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, April 30, 2012

April 17, 2012: Santa Catarina: Quinta Santa Maria, Sanjo Winery

Morning Once Again
If I ever go abroad again the one thing I will do for sure is to get some sleep! Many of those who comment on how great it must be to travel and visit special places only see the very tip of the Ice Berg. They see the perks but do not see the hours of work such as writing and planning that goes into making the trip a success. My work day begins early in the morning and continues long past our good nights at the hotel. Unless I fall asleep at the computer----and that is not a good thing as I awoke one time at 5 AM with my hand still on the computer and saw lines of nonsensical letters covering the whole of my computer screen.
I was up at 6:30 AM and made my way to the top floor of the hotel where breakfast was being served. Breakfast was varied and there was plenty to eat. A young lady brought me a circular pastry with warm cheese inside that was delicious.
 Outside the windows Sao Joaquim was spread out in front of me with the city streets on one side and endless fields and hills on the other. I could see dogs running around and various farm animals roaming and feeding in pastures. Occasionally one of the cows would utter a "moo"----funny but I never knew a Brazilian cow could "moo" in English!
After breakfast I made my way to the main foyer where we waited for Marcio to drive us to our first location. Roy was out having his puff and I befriended a very cute and handsome looking mongrel with a sweet disposition. I found the dogs in this area were well cared for and in good health. Come to think of it, I did see a large number of Veterinarians in the main cities and there was one in Sao Joaquim.   
Quinta Santa Maria 
Marcio sped his usually speedy way up and down the winding road to Quinta Santa Maria. It was hard to imagine that this was Brazil. My mind drifted! The scenery was of rolling hills bordering on mountains. The vegetation was pine trees------very special pine trees whose nuts we would taste at a very special meal. They were known as Araucarias (Latin name: Araucaria Augustifolia) and whose nuts were enclosed in football sized pods. Other areas had stands other scrub trees as well as a different species of pine, obviously human planted, that I did not recognize. Aside from the pines, the other prevalent tree was the apple. From what I heard was that the apple tree basically saved the region's economy with the selling of fruit and the making of juice.
So it was wood, apples and now grapes that were leading the road to productivity in this area. Hopefully Tourism was not hard behind.
My thoughts were jarred by the sudden bumpy nature of the road. We had turned off the slightly bumpy paved and now were in the truly bumpy unpaved. Marcio swerved around large pot holes of sorts as the scenery outside the car window shifted from pastures to deep valleys to forested areas and back to pastures. The ride seemed endless but in reality it was only about twenty minutes. The bumps would remain long in my memory-----as would the picturesque scenery. Vincola Quinta Santa Maria's sign was very welcome.
The Farm   
Quinta Santa Maria was a picture presentation of what Monet or Renoir would have chose to paint. As the car entered the farm I could see the serene beauty that was the estate. The sun light had a hazy glow to it. In the distance three women baked bread in a wood oven. To their left was the main residence that in its "rusticness" was so appropriate as a fit. To their right was a large oval pond that rippled as fish swirled----obviously feeding at the surface. A group of ducks waddled their way into the pond and proceeded to float their way to the its middle stopping intermittently to dip their heads for a bit of something or other. A breeze puffed its way past my face as I saw two figures coming towards us.
Interesting Background
We were met by Nazario dos Santos and his assistant Sabrina. We had met Sabrina the night before. Nazario dos Santos was a Portuguese who wanted to make this area into a second Douro. In many ways I could see the comparison. The Douro was mountainous, dry and had a varied climate. Many of the wineries were at altitudes of between 900 and 1300 metres. A river flowed through each area. The Douro River flowed through one (images of a 2009 boat ride with the owner of Quinta do Crasto phased through my mind) and the Lava Tudo River flowed in this new region. "A second Douro" he stated!
With the assistance of Jean Pierre Rosier, a PHD Enologist who was the consultant behind this winery Nazario dos Santos produced some utterly amazing wines which we tasted the night before. Shortly after the tour of the premises we were going to taste more of the wines.
Nazario dos Santos had all the attributes of a passionate man. Tall, robust, full of life he introduced himself of what he was, a winemaker who loved making wine. He touched and pushed back his greying but still thick hair as he proudly pointed to the building at the top of a hill a about a hundred yards away. We walked past the pond and paddling ducks up a small hill strewn with metallic rock and to a building that was in the midst of creation. Vineyards radiated from the builidng.
"This is going to be the winery and cellar" he said proudly. He went on to show us the dynamics of the winery and how it was going to be environmentally compatible. He went on to describe research and inventiveness that helped his wine initiatives such as, for example, the pyramid shaped, plastic covered container he invented to dry grapes for an "Amarone" style wine that he made. It worked via natural sun provoked heat and convection and worked well. "I obviously could not afford nor implant huge fans such as those used to dry grapes in places like Veneto (or Umbria sic) but I found that this worked well and plan to design a larger one" he said. He has patented the design.
We got onto the subject of the making of Icewine and other wines.Navario dos Santos' reply to that was that while others did make Icewine in the area,  he applied a strict adherence to the rules and he could not depend on enough cold weather to pick and press on the premises. I later found out that while the temperature of the area does get as low as -8 Centigrade, it may not remain at that temperature for over two or three days.  
After the tour we went to his tasting room where fresh baked bread greeted us along with his wines. Here we tasted his premium wines and some of his innovative creations. Of these creations he produced such a small amount that he did not sell it to the trade but gave it away to his guests. We were fortunate enough to obtain a bottle each of his Cherry Liqueur and an outstanding Cabernet inspired Amarone style wine that "knocked my socks off".
We finished our tasting and carrying a fine wine in our bag we had lunch at our usual Sao Joaquim restaurant and then were off to the next winery----Sanjo.
Sanjo Winery and Apple Juice Production 
We were met at Sanjo by Olavio Gavioli who was one of the company engineers. He told us about the starting of this unique winery in 1993 when a group of fruit growers united to form a co-operative. Members of this co-operative were descendents of Japanese immigrants who moved to Sao Joaquim in the early 1970's. They have an outstanding and varied source of apple and juice production as well as some top grape cultivation. Before we were allowed to tour the plant we had to dawn white laboratory jackets and wear hair nets------even I!
The production of apples was not only unique in Brazil but also in the World. Two main types of apples grown in this area: Fuji and Jabal. Great care was taken in the whole production process. The cultivation followed strict rules and monitoring procedures. Each batch of apples was put through quality control tests. The fruit was stored in cold rooms to keep them fresh. The apples then went through a presorting machine which sorted according to colour, weight and even defects. Water was used to prevent damage to apples as they were sorted. It was so filtered during this process that the water was always of drinking quality. The crates/boxes that the apples were placed in were numbered for identification. All palleting was done mechanically. To ensure that the products were in best of condition all the product area was air cooled and all products were expedited.
In addition to the sale of apples was the making of Apple Juice which was made of the highest quality process and apples.
In addition to the apples was the cultivation of grapes for high quality wine made from vines grown from as high as 1380 metres. In 2002 the Sanjo winery initiated production with Cabernet Sauvignon and later followed with Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The combined altitude and soil structure made cool climate technology a factor in the making of great wine in this area.
We were given a tour of the premises revealing up to date stainless steel tanks, temperature controlled, humidity controlled barrel cellars and the latest in laboratory/quality control testing.
We were taken to a laboratory where we tasted several of the Sanjo wines. We started with a Apple Sparkling and Brut Rose then moved onto a dry Cabernet Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites and several styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. Our visit to this unique winery/apple factory was eye opening as well as engaging.
Soon we were off to have dinner back at Sao Joaquim at our favourite restaurant, Pequeno Bosque. 
Suzin, Santa Maria and Jean Pierre  
We all met at the restaurant for what was to be the last time. Everson Suzin and his lovely wife were there as was our new friend Nazario dos Santos and his assistant Sabrina. Our favourite waiter whose nickname "Costela" or "Rib". I didn't know how he got that name but he was a great host and quite a pleasant person.
We began tasting some Suzin wines and what kind of wine we were going to have was dictated by our choice of dishes. Lamb was the main meal of the evening and what would be the ideal companion----of course some of Suzin's fine Sparkling Brut, Cabernet and Merlot. Suzin makes some excellent wines such as the Zelinda, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. His Sauvignon Blanc is certainly one that versatile to use even after a fine meal.
Both Everson Suzin and Nazario dos Santos had Jean Pierre Rosier to thank for some of this at least since he is an Enologist (and a PHD at that!) and has done a fair bit of work with these two great friends.
The evening went very well and ended with us bidding all a fair well-----that is all but Suzin who we would be visiting the next day.
End of Day Eignt        




Friday, April 27, 2012

April 16: Goodbye Bento Goncalves/Hello Santa Catarina

Off To Florainopolis
Like other mornings this one came too quickly----three and a half hours sleep for the last several days will do it too you but I was up at around 6 AM, closed my already packed luggage and went off for my last breakfast at the Hotel Michelon. I had grown fond of this hotel. Nice very courteous staff, spacious clean and convenient rooms, excellent dining facilities and an absolutely grand hotel fruit garden at the base of the road leading to the hotel will do it for me every time. The other night Roy and I had gone down to the garden to try out the ripe fruit on the trees. A cornucopia of various trees such as Kiwi, Fig, Orange and other trees that I did not recognize were available and since I was a fg love----especially ripe figs-----I gorged on the critters! Roy begged me to leave some on the trees for other guests. Me? What guests? I gorged! Now keep in mind that fresh figs are full of fibre and can act as a natural laxative. Thus I did pay a small price for my greed!!
Breakfast was excellent as usual with a wide array of cold meats, cheeses, sausage, scrambled eggs, various breads and some pastry. Coffee was great as usual-----of course it was Brazilian coffee!
Paula arrived at around 7AM.  We had paid our adieu's to Jefferson the night before. Our drive Toni was ready to roll. Luggage packed and good-bye's said we were off to Saigado Filho Airport in Porto Alegre.
We ran into some traffic in Porto Alegre (after all it was a Monday!) but we made it on time to check in and get our boarding passes. Roy this time packed his tripod in his baggage since he was stopped and had to recheck his tripod when we had first arrived in Brazil last week. Apparently Brazil does not allow objects such as the tripod onto flights while Air Canada did. This was not unusual since in the last series we did have similar problems with carry-on camera luggage. It sometimes depends on the airport.
Paula (she came with us to Santa Catarina), Roy, Sandie and I were soon off to Florainopolis Hercilio Luz International Airport.
Florainopolis and Lunch
We arrived at Hercilio Luz Airport around 11:30 AM and were picked up by Marcio. We also were met by another journalist called Monika who later accompanied us to the city. I did not know it then but Marcio was going to become one of my most favourite individuals. Marcio packed us into a small van which was apparent that it would not comfortably fit us and our luggage. Off we went to the dealer and after a few minutes and several coffees, we were off again in a good sized vehicle.
We drove through the gorgeous city of Florainopolis and went to one of its amazing beaches. The day was warm and the water looked inviting but all our materials were packed so we had to settle for a lunch at an outdoor restaurant.  The restaurant called Fazenda Marinha/ Fregusia Bar and Restaurant was located on the St. Antonio de Lisboa Beach. We had a great lunch of my favourite----seafood:  Frutti di Mare Soup, Oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, Fried Shrimp, Shrimp Casserole, Prawns and Swordfish. We ate well. 
Off To Sao Joaquim
Right after a picture taking session we then said our good byes to Monika and soon we were ascending the heights of the hills towards Sao Joaquim. The ride was long and winding. We passed new lovely new homes on picturesque hills and the scene would change to homes of a lesser state but interesting none the less. If it weren't homes and fields we passed forests and rivers and some waterfalls. Those who were under the impression that Brazil was nothing but heat and rain forest had no idea. Here we were at almost the southern tip of one of the World's largest countries and the temperature was cool and the forest was Pine and the land was of farm. We were also told that in these areas, temperatures could get as low as -8 degrees Centigrade. That snow was not uncommon and that people did wear sweaters around this time of year which was the beginning of fall. In the distance some deciduous trees were starting to change colour.
After three and a half hours of driving----I learned to call it "Marcio Time" (MT for short) since he would go in an hour twice as far as a regular driver normally would-----we arrived in Sao Joaquim.
Sao Joaquim  
This city/town was not what you would call a tourist target. It was small with a main industry of wood and apples. It was hoped that he vineyards and wineries would contribute to the economy and I am sure that this will happen. The town had two fine hotels and two restaurants one of which we were to patronize extensively.We registered at the Sao Joaquim Park Hotel. The hotel was a small one and the rooms were basic but quite functional.
A ride around the area revealed that most of the wineries were in the hills and down very bumpy, rocky roads. But this was a new area, a new region and the wineries were developing. It was not an area for one's Ferrari.
Pequeno Bosque    
At 8 PM it was time to go to the restaurant both for dinner and to meet two of the wineries that we were to visit during the next few days. The Pequeno Bosque was actually a very fine restaurant that served excellent food and whose service was of a top quality. It would have done well in any large city at any part of the globe and the fact that it was located in a small area which was relatively unknown was a credit to the city/town and the restaurant itself.
Here we met the owner of  Suzin an up and coming winery and the representative of Quinta Santa Maria which was a neighbouring winery to Suzin. Suzin's owner Everson Suzin was a very intense and passionate winemaker/owner who prided himself not only on his winery and wines but also his personal health. It was obvious that he was in top physical shape and quite strong. He showed a keen intellect and interest in all that would affect his winery. Sabrina, the 18 year old representative of Quinta Santa Maria was an informative young lady regarding the style and development of its wines. Quinta Santa Maria's owner, Nazario dos Santos and his Eonologist Jean Pierre Rosier could not make it at that time but promised to visit next time. Everson's lovely wife later joined us and proved charming.
Most of us ordered the Trout Almondine though Roy preferred the chicken. The wines were quite appropriate. We started with a lovely Muscatel from Santa Maria and this was followed by a  Sauvignon Blanc from SuzinThe Utopia from  Santa Maria was an excellent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Touriga Nacional and another Utopia made from  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz. The dinner ended with a great port style wine called Portento which was a perfect way to end this repas.
The experience went very well and soon we were all very ready to go to our rooms and try to catch up with our sleep. A truly great evening.
End Of Day Seven            

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 15, 2012: Back To Hotel & Spa Do Vinho

Many Changes
They say that change is the way of life and that point was made very clear today . We were scheduled to go to Caves Geisse but that was changed last night when we agreed to meet Deborah Dadalt at her hotel for a viewing of the history of the hotel and the areas vineyards.
When we arrived at the hotel we were told that she would be a bit late so we were invited to have lunch (acturally a brunch) at the hotel.
Deborah soon came and took us to a viewing room where she discussed the aspects of vineyards and the role her hotel played in the area. We then went down to the main foyer where we sat down facing each other and began an interview about her life, her loves, her interests and her future.
The fact that she was so in love with her husband was obvious. Her business sense and her business planning were astounding to say the least, revealing a very focused and talented individual who knew what she wanted and knew the steps to take to make it successful.
Deborah was a woman of many dynamics. On one hand her beauty was disarming yet comforting at the same time. Her intelligence and foresight were so sharp that in some ways it bordered on the psychic. It is no wonder that her husband who must have been equally talented, loved her so.
The two definitely belonged together and judging by their acquisitions of 24 hotels with another 20 being built, it was clear that their togetherness was mutually profitable.
The other thing that also became apparent was Deborah had exquisite decorative taste and if the rest of the hotels were as well taken care of then success for his couple could be classed as infinite.
At one point Deborah spoke of having us come down to visit while harvest was going on. We left it up for discussion. The one advantage to us if we came back would be to spend more time with this outstanding couple.
Before we left, Deborah gave us a bottle of her prized Merlot wine that was made at Miolo. We then bid our good-byes and were off to a friend of theirs who owned a winery not far from the hotel.
We went to the winery but unfortunately the winery was closed and even though we waited for almost 45 minutes, the winery remained empty and closed. We left.
Hotel Michelon and The Museum 
On our way back we stopped off at the museum of wine that was located at the foot of the road as we turned toward the Hotel Michelon. The museum had artifacts and information about the history of wine making in the Bento Goncalves and Vale dos Vinhedos areas by the Italian immigrants.
Among the historic items were barrels used to store wines, wooden de-stemmers and crushers, large funnels which fitted onto the barrels so the juice would run into them and large wooden presses.. There were also large functional milling stones used to crush and powder wheat and corn for bread and like. We found a couple of these stones just outside the museum at the back and could with some difficulty turn them around to show how they operated in the past.
The informative text description described the saga of the families that came, worked, built, lived and died in this area. This was a testament to bravery and determination of those who tamed this area.
Back to the Hotel      
After the museum we went back to the hotel where we relaxed until dinner and we had it at the hotel itself. Roy and I lounged around outside for awhile until we decided to call it a night for tomorrow we were supposed to meet our representative Paula early in the morning and catch a flight from Porto Alegre to Santa Catarina.
End Of DaySix

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 14, 2012:On Maria Fumaca, Churrascaria Ipiranga, Pizzato Winery and Hotel & Spa Do Vinho
Morning came as quickly as the last day and I was just as tired. No doubt the team was in the same boat or should I say we were all going to be on the same track-----a rail road track, that is! It was Saturday and what better way to celebrate but to celebrate with the population.
We were off to the Bento Goncalves rail station where we prepared to board the Maria Fumaca---a cultural exhibition of song, story, dance  and merriment which traveled down the track to Garibaldi and ending at Carlos Barbos. The engine was an exhibit from years gone by and as a matter of fact, so was the train station.
There were several engines all dating back from the mid 19th Century to the early 20th Century.
It seems that travel and shipping by train was an almost extinct method of transportation in Brazil. I was surprised to here this while having a drink at a local refreshment spot and consequently also while visiting a rail road tunnel yesterday.

However, transport's loss was the cultural gain. The station area was alive with music with singers and musicians enjoying the moment and the wine was flowing freely (Miolo).  People from all walks of life paid not too inexpensive a price to spend the next hour and a half being entertained while the train moved through some magnificent scenery as well as lots of bush.
We were assigned seats by number and given a glass of wine. A special storage space just above the seat allowed one to place the glass within until he/she could refill it at the next stop.
Cultural Acts took turns coming in and entertaining a very receptive bunch of local people. It reminded me of a time long gone in Canada. Accordion Players singing folk songs, dance groups interacting with the audience, acting and comedy acts and colourful costumed individuals all added to the fun and gaiety of the morning.
One o the acts which actually was my favourite was an actual Gaucho group that came in and sang western style songs. The voices were superior and the costumes original. They had met us earlier in the morning and took photos with us. The leader who was a rather sturdy looking fellow introduced us to the crowd and took more pictures with us.
Gauchos are South American cowboys that live and work in the Pampas of both Brazil and Argentina. They wear loose fitting layered clothing and boots. Most have long hair tied in a pony tail (Stephan Segal style) and of course a hat. They are tough and they can ride-----using their legs to guide horses as they move doing their work with the cattle etc.   
The morning moved relaxingly slow and the scenery was quite enchanting though we did not get much of  chance to concentrate on it owing to the entertainment around us.
The ride ended at Carlos Barbosa and our driver, Jefferson, was waiting for us sporting a new haircut and ready to drive us to our next destination.
Churrascaria Ipiranga        
We drove to Bento Goncalves to the above restaurant/steak house which ironically was not far from the place where had such a great time and laughter several days ago----the Aurora Winery. This was a barbecue restaurant and that meant a continuous flow of pasta, salad, chicken, beef, pork and steak for us to eat. This time I was very frugal with my selections. Knowing that we were going to the Pizzato Winery, we ordered a bottle of the Pizzato Concentus which is a blend of  Merlot, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2011 the wine won "Best With Food" award at a competition in Britain.
The restaurant was spacious and quiet considering its size and the openness of the seating plan. However, it was elegant and displayed a number of wineries whose wine it patronizes.
We filmed several sequences of the program as the cooks barbecued the meat and carve the pieces.
Soon it was time to leave and we were off to the Pizzato Winery.
Pizzato Winery
Like many who arrived from Italy, the Pizzato story began in Italy and continued with the immigration to Brazil. Here the family founded a winery and produced bulk grapes for profit but it was their dream to produce fine wines. This happened in 1998 and continues to this day.  

Flavio Pizzato is a passionate man who has been given a very articulate way of speaking. He delivered an astounding speach that entices the listeners to want to know more. He was one of those who inspired me to visit this area of Brazil. Along with his brother Ivo, Flavio is a graduate of Enology at the Agricultural College in Brazil. Ivo also had training and practice in Bordaux.    
Flavio was pleased that we had already tried his wines at the restaurant but he brought out more.
We tasted some of the wide range of Pizzato wines. Including a brilliant Merlot Reserve as well as some fine sparkling wines.
The wines of Pizzato are well respected and can be found in a number of countries including Canada.
We then left Pizzato for a true treat. We went to visit Hotel & Spa do Vinho that was in Bento Goncalves and right across from Miolo Winery.
Pizzato wines tasted were: Pizzato Brut White, Pizzato Brut Rose, Pizzato Chardonnay, Pizzato Concentus (Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet) Pizzato DNA 99 (Merlot), Eglodola Riserva (Varietal), Pizzato Alicante Bouschet Riserva, Pizzato Tannat Riserva, Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva,
Pizzato Merlot Riserva   
Hotel & Spa Do Vinho
This hotel was a magnificent site as we drove up to the resort situated high on a hill in Bento Goncalves.Next to it and also one of its partners was the Miolo winery. The five star hotel was imposing to look at with its many floors and lovely decor. It was even lovelier as we entered the main area. To the left of us was a huge waiting area with a huge fireplace that had ceiling high book cases next to it. The ceilings were high (20 feet) and the books in the cases real so ladders were situated next to the bookcases so patrons could retrieve the books.
We were given a tour of the premises by the manager of the hotel. First we saw the perfectly kept and attractive wine cellar which held many fine vintages of wines from all over the world. One of them was a bottle of Inniskillin Icewine. We were also given a tour of the Spa and other hotel rooms. It was something out of James Bond. So clean and so perfectly kept.
We were told that the owner, Deborah Villas-Boas Dadalt wanted to see us but would be late. She would be coming later on and suggested that we had a Spa Treatment. Roy and Sandie jumped at it but I was not partial to these treatments and left them to those who enjoyed them. The driver, Jefferson and I decided to leave for the time being and left----he had things to do and I went back to the hotel for a shower.
In about an hour or so we returned and met up with the "refreshed" twosome and we decided to have dinner at the hotel.
Dinner turned out to be the the menu from the Titanic. With it we ordered a Tannat wine which went beautifully with the meal. The meal was fantastic and we were ready to leave but the owners called on us to visit with them for awhile. Deborah and her husband were waiting at a table not far from us. Deborah was stunningly beautiful and her husband, Aldemir, looked aristocratic. I could see by the way they looked at each other that they were so very much in love. Deborah shared with us the information that her hotel was just made a Marriott. She and her husband owned 24 hotels and were building 20 more but this was their baby. Deborah wanted us to stay and visit the cellar with them and possibly do an interview. We had been up since 6 AM and were tired. They asked us if we had any schedule for tomorrow but at that time we did. A quick phone call to our representative Paula and plans were changed on the spot.
Deborah was very happy to receive the bottle of Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine we brought with us and said it would have a respected place in her cellar. We planned on meeting her again at the hotel the following day at 10:30 AM whereby we could get an interview with Deborah as well as another tour.
So, off we went back to our hotel until the next day.
End of Day Five         

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 13th: Miolo Winery, Caminhos de Pedra, Don Giovanni Winery

Miolo Winery
We started the morning by traveling to the largest winery in the area and one of the largest in Brazil. With a production of four million litres of wine (red, white and sparkling) and about 120 hectares of vineyards as well as over 300 hectares "shared" with other producers, this winery is huge and produces a large list of grape varieties for the making of fine wines.
The winery started back when the Italian immigration first started in the late 19th Century. Giuseppe Miolo had come from Veneto to start a new life at a location in Bento Goncalves known as Lot 43. Actual wine production started in the early 1990's.
The present winery is a both picturesque as it is functional. The main building was a multilevel construction with gardens that were pleasing to the eye. A large pagoda surrounded by vine varieties radiating from the centre indicated the various types of grapes grown there both experimentally as well as those cultivated for wine. They included grapes from various countries such as Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc), Portugal (Touriga Nacional, Alvarinho), French Rhone (Viognier, Gamay, Syrah), French Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) South Africa (Pinotage), Spain (Tempranillo), Italy (Ancellotta, Trebianno, Italic Riesling, Moscato) and Germany (Gewurztraminer).
The Pagoda can be appreciated at ground level and can also be seen from the top of the Miolo building where incidentally, one can view the famous Hotel & Spa Do Vinho, with whose owners the winery is partnered with.
We were greeted by Fabiano Maciel who was the Export and Import Manager for Miolo.
Fabiano gave us the royal tour of the premises as we visited everything from fermentation and storage tanks to the huge barrel cellars.
One interesting thing he did mention was that the famous oenologist and wine maker Michelle Roland was hired to improve the making of its fine wines. Mr. Roland gave the staff important suggestions to improved wine making with such things as: viticultural methods of cultivation and pruning, the importance of manual selection, gravity usage, barrel selection and grape selection.
This resulted in some magnificent wines being produced which included the Merlot Terroir and Lot 43 Premium Wines.
Fabiano took us to the very modern laboratory where he conducted a wine tasting of Miolo Sparkling wines as well as some magnificent white (Cuvee Giuseppe Chardonnay) and red wines from other Brazilian wine areas such as a Viognier and Quinta do Seival from Campanhia, a Terra Nova Shiraz from Vale Do Sao Francisco and a RAR Pinot Noir from Santa Catarina.
My favourites were the amazing Merlot Terroir and the Lot 43 named after the plot of land that Giuseppe Miolo had cultivated and worked..
Caminhos De Pedra
After Milio we were off to Caminhos De Pedra, an area that lies in the middle of Bento Goncalves. A number of places were waiting for us to visit. We stopped first at the "House of Sheep".
House of Sheep
At the House of Sheep we were led to a herding demonstration performed by a Boarder Collie and its owner. Within the confines of a large enclosure, a herd of sheep consisting of seven animals were led around by the dog. The Collie would gesticulate with its head and body to keep the sheep together as well as make them move from side to side in the enclosure. After the demonstration, the dog came over and befriended me---allowing me to pet it as it stood by my side.
We then headed toward the actual building which formerly housed a hotel and a restaurant. Built in 1917 it now offers visitors a descriptive movie as well as a myriad of cheeses for tasting and purchase. Old pictures showed the building in various stages of existence including a picture of a snow covered "Sheep House" from yesteryear.
Casa Vanni
Lunch was held at Casa Vanni, a restaurant that had many interesting items. A wagon at the back came complete with "Oxen Mount" attachments which threw a historical perspective on how wine barrels were transported.
The building itself was built in 1935 by Pietro Strapazzon but fell into disrepair until being restored in 1996. In the mid 2000's it was turned into a restaurant specializing in pastas and soups. An interesting item was that table that we sat was actually an well covered with a circular glass top which sufficed as our eating spot. "Ingenious", I thought!  We had "sopa de capeletti"------a light lunch after all the heavy barbecue's we were having. We ate and then were off again to one of Brazil's oldest traditional wineries.
Cantina Strapozzan
This Cantina was erected in 1878 and was the home of the family and now serves as a winery and storage area. Stone paths wind their way from the parking spot and direct visitors through pagoda style "flat roofed" vineyards to the Cantina where the wines and spirits were sold. This historical winery is one of the few traditional wineries left reflecting the Italian influence of the 19th Century.
We tasted wines made from American Labrusca vines such as Niagara and Isabella. Wines were also made from some vinifera species such as Cabernet and Muscat. They also produced a lovely potent Grappa style spirit.
We went back to the family store and gift shop. Family photos dating back to the beginning adorned the walls. I remarked to myself how serious these people looked and how hard it must have been to resettle in such a harsh environment. "So brave" I said to myself.
Outside the door the construction was on going. A new building was being erected. A man a couple of metres away was chiseling at a stone---shaping it to size as the other worked on the rest of the building. Yet at another part of the property a man carried two huge jugs of wine into another building while another raked and cleaned the ground. A delicious smell of meat pie cooking filled the air. Activity was everywhere and it was apparent that the Strapazzon family was flourishing. Ironically, the same family had an interest in the restaurant Vanni in which we had just eaten lunch.
It was starting to get late and we left the winery to go to our last visit of the day which was the Don Giovanni Winery.
Don Giovanni Winery
Just 12 kilometres from Bento Goncalves was the Don Giovanni Winery. Vividly painted barrels with cheerful characters welcomed us and proved charming. Next door was a 1930's building restored into hotel. The winery which started four generations ago grew many types of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tannat, Ancoleta, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
\Shown around we were impressed at the huge fermentation barrels transformed into tasting areas and storage spots. These were the size of a small room.
We were led to a tasting lab where we tasted several of Don Giovanni's sparkling and still wines. We tasted the following: Don Giovanni Chardonnay, Don Giovanni Brut Rose (50% Merlot, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay), Don Giovanni Brut ( Chardonnay 75%, Pinot Noir 25%),  Don Giovanni Ouro or Gold (Chardonnay 75%, Pinot Noir 25%).
All proved deliciously excellent but the "piece de resistance" was a traditional method sparkler served "au naturelle' meaning it had no added dose of determining liquid to make it sweeter or drier. The wine was consumed outside next to the winery and was delicious and refreshing.
The weather was getting a bit nippy with a some drizzle but that did not dampen our enjoyment. By the time we left, we were getting a bit hungry and off we went to a Pizza Parlour.
Much like th barbecues, the pizzas kept on coming and coming. We were introduced to another Canadian businessman based in Vancouver and the dialogue flowed.
Soon, it was time to go home to our hotel!  We slept well that night!
End of Fourth Day                         

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12th: Salton Winery, Casa Bucco

Oh My God It's Morning!It was the morning after the party at Aurora Winery and looking at the humungous amounts of food and wine consumed it was amazing that I woke up at all. I cannot recall such a good time and new friends made. Andre Pare Jr. and Rosana Pasini were utterly amazing. Now it was time to get back to business and the moving was slow.
Salton Winery
Vinicola Salton was founded in 1910 by Paulo, Liuz. Cezar, Angelo, Antonio and Joao Salton as they continued on the business of their father who came to Bento Goncalves in the latter half of the 19th Century.
Best known for its sparkling wines, the winery celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. Several years ago Salton relocated the head office from San Paulo to Bento Gonsalves.
We were met by Salton's Sommelier, Vinicius who gave us a marvelous tour of the premises. The superb caves with sparkling wines as well as barrel cellars were decorative as well as functional. The one element that was impressive was the sublime pictorial (wall paintings) display on the roof of their main foyer and lead in to the winery.
A Historical Depiction
There was a historical depiction of the migration of the Salton great grandfather who came to the area by boat.
The ship he came on was loaded with Italian immigrants who flowed out of the docking ship much like a flood of water going over a broken dam. In the confusion, he and his wife--each with a child---got separated and never found each other. He later built a life and settled in a little town that became known as Bento Goncalves. He passed down his vineyard and his commercial grocery business to his sons who later changed its direction to the making of wine.
A Big Winery!The thirty thousand square metres make Salton one of the biggest wineries anywhere with major storage facilities of both sparkling and still wines. The aerial catwalk system allows visitors to see all the process of wine making and bottling and encourages comments.
Vinicius gave also took us to the laboratory to have a tasting of special sparkling and still wines. The number of products that Salton had was amazing enough but to find such quality in all of them from Sparkling to Chardonnay to Merlot to Cabernet to Pinot Noir was something of a shock since so much labour and planning has to be part of the presentation.
For the sparkling my favourite leaned towards the 100 Anos Traditional style sparkling made to celebrate the 100 years of wine making for Salton. The Merlot of course also was top on my list.
LunchLunch was a misnomer. It should have been reported as a feast. Now Brazilians like their barbecue and we had many a fine meal in many places but this was hard to beat at any event.
First of all, I fell madly in love with the chef. Idanna Spassini was as talented as she was lovely.
The meal she prepared was of top calibre but the salad was utterly amazing. The best salad that I have ever had at any time anywhere. It had fruit, vegetable and greens. The taste was a melding of so many flavours that it could challenge the finest wine on a complexity basis. My lord it was good. Then came the other courses and the filet was something out of an artists painting.
Frankly, the whole dinner should have been framed.
Vinicius who incidentally had expressed some jealousy at our lovely time at Aurora, out did himself and the whole lunch could have ended the day and been a major success. We had a number of special wines ranging from super Sparkling and Majestic Reds with the meal and ended it with a superb 100 ANOS Brandy. Could a lunch get any better.
Soon we were off to our next visit to taste the spirit Cachaca at Casa Bucco.
Casa Bucco
Casa Bucco was located in the Rio Das Antes Valley just a few kilometres from a place called Veranopolis. Here the owner was awaiting us with his special sugar cane liquor called Cachaca.
Moacir Menegotto greeted us in his flamboyant way and led me into the kitchen whilst he prepared our dinner for that evening-----cooked rabbit!
I was the assistant chef and both of us tried to help me do a simple job of cooking. In the end, he was the one who completed the task.
The business was started in 1925 by the Bucco Family and Moacir later obtained it. The business has grown at a steady pace and now has several products for market.
Cachaca was made by distilling the 'fresh" juice of the Sugar Cane. In the past, Rum was made from the molasses extracted from the sugar cane while boiling. The juice was distilled and the liquid either bottled or aged in wood, The end result was a spirit of anywhere from 40% or more alcohol by volume. Depending on the aging of the Cachaca in barrel, different levels of the product are made from basic to premium. A cocktail drink known as Caipirinha was prepared for the guests with different flavours.
My host waved me over and pointed to the green vegetation high on an adjacent hill. "Sugar Cane" he said.
The hill was steep and I was told that the sugar cane was hand cut. Then it was brought down for processing. No wonder these people seemed to be in such good health even though they did not deny themselves good food. They earned it the hard way-----they worked it off!!!  
Rabbit DinnerRabbit is an unusual meat in that it does not contain any fat. As a matter of fact, if a person were to live by eating just rabbit meat, there would evolve a problem with his/her nerves since the synthesis of nerves depends on fat. So no fat----major problems.
However, since we knew we had enough fat in our diet, we enjoyed the sweet luscious rabbit meat cooked to perfection by our host. Accompanying vegetables and potatoes were so welcome and of course we had our Cachaca to drink.
The night went on and soon it was time to leave for the hotel.
Looking forward to our next day, we bed our hosts good-bye.
End of Day Three

April 11, 2012: Lidio Carraro, Casa Valduga, Aurora Winery

Lidio Carraro
Our second day in Bento Goncalves was welcomed by an overcast sky and threats of rain. However, we must keep in mind that it was the Fall season in Brazil and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere and that this was to be expected. I had every belief that the Sun would come out and that our day would be super!
Lidio Carraro was a unique and timely visit since ironically Roy and I had tasted on one Brazilian wine prior to embarking on this trip and it was from -------Lidio Carraro.
In visiting Lidio we inadvertently drew attention to the newer, smaller, winery (Lidio) versus the older, more established and much larger one next door (Milio). While smaller in size, we were to find out that the accomplishments and aspirations of Lidio's owners and managers was very large indeed.
Four Generations Of Wines
The actual date of the winery goes back to 1998 but the family has been in the wine business for many generations. We were greeted by one of the newer generations and also one of the prettiest!
Patricia Carraro eyes seemed to be the focal point of her soul as she welcomed us. Without having met her before I saw the intensity, passion and personality of one who loved people, wine and her family's business. She was petite but one would have been a fool to let the size influence the strength and knowledge within.
Patricia explained that her father was out in another part of the vineyards South of here in Terras do Encruzilhada do Sul. We, of course, were in the Vale dos Vinhedos.
Pure Wines
While tasting our first wine which happened to be a Dadivas Chardonnay I was surprised to hear Patricia mention that "none of their wines" went through oak fermentation or aging. I had thought that I detected a slight hint of oak on both the nose and the palate but Patricia mentioned that oak was not permitted since they only wanted the purest reflection of varietal character in their wines.
"What you probably are sensing is the fact that we allow this wine to spend much time on its Lees." she said. She went on to say that the "hint" of oak that I sensed reflected also the fine integration and balance that they sought for in wine. "We want pure wines and do not oak or filter!"
Lidio Carraro practiced forms of Organic and Biodynamic principles. All harvests were done by hand and gravity was used in the pumping of the wine. This in fact did not only serve to keep the "varietal integrity" of the wine pure but also made sure that the grapes were minimally damaged during harvest.
The other side of the coin here is the tremendous research that is being done by the family members to do research and experiment. One advantage there is to being "small" is that attention can be given to looking for new innovations and new plantings.
The WinesIt was obvious that the wines of Lidio Carraro were exceptional. We could not taste all of the wines but the reputation of the winery preceded itself. Roy and I had already tasted the red wine Agnvs in Canada. It was an easy wine to enjoy with ripe red fruit (Strawberry, raspberry, cherry) with hints of cocoa and mint. The wine had a nice mouth feel on the palate with good body.
The Dadivas Chardonnay was very impressive and more so when I found out that the oak I tasted was not. With tropical notes on the nose and a creamy texture accompanied with a certain minerality. The wine was very pleasing and may I add very long in finish.
The other red wines we tasted were exceptional also.
The Elos made from Touriga Naciional and Tennat was a fine example of dark fruit and violets plus a hint chocolate and pepper. The mouth feel was amazing and full. The Grand Vindima Tennat 2006 was a huge wine that needed much time to mature but it showed its great potential. The Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon with its ripe fruit, great tannins and chocolate spice was a superb wine ready now and able to stand some time also. Our trip to Lidio Carraro ended when winemaker Julieno came up with a barrel sampling of luscious but definitely yet ready wine with great potential. We said goodbye to the great Carraro family and were off to our next winery, Casa Valduga!
Casa Valduga
Not far from Lidio Cararro is Casa Valduga! The Casa was founded in 1875 which was the time of the great Italian migration from Veneto to Bento Goncalves and the Vale dos Vinhedos. A sign overlooking the meticulously kept vineyard proudly exhibits the date of origin. The Casa has gone through many incarnations since that time but one thing has remained the same and that is the family. Six generations of Valdugas have been born and grown at the estate.
Two restaurants and hotel accommodations now grace the large vineyard area. Add to that new cellars and investment in wine technology and you have a winner.
One of Valduga's great accomplishments is its Sparkling Wines of which the 130 Methode Champenoise is amazing. Stories say that when the French President came to Brazil for a visit, he was given some of the 130 to taste. He proceeded to congratulate the host (the then Brazilian President) of his choice and quality of Champagne.
The winery is a winner no matter which way you look at it. The magnificent pink building is ultra modern in design and equipment.
We were met by Alfredo Garcia who gave us a tour and an exceptional wine tasting of top Valduga Sparkling and Still Wines. Valduga is reputed to have the largest sparkling wine cellar in Brazil.
The ironic factor here is that while I prefer such wines as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Carmenere and Merlot to any sparkling wine, the Valduga 130 Methode Champenoise was utterly amazing and one of the best wines of any kind that I have ever tasted. The fine bubbles seemed to go on forever. The superb bouquet and sublime taste on the palate was an experience not to be forgotten.
This does not mean that I did not like the white and red wines tasted. They were in themselves magnificent. However, every once in awhile comes a wine that is so sublime that it supersedes any other in its class and the 130 did this.
After we had a barbecue luncheon at the Valduga Restaurant along with some super Merlot.
Aurora Winery
The Aurora winery was a co-operative that was capable of putting out over 38 million liters of wine per year. The winery itself has a storage facility of 70 million litres. It was founded in 1931 when sixteen families of grape producers getting together to found the Co-operative. Now, with 1100 wine families who share a part of this winery, Aurora is the largest winery by volume in Brazil. It's mission: "Great wine made by small families." A huge, larger than life statue of Bacchus sits in a corner of the main building cellar. The water surrounding it is coloured red to resemble wine and a pump pushes "wine" through Bacchus's cup. While touring the massive cellar we came upon a smaller life size figure of Bacchus that was anatomically correct and obviously designed to be a bit "naughty". Sandie and I played up a bit to the naughtiness!
Our guide was Andre, who was one of the winemakers. There were four of them with a head winemaker as chief. We met him briefly as were touring huge barrels. One such barrel that was on the outside had a capacity of 4 million litres. Imagine!
Andre told us of the vast number of Aurora products from wines, to juices, jellies and other ready to drink products and they make some lovely brandies. There were far too many to taste even if one was ultra moderate and did not swallow the liquid.
We tasted some superb sparkling wines and realized why Brazil was now at the "top of the heap" in sparkling wine production. I had a marked preference for the absolutely amazing line of "Reserva" line of wines. My top favourite was the Aurora Millesime 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 12 months in French and American Oak and only made in the best years. It was amazing with floral and black fruit aromas, with a touch of vanilla chocolate. The palate was very integrated and full in body. The finish was very long. The wine showed Old World complexity but has a strength that denoted some New World power.
Shortly after the tour, Sandie, Roy and me were led up to the dining area and kitchen where a special barbecue was being held for us. What a meal!
Food in the form of Bacon Wrapped Pork Fillets, Beef, Chicken, Ribs, Salads and Vegetables flowed as quickly as the wine was poured. The staff of Aurora joined us and it was a pleasure meeting such competent people such as the Export Manager, Rosana Pasini.
As with most parties, song soon broke out headed by none other than Sandie Kraft our co-host and obviously a talented leader. Passionate was not just a word here. Sandie's rendition of "We Are The Champions" by "Queen" spurred all of us on to sing----Louder and LOUDER!!!
There were some fifteen persons at the table. All took turns singing along.
The night was boisterous and fun. So much so that a certain sommelier at another winery was disappointed that he was not invited. But that is another story!
The evening ended with us heading for the hotel in a very great mood!!!!
Wines Used With The Meal
Aurora Sparkling Wine Pinot Noir (aperitif starter)
Aurora Chardonnay Pinto Bandeira 2011 (with salad)
Aurora Reserva Merlot (with Pork, Beef Ribs and Picanha) 
Aurora Sparkling Wine Rose Moscatel (with Segu and Cream)
Aurora 1931 Brandy VSOP (with Coffee)
End of Day Two!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 9th/10th, 2012: Ten To Midnight: Brazil Begins

Ten To Midnight
Pearson International Airport was but a fraction of its busy self when we arrived to begin our ten hour flight to San Paulo, Brazil. We had left in plenty of time to get to the airport early enough to handle the difficult SNAFU's that sometimes happens with the end result being a soul rattling, anxiety filled rush to get to your flight in time. This did not happen and most worked like clockwork but even with this, time flew fast.
Roy, Sandie and I cleared the hurdles of check-in and proceeded to visit the "watering hole" not far from our departure gate. I was quite thirsty and rather than ordering a coffee, I surprised everyone by ordering a diet coke and a Corona! Sandy had a glass of Joseph's Red and Roy had a rum and coke. We ordered a snack dip to munch on while we wet our thirst away.
On Our Way
The time of the flight was almost an ominous one that seemed more like a dramatic movie title than an actual time of departure. "Ten To Midnight" was to become a "drama joke" for the rest of the day and possibly for the rest of the tour.
Boarding call came and with the exception of a crying child that pierced every sanctified (or for that matter-- non sanctified) nerve in my brain, it looked like it was going to be a good flight.
The plane left basically on time with a slight delay due to a small dent about the size of a thumbnail found on the back of the plane. It was quickly investigated and the plane left at "Ten To Midnight"!
The flight was long but uneventful and I slept for several hours---waking up to watch part of either one of the two movies I had put on. Neither made any sense as I would wake and promptly dive back to sleep again. The flight took a route that went down the U.S. coast and then over the Caribbean Sea. We went over the Atlantic and entered the continent of South America just over the mouth of the Amazon River. We then proceeded over the Amazon Basin and then Brazilia and to San Paulo.
San PauloSan Paulo is a huge city that spreads itself for many kilometres in many directions. It is the largest city of Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere. It is also considered the sixth largest city in the World by both area and population.
Arriving with almost two hours of a wait before catching our final flight to Porto Alegre, we proceeded to collect our luggage and then go through the baggage check once again. We did have a problem in that But Brazil did not allow metal pieces such as camera stands to be taken on the plane. I thus had to go back to the "check-in" area and recheck the stand. It was a bit inconvenient but not overly a problem. Soon we were aboard the TAM Airlines flight and off to Porto Alegre.
Porto Alegre
Porto Alegre is one of Brazil's ten largest cities and is the capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul and happens to be the southernmost capital of Brazil. It was settled in 1772 by Portuguese from the Azores and later settled by Europeans of various nationalities. We were picked up by a very likable driver called Toni who quickly led us to his van and set us off to our to be home for six days, Bento Goncalves.
Bento Goncalves
Bento Goncalves was settled by Italian immigrants in the 1870's and is known as Brazil's wine capital as well as a furniture making capital. It was originally called by the native name of Cruzinha and later renamed as Dona Isabel after a Brazilian princess. Shortly after in the late 1890's it obtained its final name of Bento Goncalves.
The city quickly became a wine and furniture centre and is located in the Vale dos Vinhedos or Valley of Vineyards which is the only approved "wine appellation" of Brazil.
Through the years many European nationalities have settled here.
Hotel Vila Michelon
The hotel was a welcome site to three tired travelers badly in need of some "freshening up". The drive from Porto Alegre was surprisingly long and as we drove up the long entrance it was difficult not to notice the lovely floral display of Buganvila and other flowers. As we entered the reception area we passed by a large bowl full of grapes which turned out to be an American Labrusca variety from a root stock used for grafting vinifera vines. It probably went wild after having the original vinifera graft either get cut off or never grafted on. The taste was that of a Concord or Cayuga grape variety and reminded me of an episode when I was doing the last "Adventure in Wine Country" series in '09. At that time it was in Umbria, Italy.
We "signed in" and were led to our rooms.
The hotel's different areas was named after grape varieties. We were in the Riesling section. Our rooms were exceptional in every way: roomy, very clean and spacious. The surprise was when I opened up the room's window. It was similar to the feeling that I got when Dorothy stepped out of her house in Oz and the scene was one of splendour.
Outside the window was a world of sculpted flower bushes that melded into cut greener which melded into the hills making a superb Italian Tapestry like picture. The sounds of country filled the air : a crowing rooster, a goose honking, barking dog and the quiet breeze sifting itself through the open window shutters. The rest was quiet peace.
I showered and prepared to meet Paula Valente from Wines of Brasil in the reception lounge.
Paula Valente was immediately recognizable from her picture in Face Book. Her beautiful features showed a definite classic European heritage and her five foot six frame was that of a model. She carried herself with the dignity of friendly pride and I couldn't help but feel that Brazil was well represented.
Her warm greeting did not surprise me. "Paula!" I went to her with open arms. We had gotten to know each other on face book and she seemed an old friend. We exchanged hugs and got down to the business of formal introductions as well as the schedule.
Paula was there to get us ready for our first night on the city in Bento Goncalves. Roy and Sandie soon came over to us from their rooms and soon we were heading to a restaurant called Canta Maria, "Maria's Song" or something so similar.
Canta Maria
The restaurant looked amazingly good . It had pictures and murals on the walls. Paula ordered us a traditional Brazilian barbecue which consisted of various pasta dishes, a pasta soup, a salad display and a cornucopia of meat dishes. The food kept on coming until we said "enough"!
The wine of the evening was a local wine called Boscato Cabernet and it went exceptionally well with the food being served. The wine was enjoyed by all concerned and the wine was a perfect match for most of the dishes involved.
The meal ended with us being so full that we could hardly get to our rooms but I was quite willing to go to my room so I could finish this blog. For me the night ended in the early morning and found me going to bed around four AM.
It was a good way to begin the whole tour and if the above was super, consider all the material we still have to obtain and will likely succeed in spite of the agriculture area and fertilizer area as well as to be a rather pain of behaviour. I do hope that all this is cleared up this week end!
End of Day One!