Taste the Place: The Terroir Symposium & the Terroirnomics of Local


Terroir – muses Jay McInerney in his book, Bacchus and Me – is essentially the Burgundian inspired word for ‘dirt’ and dirt, he argues, is really just a proxy for ‘location, location, location’.

Whether it’s the wine we drink or the food we grow – location and dirt are indeed at the root of all things terroir. In the world of wine, however, terroir digs deeper. The conversation generally includes the slope of the hill, the geology of the soil, the influence of the lake, the salty brine of the ocean, the indigenous yeast in the air, the history of previous plantings, the elevation of a hill, the orientation of a row, the hours of sunlight in a day, the length of the growing season, heat units, wind direction and more.

Simple, eh?

Simply put, Terroir is the sum of its parts and in a perfect world, it allows us to ‘taste the place’.

Terroir – the symposium – is a conversation about dirt, location and all things local. Celebrating its 12th year, the 2018 “Terroirnomics” Symposium was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto on April 23rd, and explored the powerful economics of supporting local growers and producers.

There were field trips, geology lessons, growers, farmers, Michelin starred chefs, cool keynotes, foodie apps, a celebration of international cuisine, wine, local wine, women in wine, and more. What’s best, we seriously got to taste our place!

Norfolk County growers and chefs
Terroir Rural Retreat in Norfolk County: The growers and chefs who make Ontario terroir worth celebrating!!  Photo Credit: Jo Dickins/Terroir Symposium

Some Terroirnomics FOOD highlights:

Feast On Certification – Be the change!

Have you seen the phrase “Feast On” on menus in Ontario restaurants and wineries?

Know what it means?

Photo Credit: Culinary Tourism Alliance.   Ontarioculinary.com

The Culinary Tourism Alliance in Ontario, who put on this year’s Terroirnomics Symposium, is responsible for the Feast On certification program in the food service industry. These folks are Ontario’s true champions of terroir, which also makes them true champions of local. The Feast On program recognizes and supports businesses that source Ontario grown-and-made, food and drink.

If you see the Feast On icon on a menu, it means the business has chosen to support our local economy. This may sound easy enough to implement, but it’s not. To qualify, restaurant owners and chefs need to do a deep dive into all the providers and suppliers contributing to their menu offerings, and going forward, must keep all food and drink procurement local. Feast On restaurants must also agree to have their books regularly audited, which means having a reliable accounting of all food-chain transactions and receipts.

Ontario peaches
Photo Credit: Foodland Ontario

The Culinary Tourism Alliance helps restaurants put these systems and procedures in place and connects the food industry with local providers. The criteria for honest, local certification requires passion, a significant commitment to local farmers and suppliers, and a business understanding that while this takes time up front, it also pays real dividends going forward. But there’s no question; investing in our local food communities and ‘being the change’ is increasingly important to consumers . Research by the Conference Board of Canada indicates 42.5% of consumers rated locally produced food as extremely or very important. They also genuinely care about their environmental footprint, want truth in marketing (not green-washed, false ‘local’ claims) and are keen to support local economies.

food powers social change
Photo Credit: Jo Dickins/Terroir Symposium

In our drive from Toronto to Niagara wine country – Culinary Tourism Alliance President, Rebecca Mackenzie talked about the incredible success Ireland has had with their ‘pride for producers’ ambassador program and the economic development platform it’s providing for food tourism. Food on the Edge and now Ontario’s Feast On are quickly becoming the international templates for authentic ‘taste and place’ local marketing.

FYI, there are currently 145 certified “Feast On” restaurants in Ontario and another 200 who have applied and are undergoing the audit process.

Sylvain Charlebois - twitter
Photo Credit: Dr. Sylvain Charlebois (Twitter). “Invest in your local food system!”

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois – Putting $ where your mouth is

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois (@scharleb) – aka ‘The Food Professor’ – provided one of the four keynotes at the Terroirnomics Symposium. As someone who has spent his academic life researching our food systems, the Dean of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University in Halifax provided a blunt reality check, suggesting too many Canadians are ‘farm illiterate’ and quite out of touch with the food distribution systems that move food from farm to table.

That said, he noted a significant and growing segment of the population is heavily invested in local and encouraged restaurants and the food service industry take action around consumers’ growing ‘local’ mindfulness.“The terroir movement is all about the emotions associated with moving our supply chains to our plates,” he said. “The meaning and story of local food is quickly becoming more important than taste, price or nutrition.”  He reminded the audience of the importance of thinking about the fragility of sustainable food systems. “The stewardship of the planet is fundamental to the terroir movement,” he said.

plastic business insider
Be the change, people!!!  More plastic than fish by 2050.    Photo Credit: Business Insider

A final sobering reminder of our environmental footprint? The World Economic Forum’s report that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

TIME FOR LUNCH!!!  – World Food Court – Curated by Suresh Doss

more lunch
Lebanese. A delicious (!!!) chicken shawarma with all the fixings. Ali Dbouk – Ghadir Meat & Restaurant, Scarborough, Ontario

@Suresh is the hottest ticket on the Toronto food scene. I make sure I’m close to a radio on Thursday mornings so I can hear his restaurant/food truck/food court recommendations with CBC Radio host Matt Galloway. Every week he describes a menu of fabulous international dishes from off-the-beaten-path, mom and pop eateries.

Suresh coordinated the 25 international food stands and 100km ‘eat local’ World Food Court Terroir lunch, reminding us that terroir brings great food communities together.

Lunch stop - Rickshaw Bar
Hungry yet? Malaysian Chicken Curry (yuuuuum) from Rickshaw Bar
yet more
More deliciousness:  Chili chicken on rice. Jeanette & Joanna Liu, Yueh Tung Restaurant, Toronto

The DRINK Highlights:

Ball’s Falls – Terrior is the real deal in the Niagara Penninsula

The Terroir team took international guests and media to Ball’s Falls, Niagara’s ground zero for dirt and cool climate wine.

To help with geography, Ball’s Falls is located along Niagara’s western wine route (road 81) in the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula.

Let me just say, if you live in Toronto and drink local VQA wine – and who doesn’t LOVE Ontario’s fresh, zesty, vibrant wines – get thee to this spot! The concept of terroir and specifically Niagara Escarpment terroir, becomes incredibly clear when you have a cross-section of 500 million years worth of geology exposed, and in front of you.

balls falls Weather Network
Ball’s Falls Limestone.  The geology behind Niagara Penninsula terroir and the wine’s “minerality”. Photo Credit: The Weather Network

Layers and layers of glacial history underpin the vineyards in this part of Niagara. Ball’s Falls, a microcosm of the infinitely more robust Niagara Falls, lays bare the sedimentary and limestone bedrock bluff that runs 50km east-west through the length of the Peninsula. This view of the escarpment’s soil ‘architecture’ provides a valuable perspective on the ‘minerality’ descriptor we hear referenced in wine tastings all the time. Importantly, this limestone rich soil – similar to the ‘dirt’ found in Burgundy and Champagne – is known to provide special concentrated nutrients and a special lift and elegance in wine.

Redstone Winery –  Cool climate wines paired with magnificent Feast On seasonal menu

Feast On at Redstone.jpg
Feast On local menu at Redstone Winery + fabulous wine pairing from Redstone, Tawse, Leaning Post and Malivoire Wineries in the western Niagara bench-lands.

As part of the Terroir celebrations, we were invited to meet local winemakers Paul Pender of Tawse Winery (organic and biodynamic) Rene Van Ede of Redstone Winery ((organic and biodynamic) and Ilya Senchuk from Leaning Post Wine. All of these winemakers are from the cooler, lake-influenced, higher elevation, western end of the Niagara Peninsula’s bench-lands, with soils and sub soils providing a wonderful, complex tapestry of limestone, red silty clay, fine sandy loam and more.

Redstone menuThe wines are all a fabulous example of cool climate winemaking and letting each individual vineyard do the talking. These wines are all delightfully crisp, fresh and beautifully ripe, expressing the finesse and elegance so unique to cool climate wine-making.

Chef David Sider at Redstone Winery Restaurant – a Feast On restaurant – paired the wines with fabulous seasonal and local cuisine profiling Redstone Winery’s honest, fresh commitment to the region and serving up the best Niagara has to offer.

Master Class: Women in Wine

This was my third wine workshop focusing on women in wine. I must say I’m of two minds: I appreciate hearing the perspectives of all of these trail-blazing women and I’m so grateful for their frontier spirit. But I look forward to the day when women-in-wine and indeed gender, is a non-issue and we can – respectfully – just get on with it.

Which, interestingly, according to these women in wine, appears to be the case here in Canada.

Women in Wine
Women in Wine: from left to right – Magdalena Kaiser – Host, Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, Shauna White – Adamo Estate Winery, Christine Coletta – Okanagan Crush Pad, Amelie Boury – Chateau des Charmes, Katie Dickinson – Peller Estates, Janet Dorozynski – Trade Commissioner, Global Affairs Canada (led Q&A)

Panelists for this discussion included Katie Dickinson – Winemaker at Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake; Christine Coletta – owner of the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, British Columbia; Shauna White – Vineyard and Winery Manager, Adamo Estate Winery in Orangeville, Ontario; Amelie Boury – Winemaker and Director of Oenology – Chateau des Charmes (note: no information on Shauna White or Amelie Boury on the winery websites). The winemakers talked about the wines they brought with them to the tasting and were asked to describe a) a fun wine that they enjoyed making, b) a wine they found challenging, and c) whether they thought being a woman at a winery brought special challenges.

The over-whelming takeaway is all of these women are empowered, confident, accomplished winemakers who – for the most part – don’t see gender as an impediment or issue in their current Canadian work environments. Each woman on the panel said the businesses and men they work for/with, are supportive, as evidenced by their leadership roles at each of their wineries (only Christine owns her business).

master classAll of the winemakers on the panel have worked at wineries around the world. Canadian work environments – they say – are mostly progressive and inclusive. French wineries, on the other hand, are a “work in progress”, says Amelie Boury of Chateau des Charmes. Old world winemakers can harbour old world attitudes, she says.

The key differences between these women seem to lie with the attitudes, experiences and roles each has carved out. Kelowna native, Shauna White has worked harvests in Central Otago, Hunter Valley, Willamette Valley, Chablis and Oliver, BC. She acknowledged the mentoring influence of her pioneering aunt, Ann Sperling. Christine Coletta from Crush Pad, has been in the winery business for many years. “My job is to make everyone happy. To make them feel they’re part of my family,” she says. Her instinct, she admits, is to take care of people and encourage them to take risks, like allowing her winemaker to experiment with a natural wine. Katie Dickinson of Peller, a mom with two young children who is recently back from maternity leave, says her key challenge is the work/life balance ‘thing’. Which means, says Katie, if she has to get up in the middle of the night to drive to the winery to check on the fermentations, that’s the job. Her husband can cover.

Cheers also to winemakers Maggie Grange of Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery, Sue-Ann Staff of Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery and Emma Garner of Thirty Bench Wine Makers who also brought wines to the tasting.

Masterclass: Cab Franc Rises in Ontario

Cab Franc Rises
Blind tasting Cab Franc

Nothing like blind tasting 12 Cab Francs to help you …me, appreciate terroir-drive wines. Yes, of course winemaking style and vintage variation come into play, but on the whole, the exercise showed a tremendous range of Cab Franc flavours and the lovely, vibrant quality of local, Ontario wine.

Cabernet Franc is a real star in cool climate regions, and it’s one of the fastest growing wines here in Ontario and beyond. Historically, Cab Franc played second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot in the Bordeaux blend. It was always the grape that toughed out the season in the vineyard, playing a strong supporting role or even a starring role if the Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t ripen. According to New York Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier and Vinous writer Bryce Wiatrak, the profile of Cab Franc seems to be changing as the world wakes up to the charm of the grape as a single varietal wine.

Cab Franc Panel
Cab Franc Panel: left to right – Winemakers: Adam Pearce – Two Sisters Winery, Paul Pender – Tawse Winery, J-L Groux – Stratus Vineyards.     Pascaline Lepeltier MS, Bryce Wiatrak – Vinous, Rod Phillips – author, Magdalena Kaiser – Host, Wine Marketing Assoc of Ontario

This Master class blended a mix of international and local wine writers, winemakers and a Master Sommelier. Ten Cab Francs were served – blind – including a 2007 Cab Franc that even the winemaker couldn’t identify.

The mix of Cab Francs included two from the Loire Valley, one Chilean wine, and nine Cab Franc from Ontario. The Loire Valley wines – a Chinon and a Bourgeil – were easily identified as old world: more funk (yum), medium to medium minus acidity, earthy and ripe, savoury herbal notes.

The Ontario Cab Franc with age, lost the zippy, fresh herbaceous notes and took on black tea, tobacco flavours.

Ontario Cab Francs (2013 – 2015), in most cases, offered a spectrum of bright, mouth-watering acidity with a sliding scale of vegetative, sweet pyrazine (a chemical compound), green bell pepper notes. With the heat of the 2015 vintage, riper red fruit dominated with more concentration, mocha notes and subtle herbal flavours.

One audience member suggested his “wine snob” friends don’t like Ontario Cab Franc because they’re too vegetal. Rod Phillips, an Ottawa based writer on the panel who is penning a book on Cab Franc from around the world – argued herbal is the defining characteristic – the typicity – of the grape. Other panellists were less charitable suggesting his friends need to self educate on Cab Franc.

What makes Cab Franc one of my favourites are the distinct, garden fresh aromatics that take me back to picking peppers and shelling peas in my grandmother’s garden in sunny Manitoba.

cab franc blind tasting
Behind the curtain….. thanks to Somm Factory for all the pouring!

My top 3:

  1. Kakaba Reserve (2015) – herbal nose dominates; bright, fresh, red raspberry fruit, light bodied, great structure, smooth, ripe tannins. A very elegant wine.
  2. Two Sisters (2014) – bright, ripe, concentrated, subtle herbal character on the nose and palate, mocha flavours, red and black fruit, beautifully balanced.
  3. Catherine & Pierre Breton (2016) – Bourgueil – organic, biodynamic, nose of tobacco, barnyard, forest compost. Palate: lively acidity, medium bodied, savoury, raspberry and sour cherry fruit, smoke, tobacco, tar.


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