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The Seminar – Wednesday September 12th, 2007

July 26, 2008

I've Been Asked to Print My Seminar…So I Have


From my talk at the wine fest Saturday….


I was pleased to give it and it was suggested that I print my text as I wasn't able to complete it due to time restraints on the tent.


… I'm hoping that you are all having fun and enjoying some wine. I am Jim Small. the writer of Essex Wine Report, a blog which deals with the local wines, food, and music.


I really have come to love the wines from this region and the people who make them. For years we were been told that wine can't be made in Canada and if it could it could only be done in BC and Niagara and anyway that all the Canadian wine is plonk. Wineries were left for dead in nafta and the beer was protected. Guess what……the wineries increased their quality to survive and now we have a thriving wine industry and a dying beer industry.


You just can't make wine in Essex county… well in the early years they certainly did. Pelee Island was the host of a winery before the turn of the 20th century and grapes were grown all over the county. This was stopped due to profits available with tobacco and prohibition killed off the rest.


In a way we are very similar to Sonoma in California.. Can't grow grapes there they said.. I think they forgot to tell the monks who had the place covered in vineyards made it  the top wine producer prior to prohibition, but who remembers history. They now produce a lot of excellent wine and are overshadowed by a bigger more name area..just like us. They have Napa and we have Niagara.


But it's funny. Travel around the vineyards and see just how many awards are being won down here. For an area which cannot grow grapes we seem to win. Talk to Mastronardi about ice wine…gold…..Muscedere about Baco…gold…..Smith and Wilson…2 golds… for being so bad we are doing ok.


Well its fine. Let the boys in Niagara think that a bran new winery can justify $70 a bottle for their first vintage and I will just keep drinking our local stuff which I think is just fine.


Lets face it we are in a northern viniculture area. BUT we are on a latitude similar to northern California and south of Bordeaux and Burgundy. If you get into weather stats we are quite similar to Napa and the French areas. That gives hope and with our relatively mild winters we can do an awful lot here. Needless to say though, you won't see the hot weather grapes here. Sangiovese is not grown nor Spanish varieties. Someone may be but I bet our shorter season will make it tough for them.


Lets look at the white wines.


The classic grapes of Alsace do fine here.


Riesling was the #1 grape at the turn of the 20th century and well we do a lot with it. Niagara goes for a more rounder style and here it tends to be crisper which is more to the California style, why. It's hotter…  though this is not written in stone. Try the local Rieslings, they are al different and all good.


Another Alsatians grape it Gewurztraminer… which if my German is right means spicy grape…well its Alsatian, which is in France but Alsace is also on the Rhine, and they eat sauerkraut… so anyhow. This wine can be quite spicy , as if pepper was added which makes it very food friendly. Local ones range from mild California types to really spicy peppery wines. These wines are great.


The third is Pinot Blanc ..also known as Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. This grape or group of grapes are descendants of the Pinot Noir grape..a good thing..and produces a wine which varies with terroir and is extremely food friendly. Down here this grape is very popular and the locals make great wines with it.


From Bordeaux and Burgundy we get Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.


Chardonnay is a classic wine that has taken a bad rap. New world winemakers just used too much oak with it and they tended to ruin the wine. From Burgundy we get Pouilly Fuisse. Though for years I hated Chardonnay, but loved Pouilly Fuissse (except for the price). The French just do such nice things with the classic grapes.


Now a judiciously oaked Chardonnay is excellent and try the locals. They do some really nice ones. Oaked or unoaked this grape thrives here and nobody makes a product that only beavers would love. I am really starting to like the local Chardonnays. Special note goes to Muscedere, who use Canadian Oak.


From Bordeaux and Loire we get Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is a classic French grape very old. Done right one gets citrus, fresh cut grass and exotic fruit. It can be bold or muted. From Loire Valley we get Pouilly Fume, another classic wine. Done sweet and we get Sauterne. Well in the early 60's Robert Mondavi decided to call his dry Sauv's Fume Blanc and since then Californian versions are called Fume Blanc….we call ours Sauvignon Blanc.


It's a great wine with fish. It goes amazingly well with local perch and pickerel.. Just trust me and the locals rival those of New Zealand and cost quite a bit less. That makes me happy. And this years releases have an amazing amount of citrus so man they are nice.




Here we follow the classic reds of Bordeaux and Burgundy.


From Burgundy we get 2 classic grapes and 1 famous fun wine. The fun wine is Beaujolais Nouveau which is the first release of that years harvest. it is just barely fermented but is a major festive event and actually can foretell the quality of the harvest.


The 2 grapes are Gamay Noir which gives us Beaujolais and Pinot Noir which gives us Pinot Noir or just Pinot. The king of Burgundy loved his Pinot so much that he banned all other grapes in about 1500 so that's why Pinot predominates there. This grape though is very hard to grow and to make into wine. Finicky is the word but just like Nebbliano and Sangeovese it makes wine that's worth the effort. Me I'm a pinot guy and will justify the high costs for the wonderful taste. Niagara does more pinot but we still make quite a few good ones here and hey I can drive to Harrow or Kingsville a lot faster than going to the bench.


Bordeaux is the major centre for red wines in the world. The term Claret refereed to Bordeaux wines. The major grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Bordeaux theses are generally blended and the blends vary per village…and of course they will not tell you. At least here they tell you what you are getting.


The classic blend is Meritage which is a blend of all three. This wine is big but in the hands of a great winemaker is nirvana. Look around here and see all the Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc blends and singular varieties and then try a Meritage. Expensive but you will be hooked.


For the reds I see Cab Franc as the best red down here. Rather lightish and varied from each winemaker.  Regional terroir variations cause it to be rather spicy in Colchester but not north of Harrow. It goes from light to huge and unoaked to heavy oak…a fine wine with food and I think will be a great signature wine for our area.


Now the question is…why no Sangeovese, Nebbliano, Malbec, Temperillo or other grapes. Well, Sangeovese ripens late and just doesn't seem to grow well outside Italy. Same with Nebbliano. These should do well here but they just don't. I wish they would but I think our growing season is just not right. The Spanish grapes need more heat so I guess we must just suffer with the classic French varieties.


A great scholar…Mario Batali once said "get to know your butcher"….well that is certainly true, but I will add a corollary.."get to know your winemaker". Find out what makes him or her tick and I bet I bet that if you like the winemaker you will like the wine. Being an engineer I find that I am drawn to the wines made by fellow engineers. Oh yes we have 2…..Rob Muscedere and Tanya Mitchell. So when you go to Muscedere and Sprucewood you get wine made by extremely well trained people…precise, clean crisp and not whimsical, but very very good. Now go up to Blenheim and George Wilson ..of Smith and Wilson…who once told me that he was only a fruit farmer. That is true and his family has been there for 100yrs or so but the wine reflects him. It is refined, classy and not brash. If anything it suffers from sins of omission rather than commission. He says he makes wines that him and his wife likes…well I guess I share the tastes.


In reality I really believe that the most important part of the wine is the personality of the winemaker. Everyone that I have talked to down here believes that the wine is made in the vineyard but as I grow, I feel it is more the winemaker imparts that je ne sais quois.


Now another question is why are the wineries clustered where they are. Well this is not as complicated as you think. In the old days the whole county was covered with vineyards and fruit is grown everywhere BUT Colchester gave the ability to get land on the lake…very good…at a reasonable price. Inland has some advantages and short comings so there are wineries around MacGregor, but I bet that they owned that land prior to growing grapes. Over in the Ruthven area the same thing. There are numerous orchards and now 2 wineries. And of course there is the island. Personally I do not understand why that island isn't one big vineyard as the terroir is almost perfect and the weather is right…but I guess there is that little tough winter and higher cost thing to slow it down. But being on water moderates the temperature..good for Pinot Noir BUT things get going slower. Move inland and growth gets going faster in the spring but it stays hotter so there is more sugar earlier picking but less acid. If life was simple. But anyway this area is a wonderful growing area and basically cost is more of a determining factor rather than specific locations. Bet grapes would grow great along Lake St Clair but I just don't foresee tearing down million dollars homes to plant vines.


Ok so I've covered a lot but now some of my own ideas.


Wine is something to be cherished with friends, with food and music. Think of your best times and it is not drinking a wonderful wine in the dark after lightning just hit the transformer in your back yard…trust me on that one. I remember meals with friends and great wine, food music and talk. Wine is a social thing.


Imagine this: sitting on the deck in the evening,, with the one you love, Al Green on the stereo, some prosciuto, smoked salmon and goat cheese for nibblies and a wonderful bottle of Pinot Noir. That's living and that's how we should judge wine. I just can't have a wine and say "oh my this is a 97" because that isn't how I view wine. It's like reviewing a classic car like an Auburn but not cruising in it. It just misses the point.


Glassware. Rule 1 is that the glass is to hold the wine. If it doesn't leak its ok.  If you start there you avoid a different glass for every type of wine. Choose a glass which you like for red and make it big enough to get your nose in and get a white that is smaller. Then get a champagne glass. I like hollow stems but it's hard to clean them. That's it and get glasses that you can afford to replace because if you have dinner parties you will break them. That's ok too as long as nobody loses an eye.


Chilling wine. Let me refer to the cellar temp in my chateau outside Macon in Burgundy. Red wine is never served there at room temp as it comes from my cave. My cave is cool, not cold, as it is in the 4th basement, below the old torture chamber. The wine bottle should be cool to the touch but not cold enough to sweat. Warm reds are just to alcoholic to me and cold ones have no taste or aroma. Whites on the other hand, do not deserve the same treatment you give beer. Chilled but not cold. Warm bad, cold bad you need just right.


Aerating. I aerate all of my reds. This means using a device…in my case an aeration funnel…which is a funnel with the end blocked off and holes around the end. This causes the wine to hit the sides of the carafe and get air as it runs down. This smoothes out the wine and really improves it. Try taking a zip lock bag…cut little holes in 1 corner get a pitcher and pour the wine thru the baggie into the pitcher and then taste the results. You will find that the wine really smoothes out. Of course you can do this by simply letting the wine sit unopened for 8 hrs but at my house wine has a much shorter life expectancy than that.


Let me finish by talking about the artisinal aspects of the wine. Here in this area we a blessed by the bounty. We have wonderful fish, vegetables, fruit and meats. There are butchers doing wonderful things with meat and you really should get to know one. Buying meat from a supermarket in those little foam packages with that slimy white thing under it is way different from walking into the butcher shop and getting local meat that wasn't slaughtered in some 3rd world country and shipped here, but was done in a local abattoir that the butcher has seen. Add to this fruits and veggies that still have dirt on them. Add to this some great wine made by artisans who are here. These are special products made by special people. Even Colio and Pelee Island have artisinal products. You don't find these at the LCBO but at the winery and trust me they are really good. The kinda hide them but they are there.


Picture this meal…. Pickerel and/or perch from the dock in Kingsville or from the yellow building on hwy 3(an outlet for Wheately), corn from Cottam taken off the cob and sautéed in butter, local garlic mashed potatoes and a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Add a cucumber and tomato salad both from Kingsville with goat cheese and fresh basil, kissed by good olive oil and for dessert, local truffles from Soldary in Maidstone washed down with ice wine.


Well bag the 100 mile dinner…..except for the goat cheese (I'm working on that) and the olive oil all is located within 10 miles from my future home. We live in a wonderful place and we can make this nirvana cos its all here…….thanks

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