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Ontario wine report: In wine there is comfort — we could use all the comfort we can get right now

By Rick VanSickle

It is our new reality. We’re essentially locked in our homes with no end in sight. There is nothing normal about our daily routine. We worry about our families, our friends, our neighbours, and those on the front lines of the pandemic.

In this tiny corner of the web, Wines In Niagara finds it difficult to keep posting stories and reviews about wine, food, cider, beer and anything else we find delicious and an escape from the struggles so many people are dealing with right now. It seems so insignificant to keep writing about such a joyous topic when joy is in such short supply right now.

By now we are numb from scenes of lineups of people outside grocery stores wearing masks and waiting their turn, six feet apart, to get supplies. We no longer find it odd to cross the street to avoid another person coming our way. It’s now normal to communicate with our friends and extended families via apps that allow a modicum of human contact without being there with each other.

Not to be sardonic, but the whole keep-the-wine-writing-flowing thing weirdly reminds one of the scene in the Titanic where the band plays on as the ship goes down. Not nearly the same because, unlike the Titanic, there is hope that we will emerge from the pall we are under, but …

… here’s the deal. We all need comfort, wine brings comfort. We all need to eat, food brings comfort. So, that is why we keep writing and posting. So many people are out there struggling to keep the lights on and many will not emerge on the other side in good shape. They need our support, they need you to buy wine, buy restaurant take-out, buy craft beer, buy craft cider. They need you to support local wineries, breweries, restaurants, cideries, distilleries and local booze agencies that are owned and run by good local people (don’t forget them, they are hurting, too).

As long as there is Canadian wine being made and good people making it, Wines In Niagara will continue to write about it — pandemic or no pandemic. So, stay safe, stay healthy and keep treating yourself to the finer things in life.

A reminder: For a list of Ontario wineries offering online shipping offers and discounts click here.

In this Canadian Wine Report, we have a post from Elena Galey-Pride wrapping up her photo essay series called Seasons in the Vineyard with Part IV on winter, a new winemaker for Foreign Affair (and a rosé review), more event cancellations in Niagara, Canadian wines featured at Saturday’s Vintages release and Fielding Estate’s Cab-Syrah in review. But first:

Seasons in the Vineyard: Winter

Assistant Vineyard Manager Andrew Sullivan demonstrates living (green) and dead (brown) cane cross-sections at Featherstone winery.

A lot of things conspired against talented Niagara photographer Elena Galey-Pride to get the critical mass needed for her fourth and final instalment of her Seasons in the Vineyard. But we started this project, then got sidetracked, and felt we should wrap up it with an abbreviated selection of her best shots of winter in Niagara vineyards.

Elena spends a great deal of her time documenting the circle of life in the vineyard — from new beginnings in spring, the season of hope, then moving into summer, where warmth and gentle rains give life to the vines, to fall, when plump ripe grapes are harvested to make delicious wines, to winter, the dangerous season when vines are dormant and it’s a fight for survival out there. This is the last part in this series.

All photos are copyright by Elena and cannot used without permission at Winestains.

To see the previous part in the series, Autumn in the Vineyard, go here.

Winter scene in the Stratus Vineyard.
Vine cuttings in the Stratus Vineyard.
Vines waiting to get pruned in the Stratus Vineyard.
Posts and vines in the Stratus Vineyard.
Checking on vine health in the Featherstone vineyard.

Van Ede takes reins at Foreign Affair

Redstone and Tawse winemaker René Van Ede, above, has been hired as the new winemaker at Foreign Affair winery.

Van Ede replaces Barclay Robinson who was the winemaker since 2013 after stints at Ridgepoint (winemaker) and Tawse (cellar master). Robinson is off to the Okanagan Valley to take the winemaking helm at the now Anthony von Mandl owned Road13 winery.

“We will all miss Barclay dearly, but we know that this goodbye is not forever, and we look forward to keeping up with his journey,” said Kelly Josephson, assistant marketing and sales manager at Foreign Affair, in a news release.

As for Van Ede, he’s looking forward to “showing the world what Niagara fruit can do and continuing to make great quality wines.”

He will be working closely with assistant winemaker Alyssa Tharby, who has held that position for the last three harvests with Robinson and “will be a guiding light in terms of both our hand-crafted, appassimento approach to winemaking, as well as in preserving the heart and soul of the winery — a passion for quality wine that stems all the way back to our founders,” Josephson said.

Wines in Niagara wishes good luck to both winemakers as they begin the next chapters in their careers. I have known Robinson, above, since he was the winemaker at Ridgepoint and have a great deal of respect for the way he approaches winemaking and the way he steered the appassimento wines at Foreign Affair. Robinson was also a crucial partner in staging the Big Bottle Invitational golf tournament at Rockway Vineyard last August. He played a huge role in making the new charity golf tournament a success.

Here’s a new wine just released at Foreign Affair (available for online ordering here.

Foreign Affair Amarosé 2019 ($20, 89 points) — The blend for this lovely rosé is 67% Pinot Noir, 21% Chardonnay and the rest Gamay Noir. It was made in the ripasso method, which was aged in stainless steel, then repassed over the skins and lees of the appassimento Chardonnay. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass and has a nose of pretty red berries, bin apple, peach and apricot. It has a subtle creamy texture on the palate with brambly raspberries, peachy-quince fruits and plenty of juicy acidity keeping it all nicely balanced on the finish.

A smoky, bold offering
from Fielding Estate

Fielding Estate Cabernet Syrah 2017 ($30, 90 points) — Winemaker Richie Roberts, above, continues to host live, interactive tastings on Wednesdays and recently featured this Cab-Syrah blend (the next one is this Wednesday at 8 p.m.). I popped in for a bit before I attended another tasting taking place at the same time. I did get a chance to taste this wine, though. It has a smoky/earthy nose of blackberries, anise, cassis, pepper, spice and black licorice. It shows bright dark fruits on the palate, a touch of dark cherries, integrated spice notes, smoke, black pepper and spice with good tannic structure suggesting a bit of cellaring might just bring further integration.

Sip & Sizzle cancelled,
Graze the Bench and
i4C postponed

Industry association, Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, has made the decision, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, to cancel its popular Sip and Sizzle passport program that was to take place next month.

“While we are disappointed to cancel one of our most popular touring programs, this decision is grounded in care for our team, guests and community as we place everyone’s health and well-being above all else,” the industry new release said. “We will be issuing refunds on all previously purchased tickets. All refunds will be processed through EzTix over the next couple of weeks and we appreciate your patience.”

• Graze the Bench, planned for June 6-7, has been postponed to the weekend of Aug. 29-30. Currently sold tickets will now be valid for the new dates and no new tickets will be issued. More info is posted here.

• The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, scheduled for July 17-19, has been cancelled until next year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will now take place July 23-25 next summer.

Canadian wines coming to
Vintages stores on Saturday

While we still advocate for NOT going to LCBO outlets during the pandemic, for the safety of workers and yourself, we understand that many of you continue to shop there. More safeguards have been put in place at these stores, but we still caution against frequent visits and instead urge you to order directly from Ontario wineries.

Here’s what’s being released on Saturday.

Organized Crime Wild Ferment Riesling 2017 ($21, 90 points) — As the name states, the fruit was 100% wild fermented in a 1,000 litre oak cask and spent nine months resting on the lees. A complex Riesling with lime, green apple, river-rock minerality, salinity and grapefruit notes on the nose. It has some flesh on the palate and a touch of RS, but the tangy, fresh citrus fruits and minerality drive the boat here and hide any cloying sweetness. I sense a big future for this wine. You might want to put a bottle or two in the cellar for 4+ years to accentuate the mineral notes. That’s winemaker Greg Yemen in the photo above.

Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2018 ($20, 90 points) — A bright, expressive nose of grapefruit, lime, peach and lemon zest. It’s fresh with a dry impression on the palate and reveals a lovely saline minerality, lemon-lime and lovely peach-skin notes on a vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($30, 92 points) — Showing some restraint on the nose, but swirl it around in the glass and beauty unfolds. Creamy pear, a floral/perfumed note, baked apple and integrated spice notes. It’s more open-knit on the palate with rich apple and pear, lemon accents, toasted oak and spice with gorgeous finesse and minerality on the finish. Lovely Short Hills Bench Chardonnay.

Calamus Ball’s Falls White 2017 ($15, 87 points) — A friendly blend of 50% Riesling, 30% Pinot Gris and the rest spicy Gewurztraminer. It has a fresh and inviting nose of peach, melon, grapefruit and a smidge of spice. It’s slightly off-dry on the palate with juicy, round peach and other stone fruits with just enough acidity to keep it fresh through the finish. Crowd pleaser.

The Organized Crime Break-In Pinot Noir 2017 ($22, 88 points) — The fruit was fully de-stemmed into concrete and wood for a five-day cold soak. The grapes spent between 19-21 days on the skins fermenting, with a mix of wild and inoculated yeasts. The wine went straight to barrel (all French, 8% new) after the primary ferment, and spent 10 months undisturbed before bottling. This follows winemaker Greg Yemen’s fondness for “light, juicy, drinkable wines.” It shows a lighter colour in the glass with medium body and a nose of cherries, raspberries, integrated spice and violets. The cherries rule the roost on the palate with touches of brambly raspberry, anise, earth and freshness on a finessed finish.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• PondView Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2015 ($20 for 200 mL)
• Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2015 ($24)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2017 ($20)
• Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($18)
• Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc 2018 ($30)
• Lakeview Cellars Viognier 2017 ($20)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead By A Century Chardonnay 2018 ($22)
• Di Profio Just What the Doctor Ordered Gamay Noir 2017 ($22)

A delicious red from B.C. in
the Saturday Vintages release:

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2016 ($28, 90 points) — This winery founded by Donald Triggs, but now owned by Arterra, has two separate tiers. The R&D range is a tribute to Triggs and his brother Ron. This is a Merlot dominant Bordeaux variety blend with a rich, fruit-laden nose of spicy blackberries, cherries, wet earth, black currants, black olives and spice notes. It has a lovely plush feel on the palate and showcases an array of black and red fruits, black licorice, savoury herbs and elegant spice notes with a bright, finessed finish. Good value red wine from the Golden Mile Bench.