Visit to Foxtrot Vineyards

Nestled into the hillside of the Okanagan Valley's Naramata bench is the latest Canadian addition to the Lifford portfolio: a very boutique winery called Foxtrot Vineyards famed for their incredible Pinot Noirs. These guys are seriously boutique...Foxtrot is currently producing about 2000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay combined, and they project limiting their production at 3000 cases in the coming years.

Entrance to Foxtrot's cellar dug into the Naramata Bench.

I passed their driveway several times trying to find the winery.  With no sign, tasting room or winery insight, I entered the steep driveway between rows of vines at the address listed on the website. Just as I was beginning to feel like I was trespassing, driving up to somebody's private home, some white plastic fermenters and a de-stemmer came into sight by the entrance to their cellar door and I knew I was at the right place. Situated directly beside their home, the Foxtrot cellar is dug into the hillside and could almost pass as an extremely stylish garage...instead that is where I found winemaker Gustav Allander hard at work checking his Chardonnay ferments, and getting ready for Pinot Noir harvest in the coming days.

I've noticed Foxtrot in many of the top Vancouver restaurants, so its safe to say its gained quite a loyal following. Their wines however are a bit of a departure from the Ontario Pinots, but much more elegant that many of the BC Pinots that tend to drink more like California than Burgundy. To me they're stylistically more akin to great Oregon Pinot Noirs: delicate and earthy with nice fruit, but a bit more mid-palate heft with gamey/savory notes. Really great wine and great people too...

Owned by Torsten Allander, his son Gustav and daughter-in-law Nadine are the winemakers. Gustav studied winemaking in the Okanagan and Nadine did in New Zealand; so together they have quite a wealth of experience and international context. With their focus fixed firmly on Burgundian varietals for their Estate label Foxtrot wines, they have begun to dabble in aromatic whites and fuller bodied reds under a separate label called Wapiti Cellars. All of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir now comes from their home estate vineyard and another nearby vineyard with which they have a long term contract and manage themselves. From just the first shipment of these wines to Ottawa restaurants, a buzz has circulated of very positive feedback...and I can see why.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention their fantastic design. Too many people try to dismiss the importance of good labels and branding and claim to focus exclusively on the wine itself, but outside of a blind tasting scenario I think that's impossible to separate because appreciating wine involves the entire aesthetic experience and I think Foxtrot has some of the very best design I've seen. A great label should never be the only thing a wine has going for it, but in cases like Foxtrot, where the wine speaks so well for itself, having a great label takes it up a notch. A bear holding a gramophone dancing with a woman? Click here for the great back story on their label and to find out more about the winery.

For their wines in Ontario please contact Lifford Wine & Spirits, and for their wines outside of Ontario please contact the winery directly at info@foxtrotwine.com

Harvest at Joie Farm

My Okanagan harvest adventure started at Joie Farm Winery on the Naramata Bench, just north of Penticton. As a huge fan of Alsatian wines, theirs have been some of my very favorites from B.C. ever since I first tasted the Noble Blend, Riesling and Rose a number of years ago. This is a small family operation with a huge following in Vancouver and a quickly rising fan base in Ontario.

Michael Dinn, Heidi Noble & little Theo

- Photo credit: John Cullen

Owned and operated by husband and wife duo Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble, there is an intimate sense of family and happiness at the farm that is palpable in the aptly named wines. Both Heidi and Michael were sommeliers and wine agents before starting the winery, and Heidi is also a Stratford trained chef having cooked at some of Canada's most acclaimed culinary institutions like Toqué! in Montreal and Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario. And after having spent five nights living with them, I can say the meals were nothing short of epic! In the early days, Joie Farm was a Wine and Cooking School that Heidi and Michael ran from their outdoor kitchen. Since they've ended that project and went all-in with the winery, Heidi's published an excellent cookbook of the experience called Menus from an Orchard Table: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan.

The wine philosophy at Joie is to have as little intervention as possible, keeping it as natural as is reasonably feesable--Michael cites Paul Draper's interview with Alice Feiring as a fair summary of his winemaking philosophy. Their production is geared toward the wines of Alsace and Burgundy because the Naramata Bench is a slightly cooler microclimat within the Okanagan and the big red varietals don't do as well there as they do down in Osoyoos or Oliver to the south. The moderating effects from the the adjacent Lake Okanagan allow them to produce wonderfully elegant, acid driven wines like their Noble Blend (Edelswicker), Rose (Gamay, Pinot Noir), Riesling & Pinot Blanc. Having built their reputation on producing some of the most outstanding white wines in BC, their red wine program is really shifting gears too. The production of their PTG (Passetoutgrains) has evolved into additional small lot releases of 100% Gamay and an excellent Pinot Noir Reserve that really wowed.

Below is an annotated photo gallery of my five days working at Joie. From the vineyards and crushpad, to the golf course and Heidi's wonderful evening dinners, this is a quick glimpse into the real joie de vive at Joie Farm Winery.

For their wines in Ontario please contact Lifford Wine & Spirits, and for their wines outside of Ontario please contact the winery directly at info@joiefarm.com

More Harvest at Norman Hardie

For the first time ever, we're doing a small batch of rosé this year at Norm's. I'm pretty excited, as a big rosé fan I've been not-so-secretly hoping for this for a number of years. And when one block of Pinot Noir was not looking like it wasn't going to get perfectly ripe it was decided that we would endevour to make Norm's first rosé! We pressed the grapes down the road at Hinterland Wine Co. (one the finest sparkling producers in Canada) using their tank press. Here is a quick Blackberry photo essay from Day 1: the inception of rosé at Norm's.

Wine and Golf

Earlier this summer I was asked to do a piece for Golf Business Canada Magazine on wine lists in Food & Beverage programs at golf courses in Ontario. Currently dealing with several golf courses and having tried to deal with many more in the past, the topic is something that I've felt pretty strongly about for a while now, so I was glad to oblige and put my thoughts together for an article.

Teeing off at Piper's Heath in Oakville, Ontario

Full disclosure: a friend of mine is a director at the Canadian Golf Course Owner's Association and he had heard about the wonderful success that courses like Camelot Golf have had with their wine programs and was wondering why many other courses don't don't focus as much on their wine lists. He approached me for my thoughts and that discussion eventually evolved into this article. It was published in the Fall issue of Golf Business Canada Magazine and was also picked up online by Golf News Now a leading blog about golf in Canada. Click here for the .pdf article.

What do you think of the article? Feel free to leave your comments!

goLocal with Norman Hardie

As part of their goLocal program, the LCBO has highlighted a few of Ontario's top producers in a series of videos about those wineries and the people behind them. They did a great job capturing the essence of the winery and Norm's 'wine-growing' philosophy a few weeks ago in Prince Edward County...

As Norm mentions in the video, the best wines always come from the edge, and having found a place with a near-perfect confluence of a cool climate with red clay and calcareous limestone soils (like Burgundy) he produces wines that are truly unique. The wines are wonderfully and unapologetically earthy because the work is done in the vineyard, not in the winery. The riper grapes get or the more aggressively you oak a wine, the more it tastes like it could have come from anywhere, and these wines definitely taste like they come from P.E.C....or maybe even Burgundy. 

In the end that's probably why Norm's wines have become relevant in the world's two biggest Burgundy markets: Tokyo and New York, markets that don't need just another Pinot Noir. Top restaurants in these markets can often be used as a litmus test of international relevance, and last year Norm's County Pinot Noir was featured at Tokyo's Four Seasons and this past week was included in a paired tasting menu for food & wine writers at Thomas Keller's Per Se in NYC. Apparently their pairing of Norm's County Pinot Noir with one of Chef Keller's poultry dishes was so outstanding that Saveur Magazine will be featuring the wine with the recipe in an upcoming issue! After visiting Per Se this summer and having seen the wonderful depths of their Burgundy list myself, this is high praise and definitely another reason to celebrate our local wines like Norm Hardie.

Exclusive Napa Offer

Every year at Lifford we have our annual Napa wine offer where we pull out the stops and bring in the rare wines from our top producers that we don't usually stock. With such an outstanding stable of California wineries like Joseph Phelps, Barnett Vineyards, Chappellet, Inglenook, Pine Ridge, Heitz Cellars, Diamond Creek, Robert Craig and now with Merus and Kuleto Estate too, this annual offer has become quite a big deal. We've also included all our ultra-premium California 'cult' wines that receive all the top accolades but only produce a couple thousand cases a year, so a small amount of these wines are allocated to us annually to find great homes for them in Ontario!  Please follow these links to the .xl sheet with all the pricing details for the entire Napa offer found below and notice the rare opportunity to buy some mixed cases of back vintages and verticals. This offer really does get better every year. Here are a few of my personal highlights from this year's California offer.

Joe Heitz circa 1965

Joe Heitz circa 1965

To me the very best of Napa can be broken down into two broad categories or styles of wine: a) the classic French-inspired terroir-driven wine reminiscent of the old world which put Napa on the map in the 1960's; and b) the dense, rich, opulent modern wines that Napa has more recently become so famous for.  There is an exciting balance between old-world and new-world styles in Napa and here are a few of the greatest examples.

Classic:

Heitz Cellars - Joe Heitz was one of the pioneers of Napa Cabernet and Chardonnay. He was the first to import and use french oak instead of the status quo American oak vats and has gained most notoriety for his is legendary 'Martha's Vineyard' Cab Sauv which was among the wines that upset Bordeaux in the famous Paris tasting of 1976.  Today his son David continues to make their wine in that original, deep, earthy, old-world style. Martha's Vineyard Cab, with its signature minty eucalyptus note it is not only a great wine, but it has become the measuring stick to which you compare other Cabs against for greatness. They have never changed their style, and they don't plan to. Even when facing poor scores from critics looking for jammier, richer styles of wine, Heitz hasn't budged from their old-school roots. And that is a big reason why they continue to be one of the very best today. Here is a great article from The World of Fine Wine providing some great context on the evolution of Cabernet in California, an evolution in which Heitz figures prominently. Heitz Cellars produces 4 Cabs: Bella Oaks Vineyard Cab, Trailside Vineyard Cab, Martha's Vineyard Cab and their overall Napa Valley Cab, which is a blend of the three sites. For more details and pricing please follow the above links.

When you think "Cult Cabernet" what first comes to mind? Probably Harlan, Turley, or Screaming Eagle? Jump-started by a few 100 point scores from Robert Parker, the economics of supply and demand have driven the cost of these wines up to First-Growth Bordeaux prices, and not necessarily justifiably so. Even though they're still draws for collectors, purists always look for the better value, the Real McCoys. Enter Diamond Creek Vineyards, the original cult Cabernet. Planted by Al Brounstein in 1968 it was the first vineyard on Diamond Mountain, the first exclusively Cabernet vineyard in Napa, the first wine to charge over $100 per bottle, and the first wine sold entirely on allocation, pioneering all this "Cult Cabernet" business. The estate is home to 3 single-vineyards, each with entirely different prehistoric soil profiles and an infamous ability to showcase terroir. The wines/vineyards are each named after the soil profiles: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace & Volcanic Hill.  Many wineries have since followed their path, but Diamond Creek was the original. It has always remained low-key, a bit underground...it is the wine that those in-the-know collect. Diamond Creek doesn't advertise, and you can't go visit the winery. If you're lucky enough to get an allocation, its some of the very best Cabernet you'll ever have from California.

Just like Heitz Cellar, Diamond Creek has never chased scores or pandered to critic's tastes, and as a result have been slightly overshadowed by the fanfare of the high scoring, big, modern wines. But even though in recent years many critics have championed the modern, opulent, jammy examples of California wine, every so often a writer with an old-world sensibility discovers these wines, is blown away by their authenticity and re-solidifties them as the most legit, original cult Cabernet. This is a quote from Neil Martin, the Burgundy critic for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:

If somebody asked me to demonstrate terroir then I would chose Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from the Old World and Diamond Creek from the new. Having tasted all three side-by-side on several occasions, their individuality could be discerned in appearance, nose and taste. What I adore about the wines is their purity and honesty. Even though they attract prohibitive prices, for once there is substance behind the price tag. Diamond Creek has the poise and refinement borrowed from Bordeaux, though paradoxically in my experience their texture echoes more Burgundy. There is no hankering for power, richness and lashings of new oak: Al Brounstein was wise enough to allow the terroir of his vineyards to shine through. If you can afford them, the wines of Diamond Creek are highly recommended.             --Neil Martin, The Wine Advocate

To me praise like that is worth more than any 100 point scores could give and wines like Heitz and Diamond Creek are just further to the point of the 'California Classicism' article in The World of Fine Wine linked above.

Modern:

All of this talk about the classic California style shouldn't take anything away from the wildly popular, modern big wines that California also produces so well. If the old-school, earthy, terroir-driven wines are not your cup of tea and you prefer the rich opulent styling of Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow, Harlaan, but are not looking to spend $400-800 per bottle then we have a few incredible wines that are for you. Grouped in with the aforementioned modern cult-Cabernets is the epic Merus Estate.

"Merus" is latin for pure, unmixed, complete, absolute, undiluted. Merus is an icon for what modern Napa cult, 'garagiste' wines are about. Merus began in the late 90's literally as "garage wine", with Erika Gottl and Mark Herold making the first few vintages in their two-car garage downtown Napa. After several years of top scores and critical acclaim, Bill Foley purchased Merus keeping Erika and Mark on board and bringing Paul Hobbs on as consulting winemaker. Bill aspired to take Merus to the next level and moved the winery into one of the many historic 'ghost wineries', old ranches that have been abandoned since the prohibition era and gave it a modern face-lift. Now Merus Estate has it all. An incredibly sought after wine sold entirely on allocation, and an appropriately modern facility that is as architecturally stunning as the wine is delicious. Merus Estate is brand new to Lifford this year, so new customers are welcome. Everything from Merus is sold entirely on allocation and winery visits are by invitation only. So if you're someone that is looking for seriously rich Napa Cabs but have not been able to get on any mailing lists, here a new opportunity to get your hands on one of the very best.

I positioned the very best of Napa in essentially two categories, classic and modern, but if your taste is somewhere in between, Robert Craig Winery is definitely for you. Robert Craig's career really began during the 1980s while the General Manager for the Hess Collection on Mt Veeder where he developed over 300 acres of vineyard for them and became known as the "mountain man" of Napa. He was intimately involved in Mt Veeder and Spring Mountain achieving their AVA designations and then started a winery in his own name in 1992 on Howell Mountain.

His wines have a rare and interesting balance of earth, ash, tobacco and very ripe dense fruit. Most of his production comes from small vineyards on Howell Mountain as well as Mt Veeder and they are some of the very best available.  But Cabernet is not the only wine they knock out of the park: his Durell Vineyard Chardonnay is produced in very small amounts and graces such tables as President Obama's. Barack and Michelle have served Robert Craig's Chardonnay at the White House for Thanksgiving on more than one occasion. If its good enough for the President, its good enough for me!

Pricing and notes on all of the aforementioned wines are available through the links at the top of the page. Please email any requests or questions to me at ottawawine@gmail.com

Harvest at Norman Hardie Winery

It's a funny thing about Norm, his wines, and the people they attract...

Chris Campbell washing barrels at sunset  |  Photo: Andrew Sainsbury  |  @avsains @campbell101

Chris Campbell's personal twitter description reads: "Lacking VQA typicity since 1974." James Simpkins' twitter bio reads: "Professional wine guzzler. Opponent of all that is exceedingly-ripe, over-extracted and oak-laden." Chris was the former manager of Marben in Toronto, and is now full-time at the winery. James is the sommelier at Liverpool House and Joe Beef in Montreal who drives down to the County on weekends to volunteer at Norm's. These two guys are examples of the kind of loyal friends and clients Norm and his wines have built...and their tongue-in-cheek personal monikers of going against the mass palate and denouncing over-ripe, heavily oaked wines could be the unofficial motto of the winery. Norm's wines have never been for everybody, and he likes it that way. Norm's philosophy from the beginning has been that we don't make cutesy wines for the mass market. We make natural, unfiltered, terroir-driven wines that speak of a place. The terroir is cool-climate and red clay with calcareous limestone (like Burgundy) which leads Norm to produce unapologetically earthy wines that inspire critics like Ian D'Agata to say "His chardonnays and pinots are some of the most Burgundian you will find outside Burgundy", and for Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator to name Norm's County Chard as one of his 3 favourite wines of the year.

All of this coupled with the most unpretentious, no-attitudes approach have inspired Chris, James, myself, and other like-minded wine geeks, chefs and sommeliers to spend their weekends at Norm's picking grapes, working in the cellar, working the tasting bar, or cooking dinner. This happens year-round, but is at its peak during harvest when all hands are on deck. The woodfire pizza oven is in full effect, he brings in whole pigs for roasts and lots of good wine gets consumed in the evenings after a good days work. It's such a wonderful community experience when 60 volunteers make it out to help Norm get all his grapes off the vine, and they get well rewarded with all the food and wine they can handle. Here is a great video that Andrew Sainsbury shot last weekend of Norm commenting on the vintage in the vineyard during harvest:

The following pictures are some quick Blackberry snaps from last weekend's harvest...more to come...

The Year of Many Vintages

A while back I decided this year was going to be my "Harvest" year. With a very full-time job as a wine agent in Ottawa, it is difficult to fully get away and work a vintage somewhere. Once upon a time I had plans to do a vintage in New Zealand, but getting away for so long proved impossible. I was already spending some weekends working at Norm's, learning the in's and out's of handcrafted winemaking, and I realized that I don't need to fly to the other side of the world when we have some of the best wineries right here in Canada! 

So I worked out a plan to spend more weekends helping with Norm's harvest in September/October, then fly to BC and spend two weeks working with Joie Farm, Painted Rock, Laughing Stock, and Foxtrot. A real east-west tour-de-force of the very best Canadian wineries! There will be much more coming to the blog in late October on BC wines once I get out there, but until then I'll be posting as much as I can on Norm's harvest from Prince Edward County, and tweeting even more often.

Follow along @AndrewRasta for pics and insights from Norm's then the cream-de-la-cream of the Okanagan Valley!

A New Look for Capital Wine

After quite a posting hiatus, Capital Wine is back and better looking than ever! Thanks to the sharp work of Ottawa-based designer Ryan Mesheau we have a slick new look for the blog. I think it simply and elegantly conveys wine appreciation in the great white north.

Part of the re-inspiration for writing is driven by a slew of upcoming wine events in Ottawa and increasing requests for private tastings, personal cellar consultations, wine for events and wine excursions. The new platform should better accommodate reader requests as well as the new blog format. There were a few kinks in the change-over on past posts, but those will be rectified shortly.

Feel free to email about anything you read here at ottawawine@gmail.com or submit a request for your wine related needs.