Everything Else Relating to Wine

  • Rose Wine

    Don’t Sweat the Pink Stuff

    by Michael Pinkus

    It’s a polarizing wine. It causes rifts in the time-space continuum. Fights between family members run deep and friends have been known to shun one another because of it. And, yet, it can be one of the most enjoyable summer sippers. It’s rosé and I have seen it break up families and friendships faster than “the other woman.” Continue reading →

  • Wine and Cheese: Getting it Right

    Wine and Cheese: Getting it Right

    By John Szabo MS

    wines with cheeses

    Few edibles share as many similarities as wine and cheese. Both were “invented” accidentally several thousand years ago, and people have not stopped trying to perfect them since. They’re both transformed from a relatively simple raw material (grape juice and milk) into an astonishingly complex product. The production region greatly influences the final outcome, and both require no small measure of human skill to get it right.

    However; although kindred in spirit, in reality, mixing wine and cheese often ends in disaster. So many wines crumple into a quivering heap before the fatty, salty, pungent profile of many cheeses. And, since proper cheese boards usually contain a range of cheeses from mild to stinky, goat to cow, there’s rarely a single type of wine that will work, err, across the board.

    Following are a few guidelines to help you get the match right. I’ve sliced up the vast worlds of both cheese and wine into basic style categories and paired them up, so that no matter what cheese you’re dealing with, you’ll know what wine is at least in the right ballpark.

    I’ve also done some hands-on experimentation with some of the fine cheeses made right here in Ontario wine country, courtesy of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County and the Upper Canada Cheese Company in Jordan, Niagara. I’ve recommended local wines for each of their offerings. When in doubt, what grows together goes together.

    Dial Up the Intensity

    Remember that unpasteurized, artisanal, farmhouse cheeses have a much stronger flavour profile than pasteurized, supermarket cheeses, so you’re wine choice should also climb the scale of intensity. A young, mild, pasteurized Cheddar will be fine with an inexpensive, moderately complex, soft red, for example, but an unpasteurized, well-aged, crumbly, farmhouse Cheddar will crush all but the sturdiest of reds.

    To Rind or Not to Rind?

    Flavour intensity also depends on maturity: the older and riper (runnier) the cheese, the stinkier it is, and the more intense the flavour, especially of the rind. Some folks enjoy the pungent flavour of the rind, others not so much (even cheese experts are divided on whether to eat the rind or not on certain cheeses). So, if the match isn’t working, try cutting the rind off, which often clashes with wine more than the milder paste itself.

    If You Serve Just One Wine

    Most people intuitively associate red wine with cheese. But white wine, and particularly off-dry or medium sweet wines, are much more versatile. If you’re going with just one wine for a range of cheeses, stay safe with a late harvest Riesling or Vidal.

    Matching up: The Generalities

    Following are the basic types and cheeses with common examples, and the wine styles that work best:

    Fresh: minimally-aged cheeses like cottage cheese, ricotta, fromage blanc, fromage frais, or queso fresco are mild in flavour. They’ll work, or at least not clash, with most wines. Your best bets are lightweight, crisp and stony whites or light-bodied, bright and zesty, low-tannin reds.

    Goat’s milk: The tangy acidity of goat’s milk cheeses like Srottin de Chavignol, St Maure, Chabichou, or anything called “Chèvre” calls for a wine with equally vibrant acidity. Best bets: lightweight, crisp and stony whites.

    Try:

    • Fifth Town’s creamy Plain Jane Chèvre with Lacey Estates 2011 Gewurztraminer Reserve.

    Soft, bloomy rind: ripened cheeses like Camembert, Brie, Explorateur, Chaource are sprayed or dusted with a (good type of) mold and left to ripen. They come in varying degrees of richness, usually designated as single, double or triple-cream. The richer the cheese, the more full-bodied should be the wine. Brie and Camembert work well with soft, round, slightly buttery Chardonnay and dry fruity rosés. Light, soft, fruity reds are also generally simpatico.

    Try:

    • Upper Canada’s Comfort Cream: a bloomy rind cheese made in a camembert style, aged for 6 weeks with Hidden Bench’s Estate 2011 Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench.
    • Upper Canada’s Smoked Comfort Cream: smoked over maple wood, aged for 3 weeks, with Le Clos Jordanne’s 2012 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, or Cave Spring Cellars 2012 Gewurztraminer.
    • Fifth Town Artisan Cheese’s Operetta: a deliciously luscious, soft ripened, bloomy rind goat milk cheese, in need of an equally rich and creamy oak-aged chardonnay. This works with Huff Estates 2012 South Bay Chardonnay or Exultet’s 2012 “The Blessed” Chardonnay, both from Prince Edward County. In a pinch, Norm Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot will do justice.
    • Fifth Town’s Nettles Gone Wild: soft ripened goat’s milk cheese with nettles with Huff Estate’s 2012 dry cabernet franc rosé.

    Soft, washed rind: washed-rind cheeses are regularly bathed with brine, beer, cider, wine, brandy, or oils during the ripening period, encouraging bacterial growth that allows the cheese to ripen from the outside in. With milder variations like Vacherin Mont d’Or, Pont l’Évèque, Reblochon or Taleggio, pour full-bodied complex, spicy whites such as Gewürztraminer, richer Pinot Gris, or Viognier. Medium to full-bodied reds such as Merlot, or Shiraz/Syrah also work. The more pungent types like Epoisses, Münster, or Limberger will crush any unsuspecting, delicate wines, so try off-dry or semi-sweet late harvest wines. But when really ripe and stinky, switch to fine local spirits.

    Try:

    • Upper Canada’s Niagara Gold: a nutty washed rind cheese in the Trappiste style, aged three months, with Hidden Bench’s 2012 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay.

    Semi-soft: this category includes a wide variety ranging from mostly mild and nutty to occasionally more pungent and aromatic, such as Fontina, Havarti, Morbier, Jarslberg, Emmenthal, Monterey Jack, Port Salut, Oka, Gouda or Edam. The milder versions are fairly friendly to wine, and soft fruity reds provide a good match. Try Gamay, lightly oaked Merlot, Pinot Noir and similar. Medium-bodied, soft and fruity whites like low/no oak Chardonnay are another way to go.

    Try:

    • Upper Canada’s Nosey Goat Camelot: a semi-firm, versatile, goat’s milk washed rind cheese aged three months in a Trappist style with 2012 Cave Spring Estate Riesling, or Malivoire 2013 Moira Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé.

    Semi-hard/hard: cheeses like Manchego, Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Crotonese, Gouda, Cheddar, Tomme, Raclette, Comté, Cantal, Provolone and Gruyere provide an opportunity to showcase some heavy hitting reds. The combination of moderate fat content, sharp, pungent flavour and crumbly texture calls for full-bodied, tannic reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and blends. You’ll find that this type of cheese actually softens up tannic reds, creating a smoother, creamier texture – a win-win pairing.

    Try:

    • Fifth Town’s Unpasteurized Goat Milk Cheddar: (the current batch is three and a half years old), a tangy and firm, salty and pungent cheese in need of richness and density in the form of Norm Hardie’s 2012 County Chardonnay, or if you’ll accept a pairing from outside of the County, Ravine’s savoury and intense 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from the St. David’s Bench.

    Blue-veined: the intense saltiness and pungent flavours of blue cheese like Stilton, Roquefort, or Gorgonzola wreak havoc on dry whites and reds, but make a brilliant contrasting match with sweet wines. It’s time to bring out the ice wine, both white and red versions. The saltier and more intense the cheese, the sweeter the wine should be.

    John Szabo is Canada’s first master sommelier and the author of Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies (Wiley, 2012), a partner/principal critic for WineAlign.com and a restaurant consultant based in Toronto.


     

  • The Cooperage of Prince Edward County

    The Cooperage of Prince Edward County

    by Jo Anne Mathew

    Photo by Steven Elphick

    What do you get when yoCooperageu cross Canadian white oak, iron hoops and a wood-chip fire reaching temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius? The result is a handcrafted, watertight, old-fashioned, iron-bound, fire-seasoned, solid oak barrel, custom-made with passion and care.

    The Carriage House Cooperage, located in Bloomfield, a rural Ontario village surrounded by the natural beauty of Prince Edward County, is the only commercial barrel maker in Canada. Owners Pete and Marla Bradford, one of only a few coopering couples in the world, know their profession and their wood. They are a warm, passionate and gregarious teamwho have been crafting and rolling out quality barrels for the last seven years with tremendous care and attention to detail. Pete and Marla established their cooperage in 2007. Originally part of the Grist Mill Studios in Wellington, it is a picturesque, 80-acre farm, with chickens, roosters… and Macey, their five-year-old Bernese Mountain dog, who welcomes all visitors.

    Their cooperage is comprised of a beautifully restored, 19th-century barn that houses the barrel vinegar shop and another rustic barn, accommodating the barrel shop. Their barrels are sought by the local wine makers of Prince Edward County; breweries and distilleries are also pursuing them for their innovative “alternate” wood barrels to age beer, cider, spirits and vinegar. These alternate wood barrels, crafted from cherry, hickory, oak and ash woods, are gaining international attention.

    After considerable research—and training from a kind Missourian who shared trade secrets—Pete and Marla left their professions in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries respectively, to establish The Carriage House Cooperage. They were drawn to Prince Edward County by the growing and vibrant wine trade. “We listen and learn from our customers so that we can provide the best product possible,” says Pete. “Our motto is, ‘It’s all about the barrel.’ This encompasses each stage of production from selecting the locally harvested oak, weathering the wood, creating the wooden staves that form the circular barrel, toasting and charring the barrel, to the finished product. Each barrel has its own, distinctive flavour, which is represented in the contents of the finished product.

    “One of our greatest investments, of course, is the wood,” explains Pete. “The wood we purchase today will be used three years from now. We have to season the cut planks for a minimum of three years and rotate the wood so that it gets an even amount of sun, rain, snow and ice—the wood must be exposed to all of Mother Nature’s elements.”

    While they respect and maintain centuries-old practices, this skilled couple also craft one-of-a-kind items from old barrels. Their Barrel Furniture Collection is a hand-crafted, limited series of cozy oak furniture and accessories. They have also created a line of gourmet vinegar, taking unwanted wine from local vintners to create outstanding, red wine vinegar, aged in their COACH barrels. COACH refers to Canadian oak, ash, cherry and hickory woods used in their barrel making. Using a blend of different woods within the same barrel has produced some of the most flavourful and innovative aging vessels for a range of products including their new line of wine vinegars.

    “All I ever heard was how different the woods are and so I decided to discover for myself their differences. I made six barrels: two out of French oak from Allier, France; two American barrels from Missouri and two Canadian barrels from Prince Edward County,” explains Pete. “I then acquired over-oxidized wine from a local winery that I used for my trial. I wasn’t out to create vinegar, it was the different flavour profiles that the various barrels were going to create that I was most interested in. After some time, Marla and I discovered that there was, in fact, a difference in taste, with different vinegars developing their own distinctive taste and flavours—each barrel having an impact on the contents.”

    Pete describes that just as he was about to throw out his trial products, he and Marla gave them another taste and realized the contents were worth keeping. In fact, the contents tasted great! “That day set us in a new direction. We went from six barrels to 50 of red wine vinegar, naturally flavoured with choice ingredients and aged in our custom-blended oak and alternative wood barrels.”

    Their unique vinegar has become very popular among local, Ontario chefs as well as the Niagara Culinary Institute. In 2012, Pete and Marla were bestowed the Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for creating a viable food product. And, they have recently been recognized by the American Distillers’ Association for their Canadian oak, ash and hickory barrels. When asked how their cooperage was received when they set up shop within the community, Pete says: “The people of Bloomfield have been fantastic; they are so supportive of what we are doing here. Many individuals from the local Rotary of Wellington have come by to offer their encouragement and support.”

    Their vinegar, Cooper’s Choice, is a blend of Gamay and Marachel Foch wines and Cooper’s Select is a vinegar made from Rosehall Run’s wine in the Cooper’s very first barrel. Their Prince Edward County Elite Pinot Noir Red Wine Vinegar is created using only local products and ingredients. Other vinegars include a malt beer one, and coming soon: champagne. The vinegars are aged to perfection with imported “mother” (living enzymes that help create vinegar) from the renowned Modena region of Italy. The series is available in two variations: the unique, spiced vinegar that is aged in the Cooper’s alternative wood barrels made from cherry, ash and hickory and the other aged in white oak. All are exceptional.

    “We are working very hard to create a Canadian tradition by adding our own flare into the business,” says Marla. “It’s been quite successful. Our name and reputation are getting out there and we’re very proud of what we have done and what we continue to do. The vinegars and barrels are expanding nationally and, over time, internationally.”

    Pete and Marla will continue to roll out the barrels, gourmet vinegars and other products for years to come. Plan a visit to The Carriage House Cooperage for a unique and enjoyable experience and visit them on-line at www.thecarriagehousecooperage.com.


     

  • Eugene DiRoccoEugene DiRocco’s Fun with Food & Wine

    There is nothing that gives me more joy than bringing smiles to the faces of friends and family. I believe the easiest way to do this is to provide Good food, Good Wine and Good music; together, they set the mood for your day, evening or event.

    Continue reading →

  • The World’s Next Wine Super Power?

    CHINA: The next wine superpower?

    by Tony Aspler

    It waschina_gv CHINA: The next wine superpower, of course, inevitable. China, thanks to its population of 1.4 billion, is on its way to becoming the world’s wine superpower. Last year, China drank 1,865 billion bottles, surpassing France and Italy as the world’s largest consumer of red wine. What is more significant is that 80% of this wine was home-grown.

    The average Chinese person consumes one litre of wine a year—that’s basically one 4-oz glass every two weeks. Imagine what would happen if they could be persuaded to drink a glass of wine every week. By comparison, Canada’s annual wine consumption per capita is 15 litres. Projections suggest that consumption of wine in China is likely to rise 54% by next year.

    My first taste of Chinese wine was in Toronto in 1978 during a Chinese New Year banquet at a restaurant called Sai Woo. The bottles were extremely ornate with garish red and gold labels festooned with red ribbons. The wines tasted like alcoholic prune juice. My next encounter with Chinese wine was ten years later when I visited the first Sino-French Joint Venture Winery, a co-production between the Chinese government and the French cognac company, Rémy Martin. The wines were marketed under the Dynasty label and they have appeared from time to time on liquor board shelves in Canada. The Dynasty wines were an improvement, but not something for which I would actually shell out money.

    Last August, I was invited to consult on the construction of a new winery to be built in the city of Linze in the Hexi Corridor between the Gobi Desert and Quilian Mountains. The entrepreneur behind the venture was Jason Tang, a Chinese businessman who imports and bottles wines from California’s Central Valley. Mr. Tang was also the power behind Gansu 2013, The Third Organic Wine Festival of China Hexi Corridor and The First Wine Festival in China Wine City. (In October last year the city of Wuwei, on the Silk Road in Hexi Corridor, was awarded the title of “China Wine City.”)

    At the wine festival, our group toured the table-top booths tasting Zixuan Merlot 2010, Mogao Pinot Noir, Qilian Icewine 2011 (made from Riesling Italico), Huangtai Fazenda Merlot (NV), Mogaoku Late Harvest 2009 (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Pinot Noir), and Guofeng Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.

    CHINA: The next wine superpower?Then we were all invited to go up on stage to critique the following wines: Mo Gao Pinot Noir 2010, Zixuan Organic Merlot 2010, Huangtai Vineyard Meite Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot (NV), Grand Dragon Organic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Goufeng Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mo Gau Late Harvest Berry Selection 2009 (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Pinot Noir), Fortified Wine (Tawny Port style) and Qilian Legendary Icewine 2011.

    The huge Chinese audience, perched on stools around cabaret tables, were mostly young people who hung on our translated comments, obviously eager to learn everything they could about wine. It is these young Chinese who are driving the consumption statistics upwards.

    Fifteen per cent of China’s grapes—for wine and for the table—come from the Hexi Corridor, which also supports the cultivation of melons, apricots, peaches, pears, cherries, wheat, potatoes, onions and, of course, corn, endless fields of corn. There are also vast fields of marigolds that are used in the preparation of face creams and eye health products.

    The wine-growing region of the Hexi Corridor is located between 36° and 40° latitudes that embrace Napa and Bordeaux. The soil here is very sandy and, with minimal rainfall, the farmers can grow their grapes organically.This arid region receives a meagre 6 ½ inches of rain a year, which means the grape farmers don’t need to use fungicides and pesticides in their vineyards, making it the world’s largest organic vineyard surface.

    Everything about the Chinese wine industry is monumentally big. The six enterprises based along the Hexi Corridor crushed 86,000 tons of grapes in 2012. The Gansu Grand Dragon Organic Wine Company, the largest in the region and China’s first all-organic enterprise with a staff of 4,000, is in the process of planting 66,667 hectares of vines. By comparison, all of Bordeaux measures just over 120,000 hectares; Napa has 17,637 hectares of vines. The company’s massive chateau that looks like an Egyptian necropolis has a storage capacity of 100,000 tons.

    China - servers-originalOur group also toured local vineyards to see how the farmers grew their grapes. At a city named Bangiao, we walked through a 134-acre vineyard farmed by 30 different farmers. Eighty per cent of the vineyard was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot augmented by some table grape varieties. The varying levels of expertise and commitment by the collective were evident row by row. The agronomist who showed us around explained that along the Hexi Corridor they have to bury their vines for winter and uncover them in April—just as the growers in Quebec and Prince Edward County have to do.

    During my two-week stay, I tasted as many locally made wines as I could and was impressed by their authenticity; they actually tasted of the variety that appeared on the label. They’re not there yet, but with more care taken in the vineyard and a willingness to learn from the experience of established wine regions, I am convinced that Chinese wines will be on the tables of the best restaurants around the world in the not-too-distant future… and at prices that we can all afford.

     


     

  • The Birth of a Winery

    The Birth of a Winery

    by Cindy Mark

    If you can dream it, you can do it. Sacha and John Squaires are living proof. As the owners of Three-Dog Winery, Sacha and John made their initial jump into the winery business back in 1998 when they purchased a 100-acre property with a south-sloping hill and plenty of room for vines. With no house on the property, the Squaires’ spent their weekends camping out while they worked the land and planted vines. They quickly discovered, however, that trying to manage a vineyard on the weekends was just too much, so began the search for a home in The County. Their search ended with a circa 1874 church, that they have since renovated into their loving home. “We just fell in love with it,” says Sacha.

    Next, Sacha and John both finished with their jobs in Toronto and started the process of re-inventing themselves in The County. John started his own vineyard management company looking after three to four different vineyards and making wine for a couple of them. Having been an amateur winemaker since the early ’90s, John had also completed courses through UC Davis and now started making wine on a larger scale. Sacha initially tried her hand at an antique store, then eventually went to work in Kingston in social services and then, later, studied yoga, which has since blossomed into her passion. She now runs Indigo Yoga Studio in Rosehall and feels that she has the best of both worlds. “Yoga and wine: does it get any better?” says Sacha.

    IMG_4022In June of 2013, the Squaires’ hosted a planting party with over 100 volunteers that came from Orangeville, Gatineau, Ottawa, Kingston and all points in between. With support from four other wineries, a beer and a cider company, as well as local bakeries and restaurants, their planting party was a smash hit. There was food and drink for everyone, T-shirts and even a film crew that made a short video of the entire day. This launched their Indiegogo campaign where they raised over $10,000 towards the winery building. (Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform on the Web).
    Up until that point, John and Sacha had been able to plant 2½ acres of vines, but 5 acres is the minimum requirement to open a winery. With those volunteers, the final 2½ acres of 2,500 vines were planted in 2 hours—literally faster than the equipment can plant. Those volunteers are now considered the founding (a.k.a. family) members of Three-Dog Winery. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” says John. “If you want to move something forward, get the community involved.”

    With vines planted and buildings up, the Squaires’ were able to process their first harvest on site this past September. Self-confessed “Pinot nuts,” the first 2½ acres of vines are a mix of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Baco Noir and Vidal, with the last 2½ planted as more Baco and Vidal as well as some Geisenheim, a German hybrid.

    They currently have a delicious patio sipper called DogHouse White at a very accessible $12.95 and a great DogHouse Red that pairs beautifully IMG_3996with anything from pizza to BBQs, and a soon-to-be-released Gamay and Pinot Grigio. The DogHouse Rosé coming in June will make it just in time for their Grand Opening on June 14, and everyone is invited!

    The Squaires’ would like their guests to feel free to walk the beautiful paths or sit and have a glass of wine on the deck overlooking the vineyard. With over 5 kms of trails, this is definitely dog-friendly territory, and both John and Sacha are adamant that their wine—and their property—be enjoyed by all.

    Their first real day of business in the tasting room was during Maple in the County where they had over 600 visitors come and enjoy a walk to the sugar bush and a glass of wine by the open outdoor fire, that also included marshmallow roasting.

    “We want people to come, bring a picnic lunch, sit on the deck and enjoy a glass of wine, walk with their dog on one of the trails and just enjoy the sun, like we used to do when we first came,” says Sacha.

    John echoes that sentiment. “We have over 100 acres and we want it to be used,” he says. “Our aim is to be a winery that has approachable wines that everyone can enjoy. Rather than buying one expensive bottle for that one special occasion, I want people to come and buy two bottles of our wine, drink them, and then come back tomorrow to buy two more.”


     

  • Wine Tasting: Lessons I’ve Learned

    Wine Tasting: Lessons I’ve Learned

    by Michael Pinkus

     

    HiResI have talked in the past about a couple of rules I live my life by when it comes to wine tasting abroad and at my local winery: 1) wine always tastes better in the country that made it (if you are in Italy, Italian wines taste better), and 2) wine always tastes better in the presence of the winemaker. Now, these aren’t proven facts, but they are good rules to keep in mind when tasting.

    I always tell friends that go wine touring with me that, “You had better really like that wine, because it will never taste better than it does today—right here, right now.” You see, wine is not only about the taste, but also about the mood, your surroundings, who you’re with and what you’re doing at the time.

    For example, I have had the same wine with the same pizza two weeks apart and have found that, in the first instance, it was a match made in heaven. The second time—not so heavenly. The wine was the same, the pizza an exact match, but my mood was different and, thus, so was the experience. The same can be said about with whom you are sharing your wine; good friends make any bottle of wine taste better and a bad environment can spoil even the greatest bottle.

    When you are winery hopping you are in a great mood and you are with people you want to be with because, 1) you’d rarely go alone and, 2) you’d rarely take people along that you can’t stand to be with. “Jovial” just seems to best describe the mood of a wine tasting outing with friends. As the day progresses, more wine disappears down your gullet and your critical judgment begins to evaporate. Everything tastes “good,” “great” or “awesome,” so let’s stop and talk about a few things to keep in mind when visiting wineries and purchasing wines, besides the obvious like having a designated driver and not making an absolute fool of yourself by getting totally blitzed.

    1. Buy early. The best time to purchase the wines you like are at the first few wineries you visit. I have no idea how many wineries are on your agenda. For myself, if I don’t hit at least six, I feel like I’ve wasted my day. However, your judgment is best at those first few and you’ll most likely enjoy those wines more when you open them up back home.

    I have a story about this that dates to quite a few years, and a few brain cells, back when I was in university. A buddy and I drove from London, Ontario, to wine country for the day, hit a good 8 to 10 wineries and, at the last one, spent more money than we should have on wines we thought were the best of the day. Weeks later, we got together to open a bottle or two and were not only disappointed in the wines, but also in ourselves. We had bought some real swill! So, Rule Number one is: always buy ‘em early.

    2. Don’t feel that you have to buy. I have a friend who, to this day, buys at least one bottle from every winery he visits. When, one day, I asked him why, his response was, “I feel that I have to.” If you’re like my friend, stop that way of thinking. If you don’t like a wine, nobody is forcing you to take it home and have it languish on a shelf or serve when the in-laws come over (to encourage them not to come over again). Not all people like the same wine. That’s why they make so many different kinds, in so many different ways, in so many different countries. When people say to me, “I don’t like red wine,” I tell them it’s because they haven’t found their red wine yet. That day, and that wine, will come. This leads us right into Rule Number 3.

    3. Buy for yourself, not for others. Don’t assume that your tastes match up with someone else’s. I have got into more trouble than I can say buying wines that I thought someone else would like. Sometimes I’m right, and that’s one for the wine column, and sometimes I’m wrong, and that means I’m stuck with something I’m not totally thrilled with. So, buy to please your own palate.

    4. Don’t begrudge tasting fees. This is one of those controversial issues that I always hear about and that people seem to put a lot of hateful thoughts into. You may not like them, but tasting fees are a necessary evil of the industry. If you live by Rule Number 2 (Don’t feel that you have to buy), then you can’t begrudge tasting fees. They are usually less than what you’d pay for a bottle and it helps the winery recoup some of the cost of the bottle(s) they opened and poured for your benefit. That being said, tasting fees are not an absolute. Your server can waive them, so be pleasant and show interest; surly and angry pays, whereas pleasant, happy and interested have an outside shot of walking away with their money still in their pocket.

    This brings me back to one of my first rules on wine tasting—the one about the country and the winemaker. That outlook of mine worries me because of some of the wines that I’ve purchased during my own trips abroad and elsewhere. Just holding one of those bottles can bring back memories, be it dining on a rainy evening in Tuscany at Palazzo Vecchio while “mama” cooked dinner in the adjacent kitchen, or on a rather rowdy night in Oporto with cigars and port overlooking the Douro. I’ll try to relive those memories when I pop the corks, but it’s impossible. So, my advice? Forget what you did, forget what you know, open the bottle for its own occasion, not to invoke the memory of days gone by but, instead, for the exciting events that are happening right now.


     

The Cooperage of Prince Edward County

by Jo Anne Mathew

Photo by Steven Elphick

What do you get when you cross Canadian white oaCooperagek, iron hoops and a wood-chip fire reaching temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius? The result is a handcrafted, watertight, old-fashioned, iron-bound, fire-seasoned, solid oak barrel, custom-made with passion and care.

The Carriage House Cooperage, located in Bloomfield, a rural Ontario village surrounded by the natural beauty of Prince Edward County, is the only commercial barrel maker in Canada. Owners Pete and Marla Bradford, one of only a few coopering couples in the world, know their profession and their wood. They are a warm, passionate and gregarious teamwho have been crafting and rolling out quality barrels for the last seven years with tremendous care and attention to detail. Pete and Marla established their cooperage in 2007. Originally part of the Grist Mill Studios in Wellington, it is a picturesque, 80-acre farm, with chickens, roosters… and Macey, their five-year-old Bernese Mountain dog, who welcomes all visitors.

Their cooperage is comprised of a beautifully restored, 19th-century barn that houses the barrel vinegar shop and another rustic barn, accommodating the barrel shop. Their barrels are sought by the local wine makers of Prince Edward County; breweries and distilleries are also pursuing them for their innovative “alternate” wood barrels to age beer, cider, spirits and vinegar. These alternate wood barrels, crafted from cherry, hickory, oak and ash woods, are gaining international attention.

After considerable research—and training from a kind Missourian who shared trade secrets—Pete and Marla left their professions in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries respectively, to establish The Carriage House Cooperage. They were drawn to Prince Edward County by the growing and vibrant wine trade. “We listen and learn from our customers so that we can provide the best product possible,” says Pete. “Our motto is, ‘It’s all about the barrel.’ This encompasses each stage of production from selecting the locally harvested oak, weathering the wood, creating the wooden staves that form the circular barrel, toasting and charring the barrel, to the finished product. Each barrel has its own, distinctive flavour, which is represented in the contents of the finished product.

“One of our greatest investments, of course, is the wood,” explains Pete. “The wood we purchase today will be used three years from now. We have to season the cut planks for a minimum of three years and rotate the wood so that it gets an even amount of sun, rain, snow and ice—the wood must be exposed to all of Mother Nature’s elements.”

While they respect and maintain centuries-old practices, this skilled couple also craft one-of-a-kind items from old barrels. Their Barrel Furniture Collection is a hand-crafted, limited series of cozy oak furniture and accessories. They have also created a line of gourmet vinegar, taking unwanted wine from local vintners to create outstanding, red wine vinegar, aged in their COACH barrels. COACH refers to Canadian oak, ash, cherry and hickory woods used in their barrel making. Using a blend of different woods within the same barrel has produced some of the most flavourful and innovative aging vessels for a range of products including their new line of wine vinegars.

“All I ever heard was how different the woods are and so I decided to discover for myself their differences. I made six barrels: two out of French oak from Allier, France; two American barrels from Missouri and two Canadian barrels from Prince Edward County,” explains Pete. “I then acquired over-oxidized wine from a local winery that I used for my trial. I wasn’t out to create vinegar, it was the different flavour profiles that the various barrels were going to create that I was most interested in. After some time, Marla and I discovered that there was, in fact, a difference in taste, with different vinegars developing their own distinctive taste and flavours—each barrel having an impact on the contents.”

Pete describes that just as he was about to throw out his trial products, he and Marla gave them another taste and realized the contents were worth keeping. In fact, the contents tasted great! “That day set us in a new direction. We went from six barrels to 50 of red wine vinegar, naturally flavoured with choice ingredients and aged in our custom-blended oak and alternative wood barrels.”

Their unique vinegar has become very popular among local, Ontario chefs as well as the Niagara Culinary Institute. In 2012, Pete and Marla were bestowed the Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for creating a viable food product. And, they have recently been recognized by the American Distillers’ Association for their Canadian oak, ash and hickory barrels. When asked how their cooperage was received when they set up shop within the community, Pete says: “The people of Bloomfield have been fantastic; they are so supportive of what we are doing here. Many individuals from the local Rotary of Wellington have come by to offer their encouragement and support.”

Their vinegar, Cooper’s Choice, is a blend of Gamay and Marachel Foch wines and Cooper’s Select is a vinegar made from Rosehall Run’s wine in the Cooper’s very first barrel. Their Prince Edward County Elite Pinot Noir Red Wine Vinegar is created using only local products and ingredients. Other vinegars include a malt beer one, and coming soon: champagne. The vinegars are aged to perfection with imported “mother” (living enzymes that help create vinegar) from the renowned Modena region of Italy. The series is available in two variations: the unique, spiced vinegar that is aged in the Cooper’s alternative wood barrels made from cherry, ash and hickory and the other aged in white oak. All are exceptional.

“We are working very hard to create a Canadian tradition by adding our own flare into the business,” says Marla. “It’s been quite successful. Our name and reputation are getting out there and we’re very proud of what we have done and what we continue to do. The vinegars and barrels are expanding nationally and, over time, internationally.”

Pete and Marla will continue to roll out the barrels, gourmet vinegars and other products for years to come. Plan a visit to The Carriage House Cooperage for a unique and enjoyable experience and visit them on-line at www.thecarriagehousecooperage.com.