Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winemaker Profile – Estelle Lourens – Flat Roof Manor


I‘m a sucker for a wine label featuring a cat. I suspect wine marketers know there are more than a few of us out there, as there’s never a shortage of feline images at the LCBO. And so when I saw that cats figure prominently on the labels of South Africa’s Flat Roof Manor wines, my interest was piqued. The cat images in this case were inspired by a legend that came along with the 350-year-old estate the grapes are grown on.

At her recent appearance at the iYellow Wine Cave, winemaker Estelle Lourens didn’t go into the details of the legend (though I wish she had), but she did tell an audience of wine lovers a whole lot about the Flat Roof wines we were tasting that evening.

Estelle, who was studying biophysics before winemaking became her passion, walked us through two very different wines from the Flat Roof Manor line – the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot. Flat Roof grapes are grown on the Uitkyk Wine Estate, a well-respected and long-established South African winemaking operation. But the team there wanted to try something new – including growing some grapes not well-known in South Africa.

They were also interested in moving into the international market – an endeavor which might not be as easy with wines under the Uitkyk name (I’ll let you try and figure out how to pronounce that). So Flat Roof Manor was born and the cats began dancing across their wine labels.

Pinot Grigio is not a grape that’s common in South Africa, and hearing Estelle talk about the challenges of cultivating the grape and turning it into an internationally-accepted wine is fascinating. While this wine is not typical of other Pinot Grigios I’ve had, I did enjoy it. It has a nice, fruit-forward nose and a good balance of citrus and acidity. It was interesting to learn about the use of carbon in this wine and the challenges of figuring out how to extract the colour from the red grapes, while not taking out the flavour.





The next wine we tried was the Merlot. There’s no new wood used in this wine, which has helped Estelle create a version that's softer and easy-drinking. Merlot is admittedly not my favourite grape (please, no Sideways comments), but this one was well-made. I think it would be a good fit with a red meat pairing.

The team at Flat Roof has also been growing a Malbec that is available in B.C. and Alberta and a Shiraz that is currently South Africa only.

As always, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear from a winemaker about the decisions made when creating these wines. The process of making wine is one that I find completely fascinating and I always jump at these invitations to hear winemaker talks. I'm so glad I was invited to attend this event.

Have you ever tried a Pinot Grigio from South Africa? What did you think?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard

The pond at Buttonwood
Yes, I am woefully behind with my blog posts, it's true. But as I know several wine-loving friends who are planning trips to California, I thought it was high time to start telling the stories of some of my favourite winery visits during our recent trip to the state. I’ll start with Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard and you can expect updates on Daou and Hope Family Vineyards to come very soon!

On the Friday evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference, each of the 300+ blogger and industry reps attending were whisked away to one of ten surprise winery visits. Our mini-bus driver gave us a few hints as we drove through beautiful Santa Barbara wine country and we were all thrilled when we learned that our destination was Buttonwood Winery.

Zingy - one of the fabulous Buttonwood wines
We had tried one of Buttonwood’s wines at that afternoon's speed tasting, but seeing this location in person is spectacular. The winery is set on 106 acres of gorgeous land (39 acres are vineyard). We started our visit with a hilltop toast, overlooking the beautiful grape vines surrounding us. Our host, winemaker Karen Steinwachs introduced Brander winery owner, Fred Brander, to provide an overview of the proposed changes to the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which they are hoping to get approved very soon. I find the AVA issue an interesting one, though I have to admit I need to educate myself more on it.  I found a good explanation of the changes on the Brander Vineyards site, which some of you may find helpful in understanding this: http://www.brander.com/we-need-more-avas-2/

The incredible Brander Sauvignon Blanc line-up.
After the spectacular views, we walked down to the winery for a delicious course of appetizers and wine tasting. The wines, all from the Santa Ynez Valley, were very high quality, although I was really blown away by the Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted through their recent vintages with winemaker Fabian Bravo and was so impressed. I am hopeful I can find them in Toronto, as I’d really like to have these again.

Wines from Solminer
I also really enjoyed the Solminer wines I tried – this is a newer (and smaller) winery, so they do not currently have distribution in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I think they are well worth seeking out. Shawn and I are already planning to visit the area again in a year or two and Solminer will definitely be on my ‘must’ list, as the wines were so well done.


Anna and David deLaski of Solminer
Over an incredible dinner catered by The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, and held in Buttonwood’s beautiful barrel room, I was able to try Buttonwood’s 2013 Syrah Rosé, which was a wonderful compliment to the meal. Over a delicious peach cobbler (made with peaches grown on Buttonwood’s farm), I tried a lovely dessert wine from Rideau Vineyard – a unique and delicious blend of Riesling and Viognier. This was my first California dessert wine and I was impressed.

Seriously, how could you not want to visit Buttonwood?
I cannot speak highly enough of our wonderful visit to Buttonwood. I know that I'll want to visit again when next we’re in California – the wines are well worth trying and the location is breathtaking. I also had a wonderful conversation with winemaker Karen Steinwachs, whose passion for winemaking is infectious. You must visit if you are in the Solvang area - this is a winery that won't disappoint.

For more information on Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard: http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com/
For more information on Solminer Wines: http://www.solminer.com/
For more information on Brander Vineyards: http://www.brander.com/

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Upkeep Updates

As some of you have noticed, the blog has been on a bit of a break over the last few weeks. I had hoped that all my recent life changes would have minimal impact on my blogging, but that clearly wasn't the case. I've had less time to write and when time did arise, I'll confess to just being way too tired to focus on writing anything worthwhile.

The Twitter community, who always seem to be there when I need my spirits raised, were quick to point out that sometimes we all need to hit the pause button. It's true. And now I'm back and feeling recharged and refreshed!

But despite the short blog hiatus, I've still been doing lots of wine-related things. I thought this post could be a re-cap of some of the ones I'd like to share.

What I've Been Drinking:

Photo from the Palatine website
Ages ago, Shawn McCormick from Uncork Ontario suggested that I would like the Palatine Hills 1812 Chardonnay and I filed that info away until I came across it. I found a bottle at the LCBO this month (at an extremely reasonable price-point) and decided to bring it to a recent corn roast with my husband's family. The wine was a hit with both myself and the guests who tried it. It's an unoaked chardonnay with great acidity and paired perfectly with roasted corn, potato salad and all the great fixings that come with this sort of family get-together. I often turn to Twitter and great friends like Shawn for suggestions on wines to try and this was a perfect example as to why.
For more info on Palatine Hills: https://www.palatinehillsestatewinery.com/ 
To read Uncork Ontario: http://uncorkontario.com/



 I recently learned about Canada Braai Day from a rep for the Distell Group in Canada. They offered to send over some info and I was intrigued. As the media release explains, braai is Afrikaans for barbeque and the custom has become so popular in South Africa that it now has its own holiday. I have really enjoyed learning about South African wines and culture of late and I thought it was a fun idea to try and bring this tradition to Canada. Braai Day was yesterday (September 20th) and to celebrate, I raised a glass of Savanna Cider from South Africa. It wasn't as sweet a cider as I usually like, but it was nice to try my first South African cider and Shawn, who prefers a dry cider, really enjoyed it. I hope to have some South African wine this weekend to extend the celebration - I've become quite a fan of the region recently.

There's a website that explains Canada Braai Day and offers up recipes and other info for how you can celebrate this weekend or in the weeks to come: http://braai.ca/

What I've Been Reading:

Recently, the topic for Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter was wine books. This is a subject I have plenty to say about, as I have acquired an extensive collection of wine books over the last few years. The chat offered many excellent suggestions for books every wine lovers should own and I was pleased to be able to offer many of my own options. I wanted to share two of my recent favourites here: Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup and The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. Both of these books took me on a journey though fascinating parts of wine history. Wine & War looks at how the French tried to keep their vineyards and wine from falling into German hands during WWII and The Billionaire's Vinegar looks at one of the most extraordinary cases of alleged counterfeit wine ever. These two books are perfect for the wine or history buff in your life and both had me staying up way too late trying to squeeze in just a few more pages before bed.

For more info on Wine & War: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/wine-and-war-the-french/9780767904483-item.html?ikwid=Wine+%26+War&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=5

For more info on The Billionaire's Vinegar:  http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-billionaires-vinegar-the-mystery/9780307338785-item.html?ikwid=Benjamin+Wallace&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Interested in Ontario wine? Join Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter Wednesday evenings at 10:00 p.m. ET.


What I've Been Eating:

As a quasi-vegetarian (no red meat for this girl), I'm always looking for delicious options that will work for my diet. I've been working hard recently to make sure I nourish my body with good food, so healthy options are key. If I want to have a glass of wine, I need to pay that #winetax with good food, exercise and healthy living. One of my new favourite places to find interesting vegetarian options is Yam Chops at 705 College Street in Toronto. I attended an event there a few months back and I am still craving their un-tuna. Shawn and I also loved their meatless spaghetti sauce and their chutney. They don't serve wine, but you can find plenty of options to practice your vegetarian pairings at this place.


 For more info on Yam Chops: http://yamchops.com/

  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Winemaker Chat with KWV's Izele Van Blerk

Izele's Twitter picture captures her spirit so well!
When I read that South African winemaker Izele Van Blerk was training to become a professional tennis player before an injury led her back to South Africa to study winemaking, I didn’t get the connection right away. But when I had the opportunity to talk to her, the transition in professions made total sense.

“There’s a competitive side of sports and winemaking, but also the passion and the drive,” she says. “The energy during harvest time, is like a tennis match in the heat of the third set. It’s harvest time, it’s crunch time, you need to pull it through, it’s long hours, it’s hard work. Like sport, it’s also practicing, practicing, practicing.”

And Izele is certainly getting a lot of practice as a winemaker for KWV, one of the five biggest wineries in South Africa. She started with the company as an intern and has moved up quickly to become one of their winemakers. She is responsible for a large range of the company’s biggest sellers and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to taste through her 2013 releases at the iYellow Wine Cave recently.

In talking to Izele, you can’t help but be pulled in by her enthusiasm for wine. She is relatively young for a winemaker, but she is already an award-winner. “At KWV all our winemakers are on average 27 to 32, so we’re young, we’re new, we’re excited about the wines and the new styles and the new trends. I think if you get started at a young age, you’re still energetic and competitive and you strive to be the best and your passion is coming through in the wines,” she says.

Despite her young age, she is already an experienced taster who judges regularly in competition. “I think the difference between a good and an excellent winemaker comes down to tasting,” she explains. “Tasting is one of my passions. If I was to ever stop making wine, I would probably become a professional taster because I just enjoy it and you understand winemaking better if you can taste it and you understand what you need to improve. You have to be your biggest critic.”

She also values tasting wines from around the world. In South Africa, she explains most of the wines available are made in the county, but her travels with KWV and work as a judge have allowed her to taste more international wines. KWV also does a Friday event where each winemaker gets the opportunity to present a tasting of an international wine. This has helped give her a better understanding of winemaking techniques around the world.

But there is also a desire to create wines that are unique to South Africa. One of the most interesting is Café Culture, which blends South Africa’s signature wine, Pinotage, with coffee and mocha flavours. “You can drink it in the morning, because it’s coffee,” she says with a smile. “If you really like wine and you really like coffee, it’s a good combination.” KWV even has a special glass for Café Culture because they wanted to show this was definitely a non-traditional wine.

Having tried it at the tasting, I can concur that it is very different – it smells delicious, as they have captured the coffee and chocolate notes perfectly on the nose, but it wasn’t really to my tastes. Others at the tasting, however, really liked it so, as with all wine, it’s a personal preference.  My favourites from the tasting were The Mentors Chenin Blanc and the KWV Cathedral Cellar Brut Methode Cap Classique – a sparkling wine done in the Champagne-style, but with a much better price-point. The entry-level KWV Contemporary Chenin Blanc, while not as nuanced as The Mentors, was very good for the price.

I was shocked to see how quickly time flew during my chat with Izele. Her enthusiasm is infectious and I do think you can taste that in the wine she produces. If the winemaker feels like an old friend only a few minutes into a chat, it seems like she would be the perfect fit to design charming and inviting wines. I look forward to seeing her style develop over the years.

For more information on KWV: http://www.kwv.co.za/

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wine Labels 101 with Two Oceans

Jackie Olivier
I am woefully behind in my blog posts, as I try to find that balance between work, wine school and blogging. It’s been a challenge and I definitely feel remiss in being so late with this post, as it was fascinating to speak with Jackie Olivier, Global Marketing Manager, Premium Wines, Distell Group Ltd., about the launch of Two Oceans’ new labels in July.

Labels have always been of interest to me – before I started to learn about wine, they were often the deciding factor (alongside price) in why I chose a wine. Not the best way to choose a great bottle, but what did I know? So when I had a chance to speak briefly with Jackie at a recent Two Oceans' event, I wanted to know more about why such a well-known brand decided to make such a big change.

The logo hasn’t changed, Jackie explained, but the new artwork really brings out the symbolism of the weather and how it affects the vineyard. The weather in South Africa is very affected by the merging of the two oceans and the sea breezes. The choice to change was about wanting to make sure this message was understood and their research was very positive about the switch. In looking at the new design, which is very attractive, I can see that it was well thought out – not so far from the old label as to confuse the consumer, but a nice refresh that may catch the eye of someone who hadn’t noticed the brand before.

Two Oceans’ is arguably one of the best-known wines in Ontario – I have actually met people who drink it exclusively – so this decision was interesting to me. Familiarity is often why someone chooses a wine and it’s always a bit of a risk to change up something well-known. With such a popular brand, however, it likely pays to freshen things up once in a while. As I sipped their Sauvignon Blanc recently, with its citrus overtones and consistent, easy-drinking style, I could understand the brand’s success. If you want a reasonably-priced wine that is always consistent, this would be a good choice.That the packaging is attractive likely helped many discover the wine in the first place.

And, while their Sauvignon Blanc may be their best known wine in Ontario, Jackie introduced me to the Pino Grigio at their event and mentioned that they may also introduce a Chenin Blanc in Ontario. Given that many consider Chenin a grape synonymous with South Africa, I’ll look forward to trying it. Ontario Chenin Blanc has become one of my go-to food paring wines and I would be interested in tasting what Two Oceans does with the grape.

There is so much that goes into wine marketing and as a wine student it was fascinating to get a little glimpse of how one of the best known brands in the world makes their decisions. Do wine labels ever influence your buying choices?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Govino Wine Glasses – My New Wine Travel Must

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had while traveling is how to enjoy a glass of wine in my hotel room. Since much of our travel now revolves around visiting wineries around the world, Shawn and I often pick up a bottle at a winery so we can enjoy a glass in our room at the end of a long day of sightseeing. With most hotels offering the option of a fridge, this can be an easy way to save money on buying at the hotel bar or just allow you to enjoy the wine you want in the quantity you want, instead of whatever happens to be on the wine list.

Our biggest problem has always been glasses. I’ve read enough horror stories about hotel glasses and how they’re cleaned (or not) to want to avoid using those, and these days many places seem to just stock plastic cups anyway. I’m not above using a plastic cup to sip my wine, but it certainly takes away from the experience of a brilliant, nuanced (and sometimes expensive) bottle to be sipping from a cheap, plastic glass. It’s definitely not elegant and I can never get over the plastic aftertaste that mars the aroma and flavour of the wine.

We’ve tried bringing our own glasses, but that’s a challenge in and of itself – getting glassware to and from your destination, especially when there is lots of travel while there, is a pain. So we’ve just made do with whatever we could come across until now.

At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara there was a Govino glass in my conference bag. I’d never heard of Govino and I figured it was just some sort of cheap, plastic glass I would use once and toss. I ended up with two over the course of the conference and didn’t even use them until Shawn showed up to continue our tour of California and needed glasses for our daily water with fresh lemon.

And that’s when I noticed a few really important things about Govino – it doesn’t have a plastic-y aftertaste. It’s not glass by any means, but it affects the flavour and aroma of its contents much less than any other plastic product I’ve tried. And the cup is a great shape, easy to hold and fairly easy to swirl. Could this, I wondered, be a good option for wine in our hotel? The cups are billed as shatterproof, so we tossed them in our suitcases and took them to Paso Robles, then Monterey, where we decided to enjoy a glass of Hope Family Wines’ Troublemaker red blend in our room. And it was – good! No weird aftertaste, I could do a good swirl and sniff and, best of all, I didn’t feel like a college kid at a frat party drinking cheap plonk!

We washed the glasses after our wine and used them again and again on the trip – both for water and wine. Each time I was impressed – especially when I realized how durable the glasses are. We just put them in a Ziplock bag, packed them in next to our clothes and carried them in our suitcase. No wrapping them in towels, stuffing them full of paper or any other safeguards to make sure I didn’t open my bag to broken glass.

Now, let’s be realistic, these are never going to replace a real wine glass. But if you travel a lot and you like to drink wine in your hotel room, this is the best solution I’ve found so far to the ‘what do we drink this out of’ conundrum. They are reusable to a certain point (the company site recommends replacing them after they ‘lose their lustre’) and recyclable once you do toss them. We used ours every day for a week (mostly for water and lemon, but also for wine) and they are still in good shape. We hand washed them after each use and figure they may have a few more vacations left in them. We’ll see.

And while I did get these glasses for free, there was no expectation I would write about them. In fact, I didn’t anticipate I’d ever think about them again. But this is a product that really filled a need in my life and I thought my fellow wine lovers might find Govino useful too.

You can learn more about Govino here: http://www.govinowine.com/

To order in Canada go here: http://www.cuisivin.com/product-category/govino/

Govino is available at the following Canadian retailers:

- Art Gallery of Ontario -AGO Shop
- Chapters/Indigo - Online and Select Stores
- IQ Living
- Bergo Designs
- Cheese Boutique
- Rosehill Wine Cellars

Monday, August 11, 2014

Radio Boka – A Casual Spanish Wine


Shawn and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to Prince Edward County. We had to make a quick detour from our PEC wine tasting to stop at the LCBO in Picton to pick up a wine called Radio Boka. I was scheduled to interview the winemaker as soon as we were back and I wanted to try the wine in advance.

That the LCBO in Picton had a shelf full of a new-to-Ontario Spanish wine was a bit surprising, but in the moment I was just happy to have been saved the hassle of searching it out downtown.

When I learned that Picton was the #2 store for sales in the wine’s first few weeks on sale in the province, I was even more shocked. Having tasted it, though, I can understand. Radio Boka retails for $10.95 in Ontario. I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to wines at such a low price, but this is an exception – Radio Boka is a 100% Tempranillo from Valencia and it's quite a good value. For someone looking for a low-cost, but quality cottage sipper, this would be a great choice.

Winemaker Daniel Gimenez is very clear about the type of wine he set out to produce – very fruit-forward with ripe, vibrant Tempranillo. He wanted it to be easy-going, although with a richness that made it stand out. “We don’t want to over-deliver something too complex,” he explains. “It’s just about having fun with nice company.”

Inspired by the fact that so many of the staff at their winery had been involved in pirate radio when they were young, Radio Boka was built around the common love of wine and music. “We said ‘why don’t we make a wine souvenir of that time? Something really, really lively, not too technical or boring, just informal and fun,” Gimenez explains.

And it does deliver on that. This is a good wine to have at a party or relaxing by the lake. And I love that the team is so open about what they are trying to do. Sometimes winemakers shy away from the idea that wine can be uncomplicated – there is something refreshing about spending time with a winemaker who is very open and comfortable with talking about actively setting out to make a wine that is fun.

Radio Boka comes at a good time in the Ontario market. There has been increased demand for Spanish products and at its low price-point, it fills a niche. This is also a wine that will appeal to a younger, hipper audience looking for a lighter and more casual Spanish wine.

When Shawn and I returned home and cracked open the bottle, we were both impressed. The fruit was lively and the wine was easy-drinking and refreshing. It was enjoyable with dinner and just to sip while relaxing on the couch afterwards. Unlike many Spanish reds, there is almost no oak used, so it's lighter and less earthy than I have come to expect in a Tempranillo. We liked it.

And as to what the winemaker would pair with his wine? He suggests pizza, barbeque or Spanish tappas, but is quick to note that the ideal pairing is whatever the consumer decides – it’s a casual wine for casual food.

Nicholas Hammeken, CEO of Hammeken Cellars, the home of Radio Boka, notes that Gimenez is at the forefront of a transition in Spanish wine - one of the young winemakers who will shape the history of winemaking in the area. Gimenez, who trained in Burgundy and then went on to work in California and Chile, was inspired by the freedom to create he found upon his return to Spain. “Everything is really exciting when you are young and not following the history of what has already been done,” he explains. As Spain’s winemaking traditions are not as ingrained as in the Old World, there is room for growth and experimentation.

Already very popular in other provinces across Canada and one of Hammeken’s best-sellers across the board on many continents, including Australia, North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, the Radio Boka team are confident that Ontarians will fall for their wine. They are hopeful that they can follow-up with a white and rosé in 2015.

You can find Radio Boka at LCBO stores across Ontario.