It was not until recently that I started appreciating red wines and cheating on white. So, naturally, it was only right to participate in The Pinot Affair – a weekend long trip to explore this great wine across Niagara.
9 wineries . 9 events . all crushing on one deliciously seductive grape” ~ Pinot Noir of course!
Although I am sure there are many strategies, I took some time ahead of the weekend to sit down with my choices and smapped out the places that I wanted to go. Open from 11am – 5pm each day, some wineries required reservations to take part in specific tours and tastings while others did not require any kind of notice about when you were arriving. I appreciated both approaches and decided to go ahead with booking about half of my visits and leaving the rest to chance and spontaneity. This is what my 2-day adventure looked like.
[BTW – when you see a “” within this post it symbolizes my favourite Pinot Noir from that winery]
11am – Hidden Bench: From De Vine to Divine
First – and fittingly so – I headed to Hidden Bench. As their name suggests, this winery is tucked away on the Beamsville Bench and boasts a spectacular outdoor stone fireplace and patio. When we arrived a fire was lit and the BBQ, with the lamb burgers for our food pairing, was already ablaze. Led by proprietor and winemaker Harald Thiel and trusty sidekick Bismark (the d0g), we walked through their organic vineyard. Bismark kept us on our toes as Harald explained the difference between low and high density vines, organic practices, the uniqueness of the bench and the geothermal ponds that heat and cool the winery. Then, we were welcomed into a window-laced tasting room to try the Pinots.
2009 Felseck Vinyard Pinot Noir
12pm – Rosewood Estate Winery: Pinot Gone Wild
Just up the road from Hidden Bench is a “honey” of a winery called Rosewood. Best known for their Mead, Rosewood also has a full time winemaker – Natalie Spytkowsky – who, along with owner Renata Roman and owner’s daughter Krystina, was showcasing her 2009 and 2010 Pinots.
“Fresh, Flirty & Fun…That’s Pinot.” – Eugene Roman, Rosewood Winery
Reservations not required, we were swept through the winery shop and tasting room, through the back into the cellar where I learned the difference in taste between wines fermented with their own natural yeast and those with yeast added. I did surprisingly well guessing which was which between the 2009 Pinot’s but was a little less confident (but instinctively right) with the 2010. At the end of the day it was the food here that stole the show – homemade Beef Bourgignon, Borscht, Mushroom Bechamels and Thyme and Pinot Sausage – all made with Rosewood Pinots!
2009 Pinot Noir Reserve Wild Ferment
2pm – Water Under the Bridge by the Carousel Players – Although not associated with The Pinot Affair – I took a break from all this delicious wine and went to see a great, participatory children’s play.
4pm- Coyote’s Run Estate Winery: Explore the World of Pinot
Since moving to Niagara in 2008 I have only ever heard great things about Coyote’s Run so it was about time that I visited. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed! This winery didn’t require reservations – you could show up anytime to take part in their “around the world” showcase of great Pinot Noirs.
“Pinot Noir is like the child that requires, even demands, extraordinary care and attention from its guardians, but rewards such efforts with an inspiring and delicious elegance. I love the challenge, knowing what the prize can be.”- David Sheppard, Winemaker, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery
Starting in Burgundy and paired with some deliciously stinky cheese, we made our way from Europe to New Zealand and then to Oregon before landing in NOTL to try winemaker David Sheppard’s prized Red and Black Paw Pinots. Why Red and Black? Well – the names are reflective of the two types of soil you will find at Coyote’s Run. It’s worth mentioning that as much as I loved the wine and cheese at Coyote’s Run, I equally enjoyed the antics, quirks, jokes and company of assistant wine-maker Steve Trussler.
2010 Red Paw Pinot Noir
11am – Malivoire Wine: The King and I
Before visiting Malivoire I had never met a King – so it was a great pleasure to meet Niagara’s 2011 Grape King Ed Hughes. In partnership with Ed (a high-quality grower), Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar created the 2010 Hughes Pinot Noir, one of the many wines we tried at Malivoire. The Cheese Guys were there and they took us through a great tasting, it’s remarkable how much the fatty and saltiness of a Merlot bathed Parmesan compliments the 2010 Small Lot Pinot – delish! That cheese is now in my fridge, albeit not much left – it’s the Sartori Merlot Bellavitano and if I ever found myself trapped on a desert island this is one thing I would NEED to be with me! I was thoroughly impressed by Malivoire’s hospitality but was most impressed by Shiraz’s passion for the winery’s organic and quality practices and beliefs. This is a winery that I can get behind and cheer on – in future I would really like to see their much talked about cellar which has a live roof and is embedded into the side of the escarpment itself.
2010 Small Lot Pinot Noir
1pm – Tawse Winery: Deconstructing the Life of Pinot Noir
This winery is a site for sore eyes – from the majestic gates to the castle-like exterior, it is big and beautiful and tucked about half way up the escarpment in Beamsville. Once inside we were greeted with a smile from the staff but I was surprised to see that they do not have any of their wines out on display. I do like that they have glass between the wine shop and some of the winery itself – the transparency makes the space more interesting. Once in the cellar we tried a young (from the barrel) pinot noir, a current vintage and then a 2007 Pinot Noir.
“Flavor, balance, complexity……no other grape gives us wine with such a delicate profile. Pinot Noir is graceful on its own, and flexible with food. As a Sommelier, Pinot is my go-to wine for any situation.” – Dieter Unruh, Sommelier & Hospitality Manager, Tawse Winery
Rebecca, a chipper young woman hired for the day by Tawse, led us in these structured tastings and was quite pleasant. And, it was fantastic to see Upper Canada Cheese’s Niagara Gold on the board paired with their wines. It was just a little disappointing that Tawse missed the opportunity to have someone intimately involved in their wine tell us about who they are and why they love their Pinot. Rebecca was knowledgeable about wine in general but knew nothing more about Tawse than you might read in a magazine. At the end of the tasting I did end up leaving with a decadent bag of salted caramels from Provisions Inc – the silver lining for sure!
3pm – Lailey Vineyard: Hands on Affair
Having been to and written about the MacFarland Tea House in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I was a bit ashamed to see that Lailey was right across the road and I had not heard of it before. This little gem in NOTL was the highlight of my weekend. I love the quaintness of the winery and the deep passion that winemaker Derek Barnett has for each one of his grapes – literally. As it was late on Sunday and most pinot affair patrons had started heading back to their homes to get ready for what-ever Monday might hold, it was like I had Derek all to myself. He walked us through the vineyards explaining all about what this small but mighty winery has to offer.
“Why do I like Pinot Noir!…the most amazing grape – truly the most sensitive grape. I love pinot for its versatility at the table, it can be paired with so many dishes. I love Pinot for its delicate, pretty, sexy flavours and texture. I love it for its ability to mature into something that perhaps is more exotic, more funky, more…Pinot!” – Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyards
I love that Derek encouraged us to taste the grapes, to connect with the winery and understand all that some of the rare varietals grown at Lailey have to offer. Then, he took us down into the small cellar to try some of this year’s vintage along with some others from previous years’. There is something wonderful about sipping wine from your glass that has come directly from the barrel while listening to the wise musings of a seasoned wine-maker. As if this wasn’t enough, we were then whisked to the surface where we tried another group of intimately crafted Pinot Noirs perfectly paired with locally produced (by ___ of Stone Road Grille) charcuterie and artisanal cheeses. To say that we lingered at Lailey would be an understatement; it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
2009 Pinot Noir Brickyard
Now, I want to mention that although I had all nine (9) wineries on my schedule to visit, I only made it to six (6). It was hard to get to all nine while really trying to focus on having a quality experience at each. I think we probably would have made it to seven had we not stopped at Water Under the Bridge on Saturday afternoon but I wouldn’t trade that great show for anything. The wineries we missed were Henry of Pelham, Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs.
At the end of the day I truly enjoyed The Pinot Affair and want to thank the organizers for inviting me to participate. The wines are certainly phenomenal but mostly I enjoyed getting to know the winemakers, their families (and pets), employees and hearing the stories of how each winery strives to be the best they can be. Here in Niagara the Pinot Noir is just one of many wines we should be proud to grow and I would encourage you, if you haven’t already, to fall in love with this grape like I did.