Monday, June 23, 2014

Savour Stratford Festival

This past week I had the opportunity to attend an event to generate awareness for the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. The fest, which takes place from July 19th – 20th in Stratford, ON has a wealth of exciting things lined up this year. I was surprised to learn just how much this event has to offer.

I was able to sample some of the amazing food that will be available there and try wines from two event sponsors – Reif Estate Winery and Rosewood Estate Winery. Both provide unique Ontario wine options, including Rosewood’s mead – made with honey from the winery’s apiary. Beer lovers will find lots to enjoy from Mill Street’s brews and for those who love spirits you can't go wrong with Niagara's Dillon's Distillers. I had a sample of their delicious strawberry lemonade cocktail at the event and it doesn't disappoint - a great summer sipper.

My understanding of the festival had always been that it was about promoting local Stratford food and events, but that's actually far from the whole story. While Stratford’s best is on full display, the theme this year is Coast to Coast to Coast and that’s evident in the wide range of activities and vendors attending.

Being that it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Stratford Chefs School, there will be a great deal of culinary talent on display. More than 40 of the top young chefs from across Canada, many trained in Startford, will be participating.

A few of the chefs, business people and personalities appearing
Some of the chefs of note:

Rich Francis – Top Chef Canada competitor and chef/owner of Aboriginal Culinary Concepts.
Carl Heinrich – Top Chef Canada Winner and co-owner of Richmond Station.
Todd Perrin – Top Chef Canada contestant and the chef at Mallard Cottage.
Dale MacKay – A protégé of Gordon Ramnsay and the chef/owner of Ayden Kitchen.
Doug McNish – Award-winning vegan cookbook author of Eat Raw, Eat Well.


One of the many culinary events that caught my attention is the GE Café Series Lunch, which provides a five-course demonstration-style class with chefs Dale MacKay and Derek Dammann. The event, which features the best of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec, combined with Perth County ingredients, will have Rosehall Run wines to pair with the dishes. I’m always happy to see a little bit of Prince Edward County slip into these events!

There is really so much for foodies and wine-lovers alike to enjoy at this event – there will be tutored talks and tastings, a Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley featuring Ontario craft beers, wine and cheese, a Women in Food breakfast and so much more. There are also activities for children, which is always a plus at these events. We recently spent some time touring the County with our friends and their five-year-old, so we learned how important kid-friendly activities are even when you’re doing wine and foodie things.

And the Sunday Sunset Party sounds like it will be a blast – featuring musical group Trent Severn. I’ll be heading back from the Wine Bloggers Conference in California when this event takes place, so I’m so glad I was able to attend this advance event and learn more about it. I definitely plan to add it to our schedule for next year.

For more information or to book tickets visit: http://www.visitstratford.ca/culinaryfestival/

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fabulous Food - Niagara Edition

Curried Chicken Sandwich from Tide & Vine
As all wine lovers know, it's not just about what you're drinking - what you're eating makes a huge difference in how you enjoy your wine. Food is such a pleasure and I've definitely indulged in some amazing meals recently. I thought it would be fun to share some of my fabulous foodie experiences on the blog - I hope you'll enjoy this new (semi) regular feature!

I stopped at Silversmith Brewery on a recent visit to Niagara. I was thrilled to discover that Tide & Vine Oyster Company had set up shop there for the weekend and was serving up  delicious and very, very fresh oysters. If you haven't had Tide & Vine's incredible oysters you are missing out. As an entree, I had the chicken curry sandwich, which was nice and saucy and bursting with flavour - it was also the perfect size to hold me over until dinner that evening.


And, while I'm not a huge beer drinker, I have to say that what I tried at Silversmith was very tasty. I brought home some Black Lager for Shawn and he is eager to visit to try more. For the non-beer drinkers, Silversmith doesn't offer any other libations (that I noticed), but if Tide & Vine is serving food this is a must-visit. The gorgeous former-church setting alone is worth the drive.
For my birthday, Shawn treated me to a day in Niagara with dinner at one of my favourite places - Vineland Estates Winery. This is definitely a special occasion place for us, as it's a little more high-end, but it's absolutely worth the splurge. The estate is gorgeous and Chef Justin Downes has designed a menu that's simply divine. We still talk about the salmon appetizer we had there a few years ago the way you talk about a brilliant bottle of wine.

This meal was just as memorable. I started with the gnocci, which was plump and melt-in-your mouth good. I am a huge gnocci fan, but have found that a lot of restaurants over cook or over sauce it - this was just right and paired with their incredible house-made bread, I devoured it.

I followed up with the scallops, which were perfectly cooked and full of flavour. While I was surprised by the house-made chorizo that came as part of the dish (I don't eat pork and didn't see it on the menu), Shawn said it was some of the best he'd ever eaten. I have no doubt it was.
Dessert was a delicious cheesecake served with house-made brittle and sorbet. The presentation was almost too pretty to eat (almost) and I wasn't too full to enjoy this perfect end to the meal.
My birthday weekend also included a stop at The Good Earth for lunch. We've eaten here a number of times, but it's always worth a mention. A winery, cooking school and restaurant, The Good Earth has much to offer - their food is local and always tastes like it was made with a lot of heart.

Even a stop just for soup and a salad to tide you over on a long day of wine tasting is well worth it.  

There were other Niagara stops that I'll include in future posts - the amazing Treadwell Restaurant being just one of them. Do you have any Niagara favourites we should try? Share them in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, June 9, 2014

WineWire

I’ve been meaning to write about WineWire for a while now. I met co-founder Adam Bekhor at an event a few months ago and have since watched several episodes of his always-informative WineWire TV show. His business premise, offering customers a convenient online ordering option to purchase cases of wines from independent wine agents, is also pretty great.

Adam, along with partner Nelson Abreu, is making wines that were previously difficult to get available in one place. Love a wine in a restaurant, but can’t find it at the provincial liquor store? Check WineWire, where there are hundreds of wines available from around the world.

To kick off the new business, they held a successful pop-up wine shop in Toronto a few months ago. Prospective buyers could drop in, sample some of the wines available and place orders on the spot. The wine would then be delivered to their door. The event was such a popular one that they’re now hosting a pop-up shop in Ottawa from Tuesday, June 17th to Friday, June 20th. The pop-up will be located at 107 Murray Street in the Byward Market and will be open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. There's no cost to taste from the more than 100 restaurant-only wines they will be serving.

I asked Adam a few more questions about WineWire below:

Adam and Nelson at the Toronto pop-up shop
WineWire is such a fantastic way for people to get access to wine - how have you found the response so far?
Since we went live with WineWire.ca in September 2012 the response has been extremely positive! Consumers love the fact that they can shop for 650+ wines they only find in restaurants and have them delivered to their door. Despite our successes, it's also been an incredible learning experience. No one has ever tried to sell wine the way we do at WineWire.ca. This has forced us to think outside the box and take measured risks in the way we market our wines and represent the brand. This has resulted in us coming up with innovative brand building concepts like our pop-up wine shops and the strategy we have used in developing our social media presence on Facebook (fb.com/winewire) and Twitter (@WineWireCA).

Do people have to purchase a full case through WineWire? Are there smaller purchase options or any mix and match possibilities?
Excellent question! In Ontario, the only entity that can sell a single bottle of wine for home consumption is the LCBO or at a winery. This means that all the wine found on WineWire.ca is sold by the case, generally 6 or 12 bottles depending on the wine. Unfortunately, we also cannot sell mixed cases. Not being able to sell mixed cases has been a real pain. All of our analytics and direct customer feedback indicate that that consumer are begging for this option.

I love WineWire TV - what made you decide to start a video program to go along with the site? We love WineWire TV too! Nelson and I started WineWire TV for a number of reasons, the most important of which was that it's a ton of fun! In what other job do you get to hang out with the who's who of the wine world and just talk? We have had a lot of fun pushing the definition of what passes for a wine video and our customers seem to love it. Case in point, one of most watched episodes was a show we did with a high-end dry cleaner all about getting red wine stains out of your clothes. Not your traditional wine video, but people loved it!

We also started WineWire TV as a way to share a podium with people who were passionate about wine. This had been huge in cementing WineWire as an online meeting place between the wine industry and consumers. We have been able to create an organic community by taking a more inclusive view of the world. Finally, WineWire TV has been central in establishing our brand online. As you can tell from our videos, neither Nelson nor I take ourselves too seriously. We don't dumb down the wine information and we don't make (in our opinion) the fatal mistake of talking down to our customers.  Despite our "Wayne's World" production values, we are very proud of what we have created. With 157 episode under our belt and counting we have no intentions of slowing down!

You have done pop up stores in Toronto and now Ottawa - are there plans to do more? What has the response been?
100%! We are planning on opening a WineWire pop-up wine shop in Muskoka in July and a second pop-up wine shop in Toronto this November.

The pop up shops are a great way for people to sample and then purchase wines - how important is that to the business model? The concept is very important to our business model. It allows us to take our online experience offline. I often quote one of our agents when it comes to selling wine, "You can't beat getting sips to lips". We are 100% on board with this, but wanted to approach the "selling" concept from a different angle. The concept of our WineWire pop-up shops is to provide our customers the feel of a "real" boutique NYC/San Fran wine shop by setting up in a traditional retail space. Customers would be able to come into our pop-up shop and taste for free from over 100 of the 650+ wines offered on WineWire.ca. Once tasted, the customer can order the wine using iPads set up around the shop. The wine would then be delivered to the customer's home/office a few days later.

If you're in the Ottawa area, be sure to stop by the pop-up shop in Byward Market from Tuesday, June 17th to Friday, June 20th. (107 Murray Street 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily).

Learn more about WineWire here: http://winewire.ca/

And here is one of my favourite episodes of WineWire TV featuring my good friend MJ from The Cellar Sisters talking about many of my favourite things - you can watch all the episodes at: http://winewire.ca/winewiretv