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Two Canadian wine visionaries, two tribute wines, plus new SoCIAL Lite flavours and Vintages highlights for Saturday release

By Rick VanSickle

So much has been said following the passing of Canadian wine visionary and pioneer Lloyd Schmidt in the months following his passing. But sometimes words aren’t enough.

Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Niagara’s Vineland Estates, has honoured the memory of his father by labeling the 2018 Game Changer Rosé, usually called The Castaway, with two simple yet poignant words.

“This year, in memory of my father who loved rosé more than any other wine, it is called The Memory,” he explained.

Canadian wine
— Photo courtesy of the Schmidt family.

“Each year, my father would give me his blessing for our rosé. He tasted this in January and thought it was excellent, and, yes, some years he would tell me: ‘You’ve made better.’ ”

An early pioneer of the wine industry in Canada, Schmidt passed away in early February at 78 years old, leaving a famous Canadian wine family and entire industry from B.C. to Ontario to mourn his sudden death.

Schmidt played a critical role in vinifera (noble grapes) vines expanding into Canada, sourcing some of the best cuttings from nurseries from around the world, and importing and selling them in Canada. His sons, Brian and Allan, together run Vineland Estates winery in Niagara, but have deep roots to the Okanagan wine industry despite leaving for Ontario both at an early age.

Ontario wine

Right up until his death this year, Lloyd was a welcoming presence at the winery where his sons worked (Allan is president of Vineland Estate). He could often be seen at the tasting bar with his good friend Roman Prydatkewycz, also a viticulturalist, sampling wines and offering his opinions — good or bad — and just loved talking all things wine with whoever would listen.

Lloyd Schmidt crafted a notable career in viticulture and winemaking that changed the landscape of how wines are made in North America.

But that notoriety was always taken humbly.

“If I have been inspirational and helpful to the next generation in any way, then I am happy. We must give back and ensure that the ones that follow us know that tomorrow is only limited by what we can dream. Our greatest days are ahead of us and I always want to be a part of that.”

The Game Changer Rosé 2018, aptly named The Memory in reference to Lloyd Schmidt, is a heartfelt reminder that this amazing wine pioneer lives on in the hearts of those who knew him.

We have a review of the rosé as well as a few other wines from Vineland Estate.

Vineland Estates Game Changer “The Memory” Rosé 2018 ($17, 90 points) — A nice tribute to Lloyd Schmidt whose memory lives on in this wine (and many other things). This blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc shows a pretty pale salmon colour in the glass with a nose of strawberry patch, cranberries and subtle citrus accents. On the palate it bursts with red summer berries with a hint of lemon zest. Perfect summer porch-sipper that pairs perfectly with every day life. Cheers, Lloyd.

Vineland Estates Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet Franc Clone 214 2016 ($35, 92 points) — I love when Vineland winemaker Brian Schmidt steps out with these geeky experiments that make it to bottle for all of us to explore. This is a part of a two-bottle exploration of clonal differences in his favourite grape — Cabernet Franc. Both wines are from the same vineyard and made exactly the same way with the only difference is the choice of clones on the vines — Clone 214 and Clone 327 (below). I do not know much about the differences other than what I’ve read and now tasted, and the two are vastly different. 214 is a high performance warm vintage clone (appropriate for the hot 2016 vintage) with darker fruit flavours, tannin structure and less green herbal flavours.

It has a nose of brambly raspberries, black currants, herbs, sweet tobacco, black cherries and elegant spice notes. It shows chiseled structure on the palate with darker fruits of anise, black currants, integrated herbs, licorice, subtle spice notes. Good aging potential here.

Vineland Estates Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet Franc Clone 327 2016 ($35, 92 points) — The book says Clone 327 brings higher acid, brighter fruits and leans toward more herbaceous notes. It has a brambly/savoury nose of blackberries, dark cherries, spice, herbs and anise. The fruit is perkier on the palate and shows a range of rich red berries, underlying herbs, anise, pepper and smooth, rounded tannins that all lead to a finessed and lifted finish. Cellaring five + years will greatly reward.

Vineland Estates Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet 2016 ($28, 93 points) — The trend of excellence continues with these Niagara Bordeaux variety blends from the warm 2016 vintage … what a fabulous year for the bigger reds and a bonus if you can craft a wine like this with impeccable balance. This has an expressive nose of black berries, brambly raspberries, pure cassis and elegant spice notes that is all together inviting. It truly is an amazing red blend of 77% Cabernet Franc 23% Cab Sauvignon with solid structure, elegantly spiced (not over the top), rich and focused with darker fruits on the palate including a range of black currants, cassis, anise with black cherries and a high-energy/finessed finish. Age 7 + years, such a beauty.

Another Canadian wine legend honoured

Andrea Kaiser is the daughter of Karl J. Kaiser, winemaker and co-founder of Inniskillin Wines and considered by many to be the pioneer of modern Canadian winemaking. His pursuit in creating exceptional wines has inspired his daughter to create Drea’s Wine Co., which produces small batch wines from Niagara.

Her first project is the release of Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc as a tribute to her father who, along with her family, affectionately called her Drea. It was fittingly released on May 3, on International Sauvignon Blanc Day, at Reif Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake where Andrea works and resides. The wine is also available on-line here and retails for $26.50.

Andrea Kaiser chose this variety for her first release because each vintage Karl would make a special “batch” of Sauvignon Blanc in his home cellar.

“He was always so determined to make it to his wife and daughters’ liking and was always nervous when they sampled it for the first time,” Andrea said. “Just before tasting each vintage he would remind them that the wine was still young and that over time it would become more integrated and balanced. He would wait patiently as he knew his daughter was always ready to tease him. Andrea would immediately declare “… but Papa I told you before we don’t like any residual sugar — remember we like our wines fermented bone dry.

“He would shake his head with a small smile and say: ‘But Drea it needs some sugar for body on the mid-palate and to balance the acidity.’ And then each year she would sigh and say ‘Well, OK Papa, if you say so, but remember your promise not to age it in oak again, you know mama and I don’t like any oak in our wines.’ He would then grin and with a little chuckle say: ‘I know, I know … that was only one year that I made it with oak.’

It was an annual ritual that came to end in 2017 when Karl was making his last vintage of wine at home, so it seemed a fitting tribute to launch a Sauvignon Blanc in his memory, Andrea said.

Note: Drea’s Wine Co. is dedicated to production of small batch VQA wines in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Wines are available for sale at Reif Estate Winery one of Canada’s pioneer family wineries and original grape growers for Karl J. Kaiser from 1977 to 1982.

More goodness from SoCIAL Lite

You have to tip your hat to the Canadian company SoCIAL Lite and its innovative, low calorie vodka soda products.

The delicious, all-natually flavoured range of drinks were first conceived in the kitchen of the owners with one goal that has not wavered since the inception in 2013: “SoCIAL Lite craft cocktails are for everyone who loves a delicious drink without artificial ingredients, sugar or added calories.”

Since 2013, the funky drinks have become the No. 1 vodka soda brand in Canada.

“We’re really excited that a concept that was twice rejected from the LCBO is now one of the fastest growing brands and has created a whole new category of unsweetened drinks,” CEO Dan Beach told Wines In Niagara.

We got a sneak peek at three new innovations hitting shelves at LCBO stores in Ontario and across the country: Two vodka sodas (Field Strawberry and Blood Orange) and the first unsweetened spiked iced tea (Peach). As with all SoCIAL Lite products, they are made with zero sugar (or sweetening) and all natural flavours.

Here’s what we liked:

SoCIAL Lite Vodka Soda Blood Orange ($29 for a dozen mixed 355 mL cans at most LCBO stores) — This contains only 80 calories and 4% abv and pours clear in the glass. Best to serve these ice cold right from the can, but a couple of ice cubes (not too many) in a glass is totally fine. It’s refreshingly dry and is as advertised: Blood orange in flavour with just a squirt of citrus and crisp, dry finish.

SoCIAL Lite Vodka Soda Field Strawberry ($10 for four 355 mL cans at most LCBO stores) — Like above, 80 calories and 4% abv. Smells and tastes just like a basket of fresh picked strawberries, ripe, but not sweet all the way through the crisp, clean finish. This also pours clear in the glass.

SoCIAL Lite Spiked Ice Tea Peach ($3 for 473 mL can available at most LCBO stores) — This has 100 calories and 3.8% abv. Quite interesting with a nice astringent green tea feel on the palate to go with ripe summer peach flavours that are tangy and fresh on the finish.

Niagara wines released at
Vintages stores Saturday

Flat Rock Pink Twisted 2018 ($18, 89 points) — Flat Rock’s first Twisted release of the summer is this personable rosé blend of Pinot Noir, Riesling and touch of Gewurztraminer from the wild and crazy 2018 vintage in Niagara. It’s bold and sassy on the nose with fruit forward strawberries, raspberries, apple, mineral and red currants. It’s made in a pleasant, off-dry style with juicy red fruits and subtle ginger/grapefruit accents on the finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree White 2016 ($18, 89 points) — This is an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay Musque with 40% of the fruit barrel fermented and aged in oak for 8 months. It’s quite fragrant with notes of pear, lychee, peach, apricot and a lovely floral and spice accent on the nose. It’s rich and spicy on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lychee, ginger and honey notes. Nicely balanced through the finish.

Tawse Limestone Ridge-North Estate Bottled Riesling 2016 ($26, 93 points) — This is killer Riesling. The nose lights up with salinity, lime, grapefruit and racy wet-stone minerality. It’s steely and taut on the palate despite 32 g/l of RS and shows vivid citrus, fresh-squeezed lime, lemon zest and it all balanced on a razor’s edge. Such incredible definition and freshness through the finish. Beautiful.

Cuddy By Tawse Chardonnay 2013 ($26, 90 points) — A nose of Bosc pear, apple, elegant oak spices and toasted vanilla. It is nicely put together on the palate with bright orchard fruit, lovely balancing spice and plenty of freshness through the finish.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• PondView Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Angels Gate Archangel Brut Chardonnay 2013 ($30)
• Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Sparkling Riesling 2016 ($21)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2018 ($20)
• Charles Baker B-Side Riesling 2017 ($22)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2017 ($22)
• Creekside Gamay 2017 ($19)
• Crew Cabernet Franc 2016 ($23)
• Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2016 ($26)

A lovely bubble from Down Under
released Saturday

Kim Crawford Signature Reserve Fizz 2013 ($30, 91 points) — This lovely New Zealand sparkler is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Marlborough’s cool central Wairau Valley and made in the traditional method with 42 months aging on the lees and less than 10 g/l of residual sugar. The fresh aromas are redolent in Meyer lemon, green apple, grapefruit and toasted vanilla with underlying brioche/biscuit notes. The mousse is delicate yet persistent in the glass and fizz has a crisp and vibrant feel on the palate with lemon citrus, minerals, apple slices, baked bread and a clean, dry profile through a zippy, lifted finish. Really nice bubbles from Down Under.

Delicious Sonoma rosé at Vintages

Simi Sonoma County Dry Rosé 2018 ($20, at Vintages now, $20) — The bulk of the Merlot, Cab Sauv, Malbec, Syrah, Tempranillo and Graciano is sourced from estate vineyards in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley and Dry Creek. The wine is made in a combination of saignèe and press methods. The result is this lovely light pink/coral coloured rosé with a fresh nose of red berries, rhubarb, cranberries, subtle herbs and just a hint of citrus. It’s perfectly dry on the palate ad shows a range of pretty red betties, berbs and a zippy/fresh finish.