May 7th, 2015
Out of the blue, Cindy Perri (the Brand Guardian at the Charcoal Group) assigned me to make a trip to Cave Spring Cellars and cover phase 2 of the collaborative wines Charcoal Red and Wildcraft White that will be crafted for this year.
At first, I was thrilled to take on this wine venture.
However, as I began to do some research on all matters wine related, I realized I had no idea of what wine is at its core or how it is produced. The whole process would be a brand new experience for me and I was excited to be given the opportunity to learn more about it.
I met up with five Sommeliers from Wildcraft, Charcoal Steakhouse, Dels, Martinis, and The Bauer Kitchen. Then we all hopped in a truck driven by Rob Miller, Sommelier and Account Manager for Cave Spring Cellars, and we made our way to the Niagara region to get a taste of what Cave Spring had to offer (both literally and figuratively).
Though the entire trip was incredibly educational, I was not prepared to learn as much as I did from the very first interaction at the vineyard. Gabe Demarco, our tour guide and Winemaker for Cave Spring Cellars, spent a generous amount of time with us in the vineyard describing what makes it one of Ontario’s best. The location itself plays a large role in this; the lake effect and the proximity to the escarpment creates cooler summers and warmer winters. We learned about how the distinct soil, many years of experimental growing, and learning from one leaf life to another, all played a critical role in the crafting of their refined and characteristic cool-climate wines.
Next, we got back into our truck and drove through rows upon rows of growing vines, all just beginning to produce fruit for this year. We took a sharp right, drove for a bit, and ended up in Jordan; a quaint village in the Niagara region and the site of where Cave Spring Cellars was founded back in 1986.
We received a quick tour of the facility and then were brought into the cellar where they had a tasting table set up. Four pristine wine glasses per seat, I couldn’t help but think to myself—in a very cheesy Italian accent— “This is where the magic happens!”
What I find interesting about starting in my new role at Charcoal Group is how young I feel. People always talk about how old they feel, but when you’re in a room with extremely articulate and passionate people in the wine and food industry, you can’t help but feel a little inadequate.
Despite feeling this way, it actually turned into a positive.
As I was sitting quietly, sniffing the wine and attempting to decipher the three separate red wine blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet franc’ Jason Ernst from Wildcraft asked my opinion on the glasses that Gabe had skillfully poured us.
I stared at him blankly. My anxiety was running high because I didn’t want to seem foolish and ignorant—I completely blanked. I replied with a vague “I like this one.” pointing to the one in the middle.
To my surprise, Adam Hall, General Manager at the Charcoal Triplex, reassured me that my opinion mattered. I represented the larger group of guests coming to our restaurants. Like some of the guests, I didn’t know what separated one wine from the other. I just knew what I liked to drink and this opinion mattered. I was very inspired by the warm reception from all the Sommeliers. They all agreed with Adam and supported Jason’s idea to ask the quiet first time wine drinker his thoughts.
Jake Richards, from The Bauer Kitchen, then spoke up and said that it’s important for them as ambassadors selecting the flavours for phase 2 of the Red and White Collaboration to be mindful of this. He noted that the most important goal was to create a blend that was so incredibly balanced and flavourful that it would be enjoyed by any level of wine drinker. Inexperienced drinkers will drink it and love it, while the experienced will drink it and respect it.
This process continued through the white as well. The blending of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chardonnay Musqué was simply amazing. Every combination I sipped took me to the patio at Wildcraft, the sun beating down on me. Again, my opinion was asked and I gave it, trying hard to use the diction I picked up from the other Sommeliers. This one is more perfuming in flavour, while this one feels dry and has a long robust aftertaste.
(Not sure if I used these words correctly, but they at least all played along.)
It was also in this section that I experienced what I am calling ‘The Trifecta of Tasting’; the first sip, mid sip, and after sip.
If you pay attention to the way it goes into your mouth, throughout, and until consumed, I dare you to think of it as a process. Allow your mouth to experience everything that is happening, this is where the true magic happens: the careful process of our Sommeliers balancing the three wines to create this experiential process when tasting The Charcoal Wines.
After selecting two white and three reds to go on to the blind tasting round we all were welcomed upstairs for a fabulous lunch in their Inn On The Twenty; it’s actually attached to the cellars. Tom Pennachettis, Director of Sales and Marketing of Cave Spring, joined us for the tasting of even more wines and sampling their elegant cuisine at the restaurant.
Question: how do you know if seven Charcoal Group Ambassadors, one Winemaker, one Sommelier for Cave Spring, and one Director of Sales and Marketing enjoyed their meal?
Well, their table looks like this:
On behalf of everyone there that day, thank you so much for your hospitality and the incredible lunch!
Like everything the Charcoal Group does, they grow from outcomes. Outcomes of guest satisfaction, outcomes of taste, and outcomes of unique collaborations. Adapting from these outcomes and finding that balance to achieve the company’s vision, while working in tandem with unique partners to create individual products, is what’s at the core of this process. Like the vines growing at Cave Spring Cellars, my hope is to see this collaboration blossom, ferment, and mature into something fantastic year after year.
While I did not come out of this trip an expert of wine tasting, I was introduced to the whole wonderful world of Cave Spring Cellars and how the Charcoal Group takes great pride in developing the very best wines for our guests to enjoy.
Both truly inspiring— both truly rewarding.
More to come for when the next batch is set to be available in-restaurant! We are currently pouring our 2013 Wildcraft White and 2012 Charcoal Red in all locations. We dare you to try it and lets us know what you think!
Written by: Evin Lachance, New Media Culturalist at Charcoal Group of Restaurants
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