24 Hours in Vancouver

Throughout my 10 days in the Okanagan working harvest I was inevitably teased with stories of Vancouver's great restaurant scene and overrun with dining recommendations. 2007 was the last time I was in Vancouver and a lot has changed in its culinary scene, so I decided to pull the chute and cut my Okanagan trip a day early to go on a 1 day bender exploring restaurants to try get the pulse of Vancouver dining. Even though I didn't veer too far out of Gastown, here are a few highlights:

There was almost unanimous consensus in the Okanagan that my one must-visit for lunch was Meat and Bread at Hastings and Cambie. What a cool spot! Guys, somebody please open one of these in Ottawa! I had their Fraser Valley Veal sandwich and a Phillips Brewery 'Blue Buck' beer (which aesthetically could be the official beer of Capital Wine).

Next it was onto Salt Tasting Room on Blood Alley, an unlikely back alley just north of Hastings. I'd heard about this place for years, but never been. Minimalist cement, wood and metal design...couldn't be more my style. I had a great flight of BC wines that I wasn't able to try while in the Valley, perfectly paired with a mix of preserves, cheese and charcuterie. And turns out that seemingly shady Blood Alley is actually home to quite a cluster of great restaurants--I also popped by the elegant Boneta wine bar for an app and drink and went around the corner for a few cocktails from the passionate bartenders at L'Abattoir. All a stones throw from Salt...Great little area.


It was unfortunate that I only stopped by for drinks at Hawksworth in the Georgia hotel, this may have been the overall highlight had I spent some more time there. The service, design and wine list were tops. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little in love with their logo (similar black and white minimalism to Capital Wine?). The bottle of Little Farm Riesling we drank in the lounge was one of my favourite Rieslings I tried on the entire trip, and our server was an alumnus of Restaurant 18 here in Ottawa...so many good things happening there. It will be the top of my list to revisit on my next trip out west.

A visit to YEW inside the Four Seasons involved a few more Phillips Blue Buck Ales and a surf and turf charcuterie board that was outstanding. It was nice to meet the affable Executive Chef Ned Bell, turns out he has a lot of Ottawa homeboys as well. It was becoming clear to me that Vancouver does hotel restaurants and bars really really well!

While Meat and Bread, Salt and Hawksworth may have been my favourite stops from a list of 10 restaurants in 24 hours, very honourable mentions also go to Chambar, Wild Rice and Catch 122. Everything was really impressive and all within the Gastown area walking distance from my hotel. I'm a big fan of Vancouver again!

Visit to Foxtrot Vineyards

Nestled into the hillside of the Okanagan Valley's Naramata bench is the latest Canadian addition to the Lifford portfolio: a very boutique winery called Foxtrot Vineyards famed for their incredible Pinot Noirs. These guys are seriously boutique...Foxtrot is currently producing about 2000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay combined, and they project limiting their production at 3000 cases in the coming years.

Entrance to Foxtrot's cellar dug into the Naramata Bench.

I passed their driveway several times trying to find the winery.  With no sign, tasting room or winery insight, I entered the steep driveway between rows of vines at the address listed on the website. Just as I was beginning to feel like I was trespassing, driving up to somebody's private home, some white plastic fermenters and a de-stemmer came into sight by the entrance to their cellar door and I knew I was at the right place. Situated directly beside their home, the Foxtrot cellar is dug into the hillside and could almost pass as an extremely stylish garage...instead that is where I found winemaker Gustav Allander hard at work checking his Chardonnay ferments, and getting ready for Pinot Noir harvest in the coming days.

I've noticed Foxtrot in many of the top Vancouver restaurants, so its safe to say its gained quite a loyal following. Their wines however are a bit of a departure from the Ontario Pinots, but much more elegant that many of the BC Pinots that tend to drink more like California than Burgundy. To me they're stylistically more akin to great Oregon Pinot Noirs: delicate and earthy with nice fruit, but a bit more mid-palate heft with gamey/savory notes. Really great wine and great people too...

Owned by Torsten Allander, his son Gustav and daughter-in-law Nadine are the winemakers. Gustav studied winemaking in the Okanagan and Nadine did in New Zealand; so together they have quite a wealth of experience and international context. With their focus fixed firmly on Burgundian varietals for their Estate label Foxtrot wines, they have begun to dabble in aromatic whites and fuller bodied reds under a separate label called Wapiti Cellars. All of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir now comes from their home estate vineyard and another nearby vineyard with which they have a long term contract and manage themselves. From just the first shipment of these wines to Ottawa restaurants, a buzz has circulated of very positive feedback...and I can see why.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention their fantastic design. Too many people try to dismiss the importance of good labels and branding and claim to focus exclusively on the wine itself, but outside of a blind tasting scenario I think that's impossible to separate because appreciating wine involves the entire aesthetic experience and I think Foxtrot has some of the very best design I've seen. A great label should never be the only thing a wine has going for it, but in cases like Foxtrot, where the wine speaks so well for itself, having a great label takes it up a notch. A bear holding a gramophone dancing with a woman? Click here for the great back story on their label and to find out more about the winery.

For their wines in Ontario please contact Lifford Wine & Spirits, and for their wines outside of Ontario please contact the winery directly at info@foxtrotwine.com

Harvest at Joie Farm

My Okanagan harvest adventure started at Joie Farm Winery on the Naramata Bench, just north of Penticton. As a huge fan of Alsatian wines, theirs have been some of my very favorites from B.C. ever since I first tasted the Noble Blend, Riesling and Rose a number of years ago. This is a small family operation with a huge following in Vancouver and a quickly rising fan base in Ontario.

Michael Dinn, Heidi Noble & little Theo

- Photo credit: John Cullen

Owned and operated by husband and wife duo Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble, there is an intimate sense of family and happiness at the farm that is palpable in the aptly named wines. Both Heidi and Michael were sommeliers and wine agents before starting the winery, and Heidi is also a Stratford trained chef having cooked at some of Canada's most acclaimed culinary institutions like Toqué! in Montreal and Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario. And after having spent five nights living with them, I can say the meals were nothing short of epic! In the early days, Joie Farm was a Wine and Cooking School that Heidi and Michael ran from their outdoor kitchen. Since they've ended that project and went all-in with the winery, Heidi's published an excellent cookbook of the experience called Menus from an Orchard Table: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan.

The wine philosophy at Joie is to have as little intervention as possible, keeping it as natural as is reasonably feesable--Michael cites Paul Draper's interview with Alice Feiring as a fair summary of his winemaking philosophy. Their production is geared toward the wines of Alsace and Burgundy because the Naramata Bench is a slightly cooler microclimat within the Okanagan and the big red varietals don't do as well there as they do down in Osoyoos or Oliver to the south. The moderating effects from the the adjacent Lake Okanagan allow them to produce wonderfully elegant, acid driven wines like their Noble Blend (Edelswicker), Rose (Gamay, Pinot Noir), Riesling & Pinot Blanc. Having built their reputation on producing some of the most outstanding white wines in BC, their red wine program is really shifting gears too. The production of their PTG (Passetoutgrains) has evolved into additional small lot releases of 100% Gamay and an excellent Pinot Noir Reserve that really wowed.

Below is an annotated photo gallery of my five days working at Joie. From the vineyards and crushpad, to the golf course and Heidi's wonderful evening dinners, this is a quick glimpse into the real joie de vive at Joie Farm Winery.

For their wines in Ontario please contact Lifford Wine & Spirits, and for their wines outside of Ontario please contact the winery directly at info@joiefarm.com

Laughing Stock in Ottawa

About a year ago we had the always charming David and Cynthia Enns from Laughing Stock Vineyards in BC out to Ottawa for a visit. We were pouring at a tasting of top Canadian wines being held atop the Foreign Affairs building on Sussex Drive, and I thought it was a great opportunity to have David and Cynthia tell Ottawa a little of what they're about and the hilarious story of how their winery came to be.

As this blog develops it will become obvious that I am in love with B.C. wines. We have several fantastic wine growing regions in Ontario but BC wines are something that we don't see nearly enough of in our market. So we're trying to do something about that at Lifford Wine Agency by importing some of what we think are the very best wines that the west coast has to offer. Laughing Stock definitely being one of them.

We have actually just released a very limited amount of Laughing Stock wines through Vintages this month, and if you hurry you can try out some of their wines. You can also regularly find their wines at great restaurants around town such as Domus Cafe, Brookstreet Hotel, The Shore Club, Restaurant Eighteen, Social, TownMurray Street Kitchen, Absinthe Cafe, Farb's Kitchen & Wine Bar, and Johnny Farina.

You can learn more about their amazing wines at www.laughingstock.ca.

Laughing Stock Vineyards from Andrew Rastapkevicius on Vimeo.