On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from - 20 Valley Weekend – Nov. 25, 2006

03 Jan 2007
The weather is getting colder and harvest is pretty much complete for another season. It’s the best time to visit the wineries because they want you to come down and celebrate with them; they also have the time to spend with you. The wines are fermenting, resting, oaking and other usual wine stuff that wine does, so now it’s time to throw a little shindig, and that’s exactly what the 20 Valley Wine Association want you to do … buy a passport ($20), come visit the wineries, and let them show you a good time, during the "Wrapped up in the Valley" weekend. There is a slight problem though, some wineries aren’t used to having a Holiday Open House, and it shows. This being the first year of the program and all, some of the wineries, on this 14 winery program, had no idea what to do with you once you walked through their door. Sure they have some good wines to sample, and they make excellent gifts for the wine-lover on your list (along with other paraphernalia that goes along with it: from glassware to corkscrews, and everything in between). But unlike Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Taste the Season (completing it’s 6th year), which pairs wine with food at all 17 of the participating wineries; the 20 Valley wineries are a little more sporadic in their offerings. Some offer a wonderful spread of foods, while others get you to wander around aimlessly wondering what to do. But I’m willing to cut them some slack for 2 reasons: 1) It’s their first year working together and the bugs still need to be ironed out. Some of the wineries have been doing their own open house around this time of year since they opened their doors, while others were caught flat-footed and just wanted to be part of the program that their association was putting on. Here’s hoping they get the holiday spirit for next year’s offering. 2) The giveaway was so worth it, and so much more practical than their counterparts to the east in NOTL. I’m talking about the stone coasters, with their logos emblazoned on the top, that each winery was giving away – now how cool is that? One wine maker from Niagara-on-the-Lake sounded off some sour-grapes when talking about the 20 Valley, “they’re always trying to copy what we’re doing.” But in this respect the Valley outshone the Lake. Sure the Taste the Season gift is a beautiful handblown glass/crystal tree ornament, but I’ve always wondered what those who have no tree to hang it on do with their ornament – guess it is just one less gift to buy. 20 Valley’s gift was cool, unique to the wineries themselves and above all practical … coasters to use for the season, and year round. A gift for yourself while you shop around for others on your list. So while I give kudos to NOTL for having their act together, after 6 years of pairing wine and food they should … I give a thumbs up to the Valley for their more useful giveaway. Now let’s see how these two events match up 6 years down the road? I hope to see you all in the Valley next year.

Best Spread:

This was a toss up between Harbour Estates and Featherstone … then again it depends on whether you wanted sweet or savoury. Harbour Estates went for the sweet tooth in all of us by offering shortbread cookies, sugar cookies with a dollop of icewine jelly, chocolate chip caramel squares, cashew-chocolate toffee brittle and a fabulous phyllo wrapped brie with Riesling icewine jelly melted in the middle – all homemade by their 23 year old daughter. While across town, Featherstone went the more savoury food and wine pairing route. Now maybe they have a bit of an unfair advantage because a) they hold an open house at this time of year annually and b) owner Louise Engel used to own a gourmet food store in Guelph (see where I am going with this) – and no offense to Louise, but you do have a few more years at it than the 23 year old … not by much. She served Orange-Curry Chicken on a deep fried wonton; Roast-Beef with Dijon-horseradish mayo; Blue Cheese Shortbread topped with a roasted walnut; fruit with mango yogurt dip, marinated olives; and baked brie in puff pastry with walnuts cranberries and pepper berry blast (is your mouth watering yet?) – all concocted and homemade by Louise, and her staff, and paired with a variety of Featherstone wines. Thankfully I skipped lunch, but my problem was I stopped at Harbour Estates first – next year I’ll reverse the order and save some room for dessert.

Runner Up:

Stoney Ridge got into the holiday spirit by pairing up wines with various dips, crackers, breads and fondue from their downstairs in-house cheese shop … quite nice. While Flat Rock served icewine laced hot chocolate – tasty and good for a cold day … but maybe a nibbly would have been in order to pair with it, a shortbread would have been ideal.

Seasonal Smeasonal:

Creekside brought you down into their barrel cellar for a sampling of a wine in progress … a great idea, but not exactly what you’re looking for this time of year at a holiday “open house”. Angels Gate tasted their just released robust Angels III Meritage blend with a piece of dark chocolate … again a good start, but for the season you’d expect more. It’s a good start and definitely something to build on for next year.

Better Luck Next Year:

4 wineries proved very disappointing during their “open house”: Fielding, Birchwood, Lakeview and Mountain Road … all four offered nothing of any substance to visitors walking through the door. Mulled wine and discounts on stemware are not really what the season’s about, is it? Though in fairness to Mountain Road they were getting ready for their 4th Anniversary celebration on the Sunday, I guess you can’t party every day no matter what Kiss says.

Speaking of Next Year:

Now I fully admit I did not get to every winery this year – the four I missed were: EastDell, Legends, Vineland (closed for a private function), and Willow Heights. I’ll be there next year to check you guys out – hopefully you now know what to do.

All-in-all an interesting if uneven event … but once they find their feet this will be another great party weekend in Wine Country. Hold it again next year 20 Valley – because if you build it, they will come.

If you went I would love to hear your comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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