Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Report from ... Niagara Wine Weekend & Auction – June 13-15, 2008

What other event starts with Peller Ice Cuvee Rosé and ends with the Temptations singing “My Girl” to you at 12:45 in the morning? What other event starts with a look at the future and ends with a blast from the past? And is there another event that starts with Canadian savvy and ends with Motown classics? This is the way the Niagara Wine Auction Weekend was played out.

It started on the Friday evening on the back patio of Peller Estates, where the first glass of wine served to you was the Peller Ice Cuvee Rosé bubbly, while you sipped on that and signed in for the weekend, a bible-sized book was presented to you. The book described the events, wines, auction items, food and wineries, etc. that were to make up this weekend event. A VIP tag was also hung around your neck – proving that you belong and can come and go to events as you please. The “VIP” acronym proved to be very apropos, because it was the kind of treatment you were in store for. Tonight, for three hours, you mixed and mingled, ate finger foods, and sipped on the best pink wines Niagara has to offer (there were also some whites and reds on hand for those adverse to strolling around drinking pink, not that there’s anything wrong with that). Afterward, many went off to winemaker’s dinners at a variety of locales throughout the Niagara region … myself, I retired to a couple of bars to sip on some suds and get my fill of some greasy pub fare, namely Friday night Fish ‘n’ Chips, before the wine really began to flow on Saturday and the decadent foods were served.

“You really have no time to sober up,” my buddy said to me as we prepared for the “Garden Party” the next day. He had left his 18-month old daughter and pregnant wife in the care of his mother-in-law for an opportunity to experience this amazing weekend. The Garden Party was held in the Commons (a large open field in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on John Street, where the gala dinner was also held). 30 restaurants joined 30 wineries for guest to sip and taste the best of what Niagara wine and cuisine were all about … and, of course, there was a barrel auction, silent and live auction – all to raise money for the Hospital for Sick Kids (Toronto) and St. Catharines General Hospital (St. Catharines). The heat of the afternoon did not deter anyone from having a good time or being generous with their donations/bids. The garden party ended mid-afternoon, allowing us 3 hours to rest and freshen up before the big night. As an aside, the barrels of note from the barrel auction were: Chateau des Charmes 2007 Equuleus, EastDell 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Jackson-Triggs 2007 Delaine Vineyard Syrah and Thirty Bench 2007 Benchmark Red.

The red carpet was rolled out and cameras clicked and flashed as we entered the Gala Dinner. Tuxes, suits and evening gowns were de rigueur, but then so was a guy in jeans and his very tattooed lady friend – at least he was wearing Lacoste runners to complete the ensemble. The room was aglitter with the beauty of the fairer sex and the twinkle of wine shimmering in the glasses. Ken Shaw from CTV MC’ed, Jann Arden, in her usual flippantly funny and sometimes off-colour off-kilter way, hosted. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jan, I saw her many years ago at the London Convention Centre when she opened for a band called Moxy Fruvous – the next day I went out and bought her first CD and have been a “Jann Fann” ever since – to meet her would have capped the weekend for me, but alas she flew off to Lethbridge to help raise funds to get new uniforms for the workers of the local Tim Horton’s (or so she claimed). Her $100,000 donation to Sick Kids was a touching moment for many; it was followed quickly with typical Jann wit as she promised to borrow “a couple hun from mom and dad” when she got back to Calgary and by the joking-threat of a “$100,000 sexual harassment suit against Ken Shaw” for touching her “inappropriately” on stage. The lady proved to be very quick witted and funny; who else would joke about her new IUD causing feedback in the microphone when chatting up John Peller about the event.

But I have gotten ahead of the festivities to give you the-best-of-Jann, so let’s head back to the party. After the meal, but before dessert, is when the live auction continued, this time with even bigger and better packages than the ones offered in the afternoon. Many included wine and golf with celebrities like Mike Weir, Dan Aykroyd and Wayne Gretzky.

Organizers, Committee and Board members were very pleased with the money raised, “more than last year and we couldn’t be happier,” board member Bruce Walker, of Vincor, told me. Del Rollo, also of Vincor (Committee member), was relieved, “last year there were a lot of last minute phone calls about things we forgot, like potable water, this year I was worried because the phone didn’t ring with those kind of requests. We obviously learned a lot.” And Mark Torrance of the Peller Group and Committee member was also thrilled, “we did better than last year and it’ll get better with every year.” From my perspective there were no missteps, no flaws in execution and the two days ran very smoothly from start to finish. Despite the heat, everyone was able to find their comfort level outside or inside the tented area and the free flowing wine added to the enjoyment.

With the auction over and desert served, Jann said goodnight by introducing the Pointer Sisters who played hits like “jump”, “Neutron Dance”, “So Excited” and a personal favourite “Fire”. Then history took the stage as the Temptation Motowned us the rest of the way home with classics like Just My Imagination, Ball of Confusion, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, and ended their performance with “My Girl” … it was like a night at the Apollo – right here in Niagara … how they’ll top this next year we’ll just have to wait and see, but I have no doubt they will. Wine, food and music – with a big dose of generosity; that pretty much encapsulates the weekend … and one you should annually make room for on your calendar for many years to come. Niagara’s, and for that matter, Ontario’s, wine scene is destined for even greater things to come. This weekend we opened the door to the past with music, but also glimpsed at the future through a glass of wine.

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