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Oh, the things that arrive in my inbox and news feed. Crazy things, cool things, weird things. It’s only fair to share with you.

In today’s post we’ll cover the not-too-bright idea from the LCBO to open an alcohol-free pop-up bar, three more takes on Niagara’s bad boy Francois Morissette, wines from Winterfell (sort of), Grape Growers of Ontario up their game, Tinhorn Creek’s CEO Sandra Oldfield lauded and B.C.’s JoieFarm. Buckle up, read on …

You sell booze, not mocktails, LCBO

The LCBO — the government’s monopolistic booze retailer — opened a pop-up bar Thursday night in downtown Toronto. I didn’t go. You see, in perhaps the mother of all ironies, the purveyor of all things alcohol wasn’t actually serving alcohol, it was all about the “mocktails” — a promotion for responsible drinking as we hurtle head-long into the holiday drinking season.

The pop-up, called Bar Zero, was just one facet of a $1.5-million campaign (that’s money that could — and should — be going into government coffers to off-set that nearly $6 billion deficit) that includes a TV commercial, digital and social media ads, and in-store signage to promote non-alcohol drinks.

It’s the height of hypocrisy.

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The pop-up’s non-alcohol drinks were created by BarChef’s Frankie Solarik and paired with food by Buca’s Rob Gentile with tunes by London-based DJ FeelgoodSmalls.

There was no mention if the 80-page LCBO “Let’s Get Together” full-colour Christmas brochure or the 262 (yes, two hundred and sixty two) page LCBO Food and Drink Holiday issue would be given out at the event. Because, well, that would be unseemly, wouldn’t it. And rather awkward.

1447188171759We have a confusing situation here. Mega-LCBO-Vintages stores entice drinkers to buy! buy! buy! for the holidays with slick advertising in magazines, the promise of even more AirMiles points with the more you purchase, endless Christmas music blaring in the aisles, shiny bows on expensive bottles of booze and a whole orgy of Christmas over-consumption vibe happening on the one hand. But on some lonely street corner in Toronto, the LCBO seems to want to convince consumers there is a better way — they want you to dare dream about a boozeless Christmas.

I get it. Either indirectly or directly, every drunk driving accident, every rowdy bar fight, every puking university student on a Friday night, every booze-fuelled inappropriate tweet has a link back to the LCBO. It is the source of pretty much all the alcohol purchased or served in Ontario.

It can’t control how people use alcohol or abuse it, but to offer up a feeble attempt at a conscience for what they truly are — the enablers of all things booze. A pop-up isn’t going to change that any time soon. So quit blowing our province’s money on stupid things.

Pearl Morissette wines: The attention getter

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The bad boy of Ontario winemaking, Francois Morissette of the Niagara winery Pearl Morissette, has attracted plenty of attention recently for his irreverent ways.

First it was the Toronto Star’s Carolyn Evans Hammond’s piece entitled “Pearl Morissette: a maverick winery on a mission to find Ontario’s truest tastes.”

Not entirely sure what that means, and it touched on the old theme (tired?) of being black-balled by VQA over the “atypical” Riesling Morissette makes that has been rejected more times than accepted. Probably the best thing that ever happened to a winery.

Not a lot new here, but the author didn’t seem pleased that Morissette wouldn’t smile during her visit to the farm.

A meatier story, with the headline “Unfiltered,” in the Globe and Mail delved much deeper into what makes Morissette tick, but again goes mining in the oft-travelled milieu of the Black Ball Riesling and the maverick choices the winery makes.

And fruit flies. The author equated fruit flies in the winery to an unkempt environment for making the kind of wine which Morissette champions — wines that are wild and free and just a little bit dirty.

14018768000_f262eeb7aaBut, really, I visit a lot of wineries during harvest, and fruit flies are a fact of life, whether you’re Francois Morissette or not. They do not equate to a more natural way of making wine, they are there because they like fruit and grapes are fruit and they are fruit flies. Get it?

And finally, while we’re on the topic of the disenfranchised, you might want to check out the new Foodism Toronto piece by Mike Di Caro called The Grape Revolution.

Di Caro combines both The Old Third, a wonderful Pinot producer in Prince Edward County that stood up to VQA over use of the term Prince Edward County, and Pearl Morissette’s concern with VQA tasting panels. The piece, which is beautifully illustrated in the online package, covers all the bases in a thoughtful, detailed report that includes comments from VQA.

For reference on the actual birth of the debate over Morissette’s fight with VQA, Wines In Niagara first reported about this in May 2014. Click here for a history lesson.

Want a taste of Morissette’s wines? His excellent 2012 Cabernet Franc makes an appearance in the December Classics Collection (a bit of a rarity for a Canadian wine to be included in the Classics) with ordering beginning Thursday online here.

Here’s my review

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeleine 2012 ($44, 93 points) — Morissette may be exaggerating a touch when he says this vintage of his head-turning Cab Franc has the potential to age for 40 years, but he may not be far off. What a beauty! Pretty notes of black cherry, crunchy raspberry, cassis and subtle, ingrained barrel spice. It is seductive, enthralling, in fact, on the palate, with a richness that is hard to describe. Such depth to the cherry, anise and smoky spices with a firm bed of tannins and luxurious feel through the long, silky finish.

Winterfell wine?

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I love the series, it’s a nice bit of escapism and fantasy-come-to-life on the small screen, but do we need a Game of Thrones-themed wine?

California-based wine company Vintage Wine Estates and HBO have teamed up to bring Seven Kingdoms Wines to shelves in the U.S. in March.

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There will be three wines in the series, a red blend, a Chardonnay (both around $20) with a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at about twice that. There are plans to try and export the wine to Ontario.

It’s all rather silly. But if consumers want to act like the drunken Tyrion Lannister, one of the main characters in Thrones, with a pretend brand of Winterfell wines well, then, this wine is for you.

Grape Growers of Ontario up their wine game

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I don’t know what’s going with the Grape Growers of Ontario but they sure have upped their game in the last little while with some pretty smart social media savvy.

The newest campaign drives consumers to their website in a series of seasonal videos that highlight the labour of love that goes into producing high quality wine grapes.
“The online videos help consumers to feel a sense of the devotion that our grape growers have to nurturing flavourful grapes that turn into exceptional Ontario wine,” says Debbie Zimmerman, CEO Grape Growers of Ontario.

“There’s a special feeling that comes with opening a bottle of wine crafted from grapes grown in your own backyard.”
Check them out the videos and more here.

Tinhorn Creek’s trailblazer Sandra Oldfield

sandra-oldfield-550x686It comes as no surprise to me that the Okanagan Valley’s Sandra Oldfield, CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has been named as a Top 100 award winner in the Sun Life Financial Trailblazers & Trendsetters category of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2016 Canada’s Most Powerful Women.

Oldfield was honoured at an evening awards gala at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this past Thursday.

Founded in 1997, WXN is Canada’s leading organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in management, executive, professional and board roles.

“I’m honoured to be recognized as a trailblazer and have the opportunity, as a female CEO in the wine industry, to act as a role model for younger generations and my peers,” said Oldfield. “At Tinhorn Creek we strive to be at the forefront of the industry; pushing boundaries and setting trends to promote Canadian wine.”

Oldfield’s award recognizes her trailblazing in the wine industry, having been one of the few B.C. female winemakers when Tinhorn Creek Vineyards opened over 20 years ago and now one of the few female CEOs in the Canadian wine industry.

Oldfield spearheaded the establishment of B.C.’s first wine-growing sub-appellation, the Golden Mile Bench, and has kept Tinhorn at the forefront of the industry by making them the first winery in Canada to move their entire production to screw top closures rather than corks in 2003 and starting the province’s first wine club, shipping wine direct to consumers.

In 2009 Oldfield tackled sustainability when Tinhorn Creek became Canada’s only carbon neutral winery and perhaps the achievement closest to her heart has been the implementation of the most rigorous Health and Safety program of any winery in B.C. and achieving Canada’s Safest Employers Award, for outstanding accomplishments in promoting the health and safety of workers.

Oldfield’s advocacy work promoting Canadian wines to Canadians has garnered the attention of national press through her political acts highlighting problems with access to wine and campaigning for clearer labelling of grape origins.

Since 2011 Oldfield has combined her love for wine, the wine industry and social media to being a weekly online discussion on twitter called #BCWineChat to bring together consumers, wineries, retailers and restaurants on specific topics of exploration weekly.

Oh, Joie

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Another Okanagan winery is in the news. JoieFarm announced this fall that their tasting room and farmhouse were demolished to make way for a new facility to rise in early 2017.

“After opening the doors, once again, to the public in 2015, we were overwhelmed with community support for our farmhouse tasting room,” owner Heidi Noble said.

“Our mission was simple: to create the most authentic wine tasting experience for guests not only seeking to try our wines, but to see where Joie wines are grown and made, and experience the culture of how we would like to present them.”

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The farmhouse will once again undergo reconstruction, marking a unique opportunity to re-state the purpose and goal that JoieFarm has set out to pursue.

The new facility will include:

Optimized views of Lake Okanagan from the grassy picnic lawn while preserving the charm of lounging beneath the same heritage orchard trees;
A larger tasting bar allowing greater movement and flow for guests and the Joie team;
More spaces for visitors to enjoy Joie including an outdoor bar and private tasting room;
An optimized outdoor kitchen and wood-fired oven;
The goal is to be a leader in the pursuit of authentic wine country tourism. The new building embodies local rural architecture, efficient functionality, and maintains the charm of hospitality on a working farm.