Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Springtime In November Means Visiting Niagara Vineyards

Tuesday November 4th: A Fun Day Begins At The Evanshens!!
One of the perks of being involved in the wine business is the extremely varied type of work that one gets to do---if you call it work! Tuesday saw me heading up to the home of former CFL football great and Hall Of Fame member, Terry Evanshen and his wife Lorraine.
Terry and I met at the gymnasium (Whitby Recreation Centre) that we mutually patronize. I got to know him and his family even better when the magazine I write for "East of the City", which is a Metroland publication, assigned me the writing of the story about the tragic accident that robbed him of his memory and almost his life! A book, "The Man Who Lost Himself", was written by June Callwood and a movie of the same name was made starring David James Elliott (Jag, Close To Home) as Terry and Wendy Crewson (Air Force One) as Lorraine!
The reason I went over to the Evanshens' was that during the assignment, I learned that they both had a penchant for Konzelmann Riesling---so much so that they actually took a case with them to Aruba during their yearly vacation there. Since I knew Herbert Konzelmann, I organized a visit so they could meet!
We're Off
We left their home shortly after 8 am and within an hour and a half were driving in Niagara Wine Country. The weather could not have been any more perfect. The temperature was hovering around 13 Celsius on its way to about 20 and the Sun could not have shone any better. After a brief break in Beamsville, we followed the Queen Elizabeth Highway to the Highway 55 cutoff though we veered to the right and followed Highway 81 to St. David's. This was the scenic route.
St. David's is truly a unique area where the Niagara Escarpment, in parts, draws so close to the road that you think you will touch it by just sticking you hand out the window. Being mid Autumn, the leaves on the trees where still colourful enough to be influenced by the golden sunshine---reflecting the light---almost shimmering. The many homes within the confines of the wooded areas attracted Terry's attention though I reminded him that the best was yet to come. Terry also marvelled at the meticulously kept vineyards and estates such as those of Chateau des Charmes which we passed on our way.
We reached Queenston Heights and turned left onto the Niagara Parkway. Here, Terry asked me to slow down so he could savour the view of the stately mansions to the left and the picturesque Niagara River on the right. I knew then that he was enjoying the trip!
On the way down, Lorraine had mentioned that her daughter had bought a great wine at a place called Riverview Winery. Owned by Sam & Lina Pillitteri, this winery is right on the Niagara Parkway and offers a wide range of fine wines for purchase. The wines can only be purchased at the winery which also offers tours and sells fresh fruit. They do deliver right to clients' homes via courier though there is a delivery charge. The one major thing that impressed this writer is that if you visit the winery and buy a case, they only charge for eleven bottles out of every 12 bottle case. The reason being to counter the delivery charge. I thought that was an excellent way to treat customers fairly (If only the gas companies could be so generous and fair!). We resumed our trip shortly and made our way to Inniskillin where I had to pick up a parcel and also used that as an excuse to show Terry and Lorraine the impeccably kept winery, boutique vineyards and grounds.
Inniskillin Rules
At Inniskillin, we were met by Debi Pratt, Public Relations Manager. Del Rollo, the Director of Hospitality for Vincor International---the parent company of Inniskillin and a Constellation Company----also happened to be there to welcome us.
A tour of the grounds and winery was given and, of course, a historical perspective from the relationship of the buildings reputed to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to the founding of this winery by co-founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, was described. What impressed most was the absolutely meticulous cleanliness of the entire winery. Lorraine, forehead creased, stated, "I can't believe how absolutely clean this beautiful winery is!"
While there, I called ahead to make sure that we were still expected at Konzelmann. Jansin Ozkur, Director Of Marketing, informed me that Herbert would be coming a bit later that day but to come down anyway and get a tour and tasting.
Konzelmann Winery
We arrived at the winery around noon! Plans were made to have the tour/tasting and then have lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake after which we would pay a brief visit to Jackson Triggs and then move on to visit with Herbert Konzelmann before heading for home.
Gatehouse Hotel/Giardino Restaurant
Jansin Ozkur gave our couple an impressive tour which kept both Terry and Lorraine talking while we drove to our next destination---lunch. I had prearranged lunch with Tullio, the hotel and restaurant manager. When I used to do bus tours to this area, I used (and only used) this fine establishment to bring my guests.
The Hotel/Restaurant is situated at the west end of Niagara-on-the-Lake just prior to the turn that takes you to Highway 55/Stone Road. It is, again, exceptional in its decor (Italian Deco Modern) being very spacious and airy with huge picture windows which gives the guest a great view of the grand old trees surrounding it and also lining the streets of Niagara -on-the-Lake! The food was always exceptional and this case was no different. We ate light but were satisfied. The price was as usual very reasonable. I would heartily recommend this place not only as a restaurant but also a a place to visit and spend some time in!
Herbert Konselmann
Around three o'clock we found ourselves at the Konzelmann Winery---this time with Herbert there. Herbert and I go back many years to the early 1990's when I started my first program about wine called "The Wine Companions". Rubin Benmergui (brother of comedian and talk show host Ralph) was my co-host in this innovative venture. Herbert and I became close friends though, I must admit, we did not see each other that often. Herbert however is the type of person who you feel close to even though he is not always around. There is not much that I can say about Herbert's skill as a winemaker and a human being that has not already been said. His wines are almost legendary and his personality has infected many well wishers from around the globe. He is a well loved and thought of man. His wines reflect his passion and infinite detail.
I had forgotten how this man's smiling face could lift one's spirits and----when you add Terry's personality and Lorraine's strength----complemented the Evanshens' enthusiasm. If there was to be a crowning moment, this was it. The lovers of Konzelmann wine met the winemaker himself.
After a brief but intensive visit/tasting with Herbert we were on our way back home. The day went well and as we drove up the Evanshen driveway around 6 pm, we all reflected that the day could not have gone any smoother or any better!