Stoked for Cool Chardonnay

This time next week I’ll be parked front and centre at White Oaks Resort in Niagara for the i4C 2018 School of Cool, presented by VQA Wines of Ontario, The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and Wines of Chablis.  You can to if you manage to grab one of the few remaining tickets.

Related – International Cool Climate Celebration

Session One, The Perception of Chardonnay will be moderated by Dr. Jamie Goode, Session Two, Desert Island Combo – Chardonnay and Cheese by Peter Rod and Session Three, Raising Chardonnay by John Szabo, MS. I’ll continue on to join in the cool festivities all weekend long. Friday evening’s Flights of Chardonnay event will be held once again at the Niagara District Airport and the Saturday night Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner will take place at Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ontario. On Sunday morning Ravine Vineyard will play host to the Moveable Feast Brunch.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Two: Chardonnay

This year, 63 winemakers from ten countries will be pouring 165 wines in Niagara from Friday, July 20th to Sunday July 22nd. Let’s get into the spirit and check out 11 of my most recently tasted chardonnays.

Westcott Chardonnay Lillias Unoaked 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (425322, $12.25, WineAlign)

Lillias is petit chardonnay, unoaked, made in a decidedly Petit Chablis style, slightly lactic and fresh as picked calla lilies without too much scent. The texture and palate feel on Westcott’s 2017 is richer than it was before, with thanks to a hot September and so weight meets alcohol are up there with some barrel-aged cousins. Minus the vanilla and butterscotch of course. Easy drinking to be sure and just might lead to a good time. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted July 2018  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate Bottled 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $17.95, WineAlign)

Very floral, of course, a potpourri that includes roses, orange peel, geranium and south asian fruit. It’s almost tropical like viognier or even gewürztraminer so you could wonder if this is 100 per cent musqué but really it’s just a matter of a warm year making for soft chardonnay. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted July 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Malivoire Chardonnay 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (573147, $17.95, WineAlign)

It almost seems a guilty pleasure or even a shame to be this taken by Malivoire’s entry-level chardonnay because it seems as though it will steal the lime, spot and ultra-violet light away from the serious and essential Mottiar and Moira chardonnays. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has really taken the varietal by the horns but the thanks has to begin and be granted the excellence of viticulture in these Beamsville Bench vineyards. How at this price you can strike such a mutually beneficial accord between fruit and wood is beyond me, first with so many thoughts of apples, pears, peaches and nectarines, then the verdant sweetness of lime-caramel and spiced vanilla. It;s all very subtle but also generous. Regional level chardonnay in Ontario at its finest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Cave Spring Chardonnay Estate Bottled 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

High quality fruit with the creaminess of apple purée keeps its bite with thanks to proper barrel use though I can’t help but think this almost feels unoaked, relatively speaking. This might also be a result of the floral perfume, perhaps by musqué but also a vintage feel. The wood comes through late with a white peppery pique of spice. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (547877, $19.95, WineAlign)

In many ways there is more richness and warmth from the Winemaker’s Blend, a multi-vineyard broad expression that could also be called “Signature,” as in typical of the estate style but not necessarily something that defines the winemaker. It’s a boozy chardonnay by regional standards, with full advantage taken from sun and wood. Notes of caramel, vanilla and spice form a malleable shell around creamy orchard fruit. Calls for whole grilled fish, sweet herbs and citrus. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018  thirtybench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  @ThirtyBench  Andrew Peller(Andrew Peller Import)  Emma Garner

3XP Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

 3XP is the triumvirate styling of Tawse winemaker Paul Pender, Ontario wine importer Nicholas Pearce and Sommelier Will Predhomme. It’s the latest song release in the epic Pearce-Predhomme négoce journey, a progressive-art-album rock venture replete with eleven-minute opus material, but this one is the hit with a recognizable and catchy hook. It’s Hungry Heart, I Will Get by and Lucky Man wrapped up into one three-minute chardonnay play. The sip-swirl-swallow trilogy is like verse-chorus-verse and repeat. It’s straightforward sharp, tart and flavourful chardonnay that only Paul Pender could make and it’s consume-ability factor is one of threefold manifest destiny. The number three is a very important number in biblical and mythological study. It “is the first number to which the meaning “all” was given. It is The Triad, being the number of the whole as it contains the beginning, a middle and an end. The power of three is universal and is the tripartide nature of the world as heaven, earth, and waters. It is human as body, soul and spirit.” As for this PPP chardonnay, just drink it up and enjoy. For the next three years. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  pearcepredhomme  nicholaspearcewines  tawsewinery  @PearcePredhomme  @Nicholaspearce  @Tawse_Winery  Nicholas Pearce  @tawsewines

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $20.95, WineAlign)

A classic Marco Piccoli composition, optimum ripeness of orchard phenolics-developed fruit and plenty of generosity from aging in barrels. Yes chardonnay is different to everyone and Piccoli takes full advantage of the chameleon, even simplifying with that unblemished fruit and lots of wood. It’s like perfect apples in the top-end market from which you may not get that organic fuzzy feeling but you will get the perfectly modern and scientifically successful bite of life. Then take the fruit and make it richer, brown buttery and soft. All good if only there was less wishful thinking for more synchronicity and length. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted twice, first blind at NWAC18, June 2018 and then July 2018  jacksontriggsniagara  #ArterraWines  @Jackson_Triggs   @JacksonTriggs

Tawse Chardonnay Sketches 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89037, $21.95, WineAlign)

At this point in time Sketches represents terrific value in Ontario-bred chardonnay because with an extra year or two in the rear-view mirror it has settled into a lovely place where nuts, caramel and baked goods are all beginning to show. It was a lean chardonnay to begin with so don’t expect any overtly creamy textural notes, least of which might be creamed corn. Bigger oaked versions in vintages like 2014 might go to such a comfort zone but this Sketches stays the green apple and piqued spice course. There are some lingering notes of melon and flowers at dusk so just enough freshness persists to carry this through another year or so of open window drinking. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted June 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (1552, $26.95, WineAlign)

The 2016 is less a matter of chardonnay spirit and more falling along rich, buttery and vanilla-caramel lines. Might be the most zaftig Rusty Shed tasted in quite some time. Go after this FRC chardonnay with immediate and desperate intentions. It will really satisfy for a year or two. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

First and foremost there is so much charm here, from great fruit, mostly orchards of apple and citrus, then just a hint towards tropical. All impressive from a pottery vineyard coming of age into its later teens and capable of retaining soluble nutrients during stressed times. An elemental and kissed wet stone design runs through like veins carrying white blood cells to the fruit’s organs and extremities and so the drought vintage was no worthy adversary to the JCR. Dan Sullivan’s top chardonnay comes replete with high level, quality and pointed fineness of acidity. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted twice, blind at NWAC18 and July 2018  rosehall_run  @Rosehall_Run  Rosehall Run Vineyards

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (148866, $29.95, WineAlign)

A terrific vintage for the Closson Chase fruit, easily ripened and developed of phenolics all in and more glycerin than might ever be expected. It’s punchy and reductive chardonnay with a savoury candy shell protecting real, honest to goodness PEC fruit. There is a decided level of vanilla and caramel folded into fruit like great batter at the rippled stage just before its poured into the pan. Makes for wonderful expectation to see how it might taste once the baking is done. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018  clossonchasevineyards  @ClossonChase  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello,

The School of Cool at #i4c14, Brock University: Studying Chardonnay with Zoltan Szabo, Mike di Caro and Godello, photo (c) Kaitlyn Little

Tell me, why Chardonnay? Who can explain the exultantly singular science behind the world’s most wontedly planted, easily recognizable and widely endorsed white grape variety? How can something that seems so commonplace consistently blow people’s minds and convince them to have a go, over the course of a weekend in venues scattered about the Niagara Peninsula, at more than 100 samples in 50 hours? Where else is it possible that the fruit of one vine can be the sole proprietor to lead such a fervent tailgate of amaurotic yearning? What is the meaning of this Chardonnay?

The quest begins in Burgundy, centre of the Chardonnay universe, home to the icons, built upon centuries of micro-plotting and the act of influencing patrons, friends and enemies. At this point in history, success out of French vineyards is a given, blatant and obvious. Chardonnay’s foray into the global diaspora and subsequent boon is yet another matter.

Related – ‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

The most recent Cool Chardonnay conference is the parochial focus of attention so for the sake of local argumentation, lets connect a line direct from Burgundy to Niagara. Peninsula winemakers (along with those from Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley) draw inspiration and knowledge from the mother land. The fourth annual #i4c14 celebration in July is the stuff of Chardonnay dreams because of the cool visions of vignerons like Thomas Bachelder, Harald Thiel, Norman Hardie, Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble, Martin Malivoire, Ed Madronich, Bill Redelmeier, Doug and Karen Whitty and Moray Tawse. Not to mention the foresight of Niagara’s biggest players; Inniskillin Wines, Peller Estates (Trius), Stratus Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes, Vineland Estates and Cave Spring Cellars.

To give Chardonnay its due and to build a stage from which it can parade about, belting out its songs, there must first be assembled a team of passionate folks. In addition to the winemakers and winery proprietors there is an army of volunteers. Their contribution is immeasurable. This group is led by the #i4c14 concierge; Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Britnie Bazylewski, Elena Galey-Pride and Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser. Thanks must always be given to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University, along with CCOVI director Debbie Inglis and Marketing and Communications Officer Kaitlyn Little. Event chair Del Rollo brings the A-game, as does Peter Bodnar-Rod, life giver to Everyman and every Chardonnay. The ambassadors of cool are lead by a team of sommeliers; Bruce Wallner M.S., Will Predhomme, Mark Coster, Serge Janjic, Emily Pearce, Sheila Flaherty, Lindsay Groves, Brett Fraser, Heather MacDougall, Bob Latham and Peter Lavoie.

The generosity of the event hosts come to praise Chardonnay. Wine Country Ontario, Brock University, The Grape Growers of Ontario, White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa, 13th Street Wines, Cave Spring Cellars, Tawse Winery, Flat Rock Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, Peller Estates Winery, Malivoire Wine Company, Reif Estate Winery, Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and Ravine Vineyard. The LCBO and VINTAGES join the party, setting aside time and space at the same time to sell some cool Chardonnay.

The School of Cool,  Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The School of Cool,
Photo (c) Elena Galey-Pride — at Brock University.

The weekend begins on Friday, July 18th with #TheSchoolofCool at Brock University. Luminaries are flown in to speak on behalf of the great grape. Tim Atkin (MW), Christy Canterbury (MW), W. Blake Gray (wine journalist, cool climate advocate) along with eleven panelists (winemakers, growers and researchers) of cool climate viticulture and winemaking explore, debate, provoke and disseminate.

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy Photo: Michael Godel

John Szabo opens the Chardonnay Camp 2014 at Brock Univeristy
Photo: Michael Godel

Three interactive sessions feature this global panel of experts. Renowned Master Sommelier John Szabo is the chair and most in control moderator of the panels. Here at Chardonnay Camp he is talk show host, politically motivated comedian and all-knowing Yoda wrapped into one Renaissance man package. Szabo notes that “quality, at the top end has diversified, especially in Burgundy.” He then wants to know “who is an acid lover?” The answer to that question is the first clue towards an understanding of the meaning in (cool) Chardonnay. “Does anyone here regret planting any variety? No? Nobody? Everything works in Ontario.” The sportive tone succeeds in marking a first strike for the grape guest of honour. As does his notation that “the panel is chosen to speak on the zeitgeist topics of Chardonnay.” A walk-around tasting of all 117 bottles being poured at the 2014 event following the sessions helps to build early Friday momentum.

Cool Chardonnay Camp Photo: Michael Godel

Cool Chardonnay Camp
Photo: Michael Godel

Tim Atkin begins. “We are here to have fun.” The British journalist spends his time defending the oft maligned variety, insisting that “the target of Riesling lovers should not be Chardonnay. It should be Pinot Grigio.” Atkin reminds that Chardonnay is still the fastest growing white variety in the world but that “even worse things have befallen this noble grape variety. It’s a victim of its own ubiquity and adaptability.” What makes it so special then? “Chardonnay expresses place, as well as production, terroir as well as technique.”

Grower Matthias Oppenlaender: “I like growing Chardonnay. It adapts to the different soil conditions in the sites I own. But I like drinking it even more.” The panelists debate Techno vs. Tech-No. Atkin’s take? “Recreating balance is a bad practice. All these things (manipulations in the winery) are fine if they are done sensitively. Overripe plus water equals bad.” Jeremy Dineen of Josef Cromy Wines in Tasmania says “wine should taste from a place, but also from a time.” His idea of technology “is to try to make my life simple. It’s a hell of a lot easier to plant in the right spot.” On reverse osmosis: “Technically, yes. Ethically, no.”

The panel seems to think it interesting that consumers consider that wine should be a natural and non-manipulated product, but food can be handled and bastardized in unlimited ways and be called gastronomy. First of all…consumers…really? Wine geeks, more like it. Secondly, wines comes from one ingredient: Grapes. Well, three if you count yeast and sulphur. Food composition is contrived out of a plethora of ingredients. Manipulation and over-handling is the norm, not the exception. Wine should follow the exact opposite course.

Manipulations, according to former Henry of Pelham winemaker, now of Niagara College Ron Giesbrecht include sorting, spraying, osmosis, acidification, de-acidification, overripe diluting, wood chips, adding tannin…the list goes on. He admits that “some degree of finessing and correction is OK. Add sometimes, but not any time.” Shiraz Mottiar of Malivoire is a purist. “When it comes to techno, I like (the ideas) of Calvin Harris (anyone get that…?). Add as little as possible, that’s my position. It would be unjust to the consumer to create something awkward and unusual.”

Giesbrecht brings out base wines with the addition of “winemaking tricks.” One is lactic, lean, mean and filled with cheap acidity. Another is terpenic, gum leesy and full of rounder acids. A third is volatile, medicinal, sacchariferous. A fourth is done very lightly, yet thin. Oak chips, micro-barrels, gum Arabic, these are all tricks of the trade and they all lead to faults.

Session two discusses Yield and Context. Mattias Oppenlaender discusses the Ontario opportunity of growing grapes for the high end, quality market. “If I grow Pinot Noir at (only) two tons per acre, it’s pretty difficult to make it economically viable.” Dr. Jim Willwerth, CCOVI Brock University adds, “in Ontario it’s important to have low yields from late ripening varieties. Vine balance is the key.” Willwerth cautions against stereotyping the vine vigor quotient. “Lower yields to highest quality is not a direct linear relationship. We know it’s not the case.”

Yet Dimitri Bazas of Maison Champy in Burgundy concedes that zero yields is not the best. “You can make good Premier Cru wine with yields of 40-45 L/hl. Szabo then asks, “and you can taste the quality difference based on these number?” Bazas replies, “yes, yes I can your honour.” Matthew Lane of Peter Lehmann in Australia adds a trump card. “There’s an old vine factor that has to be considered when talking about yields.” Lane believes you can extract quality from fruit at higher yields. Like Willwerth, he believes in the ‘Sesame Street’ word of the day. “If you’ve got a warm year and vine health, you can get great balance.”

Christy Canterbury reminds that crop yields are relative from variety to variety. Chardonnay in general is low (two to three tons per acre) as compared to Pinot Grigio and Riesling. “Perfect. An MW position there,” chides Szabo. Canterbury leads the room through four Chardonnays of various yields.

Maison Champy Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (377705, $215.00, WineAlign)

Opposites attract and this urges the fruit-wood compendium forward in a direct, unabashed way, followed by a sledgehammer clubbing of formidable acidity. The yield for this 12 barrel salute to upper echelon Burgundy is 30 hl/L. There are waves of richness that jab, poke and stamp their way into your Chardonnay heart. Pierces and injects by way of a hypodermic, splintered syringe filled with creamy, smoky oak. The balance is currently upended though there can be little doubt bottle age will calm the high extract and lead it to a calmer future.  Tasted July 2014

Maison Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011, Burgundy, France (344143, $49.95, WineAlign)

The technical specs (sugar, acidity, PH, natural alcohol) on this PV are very similar to Champy’s Corton Charlemagne. The yield out of marl and limestone soil was 50 per cent (45 hl/L) higher and the fruit was picked seven to 10 days ahead of the CC. There exudes plenty of peeling citrus perfume in sunshine and some essential oil release, in wood, though it is by no means excessive. Very much citrus stoked, also reeking in green apple, forest glade, even more sunshine. Holds a tight, angular texture. Needs time to flesh and convert those phenols into gold. Most attractive is its subtlety and balance, from shoot to bottle. A Chardonnay very cool for school.  Tasted July 2014

Peter Lehmann H&V Eden Valley Chardonnay 2012, Eden Valley, Australia (agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

Surprisingly green, herbal and cool spirit driven Chardonnay. There’s a lime spark and texture woven by shavings of slate and chalk. Pure, ripe fruit, picked prudently early, means for a tang and a half, in all the right back of the mouth ways. The nervous energy component gives the wine a divine fit, “sends a permanent shiver down my spine.” Clean expression out of the Eden Valley and so well made.  Tasted July 2014

Trius Winery Showcase ‘Single Barrel’ Heubel Estate Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Though the soil for this rare and tiny production Chardonnay is sandy-loam, the mineral component is both pronounced and uncanny. A difficult vintage for the variety, wet, not so warm, noted by winemaker Craig McDonald, “we didn’t really get a summer.” He concedes that the wine was an experiment, “mainly out of curiosity, as a collaboration with the grower.” Like so many Niagara ‘experiments’ this Trius will teach and pave roads to a tart, direct, firm tartaric future. A wine that will act as a beacon for forward thinking ideas on thinning, canopy management and how the viticulturist must “dial into the frequency of what the vineyard is saying.”  Tasted July 2014

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray Photo: Michael Godel

Chardonnay panel with Ann Sperling, Sébastien Jacquey, Miguel Torres Maczassek and W. Blake Gray
Photo: Michael Godel

Session three, The Living Vine: The Viticultural Continuum begins with W. Blake Gray. “If I buy an Ontario Chardonnay that you say has protected the earth but it’s not (organically) certified, I don’t know what that means.” In the world according to Gray, talk is cheap. Harald Thiel believes organics and biodynamics are much more complicated, beyond certification. “What is the buffer between organic/biodynamic vineyards and conventional ones,” he asks. “In Burgundy the rows are one metre apart. One sprays next to another.” Livelihoods are affected, compromised and yet who is policing the offenses?

Miguel Torres Maczassek admits “my family is a bit divided on organic and biodynamic but I am a great defender of organic viticulture.” Torres agrees and expands on Thiel’s concerns. “Being organic today is not enough. Organic needs to make an evolution. The problems are not the same anymore.” Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne: “Organic, biodynamic, sustainable. It’s about making wine that expresses something. We all need to work together.” Then John introduces Ann Sperling of Southbrook and Sperling Vineyards. “Ann, let me guess where you stand.” It is no secret that Sperling is a Canadian leader in this hotly debated field. “Biodynamics is something that allows me to connect with the vineyards.” Enough said.

Christy Canterbury wants to know who pays for the cost of lab analysis for wines looking for an organic affidavit. “The producer,” insists Sperling. “The consumer,” think many in the room. Four more wines are poured.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign)

From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.  Tasted July 2014

Sperling Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378570, $31, WineAlign)

High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (366500, $50, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.  Lat tasted July 2014

Miguel Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2011, Conca de Barbera, Spain

Milmanda was part of a route of medieval castles that gave shelter to Christians during the time of the Reconquest. This is the estate’s top varietal bottling, a warm honeybee of a Chardonnay. The toast is set on high, the malolactic pull in elastic heaven and the lemon/lime in curd form. From deep clay soil, this is the least cool of the lot and though harvested early (late August), the oak quotient steals the show.  Tasted July 2014

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Barrels and Bonfires at 13th Street Winery, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

On Friday night the host is 13th Street Winery for Barrels and Bonfires. The credo is this: “Join the twelve winemakers who congregated around that fated bonfire in 2009 as they celebrate their vision as its come to life five years later.” Many more than 12 pour their wines from barrel tops in the heat of a July evening while the band plays. Meanwhile in another part of 13th Street’s town, Peter Bodnar-Rod holds court with an impromptu blind tasting. I fail miserably. Thanks Peter.

Niagara's own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

Niagara’s own PigOut Roasters, Image (c) Sherry Galey Photography

13th Street’s B & B party is a resounding success, complete with a pig roast by Niagara’s PigOut Roasters and a setting to combine casual, pastoral and The Hamptons, all in one stunning piece of real estate.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Chef Therese deGrace of Good Earth Food and Wine, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,  Photo: Michael Godel

Dinner at 13th Street Wines,
Photo: Michael Godel

On Saturday a group of winemakers convene at Camp Cave Spring for some Chardonnay and mobile Pizza oven fun. Kistler, Talley, Maycas Limari and Cave Spring also do the #i4c14 unthinkable. They pour something other than Chardonnay. Shocking! Pinot Noir and Riesling are on hand. What a refreshing, if fleeting change. Thanks is owed the Pennachetti families, winemaker Angelo Pavan, Rob Groh from The Vine and the culinary team at the Stratford Chef School.

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Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven Photo: Michael Godel

Stratford Chefs Mobile Pizza Oven
Photo: Michael Godel

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA 

The Estate Pinot is composed of fruit from three vineyards, Rincon (50 per cent), Rosemary’s (47) and Las Ventanas (3), then fermented for 13 months in 20 per cent new French oak barrels. Typically, even quintessentially California Pinot Noir with a developed, nearly candied palate made more complex by the earth of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Very ripe black cherry, some tar and plenty of warm spice. The alcohol reads 14 per cent but it manages to reflect a cool image in the mirror. Refined if expected Pinot Noir.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Talley Vineyards at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, California (330274, $77.95, WineAlign)

In yet another outstanding vintage Kistler flaunts its Pinot acumen, leaving other RRV neighbours to mire in a sickly, sweet and dusty trail of cola, syrup and black ash. Kistler’s take is rooted in wisdom, in plenitude and also restraint. “We remove any berries that are overripe,” announces Geoff Labitzke. This ’12 is singing, pinging and binging in red cherry. Picked in the cool of the night with a big crew, the RRV Pinot is tart, tight, intense and pure. The finish leaves with a slightly tannic, chalky residue, yet one that will integrate with five plus years time.  Tasted July 2014

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Kistler at Cave Spring Winery

Cave Spring Riesling ‘The Adam’s Steps’ 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (26372, $24.95, WineAlign)

According to Cave Spring’s website this newer Riesling from older (18 to 35 Year-old plantings) is from “a single block of vines in the shadows of a limestone outcrop near the crest of the Niagara Escarpment, known as ‘The Adam Steps’. Really apropos, for this Riesling is the cantilever, the one with the outstretched arm. At 10.5 per cent alcohol and with an unmistakably stony, sweet and sour whiff the wine speaks of its off-dryness. The juiciest of all the Cave Spring Rieslings, with rounder acidity and good persistence. This is the all-around good guy, the one with an open invitation, the bridge from Estate to Dolomite to Csv. The well-adjusted one steps up its game to help win one for the team, especially out of the convivial 2013 vintage.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Wines

Cave Spring Wines

On Saturday night the scene changes to the big show. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is the host once again for the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner. In civilized fashion, it launches with bubbles and oysters by Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company.

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Katrina Steeves and Mike Langley, Tide and Vine Oyster Company
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday’s menu featured the Vineyard Chefs: Adam Hynam-Smith of el gastrónomo vagabundo, Andrew McLeod, Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery, Justin Downes of Vineland Estates Winery, Ryan Crawford of Gastrohomestead, Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery and Craig Youdale of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute. The selection of pies for dessert were from the 13th Bakery & Marketplace and Whitty Farms.

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday Menu at Vineland Research Station

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Saturday dinner, Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

Dick Snyder and Magdalena Kaiser at Vineland Research Station

On Sunday, the Cool Chardonnay weekend wrapped up at Ravine Vineyards, with one last chance to taste a Chardonnay or 117, if for some reason there remained an elusive bottle.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

keep the cool i4c love!, Photo (c) Sherry Galey Photography — at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

Events at #i4C14 are made possible by Wine Country Ontario, LCBO, Grape Growers of Ontario, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, White Oaks Resort & Spa, Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Vines to Vintages Inc., Riedel Canada, Kerry Ingredients, Hope & Harder, A1 Label, The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Richard Marazzi Design, Rempel Electric, cellar•tek, Lakeview Vineyard Equipment Inc., Winestains, Hunter Bottling, Special Event Rentals, Q water, De La Terre Kitchen, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Leslie Stowe Fine Foods.

The quantity of Chardonnays made available to taste through the course of the weekend was officially announced at 117. A number of them were wines that I have previously tasted and reviewed. Some I felt compelled to re-taste and update. For the sake of those I did not redo, I am including them here as contributing members of the Cool Chardonnay weekend and the links to their corresponding tasting notes, published at WineAlign.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay Johnson Vineyards 2012, Yamhill Carlton District

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Estate Bottled, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012, VQA Prince Edward County

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula

Returning back to the original question, what is the true meaning of Chardonnay? It’s really quite simple. You’ve gotta be cool to be kind.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on 50 more #i4C14 Chardonnay. Coming soon.

 

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

A few wine questions for Kathleen Wynne

In September of 2008, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government and the LCBO decided to allow wine to be sold in farmers’ markets, albeit with some restrictions. Their guidelines demanded a strict adherence to outdoor structure dimensions, latitudinal/longitudinal positioning and ethnic-appropriate choices. No, really. In 2008.

The move was heralded with great thanks, not just for the bone thrown to the wine industry, but for the significance such change might have upon the system of selling Ontario wine.

Fast forward to December 2013.

Kathleen Wynne called a news conference. On the coattails of a 2009 initiative, the Liberals boast that “the strategy has supported significant growth in the sector, including doubling the number of VQA wineries, creating 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production, and the development of prime tourist destinations, from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.”

All true and impressive stuff. VQA wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes, will be available along with seasonal vegetables and fruits at farmers’ markets, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.

For the uninitiated, VQA Ontario is Ontario’s Wine Authority, a regulatory agency responsible for maintaining the integrity of local wine appellations and enforcing winemaking and labelling standards.  VQA Ontario does not represent the wine industry in Ontario and is not a marketing agency.

Here are the Liberal government program’s quick facts:

  • The province is investing $75 million over five years through the Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy.
  • Located inside selected full-sized LCBO stores, Our Wine Country boutiques offer an expanded selection of VQA wines, helping elevate the profile of products from smaller local wineries, with more than 500 wines from across the province available.
  • VQA wines are crafted entirely from Ontario grown grapes and must adhere to rigorous winemaking standards.
  • Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed an estimated $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011.
  • VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $100 million since 2008 — from $168 million in 2008 to $268 million in 2013.
  • The Wine Secretariat will be led by Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne and Jim Bradley, MPP, St. Catharines.

To see Niagara wine writer Rick VanSickle’s thoughts and to read the full text of the press release, along with another from the Grape Grower’s of Ontario,  please visit Rick’s site here.

I just have a few questions for Premier Kathleen Wynne, if she wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer them. Great ideas come out of necessity, and we certainly need this program, just as we need some level of privatization for the wine industry in Ontario. But I still have concerns:

1. Does the wine commerce plan involve issuing licences to third-party vendors wishing to sell wine at said markets or will it be restricted to wineries? Either way, what will be the cost of the licences? Will the farm market endorsement simply be an extension of a winery’s tasting room retail license? Will sales be restricted to two bottles per customer and will the license allow vendors to pour and sell by the glass or open bottle? Many markets take place in the early morning so will vendors be allowed to pour samples and sell before 11:00 am and before LCBO stores open? Will the licenses be transferable from one market to another, i.e. from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Orillia, so long as the vendor has secured and paid for spots in both markets? My apologies, that really was more like six questions.

2. You are quoted as saying “it means we can be a lot more competitive in the LCBO against import wines.” Will VQA wines be available in markets in close proximity to LCBO stores, like just down the block? I wonder what your thoughts are on points of sale simply moving from one location to another so I’d also like to know what percentage of people who frequent farmers’ markets are the same folks who make visits to Ontario wineries?

3. Will there be a restriction on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine? Are there plans to allow markets in Toronto and Ottawa to join in the fun, like St. Lawrence, Byward, Weston, Sorauren or Trinity Bellwoods? Will buyers be able to sample, taste and buy? The folks who attend those markets tend to shop at the LCBO so I’m wondering if the possible bite into LCBO sales has been considered? Can you say yay or nay? Oh, one more thing. Can you confirm that fruit wines, non-VQA wine, mead, craft beer and craft cider are to be excluded from the plan?

4.  The initiative also creates a “Wine Secretariat” to help the province and industry find ways to make the industry more competitive. Can you tell me what that job description is and what amount from the $75 million will be allocated to that work?

5. Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, was quoted as saying the “devil is in the details.” Is there anything else we should know about the plan? You noted that “discussions with wine stakeholders about adding VQA to farmers’ markets in the province will likely begin in the new year.” Who are the stakeholders and what does likely mean? Will the enterprise go into effect in 2014, sometime in 2015 or 2016 and if your Liberal government were to lose the next provincial election, what would happen to the plan?

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider my queries. Good luck with the initiative and happy holidays.

Best Regards,

Michael Godel

Power shift: Wine in Ontario

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

as seen on canada.com

It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”

…A climate for change hovers in the frigid late November air. Sam says, “don’t fight it, feel it.” An unprecedented level of lobbying, legislative tabling and transparent discourse looks to reshape the landscape for the future of Ontario’s wine industry. The Ontario Wine Council just initiated a bold venture called MyWineShop aimed at revolutionizing the retail industry in Ontario. Their manifesto?

“What if you could build your dream wine shop in your neighbourhood?” Now’s your chance to envision an Ontario with greater consumer choice.
mywineshop.ca

In June the federal government passed Bill C-311, opening the door for the provinces to overturn restrictions on shipping wine across their Canadian borders.

Just last week, Nova Scotia followed BC’s lead by introducing the Free My Grapes bill, a set of provincial legislative amendments which will permit direct to consumer wine shipping into that province. Ontario’s laws remain staid silent on the inter-provincial importation of wine and according to lawyer Mark Hicken, that silence indicates a soon to be opening door.

Wine sales continue to grow, the LCBO has many fans and I included have lauded their efforts. Still, the crowd is growing thicker, speaking out, demanding change. Private wine stores exist in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Critics want to know this. Why not Ontario?

With billions of wine dollars on the table and the window of opportunity seemingly imminent, it is with great interest that we follow the players, their agendas and their alliances. Here are twelve influential leaders who will help to define and decide the future of wine sales in Ontario.

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Ontario Conservative Party

Despite a less than impressive showing in the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty’s departure and a leader-less Liberal government paves a new road to Mr. Hudak’s future. Adding beer and wine to corner stores in Ontario was a misguided and misdirected attempt at liquor reform but Hudak “didn’t reject the idea outright.” This indicates more than a potential partnership for a plan to introduce private wine retail in Ontario. Sure, the Conservatives first need to steal a majority, but a dwindling economy and renewed fear of long-lasting recession might just be the impetus for a Thatcherian foray and a partial crumbling of the LCBO wall.

Kathleen Wynne, leadership candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party

A discussion that involves Hudak would not be complete without mentioning Wynne. According to Scott Stinson, a front-runner to succeed Dalton McGuinty as leader of the party looks to be the long-time Cabinet minister and MPP for Don Valley West  (along with former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello). Good luck to either, as they will first be faced with the difficult task of leading the faltering Liberals and following what would be a miracle win, trying to withstand the wine storm brewing in Ontario.

Phillip Olson, Chair, LCBO

Olson has been Chair since March 2007 and his position was recently renewed in March 2012 for another two-year term. As head of one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol, Olson has seen the LCBO through its golden era. In fiscal 2011-12, LCBO sales topped $4.7 billion and it delivered a $1.63 billion dividend to the Ontario government, not including taxes. The LCBO now faces a tsunami of developing support to privatize the industry. Olson and team can look forward to a heavyweight battle for market share.

Hillary Dawson, President, Wine Council of Ontario

While the WCO’s mission is to promote the growth and sustainability of Ontario’s VQA wines, it is Dawson at the helm brandishing the brand new initiative. MyWineShop is turning heads and unequivocally is the boldest move yet by an Ontario coalition with aspirations to overhaul the wine world in Ontario as we know it.

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates Winery, President & Chair, VQA Ontario

As the head of VQA, winemaker Brian Schmidt is instrumental in maintaining and ensuring the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. VQA Ontario exercises delegated authority to administer and enforce the VQA Act and its associated regulations. Along with brother Allan, Schmidt is the candidate most likely to press for a change to rules regarding VQA wine format designations. VQA wines that use the appellation of origin “Ontario” may now be packaged in containers other than glass bottles but not wine bearing more specific claims of origin regulated by VQA. Securing that approval from VQA Ontario, the LCBO and the AGCO would have huge ramifications, including allowing for wine served from kegs in Ontario restaurants.

Bill George Jr., Chair, Grape Growers on Ontario

The GGO represents Ontario’s over 500 growers of 15,000 acres of processing grapes, including 176 wineries in the Province’s four viticulture areas: Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.  Bill George Jr. leads an organization that connects growers to the public, the media and the wineries on matters of viticulture, in particular the growing demand for high quality grapes. As an industry partner, the GGO has participated in the creation of over 1,300 additional jobs in the last four years through programs implemented by the Wine Council of Ontario and other industry partners. VQA wine sales at the LCBO have more than doubled over the past five years to over $110 million annually and now make up about 40 per cent of total Ontario wine sales. Good quality grapes, grassroots work and connectivity. This is the work of the GGO.

Moray Tawse, Owner, Tawse Vineyards and Marchand/Tawse

Though his day job as Co-Founder and Vice President of Mortgage Investments at First National Financial Corp. is his bread and butter, Moray Tawse is most passionate about his role as owner of Ontario’s most progressive vineyard. Tawse was the 2012 Winery of the Year award winner for an unprecedented third year in a row at the Canadian Wine Awards. So Tawse goes, so goes the Ontario wine industry.

Bryan McCaw, President, Wine Align

Wine Align is an online service that makes it easier to make smart and informed buying decisions at the LCBO. It boasts the most comprehensive database linked to the LCBO. Many of Ontario’s top critics are on board. Wine Align has entrenched itself in the heart of wine purchasing in Ontario. Yesterday McCaw tweeted “we had a record number of visitors to @WineAlign yesterday (7,900). We’re now getting more in a day than we use to get in an entire month.”

David Lawrason, Toronto Life, The National Post and Wine Align

Lawrason is the most affable guy you would ever want to sit in a room with and taste wine. It is hard to imagine another Canadian wine scribe that covers as much ground, from coast to coast, as David Lawrason does. He is tireless, relentless, opinionated, diplomatic, accurate and concise. His conclusion about privatization? “Alcohol is legal, and so the citizens have every right to sell it themselves, and certainly to select which brands are available, and to shop for it when and where they chose.” Peerless authority on all things wine.

Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail

Certainly less political than his peers, Crosariol concentrates on the wines. As the critic for the largest national audience, his focus stays the course of wine recommendations and where to find them. No other  Canadian writer can reach as many people or influence sales (particularly in Ontario) like the Globe and Mail’s man.

John Szabo, M.S., The National Post and Wine Align

John Szabo has the torch in his grasp and is running with it. His influence is on the verge of omnipotence in Ontario’s world of wine. It is hard to think of anyone who will have more to say and be heard by a larger audience, when the levee of Ontario wine restrictions break. Szabo wrote a lengthy, informative and remarkably diplomatic dissertation on the subject of the LCBO monopoly and what it would mean to introduce private wine stores in Ontario. Though he walked a fine line and succeeded in stressing a need for privatization, he managed the piece with an ambassador’s precision. Still, he finished off by saying, “I hope I don’t get put on an interdiction list for writing this.”

Rick VanSickle, WinesInNiagara

Nobody and I mean nobody works more tirelessly to champion Ontario wines, at field level and in print. Though he has been advocating for the overhaul of the system longer than most, save for Lawrason, Margaret Swaine and Michael Vaughan, VanSickle has recently increased his tone and his voice to push for change. It would be hard to imagine elevated discourse and debate without VanSickle in the fray.

Good to go!