This article was originally written in May 2007 for Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.
“People need to remember that wine is a beverage.” This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but between the collectors and investors spending thousands of dollars on vintage bottles that may not even be drinkable, and the confusing and arcane assortment of grape varietals, growing regions and sub-appellations, it’s easy to see why many people (including yours truly) are somewhat intimidated by the world of wine. It was confessing this intimidation to one of the winery representatives at the Somewhereness: Old Soils, New Wines event this past Monday that led to his statement quoted above, and it’s a statement which really sums up much of what Somewhereness was all about.
Held in a large conference space in the lower level of the MaRS Discovery District, Somewhereness brought together five young, independent, ecology-minded wineries from the Niagara region to pour samples of their offerings in a casual and welcoming environment. For wine novices like my wife and I, it was a great opportunity to not only taste some fantastic wines from our own backyard that we might not have discovered otherwise, but it also allowed us to meet the people behind the wines and learn a bit about the terroir that is so important in the creation of good quality wines.
One thing we weren’t able to do, however, was take informed tasting notes about the wines. While my experience from beer tasting is a good foundation, I still haven’t quite cracked the code when it comes to detecting all of the nuances in fine wine. But then again, going back to the “wine is a beverage” mantra, maybe I shouldn’t be trying so hard! Whatever the case, in the absence of full scale notes, I’ll offer instead a bit of information about each of the wineries, along with my brief wine-newbie thoughts about what they were pouring.
Flat Rock Cellars
Founded in 1999, the Flat Rock vineyard and winery are located on the Niagara Escarpment in an area known as the Jordan Bench. Concentrating on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling (the three grape varieties that they feel are the most suitable for the terroir of the area), they produce wine from each variety in two tiers: the Estate tier for easier drinking wines, and the Reserve tier for wines with more robust and complex flavours. At the event, they were pouring three of their Reserve wines – 2005 Gravity Pinot Noir, 2005 Rusty Shed Chardonnay and 2006 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling – as well as a Pinot Noir from the Estate line-up. It was interesting to compare the two Pinots, as they were both very good wines, but the Gravity definitely had a little something extra, making it easy to see why Toronto Life‘s David Lawrason recently named it one of the 10 best red wines in Ontario. And both of the whites had a nice balance of fruitiness and acidity, along with a strong influence from the limestone that makes up a big part of the soil in the region.
Malivoire Wine Company
Based on three estates in the Niagara Region – two on the Beamsville Bench and one on the Jordan Bench – the vineyards owned by Martin Malivoire are operated under the philosophy of sustainable viticulture. Natural methods are used to manage and repel threats to the vines, wood posts are used rather than steel, and all fruit is hand harvested. They also received organic certification on their Moira vineyard in 2004, and the first wine produced from grapes harvested after this date, 2004 Moira Chardonnay, was being poured at the event. Also uncorked were their 2004 Pinot Noir, 2006 Pinot Gris, and our favourite of the bunch, the crisp and fruity 2005 Gamay.
Norman Hardie Winery
I first crossed paths with this winery earlier this year at the Terroir conference where Norman Hardie was a last-minute addition to a panel due to the weather keeping one of the scheduled participants away. I was impressed by his obvious passion for his work as a winemaker, as well as the praise that was given to his debut vintage from 2004. At Somewhereness, he was pouring his 2005 trio of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, all of which were pleasing to my slowly developing palate. The same limestone that influenced the Flat Rock wines was also in evidence here, adding a dry, minerally character that I really enjoyed.
Established in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2000, Stratus sits in the Niagara Lakeshore appellation under the VQA boundaries, which gives their wines quite a different character from the Bench-based ones we had sampled previously. They also differ from the other wineries in that they specialize in blends rather than single varietals, so their flagship brands are simply dubbed Stratus Red and Stratus White, and in a reversal of what might be expected, wine not used in the blends may be released as a single varietal. This was the case in 2004, when a Riesling and Cabernet Franc were bottled along with the blends. Stratus also produces a second-tier line called Wildass which is primarily aimed at the by-the-glass restaurant market, but even though they’re half the price of the main Stratus line, they’re still quite palatable and seem ideal to pair with casual meals in casual restaurants.
Located in the fittingly named village of Vineland just a few miles from the main Malivoire estate, the Tawse Winery has been open for just two years, but they’ve been getting rave reviews right from the get-go. Like Stratus, they offer a sub-brand aimed at the restaurant trade, the simply named Echo’s White and Echo’s Red which were being poured alongside the higher end 2004 Beamsville Bench Chardonnay and 2005 Pinot Noir. Since we’d moved back to the Bench, that mineral character was evident, particularly in the Chardonnay.
It should be mentioned that while wine was the star of Somewhereness, it wasn’t the only aspect of the event. Cheeses from four artisanal Ontario cheesemakers were being sampled, including wares from the always wonderful Monforte and Thunder Oak. There were also tasty samples of prosciutto, turkey and beef being served on bread supplied by Whole Foods, and the lovely and talented Dick Snyder from CityBites magazine was there to hand out copies of the recent wine issue and to act as MC for a series of short presentations by each of the wineries. All of these features combined to make Somewhereness an enjoyable experience, and one that will undoubtedly lead to Sheryl and I exploring and drinking more Ontario wines.