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Ontario Wine

Wine Travel

Viewpointe Estate Winery

March 6, 2017
Viewpointe's award-winning wines

It’s hard to describe the beauty of Viewpointe Estate Winery. As you round the corner and drive up to this estate and see it juxtaposed against Lake Erie, you can’t help but be a bit in awe. It’s just a stunning property – especially on a day as beautiful as the one when Shawn and I visited last year.

Viewpointe12Viewpointe is both a winery and a restaurant, although it’s unique in that the restaurant is all outdoors. This was particularly impressive for us since our visit coincided with an absolutely brilliant thunderstorm that blew up off the lake as we waited for our lunch to arrive – we entertained ourselves while we waited by taking photos of Shawn with enormous storm clouds behind him.

Viewpointe Estate WineryThe covered section of the patio offered ample cover when the storm finally hit and it was absolutely amazing to watch it move across the water as we ate our local perch (delicious) and enormous salad (so very good) and I enjoyed a glass of their very good local Riesling (dry, but fruity – nice acidity, green apple and pear on the palate). Mother Nature might not always provide such striking entertainment, but the patio is a must-do if you’re visiting in summer. Right on the lake, the views can’t be beat and the food here is very good.

Viewpointe Estate WineryWe toured the entire property while we were there and got to see their busy tasting room and ample space for corporate events and weddings (both inside or out). It’s a big estate with lots of options. They opened in 2006 and celebrated 10 years this past November. They are focused on local as much as possible in both the wines and their restaurants, including the weddings and events they cater. All wines are made from grapes grown on site and they are very proud of keeping things regional.

With three separate vineyards, all with different terroir, Viewpointe offers a range of wines, from their easy-drinking Big Bluff red blend (11 months on French oak, big, fruity and Merlot-dominant), to their rich and spicy Cabernet Franc, which has lots of deep red fruit and hints of black pepper. They have a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that is big and oaky with lots of butter, lemon and vanilla on the nose and a nice richness on the palate. This one screams out for big, creamy foods.

After a tour and tasting and our delicious meal, Shawn and I made sure to pick up a bottle of the Cabernet Franc, which we look forward to enjoying one evening soon. I’m hoping Mother Nature might gift us with a storm that night – it won’t be half as spectacular from our balcony in the city, but it would be a wonderful reminder of our visit to this lovely estate.

We visited Lake Erie North Shore as guests of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my tasting and lunch were complimentary. My opinion, including that you should totally buy the Cabernet Franc and order the perch when you visit, are my own. Seriously, the perch is incredible.

Wine Travel

Oxley Estate Winery

October 10, 2016
The grounds at Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North Shore.

I was speaking with someone on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) about how much I had enjoyed interviewing Oxley Estate Winery’s owner Ann Neydon Wilson and they said, “Don’t you just wish you were related to her?” And it was so true. From the moment she greeted us at the winery and ushered us out to the gorgeous patio at Oxley’s restaurant, you felt like she would be the most fabulous aunt ever. She tried to coax Shawn into trying dessert more than once, told us all about their lovely neighbours, had us laughing about her experiences booking hip, young bands for their events and just made us feel like old friends and not tired bloggers from Toronto on an epic LENS adventure who she’d literally just met.

Oxley Estate Winery in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region.If you visit Oxley and meet Ann, you will probably want to hug her when you leave – even if you just met her – and that’s sort of how I felt about Oxley overall. It just feels comfortable. The patio is so pretty and the tasting room is modern and fresh, but it’s the kind of place where they sell $5 jars of relish and the staff seem genuinely happy you’re there.

We didn’t have a meal here, as we were completely booked for meals on our whirlwind tour and I’d just tasted through the Oxley portfolio with Ann’s husband Murray at a recent Toronto event (you can read about that here), so this was really just a chance to see the space and have a fabulous chat with Ann. It was awesome.

Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann – one that they gave up corporate careers to pursue, but things seem to be coming together nicely. While they’ve struggled a bit with their vines through some rough winters, they’re starting to see the grapes develop and the wines are proving popular.

Ripper Red wine from Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North ShoreThe restaurant, which wasn’t even in the original plan, is a big success. They had planned to just be a country winery and Ann thought she’d add on a small kitchen so they could do some catering. In talking with others in the industry, though, she was persuaded to put in a larger kitchen – just in case. When they opened the winery, just in time for that year’s “Explore the Shore” event, they weren’t really ready, but they had hired a chef to make some food and the compliments on those offerings were so prolific that they decided to consider a restaurant. It was a good idea – even on the blisteringly hot Thursday afternoon when we visit, the patio and indoor seating are quite full, and if you’d like dinner it’s best to book ahead.

It’s been a few years since that frantic opening – when 3000 people stopped by on the first weekend, far more than the fledgling winery had expected – but enough time for them to realize they could have a successful business on their hands. That said, they’re still not at a place where they’re resting on their laurels. Wine is a tough business and while the restaurant helps, they are also growing root stock to sell to Niagara and for export as a secondary income stream. Like North 42 Degree’s lavender farm, the root stock provides a back-up revenue stream that is a wise idea in the fickle business of wine.

And continued growth for Oxley is on the horizon. Since they bought the original property, they’ve gone on to buy the neighbouring farm and are hard at work creating a space that draws from their own wine tasting experience. They wanted to develop a fun community, with a great spirit and make Oxley the type of space they liked to visit when they were touring. On this warm summer day, under a bright yellow awning, chatting with a lovely woman who we kind of wish we were related to, it’s hard not to think they’ve succeeded at that.

Best of

The Best Wines I Tried in September

October 3, 2016
Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Cabernet Franc is an organic wine from the Niagara region.

It’s officially autumn! I love this time of year so much and I’ve been signing up for races and yoga classes to celebrate the start of a new season. Even though I’m well past school age, September always seems like a great time for fresh starts and heathy changes.

And I’ve had lots of great wine in my glass this month to share with you! Shawn and I have been traveling and tasting and having so much fun on our wine-infused adventures. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in the weeks and months to come. But up first, a few of my favourite sips from the past few weeks.

Southbrook Vineyards 2013 Triomphe Cabernet Franc – I am a big fan of Southbrook wines and of Ontario Cabernet Franc in general, so I was pleased when this sample arrived.  And as I inhaled the aroma of this Ontario red, it felt like fall in a glass – black and roasted pepper, blackberry and wet earth on the nose and lots of earthy, spicy goodness on the palate (blackberry, strawberry, a bit of chili pepper). Even better, it’s organic, which is something Southbrook takes very seriously. I had this with a dish of wild rice and beans that Shawn made for me and it was a perfect mix of earthy flavours on a cold, rainy evening.  I had spent my day taking an html and CSS course at Camp Tech (which I highly recommend) and let me tell you, a glass of this wine with a big bowl of rice and beans and getting sucked into part four of the excellent ESPN documentary on O.J. Simpson made for a pretty perfect way to end the day.

Seriously Cool Red from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara, Ontario.Southbrook Vineyards Seriously Cool Red Blend – The Seriously Cool series is more of an entry-level wine for Southbrook, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. With its colourful and memorable label, it’s hard not to want to pick up a bottle. With dark chocolate, smoked meat and plum on the nose and black cherry and roasted plums on the palate, this is a really good food wine. Shawn and I cracked this bottle on a Monday evening, after we returned home from an adventure in Norfolk County (we’ll talk more about that another time). To celebrate the last day of our longer weekend, he made grilled cheese sandwiches with turkey bacon and we enjoyed an evening of comfort food and a marathon session of The Walking Dead (we’re trying to get caught up before the new season starts). This wine paired quite nicely with vacation day binge watching.

Burning Kiln Sparks sparkling wine is a lovely option from Norfolk County.Burning Kiln Vineyards – Sparks – There’s very little in life that I like more than a good sparkling wine. It doesn’t have to be French Champagne (not that I’ll ever turn that down), but a well-made sparkling will always steal my heart. Such is the case with Burning Kiln’s Sparks, which is made with seven different grape varietals and has a little bit of biscuit on the nose, along with nice notes of lemon that follows through on the very crisp palate. It’s a pleasant, refreshing sparkler and it paired quite nicely with the perch tacos I enjoyed on the winery’s patio last weekend. Burning Kiln is on a beautiful piece of property in Norfolk County, a place that has seriously captured our hearts. We can’t wait to go back, and when we do I know that more of this sparkling will be enjoyed.

Levendi Winery 2015 Reserve Chardonnay – I was lucky to recently attend the Napa Valley tasting event in Toronto (more on that in another post soon) and there I discovered Levendi wines. Their lively and fresh Chardonnay was a stand-out for me with balanced acidity and pineapple, pear and apple notes. This is a very good example of a California Chardonnay that could work both with food or on its own. A nice sipper that I hope to have again soon. This one is available via agent in Ontario, but you can grab their Cabernet Sauvignon (also very good) at the LCBO for a limited time.

So what did you drink in September? Share what you tried and loved in the comments below or on social.

Coming up in October on the blog, we’ll continue to look at the wineries of Lake Erie North Shore and our German wine adventures and I’ll give you a deeper dive into two recent tastings I did this past month, which I wanted to dive into with more detail. And I may even share a few more personal posts about my recent wine foibles – I’m told they’re pretty funny!

*All wines tasted this month were either samples or tasted at events where Shawn and I were guests. And thank goodness for that because my wine budget is already completely out of control and running this blog is a very expensive hobby! Opinions remain, as always, our own.

Winemaker Profiles

North 42 Degrees Winery

September 27, 2016
The award-winning wines of North 42 Degrees are worth a visit to Lake Erie North Shore.

When we rolled into North 42 Degrees Winery on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore, it was obvious that things were growing here – not only on the vines, but on the construction site right beside the current winery space. Workers were busily working on a new building, which will house the winery’s new restaurant and tasting room (slated to open in November, 2016).

North 42 Degrees winemaker Martin Gorski.

Photo by Doug Lowson – supplied by winery.

Inside the current building, the production area is big and clean, with a lovely lavender shop tucked into the corner and a small tasting bar just on the other side. Serenity Lavender helped support the owner’s winery dreams while the vines matured and is still a major business consideration for owners Martin Gorski and wife Suzanne Dajczak. They have big plans for their winery and the new building is the next big step.

They planted their vines in 2007 and have been working tirelessly to develop these European varietals into great Ontario wines. Martin believes the soils of Lake Erie North Shore, which have a lot of sand and hold moisture well, are a key driver to the regions grape-growing prowess and he’s been very pleased with their crops thus far.

They have six varietals planted now and he’s considering others. When he and Suzanne started looking into planting a vineyard, they travelled extensively and did extensive research into what would grow well in the region. His attention to detail shouldn’t be surprising, as Martin has a background in biology and worked both in science and the industrial sector before deciding to go back to his roots (he’s a third-generation farmer from Harrow) and become a winemaker. He studied winemaking at Washington State University when he set upon his new path and looked at how he could combine his background in science and farming into making great wine.

Lavender soap from Serenity Lavender.And while he’s certainly on the right track with that, he says he still considers himself a grape grower first and foremost. “I do whatever the grapes dictate, he says. “Whatever the year is yielding, is how I make the wine.” This decision to be terroir-driven and really listen to the grapes mean that soil, weather and all the elements that affect the region really have an impact on the wines – so one year he will have a very New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc (2013) and another a very French style (2012). It’s the magic of vintage variation that can be both exciting and stressful for every winemaker, but being able to go where the grapes take you is an important winemaking skill.

Choosing the right vines for the region was also critical, and Martin looked for aromatic clones and open clusters based on his research of the area. He felt cluster openness would be key given the concerns in the region about disease resistance and the need to battle the humidity (rot and mold are common issues local winemakers cite, though most, like Martin, have developed strategies to counter this). He has also been looking at different ways to fertilize his crops, using liquid fish to add more nutrients to the soil and experimenting with liquid kelp. I ask if using liquid fish means his wines aren’t vegan, and we both ponder this – given that it’s in the fertilizer, we decide it’s likely still technically vegan, but I have to smile later when I recall the conversation – this is truly the stuff wine nerds like us revel in.

When it comes to making the wine, Martin uses traditional fermentation techniques as much as possible and designed the winery for gravity flow. He’s also embraced micro-oxidation over barrel aging, which is a unique decision. He hasn’t had much to work from in developing his technique, save for a PhD dissertation he found on how to do it, but it’s come together nicely so far and he’s looking forward to further experimentation.

Grape vines at North 42 Degrees Winery.Right now, he has his hands full as he prepares for the upcoming harvest while managing the construction of his new building. The restaurant will be a nice addition to the winery and will have beautiful views of the vineyards. Martin shows us the plans and he talks excitedly about how it will improve the property. It will certainly make it a destination – the lavender shop will remain, but will be more separated from the tasting room and the restaurant will give tourists a great new option in the region.

Well-situated along the wine route in Lake Erie North Shore, North 42 Degrees is perfectly located for wine touring and the wines are very good. This is clearly a winery where craft is a factor and Martin’s attention to detail, his passion for growing good grapes and his willingness to experiment with new techniques all combine to make this a must-visit for wine-lovers. I’m excited to see how North 42 Degrees and their wines develop in the years to come.