A Sparkling Recap of #i4C17: The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

This year, we Sparkling Winos had the privilege of attending the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (aka “i4C“) in Wine Country Ontario! It’s no surprise that i4C has been described as “Christmas in July” or the “Woodstock of Chardonnay”. With over 50 wine makers in attendance (and 150+ selected cool climate wines on offer) i4C is truly an epic celebration of all things cool… and the highlight of the summer calendar here in Niagara! From a tasting in an airplane hanger, to a sabrage with winemakers, to dinner under the stars and sharing unforgettable wines with incredible people – we truly had a sparkling time. And as supporters of all things local, we were incredibly proud to see Ontario represent and sparkle all weekend long!

First, a little bit of history on the i4C. It all began in the summer of 2009, when a group of Ontario winemakers gathered to celebrate a triumph for Ontario Chardonnay, in our own version of “Bottle Shock”. Le Clos Jordanne’s 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay beat out Burgundian and Californian Chardonnay’s at the Cellier Wine Awards in Montreal. This victory was a testament to the world class Chardonnay being produced here in Ontario, and these winemakers believed that Chardonnay was deserving of a renaissance (if you’ll recall, this was around the time of the “ABC” – Anything but Chardonnay – movement). The following Spring, 28 Ontario wineries formed a group to make Chardonnay cool again… and the i4C was born. Today, premium cool climate producers from around the world gather in Ontario every summer in celebration of cool climate Chardonnay. When Chardonnay is complimented by a bit of “cool” (whether it be by latitude, altitude, marine influence or climatic conditions) it can produce some seriously magical wines.

In 2016 the i4C invited some other “cool characters” to join the party – and now cool climate Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc are also poured and celebrated at select events throughout the weekend. However, Chardonnay remains the star player, and its versatility was beyond apparent through the many examples we tasted over the course of the weekend – including plenty of sparkling ones! 😉 If you’re not familiar with the term Blanc de Blancs, it refers to a sparkling white wine made from only white grapes. In Champagne, this would typically denote a wine made exclusively from Chardonnay (though, some producers use lesser known varieties, such as Arbanne, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris). In other wine regions, the term is used more loosely and can refer to any sparkling wine made from only light-skinned grapes, leading to some cool innovations. However, this weekend was all about Chardonnay – and so was most of the assortment of incredible Blanc de Blancs!

Chardonnay plays an important role in Champagne blending and production – which is often replicated around the world by producers using the traditional method of sparkling winemaking. Chardonnay produces wines that are fragrant (offering floral, citrus mineral notes) and often capable of aging (as the grape is slower to develop than other varieties). Resilient and adaptable to many situations, fresh, delicate, elegant, fine, aging potential… this is sounding like a set up for a blind date, eh? But there’s no need for a date, we’re already in love and fully committed to cool climate Chardonnay!

So from a sparkling perspective, the i4C truly offered us a Blanc (de Blancs) Cheque in tailoring our experience over the course of the weekend. While we were absolutely loving the assortment of incredible still Chardonnays on offer, we certainly didn’t draw a Blanc at any point, and filled in any Blancs – with Blanc de Blancs – when necessary! 😜 (Side salad: we promise there will be no more puns ahead). All in all, i4C offered 11 Blanc de Blancs for us to sip and savour, so let us take you through a recap of our sparkling i4C weekend!

Flights of Chardonnay

We buckled up for our first big event of the weekend – the Flights of Chardonnay tasting at the Niagara District Airport on Friday night. Now we’ve tasted wine in some pretty cool spots – but never in an airport hangar at sunset! 😍

We had the opportunity to sip on stunning cool climate Chardonnay from all corners of the globe – Canada, the USA, France, Austria, Spain, New Zealand, Chile and Uruguay – all  poured by their winemakers, while snacking on delectable local fare prepared by some of Niagara’s best chefs and trendy food trucks. Oh, and did we mention that there was a photo booth in a vintage Airstream? 😍 Epic!

Some of our standout wines of the evening included the rich and complex Drappier Blanc de Blancs Signature Champagne, the 2015 Leithaberg Chardonnay exploding with minerality from Esterhazy in Austria, and the spectacularly refined and elegant 2016 Estate Chardonnay from Westcott Vineyards right here in Ontario.

The evening wrapped up with dancing under the stars, and of course – more wine! 😏 All in all, an absolutely spectacular event and an evening we won’t soon forget!

House of Chards at Trius

Bright and early on Saturday morning we headed out to one of our favourite Niagara wineries – Trius – for an incredible rotating Chardonnay tasting and dining event. We kicked the morning off with a Trius Brut sparkling reception with winemaker Craig McDonald. Is there a better way to kick off a Saturday morning? No. No there isn’t.

We even got to sabre a bottle, which is easily our preferred method of opening one! 😜 (Hit “play” below for some epic slow-mo sabre action!)

From there we embarked on a rotating Chardonnay tasting beginning with special guests from Artesa (Napa, California) and Mer Soleil (Santa Lucia Highlands, California), before heading down to the spectacular sparkling cellar to taste Trius’ Showcase 2015 Wild Ferment Chardonnay (which just won platinum at the National Wine Awards of Canada – and was by far our favourite)!

We capped off our adventure with a delicious four-course lunch by chef Frank Dodd, paired with cool climate Chardonnay’s from the special guests as well as Trius’ own portfolio. The menu consisted of creamed organic chicken and smoked bacon soup, a fresh Niagara peach with cured prosciutto and burrata cheese, Lake Huron white fish, and a chocolate caramel cheesecake bar. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Trius Restaurant – you should seriously consider going!

Media Tasting

One of the coolest (for lack of a better word) parts of the weekend for us was the Media Tasting room in our hotel. Every single one of the 150+ wines poured over the course of the weekend was available to taste on demand in a quiet space. This was an incredible opportunity for us to sit down and spend some more time with the wines and write out some really solid tasting notes.

We had little time before we had to head off to the main event, so we focused on tasting some of the sparkling that we hadn’t had the chance to try before… except for the Drappier Champagne. We had to go back and try that one a second time for research purposes, of course! 😉

While all the wines were fantastic, we were blown away by the Benjamin Bridge 2012 Brut and the Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards 2013 Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut – both from Nova Scotia (which got us super excited for our upcoming trip out there next month)! We also thoroughly enjoyed the complex and rich 2013 Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature from Sperling Vineyards in British Columbia, and the lively 2014 Blanc de Blancs from Château des Charmes here in Ontario. All in all, an explosion of Canadian fizz! 😍

The Cool Chardonnay World Tour

The Cool Chardonnay World Tour is the signature event of the i4C weekend. We were so honoured to not only be a part of it, but to host an Instagram Takeover for Wine Country Ontario! The World Tour is held on the historic grounds of Ridley College in St. Catharines, and is the only public event where all 150+ wines of the i4C are available to taste. The evening began with a spectacular walk around tasting where we sipped on sparkling and chatted with their winemakers, including Jean-Benoit Deslauriers from Benjamin Bridge and Ann Sperling from Sperling Vineyards. NBD, just some of the most influential and talented people in Canadian sparkling (and still) winemaking! It was truly a treat for us Sparkling Winos!

We had the chance to taste even more sparkling Chardonnay from other cool climates around the world, including France, Austria, and even high-altitude vineyard sites in Chile!

But it wasn’t all sipping and swirling, we were on assignment after all! We were hopping around snapping photos, doing our best to capture the incredible energy (and scenery) at the World Tour.

As the sun began to set, the crowd began to gather at the long tables under the glowing festival lights for a full family-style meal prepared by some of Niagara’s top winery chefs. Dishes included roasted Niagara beets with whipped goat cheese, slow braised beef short ribs, Ontario summer corn, curry leaf and lavender duck salad – and a whole lot more!

All paired perfectly with cool climate wines of course! (This is where we saw some of the reds come out to play).

Following dinner, guests danced under the stars to the music of a live band, and dropped by the “Après Chardonnay” bar to sample cool climate VQA red wines, craft beers, and delicious desserts! Bar far one of the most memorable evenings we’ve ever spent in wine country.

Brunch on the Bench

How do you cap off an epic weekend in Wine Country Ontario? With brunch overlooking a vineyard, of course! Following a magical evening, we headed out early Sunday morning to Redstone Winery on the Beamsville Bench.

We were greeted with a glass of bubbly, and treated to a delicious brunch from chef David Sider which included smoked salmon, pork belly, polenta and so much more! Brunch was paired seamlessly with a diverse array of Chardonnay’s from around the world, including Redstone’s new 2013 Select Vineyard Chardonnay – which also took home platinum at the National Wine Awards of Canada! It was the perfect relaxing way to wrap up our whirlwind weekend in wine country.

Oh, and did we mention brunch was followed by a Rosé Bar? We grabbed a glass and wondered around the vineyard reminiscing about our wonderful weekend! 😊

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks so much for reading and reliving our #i4C17 adventures with us! For more information about the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) visit their website. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend the celebration, we couldn’t possibly recommend it enough! It’s a beautiful weekend in wine country, and an incredible way to taste and discover Chardonnay. Keep your eyes peeled for all they have in store for 2018! For more information about Wine Country Ontario visit their website. And until next time keep drinking local VQA, and discover why our wines are so…

…cool! 😎😜