Raise your hand if you love wine…
While in Toronto for Blissdom Canada last weekend, I had the opportunity to take a wine tour out to Niagara with Wine Country Ontario. It was all part of the Blissdom conference programming – a chance to go on an excursion of our choice. Now, I won’t lie, as sorely tempted as I was by the wine tour, my first choice was of course an excursion in the writing category simply because I had the weekend filed as “work” in my brain. However, the universe spoke, the writing excursion filled up and I was destined for wine country.
See how I just made it sound like the universe wanted me to drink wine? True story. In the end, it was the perfect trip for me. Funny how things work out, isn’t it? It was an escape I didn’t realize I needed, it triggered memories I’d tucked safely away, and reminded me of a few things I shouldn’t have forgotten.
You see, I used to work with wine. I worked for a short while in an independent winery in the Okanagan, then I moved to working for a large brand in their retail operations in White Rock, BC. I loved it. Wine is a fascinating thing to study – constantly evolving, the landscape of the industry ever changing. Where else can you meet all your desires for wine, travel, languages, and people passionate about what they do? You could never, ever be bored, nor could you ever say you know everything there is to know! Every harvest is different, new wineries open up or change ownership, new wines are released, varietals ebb and flow in trends.
I miss it deeply, though I don’t often admit it.
So at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning of my weekend in Toronto, I was down in the lobby waiting to board a bus to Niagara. Our first stop was Flat Rock Cellars, and what a gorgeous spot they have. Even in the chilly morning weather, we couldn’t resist going outside to soak in the views. We were welcomed with sparkling wine and a wide smile by president and founder Ed Madronich, and he did a wonderful job connecting with a group of sleep-deprived, but sharp and sassy women. I wouldn’t have envied him the job, but he was delightfully frank and funny, and shared so much of his love for wine and the craft of winemaking. We were led out to the vineyard to hear more about their plantings, how they grow vines, and the absolute labour of love that each bottle represents.
We tasted wine as we listened and learned, then were led inside where we heard more of the process Flat Rock Cellars uses for their wines. They grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes, mostly due to the terroir and climate in their location. This means that the soil, and the cooler climate suits these grapes very well, meaning better juice going into the wine, and better wine in your glass. I was amazed at how much they choose to do by hand, and at how committed they are to a handcrafted product. Their facility is clean, well thought out and created to be easy on the eyes and the land. We met Jay, winemaker, and were treated to a barrel sample of Pinot Noir.
An interesting fact about Flat Rock Cellars – they were the first Ontario winery to bottle 100% of their wines under a Stelvin screwcap. A huge trend in winemaking, screw caps no longer signal inexpensive wines not worthy of a cork. Today, you’ll find bright, fresh, high end wines securely protected by these caps; meaning less chance of storage issues or cork taint, and easier opening when it is time to enjoy the wine! I say any trend that helps assure consumers of consistent quality and flavour is a good one, and was pleased to hear Flat Rock embraces this technology.
Toward the end of the tour, we worked our way back up into the tasting bar and had a chance to taste more wine, peek around the store and enjoy the site. I tried their The Rogue Pinot Noir, of course (someone made a white Pinot Noir, called it The Rogue, and took it to market? I swoon.) So curious, and tasty – they use the juice of the Pinot Noir grape but don’t allow the contact with the skins that would result in a red colour. Fascinating. (This isn’t entirely unique in winemaking – if you’ve ever had Champagne or sparkling wine, you have likely had Pinot Noir wine mixed with other juice, and made without skin contact.)
I, of course, pestered Ed to find out if they had Alberta distribution for their wines, and sadly, the answer was no. If they could find a fantastic distributor in Alberta, they might do it (listen up, Alberta, wouldn’t we love to bring some delicious and totally marketable wine from Niagara out to our area??) They don’t even ship here, so sadly, I went home empty-handed (whoever changed that rule about carrying on liquids broke the hearts of wine shoppers everywhere. I totally would have hauled home a few bottles.) I’m crafty, though, so this won’t be the end of the story.
I would love to see this talented, cheeky winery selling wine out west, and want to be able to buy The Rogue!
All in all, our visit to Flat Rock Cellars was an absolute treat. A gorgeous setting, great wines, an entertaining host in Ed Madronich, and a wealth of interesting wine information was ours for the morning. I was regretful to leave as quickly as we did. We did, of course, take the time to tease Ed mercilessly about getting on Twitter, so we’re hoping we convinced him to dip his toes in more often.
Enjoy Flat Rock Cellars, and be sure to drink some of their wines for me!