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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday October 11th: Return To Prince Edward County----The Harvest Route!

The Gang Together Once Again
Roy picked me up early on that Tuesday morning and we headed to Oshawa to pick up Sandie Kraft. It would be good to have the three of us together again after such a long hiatus with Roy and I exploring Quebec and Prince Edward Island by ourselves. As we drove up to the "Shake Shingled" house Sandie stuck out her head saying it would be a couple of minutes.
Within a brief period of time, out she came sporting a very "Autumn" coloured outfit that looked very good on her. Her long blond hair and white skin was certainly complimented by the golden browns and yellows in her outfit.
Bright and quite lively for that time in the morning, she made it seem like we had never been apart. Off the three of us went to the 401 east to Prince Edward County. Our first stop was at The Grange of Prince Edward County and a meeting with beautiful owner, Caroline Granger. Caroline was busy with harvest but was gracious enough to meet us in the vineyards and allow us to shoot the grape picking.
The Grange of Prince Edward Island
"My father named the place the Grange as part of a play with words!" Caroline Granger stated as we were standing amidst the mature, sweet Gamay Noir grapes that were being picked by the Mexican vineyard workers.
"The Grange was a farm and the workers of the farm were called "Grangers" so since our name was Granger we called this farm/winery: The Grange." At the time I also noted that the word "Grange" had its origins from the Latin word for "grain". Regardless of the meaning, it was evident that the name used for the winery was exceptionally well chosen.
The farm's history went back to the beginning of the 19th Century with the barn that now houses the winery and boutique being built in 1826. Caroline's father, Robert, purchased the property and it was thus named.
Caroline has always had her finger on the pulse of every aspect of this winery in addition she was elected as a director and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Wine Council of Ontario and a director of the Canadian Vintners Association. One of her pet projects has been the "Harvestin' The County Program" which promoted local sustainable agriculture and local consumption. Caroline has also been known for her almost single handed and tireless efforts to have the area given a Designated Viticultural Area status which happened in 2007.
It has never ceased to amaze me what this former Ford model has accomplished in her still short lifetime.
Victoria Block
The Gamay Vines bore sweet succulent fruit with large berries. They were ripe and ready to make their way to the wine baskets once cut by the adept Mexican wine harvesters who come here from their country as part of a federally sponsored migrant workers program. These guys were fast. Sandie tried her hand at it and proved good but no match for the pros.
Back at the boutique inside the old barn Sandie did a great "one on one" interview with Caroline where they tasted and discussed a new wine called "Paint The Town Red"! It was obviously a wine made to capitalize on the new wines that have come out similar to "Girls Night Out", "Strut" and "Open" but with a difference since it is carrying on a brand name "Trumpour's Mill" but with a byline of "Paint Your Town Red". The wine is Gamay Noir from the very grapes that we were watching being picked. It is light, easy but with great flavour. Another wine tasted was a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc which at thirty brix sweetness was not your average Sauvignon. A "Brix" is a sugar level measurement used by winemakers. It is the sugar content in an aqueous solution. Scientifically speaking one brix is the measure of one gram of sucrose per 100 grams of the solution.
Caroline called it "Lemonade" since it was a specialty with the intent of not to repeat. However, intended or not, it was almost sold out. The taste was superb and I would wish that similar "quirks" could be repeated--------often!
The visit went well. We found out that the Pinot Noir had already been picked and next on the agenda were the Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris.
Weather worry were primary on most peoples' minds since the following day (Wednesday) rain was supposed to rear its ugly head. The rest of the week was supposed to be a "write off".
Rain at harvest produces a number of problems mainly that the grapes absorb water and become saturated with liquid plus the drops of water may not amount to much on a single grape but multiply that by thousands of berries and then you have a water problem on hand. Then there are the possibilities of mold and other moisture related maladies that may set in on grapes that are not picked. The worries are endless.
Looking out the window at the vineyard that stretched out for acres and of course that wonderful sunshine, everything seemed so good. I crossed my fingers as we said our good-byes and went on to our next destination.
Casa-Dea Estate Winery
We were met at the at the front door of the magnificent estate winery of the above name. Paul had just finished using the crusher/destemmer with the freshly picked Pinot Noir and placed the crushed grape must into big holding tanks or vats to ferment. Contact with the skins of the grapes was essential to colour and flavour. However, carbon dioxide forming as a result of the chemical fermentation brought the skins to the surface. Using a specialized tool called the "plunger" a rectangular flat board with a handle that acted as a press of sorts on the liquid, he was about to "plunge" the "grape cap" down to ensure that the skins which were buoyed up to the surface via carbon dioxide gas, kept in contact with rest of the fermenting liquid.
Balancing himself precariously on the edges of the holding tanks (vats) he would take hold of the handle and push the flat board down into the liquid right to the bottom and then back up. He repeated the procedure until certain that the mix was done correctly. The main "trick" was to "plunge" the "wine skin cap" down without making a splash or else grape juice would be sprayed all over the area and clothes. (Right Sandie: "It's not so easy is it Mr. Byers!!!!")
Both Sandie and I tried the task and could appreciate the size of the task at hand considering that he had so many to do. No wonder he was in such great shape.
Paul then took us up to the boutique where Paul did what he liked best----showing off his wines. I found that his Pinot Noir to be a great as ever as did Sandie. Cabernet Franc and Paul's pride and joy---the Pinot Gris were super also. I have always had a penchant for his Pinot.
With the tasting done, we drove down the road for a brief visit at Norman Hardie Wines.
Norman Hardie Winery
Norman Hardie experienced much in his journey with wine. He has gone to wine regions all over the world and worked with the legends of winemaking. Bringing this experience to Prince Edward County, he has culminated all these experiences into award winning wines. The challenge was great but so were the rewards. His wines have become much sought after especially his Pinot Noirs and Melon de Bourgogne.
When we arrived (unexpected) Norm was on the phone but joined us very shortly. I always found him very hospitable even when he was obviously busy and tired such as he seemed the day of our visit.
We discussed the season that had just passed and while Norm admitted that it was a challenging one, he also stated that challenging years many times produce wines that are better than those years that are ideal. "We are more caring for the vines, selective with the grapes and work harder to produce a better wine thus we achieve a better product."
I recalled the old saying that one cannot make good wines out of bad grapes but one can make bad wine out of good grapes and applied it to this scenario and concluded that the caring of the vines and selection must have worked well since the grapes in the vats looked very healthy and with good sugar. The myriad of wasps around the vats also made me think that these "hive bombers" agreed with me.
We did not stay long at Norman Hardie as we were somewhat expected at By Chadsey's Cairns and I wanted to get some shots of the cemetery and also of them picking grapes. So we were off to our last winery of the day.
By Chadsey's Cairns
The Sun was favourable when we filmed the scene at By Chadsey's Cemetery Plot. Here grave stones dating back to the late 18th Century were still visible. Of course the time of year, the leaves falling from coloured trees, the black birds on the trees all gave a feeling somewhat like that of an Edger Allen Poe story. It was ideal for what I had in mind. By now I would think that I retold the tale of Ira Chadsey and his reincarnation story many times but truthfully I never get tired of it. The story went something like this:
Ira Chadsey was born in 1823 and raised on the property eventually inheriting all of it. He was a bit (a bit!!!!) eccentric and believed that he would some day be reincarnated after death and come back as a white horse. To make sure that he could find his way home, he piled a series of stones leading to the settlement. These cairns were to guide him (as a horse) home. To add more intrigue to the situation, Ira committed suicide several years after his wife died in 1898. he so planned it that he shot himself in such a way as to fall into a huge fire that he had started. It is said that there was nothing left of him and that the only thing that was found the next day was the metal barrel of the gun he used to kill himself with.
The story does not completely end there. Some years later either in the late 1940's or early '50's, a white horse escaped from a local barn and found its way to the Chadsey property. Local residents were somewhat unnerved to see the stallion running through the old estate------they thought it was Ira returning. Interestingly enough the story does not say who actually owned the horse that got away------maybe Ira did get his wish.
Richard Johnston of By Chadsey's Cairns is an amazing fellow. This former politician (MPP) and academic (Council of Regents, Trent University Board of Directors and Pres. Centennial College), native issues (First Nation's Technical Institute). In spite of his acclaim, Richard is a very easy person to talk to and one can only surmise that this accomplished man is happiest by just being himself around those he likes.
Prior to meeting Richard, we did a few scenes on the back deck of the wine tasting boutique where the ambiance was perfect. Richard met us there and we got directions to the site where a group of persons were picking grapes----- Gamay to be exact. Richard went on ahead.
We drove the van over to the harvest site where we found Richard in a kneeling position with a cluster of Gamay in his hand. He inspected every cluster and carefully picked off parts that were not suitable. "You don't want anything but the best part of the grape to be used," he said, "so I make sure that only healthy parts of the cluster go into the basket."
Roy did some general shots and then it was time to leave. The day was fruitful and we accomplished much. I sometimes wonder what keeps me going to these same spots and filming things that I had seen so many years in a row. The answer was actually supplied by Roy who remarked, " We always come out of a shoot with something different----something that we never filmed before-----that's so cool!!!"
I realized that he was so very correct. Things may be similar but in reality they never are the same. New things kept on happening and that is what I loved about this business. It is always surrounded by an aura of discovery!!!