Cuvée 2015 – A Weekend of Fine Wine & Food

I wasn’t supposed to attend Cuvée this year.

I had been booked in as a panel guest at a workshop for wine & beer industry folks in Ottawa for the Saturday of Cuvée weekend. As luck would have it, the workshop was cancelled. Even more luckily, I had been invited to attend Cuvée as a guest of Brock University CCOVI and Wine Country Ontario so I jumped at the chance to once again visit the Niagara region.

Cuvee 2015

Cuvee 2015

This was the first year that The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University has taken over as organizers of the event, and funds raised this year were directed to the CCOVI Institute: “Proceeds from the Cuvée wine weekend will go to support grape and wine scholarships and research initiatives at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).” (From Cuvée 2015 site). For the first year as organizers, I can attest that this was as well run as any Cuvée I have attended in the past, and indeed this year’s event seemed to have a great energy about it.

Great food & wine!

Great food & wine!

Having attended Cuvée events in previous years and not really getting a chance to sample the food, I made a plan this year to focus on the food first, then the wine. This meant that I wouldn’t get to try all 50+ wines on offer, and I wouldn’t get to talk to all the people I wanted to talk to, but missing the glorious foods provided by top restaurants was too much to miss. And this year, in addition to the fabulous local Niagara restaurants, three Toronto-area restaurants also attended. Here’s the complete list of food providers (as provided by Brock):

The Toronto culinary partners are:
· Centre for Wine and Food Experimentation featuring chef David Chrystian
· Crush Wine Bar featuring chef Trista Sheen
· Woods Restaurant featuring chef Carlos Deveyra

Niagara culinary partners include:
· Benchmark Restaurant and the Canadian Food and Wine Institute featuring chef Alex White
· Cave Spring Cellars – On the Twenty Restaurant featuring chef Frank Romano
· Dairy Farmers of Canada led by Gianna Ciancio
· Fallsview Casino Resort featuring chef Ray Taylor
· Le Clos Jordanne, Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin Wineries featuring estate chef Tim Mackiddie
· Oliv Restaurant at Strewn Winery featuring chef Rob Webster
· Peller Estates Restaurant featuring chef Jason Parsons
· Ravine Winery Restaurant featuring chef Ross Midgley
· Vineland Estates Restaurant featuring chef Justin Downes

Gourmet desserts will be presented by Criveller Cakes chefs Giovanni del Priore and Leonardo Priore, and Italian Ice Cream chef Andrew Vergalito.

More great food!

More great food!

This year they added a bit more time for media to taste before the doors opened to the general public. I spent most of this time sampling the whites on offer, but as always, I miss more than I taste. I loved hearing the stories from the winemakers about why they chose the wine – there was usually a personal connection that made the wines special. Although I didn’t plan it this way, many of the whites I ended up trying (and enjoying) were Chardonnays. Here’s the ones that stood out for me, in no particular order:

  • Southbrook 2013 Triomphe Chardonnay
  • Riverview Cellars 2013 Gewurztraminer
  • 2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer “Fox Croft Block” Chardonnay
  • Big Head Wines 2013 Chenin Blanc
  • Ravine Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay
  • Westcott Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay
  • Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012

We then ducked into the announcements of the VQA Promoter awards and two other key awards for contribution to Ontario’s grape and wine industry:

Tony Aspler

Tony Aspler

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc.: Niagara-on-the-Lake grape grower Don Forrer
The Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence: Laurie Macdonald, Executive Director of VQA Ontario
2015 VQA Promoter Lifetime Achievement Award: Len Pennachetti of Cave Spring Vineyards
2015 VQA Promoter Education Award: Evan Saviolidis, sommelier and wine educator
2015 VQA Promoter Hospitality Award: Darcy MacDonell, owner/operator of Farmhouse Tavern
2015 VQA Promoter LCBO Award: Ed Smith, Ontario wine leader customer service representative at the Ottawa-Orleans LCBO
2015 VQA Promoter Media Award: John Szabo, partner and principal critic at Wine Align
2015 VQA Promoter Promoter-at-Large Award: Kimberly Hundertmark, executive director of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival

More great wine & food

More great wine & food

When we returned to the floor, the doors were open and the food was being served, which meant the place was now hopping with people! We sampled many different foods and tried to select wines that were nearby to pair with the food. I stopped writing tasting notes at this point and just enjoyed the evening.

Memorable Red Tasted that Night included:

  • Vineland Estates 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Lailey 2012 Impromptu
  • Cooper’s Hawk 2012 Reserve Cab Franc
  • Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir
  • Creekside 2011 Broken Press Syrah
  • Rennie Estate Winery G Assemblage (2012)
  • Rockway Vineyards 2012 Wild Ferment Red

Post the main event, Aprés Cuvée kicks into gear with a band, dancing, and sparkling wine, craft beer, and ice wine sampling stations. We somehow managed to close out this event, while sampling some interesting beer from NCT, Silversmiths, and

Complete List of wines available for tasting are documented within this pdf:

2015-088Cuvee Rackcardweb

It felt like the event had a refreshed vigour this year. It might have been for several reasons, but I’m convinced that making it a gala for the wine industry, by the wine industry, will keep the energy flowing for years to come.

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Highs & Lows of 2014

Highs & Lows

UPDATE: I can’t believe I missed the Judgement of PEC Pinot Noir tasting put on by OWSPEC. See more about it down below.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, so decided I should finally capture my thoughts. My 2014 was full of highlights for me, but there were a few things that either disappointed or saddened me. I’ve tried to capture them in chronological order. Like them or hate them? Leave a comment and tell me why!

High: The one big “high” of running the Great Canadian Wine Challenge with Calvin Hanselmann was that Calvin and his wife Dylan became good friends with Debbie and I, and we have enjoyed some great wines and adventures together over the year.

Calvin, Dylan, & Debbie

Calvin, Dylan, & Debbie

Low: Calvin and I didn’t realize how much “grunt work” there was going to be with running the challenge. We wanted to run more contests/fun things, but we just ran out of steam. My blogging took a hit too.

High: Open That Bottle Night (February): We decided to try this event where you open something special – that bottle you have been saving for just the right occasion that never comes (based on the WSJ post in the link). It was a great way to kill the winter blues and enjoy great food, great wines, and great friends, and will be repeated at our house annually!

High: Being nominated for, and winning the “Promoter at Large” award from Brock CCOVI Promote the Promoters Awards. Being recognized in front of peers (by those same peers) was really moving, and I am humbled to be included in the list of winners over the years. It really is an honour.

Low: The day I accepted the VQA Promoter award, I had to miss the funeral of a long-time friend (Kerry Mason) who had just passed away from cancer. Kerry’s wife Samantha assured me that Kerry would want me to attend and accept the award, but I was an emotional wreck that weekend and for a good time after. I was never able to blog about the weekend and all the great wines enjoyed at Cuvée, the expert’s tasting, and the #LostBarrelVertical dinner. It still bothers me today.

High: Speaking of that #LostBarrelVertical dinner, this was an amazing evening with 11
other wine geeks, a fabulous set of wines, and an amazing dinner from Treadwell’s in NOTL. Kudos to Gary Killops for coming up with the amazing idea to share these fantastic bottles! (Paul might agree that the dinner was a “high” but his 6-7 hour drive home in a snowstorm was a “low”!). We also had a pre-dinner and post-dinner tasting that included so many great Canadian wines. Awesome night indeed!

Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

High: Getting my first paid writing gigs doing the back stories for Savvy Hip Hops and Savvy Selections.  Strange that I started with beer first and then moved to wine, but it was nice to finally have some income from my hobby!

High: Terroir event in PEC. Not only was it the first major event (a farmer’s market) to allow wine sales in Ontario, it was the last time I saw Richard Karlo. Before and after, we visited many great wineries, including The Old Third, Hubb’s Creek, and Long Dog. The Gamay in barrel at Long Dog was definitely a highlight for 2014.

The Somms

The Somms at #IronSommelier

High: MP (& Minister) Michelle Rempel invited Calvin and I to this event in Ottawa called #IronSommelier. Michelle and two other well known Ottawa somms (Andrew Rasta of Lifford Agency and Steve Robinson of Atelier) paired Canadian wines with dishes from #IronChef winner Rene Rodriguez (of Ottawa’s Navarra restaurant) in a “competition” to see who had the best pairings. It was an evening of great Canadian wines and I discovered an amazing Syrah from Painted Rock winery in BC that night among the stellar wines provided.

High: Being asked to judge the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario wine awards. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about my skills and the skills of those who do this professionally. Loved meeting some of the former (and current) students of the program at Niagara College, including David Stasiuk of Rockway Vineyards.

High:’s first pop-up wine shop in Ottawa. We got a taste of what it might be like to have a private wine shop operate in our city, and we really liked it!

High: Canadian Wine Day and Free Shipping Day. When Janet Dorozynski first suggested #CanadianWineDay, I thought it was an amazing idea and Calvin and I were trying to think of ways to make it better. We asked, and several wineries across Canada offered free shipping on June 28th. In honour of both events (and it was a Saturday), we invited lots of local wine folks over to celebrate both occasions with too much food and lots of great wines from across Canada.

Low: Sadly, i4c2014. After last year’s tremendous event, I convinced another couple and my wife to attend the World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner, despite the rather high cost. We found the lack of preparation for the weather (and subsequent poor communication) on the day of the event less than stellar. Once there, the makeshift arrangements where they had spread out the winemakers and their wines in one of the dining tents crowded with tables and chairs made it next to impossible to move around. In 2013 when it had been outside, I tasted more than twenty-five different Chardonnays vs the six I was able to get to in 2014. Then at the dinner, the server at our table repeatedly returned with the same local (&inexpensive) Chardonnay. If we hadn’t been seated with a very vocal Michael Pinkus, that’s all we would have tasted during dinner. Michael’s complaints finally resulted in a 8-10 different wines appearing. The food was good, but not good enough to make the costs of the event seem at all reasonable.

High: Despite the i4c event being disappointing, we had a fantastic tour of Niagara wineries including Leaning Post Wines, Kew Vineyards, Di Profio Wines, Organized Crime Winery, Featherstone Estate Winery, Vineland Estates, Fielding Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Pearl Morissette, and Rockway Vineyards. We also venture out to visit Mark Glover and Bre Paszkat for an incredible dinner of Mark’s smoked meat and some fabulous wines/

High: #GrumpyAndrew pictures from all over the Niagara region. I still laugh every time I think about the pics we were able to take.


#GrumpyAndrew gets a kiss!


Shores of Erie Coin

High: Finally being able to make it to LENS region and explore a little bit of the wine and food scene they have. Less well-known than other Ontario regions, I think it is one of our best kept secrets, and something we need to change. Friend Gary Killops has been telling me about the region for some time and the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival is a great time to visit!

Low: Having tornado-like winds rip through the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival while we were at the winemaker’s dinner. The storm shut down the entire event immediately.

High: Seeing the volunteers recover from the night before and be able to open early the next afternoon. Given the damage and craziness of the night before, one could hardly tell anything had happened. Another great example of community spirit in action!

Shores of Erie International Wine Festival

Shores of Erie International Wine Festival – After the Storm!


High: The end of The Great Canadian Wine Challenge #TGCWC and the awarding of prizes. We had another great celebration to end things (as did others in other parts of the province). People were really impressed with the generous prizes donated by various wineries!

High: The Judgement of PEC event in Toronto in October, and event put on by the PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society. I was asked to sit on the panel with other esteemed wine experts and we (along with all the guests), evaluated the top 5 PEC Pinot Noirs against 5 world class Pinots from other parts of the world (all blind). Surprisingly, some of my favourite PEC Pinots were not in the top 5 from PEC and were excluded from the tasting…Paul Dearborn later explained that some that they had wanted in the lineup were not available for purchase at the time they did the selection. The first place did not go to a PEC Pinot, but they did place very well and the Huff Estates Pinot Noir surprised many including myself.

Low: Richard Karlo passing suddenly in November. Many of us who knew him did not know how ill he was and it was a massive shock to the Ontario wine community to learn this sad news.

#ToRichardHigh: The real sense of community that was displayed at the funeral for Richard Karlo and the reception afterwards. It really highlighted the fact that PEC is a farming community first and foremost. Hearing that other winemakers had stepped in to help finish the 2014 wines just added to that spirit, and at least for me, made me wish I lived in the County. 100% class.

High: Dylan Hanselmann first suggested the idea of an online toast to Richard Karlo with the hashtag #ToRichard. It is likely the most fitting tribute I can think of for such a great winemaker and the fact that it took off and reverberated on both Twitter and Facebook shows that it really resonated with those who knew Richard.

Low: I should have put this one last, but I didn’t want to end the year on a low note. The lack of change in the Ontario liquor distribution, despite all the attempts that have been made to date. Things like the movie Straight Up and a few key lawsuits are really shining a light on the issues in Ontario and educating the general population. It will take folks getting and staying upset to make change, but there are signs that things are going to happen in 2015. We’ll see.

High: #ONWineChat. It’s still going, and we crossed episode #90 late in 2014. It’s been fun to see the community develop and engage but there is always room for improvement (and more participants)!



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