Monday, April 14, 2014

Del-Gatto Estates

* This is my third in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!









All photos provided by the winery
Listening to Pat Del-Gatto talk about his first two years as a winemaker in Prince Edward County, you can’t help but think the man and his family have a lot of moxie. Because, you see, the first two years they didn’t do much winemaking at all – both years they faced harsh winters and lost all the vines they had painstakingly planted and tended the season before. It was heartbreaking, but he wasn’t willing to give up.

“It was my lifelong dream to own a vineyard like my father, and I’m not a quitter, I’m in it for the long haul,” he says. “You can’t let the little obstacles get you down. We looked at it as a learning curve and we figured out how to deal with winter.”

For that, he and other PEC winemakers turned to Quebec, where burying the vines was a way of combating the colder winters. That technique, which is heavily employed in the County now, likely saved many winemakers this past winter – one of the worst in years. Pat is relieved to report that he checked his vines just recently and what he saw looked green and healthy – it looks as though they will have no damage to report.

Del-Gatto Estates doesn’t bury all their vines, though. The winery is one of a handful in Ontario to specialize in hybrids and those, which come from heartier stock, don’t need to be buried. So far it seems they too have survived this winter. That’s a good thing, as Del-Gatto uses one hundred percent County grapes in their wines.

Granted, that’s still possible with the low yields they produce (they are averaging between 500-750 cases a year). Pat concedes that if they continue to grow, they may one day need to source grapes from outside the region.

For now, however, Del-Gatto is happy to be a small, boutique winery specializing in unique local wines. And these really are special – unlike most Ontario producers, Del-Gatto creates wine from grapes like St. Croix and Frontenac Gris. In fact, the only vinifera they produce is Pinotage – and they are first to plant this grape in Ontario.

How did Pat Del-Gatto end up growing Pinotage? He fell in love with it during a visit to California where he stumbled upon a festival showcasing the South African grape. It became his favourite and he was eager to try his hand at growing it. That it grows at all in Ontario is impressive – the first bottling is due in 2016.

A family vineyard, where you can often find three generations of Del-Gatto’s tending the vines, Pat is thrilled to have his father, who had a vineyard in his native Italy, on board to help provide advice and support. “He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. It’s nice to have that presence there.”


For more information on Del-Gatto Estates: http://www.del-gattoestates.ca/

For more information on Terroir: http://www.countyterroir.com/


Monday, April 7, 2014

OWS PEC Wine and Chocolate Tasting

It used to be that wine and chocolate tastings were a regular occurrence on this blog, but it's been a while since I've indulged in two of the greatest pleasures in life. The Ontario Wine Society Prince Edward County Chapter’s pre-Valentine’s Day wine and chocolate pairing event was an opportunity to rectify that.

The event, which saw about 50 OWS members and guests come together for a Saturday afternoon tasting was well run and featured enough Prince Edward County wine to make it more than worth the ticket price. Brix Chocolate, which is chocolate tailor-made to pair with wine, was a sponsor and provided all of the chocolate. If you haven’t had the chance to try Brix, it’s an excellent option for your next tasting party. Chocolate can be a tricky pairing with wine, so Brix provides you with the appropriate wine for each of its chocolate products right on the label.

We were able to try four different types of Brix chocolate with three wine samples each. Some of them, like Brix Medium Dark and Grange of Prince Edward 2010 Gamay were huge successes and some, like Brix Milk Chocolate and Sandbanks Estate Winery's Love were an acquired taste, but the event gave guests the opportunity to really experiment and to see what best suited their palates while also trying out wines from Prince Edward County that were new to many. It should be noted that Love on its own is a wine I very much enjoy, I simply wasn't a fan of this pairing. At the end of the event you could also purchase chocolate to take home for your own tasting experiments.

The OWS PEC is one of many Ontario Wine Societies hosting fun wine events across the province. Their next event is their 2nd Annual County Character Tasting at Studio House in Wellington on April 12th. Tickets are only $15 for members and $20 for guests and can be purchased here:  www.ontariowinesociety.com/event/2nd-annual-county-character-pec/

Be sure to check out: http://www.ontariowinesociety.com/ for am OWS chapter near you.

For more information on Brix Chocolate: http://brixchocolate.com/

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Grange of Prince Edward

* This is the second in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!








Photo from The Grange website
When Maggie Belcastro was growing up, she didn’t think much about inheriting the family business. She had watched her mother, Caroline Granger, develop the family farm into one of Prince Edward County’s first wineries, The Grange of Prince Edward, but she saw her work in the winery and vineyards primarily as a way to spend time with her mom. When it came time to go to university, she opted for a general arts degree, nothing to do with winemaking.

Flash forward a few years and Maggie started to notice a theme in the papers she was turning in – many of them revolved around farming, agriculture and winemaking. It struck her that perhaps her heart really did belong to the family business and caused her to re-think her plans for the future.

Maggie during harvest.
Now, Maggie is content to be working alongside her mother and taking on more responsibility at The Grange, while studying to be a sommelier. Having started working in the vineyards at age 13, she already has an advantage on many of her peers – she definitely knows the heart and soul of the wine business.

At The Grange it’s about more than just growing grapes. The farm on which the winery was founded is an essential part of their business plan. “My mom wanted to make the family farm something special, make it last,” Maggie explains. “Family farms have been falling apart over the last 50 years, so to find something that really thrives in this region was exciting to her.”

Now, the farm is lush with grape vines and the family is able to show off that beauty, as well as to showcase the product of many other local farmers. They have a picnic program that allows those who visit to purchase a basket full of local farm-to-table lunch items and take them out to the fields to enjoy. It seems to me a brilliant way to enjoy the beauty of PEC.

“We wanted people to spend more time on the farm, not just in the tasting room,” Maggie says of the idea. “People were coming up to the bar, doing their tasting, buying a bottle and leaving. They really weren’t experiencing the farm. I thought about what I love about the farm, what made me feel connected to it. It was packing a picnic and finding a special place to have it. So why couldn’t we do that for people and encourage them to take the time to enjoy the place they’re in?”

Visitors can also, of course, enjoy The Grange wines. I had the pleasure of doing a vertical Riesling tasting there this past summer and it was fascinating to see just how the wines changed from season to season.
Maggie agrees that the terroir and the winemaking really influence how the wines develop. “It’s 100 per cent estate-grown fruit, it’s all about this farm,” she says. “We’re learning the winemaking to work with the land. This place is the most important element of this project, to try and reflect it in the winemaking. We’re focusing on fresh, fruit-driven styles that are from the farm.”

Right now, Maggie is very enthusiastic about the Gamay, a grape that isn’t as associated with the region. “I love our Gamay,” she says, “I think we can treat it differently here. We can elevate it. It has great energy, it’s casual, it’s fruity, it’s fresh. People don’t think about Gamay enough, it’s such an underdog in the wine world.”

She is also excited about the winery’s Riesling, which I can attest is very good. The sparkling Riesling in particular was a treat for me. “It’s cool and relaxed and we’d like to do something fun with it in the future,” Maggie agrees. “We do it with the crown caps so that people see it as cool and easy and realize that sparkling doesn’t have to be fussy.”

Maggie thinks that sort of experimental, less corporate, less driven to be mass-market style is a part of what makes PEC wine so unique. It’s those qualities that will be on showcase at the Terroir festival on May 3rd in Picton. The Grange will be one of many PEC winemakers showcasing their products there. “It’s at a great time for us,” says Maggie of the spring season. “We’re wrapping up winemaking, so a lot of the wineries have new products to showcase, but for us it’s a really important time of year because it’s when we’re starting to build a new vintage. It’s an exciting time with great energy.”

Learn more about Terroir here: http://www.countyterroir.com/

Learn more about The Grange of Prince Edward here: http://grangeofprinceedward.com/

And to read more of the posts in this series, visit Uncork Ontario.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creekside Estate Winery Vertical Tastings - Part Two

Photo by MJ MacDonald from The Cellar Sisters
I've been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to do two recent vertical tastings (a chronological tasting of back vintages through to current vintages) of several Creekside Estate Winery wines. The first one, I blogged about two weeks ago, the second was another wonderful treat – Creekside recently sold several bottles of their incredible Lost Barrel back vintages, and our friend Gary Killops (Essex Wine Review) purchased a case of four. We decided to split the cost and have a tasting with a group of dedicated Ontario wine lovers - it was well worth it. Our group of 12 headed to Treadwell Restaurant to enjoy four of Creekside’s incredible Lost Barrel wines – the 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2007 vintages.

Lost Barrel is a unique, blend of red grapes and Pinot Noir made using the sediment left over in all of the red wine barrels from each vintage. As Creekside explains in their tasting notes, “When racking red wine barrels, we routinely combine the lees (the yeast and grape solids which collect at the bottom of the barrels) into empty barrels to recover more wine from them. These “tipping” barrels are left for a month or so to clarify, then racked again. This process is repeated as the lees are repeatedly racked off until there is one remaining barrel of superb red wine.” Each vintage is different and the quantities of each grape is unknown. The 2007, for example, took 56 months and a careful selection process starting with 183 barrels resulted in the four barrels of extraordinary Lost Barrel 2007 wine. 

All four wines had aged well – there was some concern that the 2001 might lose its luster quickly after opening (something that happens sometimes with wines that have been aged for many years), but it was still going strong even after decanting. The 2001 may have been the least favourite of the four (though as Paul Dearborn pointed out, picking a least favourite was like saying you had a least favourite child), but it still had a vibrant nose with lots of fruit, smokey meat and a nice, smooth mouth feel.

The 2002 was the smoothest of the four and one of the overall favourites of the table. The nose was far less vibrant than the others, but it had aged quite nicely with excellent balance and structure. I was told it was an excellent pairing with the beef cheek.

My personal favourite was the 2004, which was a close second when I polled the table for the wine they liked best. It was still so fresh, vibrant and tannic. I liked the long finish and would love to have had this with a mushroom dish because it had a lovely earthy quality.

The 2007, which was one of the best wines I tasted in 2013 showed well, but we all agreed that it just needed more age and/or more time to open up. One of the things I love about Lost Barrel wines is how they change so much over time in the glass and the 2007 is such a fantastic example of this. The wine starts out with a fruity nose, morphs into something more smoky and then begins to show hints of chocolate and coffee as time progresses. It’s such a stunning lesson on how wine is a living, breathing entity even once it’s out of the bottle.

Overall, each of the wines was wonderful and I was thrilled to have been able to be a part of this tasting. If you had put any one of the Lost Barrel wines in a glass in front of me without the others to compare them to, I would have enjoyed each one on its own merit. Being able to study them side by side was a rare treat and a chance to really strengthen my understanding of wine development.

Many thanks to Creekside Estate Winery, Gary Killops and all the wonderful wine friends who pitched in to make our Lost Barrel tasting an affordable event. And a huge shout-out to Treadwell Restaurant, which is without a doubt one of the best places to eat in Niagara.

For more information on Creekside wines: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Devil’s Wishbone Winery

* This is the first in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!

I’ve always thought Devil’s Wishbone was a great name for a winery, but when I asked owner and winemaker, Paul Gallagher, where it originated, I was surprised by the unique story behind the moniker. Gallagher was working a difficult plot of his PEC land on an antique tractor. Backing up, he braked and realized that he couldn’t stop because the brakes had been oiled by the previous owner. He saw his life flash before his eyes as the tractor started to tip. He was certain he’d be crushed, as the front end veered toward him, but a wheel caught on a grape vine and kept the tractor from flipping.

Neighbours who had seen the whole thing happen, rushed over to make sure Gallagher was OK. Once they realized all was well, they told him how the piece of land he was working had been called the ‘devil’s wishbone’ by settlers because nothing would grow there. Well, Gallagher knew that grapevines would grow there and, given their role in saving his life, Devil’s Wishbone seemed like an appropriate name. And, with that, a winery name was born.

Now, that winery is one of the many striving to make wine unique to Prince Edward County’s terroir. Gallagher, who worked as a chartered accountant in Toronto for 30 years before deciding to try his hand at winemaking, planted his first vines in May 2005 and now has 16 acres of vinifera. “I had to get away and go play in the dirt,” he says with a chuckle of his winemaking adventures.

And winemaking has, in many ways, been a life saver that goes beyond grapevines stopping a tractor from tipping. Gallagher had a stroke in 1998, followed by open heart surgery and several heart attacks. He turned to the farm in PEC to get his strength back and regain his vocabulary. Working the land, he got back strength in his arms and legs and now speaks without issue.

When Shawn and I visited, late last year, we were impressed by the lovely old barn that Gallagher and his wife, Jennifer, have turned into the winery and tasting room. It was a cold, drafty day, but they had blankets to throw over our legs while we tasted and the atmosphere was rustic and pretty. I imagine it would be a beautiful place to spend a warm, summer day.

While still a work in progress, it is filled with Gallagher’s tasteful antiques and a warm, cozy vibe. That feeling is reflected in the wines, which are all hand-crafted with everything from bottling, labeling and corking done by hand.

“Our philosophy has been to start slowly,” Gallagher tells me, “First we had to see if we could grow grapes, then we started to make wines and our first really significant vintage will be 2012, which we’re hoping to release this month. We have Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir that’s all VQA and PEC grapes. I’m very pleased with them. We’ll have 250 to 300 cases of Pinot Noir, which is a long way from the 25 cases we had the first year.”

Gallagher would like Devil’s Wishbone to maintain boutique winery status, growing slowly and keeping the focus on quality over quantity. Their wines are unique to the terroir and filtered less vigorously than some – an interesting stylistic choice that helps them stand out. Their limited production and a bit of bad luck in terms of last year’s very wet weather means they do still source grapes from Niagara for certain wines, but Gallagher is hopeful that this year will yield more local grapes. His preference would be to use all PEC in his entire line of wines, but points out that winemaking is a business fully dependent on the weather.

While they are all sold out of their back vintages, you can check out some of Devil’s Wishbone’s recent releases at Terroir in PEC on Saturday, May 3, 2014. The annual event is one Gallagher highly recommends and always enjoys, as it’s a chance to sample what his neighbours are doing. “We have an immensely significant situation in PEC because eighty to ninety percent of the winemakers are friendly with each other. We all share how we do this and I like the fact that I can go over to Half Moon Bay, Lighthall, Hillier, Harwood, Karlo and they all just want to talk about what we’re doing – we’re even exchanging equipment back and forth. In this area, it’s up to us to form our group and I think it’s important for every winery to be at Terroir and use this as a celebratory time to show our releases.”

If you can’t make it out to the County on the 3rd, Devil’s Wishbone wines are available at the winery. Check out their website for more information: http://www.devilswishbone.com/

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Creekside Estate Winery Vertical Tastings - Part One

Recently, I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do vertical tastings (a chronological tasting of back vintages through to current vintages) of several Creekside Estate Winery wines. The first opportunity was one I really just stumbled upon – I was in the area for the Niagara Icewine Festival and popped into the winery – where they happened to have just opened back vintages for a restaurant buyer. The second opportunity was definitely planned – Creekside sold several bottles of their incredible Lost Barrel back vintages and our friend in wine Gary Killops purchased a case of four. We decided to split the cost and have a tasting with a group of dedicated Ontario wine lovers. There is so much to say about these two tastings, that I've decided to break this into two posts.

Doing a vertical tasting is such an important part of learning about wine. It's fascinating how the same grapes, grown in the same location by the same people can taste so different from one vintage to the next. Weather plays a huge part and it’s so interesting to see how a cold winter or a hot summer can change the colour, taste and structure of a wine.

Creekside’s Matt Loney walked me through the first tasting of 2005 Broken Press Syrah, which was from a year where a lot of crops were lost because of the harsh winter (a worry winemakers across Ontario are currently grappling with). The summer of 2005 was also very dry, so many of the grapes were overripe and there were issues with tannin. Matt told us this was a year when there wasn’t much wine produced because of the weather. The 2005 Broken Press Syrah was aging well despite these obstacles, with a very fruit forward nose, nice acidity and tannin and a beautiful deep purple colour. It was, as I noted, also absolutely delicious.

In comparison, the 2006 Broken Press Shiraz, which was from a cold, wet year, was very different. It was also holding up well, but with much less fruit on the nose – I got baked plum, currant and smoky meat. There was still good structure and nice mouth feel, but in a blind tasting I would have guessed it was the older of the two wines. For me, it was helpful to see just how different the two wines turned out, mainly based on the affect of weather.

The 2010 Broken Press Syrah was a very young wine in comparison. It had huge notes of pepper on the nose and all the hallmarks of a classic Syrah. It was fresh, vibrant and tannic – a perfect companion for red meat. It still needs some age on it, but it was quite drinkable even in its youth. I’m looking forward to tasting this one again in a few years to see how it compares to the previous vintages.

Next up, we tasted the 2004, 2005 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons.  The 2004 was holding up very well with beautiful fruit on the nose, nice acid and full body. This had won the Best Cabernet Sauvignon at the Canadian Wine Awards when it was released and it was good to see how well it had aged. The 2005, which was from the drought year, was still very tannic and hot on the nose. It had pepper notes on the finish and is another wine that would have been good with a steak dinner. Tasting it side by side with the 2004 was intriguing, as they were just so different. In contrast, the 2010 was still very young and vibrant with mouth-coating tannin, big flavours and floral notes on the nose. I liked it now, but think I will love it in a few years.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to try these wines. A huge thanks to Matt at Creekside for this opportunity. Next week, I'll write about our amazing Lost Barrel vertical tasting, so stay tuned.

For more information on Creekside Estate Winery: http://www.creeksidewine.com/

Monday, March 3, 2014

VQA Promoters Award

Shawn accepting his award. Photo by Rick VanSickle
The VQA Promoters Award is given out every year by Brock University “to acknowledge those individuals who celebrate the Ontario VQA wine industry with unselfish enthusiasm, constructive input, and unsolicited promotion.” I am thrilled to report that Shawn McCormick, blogger at Uncork Ontario, was this year’s winner in the Promoter-at-Large category. The award was given out this past weekend during Cuvée in Niagara at the Experts Panel.

For people in the very passionate online Ontario wine community, this was no surprise. Shawn is much more than just a blogger – he has created an amazing Ontario winery app, Tweets regularly about Ontario wine, launched and co-hosts #ONWineChat on Twitter (Wednesdays at 10pm ET) and is one of the two masterminds behind The Great Canadian Wine Challenge. And he has done all of this because promoting Ontario and Canadian wine is his passion. He manages to do it all while working full time in the non-wine world and taking evening wine classes – he makes me feel like a slacker every time we chat!

One of the many things that makes Shawn so special and so very deserving of this honour is that he’s such an incredible booster of the Ontario wine community. When I became interested in wine, he was one of the first people it was suggested I get in touch with. I reached out to him on Twitter and he was so welcoming. He, along with great Ontario wine lovers like Paul Dearborn, Rick Bates, Rick VanSickle and many others, invited me into their world with open arms and open bottles. When I started blogging about wine – mainly Ontario wines – Shawn could have told me to back off his territory. Instead, he re-tweeted my links, sent me lists of places I should consider visiting and writing about and talked me up to the rest of the Ontario wine community. He embraces the idea that we can all work together to spread the word about the wines we love.

I wanted to share with everyone who reads this blog just what a great person and VQA promoter Shawn truly is. Ontario wine is lucky to have such a staunch advocate and community builder and I am lucky to have him as a mentor and friend.

Cheers and congrats to Shawn!

Please take a moment to check out Shawn’s blog here: http://uncorkontario.com/

And if you’re interested in learning more about Ontario wine, join us on Twitter for #ONWineChat Wednesday evenings at 10pm ET – everyone is welcome!

Thanks to Rick VanSickle, Publisher of www.WinesInNiagara.com and another amazing VQA supporter and community builder for allowing me to share his photo of Shawn’s win on this post.