Cold Vines, Warm Hearts - Ottawa has Wine!
Paul and Debbie LeBlanc's passion for Smokie Ridge Vineyard is obvious as soon as you meet them. Their vision, their enthusiasm, and their dedication is inspiring - but what on earth are they doing growing grapes and making wine in Ottawa of all places?
Canadian Wine? In Ottawa? YES!
The reputation of Canadian wines is growing steadily, with British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Ontario’s Niagara region, and even Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley gaining international renown.
But Ottawa? This frigid capital doesn't exactly conjure up visions of lush grapes and plentiful harvests, especially with winter temperatures reaching -35 degrees Celsius. How is it possible that the LeBlanc’s have found vineyard success in these Arctic-esque conditions?
The Emergence of Cold World Wines
Mongolia, China, Northern Europe, and Ottawa - these are some of the diverse pioneers in the development and production of "cold world wines". These hybrid grapes are grown on cold hearty vines specifically bred for cold climates. They are able to withstand the cold snaps that are so damaging to old world vines, but they come with their own unique challenges. Raising cold hearty vines from infancy to fruition requires patience, ingenuity, and a delicate touch as the LeBlancs and their contemporaries rewrite the rules of wine production.
Talk About a “Firm” Foundation!
Smokie Ridge Vineyard is built on more than just dedication – the bedrock of the Canadian Shield ends in the middle of the property! Placing support stakes for the vines became a 3 year ordeal, with increasingly powerful equipment needed to drill and hammer down into the rock. The question is - will this difference in soil composition change the flavor of the wine? Will grapes grown on the shield taste differently from their counterparts just a few feet away? This season’s harvest will tell the tale!
A Family's Labour of Love
Wine aficionado or not, anyone can appreciate the incredible amount of work it takes to run a successful vineyard. Smokie Ridge Vineyard doesn't employ a full time staff to meet their agricultural OR administrative needs. They’re a family run business, with children, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and friends working on evenings, weekends, and holidays when they have some time off from their own jobs. The family’s level of commitment and dedication to their craft is nothing short of inspiring – and the fact that they seem so genuinely happy doing it makes a visit to the vineyard feel like a family reunion.
A Day at the Winery
I was fortunate to be a guest at Smokie Ridge Vineyard’s open house to kick off the start of the 2013 season. I received a tour of their beautiful property and learned more about vines, grapes, and harvesting than I ever thought possible! It was fascinating to see the new leaves budding on the vines and I was surprised at how so many of the vines looked “dead’ (dry, gnarled, and grey ), but were in fact still healthy and productive.
A sampling of 7 different wines soon followed, allowing me to see, smell, and – best of all! – taste the end result of so much work. It was great to combine a theoretical knowledge of cold world wines with the real life product in front of me, and I had a great time chatting with the staff and customers as we thought up fun food pairings for the different wines (watermelon-feta-spinach salad anyone?) Pulled pork sandwiches from executive chef Phil Morneault and a tour of the winery equipment nicely rounded out the day.
The fun wasn't quite finished, however. I was treated to an exclusive straight-from-the cask sampling of two of their finest red wines. The aged samples were absolutely exquisite; they were rich, complex, heady, and sophisticated. I’ll be the first in line when these barrels are bottled later in the year!
In a word: amazing! The wines are as complex, flavorful, and delicious as any I’ve had. The grapes - Frontenac, Sabrevois, St-Pepin, Louise Swenson, and Marquette - offer a fresh, new taste for wine lovers. My favourites include “Take Me A Whey", a refined red, perfect for cheese pairings. I immediately dubbed it “Book Club Wine” and I could imagine drinking it with a group of girlfriends, enjoying lots of savory nibbles. Another favourite is "Two Shades of Gray" – a fresh, light white blend of Frontenac Gris & Pinot Gris that would make for a perfect summer sangria with white peaches, strawberries, and basil.
Smokie Ridge Vineyard has opened my eyes to the incredible potential of the Ottawa area and has introduced me to a whole new world of wines - a whole new cold world, that is!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever tried a wine from a lesser known area? How did it go?
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