Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Now For Something NEW!

To say that Prince Edward County is a “hopping place” might be a bit of an understatement – and the growth is in more than just hospitality fields. The Economic Development Office for Prince Edward County always seems to have something on the go and they are constantly on the move. If you want to see what I mean, follow @CreativeDanT and @CreativeKarinD on Twitter – they are constantly up to something…and in a very positive way for Prince Edward County. When I asked Dan last week how many wineries were opening between now and the end of the year in Prince Edward County, his quick count came up with between six and eight new wineries opening bringing the total number of wineries to around thirty or slightly more. That means that, in the four short years since Prince Edward County received official DVA (Designated Viticultural Area) status from the Province of Ontario, they have more than doubled the total number of wineries found in the previous DVA to receive status – Lake Erie North Shore.

So, on Monday, June 21st, I decided to make a trip out to Prince Edward County. Now, I have done this trip many times in the past but my focus that day was slightly different. I did have a couple of stops I had to include – like buying a case of Pinot Noir from my friends at Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery which was definitely a happy necessity – but my plan was that I needed to stop and check out some of those six to eight wineries that have opened already this summer. My first stop was at Hillier Creek Estates on Stapleton Road – a winery I have been watching transform over the years. In the Fall of 2000, Amber and Kemp Stewart purchased the property that is now Hillier Creek Estates. Though the property had not been inhabited for 15 years, the land had quite a bit of history, tracing its roots to the Loyalist days of the County. The barn, now used as our winery, cellar, and tasting room, outdates us all. Estimated to be over 150 years old, the original barn was built directly on the ground. After its purchase by the current owners, it was necessary to raise the barn in order to complete renovation and restoration. A cribbing system was used to hold and suspend the barn, alternating timbers four inches at a time. Upon raising the barn, it was discovered that there were two underground streams, which necessitated the building of a 9000-gallon cistern below the patio. The finished foundation stabilized the structure in 2008, and the barn was completed in 2009. Their winemaker is Lauren Horlock and I remember her work from her days at Oak Heights Estate Winery and it was Lauren who took me through the portion of Hillier Creek’s portfolio that uses either estate or Prince Edward County fruit. Eventually, Lauren hopes they will be 100% estate or County fruit but for a few more years at least, they will have to bring in certain varietals from other areas in the province – namely the Vidal grapes for their award winning Icewine. Of the four wines I tasted – Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir – three of them were made up of 100% estate fruit. What that means is that the all of the grapes that went into the Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been grown on the lands that the winery owns. The grapes for the Gamay are 100% Prince Edward County fruit so those grapes came from elsewhere in The County. While I enjoyed all of these wines, there were two that I was particularly drawn to – the Chardonnay, which is not an easy task for any winemaker when it comes to my palate, and the Gamay. The Chardonnay was made from 100% estate fruit, and you could see the very vines that were used as you looked out onto the patio from the tasting bar. Aromas of apple, melon and just a touch of strawberry – which was the part that surprised me, but, yes, Strawberry. The palate was a continuation of the very same aromas which made it less than a typical Chardonnay. It had great balance, lovely acidity and a unique finish which is rather refreshing in a region that is rapidly become as known for its Chardonnay’s as it is for its Pinot Noir’s. On the other end of the scale was a very unique Gamay Noir and it was that uniqueness that drew me to it. Gamay Noir is typically one of the lightest wines made in North America and it can be rather one dimensional with simply fruit flavours. While that can be quite enjoyable when you want an uncomplicated wine on a summer afternoon, it is nice to see a winemaker try to stretch their wings with this grape and add some extra dimensions to what is in the bottle. Now, to understand where this wine’s uniqueness comes from, you need to first know that for their Pinot Noir, Lauren wanted to use a couple of Canadian Oak barrels made in Prince Edward County. Now, Canadian Oak, for those who are not familiar with it, is the same type of tree as American Oak – it basically comes down to the geographical differences. In general, American Oak can be a heavier type of wood than the wood used in French oak barrels (or European Oak barrels in general) so when new barrels are purchased, depending on the grape, some winemakers may choose to initially put a different wine into the barrel to soften it before putting the originally intended wine in. Pinot Noir is definitely one of those grapes so, in this particular case, Lauren decided to put the Gamay into the Canadian Oak barrels – which were made locally in Prince Edward County as well – for two months to soften the barrels before putting the Pinot Noir in for aging. The resulting differences with the Gamay Noir were quite astounding and it made for one of the most interesting Gamay’s I have ever had made by any winery in this province. There were the typical aromas of cherry and cranberry but there was a distinctive peppery note to the nose. There was also added complexity to the fruit flavours in this wine and a slightly lingering finish which made this wine quite lovely.

My next stop was at Karlo Estates – a place I have visited before, while they were under construction – but this was the first time I had been there since they opened to the public. Richard Karlo is rapidly getting the distinction of being a “Maverick” in the Prince Edward County wine scene and with twenty plus years of experience under his belt as well as awards in every competition he has entered in the past twenty plus years, you know that you are bound to get some amazing wines when you step into the barn at Karlo Estates. On this wonderful sunny Monday morning, as I walked into the barn, Sherry was there to greet me as she was setting up some nibblies to enjoy with the wine. Richard makes wine in a very food friendly style so to show the wines to their best, they take great pride in pairing them with a variety of cheeses, crackers and nuts. First wine up was their 2008 Chardonnay which was made from 100% County fruit. This wine was barrel fermented in French oak and then transferred to County Oak, made by Carriage House Cooperage, for four months before bottling. The wine has this lovely golden yellow colour and the aromatics were an understated medley of apple, pear and a little bit of citrus. The understated aromatics are made up for with a lively, crisp, clean citrus palate and just enough of a lingering finish. Next we moved on to their 2008 Frontenac Gris which was made in a Rose style from grapes (Frontenac Gris) that were developed in Quebec to withstand temperatures of -40°C. Having grapes like this planted in a Prince Edward County vineyard means that you do not have to hill them up in the fall to prevent frost damage and winter kill unlike a lot of the other grapes that are planted here. There is an amber, almost copper colour to this wine and aromas that actually remind me of a young Madeira – caramel, grapefruit and slight vanilla. The palate is very fruit forward with just a touch of sweetness and it finishes off with a flourish of key lime. We paired this up with La Rumeur, which is a double cream French Brie – YUM!

Our next step were Richard’s much anticipated red wines – Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a Bordeaux blend which has yet to be released. The 2008 Malbec has a lovely purply red colour and dark fruit with a hit of spice, vanilla and cedar on the nose. This wine has a medium mouthfeel, with flavours of dark fruit, cedar and spice. There are smooth tannins and excellent balance and this wine is a great accompaniment to Asiago cheese, and not so bad with Cheddar cheese. The 2008 Cabernet Franc was made using fruit from the same vineyard on Wilson Road that Richard used for his 2008 Chardonnay. In both the aromas and the flavours, there is lots of dark fruit with hints of floral and chocolate. There is a big mouthfeel to this wine – in face, even before you take that first sip you can taste the flavours of fruit, spice, violets and a nice string of acidity up the sides of your tongue. This wine paired wonderfully with spicy salami and old cheddar. The next wine up was the 2008 Merlot which actually spent an extra six weeks on the vine past the “normal” picking time making even the seeds riper. As a result, this wine had an almost chocolate brown colour with a garnet ruby hue to it with aromas of earth and tobacco. There was a great big, mouthfeel to this wine and it paired amazingly with both Kalamata Olives and Cheddar Cheese. Now, our final red wine of the tasting is something extra special – and Richard has yet to release this so, when he does, make sure to get your hands on this. They are calling the wine Quintas and it is a Bordeaux blend of five grapes. It is a 50/50 blend of Niagara and Prince Edward County fruit with the following breakdown – Cabernet Franc from Prince Edward County and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petite Sirah from Niagara. It has this captivating purply red colour with an inky black hue and there is a real complexity to the aromas but without any one aroma being overpowering. The aromas of floral, dark fruit, tobacco, earthiness and a hint of chocolate translate on to the palate seamlessly where it shows a great balance of acidity and flavours. Now, some people wonder why Richard chose to use grapes from Niagara and not concentrate on Prince Edward County fruit – or even fruit from his own estate. To understand the rationale behind his decision, you need to understand that Richard and Sherry are firm believers and supporters of abolishing the Cellared in Canada wine system that currently exists in Ontario and British Columbia. If you are on Facebook, Sherry created a group a couple of years ago called Boycott Cellared in Canada Wines and, with over 1300 members currently, this has rapidly become one of the largest voices on this subject. Unfortunately, even with our voices, grape growers in Niagara are still having to let a lot of their grapes fall because they are not able to get contracts for them. So, Richard and Sherry came up with a plan – help out some of those grape growers by buying their grapes and making a very traditional Bordeaux blend using the five grape blend instead of the regular three. Boy, are we ever glad Richard came up with this plan and, when he is ready to release this wine, there will be a great many people who will be equally happy to get their hands on this blend.

Now, that is not the end to this story – we still have dessert to enjoy. Two wines – one from Frontenac Gris grapes and one from Frontenac Noir. Both equally delicious and both are going to make people stand up and take notice. Now, the 2008 Frontenac Gris Dessert wine is one I would highly recommend any person try who regularly says “I don’t like sweet wines”. This wine is made from 100% estate grown fruit and it is not your typical dessert wine. It has an almost smoky aroma accompanied by aromas of persimmons, apricot and cinnamon. The palate is very expressive and just when you think it is about to become sickly sweet, the acidity kicks in and brings it right back to a crisp clean finish. This wine was great with soft cheeses but it would do just as well on its own. Now comes the final wine – Richard’s Frontenac Noir 2008 Tawny Port Style. Believe me when I say that if you are even remotely interested in Port or Port Style wines, you need to get on Richard’s reservation list for this wine. Sherry indicated that Richard is contemplating the idea of doing a Port program – the only one in Prince Edward County and possibly all of Ontario – and, if he does, what a treat that will be for wine lovers in Ontario. This particular Port style wine, which Sherry took my picture of while enjoying a glass of it, had this amazing nutty nose with hints of chocolate, caramel and floral. The palate was silky smooth with a slightly nutty character and it paired beautifully with walnuts and cheddar cheese.

As much as I would have loved to stay the entire afternoon with Sherry and Richard, I did have two more stops I had to make before heading back home. My next stop was at The Old Third Vineyard who specializes solely in Pinot Noir. They are currently pouring their 2008 vintage and right from the second the wine hit my glass, I was captivated. The colour is this delightful brick red but with a slight hint of orange to it. The aromas were very fruity with just a hint of spice while the palate was very fruit forward with tons of complexity in the mid to back palate and into the finish. There was just a touch of oak to this wine and Bruno revealed to me that only 20% of his barrels are new French Oak so the wine does not become overpowered with oak aging. The part I love the most about this particular wine is the string of spicy acidity that weaves its way through this wine right to the lingering finish. Now, Bruno also gave me a sneak peak at the 2009 vintage which is shaping up to be just as delicious as the 2008 vintage and a special treat – a dessert style Pinot Noir. He will not be releasing either for a while but, when he does, get some quick because they will not stick around on his shelves for any length of time.

My final stop was more for picking up wine then trying anything new but I would hate it if any of you – my loyal readers – were to miss out on this so I am adding in my personal recommendation on this winery. I have been here many times before – I have even helped harvest their grapes with hands that have gone almost black from the Baco Noir juice. Today, I was on a mission, for my guy just as much as myself, to pick up a case of the as yet unreleased 2008 Pinot Noir from Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery. Instead of trying any at the tasting bar I waited until I was home with my guy and we cracked open the first bottle from that case. Aromas of chocolate and cherries and leather and just a hint of smoke poured out from the bottle. The palate is very fruit forward but it is balanced out with just a touch of oak. The firm tannins on the finish shows that this wine, while drinking really great now, will definitely reward if you want to put this down for a couple of years.

So, the next time you want to take a road trip – or have a weekend away - and try some of Ontario’s great local wineries, take a look at Prince Edward County. With all of their wineries, plus the other small business opening up, this is an area that is hip and happening and full of delicious little goodies to tempt your palate with. Cheers,
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