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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Kawartha's: Curve Lake, Whetung Ojibwa Centre, Kawartha Counrty Winery, Dinner at Westwind

Another Day; Another Adventure!
I was up early on the second day of our visit to the area. My sleep had been the best in months and I felt refreshed and invigorated. Light was just starting to appear and opening the sliding door to the balcony I was reminded that it was still winter as the night's cold chill blew across my face.
Outside it was white silence with the exception of the odd bird call and a barking dog demanded some attention somewhere across very frozen Lower Buckhorn Lake.
The coffee in the thermos style pot that was left in my room was still quite warm so I poured myself a cup and prioritized my day. I couldn't help feel that it was going to be a very exciting, adventurous and productive day!
I showered, got dressed and headed to the Westwind dining lounge. The lounge itself was amazingly well planned both from a dining and scenic point of view. The kitchen was to the right of the main doors that were linked to the hallway. As one entered the huge centrally located fireplace complete with a lounge style sitting area caught the eye. To left of the sitting area picture windows that extended around the whole perimeter of the dining lounge gave a glorious panoramic view of Lake Buckhorn and the adjacent woods. The fact that the lounge was located on the second storey of the resort added to the scene which really seemed to be out of a "Bateman" painting. Dining tables filled in the rest of the space----each one close to a window and the view.
Karen was there to greet me as I walked in. "Minho-Kaggi-Bawtek" she said. I looked a bit puzzled!
"That means  'Good Morning' in Algonquin," she added. Her smile extended through her eyes and gave one a very welcoming feeling. "Coffee?"
She knew that I liked coffee so that was a rhetorical question and as I went to be seated I notice that Roy had beaten me to the punch as he took pictures just outside below at lake level,
Arora brought out some menus and even more coffee (Man! The word really gets around!) and I ordered as Roy came up the outside side stairs and entered the lounge.
After, with a good breakfast and lots of coffee in my belly I accompanied Roy outside taking a few "shots" and soon we were off to Curve Lake, which was just a few minutes away.
Curve Lake First Nation
Curve Lake is the name of an Ojibwa Native reserves just a few kilometres from Westwind and just north of Peterborough. Located between lakes Chemong and Buckhorn, it serves as the land base for the Curve Lake First Nation. The Curve Lake First Nation goes back to 1882 when a small  band settled in the area and officially founded the reserve in 1889 (as per Wilkepedia)..
Curve Lake is famous as having  the first native female chief and some World recognized artists such as the great late Norman Knott whose painting of "The Loons" was presented to Queen Elizabeth some years ago. Mr.Knott died in 2003.  His brother, Randy Knott, to my understanding still carries on the family tradition in his own style.  
According to their website there are some 2500 people living in this community with a registry of some 1,918 members of which 764 live on the reserve.
Whetung Ojibwa Centre
The term that "It's a small world" in relation to coincidences and chance meetings of friends etc.could not have a greater meaning than what happened when I met Mr. Mike Whetung owner of the Whetung Ojibwa Centre as one enters Curve Lake.
Whetung's is a native cultural arts and crafts centre that exhibits some of the fine creations by many native artists. It also houses a native museum that contains many artifacts and pictures from antiquity.
In the Gallery one can find native paintings from all over Canada. The Gallery also houses amazing sculptures, carvings, masks, quill boxes, head dresses, clothing and  other accessories.
Owner Mike Whetung is a bear of a man with a gentle voice. I immediatley liked him but that is not the coincidence here. I went to Whetung's twice because it was such an interesting, colourful and vital spot to both native and non native. I also had to redo an interview segment that I felt I had botched up. Lucky I did.
When I reentered the building Mike asked me who I took Judo with. That was the last thing that I had expected anyone on this trip to ask me and taken aback I asked where did he find out. The answer was pretty rudimentary as it was from my own website.
I mentioned the name of Maple Leaf in Bowmanville and then Mike stated that he took Judo with Frank Hatashita in Toronto and achieved a Brown Belt. Frank Hatashita is known as the Godfather of Canadian Judo who created hundreds of Black Belts----a highly respected man. Maple Leaf was affiliated with the Hatashita Club. The other coincidence was that we took Judo around the same period. We could easily have passed each other in the hallowed Hatashita halls. Mike and I developed quite a liking toward each other and it is something that I would like to foster. Two older Judokas reflecting on our "warrior" times.
Mike intrigued me with stories of Curve Lake and his family. He said that he could trace his family back to the early 19th Century. Mike went on to say that his store was gradually developed from a fishing lodge opened by his great grand father in the beginning of the 20th Century.
The store morphed into a cruise business, taxi service, fur service, one postal station station  and a grocery store which expanded into a general store in the 1940's and began selling Ojibwa crafts and various other products.
The arts and crafts business was expanded in the 50's and 60's and so did the involvement from native members of the community. Whetung's began selling native arts and crafts from canoes to moccasins. Michael joined the family business full time in 1966.
Today the Whetung Ojibwa Centre is known worldwide offering native art and crafts from all over Canada as well as from the Curve Lake community. The family business, now with the assistance of Michael's daughters, is still thriving.
The Case Of The Restless Native Feathered Headress   
Mike Whetung also related the story of the Native Headdress that came into his possession when a friend brought it over and gave it to him. It was carefully wrapped and was apparently quite old.. The friend had instructed him to keep it carefully wrapped and protected since it was valuable as an artifact. Mike followed the directions and made sure the headdress was safe.
Strange things began happening with the moving of objects around the store and museum. At one point a shelving unit made of glass was smashed by an unknown force (the building was empty). Pictures were knocked off walls etc. Mike felt it was time to contact a Shaman or Native Priest to get some closure concerning this matter. The Shaman told Mike that the problem lay with the Native Headdress. and its force's dissatisfaction at being hidden from view. Mike immediately placed in plain view (but protected) in the downstairs museum behind a glass enclosure. All strange happenings ceased.
If you have a chance to visit an amazing place and learn about the great native history and appreciate the magnificent native art and crafts make sure you visit the Whetung Ojibwa Centre in Curve Lake.               
Kawartha Country Wines
From Whetung's we decided to revisit the Kawartha Country Winery situated within minutes of Curve Lake and other local communities. This would have been a second visit here also. The first was an amazing experience with boutique manager, Eva Fisher. Her varied tasting and matching of wine with various food matches was superb.
We tasted well made vinifera and hybrid wines with a large number of sauces, jellies and vinegars. the matching was perfect. I especially liked their fruit wine with the barbecue sauces and jellies.
The winery was a cornucopia of items ranging from a variety of wines made at the winery to items like hot sauces, clothing items and knick knacks to specialized chocolates made for matching wines. We were told that the owners would return soon so we decided to return later and meet the owners.
John Rufa and Trish Dougherty
John Rufa was a former public school teacher who came from a wide background of winemaking. this amiable man and his lovely wife Trish worked hard against great odds to found and maintain a winery in Kawartha Country. One thing was that no one told them that they weren't supposed to succeed. They did and still are doing it!
John purchased 22 acres of land in the heart of Kawartha country not far from Buckhorn on one side and Bobcaygeon on the other. He planted winter hardy hybrid grapes (vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay or Cabernet and even certain hybrids such as Vidal would not survive the extreme low temperatures of this area) as well as fruit tress and bushes. Seeing that the crop was going to survive he then applied for a winery license. He told me that the answer he got almost sent him to distraction.
"After all the work and money spent, I was ready to start and I was told that it was fine as long as there was not a school and/or a church close by. There was a church across the road."
John had to ask the priest of this church for a permission to build the winery across from his church. He went on, "I reminded the priest of the miracle of changing water into wine by Jesus! He gave us permission." The winery housed in an 1866 pioneer log cabin and an 1889 board and batton house opened in 2004.
To say that the winery has been a success is a misnomer. John and Trish were recently awarded the "Outstanding Business Achievement Award" by the Bobcaygeon and Area Chamber of Commerce.
John's philosophy is simple, "Great wines for all occasions can be made in Ontario".
In addition to growing most of his wine crops at the winery he does "import" vinifera grapes from Niagara to make his Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling wines. His home grown hybrids produce some very interesting and tasty blends.
I fell in love with his basic white from his own grown hybrid grapes (see the previous introductory article) called Buckhorn Vintage White Dry with its dry, crisp, grapefruit/lemon notes with a nice acid finish. It reminded me of a dry Vidal but with more crisp acidity. Home grown and a success story it is!
However it wasn't just the grape wines that I enjoyed, the fruit wines were good---damn good and very innovative. From their Apple and Apricot to Black Currant and Elderberry to the Pear and Cranberry wines of all types of sweetness level, the wines were good. Add to that the luscious dessert wines such as the afore mentioned Raspberry Chocolate and other dessert wines such as the Elderberry Chocolate or Golden Rod among many and you have winners in every category.
We spent some time visiting John as he made wine. John amazed me with his power to describe and explain. He made a very difficult subject understandable and made the complex far more simple. As he described his winemaking techniques I couldn't help feel that his former students must have been very fortunate.
Shortly after our visit to the winery we tasted some more of Kawartha Country wines paired with jellies and sauces. Magnificent. I discovered a unique wine called "Bazingaberry Off Dry" that had clearly some television program overtones. If you go to the Kawartha Country Wines website and check out the fruit wines of which Bazinga is part of , you will see what I mean ( Both John and Trish were exceptional hosts and I look forward to seeing them again.       
We were invited to a six course dinner at Westwind Inn in which the gourmet cooking at Westwind was matched with Kawartha Country Wines. The menu was as follows (along with the wines):
 The Westwind Dinner
Ist Course
 Maple Squash Soup:  Apple Off Dry

2nd Course
Green Salad with Kawartha Country Wines Balsamic Vinegar: Shiro Plum Off Dry

3rd  Course
Strawberry-Kiwi Sorbet: Raspberry Off Dry

Main Course
Pork Tenderloin: a trio of wines Blackberry Off Dry; Black Currant Off Dry and Elderberry Off Dry 

Pear and Apple Pie: Lemon Cello Dessert Wine
Chocolate-Amaretto Cheese Cake: Raspberry Chocolate Dessert Wine 

The cooking was great as was the exceptional wine pairings. It was a fun night with John Rufa's great explanation about the wines and Inga Gallacher's exceptional description of the entrees.
I would like to thank  both enterprises of Westwind and Kawartha Country Wines for making this evening and in fact our whole stay very enjoyable.
We look forward to returning in the Summer to complete our filming for the Two In A Vineyard Series!"
The evening was ended by coffee and then bed. The next day saw our departure from Westwind but our departure took with us some excellent memories and a desire to come back. Ontario's attractions can compare with the best in the World. If people want: great scenery, excellent accommodations, great food, interesting people and superb adventure they only have to look out their back door: Ontario!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Breeze Blows In The Direction Of Westwind

Off To The Kawarthas
The offical start of our filming of the second season of Two In A Vineyard stated. Getting up at 6 AM was not in my plans as Roy was to pick me up at Noon in order to head up to the Kawartha Lakes District to "scout" the Westwind Inn Resort and its surrounding area for possible segment venues. The good thing is that I used the time to prepack my suitcase and finish cleaning the house.
By 12:30 PM we were well on our way to the resort.
By most standards the trip wasn't long. The drive was pleasant and though the snow clad fields and bare trees did not inspire a feeling of warmth, there was beauty in the muli-scenery landscape which consisted of lovely granite outcrops and intermittent rows of coniferous trees that was so prevalent in the northern clime.
We arrived at Westwind at around 2:30 PM and were quick to register. Roy and I made our way to the client enterance which led first to Roy's room and later to mine. We were contacted by the manager of the Inn in order to arrange a meeting with us and to see to our needs. The desk staff were very competent and excellently handled our needs.We were initally met  by Arora who was a wealth of information about the area. Charming Tori took over the hosting with energetic gusto and our host for the night, Karen, brought a breath of freshness which had initailly been nothing but an ordinary day. Karen showed much pride in her native ancestry (Algonquin and Irish) and showed that she had a curiosity about everthing. Well educated (Arts Degree in Education (High School Teacher) her experiences went far beyond regular individuals.
We were later met by Inga Gallacher. Inga was as beautiful as she was intellingent and energetic. She met us in the dining lounge in front of the fire place. From the lounge one could see a panoramic view of Lower Buckhorn Lake which was still covered with snow. The wooded beaches intermittently populated by homes and cottage was the home of many a wild life. It was a beautiful site.
We discussed our plans with Inga who, by the way, was the owners' daughter. A cheese plate prepared for the evening by Karen was brought over to us and a fire was lit. We opened up two bottles of wine---one a California red and the other a local wine made from locally grown grapes called Buckhorn Vintage White made from hybrid grapes Crescent, Lucy Kulhman, Louise Swenson and Prairie Star. These grapes as well as the red Frontenac and Sebrevois grapes are grown in their own vineyards in Buckhorn.  The Buckhorn White was amazing and reminded me of a late picked Vidal. The Californian, made from Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon was excellent but the surprise was in fact the Buckhorn White which was made to perfection in an area not thought to be suited to viticulture. We soon were joined by Inga's husband Jamie who impressed me with his knowledge and ability in  building as well as maintaining many facets of this resort. All of us sat in front of the roaring fire parlaying about the show and getting to know each other and having a good time.
Westwind Inn Resort  
Westwind Inn is located in Buckhorn, Ontario on the shores of Lower Buckhorn Lake is part of a g area that consists of a plethora of attractions which consist of of wildlife, sanctuaries,  artistic endeavours and geographical/ historical treasures.  Just like the premise of "Two In A Vineyard" which focuses on the history, geography and culture,Westwind prides itself on being part of an exciting and vibrant region full of special events, happenings and most important its people.
Just down the road on Highway 36 is located Kawartha Country Wines, owned by John and Trish Rufa.
Ten minutes away from the Inn is the Curve Lake Native Reservation which has a number of culural events such as the Fall "Pow Wow". Curve Lake also has a Native Art and Craft Gallery known as Whetung Ojibwa Centre.
If one likes the "stars", the Buckhorn Observatory is the place to go while artists can Bayside Buckhorn Gallery where many fine art works are exhibited. Next to the Inn is the Gallery On The Lake famous for its art.
The Inn itself is a very unique place. It is cottage/log style in construction with the main foyer in an open concept with ultra high cielings which give more of an appearance of space to the already quite large area. The entire building is decorated with wood from local sources. Each room has a separate balcony with an excellent view of the lake or woods. The rooms are spacious with a working gas fireplace and twin beds. Most of the couches can open up to a bed also. Their is a smaller building a few yards from the main one which houses additional suites that are more spacious. The building also has a hot tub spa. In addition to the above there are conference facilities for special group meetings as well as for weddings and like.
Winter sports of many types can be had at the Inn. Guests can go snow shoeing or cross country skiing. Skating is available when the lake is covered with ice. Hiking trails are also available.
The dining lounge as mentioned earlier has an excellent view of the lake and is a bright cheery place from the top of the morning to the end of the day.
The walls and chair space of the Inn are laden with antiques and historical pieces. Original paintings and photos adorn the walls while old statues, models, furniture, lamps and shelving containing special momentos are to be found everywhere. There is a new discovery every few seconds.
This place is the best kept secret in Ontario if not Canada and is a must see.
End of Day One----Tomorrow: More on Whetung Ojibwa Centre, Kawartha Country Winery and The Gallery on the Lake!