The first International Cool-Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) was held in the Niagara wine region of Ontario the weekend of July 22 to 24, 2011.
This was a unique event in the history of Ontario wine. Consider these headlines: a very large group of big and small Ontario wineries worked together to fund, plan and conduct the event; wineries from all over the world came to Niagara to showcase their wines beside wines from Ontario producers; support was supplied by a group of major sponsors – including the LCBO, Vintages, Wine Country Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario; the event was a sell-out; the weather was dry and hot – anything but cool-climate in character, but the heat was incidental to the proceedings. Everything came together for this first edition of i4C
I attended i4C with a guest from London, England, a Master of Wine who is a centre of influence in the global wine profession. I wanted to share the event with someone who would enjoy the breadth of wines promised by i4C but who would also give me a view of the event through a different lens: the viewpoint of a truly objective, non-Canadian observer.
We attended four events: the opening at Flat Rock where Matt Kramer joined i4C Chair, Harald Thiel, and Ed Madronich, owner of Flat Rock and host for the evening, to kick-off the weekend; a small lunch with several winemakers on Saturday at 13th Street; the main event for the weekend, Saturday evening at Tawse; and a wine brunch at Ravine held on Sunday morning. Four additional wineries hosted lunch on Saturday: Southbrook, Coyote’s Run, Cave Spring and Inniskillin.
At each i4C venue wines were poured by the owner or the winemaker from a selection of the participating wineries (all wines were poured at the Saturday evening event). Guests interacted directly with the producer and were able to discuss each wine and its provenance. Wineries came to i4C from France, Italy, Austria, New Zealand, Tasmania, Oregon, Washington, New York State, British Columbia, Prince Edward County and Niagara. As you might expect a diverse array of wine styles were on display with the one common denominator: all were made with the Chardonnay grape, grown in cool-climate conditions. A total of 56 wineries presented 109 wines over the course of the weekend.
Cool-climate Chardonnays display delicate citrus, tree and stone fruit aromas and flavours: lemon, lime, grapefruit, apple, peach, pear and, melon, rather than the tropical fruits shown in wines made with Chardonnay fruit grown in warmer zones. The wine styles displayed at i4C included wines that may or may not have undergone partial or complete malo-lactic fermentation, they may have been matured on lees, the lees may or may not have been stirred, the maturation may or may not have been in oak barrels, the oak may or may not have been new, the toast in the oak may have been light or heavy… I think you get the drift: these wines were truly diverse in their sensory character. In addition, a small handful of sparkling wines, from Champagne, Oregon and New York State were presented.
Matt Kramer attended each event and spoke eloquently, with a self-effacing sense of humour. He sees enormous potential in the terroirs of both Niagara and Prince Edward County, for continuing development of a signature regional brand for distinctive cool-climate Chardonnay. He had done extensive tastings locally before the event, so he had done his homework and was not simply parroting a promotional script. He mingled with guests throughout the weekend and demonstrated once again, the character and engaging personality displayed by leaders in the world of wine.
France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Cépages Blanc Brut Champagne Fleury 2004
Made biodynamically, this was an exceptionally full-bodied wine which featured creamy mousse, bright acid, delicate flavours of apple and green peach with a long mineral finish.
Dry, sparkling wine – Available from the agent, The Living Vine – $69.95 per bottle
Ontario, Prince Edward County – VQA Ontario Norman Hardie Cuvée L Unfiltered Chardonnay 2008
Not for everyone, this wine has a reductive character due to extended ageing on unstirred lees. The resulting wine will appeal to lovers of Burgundy wines made in a traditional, non-interventionist style. It is big, shows wonderful assertive fruit with a delicate background of vanilla and light smoke.
Dry, white wine – $49.95 per bottle at the winery
USA, Oregon – Cooper Mountain Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2009
The Oregon Chardonnays generally excelled but this wine stood out. Made in an austere style like a 1er Cru Chablis this wine was the sleeper of the event. It showed chalky minerals which veiled crisp acid and green apple fruit and mint. This was the run don’t walk wine of the LCBO Taste and Buy event held Sunday afternoon at Roy Thomson Hall.
Extra dry, white wine – $22.95 per bottle (call the Vintages call centre to see if any is still available for order: sku 232827)
France, Burgundy – AOC Puligny-Montrachet Alex Gambal 2008
This was a classic Puligny: linear, austere mouth feel, chalky minerals, elegant and pure structure, and a very long finish. If you can get some of this wine, put it in your cellar for the next 10 years. This is an exceptional value wine with wonderful ageing potential.
Extra, dry white wine – $79.95 per bottle (check the Vintages call centre for availability: sku 243121)
New Zealand, North Canterbury – Pyramid Valley Vineyards Lion’s Tooth Chardonnay 2009
Pyramid Valley is an iconic property operated by, Mike Weersing, a transplanted winemaker from Sonoma who has solid Old World and New World winemaking credentials. This wine showed big, dense ripe brown apple and pear fruit with a lean and elegant mouth feel and a long juicy finish.
Dry, white wine – $69.95 per bottle (sku 242388: call the Vintage call centre for availability)
Other makers whose wines were standouts included Dr. Konstantin Frank, from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Thomas Bachelder’s new Niagara winery, Sattlerhof from Austria (see the Morillon recommended in WVN 130), Hamacher Wines from Oregon and Ataraxia Wines from Walker Bay in South Africa.
The Ontario wines presented over the weekend showed very well when faced-off against the international wines. While there was not a formal competition for wine awards at i4C you couldn’t help but rank the wines as you tasted them and our local wines stood up well.
This was a great value in every way. Tickets were modestly-priced for each venue: the organization of each event was stellar; the food was high-quality and plenteous; access to winemakers was relaxed and unhurried. The vibe throughout the weekend was mellow and celebratory.
Well done and my hearty congratulations for a successful first i4C. Harald Thiel, his board of directors and event project manager, Dorian Andrewes, deserve full kudos for this success story. A cadre of volunteers was the backbone at each venue. The volunteers were a who’s-who of the local wine trade, sommeliers, front-line sales people from all over wine country, servers from the best restaurants in the region…everything at i4C had a first-class feel to it.
My conclusion: i4C 2011 was a resounding success. This was a highlight on the Ontario wine calendar and i4C is an event that should become an annual celebration.
BTW, my guest agreed with my assessment of the event and commends all wine lovers to come back for the 2012 edition of i4C.
Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.