Sunday, 19 October 2014


Naturally Made Wines:  Bloomer Creek Vineyards was my favourite wine tasting experience in the Finger Lakes region during my late summer visit. Kim Engle shared his passion for viticulture and natural vinification processes while I tasted 8 wines in their bright and welcoming tasting room. Engle and his wife, Debra Bermingham, created Bloomer Creek over 30 years ago.  Most Bloomer Creek wines are made from grapes grown in one of the four vineyards located at different points between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. With the help of an assistant winemaker, Katy, a graduate from Cornell University's Viticulture and Enology program, the owners employ natural winemaking styles that require patience and skill. Grapes are grown without the use of herbicides and then hand-harvested and pressed in small batches. Fermentation is done with ambient (wild) yeasts in small lots and later blended.  Bloomer Creek wines are generally not filtered or fined.

Purchasing Bloomer Creek Wines:  While some Bloomer Creek wines are served at New York City restaurants the wines are available for purchase only through the winery. (Unfortunately I found few Finger Lakes wines at local restaurants). The winery is located on the east side of Seneca Lake at 5301 Route 414, Hector, New York. You can phone 607-546-5027 to arrange your visit or check out their website:  I decided to purchase 4 bottles even though Canada Customs sets a 2 bottle limit. Bloomer Creek wines are well priced and a testament to artful winemaking.

Tasting Notes: The Finger Lakes is renowned for its high quality whites, especially Rieslings, and Bloomer Creek whites did not disappoint. I tasted the following four (out of many more):

Tanzen Dame Edelzwicker - This wine is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Cayuga White grapes and has aromas and flavours of citrus (lime), honey, and minerality. This wine has not been fined.

Bloomer Creek Vineyard Tanzen Dame Riesling 2012 - This wine is a blend of Riesling from different vineyards. While the aromas were predominantly floral and petrol I detected honey, citrus and apricot flavours. This Riesling is nicely balanced.  I purchased this wine.

Chardonnay 2011 -  The aromas and flavours were of ripe pinepapple, orange and buttery caramel, reminiscent of a barrel aged Chardonnay. Kim explained that 50% of the wine is aged in old oak and 50% in stainless steel.

Bloomer Creek Vineyard 2013 Dry Riesling - This Riesling was delicious and fuller bodied; with aromas of apples, cinnamon, honey and orange blossoms. I picked up apple, honey and citrus flavours. I also purchased this Riesling.

Kim selected a rose and three reds for me to taste:

Pinot Noir Dry Rosé: The Pinot Noir rosé is quite dry with typical pinot descriptors of sour cherry with an earthiness. It has a medium acidity and would be very easy to pair with a variety of summer dishes. I purchased a bottle of this unfined and unfiltered rosé.

Cabernet Franc 2011:  In my opinion Bloomer Creek has made a superior Cab Franc in that it is more complex in aromas and flavours than are commonly found in this cold climate red varietal. Partial carbonic maceration (grapes are fermented whole in a carbon-dioxide rich environment) is used, resulting in fruit flavours and lower tannins. I detected aromas of ripe raspberries, strawberries, cherries and green grass while white pepper was also evident once I tasted the wine. 

Cabernet Franc 2010:  This vintage was drier and had a longer finish than the 2011 Cab Franc. The 2010 had aromas of sweet cherry, strawberries and white pepper while the flavours were sour cherry, leather and spice. This wine would pair well with coq au vin or beef.  I brought this wine home as well.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007:  While this varietal was planted about 30 years ago Bloomer Creek has not made much Cabernet Sauvignon simply because the climate is not amenable to this varietal. Given that Cabernet Sauvignon requires a long growing season and a high number of sunny days I thought this Bloomer Creek wine was a decent example of a cold climate Cab Sauv. It had aromas of red currants, raspberries, black pepper, baking spices and eucalyptus.  I also found leather and spice on the palate. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Kawartha Country Wines: This winery is the largest producer of fruit wines in Ontario and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. I visited the winery, located between Buckhorn and Bobcaygeon in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario, in early July and had the opportunity to taste a variety of dry fruit wines and one grape wine in the log cabin (the original structure was built in 1866) that serves as a store and tasting bar. John Rufa, owner and vintner, also spoke to me about the vinification process.

Vinification Process: John begins with fruit grown at the vineyard or sourced from Niagara growers. Although the winery produces cold climate grapes and wine I was interested in the dry fruit wine-making process.  Given that each fruit differs in levels of water, acid and sugar, each fruit wine requires a slightly different process in the first stages. Depending on the firmness of the fruit different amounts are used to produce the "must" and this crushed fruit is then brought to the same pH levels as grapes (pH level for grape wine is generally between 2.9 and 4.7). The fermentation process then proceeds as it does for grape wine-making.  John is busy wine-making from July each year when he starts with strawberries, the first fruit of the Ontario summer season, and his work continues into autumn.

Wine-tasting notes:  While over 35 varieties of wines are produced (a total of 25,000 litres annually), I chose to focus on dry fruit wines wines. I tasted eight fruit wines and one Pinot Noir.

Rhubarb:  The wine had aromas and flavours of citrus and the herbaceous of green rhubarb. It is only slightly off dry and would pair beautifully with salmon. This wine won a silver medal at a recent Canadian wine competition.

Summer Breeze:  Aromas and flavours of cherries and strawberries. It's dry but jammy on the palate.

Tenth Anniversary:  This blend of elderberry and blackberry is dry and had a longer finish than the other wines I tried.

Blackberry: This wine is tart and mouthwatering and less fruit forward than the previous wines I tasted.

Blackcurrant: While the label notes this wine is off dry it is quite tart. It has strong black current aromas and flavours and I would pair it with pork tenderloin.

Elderberry:  This "off dry" had less fruit sweetness than the other berry wines but enjoyable flavours. It was drying in the mouth with a very slight bitterness.

Pumpkin Dry:  I detected aromas of squash and a slight earthiness while the flavours were green vegetable and the slight bitterness of pumpkin seeds. It was drying on the palate, had a light body and medium length.

Peach: This off dry wine had aromas and flavours of biscuit and subtle ripe peach. It could be served as an apertif with a variety of cheeses.

Pinot Noir: This was the only grape varietal I tasted. It had strong cherry aromas and a woody flavour. It seemed more tannic than what I expected.

The wines are sold directly at the winery and through their website:

Visiting: If you're in the Kawartha region near Buckhorn I would recommend a visit to the tasting bar. The tasting is complementary as John is confident that once you taste you will want to purchase the wines. I was pleasantly surprised that the wines were dry and food friendly and decided to purchase the Rhubarb, Tenth Anniversary and Peach wines.

Monday, 19 May 2014

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY - more Hillier wineries

The Tall Poppy Cafe:  This café in Wellington is open for from 7 am to 3 pm for breakfast and lunch. In the summer it opens again for dinner in the evening. The menu showcased fresh "county" ingredients and the decor was family-oriented. Large tables for sharing with other customers and the friendly atmosphere gives the café a nice energy.

By Chadsey's Cairns:  We had started out on bicycles from here in the morning but the wine tasting room (a beautiful chapel-like building) was not open. So, after our lunch in Wellington we stopped here before continuing our bike ride from Hillier Creek Estates. By Chadsey's Cairns is a charming winery set in a tranquil location beside the burial grounds of the Chadsey family and a stone fence built by Ira Chadsey. I tasted five wines of the many they had to offer:

Chenin Blanc - This was a crisp and dry style of the versatile varietal, with strong citrus aromas and flavours.

Riesling (2011)- A delicious off-dry style with aromas and flavours of apricot, clementine and honey resulting from botrytis-affected grapes (20%). I purchased this wine and enjoyed it at Thanksgiving with turkey.

Gewurztraminer - I couldn't detect the usual aromas for this varietal (lychee fruit, honey) but some floral and baked apple aromas were apparent.

3 Point Hitch (2012) -  This was an interesting blend of Gamay Noir (70%) and St Laurent, a varietal popular in Czech Republic and Austria (30%).  The aromas were intriguing (licorice, smoke/campfire, medicinal herbs, and chocolate) while the cherry and cranberry flavours were less complex than the aromas.

Gamay Pinot (2011) - This 60/40 blend of popular County red grapes was lightly oak aged, resulting in a smoky aroma along with blueberry.

After picking up our bikes at Hillier Creek Estates we rode by a few wineries on Closson Road so we could arrive at Closson Chase and continue on to one last winery before heading back to Wellington for a swim at a public beach.

Closson Chase:  It was a scenic ride to Closson Chase and inside the winery art work was displayed and brightly painted walls provided a dramatic background to our tasting. We tasted three wines - two Chardonnays from the same vintage but made from grapes from different vineyards and a Pinot Noir.

2011 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay: I detected aromas of mango, vanilla and spice and flavours of butter, pineapple and mandarin. This wine went through malolactic fermentation (a process to convert harsh malic acids to softer lactic acids) but maintained a nice acidity on the palate. The server suggested a seafood pairing.

2011 Closson Chase South Clos Vineyard Chardonnay: This wine went through the same vinification process as the Chardonnay described above but the results are different due to the unique terroir.It had aromas of melon, orange, banana, and vanilla and flavours of mandarin and apple with some butter caramel but generally it has a milder oak profile and would pair well with fowl.

2010 Churchside Vineyard Pinot Noir: This pinot had aromas and flavours of blueberry, black cherry, and spices and would pair nicely with duck or even lamb.

Karlo Estates: It was close to 5 pm and we had to ride our bikes as fast as possible from Closson Chase to Karlo Estates. The tasting room and the outdoor

 bar at Karlo Estates merited a more leisurely visit but we were lucky to still be attended at the bar before they closed.  We were able to taste 7 wines despite having to rush somewhat:  an off dry Riesling, Frontenac Gris Rosé (which I purchased); a 2010 Cabernet Franc (that didn't impress compared to others we tasted); a Merlot that was fruity but not complex; Quintus, a blend of five varietals that I enjoyed but decided it was not good value at 35.00; and two ports. Karlo Estates is the first winery to make port in the County and both the white and red Van Alstine ports were flavourful and could be easily paired with cheese or dessert. The red port is made with Marquette and Frontenac Noir grapes and the white is a blend of Frontenac Blanc and Gewurztraminer varietals. The roasted nuts at the bar were a welcome and unique treat at the end of our day. On a return trip to the County I would come back here to enjoy the ambiance and savour the wines a bit more slowly.  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY - Hillier in the Morning

Cycling to the Wineries of Hillier: Since many of the County's wineries are concentrated in Hillier ward at the southwestern end of the island, a friend and I decided to cycle winery to winery. You can find a wine tour map at The County Wines website, although not all wineries are listed. We arranged to rent bicycles  from Bloomfield Bicycle in the small town of Wellington. They will kindly drop off and pick up from predetermined locations so we arranged to start at By Chadsey Cairns winery in the morning. We had comfortable 21 speed hybrid bikes with a complimentary water bottle and county map included with the rental price for each bike. Unfortunately By Chadsey Cairns had yet to open so we started our adventure by cycling to the following wineries prior to a lunch break: Norman Hardie, Casa Dea, Rosehall Run, and Hillier Creek Estates. Another friend decided not to cycle so she provided much appreciated support in the car...we had the option of buying a lot of wine along the route!

From Norman Hardie to Hillier Creek Estates:  Wine tasting tourism is not only about the wine. Of course the quality of the wine is important but the wine tasting experience is enhanced by free (with a wine purchase) or reasonably priced tastings and friendly customer service by knowledgeable staff. We were especially fortunate to speak to the owners/winemakers the previous afternoon at Lighthall, Exultet and Long Dog.

The first stop at Norman Hardie was the least enjoyable of the day. While Norman Hardie is renowned for his wines, the service was unfriendly and the tasting cost was higher than any other winery we visited. I tasted a Pinot Gris and the County Pinor Noir 2011. I found the Pinot Gris to be strong in citrus and minerality aromas (not unexpected due to the limestone terrioir) but without a hint of honey or spice that I enjoy in a Pinot Gris. The 2011 Pinot Noir reflected its classic characteristics but it was not an outstanding example of the varietal. It was the only winery we left without make a purchase (I bought a total of 36 bottles during our visit)!

At Casa Dea Estates we were met by a very friendly server (she became even more like-able when she told us she rode a Harley Davidson!), who provided generous tastings accompanied by cheerful conversation and her own opinion on the wines we were tasting. Casa Dea is the second oldest winery in the County and has 61 acres under vine. It also has beautiful gardens and a pleasant café. I tasted the Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris Reserve (oaked) and found the honey, stone fruit and floral aromas and flavours to be what I expect from a Pinot Gris.I bought a bottle of each.  I also tasted a Pinot Noir 2010, Dea's Rosé, Dea's Cuvee (a sparling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Gamay 2010 and Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009. I enjoyed the latter two reds. The Gamay had aromas of cherry, anise, white pepper and leather and the Cab Franc was a delicious (i.e. not overly herbaceous) example of the varietal.

Rosehall Run is the last winery along Greer Road (the same road as the previous two wineries). Lynn Sullivan, managing partner at the winery, served us at the tasting bar. She explained the her and her husband (the winemaker) bought the land in 2000, planted vines in 2001, produced their first vintage in 2004, and opened the winery in 2006. At the Painted Peppercorn café the previous day I had a glass of Sullyzwicker white (a blend of 7 varietals) with lunch. It had aromas of orange blossom, honey and green apple and flavours of clementine and a hint of vanilla. It is a light crisp wine that can be easily paired with summer fare or enjoyed on its own (and it's affordable at 14.95/bottle). I enjoyed the creamy oak aged 2010 Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard made from Estate grapes and also the 2010 Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard. I purchased the Chardonnay (at 29.95) but passed on the Pinot Noir. In general County wine prices reflect the costs of low production.

We hoped to enjoy pizza for lunch at Hillier Creek Estates but they operate their brick oven from Wednesday through Sunday (in the summer). Regardless, we enjoyed the wine and great conversation with Woody, the operations manager who arrived in the County from Newfoundland (having met one of the owners during his service in the Navy). He poured our tastings and shared information about the winery and his opinion on a Riesling, a Gamay Noir 2009, and three Pinot Noirs from two vintages.

I especially enjoyed the Gamay Noir with its herbaceous and pepper aromas and rhubarb, cherry and pepper flavours and the Pinot Noir 2009. This latter wine was aged for two years (part of that time in oak) and had cherry, mint, chocolate and peppery aromas and flavours. The 2009 Pinot Estate Reserve is oaked for three years and consequently more tannic. I identified fewer typical pinot aromas and flavours in the reserve. The wines are available for purchase at the winery and served at County restaurants.

We left our bikes locked at Hillier Creek Estates and drove to Wellington to enjoy a wonderful lunch before continuing our wine tasting adventure.

Sunday, 9 March 2014


The County:  PEC was named as Ontario's fourth designated viticulture area (DVA)  in 2007. The municipality of Prince Edward County is actually the smallest municipality in Ontario and is divided into ten wards. Over a three day period I visited wineries in three wards: South Marysburgh, Hillier and North Marysburgh. Most wineries are concentrated in the Hillier ward at the west end of the island but quality wines in this new wine region can be from any part of the County. The benefit of a visit to PEC is the proximity of an amazing combination of pastoral scenery, beaches, locally produced fruits and vegetables, wine, beer, cider, and cheese, as well as local art studios and shops.  My friends and I visited mid-week in August which had its benefits: hotel availability (and even then many places were booked) and less traffic on the roads and fewer people waiting for tastings at the wineries. The disadvantage was that some wineries operate pizza ovens or cafes only on weekends.

South Marysburgh:  After driving from Ottawa to the County in the morning and enjoying a lunch of county-inspired dishes at the Painted Peppercorn in Picton we checked into the Waring House Inn  (even mid week accommodation was difficult to reserve a few weeks in advance). We then decided to visit wineries in the southeastern peninsula south of the villages of Cherry Valley and Milford and close to Sandbanks Provincial Park. Our first stop was at Lighthall Winery. I had already visited in July but this time owner Glenn Symons was at the tasting bar and I learned more about Lighthall wines and his wine making practices (see another blog dedicated to Lighthall wines). From Lighthall we went on to Exultet and Long Dog wineries. I preferred the pinot noirs I tasted at these three wineries in South Marysburgh out of all of the pinot noir wine we tasted over the course of the three days. This may because the microclimate provides warmer temperatures; grapes begin to ripen 7 to 10 days earlier than vines in more northerly wards of the County.

Exultet:  The wines from Exultet are estate grown, generally single varietal and sold only through the winery. I tasted two 2012 white wines: a blend called "White Light" (89% vidal and 11% chardonnay) and a Pinot Grigio. While those particular whites were too light for my palate I enjoyed the three Pinot Noirs I tasted from three consecutive vintages: 2009. 2010 and 2011. The 2009 was made from six clones of Pinot Noir and had dark berry and spicy notes and a fuller body. It is one of the more expensive wines at $65 per bottle, but obviously an excellent vintage. The 2010 Cru X had pleasant cherry and cranberry aromas and favours  and medium tannins that would make it a perfect pairing for turkey or other poultry. I purchased two bottles and Lia Spinosa, co-owner of Exultet with her husband Gerry, advised me to cellar it for two years and decant one hour prior to drinking. The 2011 Pinot Noir was lighter in body and tannins and would not would be a pinot to drink immediately. I also purchased a 100% Vidal Icewine. The grapes were harvested on Boxing Day, 2012 due to the ideal temperatures (-10 to -12 C)  required for an ice wine by Ontario's regulatory authority (the Vintners' Quality Alliance). Extultet's wines, especially their Chardonnays, are award-winning and need to be purchased promptly as production is low.

Long Dog: We waited for a bit in the pleasant barn converted into a tasting room and we were about to pour ourselves some wine when James Lahti, one of the owners at  Long Dog, arrived to chat with us. I tasted four pinots from 2007, 2008 and 2009; and purchased three. (Like Exultet, Long Dog wines are only available through the winery).  Long Dog has some of the oldest vines in the County, along with By Chadsey Cairns vineyard, with plantings commencing in 1999. My favourite, that day, was the 2008 Top Dog Pinot Noir. This wine is a blend of two vinification processes: grapes harvested from the original plantings in blocks A and C were fermented and oaked for approximately 26 months in new wood (50%) and old barrels (50%). I enjoyed the pine and cedar aromas of this blend. James suggested this wine could be cellared to I'm waiting. The 2008 Barrel Select Pinot Noir is a light body red fruit pinot that I enjoyed in February 2014. The 2009 Top Dog was another purchase: made from the oldest vines and aged approximately 32 months in new French oak barrels.


Friday, 14 February 2014


Lighthall:  I was introduced to Lighthall wines at a tasting event in the spring called "County in the City."   After a round of Chardonnay tasting and then a round of Pinot Noir tasting among the various Prince Edward County wineries participating in the event, I selected Lighthall Vineyards & Winery as my preferred wines for both varietals. I spoke with Glenn Symons,owner-winemaker, about the delicious Pinot Noir from 2010.  It is one of the most tannic and full-bodied Pinots that I have tasted.  So after the three bottles of Pinot Noir were finished, I made two trips to the County to visit Lighthall and other wineries.  On my first visit I was fortunate to meet Alice Mennacher who, with her husband Peter, planted the first 8 acres of the vineyard. In 2008 Glenn Symons purchased Lighthall and expanded the acreage and built the winery.  At the winery guests are welcome to taste all of the wines; although Lighthall's popular sparkling wine was no longer available.

Pinot Noir Reserve Particuliere 2009:  This vintage had low yields so this wine is the most expensive of Lighthall wines. It has a deeper ruby hue and the first aromas were typical pinot aromas (earthy, sour red fruits) but on the "deuxieme nez" I could detect toasted chicory and white pepper as well. The flavours were similar to the aromas; and both the tannins and acidity were subdued. While this was a nice wine, I enjoyed the 2010 and 2011 vintages just as much.

Pinot Noir 2010:  The robust flavor is a result of the ripeness of the grapes that year, longer maceration, and the fact that some Niagara grapes were added. Glenn ages the pinots one year in oak, which added to the tannins in the 2010 edition.

Pinot Noir 2011: Rain in the autumn required earlier harvest and then once de-stemmed the grapes were crushed by foot. This pinot is a translucent ruby red; with aromas of cherry, cinnamon, strawberries and a hint of vanilla. I picked out sour cherry, licorice and baking spice flavours. Tannins are low and the body is light - a more traditional pinot style than the 2010.

Chardonnay 2009 Reserve: This chardonnay is lightly oaked with mild vanilla tones. It is a refreshing style that has good acidity but balanced by the touch of oak. I've served it with a chicken stir fry and it was a complementary pairing. The 2011 Chardonnay is oak aged longer than the 2009 but is not an overwhelming California style. 

Mute: This is a late harvest, botrytis-affected vidal wine that is subsequently fortified with distilled pinot noir. It is a delicious accompaniment to a dessert plate of cheese, fruit and nuts.

Rose: This is a refreshing tart summer wine made with Cabernet Franc (86%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (14%). It has the bell pepper aroma and flavour you would expect from a Cabernet Franc. I enjoy it with a pate made from game meats and fruits.