You get the sense that Nicolette Novak (above), proprietor and “Facilitator of Fun” at Beamsville’s Good Earth Food and Wine Co., is finally enjoying all the hard work she has put into building a business that is the perfect fusion of food and wine.
On this day, in early December, her quaint and comfortable bistro is packed, just like it is all year round, and especially when the doors open onto the airy terrace and patio that overlook the estate vineyards and lush gardens. The aromas coming from the kitchen are exquisite, a cacophony of spices, herbs and earthy goodness that fill the small space. There is hearty laughter and lively discussion from all corners of the room and more than a few clinking of wine glasses full of various Good Earth wines.
This has always been Novak’s dream since she opened her Niagara farm and home to guests in 1998.
The Good Earth has been a haven for discerning food and wine lovers with the gardens, orchards and vineyards providing a spectacular backdrop for wine and culinary experiences that reflect all the good things the good earth has to offer. Just like the Beach Boys song, below, says: there are a lot of good vibrations here.
The culinary aspects of The Good Earth — the bistro, with an ever-changing menu using (where possible) the freshest local ingredients, under the guidance of executive chef Therese De Grace, and cooking school run by Novak and special guests — have always been the driving force behind the guest experience. But Novak has worked hard to make the wine program an equal partner in the venture.
“We’re back to where we need to be,” the feisty owner says as we chow down to a feast of broccoli soup, Szechuan shrimp and calamari with red chilli sauce and tangled sprout salad, Moroccan stew and a gorgeous trout dish (shown below in that order). “We’re making good wine, serious wine. It’s nice to finally have the wine recognized.”
Novak wants food and wine to work harmoniously at Good Earth and she has felt that, in the past, people came for the food and the wine played second fiddle.
“It’s refreshing to not be just ‘that lunch place,’ ” she says. “As an owner it’s refreshing to have people want to taste the wine, not forced to taste the wine.”
Novak gives a lot of the credit for the success of the wines to winemaker Ross Wise (below).
Hailing from the south of New Zealand, Ross is not only highly skilled in the art and science of viticulture, he’s also professionally trained at the stove, and has worked at one of NZ’s top breweries. Unofficially involved since 2009, he now shares his passion for good food, good wine and good fun with Good Earth more regularly. Ross has worn many hats in Niagara and Prince Edward County and added to his rather long list of responsibilities is the incredibly difficult Masters of Wine program he has embarked on.
The strength of the wine program at Good Earth has always been well-made and affordable Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Rose. Ross subscribes to a low alcohol and restrained style of winemaking that works well with the food prepared by the bistro staff.
He’s introduced a Syrah and Viognier to the portfolio and plans on bottling a Pinot Grigio from the 2015 harvest. “We can get geeky,” says Wise, “but not too geeky.”
In all, eight wines will be bottled from the current harvest for a total case production up to 3,000. The goal, says Novak, is to reach up to 5,000 cases of wine annually.
“It’s the challenge of selling it. We need the confidence that we can sell it.”
Here’s what I can recommend from the tasting at Good Earth:
The Good Wine Betty’s Blend 2014 ($18, 88 points) — The Betty’s Blend combines Riesling, Gewurztraminer and a pinch of Chardonnay for an aromatic nose of peach, sweet citrus, grapefruit, and a touch of lychee, rose petals and tropical fruits. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate but well balanced with crisp citrus notes, lime, grapefruit and stone fruit that is relatively dry through the finish.
The Good Wine Viognier 2013 ($25, 90 points) — This Viognier was barrel fermented with a small portion aged in oak for 10 months, but it still maintains a fresh and vibrant nose of citrus, peach, apricot and subtle spice notes. There is a creamy texture on the palate but balanced out by refreshing acidity to go with citrus, tangerine, apricot and peach flavours with a spicy note on the finish.
The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012 ($22, 91 points) — Perhaps the biggest CF made at Good Earth, taking the ripeness of the 2012 vintage and applying a healthy 18 months of aging in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. Such a lovely and balanced approach to this Niagara stalwart, with a nose of fresh-crushed raspberry and cherry fruit, currants, integrated herbs, tobacco and spice. It’s spicy on the palate with full-throttle red and dark fruits to go with tar, herbs and cocoa accents all delivered on a bed of ripe tannins. This has the structure and vitality to age for at least a few more years. Cab Franc done right. I also tried the 2013 version of the Cab Franc (spring release) that was made with less new oak in a finessed style with bright red berries, spice and integrated herbs. It has less power and more finesse than the 2012 version and is perfectly balanced between the fruit and oak spices.
The Good Wine Big Fork Red 2014 (tank sample) — The Big Fork is the estate’s red blend, combining Pinot Noir, Syrah and Gamay that “found a following immediately,” says Novak. It shows a nose of dark cherry, cassis, earth, cocoa powder and spice. It’s bright and bold on the palate with an array of berry fruit that’s balanced and delicious through the finish.
The Good Wine Syrah 2013 ($30, 91 points) — Sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench, this Syrah was aged in French oak (20% new) for 15 months before being filtered and bottled. The nose shows a classic Northern Rhone style with smoky bacon fat, oak spice, boysenberry, currants, blueberry and pepper notes. It pops on the palate and is lifted by that racy Niagara acidity that highlights smoky red fruits, cracked peppercorns, sage and rousing spice notes. Syrah lovers will dig this wine.