Thursday, March 09, 2006
On Saturday, we started out by stopping at Vineland Estates for some yummy Riesling. We were tasting as far back as 1993. This is were I had 2 tastes of cheese - my temporary fall off the wagon. Anyhow, Vineland Estates has been around for quite a while and their Dry Riesling is one of my favorite everyday whites. We did a bit of tasting off the menu as well and I thought the 2004 Sauvignon Blanc was very good and bought some. I guess the judges agree with me because they awarded it best Sauvignon Blanc at the Cuvee awards on Saturday night.
We then stopped at Flat Rock Cellars. They are fairly new on the scene and their focus was on Pinot Noir. We tasted 3 different clones seperately, and then blended into two wines that the winemaker crafted. There was a very chatty older gentleman there which made for a fun time. Flat Rock is a really nice facility with a spectacular view. They are very committed to having an enviromentally sensitive operation within the building and minimal spraying in the vineyard.
The highlight on Saturday was a trip to one of my favorite wineries, Thirteenth Street. They are located in Jordan. It's owned/run by 4 men who are all professionals in other fields. I'm not sure what all of them do, but I know one is an engineer. They love wine and started this operation as a "hobby." It's been very successful. Wine Access magazine named them a finalist in Top Canadian Winery in 2003. During the winter months they are generally closed and the rest of the year they are usually only open on Saturdays - because these guys have other jobs. . They did open up for Cuvee and we got to try all kinds of different chardonnays that had been aged in different barrels from different barrel makers, from different forests, etc. That was really interesting. What a difference in taste from something that seems so simple. We also did some sampling at the bar. I love the wines at this place! I bought a mixed case and spent more money than I should have.
Sunday was the bomb! We continued our journey and hit Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is a great town. We pulled off the highway and stopped first at the Niagara College Teaching Winery. This is where I want to go to school. I like to go in and talk to the students. They study the whole process from growing the grapes, pruning the vines, picking, crushing - everything. They make really good wine and sell it from a little store on campus. They actually won 2 awards at Cuvee. One for their Pinot Noir and one for a Chardonnay.
From there, we drove just down the road to another favorite of mine, Chateau des Charmes. Chateau des Charmes was started by Paul Bosc in 1978. Mr. Bosc is from French Algeria and studied in Burgundy. He has been one of the pioneers in Niagara for grape growing and winemaking. He's been innovative in trying new varieties of grapes not usually grown in this region and was the first to use wind machines that are now a common sight amongst the vineyards. Just last year he was awarded the Order of Canada. They make a fantastic St. David's Bench Gewurtztraminer. But my absolute favorite is their Equuleus. I first tried it when J and I were on our honeymoon and instantly loved it. We had some bottles from the 1998 vintage that were to die for, but alas, they are long gone. This is a bordeaux blend red wine and is only made during exceptional years. I have a few bottles of 2001 and the 2002 was just released at Christmas. I got to try some while we were there. It's still a little tight and young, but with a few years, it will be spectacular. As usual. On Sunday we got a chance to meet Madame Bosc and speak to her for a bit. What a truly delightful, unpretentious, friendly lady.
On our way to the more central part of town, we stopped off at Coyote's Run. This is a new small winery that is getting busier and busier every time we go in. The name is significant because they have a lot of coyotes coming onto the property. Workers see them all the time. And they have one of my favorite labels. The winemaker does some really good stuff. They have a unique terrior in that on one side of the building is black soil and on the other side, it's red soil. We tasted Pinot Noir from vines that were planted on each side, then the blend of the two together. What a difference! We preferred the red soil. There was another couple there and when we asked them, they also liked the red. Together, the two were magnificent.
Then, the creme de la creme of our entire weekend. We got to do a seminar and a tasting at Stratus with the winemaker, J-L Groux. J-L was the winemaker at Hillebrand for years. J and I are Hillebrand wine club members and have enjoyed their wines for a long time. While at Hillebrand, he came up with a few unique wines that have become very successful for winery. When I heard he'd left, I didn't know if we'd be able to enjoy any more of his work. Luckily, he just moved down the road and is now at Stratus where he has been given a lot more freedom to make the wines he wants. Pretty much carte blanche from what I understand. And man! What good stuff.
Stratus is a remarkable facility. From the outside, it looks like a credit union. Inside, it's very sleek and modern. Just before their opening in 2005, they were granted LEED Canada (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). Stratus is the first winery in Canada to meet this standard.
"In order to qualify for LEED certification, the winery had to meet numerous criteria that reduced the negative impact on the environment both during construction and on a permanent, operational basis. Primary features implemented at Stratus include: geothermal technology to heat and cool the building; the use of recycled materials in the construction and design; resource and energy efficient electrical and plumbing systems; a toxin-free waste management program; and a landscape plan that is organic and based on indigenous grasses and plants."
The focus is on wines made from the 'assemblage' of many different grape varietes to create wines of complexity and wonderful balance. When I first tried the 2000 Stratus White I was completely blown away. And the red is heaven as well! J-L does also do some single varietals and the weekend was when they released the 2002 Cabernet Franc. Yeah, we got some of that too.
The entire winemaking process works very efficiently and they use gravity flow rather than pumping. They even have an elevator for moving the tanks up and down. The operation of this place is amazing We were privy to a tour conducted by J.L. himself. To me, he's like a rock star. (Have I mentioned before how much of a wine geek I really am?) He is so willing to share all of the knowledge and experience he has and he's kinda funny, which I didn't expect. It was a truly delightful afternoon. Cuvee 2005 turned out to be a great weekend!