Tag Archives: Ontario

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:


Ontario Makes An Appearance – The Red Daily Slosh

10 Sep

This release features Ontario wines and what’s the best way to celebrate our province?  Fly the Royal Ensign from your passenger car side window? Nope. Spend your weekend sitting in Tim Horton’s debating the fate of Rob Ford and the demise of the Senate with really old people? Nope. Preparing for the endless sports media coverage of Da’ Leafs by renewing your Paxil script? Nope. Honeymoon Suite? You bet! A group from Niagara Falls is in order. Yes, I know that their hair reminds us all of the folly of being a slave to current and obviously doomed fashion. But still.

Shamefully, I haven’t had many of the featured Ontario wines. Let me explain. Many Ontario producers have a limited capacity and sell much of their premium product through cellar door operations, restaurants, and wine clubs. Without receiving samples (not so subtle a hint) or being on the LCBO tasting politbureau, I don’t get to see much of it unless I’m drinking and weaving along the roads of Ontario. This leaves limited opportunities to taste and experience Ontario wines not generally listed at the LCBO. I traveled recently to Niagara for some winery visits (posts to come) and will try and represent in my posts. That being said, I’ve written about the wines in this release that I’ve experienced and that I can recommend. I’m sure many more of the featured Ontario wines are worth a look and taste.

The wines:

triomphecabfrancI have mentioned Southbrook several times on these pages. Their adherence to organic and biodynamic practices is fascinating to me. Not sure what they were scrambling around doing this week but three nights in a row the moon was a ghostly galleon which must indicate something in biodynamic as well as poetic terms. Setting the sheep loose in the cab franc? Burying Aunt Marie feet-first between the Riesling and the raspberries? Their winemaking and cellaring facilities as well as their visitor centre are über cool and I’d place it among my ‘must visit’ wineries in Niagara on that score and the great staff (shout out to Rachel) alone. But, they are more than a pretty face and have great wines too. The wine this week is their 2012 Southbrook Tromphe Cabernet Franc #275958 $21.95. Niagara for me, particularly down by Niagara-On-The-Lake and Four Mile Creek, does great cab franc. The 2012 vintage was a good one overall for Bordeaux grapes in Niagara and this wine expresses good weather, good ground, and good winemaking. It has that Niagara thing in the glass – I used to experience it as a green note but in this case it’s herbal and cedary. Firm with a tannic streak that’s pretty balanced for this early on in development – dark fruits, and a bit of lip smack on the finish. I liked it a lot. I’d suggest that you don’t stand around with this but eat something with a bit of fat and burnt flesh.

angelsgatemerlotTo quote the late great Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” Many of our first tastes of Ontario wines, post Cold Duck, were those from fledgling wineries whose vines were young and their wines somewhat………..well, non-descript. Not sure what I expected but I wasn’t impressed and effectively took a hiatus from Niagara for awhile. That was a mistake. A perfect example of this is Angel’s Gate Winery. I traveled there with The Director many years ago as they had just broken ground on their spectacular chateau-styled winery building. At that time, without considering the path that’s needed to get to great wine, I thought that they might have been a bit ambitious. No longer. Age of stock, experience or both have led them to making some of the nicer whites on the Beamsville Bench. But, I still didn’t give them any street cred with reds. While that changed with a sniff and sip of the 2012 Angel’s Gate Mountainview Merlot #299172 $18.95. I’m suggesting that, if you are a California cab lover, that this is not going to be ‘big’ enough for you. But, I believe that ‘big’ should be power not just heft. And, this wine has a nice balance of power (intensity of black fruit, complexity, solid nose) and bite without being heavy or ‘too’ full. I could stand around with this wine pre-dinner, drink with some porkish meat, or just have it with a cookie before bed. What type of cookie? Well, the merlot would play beautifully off a chewy white chocolate chip, macadamia nut cookie. Oreo? Don’t make me laugh. Well, unless you are one of those disgusting people that break them apart and then scrap off the filling with your teeth before eating the cookie wafer part by itself. I admit it might work with the deconstructed Oreo, if you’re so inclined.

cantineferriAnd, just ‘cause I can, another wine from Puglia that I had while there last year. 2008 Cantine Ferri Oblivio Nero di Troia #380600 $19.95 is a “deep somnabitch” or so my notes say. Just layer after layer of dark, herby, leathery stuff. A bit farm smelly for those that shy away from smelly wines – BTW, I love ‘em! If I was drinking this tonight, I’d open a bit early to gain some integration and then have with a Mediterranean veggie pizza (which I actually had last night, drat). Plus, remember, it would add uva di troia to your Century Wine List.


Recent Discovery:

DNmalbecWandering the aisles aimlessly the other day, attracting the attention of consultants, secret shoppers, and weird Buddy, I found what looked like a familiar friend – 2011 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec #178657 $18.95. I’m not sure why I thought that I’d had it in another movie. The name Don Nicanor just sounded familiar, is all. Sometime when I recommend Malbec, people give me feedback that it’s a bit too heavy for them. Maybe it’s the modern fruit forward style we usually find. Maybe it’s the high alcohol content which seems to accompany Malbec. Well, this one has a lighter profile despite ABV of 14.5% which is pretty high for me. In the mouth, it has ever present acidity, solid dark fruit, and a nice smoky finish. I was pleasantly surprised after being disappointed that Don Nicanor and I were not old friends. Drink this with some hearty fare. As I take another sip, I have it – it’s an Old World Malbec! That’s it. If you like Cahors, you’ll recognize it in this wine. Vineyard character, a bit of dirt on the nose.

Wine that I’m going to pick up:

queylusThomas Bachelder makes some of the more interesting pinots that I’ve had recently. He is a pinotphile in the greatest sense – making Burgundy pinots, Oregon pinots (very highly recommended here), and Niagara pinots under his eponymous label. He also makes pinots under the Queylus brand. I’ve never had these and am going to make sure I get a bottle of their 2011 Domaine QueylusTradition Pinot Noir #392738 $29.95. It’s reviewed well (Tony Aspler – 92) but more importantly, his style is what has impressed me. Now, we’ve all had and loved Meoimi pinot from Belle Glos and the Wagner family. But, our tastes have changed, haven’t they? Big, sugary, thick pinots don’t do it anymore, do they? Anyone out there? “Of course, they don’t Bill.” That’s better. I mean when Tony Aspler uses the terms “floral grace notes”, I’ve heard all I need to spring for this wine. Finding that $29.95 is a bit stiff? Well, if you’re like Ken, you just buy it and stash it for a special occasion.

Images courtesy of


Don Nicanor -www.nietosenetiner.com.ar

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Pondview Estate Winery

8 Jan

pondviewfrontI was going to post this before the end of 2013 but I noticed that Pondview Estate Winery will have a booth at the London Wine and Food Show, January 16 – 18. I thought that if I sowed the seed closer to that date, it might encourage you to attend and drop in to see these fine folks. Tell ’em I sent ya. I was at the first iteration of this event and wondered where the wine was but the event has grown and there are a number of Ontario wineries (Lailey, Pondview, Angel’s Gate, among others) and breweries (Muskoka, Fork River). Get tickets here http://www.westernfairdistrict.com/shop/products#WineFood

This is the latest in a series of posts about winery visits to places I’m interested in knowing more about.  The other visits are chronicled here: Colaneri, Kacaba, Megalomaniac.

Last summer (2012) I attended the wedding of my niece in lovely Stratford Ontario. The wedding was great – happy couple, relieved parents, happy-for-a-free-meal relatives – that’s me – and a great setting. The red wine served was one that I hadn’t heard of before – 2010 Pondview Estate Winery Cab/Merlot Reserve. It was perfect for the occasion of an afternoon wedding and a terrace lunch at The Old Prune. I even spoke about the wine in a post.

I checked the shelves at my local and found nary a bottle of their stuff there. Well, it got me thinking, why not read up on this winery and then trundle down to Niagara-On-The-Lake and see what else is happening there.

Pondview Estate Winery is located in the Four Mile Creek Appellation close to the little village of Virgil. Every time I zip through Virgil, I’m singing The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, by the time I clear the reduced speed zone. Follow? Apparently the appellation gets an abundance of sunshine allowing their Bordeaux varietals to provide a bigger, riper wine.

Pondview is located on Line 2 NOTL. Now, if you’ve purchased a new car with built in navigation (as had we when I tried to find this place), you might have trouble getting your friendly, neutrally accented navigation queen to point you in the right direction. It’s just weird down there (Lines vs. Concessions; paying attention to dozing off due to flat land) and I had a bit of bother finding the place. My fault (and that of the GPS, of course) not theirs. I mean you can see for miles as the topography is quite flat but still – an aging, forgetful wine blogger stumbled about for awhile before I arrived at the winery. Which is somewhat backwards as I usually stumble out, not in – but I stumble responsibly.

Pondview has a newer reception centre (picture above) that has a wide veranda with tables for sitting outside and enjoying the weather as well as the wine. They offer plates of cheese, glasses of wine and nibbles in season – so plan to spend some time. The whole image reminds of the farm stands that I used to frequent as a kid picking up sweet corn or fresh peaches only larger, newer, and a lot better kept – apologies to the Eastmans. It’s really quite charming and inviting. Where’s the pond, you ask? So did I. It’s out back behind the working winery. Once inside, there is a large room with the ubiquitous wine thingees and the Pondview line of wines stacked, ready for purchase. The tasting bar is the central focus of the room. I understand that there is a Barrel and Tank Room that is also used for tastings. Staff, as always in Niagara, are top drawer.

Pondview is a family-run enterprise – a family with a long history of agriculture and viticulture dating back to Italy. Family seemingly present and accounted for when I was there. I was met by Joseph Barbera – Sales Manager. Now, if you’re in my age cadre, you’ll remember Yogi Bear and BooBoo, Huckleberry Hound, Augie Doggie, and Fred Flintstone. These were all productions of Hanna-Barbera – Joseph Barbera, that is. I was a little too self-conscious to point this out to him as HE HAS  PROBABLY HEARD IT A MILLION TIMES BEFORE. Joseph was the perfect host for me – not assuming that I actually knew stuff but not talking down to me either. And passionate about their wine as he should be. The wines are all produced using estate fruit – which means grown by Pondview on their land, in this case, adjacent to the winery itself. Joseph told me that they are planting more acreage to accommodate growth and a broader selection of varietals.

harmonyNow, the wine. Let’s start with their entry level fun red – Harmony Red #336495 $14.95This red fits into the über competitive ‘Ontario Everyday Red’ category. Actually I‘m making that up – there isn’t a ‘category’ per se but you get what I mean. Wait, it’s a ‘niche’? Anyway, the goal is to make a consistent house style, easy drinking red that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. They’ve succeeded in spades with this wine. This wine was the perfect wine to kick off the red tasting – medium bodied, a hint of sweetness but not sugar, and fruit up front. When you visit ask about the label art not just on this range but the Bella Terra as well. Attention to detail that denotes to me – pride in product.

2011-Cab-Merlot-ReserveThe next red I tried was the 2011 edition of the Cab/Merlot above. The 2011 Cabernet Merlot Reserve $19.95 (the 2010 #307561 $18.95 is still available at a few locations of the  mother ship – otherwise, you need to pick this up at the winery itself or with dinner at several restaurants in the area) is a  medium-bodied wine with cherry and some wood being the predominant aromas. It swallows a bit hot and I think could withstand or even benefit from some cellar time or aeration. Good value in my mind and a Niagara red that doesn’t carry the greenness that sometimes distracts me from all the other stuff going on.I’m told that might be the 4 Mile Creek effect.

2011-cab-sauv-RED-bellaterra-smThe premium level for Pondview is their Bella Terra line. The 2011 Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon $35.15 is a full-bodied effort. Grapes were picked late in the harvest season (November 6th in this case), cold soaked and in barrel for 19 months. The benefit of not having LCBO volume accountabilities is being able to be patient and they were with this wine.This is a full-bodied ripe wine that proves the statement above that 4 Mile Creek wines are just that – ripe, full reds. But, and this is important, this wine has enough structure – it’s a river not a pool. Stands up doesn’t flop. Lovely cassis, maybe a touch of mint, and some smoky stuff from the wood. Lovely wine. Why pay $35 for a Niagara red? Because you can get this!

2011-BT-ChardAnother Bella Terra wine that I tried was the 2011 Bella Terra Chardonnay $25.25. If you know Arlene, you know that I can wander around tasting wine as long as I bring home some vanilla-y, buttery, full-bodied chardonnay. Arlene didn’t get the memo that oaky chardonnays aren’t fashionable any longer. And, I’m glad for that ’cause I love then too. Less importantly at our house, this wine won the 2013 Chardonnay du Monde bronze medal in France. Not too shabby. I loved the tropical notes both in the bowl and in the mouth – the typical green apple and that Dufton/Berday sought after butterscotch. Don’t read that this wine is cloying and too heavy; it’s not. It has a streak of acidity that sharpens the finish. This is a serious wine. A nice price point for a wine that would go great on the dinner table with creamy seafood dishes, roast chicken, or sour cream and onion potato chips – seriously, that’s a good pairing but probably more the coffee table.

I also tasted Pondview’s 2011 Riesling ($16.20), 2011 Chardonnay ($17.20 – I’d spring for the Bella Terra and I did), the 2010 Vidal Icewine ($25.05 – this was simply exquisite and for a guy that doesn’t like ’em sweet – beautiful! I’ll learn to love it sweet), and the 2010 Bella Terra Meritage ($40.15 – a toss up with the BT Cabernet as best wine). You can order wine from the winery by clicking on the link above. Or, if scrolling is too arduous, click here.

Overall impression is that Pondview has a winning approach to growing their business. I sensed patience and attention to detail. Patience as evidenced by their philosophy of harvesting and releasing wines. Attention to detail in their label art work (I know i already mentioned that mentioned that), the knowledge of their staff, and their reception centre. The art work is very cool – mentioned again.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t just hum The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down as you fly through Virgil, wander down Line 2 (or is it Concession 2?) to Pondview. And, if you’re in London, attend the London Wine and Food Show the weekend of the 16 -18 this month and support Pondview as well as the other Ontario wine and craft beers folks. Yubba-dubba-do.

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