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I made some big mistakes on a post about Norman Hardie Wines — this is my mea culpa

By Rick VanSickle

In a post on this website dated July 22, 2019, under the headline ‘LCBO, Norm Hardie wines make for strange bedfellows,’ I made some bold assumptions and now I have to take them back.

I am not comfortable with my initial reporting; it was sloppy, ill-informed and definitely not up to the standards I hold myself and this website to.

So, I’m setting the record straight right here and now.

The post, which you can read in full here, dealt essentially with the appearance of preferential treatment Norman Hardie, in the face of sexual misconduct allegations, some admitted to, was receiving at the LCBO, which reinstated his wines at government stores after a brief period of banishment following a Globe and Mail exposé.

The gist of that part of the post still stands, and, still baffles me, but whatever — the LCBO has their reasons (which they are keeping to themselves, because, well, they can and what are we going to do about it)) and are obviously sticking to their guns. There are 13 Norman Hardie wines listed at LCBO.com. In stark contrast to that is Huff Estates with six listings, both Rosehall Run and Grange with four, and Trail Estate and Lacey Estates with just one each. This is unlikely to change any time soon.

Here’s where things get dicey and I feel the need to set the record straight.

Hardie wines frowned upon

Niagara wines

What I wrote July 22: Of course, Hardie wines are generally frowned upon by many who just can’t forgive or forget the allegations of “sexual advances and sexual harassment” by Hardie, founder and winemaker of the namesake winery. Many of the allegations were admitted to by Hardie, but which ones we do not know because he wouldn’t say.

Mea culpa No. 1: In the time between July 22 and presently, this is becoming less and less true. The lineup to forgive Hardie has grown surprising long and where once he was an outcast, he no longer is (more on that in a bit) in many circles. In a post on Facebook (friends only setting) I posed these questions after discovering Hardie’s wines were accepted into a major wine awards competition (and more on that later): “Is everyone OK with this gold medal awarded wine by the largest Canadian wine awards competition? There were other medals awarded – three others and counting – to this particular winery. Could this be the winery of the year? Would we be cool with that? Time to move on? Should we even talk about this? Was there discussion about this among the judges? So many questions. Your thoughts?”

It wasn’t the number of dissenting voices that got my full attention, it was the comments from those who felt strongly in favour of letting the past be the past, it was time to move on. In light of those voices and in talking to many others since then it is no longer valid in calling Norman Hardie wines “frowned upon.” There are still some who feel strongly that Hardie should sell the winery, change the name and be forgotten, but there are also many (and more every day) who say just let it be, usually, but not always, invoking the “he wasn’t charged with anything” argument. 

Critics won’t review them

Ontario wines

What I wrote on July 22: Critics won’t review them, in fact, the Chardonnay released in the last Vintages release (at the LCBO) might be the last professional review we see because it was written and published by WineAlign two months before the Globe story broke.

Mea culpa No. 2: Boy, I blew it with this one big time. Once again making rash assessments without doing my homework.

I was not aware at the time of writing on July 22 that Norman Hardie was flooding various wine award competitions with his wines to be judged (blind) among his peers until it was pointed out to me by a source. All that was confirmed when the awards started to be announced. Here are the awards (thus far) that Hardie received, and the number of published reviews that come with that:

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2016, Gold
Five reviews on WineAlign

Norman Hardie Niagara Chardonnay Unfiltered 2016, Silver
Two reviews on WineAlign

Norm Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2016, Silver
Five reviews on WineAlign

So, mea culpa on me. No longer is what I wrote July 22 true: “This might be the last professional review we see because it was written and published by WineAlign two months before the Globe story broke.” Not even close; the floodgates are open now with WineAlign reviews leading the way for Norman Hardie wines being written about by noted critics from this day forward. Two weeks ago you could google Hardie wines and come up empty on any new wine reviews since the Globe story broke. That is no longer the case. And once one mainstream critic reviews those wines, others follow. Just watch.

WineAlign was not the only place Norman Hardie sent his wines for scrutiny. Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards also accepted his wines. As Aspler confirmed, “Norm did enter and because the LCBO was carrying the wines we decided to have them judged blind.” He did not pick up any awards and that is why consumers do not know about that.

As for other competitions, such as InterVin, I do not have an answer. They are being judged later this month. And, it is my understanding, Hardie submitted his Rieslings to the Brock Experts Tasting judges for consideration at the Riesling-focused event but his wines did not make it into the final selections. I reached out to Brock but did not receive confirmation on that.

Industry embrace (sort of)

Though not mentioned in the July 22 post, industry associations were quick to boot Norm Hardie from their memberships.

On June 21, 2018, the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association released this statement:

“The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association supports progressive and safe environments for employees, customers and management. The allegations of sexual misconduct at a member winery are very serious. We are sorry to hear about the victims’ experiences and applaud their courage in coming forward.

“We encourage all our members and their staff to adhere to the highest professional and moral standards. Accordingly, we have currently suspended Norman Hardie Winery’s membership with the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association.

“We are taking some time to consult with experts and industry partners about how to best to support employees in our industry.”

Mea culpa No. 3: On a recent trip to Prince Edward County it was pointed out that Norman Hardie was on the wine map of wineries in Prince Edward County. It was then noted that Norman Hardie is back to being listed once again as a member on the association website. I reached out to the association for confirmation and comment but did not hear back. My question would be what changed their mind about “moral standards?”

At least two other associations have not welcomed back Norman Hardie into the fold. The largest industry association, Ontario Craft Wineries, confirmed to Wines In Niagara that Norman Hardie has not been reinstated. He is also still not listed with the Somewhereness group of wineries, of which he was once a member.

So, there you have it, my long-winded clarification is nearly complete. Just one last item to address.

Where is this all leading?

What I wrote on July 22: Where will all this lead? When I look at the various social media streams for Norman Hardie wines, it seems like the good times are back — wood fired pizzas are flying, a boatload of wine is being poured on the veranda and a lot of happy faces are enjoying and buying into the Hardie County vibe. When I google Hardie wines, he has a huge international following and many of the wines show up under review in various languages, obviously oblivious to the controversy in his home country. I do feel for Hardie, especially his family and the employees of the business who rely on continued employment. I do not begrudge a person who has to work for a living, but I also feel for the women who say they were hurt by his actions. So, I guess like so many, I’m conflicted.

Mea culpa No. 4: Obviously, we know full well where this is all leading. With time and support from the industry, LCBO and mainstream wine writing community, all will be forgotten. It’s already happening with arms wide open at wine competitions, industry associations reinstating him, critical wine reviews being written and more open support from consumers. His winery is packed with people eating great wood-fired oven pizzas, smiling faces (if you look on his social media feeds) and buckets of wine being consumed and purchased for later enjoyment. He’s back, maybe not all the way, but he’s charging full steam ahead.

That may not sit well with many, especially the brave women who came forward and told their stories, but those voices are being lost as each new day dawns.

I’m not conflicted anymore. I now know which camp I’m in. So don’t come here looking for a Norman Hardie wine review any time soon.

Mea culpa complete.