is the idea that climate is a complex notion. The fact that Ontario grapes grow in a cool climate is a no-brainer – but chardonnay grapes in Argentina, Spain, or South Africa? Clearly, latitude isn’t the only factor that contributes to cool climate viticulture. Altitude and the moderating influence of large bodies of water (like oceans and lakes) also come into play.

The three-day event features a variety of programs – from the Chardonnay Camp, which is a seminar on cool climate production at Brock University that I’m particularly excited about attending – to a Barrel Bonfire BBQ on Friday night at 13th Street Winery, to lunches, dinners, and tastings at various participating wineries. There’s something for everyone.

Tickets and additional information about the event can be found on-line.


Some Prince Edward County Faves

A few weeks ago I was in Prince Edward County and I did a blog post about some new discoveries there. In that post I mentioned that I’d do a follow-up post about that trip – so here it is.

First, a confession: I love the County (as locals refer to Prince Edward County). It has a very special vibe. It’s a strange combination of rural, colonial, and hip, but unpretentious. The folks I’ve met while visiting have all been friendly, without being particularly outgoing. My guess is that they just like the County and are happy to have people visit – but they don’t necessarily want it over-run with tourists, so they keep a kind of low profile.

IMG_0146As for the wineries, there are over 30 to choose from. As I’ve noted elsewhere, in touring County wineries, one of the first things you might notice is how many of them are housed in handsome old barns. Indeed, some of my favourites are: Closson Chase, The Grange of Prince Edward County, and Karlo Estates. But, of course, plenty of wineries are housed in other facilities – some of which are newer and specially built (like Keint-he Winery and Vineyards and Sandbanks Estate Winery, and Huff Estates).

Sandbanks Estate Winery is one of three in a row on the Loyalist Parkway (Highway 33). You can’t miss it – it’s the one with the colourful Muskoka chairs on the patio. The cheery colours and casual atmosphere of the tasting room and wrap-around patio really make you think you should sit down and enjoy a glass.IMG_1857

The place I stayed (Isaiah Tubbs Resort and Conference Centre in Bloomfield) had given me a voucher for a formal wine tasting at a few different places, and the one I decided to try was Sandbanks. My rationale was simple: I’ve noticed Sandbanks wines on various restaurant wine lists, as well as at the LCBO, so I wanted to taste some of their wines to know which I might order or buy when I see it in Toronto. It was great to taste some of their summer sippers (like Dunes, which is a Vidal, and Shoreline, which is a Chardonnay-Riesling-Gewürz blend). Of course, I also tried some reds and I ended up leaving with some of their 2013 Baco Noir (which I’m pleased to say is something I can pick up at my local Vintages – and which I see is on special right now).

IMG_2542I also stopped in at The Grange of Prince Edward County. As I mentioned, it is one of my favourite wineries to visit. I fell in love with this winery the first time I visited. The property just has a very special feel – you really get the sense that the Granger family takes their stewardship of the old farm quite personally. The barn is beautiful – both inside and out. Though I didn’t have an appointment, I was hoping that winemaker Caroline Granger might be there – and she was. I had met her at a wine tasting before, so I knew she was passionate about the winery and her wines and I was interested in hearing her talk about the farm.

She graciously agreed to let me shoot a short video of her. I’m so glad that she did, as she waxed poetic about the farm, community agriculture, terroir-driven wine and food. Click here to watch the video.

I also stopped in to say hello to Bryan Rogers at Keint-he Winery & Vineyards and Norman Hardie, of Norman Hardie Winery. Keint-he has ex expanded their patio and Bryan tells me they are planning on participating in the Farmer’s Market program, though I don’t have any specifics about dates or markets they’ll be at.IMG_1859

The pizza oven at Norman Hardie was already up and running for the season, and Norman will be participating in the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) in Niagara in mid-July.