I would first off like to apologize for the infrequency of my postings. Conventional wisdom would suggest a “hit the ground running” approach to a new blog but unfortunately life gets in the way. There have been some personel changes at Play and it has taken much of my time. Excuses aside I feel the need to talk about my recent trip to Niagara and Toronto for various wine endeavours. I’m writing this while flying from Munich to Madrid on my way to more wine adventures. I mention this, not in a braggy kind of way, but more to highlight the fact that the more wine regions I visit the more I’m convinced that they’re really getting it right at many wineries in Ontario.
This time I only had a day and a half in Niagara and only managed to fit in two wineries but it was very much worth the drive. This was the first time I wasn’t there at harvest time and I assumed there would be much less going on but I was wrong. I happened to be there on May 10th which coincides with a very important occurrence in Niagara wine county: bud break. This means that all those slumbering vines that had been forced into a coma by winter’s sub-freezing temperatures are finally waking up. The sap starts to flow and the vines use all that pent-up energy to create the buds that will quickly become the shoots that will hold those beautiful grape clusters that will be he nurtured, picked, crushed, fermented, oak aged, blended, bottled and then cellared, ordered, opened, and drank. You can see then why bud break is so important. My guide for this exciting time was Stratus Vineyard’s Vineyard manager Richard Blackadder. I had been forewarned the night before by J.L., Stratus’s winemaker, that Richard was going to be putting me to work in the vineyard and so I dutifully showed up with my very pregnant girlfriend (a Stratus employee) at 9am the next morning to work. I think there was a combination of pity for preggo and the usual kid-glove approach to sommeliers but Richard took it very easy on us. He took us on an educational and entertaining tour of their 62 acre vineyard. The main job at this time of year (depending on vine trellising decisions) is tying the vine shoots (last year’s wood) to the wires so that when the new shoots pop up they can be easily managed. We did tie back a few Sauvignon Blanc vines and I will therefore take total credit for how great Stratus’s 2011 Sauv Blanc is going to taste. We did leave the majority of the work to the experts. These experts were a great group of Jamaican dudes who work very hard in the vineyard year after year. It was really wonderful to see how much attention and care is devoted to every step of the creation.
That afternoon, after a very good lunch at Stone Road Grille (a must-do when visiting Niagara) we headed to Toronto for and event called Somewhereness. This was a joint effort between the 6 Ontario wineries, who founded the Somewhereness organization, and Vintages. These wineries had invited 4 more to the party so what transpired was a summit of 10 of the most terroir-driven winemakers in Ontario getting together to talk about their wines and their regions. The event kicked off with a very educational discussion of why exactly terroir, or “somewhereness” the Wine Spectator-ized version of the word, matters. Presenting this was Italian wine expert Ian D’Agata. What I was most impressed with was how un-dumbed down it was. This was an event for the general public, not for sommeliers and he went into the discussion with the belief that the audience he was speaking to had a brain, which is where I feel some wine events falter. We then got to hear from all 10 winemakers while sampling their hard work. The overarching theme of the night was a celebration of wines with a sense of place. These were wines which represent the region and vineyards from which they came. I will be devoting much of this blog to the importance of this notion of terroir so I won’t go into too much detail here but suffice it to say the “somewhereness” of the wine is absolutely crucial to how special it is. This will not be the kind of blog that touts the next big $8 general list wine that tastes like it could have come from anywhere (as my friend Charles Baker would say “no-whereness”). There are lots of people doing that already. What I will always try to do is celebrate the wines that reflect the place, climate, traditions and hard work that make wine such a special beverage.
That being said I will be spending the next 9 days chasing this very special beverage around Spain with a very good friend who happens to import wine (I am quoting him as saying “I don’t know, man. I’m just here for the booze. You can quote me on that”). We will be visiting 6 wine regions and tasting hundreds of wines who tell a story and I plan on sharing them with you.