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Jordan’s Winter WineFest serves up tasty tipples, chef surprises and, of course, barrels of fun

By Michael Lowe

Although Mother Nature did little to enhance the experience in Jordan last weekend, there were still a lot of great reasons to brave the inclement weather. Here’s a quick summary.

Icewine festival

 This year I experienced the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest from a very different perspective — as a judge at two of the featured events. The kick-off on Friday night included a cocktail competition with television personality Kevin Brauch acting as master of ceremonies. Brauch, the consummate professional, kept the crowd — and the judges — on track with his signature enthusiasm.

Ten competitors plied judges Maribeth McKey, Sam Jonas and myself with delicious cocktails made with local ingredients, with many featuring icewine. We imbibed inventive libations that included lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, apple cider, maple syrup, frozen cranberries — even a Jello ‘shooter’ with strawberry flavoured pop rock candy (photo above).

Sip after delicious sip we judges shared our impressions with the crowd and marked our score sheets accordingly. The final tally confirmed our tasting notes with the apple cider based cocktail from Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers emerging as the winner (photo above).

— Michael Lowe

Battle of the chefs

On Saturday, six chefs squared off in the Black Box Challenge, also emceed by Kevin Brauch (at left in very top photo). A few days before the event, each contestant received a box with ingredients (photos above) from which they would build a plate for the sell-out crowd, who also served as judges.

The hardest part about being a judge is that it’s almost impossible to capture notes about each plate’s elements unless we are furnished with a list. It’s also difficult, while seated among the competitors, to get shots of them in action (photo below). Luckily, a friend Dave Demoe, who is also an accomplished photographer, agreed to use my camera. Photo credit for pics of people in this article go to Dave while the food shots are mine. Other judges at the event included chef Justin Downes and Jacquelene Del-Col.

We started with Steve Glintz’s (Gather Catering) venison taco before moving on to Danielle Murray (at right in very top photo) and Mary Comfort’s (Comfort Kitchen) take on an Indian biryani (L-R photos below). Both dishes, with their diverse textures and flavours, were a great start.

 Steve Davison (On the Twenty) gave us a slice of savoury venison forcemeat with sponge toffee and apple compote, while Davide Gutta (Honsberger Estate) opted for two dishes—a cake made with venison and a “meat tower” of venison (L-R, photos below).


 The final plates were the brainchild of Jan-Willem Stulp (Grand Oak Culinary Market) and Vito Guerriero from Avella’s Wood Fired Oven. Stulp made a venison tart with sabayon and maple syrup while Guerriero topped a slice of yam with a venison, black bean, and apple combination (L-R, photo below).

 The event was both a wildly fun and fierce contest with awesome crowd participation thanks to MC Kevin Brauch. In the end, bragging rights went to chef Steve Glintz for the bold flavours and varied textures in his venison taco. I overhead many positive comments and I have to admit that I could have eaten a dozen of them. Runner up was chef Davide Gutta for his duo of venison cake and meat tower.

Although the weekend was a damp one, there were places to dry off and warm up. One notable spot was the Mongolian yurt (photo below), which served a higher end collection of wines — it was the best place to hang out!

— Michael Lowe

Roll out the barrels,
she’ll have a barrel of fun

It was the wettest Twenty Valley Winter WineFest Barrel Rolling competition on record, but the competitors didn’t let the downpour dampen their enthusiasm.

A mix of male and female winemakers (plus one beer maker and a dude dressed like a caped crusader) took their turns rolling a 228-litre wooden wine barrel end-to-end, down a section of Main Street in Jordan, around another barrel and back to the finish line in the fastest time. The top three competitors have a roll off and the fasten time collects the coveted Golden Blunnies trophy.

Creekside/Queenston Mile assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine (above in competition and holding the trophy), by far the tiniest competitor in the competition, emerged as a two-time winner, beating Sue-Ann Staff, proprietor and winemaker at her namesake winery, by mere seconds.

Irvine’s determined style of end-over-end barrel rolling, with a powerful and rhythmic cadence, was a thrill to witness and had the crowd clearly behind her through both the main heat and the finals. A source (who shall not be named) told Wines In Niagara the secret to Irvine’s repeat (she also won in 2017) win is simple: “She practices for this competition all year long.”

Irvine has a long way to catch to go to catch six-time winner Dan Stouck (Malivoire), but don’t think she won’t do it. She is one fierce competitor.

More photos from the
Barrel Rolling Competition

The caped crusader.
Sue-Ann Staff came up just shy of winning.
Good effort from Shiraz Mottiar.
Brooke Husband shows her style.
Back to the future?

— Rick VanSickle