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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 12 (December 6, 2004)

Monday, November 29: A morning directors' meeting of the Independent Wine Educational Guild. Frank, an accountant who has looked after the Guild's books for years and in whose office we meet, smokes like a chimney. I'd forgotten what it's like to sit in a room with an active ashtray. At noon the VQA held a press conference to announce the establishment of eleven sub-appellations in the Niagara Peninsula region. Dr. Tony Shaw of Brock University told us the boundaries were drawn on the basis of climate, topography, soil and geology. I fear that this will only confuse the consuming public more and will lead to higher prices when you see Beamsville Bench or Niagara River on a label.

From that press conference in The Tastings Rooms I rushed over to Hart House for a bizarre tasting of Spanish wines – wineries looking for importing agents in Ontario. Each producer has a curtained-off area, a table and a couple of chairs so that they could speak confidentially to prospective agents. Their wines were also on display for sampling at a long table down the centre of the room. It was rather like a vinous bordello – you found something you liked and you disappeared into a cubicle to further the negotiation. All very confusing.

Dinner at Piatto in Mississauga, where Fernando Garcia is the executive chef. He has an importing company called Spain Only 1 and was holding a dinner for the International Marketing Director of Grupo Yllera, Sandrine Castels. Ther guests had all been told different times. I arrived with Fernando's partner keith Gilbert at 7 pm; others arrived at 7:30 and at 8 pm. I liked the Bracamonte Trempranillo Crianza 2000 from Ribera del Duero and the Yllera Reserva 1998 from Castillo y Leon. With all this Spanish wine I'm getting into the mood for a trip there next month.

Tuesday, November 30: Was meant to have lunch at Jamie Kennedy's with Norman Hardie, the winemaker at Carmela in Prince Edward County. He called to cancel, saying he had lost his footing while pouring the last of the Vidal into the press and smashed his knee, broke some teeth and had to be taken to hospital for emergency dentistry. Winemaking is an extreme sport. I nearly bought an eight-acre parcel of land in the County three years ago, but it was sold from under me when I went to the real estate office at 8:30 am put down a deposit. I think God was telling me not to become a grape grower... Deborah is on at me to do something about the number of bottles which I am meant to taste that are collecting on the kitchen table. So I spent the evening opening wine and making notes until she got back from work. I dropped off a few bottles to neighbours. We polished off the Magnotta Sparkling Vidal Icewine, which is very good. Actually, Magnotta deserves the credit for having been the first to produce this wine; now at least half a dozen wineries are making it. Talking of extreme sport, I think they should have an Icewine treading competition – put the frozen grapes in a lagar, as they do in the Douro, and let the lads go at it.

Wednesday, December 1: It was hard running in the rain this morning at 6:30 to work out. Thank heaven for Gore-tex. A meeting of the advisory board for Santé, the week-long wine festival in May that used to be sponsored by Toronto Life and has been taken over this year by the Bloor-Yorkville Business Association, who were involved with the event at the beginning. One of our jobs as advisors is to select the wines for the gala dinner from all the wines that are featured in the festival. Some fifty-three wineries from around the world are involved in a variety of tastings and seminars, lunches and dinners as well as wine tastings in local stores. Santé is modelled on the annual Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival which, over some twenty-odd years, has developed into the most prestigious international tasting event in Canada. The idea is that the winemakers or winery owners have to pour their wines, not the local agent or export director.

Thursday, December 2: Sent out the invitations to judges for the 10th anniversary Ontario Wine Awards. Judging will be on two consecutive Saturdays, March 26 and April 2. I will need at least a dozen judges.

An interview this morning at 8 am with CBC Halifax for a documentary they are doing on Nova Scotia wine. Tried to get down to the atlas again, but there were too many interruptions – emails, phones ringing and Tanya the cat wanting to sit on my lap. A telephone conference with the Wine Council and various Ministry of Agriculture guys about a video tasting of Icewine for media and trade in Shanghai next Thursday. The industry is concerned about the alarming growth of counterfeit Icewine in the Far East. Lunch at Hannah's Kitchen with Eric Wright, my old Crime Writers' of Canada buddy. We talk about the books we are reading (in my case A Sunburned Country), movies we have seen, other crime writers. Eric is recently back from England, where he goes every year. He enthuses about a travelling opera company performance of La Bohème he and his wife Ann saw in Cheltenham. Am having high speed put in on my computer. At the moment I can't get a connection, but the Bell man says I should be connected by 5 pm. Every time I have tried to get high speed in the past it's ended in disaster with me calling the company in frustration and telling them to take their equipment away.

Friday, December 3: Flying to Quebec this afternoon and there are dozens of details to wrap up before I leave. I need an evil twin. Lunch with Norm Hardie at Jamie Kennedy's. He's the winemaker at Carmela Estate in Prince Edward County and will open his own winery next year. He has brought along two Carmela wines, a Riesling 2003 (with 25% fruit from Niagara) and a first vintage of Cabernet Franc from Carmela's three-year-old vines. Both very encouraging – the Riesling is very Mosel in style, tart grapefruit, green plum and lemon flavours. The Cabernet Franc is in Bourgueil style – sour cherry with a wisp of oak. Norman has made wine in Oregon, South Africa, Burgundy, New Zealand and California. He is bullish on the potential of the County – "the best combination of soils for growing Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy," he says.




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