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

SOMM 3 – A Review

December 3, 2018
SOMM 3 documentary poster

It’s hard to believe it was 2012 when the first SOMM movie was released. I bought a ticket to the Toronto premiere, held a day before my first ever wine exam, and I remember watching with rapt attention. To say I loved it would be a vast understatement. A documentary about the intense (to put it mildly) process of becoming a Certified Master Sommelier, SOMM was a revelation to me as a wine student. There were people far more obsessed with the topic of wine than I could ever hope to be and they were fascinating and intimidating. It may have psyched me out a bit for my exam, but I never stopped thinking about it or telling people how incredible this documentary was. I still do.

I’m not entirely sure how I missed seeing SOMM 2, but I understand it was a favourite with wine lovers and I assume it’s also pretty great. That said, when my dear friend Kari MacKnight Dearborn let me know she was hosting the premiere of SOMM 3 in Toronto, I was quick to purchase a ticket. The event, which was a fundraiser for the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, was held at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox Theatre in November and featured a complimentary branded GoVino glass with a sample from Mark Anthony Wines and a bag of popcorn. Of course, the major draw, outside of SOMM 3, was the post-film panel with director Jason Wise, who is a firecracker full of energy and enthusiasm for his films.

The movie itself? Whereas SOMM was a documentary anyone with even a passing interest in wine–or in watching people who are weirdly obsessive about “winning” some sort of great prize go to insane lengths to do so–SOMM 3 is aimed squarely at the wine geek market. It features Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier and Fred Dame, a Pinot Noir tasting that plays off the Judgement of Paris and so much wine geekery that I couldn’t help but love it. To say I was part of the target audiences would be an understatement.

Will SOMM 3 play to audiences beyond the wine obsessed? I hope so. But I’m not as certain about that as I was after watching the first film in the series. After the credits rolled, I noted to the friends who had joined me that I loved it, but I didn’t think Shawn would. He wouldn’t know any of the main characters and, while SOMM would have held his interest because it’s just a fascinating story on every level, this might be too inside baseball to keep him interested.

That said, if you’re reading my blog you are likely a wine lover and, thus, I expect you’ll like this movie very much. It’s fun to see people nerd out about expensive and obscure bottles of wine, it’s always amazing to see Fred Dame blind taste and I’d watch Jancis Robinson do basically anything. SOMM 3 is available now on Netflix (Oops! Just learned I erred on this it’s available on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes) – and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

Book Reviews

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol

October 3, 2018
Drink - A book by Ann Dowsett Johnston about women and alcohol.

*I read this book and wrote this review in 2016, but struggled with whether this was the right venue for it. Given the news of late, Drink has been on my mind a lot and I decided it was a shame I hadn’t posted this earlier.

It’s important to acknowledge that alcohol, while an enjoyable indulgence for many, has a much darker layer for others. Reading Ann Dowsett Johnston’s Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol made me think about that side of things in a way I hadn’t much before.

Writing about wine and alcohol in general is a fraught topic. Our culture has normalized drinking, and wine in particular has a very romantic side to it, so it can be easy to forget about the darker side. For me, it hasn’t become an issue, but reading Drink brought into stark reality the fact that one day it could and for others it already is.

Drink is not a research book, it tells the stories of women and problem drinking through the lens of Dowsett Johnston and her mother’s personal story. Some of it was extremely eye-opening: the increase in binge drinking, especially in young women, and the number of career women who are turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. For someone who didn’t drink at all in high school, I admit to being shocked reading about young girls getting blackout drunk before they were even in the 9th grade. And university drinking, which I indulged in moderately (I was still living at home and mostly broke, so it wasn’t really an option), has taken on bizarre proportions.

But it was the older women, those who had solid careers and families that interested me most. Some drank because of family histories with alcohol, others to get over trauma and many just to cope with the stress of their lives. It makes you think about how we so often use alcohol as a crutch when things are bad. How many times have I joked that I needed a glass of wine after a crazy day? And how easy might it be to slip from a habit to an addiction? It’s definitely something worth paying attention to and one of the many takeaways from this book that I found worthwhile.

I liked Drink overall because it made me think about drinking in a way I wasn’t used to and, while it certainly didn’t dampen my interest in wine, it was a good reminder about the importance of paying attention to alcohol consumption. Looking at the whys and the whens and having the wherewithal to stop if it all becomes too much is important. And so is knowing to ask for help if you can’t stop when you try.

Dowsett Johnston’s writing is smart and lovely and I expect her story will resonate with many who are drinking to numb their pain. I highly recommend this book for those who want to reflect on alcohol through a different lens than we’re used to on this blog.

Have you read Drink? What did you think? Did it inspire you to reconsider your own drinking?

Best of

Summer Favourites

August 11, 2018

While life is crazy and busy right now, I’m doing my best to keep up with things related to the blog. That’s been made a little easier because there are so many fantastic things that are making me happy in this realm. Below is a bit of a round-up of things I wanted to share with you.

In the French Kitchen with Kids by Mardi Michels

I have long loved Mardi Michel’s blog, eat.live.travel.write, so I was very excited to learn about her new book, In the French Kitchen with Kids. I immediately bought a copy, despite the fact that I don’t have any kids of my own (and am admittedly completely uninterested in the actual act of cooking – thankfully, Shawn loves it), and this is a great addition to our cookbook collection. Mardi’s recipes are easy-to-follow and super fun and I have recommended it to so many of my friends who *do* have kids. Mardi has embraced the importance of teaching children, in particular young boys, to cook and all the ways that this skill can help them make better health choices as they grow up. I love that philosophy and how in imbues this book.

Campo Viejo – Rosé

When I was in Spain visiting Campo Viejo last fall, I spent some time on the winery patio with a glass of this lovely, fruit-forward rosé. It is a memory I was happy to relive just a little bit when I discovered a bottle of this wine at my local LCBO. Typically only available for a short time in the summer, I suggest picking one up if you see it. Dark pink, full of summer fruit flavours and just dry enough to ensure it will still pair well with whatever you throw on your barbecue, this is well worth trying.

Chateau des Charmes Methode Traditionnelle Brut Sparkling

I recently had some of my girlfriends over for an evening of pizza and wine while Shawn was in Germany. This was our intro wine and we all agreed it was a winner. Crisp and tart with great bubbles, it’s a fantastic alternative to Champagne when that’s out of budget or just not appropriate. I love a glass of bubbles to kick off an evening and this one definitely did not disappoint.

Tasting the Past by Kevin Begos

I have taken a bit of a break from reading wine books of late after reading almost nothing else for several years. I needed time to catch up on the many thrillers, biographies and science books sitting neglected on my bookshelf and to cleanse my palate before diving back in. Given the mix of science and viticulture promised in Begos’ book, I’m looking forward to taking that plunge. I have been doing a lot more science writing of late and I love seeing a few of my passions come together.

 

Port Cocktails

Following our trip to Prague (an amazing and much-needed getaway), I was so excited to be invited to a port tasting with Taylor Fladgate and iYellow Wine Club. And then I got sick. Really sick. That meant missing out on a fantastic evening, but I was so happy when the iYellow team sent me some of the recipes developed for the event. I always enjoy Taylor Fladgate port (their 20 year old is divine) and this is a fantastic way to enjoy their younger port in the summer months.

Tawny Fizz

1.5 oz of Tawny 10

.5oz part Cognac

Splash of real lemon juice

Shake over ice and pour into glass

Top with sparkling wine, we used Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne

Garnish with a lemon zest

Late Bottle Vintage Portoni 

2 oz Taylor Fladgate Late Bottle Vintage Port

.5 oz Gin – we used Bloom Gin, (we highly recommend you use this gin as other gins have different flavour profiles such as pine needle or cucumber aromas)

.5 oz Campari

Stirred over ice

Pour into glass

Garnish with an orange peel

Credit to bartender https://www.instagram.com/thegeorgejetson/ for developing these!

Patio Sippers

You’ve no doubt heard me go on about Pommies and SoCial Lite in the past, so it should be no surprise that they are making my summer just a little better. SoCial Lite has two great new flavours of their no sugar, all natural cocktails, which make for a much less stressful cooler situation. The lemon cucumber mint and grapefruit flavours are fun new additions to their line and the grapefruit, with just a hint of flavour is my new favourite. If you love a vodka soda or can’t stop drinking La Croix (guilty), you will enjoy these.

Pommies new sangria does have sugar, but it’s a tasty alternative to cider from this Canadian company. Pommies is my go-to cider, so I’m always thrilled to see it on a menu and I’ll be recommending this to my friends who like their drinks a little sweeter. I enjoyed it at a recent get-together with friends and it was a fun alternative to beer.

Whew! That was a little more of a wrap-up than I had planned, but it’s great to be back and to share some of these fabulous finds with you guys.

What have you been enjoying this summer? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.