The Night That Was: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

For those who haven't been, Gold Medal Plates is a national fundraising event held in major cities across the country in support of our Olympic athletes. The premise is a food and wine pairing competition whereby the 8 invited Chefs partner with a Canadian winery to make one ultimate dish. It is judged by each city's top food and wine critics for a gold, silver and bronze medal and the winner from each city moves onto the national culinary competition.

This has come to be my favourite event of the year in the national capital region not only because it involves Ottawa's top restaurants and great local wineries, but because in a former life I used to live in Victoria and row for the National Team before getting into the wine industry. So this cause is dear to me because I know how underfunded many of our athletes can be making ends meet while competing at the highest levels.

Norman Hardie, Chef Jason Duffy, Andrew Rastapkevicius celebrating Silver

For the past 3 years I've partnered with a different restaurant in the competition as a representative of one of our Canadian wineries. This year Norman Hardie and I partnered with Chef Jason Duffy of ARC the Hotel. Jason's dish featured BC Ling Cod with mushroom cakes and slices of cured, smoked, rolled, and roasted porchetta. It was seasoned with pickled cherries and fennel pollen dust. Chef Duffy and I paired this with Norman Hardie's 2010 County Pinot Noir. The idea was to play on the smokey, salty, earthy notes of the Ling Cod, mushrooms and smoked porchetta with the similarly dirty, earthy notes in Norm's Unfiltered Prince Edward County Pinot Noir. The connecting cherry notes, fresh acidity and funky earthiness was a great combo that ended up taking the Silver medal!

Aside from the main pairing competition, the judges also have a competition for just the wines themselves, and Norm's Pinot Noir won the Gold Medal for best wine in show! This was also a small personal victory for me, as last year I partnered with Chef Matthew Carmichael at Sidedoor restaurant pairing his Lobster Tacos with Painted Rock's 2010 Chardonnay, and that wine took the Gold medal for best in show as well!

A big congratulations to Jonathan Korecki from Sidedoor for his Bronze medal ballotine of wild turkey breast and to Chef Jamie Stunt of Oz Cafe for taking the Gold with his Yak dish and now he will be representing Ottawa at the national event in Edmonton! Here are a few pictures from the Ottawa event:

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

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

More Harvest at Norman Hardie

For the first time ever, we're doing a small batch of rosé this year at Norm's. I'm pretty excited, as a big rosé fan I've been not-so-secretly hoping for this for a number of years. And when one block of Pinot Noir was not looking like it wasn't going to get perfectly ripe it was decided that we would endevour to make Norm's first rosé! We pressed the grapes down the road at Hinterland Wine Co. (one the finest sparkling producers in Canada) using their tank press. Here is a quick Blackberry photo essay from Day 1: the inception of rosé at Norm's.

goLocal with Norman Hardie

As part of their goLocal program, the LCBO has highlighted a few of Ontario's top producers in a series of videos about those wineries and the people behind them. They did a great job capturing the essence of the winery and Norm's 'wine-growing' philosophy a few weeks ago in Prince Edward County...

As Norm mentions in the video, the best wines always come from the edge, and having found a place with a near-perfect confluence of a cool climate with red clay and calcareous limestone soils (like Burgundy) he produces wines that are truly unique. The wines are wonderfully and unapologetically earthy because the work is done in the vineyard, not in the winery. The riper grapes get or the more aggressively you oak a wine, the more it tastes like it could have come from anywhere, and these wines definitely taste like they come from P.E.C....or maybe even Burgundy. 

In the end that's probably why Norm's wines have become relevant in the world's two biggest Burgundy markets: Tokyo and New York, markets that don't need just another Pinot Noir. Top restaurants in these markets can often be used as a litmus test of international relevance, and last year Norm's County Pinot Noir was featured at Tokyo's Four Seasons and this past week was included in a paired tasting menu for food & wine writers at Thomas Keller's Per Se in NYC. Apparently their pairing of Norm's County Pinot Noir with one of Chef Keller's poultry dishes was so outstanding that Saveur Magazine will be featuring the wine with the recipe in an upcoming issue! After visiting Per Se this summer and having seen the wonderful depths of their Burgundy list myself, this is high praise and definitely another reason to celebrate our local wines like Norm Hardie.

Harvest at Norman Hardie Winery

It's a funny thing about Norm, his wines, and the people they attract...

Chris Campbell washing barrels at sunset  |  Photo: Andrew Sainsbury  |  @avsains @campbell101

Chris Campbell's personal twitter description reads: "Lacking VQA typicity since 1974." James Simpkins' twitter bio reads: "Professional wine guzzler. Opponent of all that is exceedingly-ripe, over-extracted and oak-laden." Chris was the former manager of Marben in Toronto, and is now full-time at the winery. James is the sommelier at Liverpool House and Joe Beef in Montreal who drives down to the County on weekends to volunteer at Norm's. These two guys are examples of the kind of loyal friends and clients Norm and his wines have built...and their tongue-in-cheek personal monikers of going against the mass palate and denouncing over-ripe, heavily oaked wines could be the unofficial motto of the winery. Norm's wines have never been for everybody, and he likes it that way. Norm's philosophy from the beginning has been that we don't make cutesy wines for the mass market. We make natural, unfiltered, terroir-driven wines that speak of a place. The terroir is cool-climate and red clay with calcareous limestone (like Burgundy) which leads Norm to produce unapologetically earthy wines that inspire critics like Ian D'Agata to say "His chardonnays and pinots are some of the most Burgundian you will find outside Burgundy", and for Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator to name Norm's County Chard as one of his 3 favourite wines of the year.

All of this coupled with the most unpretentious, no-attitudes approach have inspired Chris, James, myself, and other like-minded wine geeks, chefs and sommeliers to spend their weekends at Norm's picking grapes, working in the cellar, working the tasting bar, or cooking dinner. This happens year-round, but is at its peak during harvest when all hands are on deck. The woodfire pizza oven is in full effect, he brings in whole pigs for roasts and lots of good wine gets consumed in the evenings after a good days work. It's such a wonderful community experience when 60 volunteers make it out to help Norm get all his grapes off the vine, and they get well rewarded with all the food and wine they can handle. Here is a great video that Andrew Sainsbury shot last weekend of Norm commenting on the vintage in the vineyard during harvest:

The following pictures are some quick Blackberry snaps from last weekend's harvest...more to come...