For the last 10 years, the Gladstone has been running a Harvest Wednesdays series that mirrors Ontario’s growing season. Focusing on local food and drink, these harvest dinners provide a delicious chance to learn about our regional production systems, and every year we run this series we learn something new as well. This season we’ve been learning a lot about wine specifically, and we’re excited to be able to pass on that knowledge to you as well.
Our sommelier for Harvest Wednesdays is Danielle Nicholls of the Living Vine. She’s an expert in biodynamic wines and has been making excellent selections not just for the dinner series, but also for our restaurant and catering menus. We asked her a few questions about how consumers can navigate the wonderful world of wine.
What do you think are some barriers to people making wine choices that support local and biodynamic growers? What are you factors that you think inspire people to choose local and biodynamic wines when shopping at the LCBO?
I feel there are two ways to split that question: a) what are the barriers in place for choosing local b) And, what are the barriers in place for choosing biodynamic
a) Unfortunately, Ontario is one of the youngest winemaking regions in the world. With that comes a lack of experience, wisdom and consumer recognition. There are a few people making extraordinary wines; focussing on the right soil types, climates and microclimates for specific varietals; but, there’s also a lot of junk out there. A lot of wineries have been making wines they “think” the general public will like and focusing on trends: big red wines for example that don’t work well in cool climates, instead of focusing on the health of the vines and fruit; and, expressing our unique terroir. It’s also more expensive to make wine here than in many other parts of the world—land, equipment and labour is not cheap. Thus, local wine often ends up being shelved in a premium category, often without the quality.
b) The biggest barriers for choosing biodynamic wine is probably lack of familiarity with the definition and outside marketing and regulations. Biodynamic wine is an interesting category that started with Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s when he introduced a more holistic approach to agriculture through a series of lectures and books. It goes beyond organic farming and focuses on the soil fertility and the relationship between plant growth and the rhythms of the cosmos. Companion planting, crop rotation and composting are key components. However, unless you’re really keen to look into the specs on a particular winery, you won’t be able to tell if the wine is biodynamic or not by looking at the bottle. It requires some research that most people aren’t willing to do in a hurry. The LCBO doesn’t often highlight organic and biodynamic producers, so consumers learn about these wines at their favourite restaurants.
Where in the world is the biodynamic wine movement strongest right now? Is the number of biodynamic growers in Ontario increasing? Are there any vinyards you’re especially excited about in 2018?
Biodynamic agriculture has been rapidly catching on in many regions—particularly in some of the most reputable growing regions in the world like Alsace and Burgundy. The number of Ontario growers converting to biodynamics is still relatively small. Southbrook Winery in Niagara was the first winery in Canada to be certified biodynamic by Demeter in 2008 before most people even knew what the term meant. I’m always excited for the new Southbrook releases, Ann Sperling is an incredible winemaker. Tawse winery also takes a biodynamic and organic approach and has a great reputation for quality (although, you’ll have to pay for it).
Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ontario.
One of the aspects of biodynamic growing is to try and work with celestial cycles. Do celestial charts factor into when wines are best served and enjoyed as well? June 20th Harvest Wednesdays Event is a quarter moon: will this influence your wine pairings for the dinner?
If you’re an avid believer in biodynamics, it might influence when you open that special bottle. According to the calendar, there are 4 different kind of days: Root, Leaf, Flower and Fruit. Root and Leaf are generally not recommended whereas Fruit and Flower are the best days to drink wine. Apparently Flower days are particularly good for enjoying aromatic wines such as Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.
There’s a simple way to test this theory: an app called “When Wine.” Download it to your phone and try the same wine on different days — you’ll be able to track if there’s any difference in perception. I will be bringing all biodynamic wines and it will be a flower day, but these wines taste incredible on any old root day, too.
June’s Harvest Wednesday event is a Fried Chicken Picnic themed. What’s a local wine you’d recommend West-Enders take to Trinity Bellwoods for their summer picnics?
Southbrook Triomphe Riesling is one of my top picks to pair with a bag of Lays original. It has that high acidity and a small amount of residual sugar to create the perfect salty-sweet, palate cleansing combo. Don’t be afraid of sweet wine, when balanced with the right acidity they can be the perfect picnic partner. I also love Leaning Post wines (and, it’s only a short 45-minute drive away) for incredible Gamay and Chardonnays. If you can ever get your hands on their Field Day Pet Nat – buy the whole lot.
The Living Vine will be doing one of the biodynamic cider pairings at our upcoming Harvest Dinner. Make sure not to miss the Pride Fried Chicken Picnic with Sarah Keenyside and Brandon Olsen on June 20th! Click here for details and tickets