Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Years ago when we spent Christmas with our friends John, the wine merchant, and Fong in a log cabin in Vermont, each day we took turns to cater for the group.  That included food and wine.  On our turn we bought 2 jugs of Sebastiani wine, one white and one red, for the simple reason each jug had a finger handle you could swing the jug on for easier drinking.  This was in the days when California wine was viewed with disdain and Sebastiani's finest was not really that fine.  These days of course things have changed but our reputation with John was shot from that moment on.  Never again would we be able to bring a bottle of wine over to his house when invited to dinner.

Time has moved on and we are still friends but the reputation lingers so each time we unveil a new 'discovery' John adopts a world weary expression as he carefully sips.  This time though we've found something special!!

VQA is the Ontario equivalent to Appelation Controllee in France -- a basis by which wine is graded.  Anything graded VQA has to have contents in approved levels for preservatives, grape varietals, etc, so its a big thing for Niagara on the Lake (NOTL) wineries.

The first thing you see when you hit wine country Ontario... grape vines

The tour Viv booked took us first to Pondview Winery (www.pondviewwinery.com).  This is a fairly new winery like many in the region and specializes in whites.  The tasting took in Rose and Riesling/Gewurtztraminer blends which were stand outs for us.

The tour guide described the fields and showed us each grape varietal on the vine.  Its a short season due to the weather so the grapes were pretty young on the vine.

Tiny seedlings in June, these things grow to the luscious fruit you see in a couple of months

The NOTL region fortunately is dry and with the Niagara Escarpment blocking some of the colder winds, the area is ideal for wine growing.  The same escarpment stops some of the really cold winds coming in but enables grapes to be picked in January each year when they are shriveled and basically 100% sugar juice, just ideal for ice wine in fact.  This region is renowned for it.

Each field has a very curious windmill sticking up.  Apparently these things when turned on drag heat down in particularly cold weather thereby saving the grapes which otherwise would be turned to little green rocks.  However they make a huge noise and are very expensive to run so no winery wants to run them and no neighbor wants to be near them.  But they are there... and so are the neighbors.

The neighbors are currently grinning and bearing it

Pondview gave us a nice appetizer with our tasting, the local cheese, Niagara Gold, a hard cheese, being particularly nice.

The couple to the right are ex-Bermuda folk on their honeymoon.  Who'd have thought it?

Next up was Hinterbrook. "Located on the rich shoreline soils of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation, Hinterbrook crafts great quality wines with an emphasis on environmental stewardship.  A 10 kilowatt solar panel generates enough electricity to replace the winery's power needs throughout the year".  Very impressive actually.  The guide chatted whilst the very large panel whirred and clanked and shifted direction every few minutes to attract the optimum level of solar energy.  He also said they were net subscribers to the power grid which for a high tech (eco-friendly stuff aside) winery I thought was pretty darned impressive.

I enjoyed the pinot and Riesling particularly (www.hinterbrook.com).

Final visit was the red roofed Pilliterri Estates Winery (www.pilliterri.com), the largest estate producer of Icewine (has to be spelled in one word with a capital 'I' otherwise its a fake, apparently) in Canada exporting to 30+ countries.  Unlike the others Mr. P has been doing this since 1993 so is long standing by comparison.  The facility is pretty impressive as it clearly has benefited from longish patronage.

The family cart...

Mr. P himself comes from Sicily where the concept of the cart is ingrained but these days hideously expensive to recreate.  Having recently seen immense numbers of these in Costa Rica I wondered if they'd thought about looking elsewhere.  However the young man who did the intro's hadn't heard of Costa Rica and looked at me in a fairly bemused fashion when I mentioned it.

But Pilleterri is famous correctly for Icewine which was incredibly fantastic as was the Pinot Gris, the wine of the year.  It was just lovely and I hope that you know who (from the start of this blog) agrees.

The 2nd longest concrete table...

Being Italian of course this family is ... what's the word... 'patso'. They created a cellar with a 50 foot long concrete table in it (poured in the cellar so it cannot possibly be moved) along with individually designed metal chairs dangling from the wall representing the 9 people in the family, the 4 children and the 17 grandchildren .... each chair designed slightly differently to represent each person.  What do poor people do to celebrate family I wonder?

This table used to be the biggest single pour concrete table but in a quirk of fate some competitor poured one 4 inches longer so this ridiculous thing is only the 2nd longest single pour concrete table in the world (like who cares?).  That said the wines were really, really nice and the piece de resistance was the bubbly red Icewine which we decided we'd wow John with when served inside chocolate shooter glasses that Pondview sold ... and which you'd eat when you'd finished the shot.

Take that!!

Bubbly red Icewine.

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