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Canada Wine Wire: Geeking out with Flat Rock, awards galore, Big Bottle golf, Vintages highlights, Butt Niagara bound and more

By Rick VanSickle

It’s the kind of vinous detail that would send a casual wine drinker into fits of delirium, but to an admitted wine geek, it’s riveting stuff.

To wit: Take the bottle of Flat Rock Cellars’ popular Chardonnay, the $20 estate Chard that has a permanent home on the LCOB Vintages Essential list.

Note: Also in this report — Niagara wines at Vintages stores, two Mission Hill wines come to LCBO, Brent Butt coming to town, charity golf tournament for wine industry, Niagara wines strike gold, CCOVI partners with industry to produce certified clean grapevines, Soon gets Order of Canada and LG award winners.

It, like every bottle of wine made at the Twenty Mile Bench winery by winemaker David Sheppard, is subject to the same crucial blending — block for block, barrel for barrel, clone for clone — required to build the perfect wine that best expresses the terroir and style the winemaker is looking for in any particular bottling.

Canada wine

With this wine, Sheppard, above, sent over the three components that made up the final blend in the 2017 Chardonnay in tiny sample bottles to taste beside the finished blend. Along with samples, he provided his hand-written notes for each block.

Such detail excites me. Things like:

• Oak selection for the West Block of the estate Chardonnay: “medium tight and tight grain oak from the centre of France. Split stave wood air dried at the cooperage in Nuits St. Georges. Medium (elegant) toast, untoasted heads.”

• Hand sorted on vibrating table to the de-stemmer — fully destemmed, no crushing

• Manually added 5-10% whole clusters to the press

• 48 hr cold setting on the juice, then racked

• Gravity filled to barrel

And you thought making wine was easy!

Check out these notes from the 17th Street Vineyard:

Ontario wine

• innoculated with a pure strain S cerevisiae (yeast) selected from Burgundy for its ability to foster elegance in delicate and clean barrel fermented Chardonnays.

• Batch barreled down in — 22% new oak, 21% 1 yr, 32% 2 yr, 15% 3 yr, 10% 4 yr and 5 yr

This is what it takes to make great wine — attention to detail, precise oak regime, meticulous tasting and blending, mixing clones and yeast strains and finding the right blocks in the right vineyards for the desired end result.

I tasted the three component samples and then the final blend. Here is how I break it down.

Niagara wine

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017 ($20, Vintages, 90 points) — The 17 St. Vineyard sample was more subtle, prettier than the others and brings citrus and floral notes. Felt like less oak and more pear, honey notes and juicy acidity. The West Block was brighter, balanced, more oak, more minerality, more apple and a squirt of citrus zest. The final component, the Rusty Shed Block, brought a creamy/toasty poached pear note and was more full bodied and robust. The blended version of all three components has a really lovely nose of pear, quince, citrus, elegant oak spices and minerality. Quite terroir-driven on the palate with that flinty minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench to go with ripe stone fruits, nicely integrated oak spice and balancing citrus on the finessed finish. A lesson in how to blend blocks of Chardonnay to the desired effect.

Two new wines from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Classic Pinot Noir 2018 ($17, general list LCBO, 88 points) — An affordable and lovely Pinot with a nose of red berries, violets, integrated oak and subtle earthy/bramble notes. It has intense flavours of cherries and raspberries delivered on a smooth bed of tannins with a vibrant and juicy finish.

Henry of Pelham Class Pinot Grigio 2018 ($15, LCBO General List, 87 points) — A summer palate pleaser with lovely melon, pear and stone fruits on the nose. Fruit-forward and juicy in the moth with pear, melon and apple notes to go with refreshing acidity.

Niagara releases at Vintages stores

I simply blew it two weeks ago when I wrote about the July 6 release of new wines instead of the June 22 release. You can read about the bulk of the release this Saturday here.

I missed a couple of wines from the June 22 release of Niagara wines. Here they are, now at Vintages.

13th Street Cuvée Brut Rosé NV ($30, 89 points) — This non-vintage sparkler a Pinot Noir-driven blend with Chardonnay and, as winemaker JP Colas says, 13th Street’s “signature” grape Gamay. The nose shows bright cherry fruit with raspberry and anise notes and lovely yeasty-toasty nuances. It’s rich and vivacious on the palate with an energetic mousse that carries the robust red fruits through the finish. Not bone dry but balanced.

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2018 ($24, 91 points) — Winemaker Jay Johnson explains that this Pinot-base rosé is hand-picked and treated like a white wine with a touch of Viognier added to the blend. It’s made in a combination of saignée method and “direct to press” and is fermented and aged in neutral French oak for 5 months. It’s the paler of the two rosés made at Hidden Bench but impressive colour considering the vintage. Such an expressive nose of crushed red berries and grapefruit with added savoury and floral notes. It has lovely mouth feel with juicy red fruits, citrus and a dry, vibrant finish. Meant to drink now while the weather is gorgeous.

Two Mission Hill wines from the
Okanagan Valley at Vintages Saturday

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($23, 90 points)The nose is brimming with classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas of gooseberry and fresh-cut grass with tropical notes of passion fruit and lemongrass. Quite explosive on the palate with ripe gooseberry at the fore, layered with plenty of citrus and fruit replays on the long finish. (Review by Michael Lowe)

At Flagship stores only

Mission Hill Reserve Limited Edition Viognier 2018 ($24, 90 points) – Aromatic, with floral notes of orange blossom and violets followed by orchard stone fruits and a spicy undertone. The palate expresses juicy ripe peach, pear, zesty lime and a gingery spice character mid-palate. Full bodied, beautifully balanced with a rich mouthfeel, vibrant acidity and very good length. (Review by Michael Lowe)

Get visibility for your winery

Wines In Niagara has a few ad spots opened for July-Sept. If you are in the market to bring visibility to your event or winery/brewery/restaurant, we have attractive ad rates and an audience that is dedicated to Niagara/Ontario/B.C. VQA wines and related industries. We canget you results.

For ad rates and availability, email RVSwine (at) gmail.com.

No Butts about it, Brent’s coming to town

The annual Grape Growers of Ontario’s Celebrity Luncheon, which opens the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, is welcoming to the stage celebrated comedian, creator and star of Corner Gas, Brent Butt.

Born in Tisdale, Sask., Butt discovered early that being funny was a good way to get attention. By his mid-twenties Butt was touring internationally and appearing at major comedy festivals, all while creating his own TV series, Corner Gas. It became an instant hit with unprecedented ratings and numerous accolades including an International Emmy Award nomination, and was named “Funniest Show on TV” by TV Guide readers.

Butt then created another sitcom for CTV called “Hiccups” which won multiple LEO awards, and made the transition to movies with two feature films on theatre screens — the comedic mystery “No clue” and the long awaited “Corner Gas: The Movie”, both of which he wrote, produced and starred in. Butt is currently developing a new show for television, and continues to tour the country performing standup as often as he can.

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Grape Growers of Ontario says: “The Grape Growers of Ontario look forward to welcoming Canada’s own comedian Brent Butt to our 2019 event to celebrate the grape harvest, the Greenbelt and all that Niagara has to offer.”

The Grape Growers of Ontario’s Celebrity Luncheon is Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 11:30 a.m. at Club Roma in St. Catharines. Ticket order forms are available here

Big Bottle Invitational Golf Tournament

The second annual Big Bottle tournament, presented by Riedel Glassware, is scheduled to take place Aug. 9 at Rockway Golf Club.

The day of golf and friendship, for those who work in and around the Ontario wine industry, is strictly a fun day of golf with a unique format with some of the proceeds going to support migrant workers through the Niagara Migrant Workers Interest Group.

P.S. As we are a group of volunteers, we are asking Niagara wineries if they can provide a donation of a magnum of wine for prizing. If you can donate, please email Peter Rod (address below) and we will come get it.

The details

Date: Friday, August 9
Where: Rockway Vineyards Golf Club, 3290 Ninth St., St. Catharines
Price: $80, which includes golf, cart, prizes, charity donation, two Riedel glasses and buffet dinner (Triple Bogey Brewing will also be on site with their delicious beer aided in serving by Bevsupport).
Time: 10:15 a.m. registration (sharp), 10:30 draw for teams, 11:30 a.m. shotgun start
Registration deadline: July 12

The Format

Register as twosomes (or singles and we can match you up) who will then be paired (via draw) with other twosomes to complete the team. The four-person teams will then play in a team scramble format (everyone tees off, pick your best shot and everyone hits from there and repeat until you hole out). Keep one score and hand in the card when you are done).

If you would like an invitation, please email one of the following (or click the ad on this website):

David Stasiuk (david at rockway.net)
Peter Rod (peterbodnarrod at gmail.com)
Rick VanSickle (winesniagara at gmail.com)
John Nadeau (jpnadeau at emjenms.com)
Barclay Robinson (Barclay at foreignaffairwine.com)

Niagara cleans up at Decanter wine awards

Ontario’s Niagara peninsula has been recognized by the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards with the most Gold medals in Canada. Seven Gold Medals were awarded to Niagara wines, including Canada’s top ranked Icewine, Riesling and sparkling wine, with an additional 125 wines receiving silver, bronze and commended awards.

Now in its 16th year, the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) is the world’s largest and most influential wine competition. Judged by the top wine experts from around the globe, the DWWA is trusted internationally for its rigorous judging process. A panel of 280 world-renowned wine experts, including 70 Masters of Wine, selected their favourites after blind taste-tests of 17,000 wines from 57 countries.

“We are thrilled that Niagara has been globally recognized as having the most top-performing wines in Canada,” says Anthony Annunziata, President, Tourism Partnership of Niagara. “The hard-work, dedication and passion that our farmers, growers and winemakers put in to creating each vintage is what makes Niagara proud to be one of the most delectable and award-winning wine counties across the nation.”

Here are the Gold medal winners:

For the full list of Niagara wines awarded, go here

CCOVI partners with industry
to produce certified clean grapevines

Canadian Grapevine Certification Network Vice Chair and grape grower Bill Schenck (centre) in the vineyard at Konzelmann Estates winery with Jim Reschke, Konzelmann VP Operations (left), MP Vance Badawey, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti and MP Chris Bittle.

Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) has partnered with the grape and wine industry to produce certified, clean grapevines.

The Government of Canada recently committed $2.3 million in funding over the next three to

support the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN) as it develops certified vines for grape growers. As part of the project, CCOVI will be the national testing provider.

“This funding will give nurseries a jump start to providing domestically certified clean plant material to the grower community across Canada and allow the industry to be less reliant on imported material,” said CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis. “Nurseries will have the opportunity for lower-cost virus testing by cost sharing with the CGCN. We’re looking forward to working closely with the industry to make sure growers are starting out with clean plants to assist the long-term viability of the Canadian grape and wine sectors.”

CCOVI will catalogue and assess vines used for plant propagation from nurseries and grape growers across Canada. This will ensure that only vines testing negative for targeted viruses are used to generate new plants receiving the CGCN certification, which will help keep Canada’s vineyards virus-free.

CGCN vice chair and grape grower Bill Schenck said the announcement is the next step in the creation of a clean plant network for grapevines in Canada.

“We have been working closely with researchers at CCOVI and this funding will expand what we can do as far as testing our grapevines,” he said. “This will allow us to work more closely with nurseries as we try to clean up vines in the ground and help growers plant healthy vineyards.”

Soon named to Order of Canada

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, announced 83 new appointments to the Order of Canada, including Okanagan Valley winemaker Vanessa Vineyard winemaker Howard Soon.

The new member list includes 5 Companions, 21 Officers, including 1 Honorary Officer, and 57 Members (C.M.). Recipients will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.

In the words of wine journalist John Schreiner, Canada’s most prolific author of wine books:

“The Order of Canada is the highest honour that Canada can give to a citizen. No one is more deserving of such an honour than Howard Soon. He will do his 40th vintage this year at Vanessa Vineyard, which he joined in 2017 on retiring from Sandhill Wines.

“Throughout his illustrious career, his wines have won more than 100 major awards. He has mentored numerous other winemakers. He was a pioneer in championing single vineyard wines and in elucidating the concept of terroir. “Becoming the first B.C. winemaker to receive the Order of Canada crowns a remarkable, and continuing, career.”

LG wine awards

Photo by Liz Beddall

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, in partnership with the Ontario Wine Awards, announced the winners of the 2019 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines recently.

The Lieutenant Governor presented the awards at a ceremony during the 4th Annual Winetario event, a showcase for the best of Ontario VQA wines, at George Brown College.

Winners of the 2019 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines

• Big Head Wines 2018 Gewurztraminer
• Big Head Wines 2017 RAW Syrah
• Megalomaniac – John Howard Cellars of Distinction N/V Bubblehead
• Creekside Estate 2017 Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon
• Flat Rock Cellars 2015 Gravity Pinot Noir
• Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 2016 Grand 
Reserve Merlot
• Niagara College Teaching Winery 2017 Gastronomy Chardonnay
• Peller Estates 2016 Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling
• Sue-Ann Staff Estate 2017 Howard’s Vidal Icewine
•Tawse 2013 Lenko Vineyard Chardonnay Trius 2016 Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc Clark Farm Vineyard

The 11 wines were recognized for their overall excellence, regardless of vintage or varietal. The winning wines were chosen from 542 wines submitted by 78 wineries.