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Ontario Wine

Food & Wine

Summer Sipping Round-Up

August 18, 2019
Longshot Pinto Grigio

It’s been a crazy busy few months as I balance work on the book I’m writing with the launch of Krista Lamb Communications.

It’s an exciting time with lots of balls in the air, but I’ve still done my best to taste as many new wines and cocktails as possible. I hope you’re following along with me on Instagram for more consistent updates, but I’ve compiled a few recent selections below.

And a huge thanks to the amazing wine community who continues to support me as I pursue so many different projects. Wine holds a very special place in my heart, but as I work to balance the body and soul parts that make up the name of this blog, it’s great to know that my friends in wine continue to cheer me on!

Sperling Vineyards Market RedSperling Vineyards 2017 Market Red – I really enjoy the wines from this Okanagan Valley vineyard. Sperling produces excellent wines for their price point and this Market Red is no exception. Medium-bodied and dry, this one has a great mouth feel and is a lovely mix of deep red fruit and soft spices. It was a great pairing for roasted chicken and a summer salad.

Longshot 2017 Pinot Grigio – This California Pinot Grigio is full of flavour, with lots of green apple and some lovely citrus on the palate. This is a bold, easy-drinking wine that would be nice on the patio or at your friend’s backyard barbecue. Shawn and I also tried the Longshot 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a bit heavy for a summer sipper, with spicy notes and lots of bramble and dark chocolate. Still, another great party option – especially as the evenings get cooler.

All Day Rose - Huff EstatesAll Day Rosé from Huff Estates – It was a steamy day when we cracked open this summer sipper from Prince Edward County (even my lens was foggy from the humidity!). This rosé is a little on the sweet side for my tastes, but it’s a fun patio wine for a hot summer day. This is a really fruit-forward on the palate with notes of watermelon and mango.

Social Lite Vodka Soda – Field Strawberry – I’ve talked a lot about Social Lite over the years, and with good reason. I love that this Canadian brand makes a sugar free option without artificial flavours. I’ve bought a lot of their Field Strawberry flavour over the summer and it has been such a great go-to when I want a cooler, but not a sugar bomb. When people ask me what’s in my fridge, it’s a good bet that you’ll find a few cans of this.

This is just a very small selection of the wines that I’ve reviewed on my Instagram this summer – be sure to head over to @kristavino and check out even more of my summer selections.

And be sure to share your summer favourites with me, post them in the comments or on social media!

 

Winemaker Profiles

Quai du Vin Winery’s Jamie Quai – Winemaker Profile

January 27, 2019
Quai Du Vin Winemaker Jamie Quai

As part of my ongoing winemaker interview series, I’m excited to share an update from Jamie Quai, winemaker from Quai du Vin Estate Winery in St. Thomas, Ontario. I interviewed Jamie for the blog in 2015 and since then he’s been crowned the 2016 Grape King by the Grape Growers of Ontario and continued to produce high-quality wine in an emerging region.

Wine making in Ontario is always challenging – what did you find most interesting about this year’s growing season?

The 2018 season, more so than I can remember in recent history, was a real toss-up on potential quality. It really came down to luck. We had a rougher winter, cool spring, and rain at fruit set. All the makings of an underwhelming vintage. But then summer came on! It was hotter and drier than the last three years and the quality of the fruit hanging was going into veraison beautifully. Less disease pressure than I can recall. Then the rains started in autumn and it became a challenge to bring in the cleanest fruit in the narrow windows between downpours. Some wines in the cellar are as good or better than previous years. Some are not as good. Perhaps the word that best describes this vintage was “suspenseful.”

Quai Du Vin Winemaker Jamie Quai

Photos provided by the winery.

You have always been labeled as being part of an “emerging” wine region, but as wine tourism around Ontario grows, are you discovering any differences in terms of how many people are visiting and what they are saying about the region?

Is wine tourism growing? I think experiential tourism is growing. And that’s fantastic. People are visiting a winery like ours as part of a getaway weekend, etc. Elgin County has done an incredible job showcasing all of the amazing food, beverage, arts and culture activities that we have to offer. Ten years ago people didn’t rave about their experience the way they do now.

There may be more people visiting, they aren’t necessarily buying more, but they are buying smarter. It has been interesting to watch that evolution. People won’t necessarily buy the wine because they like it. They will buy more if they can imagine the wine as part of their lifestyle. It definitely means that as a producer that simply making good wine is not enough. People need to connect what you make to who they are. The experiential tourists still think of Elgin County as underrated, and we all like to feel that we discovered something special.

Regions like Prince Edward County are seeing issues with volume – some have had to close their doors because they are simply running out of product. Is that something that concerns you as the region becomes more popular?

Not at all – ha ha! We’ve been around for three decades. One of the little bits of wisdom that new producers can be told, but generally don’t fully grasp, is that you always have to over produce. Here’s what I mean: lets say you want to make 1,000 cases of wine a year, well in Ontario the climate, vineyards, terroir, whatever, are going to give you five years out of 10 that are below average (math!), so you have to make up the difference in the remaining five years.

In good years you have to produce 30-40% more. 1,300-1,400 cases is the new target. Then there is cellaring time, premium wines generally need long aging times before release. So you may be harvesting vintage three while vintage one is just about to hit the shelves. If vintage one is a huge success, you can’t factor that into your growth plan until year seven (year four you realize, year five you plant, year seven you get grapes, year 10 those wines are available). So now you have the better part of a decade you are buying outside fruit or wine to maintain the momentum. And bringing in “extra” is addictively easy. To make a successful 1,000 case wine you have to produce almost 1,600 cases as a target.

I have always tried to produce in excess of my in store sales. In excess years, you push liquor store, grocery sales. In lean years, you throttle that back. We do the same thing with bulk wine we sell to other wineries. I may sell as much as 20% of my production to other wineries to bottle. But I have built in that potential.

I’m already thinking about new onsite plantings to grow some of our wines, in anticipation of demand in the middle of the next decade.

How important is it to you to use grapes exclusively grown in your region? Why or why not?

This is the most critical issue we face right now. A newer region, when it forms, puts a lot of energy in to creating awareness. Once the word starts to get out, the players in the business have a very narrow window define themselves in the eyes of their consumers.

We were the only winery in our area for a very long time. Wisdom says that when a new player comes into the scene, there will be growing pains and they will have to lean on brought in fruit (we did). But if you’re the winery that is regularly dependent on growers from outside of your region when the excitement of being the new winery fades, then you’re just a farm team for a more successful region.

When the new players started to evolve in our area we doubled down on our commitment to buy almost nothing from outside of our farm, let alone outside of our region. That strategy has paid off. We can now define ourselves as producers who grow almost exclusively all of their own fruit. That’s huge to wine lovers!

You have one of the best winery tours in the region (perhaps anywhere) and I believe that is because you are not only a winemaker, but also an instructor in wine making – what is important to you about making the tour experience so informative?

Thanks! An important part of the tour experience for me is to connect with our guests. Tour times are an unfiltered window in the minds, tastes, and experiences of someone who like wine. I have become a business owner who gets two-three 90-minute focus groups a week in feedback! Tours always start the same way – I tell the guests that any questions about anything wine (even if its not about us) are fair game. I give thoughtful answers and if I cant answer hopefully I can give direction. People want to learn, and when they realize its not a show, and they have my undivided attention, the tours really come alive. Sometimes we talk about the business, sometimes we talk government, sometimes we talk chemistry and sometimes we just talk food and wine.

It is also important on tours that guests understand I’m trying to walk a fine line. I don’t want to talk down or be a snob about wine, while at the same time trying desperately to not dumb wine down – “I’m not trying to turn wine into soda pop”. I don’t want to demystify it, but to share the passion and inspire guests to explore.

Are there any misconceptions people have about the wines in your region that you would like to clear up?

I’m not 100% sure, but that’s a great question. I’m going to flip the question a little and talk about some of the misconceptions we may have as an emerging region and where we are in our evolution. I feel like one of the biggest misconceptions about our area is that we have a solid grasp on what our area is. So relatively little of what is produced here has been 100% from this region, that we really don’t have that firm experience with who we are. We are still in the early stages of discovering ourselves. This is a collection of eager and passionate producers trying to grapple with a huge set of unknowns. Those questions take time to answer. I’m 36 and working with some vineyards planted in my teens, which I’m still not convinced have hit their pinnacle of quality.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a lot of wines from our area and there is potential for greatness. But greatness is an aspirational goal. The wines I’m drinking from our region are enjoyable, well made, approachable, and delicious. Greatness comes with experience, wisdom, and time. The vines will mature, the track record will grow, and from all of that hard work greatness may appear.

The biggest misconception may be that we are not an emerging region, but are firmly established. If the leaps and bounds in quality I’ve experienced so far are any indication – I hope we are emerging for decades to come!

A huge thanks to Jamie for sharing his thoughts for this post. You can learn more about Quai Du Vin Winery on their website. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

Food & Wine

Taste Ontario

May 13, 2018

I know, it’s been a while since the last post. Life is busy and I’m juggling way too many things, so the blog has taken a hit in terms of updates. I’m super lucky that awesome people like Bill Wittur are still providing great guest posts – like the one below on the recent Taste Ontario event.

Want to taste some great Ontario wine after reading this? Shawn and I are checking out the annual Sip & Sizzle event in Niagara on the Lake next weekend and you still have time to get in on this great event, which runs every weekend in May. We love exploring this beautiful area of Ontario while stopping in at participating wineries to try a sample wine and food pairing. You can learn more (and buy tickets – including designated driver passes) on the Wineries of Niagara website. I’ll be live tweeting our adventures on Saturday, May 19 so be sure to follow along to get our tips on the best pairings.

And now, over to Bill!

Taste Ontario Notes and Recommendations

Early in the new year, the folks with Wines of Ontario bring out their newest releases and vintages and this year I had the pleasure of attending the Taste Ontario trade tasting.

Nearly 50 of Ontario’s best VQA producers were on hand at the Royal Ontario Museum to present some of their latest products and vintages.  Most of these wines are either sold directly to the consumer at the winery or, in some cases, are only available for licensees and restaurant owners to sell to their guests.

I’ve done my best to focus on those available to consumers, and will make a note if something is available only at restaurants or the winery (and, if possible, which locations so you can try these wines as well).

Here’s a quick review of some of my favourites. All are recommended buys.

13th Street

13th Street Winery is celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2018 and their wines are definitely worth trying if you want to expand your range of Ontario selections. They produce most of their wines from the 40 acres of property owned just west of St. Catharines in Niagara, but occasionally source small lots of grapes from other local producers. Many of their products are available at the LCBO, but you can also participate in their Wine Club programs, including the popular ‘Cellar Door’ and ‘Staff Pick’ options.

Premier Cuvée 2012 – If you’re looking for a great ‘celebration’ wine, look no further.  This sparkling wine spent a minimum 4 years on lees, or ‘sur lattes’ as the French say. In the case of the 13th Street Cuvée, the dosage added was only dry wine (i.e. no extra sugar), resulting in a very dry, but bright finished wine. Of note is that the final nose delivers very slight ‘bready’ or ‘toasty’ notes compared to other sparkling wines. I enjoyed this feature, as I feel it would match better with a broader range of food on account of the tense acidity coupled with hints of lemon and tart apple. The wine is 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. It can be ordered directly from 13th Street at a retail price of $34.95 per bottle ($29.34+HST licensee).

Meldville Wines

Meldville Wines is the relatively new project of one of Ontario’s great winemakers, Derek Barnett. Derek helped build the range of products and boost the level of quality with Lailey Wines. He currently balances winemaking duties at Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County and at his own venture, Meldville Wines.

Chardonnay 2016 – 2016 was a tough year for a lot of white wine producers in Ontario, as it was very hot. While most of us were out playing in the water or catching up on our vitamin D, wine growers had to take measures to try to prevent their vines from shutting down from heat exhaustion. Despite this, Meldville’s Chardonnay is a delight. The grapes were sourced from Lincoln Lakeshore, which managed to dodge the more intense heat of 2016. The Chard is 100% barrel fermented in older, 100% French oak barrels. This yields a very subtle oak finish on the wine, but nothing like the exaggerated style you get from mass-produced wines. The colour is a light yellow with a delicious, balanced finish. Aromas deliver notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) with flavours of citrus and a hint of cream and toffee. The wine is available as a direct order product from the Meldville’s partner site and costs $20.00 per bottle ($16.89+HST licensee). It can also be found at Maple Leaf Tavern and Victor Restaurant at Hotel Le Germain (although that list is quickly growing).

Fielding Estate Winery

Fielding Estate Winery is located on the Beamsville Bench in Niagara. On several occasions, the winery was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 10 wine producers.

Brut Traditional Method Sparkling – Traditional method sparkling wine is made using the same process as Champagne. There’s what’s called a ‘dosage’ or ‘cap’ of yeast and sugar that are aged with the wine product. This addition to the wine is what creates the bubbles in sparkling wine, much like how yeast and sugar create air pockets in bread. The Fielding sparkling wine is made up of Chardonnay (63%) and Pinot Noir (37%). The result of this blend is a bright and fresh wine with notes of citrus and apple. The bubbles are fine and the finish is very clean and light. The wine retails for $37.15 / bottle ($31.20+HST licensee) and can be ordered directly via Fielding’s website.

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

The Chestnut Tree Cabernet Franc 2015 – Initial notes are typical for Cabernet Franc wines: dark red, smoke and hints of green pepper on the nose. On tasting this smooth and elegant wine, I got hints of coffee / cocoa. The acidity is controlled and moderate and the mouth feel is a medium body wine that will go great now with foods with just a hint of spice or seasoning (e.g. roasted chicken, sausage, burgers). Expect this to improve over the course of 2-3 years. Retail price is $34.95 / bottle and the licensee price is $29.34+deposit and HST. Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery has a wine club program and orders can be placed direct by visiting their order page.

Reif Estate Winery

Reif Estate Winery is a splendid ‘pit stop’ between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their first vines were planted in 1977, making them some of Ontario’s oldest.  The property has grown to more than 125 acres of different varietals.

Chenin Blanc 2016 – 2016 was a challenging year from Ontario producers because many experienced very hot conditions for white grapes. This did not have a negative impact on the 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reif, where the finished product is a shimmering silver-white wine with a hint of residual sugar and balanced acidity and mouth-feel. If someone asks for a ‘summer sipper’, this wine would definitely fit that bill! The Chenin Blanc retails for $19.15 per bottle ($16.75+HST licensee) and is available via Reif’s website.

Chardonnay Reserve 2014 – This is a delicious, balanced Chardonnay that was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, delivering subtle notes of butter cream, apple and baking spice.The retail price is $22.15 per bottle ($19.40+HST licensee) and again is available via Reif’s direct order wine club.

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his reviews of this year’s Taste Ontario event! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com

Find out Krista’s Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations!

Featured, Wine Travel

Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations

January 9, 2018
Niagara in winter

In our wine travels, Shawn and I have had the pleasure of visiting so many of Ontario’s best wine regions. We often get asked to suggest our favourites, so here is a brief overview of where we think you should go for an Ontario wine adventure.

Twenty Valley

Angel's Gate WineryWhen friends ask us what wineries to visit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we often suggest the Twenty Valley area as an alternative. Most of our favourite wineries are found in this cluster of beautiful vineyards just a short drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake and it tends to be a little less touristy than the better known region. Plus, the area is just stunning. Visit Vineland Estates to take home some wine and stop into their excellent cheese shop, pop into Megalomanic for a bottle of Bubblehead and take in the extraordinary view, head over to Tawse to check out some of the best made wines in Canada and then cap it off with a wine and art adventure at 13th Street Winery. Add on to that visit stops at Creekside Estate Winery, Westcott Winery and Fielding Estate and you have a pretty fantastic day of tasting ahead of you – to be honest, there are so many amazing wineries in this region that it’s a great idea to book yourself into one of the area’s many bed and breakfasts so you can enjoy them all.

Norfolk, Ontario

Norfolk County

If you follow me on social media, you know about my love for Norfolk County. It’s a beautiful area that’s earned its name as Ontario’s Garden. Shawn and I had one of our most magical wine adventures when we were invited to take on a Zip ‘n’ Sip experience at Burning Kiln Winery and Long Point Eco Adventures. Spending a night in their gorgeous glamping campgrounds, checking out the stars in the observatory, enjoying lunch on the Burning Kiln patio and taking a zip line tour through the beautiful forest were just a few of the many, many highlights of our visit. Add in a stop at Blueberry Hill for some of their delicious cider (and fresh blueberries in season) and a stop at Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm and you have the makings of one of your most memorable weekends away.

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Chateau des CharmesYou knew we’d be including this one, right? One of our favourite things to do in NOTL is to visit during one of the many wine festivals and pick up a tasting pass. Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake tasting passes are an excellent value – offering a wine and food pairing at all of the participating wineries – and they’re a great investment for a weekend visit (I highly recommend getting a designated driver pass if you are taking your vehicle). We recently visited for the Sip ‘n’ Sizzle event, as well as Taste the Season and we can’t wait to return for the annual Icewine Festival. Our favourite stops always include Chateau des Charmes, Ravine Vineyards, Two Sisters, Stratus, and the Niagara College Teaching Winery. Although, to be fair, we often choose our routes based on the pairings offered and that has led to some fantastic discoveries along the way!

Prince Edward County

Angeline's InnShawn and I love PEC so much that we almost bought a house there. What stopped us was the influx of tourists that have taken over this spot since we discovered it years ago. Now it can be hard to get a reservation at our favourite inns and restaurants, but the region is no less lovely to visit (just be prepared to plan way ahead). From Lighthall Vineyards to Huff Estates and everywhere in between, there is no shortage of great wine (and now beer) in the County. You can enjoy great shopping in each of the small town’s that make up the area and create a map that will help you get from Rosehall Run to Hubb’s Creek and out to Three Dog Winery on an excellent Ontario wine adventure.

Lake Erie North Shore

Oxley Estate WineryWant to hit an Ontario wine region a little further afield from Toronto? The LENS region might be perfect for you! It’s a beautiful, scenic area with lots to see and do. Shawn and I stayed at The Iron Kettle Inn in Comber, Ontario and absolutely loved it (you might recognize chef and owner, Benjamin Leblanc-Beaudoin, from his stint on Chopped Canada) and we had a fantastic time exploring the local wineries – Oxley Estate has a beautiful patio for lunch, as does Viewpointe Estates and the Wolfhead Distillery has great food *and* fantastic spirits. There’s also lots to see and do in the small towns and cities that make up this area. We can’t wait to go back again.

What are your favourite wine regions in the province? Is there anywhere you think we should check out? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below or on social!