A Sparking Reflection on Terroir 2017

On May 29, 2017 we Sparkling Winos had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Terroir Symposium at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We had the pleasure of being among chefs, food and drink experts, media personalities and business representatives who gathered to celebrate Canada’s food and wine scene ahead of our sesquicentennial (or 150th) birthday!

The morning session began with a talk MC’d by the delightfully irreverent and hilarious Chef Matty Matheson (also known as being the executive chef at Parts and Labour and the face of Canadian cooking for VICE). No conversation about Canadian terroir is complete without acknowledging the history, legacy and modern day impact of the country’s diverse indigenous people. Among others, we were honoured to witness Lisa Odjig Mchayle perform the traditional hoop dance, to participate in a Smudge by artist, educator and historian Philip Cote and to hear VICE’s Sarain Carson speak about the ever important role of women in supporting indigenous communities.

As children of immigrants, the emphasis on understanding and celebrating your roots was not lost on us. After all, roots are grounded in the soil and topography so central to the concept of terroir. We were honoured to hear the respected Anita Stewart provide an all encompassing overview of the history, leadership and diversity of the Canadian culinary landscape. It’s not just butter tarts, after all!

With all that in mind, you may be thinking… what were two Sparkling Winos doing there? Well, as luck would have it, the 2017 Terroir Symposium included three in-depth wine workshops. After all, what would a symposium about terroir be without an acknowledgement of the wine industry, right?

Workshop 1: “What’s your skin in the game?”

Our first workshop focussed on orange wine! A hot topic, and perhaps a nascent category, orange wine is a polarizing wine style that can be summarized as skin-fermented, white wine. More simply, it’s white wine made like a red wine (…where maceration time in contact with skin takes place). The resultant colour is orange or deep yellow, but after the blind tasting of 9 wines, we found wines that were almost rosé in colour too! The aroma and palette is certainly unique, somewhat herbal and more complex than the average white wine.

The workshop was moderated by John Szabo (author and Master Sommelier) and we would characterize the discussion as passionate. Not only in terms of “what” an orange wine is, but also “how” it should be defined. We were surprised to learn that Ontario will be the first to govern the production and certification of orange wine, if new legislation is approved.

We’ll have to wait and see if someone produces a sparkling orange wine (which is also part of the regulation), and what the results will be!

Workshop 2: “Long live riesling” 

Our second workshop focussed on one of Canada’s most cultivated and celebrated grape varietals: Riesling! Considered the darling of many wine enthusiasts, Riesling is regarded by many as the greatest white grape variety. Certainly in Canada, with over 2,700 acres under cultivation in Ontario alone, the interest and knowledge in the varietal is growing, as is the production of great wines made from the grape.

Moderated by Magdalena Kaiser (the Director of Public Relations for VQA Wines of Ontario) and Ursula Heinzelmann (author and wine and cheese expert – from Berlin!) the panel discussion was lively and interactive. We had the pleasure of trying Ontario Rieslings, including those produced by Charles Baker of Stratus, and international counterparts produced in Germany by winemaker Christoph Thorle and Hungary by winemaker Robert Gilvesy. Each region expressed its terroir differently, and we enjoyed the discussion about acidity and residual sugar, and the importance that the balance of both provides.

Workshop 3: “The explosion of Canadian fizz”

It should come as no surprise that a workshop on sparkling wine may have been our most anticipated. We are the Sparkling Winos, after all!

Moderated by Eugene Mlynczyk, the discussion opened with a highly informative presentation that demonstrated what we already inherently knew: there is so much excitement about Canadian sparkling wine! The presentation provided a journey through the sparkling wines of Canada, taking us from the east coast with Nova Scotia’s Blomindon and Benjamin Bridge, to the west coast with with British Columbia’s Sumac Ridge and Summerhill Pyramid before providing special attention to Ontario.

The selection from Ontario included Prince Edward County’s Hinterland, Twenty Valley and the Niagara Escarpment’s Malivoire, Westcott13th Street, and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Trius.

Nova Scotia’s bubbly reflected its cooler climate, with the use of hybrid grape varietals and high, but refreshing acidity. British Columbia’s bubbly reflected a slightly warmer climate, with wines that were somewhat sweeter and had a more marzipan quality. Ontario’s bubbly, by far our favourite (sidebar: we’re biased), were diverse, yet individually excellent.

All in all, the flight of wines – selected by Magdalena and poured by Toronto’s Sommelier Factory – was the Terroir Symposium in a nutshell: Canada is on the cusp of many great things, including the explosion of Canadian fizz!

Intrigued if this interest in Canadian sparkling wine will continue, we asked our panel of experts – which included Dr. Belinda Kemp (Brock University/CCOVI), Jonas Newman (winemaker at Hinterland Estates) and Craig McDonald (vice-president of winemaking for Andrew Peller Wines and 2016 Ontario Winemaker of the Year) what they thought. It was great to hear that those with their hands on the pulse of Ontario’s most effervescent wine category feel that there is even more to come!

And… yes, there was Canadian food at Terroir!

It would be inappropriate for us to not reference the amazing food program at the 2017 Terroir. Focussing on the theme of sustainable seafood with Ocean Wise at the helm, much of the food offerings were based on the fruits of the sea (which paired gorgeously with VQA wines!).

And of course we made a pit stop at the desert table! Who wouldn’t?

Oh, and yes, there was plenty of excellent VQA wine flowing!

The Grange of Prince Edward, featuring their new labels – which we love!

The Cuvée Catharine Brut by Henry of Pelham, helped keep things sparkling!

And, we of course made a bee line for Westcott, whose Pinot Noir Rosé we adore (…and had the pleasure of tasting a few of the final blends before it was bottled!)

Thanks for reading! For more on Terroir visit their website, and be sure to check it out next year!