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Enter the Dragan, more beer/wine for Niagara; plus the bizarre hypocrisy of LCBO’s social responsibility policy

Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

As Niagara continues to diversify with more and more layers of deliciousness from wine to cider to beer and spirits to a growing legion of chef-inspired restaurants, the trend as of late has been to combine forces.

Tawse recently added spirits to its core wine business that already has a couple of ciders in the portfolio. Fielding winery is now making a delicious cider that fits nicely with its core brand. In fact, several wineries now include some sort of cider on their shelves — Ravine has three of them, and Angels Gate has a standalone cider brand called North Cider.

Note: Also in the this report, the bizarre hypocrisy of the LCBO’s social responsibility policy.

There’s also been a trend toward collaboration: West Avenue Cider relies heavily on Niagara oak barrels for many of its ciders; Oast House Brewers has always partnered with Niagara fruit farmers for its seasonal brews; and the new Bench Brewery looks to the vineyard across the street for such delicious beers as its Vio and Tra, beers made with wine.

Enter the Dragan, as in the Dragan Brewing and Wine Company, the brainchild of Michael Nazareth, who after 15 years as the owner of Angelus Consulting, launching new startups in the winery, restaurant, hotel and brewing industries both nationally and internationally, is setting his sights on a combination brewery and winery in Niagara (with even more announcements to come). That’s Cody Linthicum, VP of brewery operations and cicerone (top photo) and Nazareth below.

Nazareth has deep ties to the wine industry in Niagara, helping such wineries as Burning Kiln (his wife Lydia Tomek is the winemaker there, but not involved in Dragan), Hinterbrook, Weir Wine and Stoney Ridge with various successful projects.

The idea for Dragan, a legacy project named, by the way, after Nazareth and Tomek’s four-year-old son (“how many four-year-olds have a namesake winery?” asks Nazareth) began seven years ago and has just now produced its first beer, which won’t be released until late spring or early summer with plans to launch it at the LCBO, grocery stores and licensees.

I had a taste of his first batch, which is as yet unnamed. It’s a pale ale using Citra and Azacca hops with 5% alcohol and made with a hazy, golden glow in the glass.

Ontario beer

My sample from Nazareth came in a crowler, a giant, 32 oz. can. These oversized cans keep beers fresher for longer and help maintain the quality by creating an absolute barrier to light and oxygen, preventing off-flavors from developing. The typical growler keeps beer fresh and carbonated for about three days before it starts to break down. Crowlers keep brews fresh for about a month.

As it’s a pale ale, the hops on the nose and palate are relatively tame with a crisp, fruity, citrusy and refreshing profile with bite on the finish. It’s a really nice entry into the portfolio of beers Nazareth intends to brew once his full brewhouse/winery, which he is in the process of planning somewhere in Niagara, is up and running.

Canada beer

Nazareth says “it’s like an IPA, but not as strong, and crushable on the patio.”

The goal is to have up to three core beers with plenty of seasonals and one-offs, he says.

The wine part of the project is a year or two down the road, first with purchased grapes and later made with vines that he intends to plant on the property this summer or next.

It’s a big project and certainly a rarity in Niagara in terms of a brewery/winery concept. “No one else is doing this,” Nazareth says. The only other winery/brewery that I am aware of in Ontario was the Prince Edward County combo at Hinterland, which has since dropped the brewery for various reasons.

“We’re just creating buzz right now and keeping people hungry.”

To follow the journey of Dragan Brewing and Wine Company (details are slowly being released), go here:

Twitter here

Website here

Instagram here

Facebook here

The bizarre hypocrisy of the LCBO

Let’s be honest here for a moment. The mega-corporation that is the LCBO does not give a shit what I have to say or anyone else for the matter; not its employees, customers, importers, suppliers, critics, the government that is responsible for their very existence or its shareholders, because there aren’t any.

The corporate LCBO is a closed, mysterious group that has had its way with the residents of Ontario since 1927, making its own rules and deciding what Ontarians can drink and not drink and all the while barely evolving one iota in nearly 100 years.

It’s still the hard-nosed monopoly that it has always been and will go down in flames maintaining that running the liquor business industry in Ontario with an iron first is for the good of the people; the public just can’t be trusted with retailing alcohol or making decisions that just make sense to so many people.

Yes, I’ve had my run-ins with the LCBO. I’m proudly pro-privatization, have written and expressed why that option is better for over two decades in various media forums, and while we have seen a loosening of their grip on the way alcohol is retailed in Ontario torn away from them, it’s still not enough for me.

Just a little over six months after pulling them off the shelves, the wines of Norman Hardie inexplicably returned to LCBO store shelves, first in dribs and drabs and now with Saturday’s Vintages release, truly back in full force.

They were originally pulled due to sexual harassment allegations (some since admitted to) against the once popular namesake winemaker.

Last June, the LCBO, along with Quebec’s SAQ and various restaurants across the country, pulled the wines off their shelves and menus after the Globe and Mail reported numerous sexual misconduct allegations, including unwanted sexual contact and inappropriate remarks.

Yes, Hardie told the newspaper he did not “physically grab people or touch them against their will,” but later confirmed a former employee’s claim that he tried to kiss her on her first day of work.

Yes, he later apologized to those who felt “marginalized, demeaned or objectified” while working alongside him at his winery in Prince Edward County.

But, is that enough? Does life go on as if nothing happened? Do we just ignore the stories of the three accusers and 18 other women who made allegations as if they do not count and don’t matter? That’s what it feels like when the LCBO, built on a bedrock of social responsibility, is doing when six months after the allegations (many admitted to by Hardie) the corporation decides that is punishment enough and Hardie wines can be welcomed back to LCBO shelves after “careful review and consideration.”

The provincial retailer began restocking inventory in December, saying it is letting customers decide if they want to purchase the wines.

This Saturday, fans of Norman Hardie can now line up for his newest wine, which, as we now know, is getting the royal treatment at LCBO stores with a star listing in the glossy Vintages Feb. 2 brochure. With the new listing, a total of 11 different Hardie wines can be purchased at the LCBO, according to its website. Other Ontario wineries should be so lucky to have Hardie’s wide distribution at LCBO stores.

The LCBO has clearly decided Norman Hardie’s 6-month ban at the government monopoly is over and the floodgates are open again. Which, for the profit-hungry, unsocially-unresponsible mega-corporation means sales of Hardie wines are brisk and allegations long forgotten.

One of Hardie’s accusers, former employee Heather Bruce, told As It Happens host Carol Off after the ban was lifted: “It felt like behaviour that’s really troubling was being given a platform again and almost being rewarded.”

The LCBO’s decision to rush its decision to welcome Hardie back to its shelves goes against one of its own guiding principals of social responsibility.

The provincial retailer had said when lifting the ban, it will let customers decide if they want to purchase the wines.

“Our commitment to social responsibility goes far beyond simply refusing service. It’s an important factor in every corporate decision we make,” the LCBO says here on its website.

“The LCBO really is a retailer with a difference. Every day, we strike the necessary balance between serving our customers, generating revenue for the province and protecting public health and safety — it’s what Ontarians expect from us.”

Indeed, the LCBO has a socially-responsible conscience as long as profits aren’t being affected. That much is perfectly clear.

Niagara wines released Saturday at Vintages stores (none of these wines has been reviewed by Wines In Niagara):

• Henry of Pelham Cabernet Icewine 2017 ($40 for 200 mL)
• Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2017 ($40 for 200 mL)
• Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2017 ($20)
• Redstone Chardonnay 2013 ($26)
• Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2016 ($20)