Tag Archives: Foodland Ontario

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Westcott Vineyards

15 Oct


westcott logo

Two weeks ago, I penned a post on winery stumbling in Niagara featuring, in that post, Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. You can read that post here. This is another in the Previously Unexplored Wineries series.

One of the great things about wandering in Niagara is the surprise discovery. For me, it’s usually a wine. But on this day, it was a whole winery. Wine communities tend to co-promote. At first glance, it’s counterintuitive. A car dealership doesn’t tell you that you’ll find a great SUV at another dealership, do they? Well, my experience in several wine regions of the world is that wineries are supportive of each other. The effect of cross-pollination of staff, families, and winemakers? They all party together? A small community experiencing symbiotic bliss? Or, maybe they just want you to find what you like and are only too willing to point you in that direction. It’s Miracle on 34th Street Kris Kringle-esque. Let’s hope that doesn’t change. The alternative is a tasting room with shady staff leaning in and whispering, “Hey, dos guys up da road? Dare pinot? It’s cut. Dey cut the pinot with syrah. You can’t trust ’em. Ours is puuure Niagara pinot. Good sh** (wink, wink)” Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, being referred to Westcott Vineyards. We were tweaked to its very existence by Ted, our personal sip and spit tour guide at Flat Rock Cellars (which I’ll feature later in a post). Ted told us that Westcott made mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, both in a pretty assertive style. Umm, who likes assertive chardonnay? So, we had to wander over to Westcott which is in the same neighbourhood as Sue-Ann Staff’s and Flat Rock Cellar – maybe a kilometre away.

wextcott barn

Westcott Vineyards is a family run winery. When we were there Victoria and Garrett Westcott, daughter and son of the owners, were in the tasting room. Well, in fact, they were the only winery reps in the tasting room. What you need to know is that the concept at Westcott is natural, uncomplicated with a bit of rusticity thrown in. The winery and tasting/sales room is in a restored barn (picture above) that we were informed was moved from another location. Long harvest tables made with reclaimed wood and cement floors. It would be quite toasty when the fire is on. And, similarly to Sue-Ann Staff’s, it really presents the wine as agricultural produce not alchemy. I didn’t see farm implements but I had a feeling that they were lurking somewhere not too far away – gravel drive which is de rigeur in Niagara. Their website and personal sales pitch is focused on ‘small’. They don’t make a ton of wine and they allow the vintage to dictate what they can get out of the vineyard. No attempt to make every vintage taste the same. They get winemaking assistance from a Bordelais.



Westcott Tasting Room

Before I get in to the wines I have to mention the boat. Their trademark and many of the references in the names of wines have to do with a restored boat found on the shores of a lake in Quebec at a family cottage, I believe. It has some historical connection to someone famous as well as to the Westcott family but I had already been to three wineries before this and had ditched the pen and paper; so the details escape me.  The boat is one of those grand old wood craft that plied the lakes of Muskoka, Quebec and New England during the heydays of cottage and resort development. This one – and I saw pictures – is spectacular! Well, anyway there’s a very important connection to the boat and it’s people. I just can’t remember it. Note to winery webmaster: put a word or two about the boat on winery’s web site.

Victoria took us through a tasting. Again, there’s a tasting fee here but refundable with purchase.

The wines:

Westcott_2012_Estate_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Estate Chardonnay $26.00 – Although this wine has had some time in oak (ferment and age) it doesn’t present as oaky in the glass. Lots of apple pie though – classic oaked chardonnay nose. In the mouth, the oak is faint and the apple replays with an assertive finish – a hit of acidity. Some creaminess but not a big chardonnay. Nice sipper for me. Dinner wine for The Director. ABV 13.5%.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir $30.00 – I was expecting this to be one of those big 2000’s California-style pinots after Ted’s claim of assertiveness. But, I was surprised at how restrained it was. Now I find that after a lengthy day tasting, my palate, which is a bit sketchy anyway, gets lazy Westcott_2012_Pinot_Estate2-124x359and maybe I need wines then that are unlike what I’ve been tasting before. So, I question myself when a wine doesn’t translate from swish to sip. But this wasn’t that. This seemed to be asleep, if that makes sense. This wine had some great things going on in the glass (earthiness, bushes, and strawberries) but it didn’t translate in my mouth. This usually means for me that it needs air or time in bottle or both. It, unlike the chardonnay above, carried some heat from the modest ABV of 13.5%. I think that this wine will start to show it’s best stuff in a few years (3 – 5) or two innings of post season baseball in the glass.

Westcott_2012_Reserve_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Reserve Chardonnay $29.00 – This chardonnay was more serious, maybe austere, than the Estate. It held somewhat the same flavour profile fruit-wise – maybe some tropical notes added – a lot more integration of the oak – more balanced. The oak didn’t so much stand out as simply provide the foundation for the fruit. It was more restrained than I had expected. I would favourably compare this to any other oaked, upper-tier Niagara chardonnay. I noticed on their web site that this has a little less alcohol (13%). Top drawer effort for oaked chardonnay lovers. But in no way did we think it over-shadowed the Estate – just different. We, in fact, purchased the Estate. Maybe because of my pinot noir choice below. Weary wallet syndrome?

Westcott_2012_Pinot_Reserve2-124x3592012 Reserve Pinot Noir $46 – I hate it when my favourite wine costs the most. So, why was this my favourite? Well, first of all – the aroma in the glass had pronounced dirty stuff. I love dirty stuff. Oh behave, let me clarify – dirty stuff, for me, as in smelling or tasting like a musty shovel of loam – kind of. I know that most wine geeks would use earthy instead and dirty is not a desirable aroma or flavour, so maybe I’ll switch to that from now on. A friend of mine has told me that he doesn’t fancy pinot noir because of the ‘earthy’ stuff. I love it because of the earthy stuff! This wine delivered more on that earthy nose than the Estate. It opened quickly and had pronounced red fruit in the mouth. It delivered on Ted’s claim that Westcott pinots were assertive. I liked this a lot. Unfortunately for my bank account, they had plenty in stock. I would have opened one of these for Thanksgiving dinner but want to leave them to figure out what they’ll become when they grow up..

There are several other wines on offer at Westcott – a rosé (Delphine), an unoaked chardonnay (Lillias), and I believe they just released a sparkler (Violette) using the charmat method. At press time (always wanted to say that), there is no availability of their products at the LCBO. You can purchase their wines at the cellar door (call 905-562-7517 email info@westcottvineyards.com ahead) or on-line at http://www.westcottvineyards.com/shop/

Glad Ted gave us the heads up on Westcott Vineyards – a great addition to my Vinemount rotation. Get thee to a winery near you!

Images courtesy of the winery.

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

30 Sep



This is my favourite time of year to visit the wineries close by in Niagara. I love the pumpkins showing in the fields, the squash and fresh crop apples at the farm stands, and the smell of wine being made in the winery itself – musty, fruity, yeasty. It’s particularly magical if you grab one of those days in the fall when it’s surprisingly warm and sunny.

When in Niagara, I tend to gravitate to the wineries around Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland. Not sure why. Maybe the familiarity? I’ve been there a bunch. The chance to stop in to Jordan Village and dine at the Inn On The Twenty? Tasty food and good shopping. Whatever – it’s a must stop for any trip to the Niagara region. And, if you’ve read my post on swallowing, you’ll recommend that I don’t visit too many in a row. So, 3 seems about right and then take the back roads to NOTL?

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

A little history and background is needed here. (Paraphrased from estate website) Sue-Ann Staff is a fifth generation grape grower, 2002 Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and two-time winner of the International Wine and Spirits Award in London, England (Top 4 “Women in Wine”). She also moonlights as the winemaker for Megalomaniac Wines, who I’ve featured here before. For Bordeaux freaks like me, she also assists with Megalomaniac’s sister property in St. Emillion, Chateau La Confession. I guess you could say that she’s got a pedigree?

Despite all that, this winery is about as laid back as you can get. We arrived in the midst of a wedding on the grounds. Now, grounds might be a stretch. This is a farm. It doesn’t hide the agriculture behind a faux chateau or architectural vanity piece. I think I even saw a tractor. The winery grounds open through a gravel drive and house a barn, implement shed, and farmhouse with attached tasting room. The bridesmaids were competing for space in the tasting room and the excitement was palpable. Very cool, if you dig weddings. I really do. Even with this distraction, staff were welcoming and engaged. I’ve said it before but the staff at Niagara wineries rival the best I’ve experienced in my travels. – informed, enthusiastic and focused on the customer. And, take note Napa, they do usually charge for tasting (a very nominal fee) that is always, always reimbursed when you buy, in my experience. Nothing makes me madder than paying as much as $20 a person to taste and not getting it forgiven if you buy. A rant for another time.

Before arriving here, Sue-Ann Staff meant riesling for me. I knew that they grew a bunch of riesling and had been supplying wineries for years before making their own. But, they make other wines as well.

What we tried:

11_Pinot_Grigio_large2011 Pinot Grigio $21.00 – Hey, I didn’t think anyone made a pinot grigio in Niagara either. Obviously, Bill has not been paying attention. This is an orange wine. I’ll let other more qualified people give the full explanation. Suffice it to say that the juice from white grapes spends some time on contact with the skins. To give it some colour, maybe tannins too. This wine was big in the glass – think Cerano de Bergerac spritzed with citrus fruit. It had an off-dry profile, citrus again until the finish which was surprisingly dryer. A nice switch from the ubiquitous crisp and nada PG’s that seem to flourish these days. My first orange wine!

2012 Loved By Lou Riesling $16.95 – Citrusy after a swirl. This is off-dry as well in the mouth with a steely personality. Enough acid to food pair but I found it the least individual of the wines. That is; it tasted like a lot of other mid range Rieslings that I’ve had from Niagara. In fairness, it isn’t a single vineyard or high-priced entry. This would be a good sipper around the patio.

11_Riesl_LU_3afe8d63-ce58-47ab-a8a5-f0a6e3b3c42c_large2011 Robert’s Block Riesling $26.00 – Now, we are talking. This is a dry effort that has a big hit of petrol on the nose (love that) but clean petrol not that oil sands stuff that our government blindly supports (Did I just make a political statement?). This is crisp and lip smacking in the mouth and on the finish but there is that petrol again and citrus fruit and maybe even a bit of tropicality too. Loved It! I think it could hold for a few years – at least that’s what I’m doing.

2011 Baco Noir $14.95 – This red was suggested as a possible red that The Director could drink. You see, she suffers from headaches when drinking reds. Which means? More red wine for Bill! This is a soft red – some muted acidity and tannins with strawberries and herbs making up much of the experience. I tend to heavier reds but Baco Noir has been good to me before. This one has some power without the weight. It seems perfect for those that like a very approachable red – maybe on a warmer day with snackees and a movie. Price is great too.

SAS_CAB_MERLOT_2a_5b68604f-373a-409d-a27b-d39923c3a63c_large2010 Cabernet Franc $21.95 – So, here we are at the wine that impressed me the most. Oh, I could talk about the 2010 Merlot but this is where I’d like to end. I’ve praised Niagara cab franc before and, damn, if I didn’t prefer the ones from down by NOTL. Well, this winery located near Jordan (Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount) has me heading out to take another look at cab francs from here. This is a structured (by that I mean “not flabby”) and cellar worthy red with fruit close to the ground – dark raspberries and brush. Not huge but large enough to satisfy the bigophile. Balanced and polished. Perfect wine with game. What game? AL Wild Card and ribs. At least that what I’m having it with. Go Royals!

Lots of other tastes available too. They have all the usual suspects – icewines, sparkling, pinks. Oh, I forgot the dog. There’s a dog called Brix (picture below). Beautiful Bernese Mountain dog. Just laying around being a farm dog. Each bottle has a neck tag that has a picture of him and it says, “Brix Approved.” I love dogs.

Get Thee To A Winery Near You! And, if you’re doing the Niagara Region, go see Sue-Ann and Brix.

Next Post: New Kids On The Block – Westcott Vineyards



Images courtesy of:


Another Friday Ramble – Get Your Hands Dirty

15 Nov

SaintChinian4I’ve talked about my time growing up and slaving away in various agricultural endeavours. I’m not pretending that “my back still aches when I hear the word.” (First non-Canadian reader to get that phrase’s origin wins a “WOW!”). But, it carries some nostalgia for me. I started this wine writing thing a while back (3 1/2 years actually – time flies when you permanently have a bit of a buzz on) and it’s taken me until now to understand something that should have been obvious to me – most of us know very little about agriculture – perhaps the most important business in our world. Correct that – THE most important business in our world! Let me tell you how I arrived at this conclusion and what the hell it has to do with wine writing – bear with me. I may wander a bit but I’ll get there. BTW, it is called a ramble!

Part of my J-O-B is reading stuff about wine. I know; it’s hard work. The people I like to read are much like me (I kid) but with more street cred and way more knowledge, in most cases – bloggers, professional reviewers, critics, writers, winemakers, sommeliers, etc. And despite these many knowledgeable writers, there seem to be many of them that had never worked in a field before they took up the challenge of getting to know wine. Not like, I want to work in the field of aeronautics. But, actually had never walked through a field doing something that contributed to the production of foodstuffs, including wine. I know this because they tell me. I’ve frequently bill murrayread of their participation in harvest, pruning, etc. It can be revelatory for them the first time and as Bill Murray said in Scrooged, “Once you have it; you’ll get greedy for it.”  It seems to connect them to the product in a different, more profound way as we would imagine it should. I’m not suggesting we don’t know in our heads what’s up. I just mean that we get a stronger connection to our food when we get our hands dirty.

suzukiI saw David Suzuki speak at a Build Green conference a few years back. He spoke of the urbanization of the world and how this intensification helped the earth but also how it challenged a better understanding of the earth, the environment, the stewardship of the earth that he maintains everyone should take up. He gave an anecdote of children in a school where he spoke who, almost to a child, couldn’t describe how tomatoes were created – where they came from – what they looked like outside of a supermarket bin – had ever seen a tomato plant! He spoke of people who started their car in the garage in the morning, drove across town into an underground parking garage, took the elevator to their office, ate at their desk, took the elevator down to their car and drove home to park in, you guessed it, their attached garage – never to venture out on many days of the year. How can anyone understand how important the whole world is when their immediate environment is comfort controlled? How hard it is then to convince people that they need to take it easy on Mother Earth, appreciate life outside our personal bubble. And, by extension, how can anyone truly understand wine when they haven’t touched a vine, got their hands dirty, smelled the earth, sorted bunches, stolen Concord grapes while driving (we called it “crop touring” and, yes, it did involve alcohol) through a field at 3 in the morning. What I mean is how much better understood food is, when you’ve worked on the land – wine is, when you’ve worked in a vineyard. We intuitively know this, I think – we are attracted to buying locally, get excited about farm-to-table restaurants.

I also reflect on this at this time of year because of all the Tweets from winegrowers that I follow. Pictures of harvest, sorting through the night, stained hands, and the celebration of this time of year – a new vintage is about to be. We are about to taste what 2013 brought us. And, it makes me want to work on next year’s vintage.

I’m just sayin’ that we can all appreciate wine equally. But, if we really want to understand wine better, we need to visit wineries seasonally, talk to grape farmers, talk to winemakers, walk the vineyards. And, if you can – take an internship at harvest, and/or in Niagara pick ice wine grapes – just get out of the frigging city and experience what local really means. It doesn’t happen while you’re sitting in a bistro or wandering a farmer’s market – it’s already happened by the time you get there. Of course, wine might be alchemy, chemistry, art. But first and foremost, wine is food. It’s groceries, man! Go get some at a local winery!

Lecture over – time to go rake my leaves.

I Say Tomato – You Say Pomodoro

15 Sep

tomato guyWe’re just starting to organize our things for our trip to Roma, Apulia, and Campania leaving next Friday. I know, you’re asking me, “Just starting?” Getting some Euros, travel insurance, ironing, packing, “Honey, where’s my passport?”, and all the other fun stuff. I was thinking about what I was looking forward to and the first thing that came to mind was……… wine? No………Food? Well kind of. I’m looking forward to tomatoes. I love tomatoes! If the doctor told me I had to stay away from tomatoes or I‘d develop poor writing skills, a disorganized mind, a tendency to procrastinate, and a falsely earned sense of vanity, I’m afraid I just couldn’t. Besides I already have those things.

Why tomatoes? Well, in the town where I was a young teen, all the guys worked on farms to earn money required to buy:

  1. The newest Allman Brothers’ Band LP;
  2. Jade East cologne; and
  3. Beer from a bootlegger – usually Labatt’s 50. Some men nodding out there.

I had picked strawberries, cucumbers, cherries, hung and stripped tobacco, planted corn, and disked fields. But, the best summer assignment I had was hoeing and then loading tomatoes for Rocky VanGassen (real name used because you’ll assume it’s fabricated). Rocky grew tomatoes for Campbell Soups and they used them in V8 juice – a beverage that my father loved and I hated. Now, you hoe tomatoes just as the fruit is developing. At that time, there aren’t many really ripe tomatoes but every once in awhile you see one. I worked with an older gentleman who had been farming for years and hoeing his life away in the sun sans sunscreen. Grizzled, lean, and an accent that I never really picked up. Do you see him now? Bob Dylan meets a chain smoking Jimmy Stewart. Actually back then we wore sun tan lotion that encouraged a burn and nascent lesions. Anyway, I digress.

One day as we walked together down a row and hoed our little brains out, he stopped and turned the plant over to reveal a very ripe tomato. He bent down and twisted the tomato off the plant, rubbed it on his pant leg to clean the dirt off, and produced from his overalls pocket a salt shaker. I got the feeling that he’d done this before. When he noticed my puzzled look, he asked, “Didn’t you bring a salt shaker?” I said, “Pardon?” Remember he had an accent. He proceeded to bite into the tomato, a stream of juice dripping on the ground. Then he took the shaker and poured some salt on the open bite mark and then ate the rest of the tomato, alternating bites, dribbling and the application of what we would now say is too freakin’ much salt.

Now, if you’ve ever had a field fresh tomato in the hot sun with some salt (and apparently the sea didn’t have salt back then because ours came from a guy called Morton), you know what perfection is. I got home that night and asked my mother for a salt shaker for the rest of my hoeing days. I then ate enough tomatoes each day to produce a mild case of the hives. But, I can’t think of a more healthy experience or a better way to understand what food really is, where it comes from, and why we need to pay attention to it. A single tomato, properly produced, picked at the right moment and served simply might be my favourite food. No; not maybe. It is my favourite food. Period.

So, what does this lovely nostalgic story have to do with my considering the upcoming trip to Italy? Well, when we traveled to the south of France on two occasions and Greece on another couple, I just couldn’t get enough of the fresh produce and my friends the tomatoes, in particular. So, when I researched Apulia, I saw that it is the bread basket of Italy as far as produce goes. Bingo – tomatoes! Channeling Dr. Zeus, I will have them by themselves. I will have them with orecchiete and oil. I‘ll have them with burrata and herbs. I will get hives!

So, before it’s too late in the season get thee to an Ontario (or Michigan, or Pennsylvania or wherever you are) farmstand, get a basket of tomatoes, a salt shaker, some backyard sun, and my second favourite thing about Italy – a glass of fresh Chianti, Verdicchio, or Aglianico. Or, substitute a profoundly Canadian cocktail – a Caesar!

And, BTW, I got hooked on V8 juice too. Though, since it’s essentially a salt lick, I’m not sure it was the tomato content. Probably Morton again.


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