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.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Wines, Great Vistas And A Myriad Of Broken Bottles: The Year In Review

2008: Was It A Great Year?

The King is dead! Long live the King! The old year is dead and somewhat buried and I'm not sure what to make of it when I think back to all that was 2008! It started out with great promise on the heals of what was to become the greatest wine year that ever was in Ontario and perhaps all of Canada. Of course we bow our heads to 2007! It was hard in 2007 for anyone in Ontario to make horrible wine unless, of course, they were horrible winemakers thus resurrecting the old adage: "It is impossible to make good wine out of bad grapes but very possible to make horrible wine out of good grapes!" I felt quite fortunate at only tasting several wines that I did not particularly enjoy but for the most part, those that I did taste were atypically rich for Ontario and reflected some of the wines made in warmer climes. Not to complain. I will be enjoying these wines as they come available for some time to come! Was it going to be the same for 2008. Alas, I do not think so. Rain, rain, rain and more rain was the forerunner of our present snow, snow, snow and more snow. I feel that the whites of 2008 will shine much more than the reds though technology will certainly have a hand in the making of some good wines, I'm sure!
Let's Party
2008 didn't start out with exactly a bang! It was more like a whimper! I had the usual meetings with wine agents and was introduced to some exciting new products but it wasn't what you'd call exciting stuff. One of the more memorable events that I went to was a tasting at Le Clos Jordanne (always wonder why it is a masculine "Le" in front of an obvious Feminine "Jordanne") In November 2007, I missed a similar event due to traffic on the fab 401 as did some others.
Another event was scheduled at the winery. Making sure I did not miss this one, I stayed over at White Oaks Inn . The tasting went very well indeed and I found that I had made the right call since it snowed the evening of January 21st which would have made travelling, again, difficult.
I was quite fortunate to have been at this session since being the first on the spot, I assisted winemaker Thomas Bachelder with some of the duties ----including selecting some of the wines from Le Clos' barrels. Several others came a bit late due to the weather and we had the fortune to have Thomas all to ourselves.
Some time later I was contacted by Penny Contreras of the Regional Municipality of Durham to assist her with a Gala United Way function in May----an event that went very well until a small mishap saw me dropping my contribution in front of many guests......sort of anticlimactic but things happen.
Another event for BMO Nesbitt Burns which saw my consulting, wine choosing and speaking expertise tested was a huge success and a tremendous booster to my confidence. The event took place in July of 2007 and I'm still hearing about it. I initially was to speak for about twenty minutes but ended up hosting the entire 3 hour event. It was fun!
The year's business went by following the ups and downs of the market. The usual speaking engagement s came up and my television program on Rogers Television changed somewhat with the exit of some sponsors. But the show went on and still goes on as time goes by.
Broken Bottles and Some Wounded Pride
2008 was to become the year of broken wine bottles. Forget "Year of the Rat". It was definitely the "Year of the Broken Bottle." It started as I mentioned above with me dropping a wine contribution right on the foyer floor of the United Way Gala.
The night had gone fabulous. I was at my speaking best and made many kudos in front of local politicians, celebrities and guests. I spent a good five minutes on the virtues of the 1982 Chateau Kirwan that I had donated to the Gala's auction. It brought some $375 and the new owner asked me to handle it for her.
I carefully packed the bottle in its container and on the way to the car I was asked to shake the hands of certain guests. One attractive lady showed me her hand. I responded with a kiss on the extended limb and forgot that I had not taped the top of the case securely. The bottle slipped out as I bent forward and crashed on to the floor much to the gasps of the guests watching the incident. I tried to safe face by saying I had two cases of the wine and would replace it but the harm was done and I could imagine fingers being pointed at me every time I entered any room where these same guests were present. The other two incidents happened more recently.
In December I did my usual "gift show" on Rogers. It was a program called "Mid-Day" and I had a series of wines with prices ranging from the "basic" to the "unfounded" categories. Ilya Rubin of Calibrium Wines sent me some of his excellent wines for display. They included a Grand Crus Chablis from Domaine Laroche "Les Blanchots and two wines from Brancaia: the 2005 Tre and the 2005 Iltaraia. The show went very well and I carefully (where have your read this before) packed them in the container housing some 15 bottles and took the prizes home. I wanted to make sure that nothing happened to the bottles since the container was none too sturdy and there was ice in the drive way. I grabbed three bottles and took them inside. I repeated the process until I had some six bottles left. As I grabbed three more, one of the bottles (Ocala Black Current it was!) tipped over lightly striking the 2005 Tre. My eyes could not believe that the Tre snapped at the neck thus breaking off the "still corked" top. Al least I could save the wine I thought. I carefully picked up the bottle and carried the cracked container towards the kitchen counter. Just as I was going to place it down and then pour the wine into another container, the whole bottle burst. Wine went every where except the sink.
I was faced with the embarrassing situation of having to call the agency to tell them what happened to the bottle.
The final incident happened a month ago. I ordered a case of Fess Parker's Parker Station Syrah from Pacific Wines and Spirits. A friend, restaurateur Tino Fazio, liked the bottle I shared with him over lunch several weeks before so he bought a case as a gift. I was the good deed doer and ordered the case for him.
Some weeks later, a note was left on my door. "Delivered case of wine but returned to mail depot as receiver not home. Case broken, sorry!" When I picked it up, I didn't need to open the wine soaked package to know that every bottle was broken. I didn't accept the package and had to wait until a week later to give my pal the wine.
So ended the saga of broken bottles.
New Places, New Vistas and New Programs
Once cannot say that this year was a howling success. The fall of the market did have its affect on many businesses and the wine business did not get away unscathed. I had many cancellations from corporations regarding their Holiday Parties and Team Seminars. In times of major stress, the first to go are the luxury items of which wine and its relations are part of. However, you can't keep a wino down for long.
I have been in contact with the embassies of various countries in relation to a new television program that I am producing as well as hosting. More on this when I get confirmation from the countries involved.
Several other exciting travel ventures did happened to me this year however. A return trip to California with the intent on doing an article about a Danish Community called Solvang (Santa Ynez Valley) resulted in 10 marvellous days visiting at the Hadsten House and General Manager Bill Phelps. It was a phenomenal visit and though I am a bit prejudice concerning this lovely valley and the wonderful people in it, I would heartily recommend going there and if you stay in Solvang or surrounding country side, it must be at the Hadsten House. The trip was a great success and the article appeared in the Christmas issue of "East of the City Magazine." I can't say enough about the friends that I have made there from Monty "The Horse Whisperer" Roberts and Fess "Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone" Parker to Bill Phelps to Amber Giorgi whose 100 year old family (Nojoqui Ranch") farm is a sight to see with its many natural splendors. Ya Gotta Go There!!!!!!!
Finally, I recently was inducted to the Wine Writers Circle Of Canada. Its membership is a whose who of wine writers whose names are somewhat legendary. Tony Aspler, Margaret Swaine, Alex Eberspaecher, David Lawerson, Conrad Ejbich, Gordon Stimmell, Michael Pinkus to name a few. I feel both humbled and honoured to be included with this illustrious people and all those who make up this unique collection of writers.
It looks like 2009 will be quite the year. Let's all move on with progression and positive outlooks and Happy New Year to all!
Next Blog will have my 10 favourite wines of the year!