Monday, September 20, 2010

Ravine Vineyard; Organic Grapes and Biodynamic Wines

The first vineyard my friend took me to was Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery it is owned by the Harber family. Their youngest son Alex who went to school for winery and viticulture studies runs the retail section and their other son Paul Harber is a chef in the adjacent Deli restaurant along with Collin Goodine. Ravine and celebrity chef Ana Olson (host on food network Canada) have created a partnership. She opened her second location of Olson foods on the Vineyard.

Ravine vineyard officially opened their retail store November 08, 2008. Their very first sale receipt stands framed behind the counter. It was a Cabernet Franc, their first vintage totalling $408. Paul Harber made the first sale. A while later they received a package in the mail from the person who bought it, it was the receipt framed.

As I brought my first wine tasting glass to my lips to taste I remembered there is a proper way to do this and I had a feeling I was going to make a fool out of myself. I decided to follow my friend’s lead. I just watched and listened as he swirled his cup numerous times, smelled the wine and then sipped it, He then sieved it through his teeth. I tried to copy him and appear to look like I knew what I was doing. He had some fantastic questions about the soil and the grapes.

Ravine’s grapes are 100% certified organic and next year they aim to have a biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic farming is as Alex explained to me a mix of science and Wicca, you harvest with the lunar calendar cycle. Also with Bio dynamic farming you are not using chemicals but replacing them with manure, compost more vineyards are raising livestock to contribute. You can now hear cows mooing amongst the vineyards. The organic spray they use on the fields smells like balsamic vinegar Alex commented it’s like the vineyard is being dressed.

I found this quote on the internet describing what Biodynamic is which I find strange. “Mike Benziger: Biodynamic is the most advanced form of organic farming. It works with cycles of nature to grow grapes and make wine, and uses plants and animals to take the place of chemicals and fertilizers. We look to nature for answers, not to men” How is it that going back to our roots and how people used to farm is an advanced form of farming? It all may seem a little too Avatar but all the ancient cultures grew and harvested with the lunar calendar and they had a closer spiritual relationship with the earth.

We tasted some reds, including their 2008 vintage Red Coat with pairs nicely with Pizza and BBQ which you can order at their restaurant. We also tried their 2007 Reserve Merlot. You can tell if a red wine is old when it has a browner colour as opposed to looking purple. The tannin in the grapes allows the vine to age.
Ravine will release their first Rose soon which will be a 2009 and their first ice wine which the region is famous for is yet to be release and is also a 2009. The ice wines are a longer process; the fermentation is slower and takes about a month.

We then moved onto the whites and I think it was at this point when Alex was wondering why he was giving free wine to an unprofessional knob like myself when I admitted the Riesling got a “really good” on my smiley face scale. The 2009 fruity vintage Gewürztraminer or as Alex described like a tropical fruit salad also faired very well on the smiley face scale with a “sooo good” rating. With this season having been quite a warm summer their 2009 Chardonnay Musque which is only sold in the half sized bottles sold very well. It has an 8.8% spritzer added to it.

I felt better about myself when a middle aged lady came in for some tastings; she really liked the pottery spittoon and spilt the contents everywhere when she went to investigate it. We all tried to explain to her what is was but she couldn’t grasp the concept. “Why would you spit out the wine?” she asked. I understood the concept but preferred to drink my wine down as well.

Wine Tasting; 3 tastings for $5 but the fee is wavied with any purchase.
Ravine Vineyard
1366 York Road
St. Davids

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Children of the Grape; Niagara-on-the-Lake

At about 10:55pm on a Monday night after returning from my boat it was decided that I would leave the next day for Niagara-on-the Lake or how the locals refer to it, Notl. I had always wanted to go to the picturesque wine region of Ontario famous for its ice wine but had been too busy exploring other parts of the world. I realized how unprepared I was when my friend who is from the area told me he had lined up wine tastings and dinner at a winery. He had forewarned the people at the wineries that I am a writer and will have questions to ask. Questions? Between returning from my boat and leaving for Niagara I barely had enough time to throw clean underwear into my backpack let alone find questions I wanted to ask the wineries. They are going to see right through the complete unprofessional fraud that I am! Really, am I at the point to call myself a writer? I write a blog. I don’t know anything about wine other than the fact that I love to drink it. I barely even know the names of the various reds and whites. Thankfully my friend had worked in the industry and lived there his whole life. He is a 23 year wine connoisseur. I had always been highly impressed by his wine knowledge but he always just brushed it off saying he was from Niagara-on-the-Lake. I didn’t quite understand what he mean't until I spend a few days there.
I got introduced to the Children of the Grape. From one vineyard to another I met guys and girls my age and younger who knew way more about wines and vineyards than anyone else I know. It was like a different world. This was the culture they grew up on. It’s normal for youth in their early twenties to gather at a fancy wine bar on a Tuesday night and split bottles of the best the area has to offer. They know from which vineyard, which year and which wine will be the best. I even joined in on a game of bocce ball while the sun set behind a friend’s family vineyard. Had I mistakenly drove over the Burlington Skyway into Italy?

I guess I can’t really say Italy because I learned from my new friends and guides that the area and the vineyards are owned by numerous different nationalities and they all make their wine differently. This is what makes Niagara so unique. You can’t say you don’t like Niagara wine because each wine and each winery is very distinctive. There is no consistency with the wine making it is so varied from one side of the Escarpment to the other is different wine.

We arrived in the beautiful town surrounded by Lake Erie, the Welland canal and the Niagara River a bit late so lunch at a winery was scraped for lunch with my friend’s mom. Just as good in my opinion I thoroughly enjoy her company. We snacked on items she had handpicked from the markets nearby. Various kinds of cheese, garlic stuffed olives, crackers, tomatoes, chilli peanuts. The whole table was full of little plates.

My friend had arranged the meetings with the wineries for us the first being Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery and the second Coyotes Run Estate Winery. We were going to fit in more but decided to meet up with his friends instead. Although I was unprepared I got inspired by listening to them discuss the wine. It was so amusing to me. I quickly jotted down quotes as they commented on the different years and the various wine makers. “There was a lot of bad wine in 2008 to get a good wine that year separated the men from the boys,” was one quote that made my hand race. The next two blog postings will be about the two wineries we visited and what makes them unique. It has been a few weeks since I visited Niagara-on-the-lake and in the meantime since I has been busy to finsih these pieces the Toronto Star actually picked one of my wineries to do a piece on as well as they are now having their wine and grape festival in Niagara. So I guess my friend was onto something when he decided on that winery if a Toronto paper agrees.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Gringa Trail's Favourites of the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is one of Canada’s UNESCO world heritage sites. It was built for military defensive purposes after the war of 1812 with The United States of America. The British needed a back door to the Capital at the time, Kingston to protect their colony. Col John By an engineer was assigned the huge task. Every time my boat goes up or down the Rideau Canal I see a video about Col. John By and tour museums along the way recognizing his ingenious feat of engineering but back in his time he died a disappointed man, with no recognition and with a query into his overspending.

Today thousands of boaters, drivers, walkers and bikers enjoy the canal and the small towns along the beautiful waterway. My boat travels along two Canal systems but it was the Rideau I fell in love with.

Not too long ago we had two guests for dinner on the boat Anne Marie Forcier the director of the tourism association of the Rideau Heritage Route and a gentleman who is a reporter for the Kingston newspaper (The Kingston Whigstandard). My captain mentioned to them I wanted to get into writing so we had a chat about writing and the Rideau Heritage Route. Anne Marie left me with her business card and a smile on my face, another connection made.

As I looked through the tourism association website it inspired me to write a posting for my blog. It seems the marketing is all directed towards...well I guess you could say passengers on my boat, seniors in other words. They do tend to have more money than the 20-35 age group and the quaint villages along the route are full of Granny approved shops but there is more to the waterway than nick-knacks and shops with funny hats. So I thought I would take it upon myself to give a list of The Gringa Trail’s favourites of the Rideau Canal.

Favourite Shops

Doree’s Habit – favourite accessory shop
212 St. Lawrence Street Merrickville, Ontario
Doree’s Habit facebook group for more info;

Doree’s Habit supports local independent fashion designers in the region and brings originality and funk to the small village of Merrickville with fun and funky accessories. You can find one of a kind outfits, spaghetti scarves, bright and colourful jewellery, Kariza skirts, handbags, tights and my personal favourite accessory; hats! There is a whole wall with different styles of hats for every mood and outfit. The shop is beautifully laid out and housed in an old historic building near the canal. As soon as my boat docks I make a bee line for Doree’s habit to see what fun and unique items have arrived.

Life Is Good “Jake by the Lake”
12 Bedford Street
Westport, ON, K7P 2Y7

One of my co-workers introduced me to this clothing line and the optimistic person I am I immediately loved it. You can find Life is Good clothing, mugs and other accessories in various cottage themed stores throughout cottage country in Canada and the USA but in Westport, Ontario there is an entire Life is good store. I did a bit of research online about the company and found two brothers founded the company knowing nothing about the business. They struggled for a long time driving across the east coast and going to colleges. Eventually a cartoon character they created (Jake) with optimistic sayings turned everything around. It represents everything they believe in; simplicity, humor, humility and optimism. They have taken their optimism to a new level with the Life is good kid's foundation. They also have fundraiser products where 100% of the proceeds go to the kid’s foundation or other organizations. In the fundraiser products part of the website you can find Jake on a T-shirt holding a Haiti flag with the saying "optimism has no borders". While on the Rideau I love going into this shop with the most amount of Jake products anywhere. It always seems to put a smile on my face no matter what mood I am in. I purchased a sticker of Jake playing a guitar and a guitar pick that says "life is good", perhaps this will encourage me to learn how to play.

Pink Ginger Modern Organic Body Care
Saint Lawrence Street
Merrickville, ON K0G 1N0‎

Organic everything is the latest trend with consumers being more health and eco conscientious. Pink Ginger is an all organic body care shop selling various lines which are biodegradable; meet strict environmental standards; are not tested on animals; and contain no harmful chemical ingredients and toxic synthetics. My favourite fun products in the shop are the Mini Travel Set with Signature Print Bag - Tangerine Melon by Deep Steep and I could not resist the organic hippy inspired perfumes by Rich Hippy with fun names such as Bohemian Wedding, Summer of Love and Shambala. These perfumes are great for people who are sensitive to chemical based perfumes. You can enjoy these smells without headaches or irritations. There are plenty of other fantastic brands in this shop to suit your every facial and body care need. The shop in Merricville even hosts different events such as ladies nights.

Best spot for a Pint

Harry McLean's Pub
111 Saint Lawrence Street, Merrickville, Ontario K0G 1N0‎

This one was a bit of a tossup as there are many great pubs along the waterway. Many that I have seen from my boat but I am unable to jump off swim to and grab a pint. People under estimate cottage country for a great place to have a drink. Why sit in a stuffy bar where everyone is dress trying to impress people they don’t even know. I was just complaining last night that there is nowhere to drink that has comfy couches with pillows, little tables, live acoustic music and where it doesn’t feel awkward to share a couch or table with a stranger. Or even a place where you can enjoy sipping a drink on a dock or a deck with friends but getting out of the confines of your home. There is something to be said about an old school pub like Harry McLean’s. It doesn’t have the comfy couches and pillows I was whining about but it does have that everybody knows your name Cheers feel. I went with a co-worker when some locals were having an open mike night. They invited us to join and it felt nice and homey. An English pub on a Canadian waterway the best of both world's; that old style pub feeling with real ales and friendly people but it stays open past 11:00pm!

Favourite Swimming spot

Jones Falls

Jones falls is located 54.2 KM from Kingston, Ontario and can be reached by boat or by car. It’s a historic location with 4 locks; three in succession and one further up. It was once home to Peter Sweeney a lock master from 1838 to 1871 who kept a journal for 40 years detailing the passing on the waterway and the daily life of his family which plays out like a soap opera with a drunk wife, an adulterous daughter and a vengeful son who joins the U.S military. You can check out the Sweeney house museum, a black smith shop and at the bottom is the beautiful historic hotel Kenny. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the woods surrounding but by far this is the best spot on the Rideau for swimming and picnics.

Favourite Book Shop

Stillwater Books and Treasures
17 Church St, Westport, ON K0G 1X0

There is something about unique and quirky books shops that I love; the smell of old books or discovering a new book by an unknown author in a fresh beautifully printed cover ready to be broken in, or maybe it’s the images of the awkward William Thacker’s book shop in the movie Notting Hill. With a lack of patience I am not a fan of scouring the shelves of a second hand book shop in alphabetical order to find a book I may like that is why Still water is great, displaying new books, favourites and sectioned off in categories. I recently left the shop with a great find the book form of one of my favourite movies, Chocolat. Upon purchasing it I saw a CD box set of Billie Holiday, this shop has taste, I almost left with that as well. Stillwater is not only books though they also sell antiques and collectables. Points are also awarded to this book shop for the quote on their website; “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Best Candy Shop

Downtowne Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe

With old pubs and unique shops the only thing Merrickville is missing is an old fashion barber shop with a barber shop quartet singing out front. Merrickville even has an Ice cream and candy Shoppe to bring back a little bit of nostalgia. Candies I haven’t seen since I was little are sold in this shop. I remember visiting my grandparents when my grandpa would send my brother and me down to the corner store to buy him a newspaper and told us to get ourselves a little treat as well. We were excited thinking of the taffy, ring pops or the fun dips we would spend his money on. Our excitement was squashed when all he gave us was 25 cents. Our mother had to sneak us a few dollars on the sly. This little candy shop has all those candies we dreamed about and even the candies my grandfather could buy for 25 cents in his time. They have a fantastic assortment of ice cream and I was happy to see sugar free candies to surprise my mother.

Best Place on the Rideau in the Winter

As Michael Buble said in a recent concert, "Ottawa is like a hot chick that doesn't need makeup; it still looks beautiful in the winter." You can enjoy ice skating the Rideau Canal which when frozen in the winter is the world's longest skating rink. Huts that rent skates are set up along the waterway as well as booths selling beaver tails, a Canadian treat similar to a crepe or funnel cake but in the shape of a beaver tail with any topping you desire.

The Rideau Canal for the Sports enthusiast

All along the waterway from the beginning to the end is an outdoor gym. There are many biking, hiking trails and places to kayak and canoe. Ottawa has numerous bike paths throughout the city and the best are along the Rideau with sights such as Hogs back falls and the 8 locks past the parliament buildings. Not on the Rideau but close by are the 1000 islands a beautiful eco and adventure tourism destination great for kayaking and canoeing. There are many campsites along the way so you don’t need to be in a boat or have a cottage nearby to enjoy the Rideau and its surrounding lakes and waterways. For more information on the Rideau canal check out this website;
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