Ravine Vineyard: A Food & Wine Extravaganza!

Ravine Vineyard - Woodruff House on Left, Bistro on Right

We had previously visited Ravine Vineyard twice. The first stop was a dinner as part of the Tastecamp North experience and the 40+ of us that descended on Ravine after a day of tasting 100 or so wines meant that there wasn’t much left of our sensory capabilities, although the roast pork dinner had been a highlight (as was the great wine that disappeared far too quickly). The second stop was a very brief visit in August where we did a very minimal taste and purchase stop as the kids were waiting outside. With a love for wine, food, and old buildings, I was really looking forward to this first stop on our tour.

We met up with our “limo” driver from Airport Shuttle at the Pillar and Post for 10:45 sharp. Having been given the option of a Lincoln Town Car or a Lincoln Navigator, we chose the latter, figuring it had more “case room”! We were whisked off to St. Davids and dropped right at the door of the Woodruff House (the tasting room). I immediately recognized Paul Harber (Chef Proprietor) crossing between the two buildings with Shawn Spiewak (Food & Beverage Director). After quick introductions they took us inside.

Having read my post about local-boy (and Ottawa Senator) Zenon Konopka launching his own line of wines, and reading what a fan our daughter was of the Senators, Paul and Sean had contacted their friend Zenon and had secured a signed photo of him which they presented to us. For them, it was a small thing, but for my daughter it was huge. I think she’s starting to like the wine business more and more.

Paul Harber in full story-telling mode

Over the next couple hours, Paul unwound the history and background of the entire Ravine Vineyard in a story-telling worthy of being recorded (and I wish I had). It touched on his family’s history and linkage to these sites and buildings, and indeed his own journey to becoming a chef and the coincidental (fateful?) events that led to him ultimately landing back home running the food operations at Ravine. Some of the key points I captured (if I got them all right):

– Paul’s mother Norma Jean Harber is a Lowery, and her family originally owned the land where the winery sits today.
– Together with husband Blair, they rescued the farm from being turned into a housing development, returning it to a working farm by planting grapes.
– The Woodruff house (now the tasting room and offices) had actually been sold years ago to a couple in Caledon who never re-assembled it. The house had subsequently been sold and moved a couple times before they tracked it down and purchased it.
– The Woodruff house has it’s own history – William Lyon Mackenzie hid there during the 1837 rebellion, and escaped by exiting a 2nd floor window and hiding in a tree while the house was searched.
– An artist associated with The Group of Seven painted a picture of the house which coincidentally a friend saw in an art auction catalogue. Once again they were able to track it down and bring it “home”. It is now proudly displayed on one of the mantels in Woodruff house.

Woodruff House Painting reclaimed

– Their ancestors had run one of the first (if not the first) canning plants in the region. The Bistro today resides in a restored canning building.
– Other relatives had run one of the first quarries in the region with stone making its way into various famous buildings across Ontario. The “Sand and Gravel” line is a tribute to those roots.
– Most of the family businesses were lost over the years during the depression. Re-creating linkages to those family businesses all on the one site is the eventual dream, with other buildings planned.

Overall, the place (and the stories) evoke a strong sense of roots and place (I like the phrase “somewhereness”, although that is used by others for a different wine and food event). Knowing the history and the goals for the site, there’s a real sense of connection that occurs knowing that this family has been able to re-create something lost to their ancestors.

Here’s what we tasted:

2010 Sand & Gravel York Road: With most of their wines above the $20 mark and in demand, Ravine needed to bring out a non-estate series of wines to keep up with the demand and satisfy those on tighter budgets. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay Musquee, and Riesling, this is a great white blend at $16.95. With quite an aromatic nose, I detected sweet floral notes, citrus, and something a bit grassy. On the palate the wine at first seems off-dry, but the residual sugar is zero and the acidity is refreshing. Great patio sipper that will have your guests asking for more!

Sand & Gravel York Road

2010 Sand & Gravel Unoaked Chardonnay ($17.95): Although “unoaked”, about 20% of the juice spent time in 3rd year oak which imparted the slightest hint of oaking. The nose is fruit dominant with apple, pear, and light citrus. The palate gives way more to the lemon than the apple and pear, adds a slight spice note, and the judicious use of oak appears in the form of a very slight creamy, buttery component that lasts through the finish. The acidity keeps this fresh in the mouth. I’ve been enjoying more and more unoaked Chardonnay lately and this one has kept it really interesting with the hints of oak added.

2010 Sand & Gravel Riesling: An off-dry Riesling with lemon-lime and stone fruit on the nose, this wine bursts in your mouth like a ripe, Niagara peach right off the tree. The wine gives the illusion of being quite sweet at first (31 g/L residual sugar) until the decent acidity cleanses the palate. Mouth-watering burst of summer for $17.95.

2009 Estate Riesling: Botrytis, or “noble rot” is a form of fungus that can affect fruit that is located in a moist area. If the fruit is then exposed to drier conditions it causes a form of raisining, extracting the liquid from the grapes and leaving a very concentrated, sweet juice in what remains. The estate Riesling vineyard ends near a creek which seems perfect for creating this “noble rot” on the ripened fruit. As this is quite rare and robs a lot of the juice from the fruit, 100% botrytis-affected wines tend to be pricier, in the range of good ice wines. By blending 20% botrytis-affected juice with regular juice, they add some of the intriguing properties of the botrytis while keeping the price very reasonable. This one has so much more complexity than the Sand & Gravel Riesling with light notes of petrol, pine needle in addition to the peach and citrus fruits. On the palate, the wine picks up notes from the botrytis in the form of Earl Grey tea, spice, and some herbal notes. The finish on this just keeps on giving with repeating notes of peach and honey. At $28, it isn’t going to be an everyday sipper but if you want a special finish to a meal that isn’t as sweet as ice wine, I would heartily suggest this.

2010 Gewürztraminer ($22): With great floral notes (honeysuckle and roses) and tropical fruit (light lychee and kiwi) the nose and palate are in alignment. The palate adds some nice honied apricot and lemon notes as the wine finishes. The decent acidity keeps the sweetness in balance. Pair this up with your favourite Thai curry.

Sand & Gravel Redcoat

2010 Sand & Gravel Redcoat Blend ($17.95): With a lot of their red wines meant for aging, this one will appeal to licensees (restaurants) and those looking for something to drink now. This $17.95 blend combines 60% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a fantastic year for reds in Niagara. The nose hints at what lies below, with dark, rich fruit notes and light sweet spice notes. On the palate the use of neutral (old) oak barrels results in the damson plum, blackberry and dark cherry fruit dominating, with only hints of vanilla from the barrels. This method has kept the acidity fresh and means that this wine will pair nicely with many meals right away.

2010 Estate Meritage: This is a big wine for $25. The nose gives way to strong notes of dark plums, cassis, and black cherry with brooding cedar and tobacco notes. There’s obvious alcohol too. On the palate, loads of luscious fruit, dark chocolate, and sweet spices. There are pretty strong tannins but they are balanced against the big fruit of this wine. This is a wine that would love to spend a bit of time in the cellar. This wine is available at the winery and watch for a Vintages release later this year.

2008 Cab Franc Reserve: At $55 from a year where big Ontario reds didn’t fare well, I have to say I was surprised at the quality of this wine. Paul explained that they dropped a lot of fruit ( 50% less tonnage per acre in some cases) in 2008 in order to concentrate the sugars in the remaining fruit. The only evidence remaining was the slight green pepper notes I detected. I don’t mind these and some will claim that they are varietally correct while others detest these notes, so it really is a personal preference. If we ignore those light notes, the wine is rich in raspberries, plums, and cherries and has well balanced tannins. There are some smoky vanilla notes from the oak, and the acidity has been kept fairly high keeping the wine light and lively. Fantastic example from a very tough year, you can hold this one for quite some time.

Ravine Vineyard 2008 Cab Franc Reserve

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($55): Again from a tougher year for Ontario, this Cabernet Sauvignon gives no indication of its heritage. With jammy, dark fruits (blackberries and cassis) and strong vanilla notes, it could easily pass for a Cabernet Sauvignon from a much warmer year in Ontario. There is some earthiness, tobacco, and chocolate-mocha notes on the palate after the luscious dar fruit recedes. As with other Ravine reds (am I noticing a trend?), the acidity has been kept moderately high.

Ravine Vineyard's Paul Harber

Did I mention Paul was a great story-teller?

2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: How does “Super inky fruit bomb” sound for a descriptor? The 2010 Cab Sauv is inky black in colour, with luscious jam and sweet, smoky spice notes on the nose. On the palate, the luscious dark fruits mesmerize but the big tannins and distinctive acidity are keeping the fruit from running out of control. This one needs a rare steak, or a couple years hiding in the cellar but either way, is a beautiful wine. Watch for this wine to release later this year.

2010 Michael Stadtländer Red Blend: Paul Harber worked alongside famous chef Michael Stadtländer and the two remain friends. They produced one wine with him a couple years ago and Michael wanted to do another one with some of the proceeds going to stop the Mega Quarry project (Stadtländer was the organizer of Foodstock last summer which attracted tens of thousands). A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, this is another huge wine. With black cherries, ripe plums, cassis, and blackberries, there is a lot of fruit to be held in check. They’ve added some heavy tannins to this, adding smoky vanilla and toast notes. Another beauty to (be)hold or serve with rare meats. Release date TBD (Maybe soon as I heard they have received the labels drawn by Michael himself).

Paul explains how he ended up working alongside Michael Stadtländer as part of his path to Chef Proprietor at Ravine.

2010 Estate Merlot ($34): Rich dark plum, dark cherry, and vanilla notes on the nose. On the palate there is luscious dark fruit, sweet spice, and nice toast notes. Long tannic, vanilla & cherry finish. Great typicity for this varietal in a really good year for big Ontario reds. Release date April 21st.

2010 Estate Merlot

2010 Piccone Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($40): This is one of the top 3 Cabernet Francs I have had the pleasure to taste, and it almost didn’t happen. Paul couldn’t locate the wine in the cellar and thankfully his brother Alex (who looks after the wine side of things) showed up and he knew where it was squirreled away! The nose is dark cherries with a slight floral note. The palate has loads of luscious dark cherries, black raspberries, and rich, ripe plums, finishing with light spice and tobacco notes. The medium tannins, nice acidity and delicate care in integrating all these components mean that this wine will drink very nicely now or for the next 5-7 years. With only 160 cases made, the $40 price point won’t be high enough to keep this from disappearing very quickly after the April release!

2010 Picone Vineyard Cabernet Franc

By this time in our visit, it was almost time to leave for our next destination but hadn’t even eaten yet. Paul shuffled us over to the bistro dining room where we enjoyed a spectacular lunch. Between Paul and Collin Goodine, the Ravine Vineyard Bistro has already received acclaim as one of the best winery restaurants in the world. We had previously eaten there as part of a buffet style service with the Tastecamp crowd, so we were eager to see what was on the menu. Here’s what we had:

The appetizers – Deb went for the French Onion soup with smoked provolone and sour dough bread. I had the beet salad with blue cheese croutons.

Deb's French Onion Soup - no soggy bread crumbs in this one!

Beet salad, beets done 3 ways!

The Mains – I went for the tenderloin with cheddar risotto, while Deb decided on the Tuna Nicoise, a tuna steak with peppercorns crust and roasted garlic.

My steak and risotto, the perfect lunch-sized meal!

Deb's tuna steak, again the perfect size for a lunch

Desserts disappeared so fast that we had already dug in before we remembered to take pictures. Deb had the White Chocolate Crème Brûlée while I scarfed the Amaretto Pot de Crème. Both were delicious, and a fine finish to the meal.

We’re planning an organized tour this summer for a group of friends and we’re going to make sure that one of the stops is Ravine. Between the history, food and the wine, there’s many good reasons to make this a highlight stop on the tour! The Harber family really has succeeded in creating a destination with the re-building on this site, and indeed, there is a renewed sense of place here that people will connect with.

A Real Sense of Place

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2 Responses to Ravine Vineyard: A Food & Wine Extravaganza!

  1. Samuel Lim says:

    Glad you were able to make it back out to the Ravine! Their Gewürztraminer is one of my all time faves… devine!

  2. Joel Baxter says:

    Great blog post on Ravine! I was there in Feb 2012 and was impressed with how there were a one-stop shop of great wine/food and atmosphere. The Piccone Cabernet Franc and Sand and Gravel Riesling were two of my favourite wines there.

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