Ask Chuck

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.

Monday, January 18, 2010

TV Series Wrap-Up----A Day In Inniskillin----Alfred Hitchcock Would Have Been Pleased!

The New Television Series "Adventures In Wine Country" co-hosted by Chuck Byers and Greg Rist will air in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and Greater Toronto Area.
You can watch an introduction to the new series by viewing and typing in the following separate accounts: Adventures In Wine Country TV Series, Adventures In Wine Country-Malta.VOB, Adventures In Wine Country-Nova Scotia.VOB, Adventures In Wine Country-Portugal.VOB and Adventures In Wine Country-British Colombia.VOB. These are but a small sample of what is to be seen during the 13 week series.
Off To Inniskillin
It was Wednesday, January 13. Greg Rist was waiting at the door way of his home when I turned into his drive way. It was several months since I had last seen the familiar tripod, camera and bag that had become as close a travelling companion as Greg during the five or six months of travel that we endured over the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2009.
In a way it was a blur and to be doing this after a hiatus of some two or three months---especially in the dead of winter felt somehow unbalanced----unnerving. This, however, had to be done since this was the only time that we could complete the episode on Icewine!
Greg and I had been up and filmed earlier in the year when the exact same grapes where on the vine. We filmed when it was much warmer and when the grape leaves clothed the vines with a lush green blanket.
Now they were naked with no leaves to hide the twisted branches of the vines. Frozen bunches of grapes, looking the worse for wear, hung on---seemingly gripping the vine for life, their berries showing the wear of winter and a few covered with a mould called Botrytis---ugly to the uninitiated but, to the trained eye------ a welcome sight.
Here in these shriveled up and somewhat cracked grapes lay the beginning of that much demanded, luscious beverage.
Icewine Beginnings!
As Greg and I plowed our way through the snow I kept on thinking of how things---even many outstanding things such as Icewine----actually happened by accident. Icewine used to be just a German thing and was a result of an "accident" that happened not far from Schloss Johannisburger----one of Germany's famous wine estates dating back some 900 years.
The time was mid-18th Century and during those days, harvest was "called" by the lord of the manor. It was late, late fall if not early winter. The weather was cold---freezing to be exact----and the lord had not "called' the harvest. He was either preoccupied or ill. When he announced that the harvest could begin, it was discovered that the grapes had frozen.
The villagers harvested anyhow and of course the rest is history.
Now-a-days, Icewine is made in Germany when the weather permits. In 1989 another country came to the forefront to dethrone the Germans in their Icewine dominance. Canada whose climate is very dependable for the making of Icewine. Inniskillin, made a great Icewine that won top awards and put Canada on the world wine map!
Where's Alfred Hitchcock When You Need Him?
I was deep in thought when the chaotic sound of hundreds of birds feeding interrupted my pensiveness. I looked down towards the far end of the vineyard and could see a cloud of starlings forming a cover over a large part of the vines. They covered the protective netting---some getting inside the confines and others pecking at the grapes from the outside. Inniskillin Public Relations Manager, Debi Prat commented, "People do not see this! They wonder what we mean when they hear us talk about losses to birds and other small animals." Alfred would have felt at home here!
Greg and I set up the camera and made sure that this was recorded for our series. We got some magnificent shots of birds coming and going. One "cute" shot was that closer to us, far from the madding crowd of birds, was a lone starling feeding by itself. It was almost comical to see this one bird taking its time feeding in direct contrast to the orgy that was taking place about twenty five yards away.
The Romantic Art Of Picking Icewine Grapes!
Two very able fellows, Marc Pistor and DJ Lewis, took Greg and me to another part of the vineyard where we picked Icewine grapes. The snow was deep. My hands were cold and I was kneeling in snow. I kept on saying. "This IS romantic---yes??" I felt that it could have been worse. The temperature at that time was at the freezing level. When the grapes would actually be picked, the temperature would be at -10 or -15 Centigrade and in the middle of the night. I felt more romantic thinking of these people picking the grapes while I was in the comfort of my home drinking the fruits of their labours.
It was not hard to realize that the labour intensive picking, losses to rodents/birds/weather and
just general maintenance difficulties PLUS the high demand for the product resulted in high prices at the retail level.
The Reward!
After our foray into the vineyard, we returned to much milder conditions within the winery. Winemaker Bruce Nicholson introduced us to three versions of Inniskillin Icewine: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine, Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine and Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine.
Vidal Icewine: Is made from a French Hybrid named after its inventor back in the late 19th Century. Its tough skin makes it ideal for Icewine production and has the advantage of a long and steady maturation on the vine as well as great acidity and flavours. The wine exuded rich apricot, papaya, lychee and citrus flavours with a great backdrop of firm acidity that left the palate wanting more! Bruce Nicholson agreed when I mentioned Blue Cheese.
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine: Yes Virginia, they do make RED Icewine. In fact, one could make Icewine out of many grape varieties (and other berries) but this Cabernet Franc Icewine was amazing. Sweet Red berry aromas of Strawberry and secondary Sweet Cherry/Raspberry flavours overlayed with a subtle creaminess were tamed by the acidity of the wine. This is definitely a chocolate (Mousse anyone!) wine.
Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine: Essentially the same wine as the Vidal but with a effervescence. The Sparkling Vidal is made via the Cuvee Close Method whereby the wine is fermented within pressurized tanks that retain the Carbon Dioxide Gas when bottled. The result is a delightfully wonderful sparkling wine that has light tiny bubbles and a great Nectarine/Apricot/Lychee taste with a backdrop of the fine acidity. Food wise: I would love to try with with Sweet Tapioca or---try this---Plain Rice smothered in Sea Salt and Olive Oil. For those more traditional, there is the Dark Chocolate or even that nicely done Creme Brulee!
Bruce certainly outdid himself. The wine was amazing-------but what else would you expect from an Award Winning World Class Winemaker?????
After the tasting, Greg and I were treated with some very good Pizza. What a way to end a day-----------------and the filming of a great series!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gabe Magnotta: A Passionate Man Who Made A Difference

To many, Gabe Magnotta will be remembered as the man behind the very successful Magnotta Corporation and Festa Juice companies that he and his wife, Rossana started some 25 years ago. He was a remarkable entrepreneur. To me, Gabe Magnotta was a man who did not let success affect his humanity and passion.
One did not have to be a close buddy of Gabe's to reveal his gentle nature. He was always willing to listen-----always trying to help someone. He always seemed to be doing something for others working fervently towards some cause or another. He was passionate about perfection of his products and proud of his company's achievements. He cared greatly for his family and those who worked for him.
I felt very comfortable dealing with him from the very first time I met him. He was at the front reception desk of his palatial winery in Vaughan. Gabe, tall and ruggedly handsome, turned around and looked at me. I went over and introduced myself. He had a serious yet warm smile-----actually more of a lay back grin that immediately eased my self consciousness.
As we toured the winery together, his passion about his business was expressed through each and every wine that he showed me and every staff member he introduced me to. "Here was a man at the top who hasn't lost his common touch!", I thought to myself. My admiration increased with the frequency of my contacts and as I got to know him. I became privy to a man who was truly "for all seasons".
There was Gabe the entrepreneur, tough in business but never losing his compassion. There was Gabe the sportsman who loved his dogs and his sporting trips around the globe. There was Gabe the philanthropist who made sure that charities and those in need were taken care of. Then of course there was Gabe the family man and Gabe the employer. His family loved him and his staff practically worshipped him. He never let them down. This I saw and felt.
I had the fortune to have had lunch with him and his "lunch buddies" at the Alta Rosa Restaurant on a couple of occasions. They were both some of the best and most entertaining lunches I can ever remember full of light conversation, good food and true friendship. Gabe used to refer to these as his "mental health sessions" and I could see why. All stress left when this group of friends was together.
I also remember his "Sport Nights" held, again, at the same restaurant. His friends and fellow businessmen would gather and enjoy "wild boar", great wine and marvellous friendship. The "key word" to describe what I felt around Gabe in the presence of others was this: "Friendship". I am sure that Gabe faced his illness with the same manner that he faced everything else: with strength and courage. My heart now goes out to his family and all those who knew him.
I will truly miss this big man with a big heart. Just knowing that he was alive was enough to feel that the world was a better place. The world has lost one great person. Now it's up to the rest of us to ensure that his legacy carries on!