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LCBO, Norm Hardie wines make for strange bedfellows; plus Vintages highlights, new Huff Estate wines

By Rick VanSickle

Scrolling through Saturday’s LCBO Vintages release looking for Canadian wines to recommend, there it is yet again — another Norman Hardie wine hitting the shelves.

The LCBO’s love for the once juggernaut Prince Edward County producer shows no bounds and continues to be the one wine from that region that it places high above the others as it promotes and sells it through the Vintages section at its government stores throughout the province.

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.

He said this:

“Some of the allegations made against me are not true, but many are,” Hardie wrote days after the Globe and Mail published stories of women who accused him of the sexual harassment and worse.

After the story, Hardie’s world fell apart and his wines were de-listed at the LCBO, ousted from industry organizations, shunned by colleagues, critics and consumers. He was seemingly left to reinvent his once popular winery and wines.

Does time heal all wounds? I doubt that very much; certainly not for the women who bravely told their stories and sparked the Globe and Mail story that led to the downfall of Hardie. But it wasn’t long before the LCBO inexplicably reversed its decision to banish Hardie wines from their shelves and opened the floodgates once again.

Release after release Hardie wines have found their way to the shelves at Vintages stores. In fact, Hardie is the superstar in terms of wines from Prince Edward County listed on the LCBO website and available for purchase. There are 13 Hardie wines listed at 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.

What is going on, you might ask.

It’s hard to comprehend. I look for them, out of curiosity and because it’s my job, and can only find them in the LCBO stores that I shop in on the “last chance” sale racks at the highest discount you can find at 20% off. At one store I went to last week not one Hardie wine was on the regular shelves and three different ones — a Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay from 2016 (released in December 2018), Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (released in February) and unoaked Chardonnay (also released in February) — were all sitting on the bottom shelf of the discount rack. These are wines that used to fly off the shelves and never had a chance to make it to the sale racks. I have no clue how they did at other stores around the province or how they do in the overall picture; I only know in Niagara they are a tough sell.

And now, yes, another Hardie wine — the County Unfiltered Chardonnay 2016 ($45) — was released at Vintages stores Saturday (though the website now says it’s only available online or through delivery to the store). Where, I’m guessing, it will languish on shelves for a few weeks before it, too, goes on sale and collects dust on that shelf until … well, I have no idea where it goes after that.

Look, he’s up against some strong odds. Retail employees aren’t pushing the wines or recommending them, and, to be honest, most are uncomfortable even having them in the stores. Consumers don’t want to be seen buying them. Critics won’t review them, in fact, the Chardonnay released Saturday might be the last professional review we see because it was written and published by WineAlign two months before the Globe story broke.

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.

Here’s what I can recommend at Vintages stores Saturday, plus some new wines from Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates and a Cabernet Franc from Fogolar Wines.

Vintages Saturday recommendations

Calamus Estate Winery Meritage 2016 ($20, 90 points) — This 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Cabernet Franc hits all the right notes. A gorgeous nose of rich, thick dark fruits, elegant spice, subtle graphite … just a lovely entry. It has a structured feel on the palate, a bevy of dark and red fruits, firm(ish) tannins, spice and length through the finish. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a $20 Meritage red blend in Niagara. Finished by winemaker Kevin Panagapka (2027 Cellars winemaker) and started by Arthur Harder, previous winemaker.

A dandy from B.C.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2016 ($30, previously reviewed, 91 points) – A highly toned and fragrant nose exhibits ripe blackberry/plum at the core with suggestions of cedar, spice, earth and graphite. Bursting with the same ripe, dark fruit on the palate, there’s a savoury hint of cured meat on the lengthy finish. The richness and depth belies the alcohol, which weighs in at 14.8%. Drinking well now or cellar up to five years. (Michael Lowe review)

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Lundy Manor Late Harvest Vidal 2016 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Bricklayer’s Reward Riesling 2017 ($19)
• Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($20)
• 13th Street Pink Palette Rosé 2018 ($16)
• Featherstone Rosé 2018 ($16)
• Marquis The Silver Line Pinot Pinot Rosé 2018 ($18)

Huff Estates (Prince Edward County)

Huff Estates Pinot Grigio 2018 ($19, 89 points) — 100% County fruit with broad aromas of melon, Bosc pear, apple and lovely minerality. It’s round and fleshy on the palate with ripe stone fruits of peach and apple with honeydew melon and crisp acidity on the finish.

Huff Estate South Bay Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2017 ($35, 91 points) — This County Franc was aged for 18 months in French oak (30% new barrels). It has an attractive nose of wild raspberries, forest berries, bramble, subtle herbs and spice with mineral undertones. The tannins are soft and smooth on the palate with savoury red berries, touch of anise/black licorice, wild herbs and elegant spice notes on a perky, vibrant finish.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Merlot 2017 ($30, 90 points) — Aged in French barriques for 18 months (15% new oak). It has a lovely smoky/savoury nose of black cherries, licorice, raspberry, minerals and elegant spice notes. It has medium+ tannic structure on the palate with crunchy raspberries, ripe cherries, cassis, savoury spice notes and a long, lifted finish.

Fogolar Wines

Winemaker and owner, Marc Pistor, crafts and sells this virtual brand at Di Profio Wines in Jordan.

Fogolar Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22, 89 points) — This tasty wine from Marc Pistor represents excellent value for what you get. The fruit is hand picked and cluster sorted and aged in new and used French and American oak barrels for 18 months (30% new oak). It has a lovely nose of brambly raspberries, black cherries, soft oak accents and a touch of herbs. Drinking pretty well right now, but room to grow with lovely red berries, anise, dried herbs, spice and good acid lift on the finish.