Upon my return I got an email from Fred Couch, a member of the Ontario Wine Society, and in it he wrote: “Did you do any of the Twenty Valley "Wrapped up in the Valley" passport events? This, by far, has to be the best-valued passport event. We visited 9 wineries today with friends and all did a wonderful job. Great food and wine pairing and an edible treat to take home … (slags another festival here) … We still have 3 more wineries to visit tomorrow to finish off the passport. What a treat.”
I emailed back and forth with Fred for several days and finally said to him: “seems like I should have gone, for sure next year, but would you mind giving me a little write-up of your experience”. I have never known Fred to be as talkative as he is in the article below. Thanks Fred.
On the Road with the Grape Guy’s Understudy ... F.G. Couch
Having participated in many wonderful winery passport events in the Finger Lakes, New York, I have usually been disappointed by similar events put on by the Ontario Wineries. However, this year seems to be much different. The Grape Guy has already reported on the “Taste the Season” and said, (it) “remains one of the highlights of the holiday season and, for my money, one of the best events of the year.” Well, “Wrapped Up in the Valley”, put on by the wineries that belong to the Twenty Valley Association, should be right up there as one of the best.
For a reasonable $20, you purchased a passport (good for the last two weekends in November), which allowed the holder to visit all 12 participating wineries for a food and wine pairing. Also, each passport holder was given a tasty Twenty Valley “collectible edible” to help create a gourmet hostess gift. There were three “non-edible” gifts but more about those later!
I was joined by my wife, Sue, who is a food “groupie” if there is such a thing [editor’s note: Fred has just ably given us a definition for “Foodie”], and two friends from Toronto. Unfortunately, our friends waited too long but were able to get the last remaining passport – only 200 sold for the whole event (both weekends). However, most of the wineries were sympathetic to the one without the passport and let her try the food and wine pairings anyway. To our friends’ amazement, we were able to visit 9 wineries on the first day. They commented, “we have never been to so many wineries in one day”. They’ve never toured with us before! [editor’s note: sounds like a lot but this foursome still proves they are lightweights; Erica and I plowed through 14 on our first day of the Taste the Season event]
We started our tour at Flat Rock Cellars where we were given a gift bag to collect all our “goodies”. Rather than review all twelve wineries, in Grape Guy style [editor’s note: of which he has much], I’ll just report on the “highlights” and the one disappointing wine and food pairing. It’s best to get the worst out of the way first. It was unanimous that the worst food of the weekend was served at Eastdell Estates Winery. We were offered a “Homemade parmesan risotto paired with Cuvee Brut Sparkling Wine”. The risotto was undercooked and the cheese gave the dish a sour taste. The sparkling wine was flat. The only redeeming thing about the visit was the large biscotti as our takeaway gift.
Not being a seafood lover, I deferred the rating of what would have been the best food and wine pairing to our Toronto friends. Vineland Estates Winery served “Pinot Blanc Steamed Bluecoat Mussels, Shaved Fennel and Koorneef Cherry Tomatoes paired with Pinot Blanc”. We were seated at a table for four in the upstairs loft with a live jazz band playing quietly in the background. As I said, this should have been the best food and wine pairing but, unfortunately, a few of the mussels had an “iodine” taste, which was off-putting.
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery went all out and served a tasting plate of pears, prosciutto and a ripe, soft cheese paired with their Ratafia. Our takeaway gift was a large package of cheddar shortbread cookies from the Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Co. and a package of mulling spices to make a holiday batch of mulled cider or wine. For our “chocolate” fix of the day, the winner had to be Cave Spring Cellars. They served three chocolates (white, milk and dark) paired with their Cabernet Franc Select Late Harvest. We all agreed that the dark chocolate was the best match and the white chocolate, (surprisingly) a close second. Our next choice would probably have to go to Harbour Estates Winery for their “Phyllo-wrapped baked brie with HEW Drunken Apple wine jelly paired with Non-Oaked Chardonnay”. This was a tasty treat that made you want a second piece.
The best takeaway “edible gifts” besides the shortbreads from Peninsula Ridge were a piece of Christmas cake from Creekside Estate Winery, walnut cookies from Flat Rock Cellars, fudge from Harbour Estates, pasta (uncooked, of course) from Vineland Estates, popping corn from Mountain Road Wine Company and spiced nuts from Fielding Estates Winery. There were three “non-edible” gifts. At Tawse Winery, we were given a cheese-cutting knife and a discount coupon for the Upper Canada Cheese Company. At Angels Gate Winery they were giving out a clay “Brown Sugar Saver”, courtesy of Le Clos Jordanne Winery, who doesn’t have a winery to visit but wanted to participate in the event. The most expensive “non-edible” gift was from Mountain Road Wine Company. They gave away a boxed set consisting of a stainless steel waiter’s corkscrew and chrome-plated wine stopper.
We came away with two gift bags packed to overflowing with holiday “goodies. This was one of the best passport events we’ve ever attended in Niagara and look forward to seeing how this can be duplicated next year. There was talk about selling 200 passports for each weekend in 2009 but I hope it doesn’t become so busy that it won’t be as enjoyable. Star rating (4 ½ out of 5); value for money (5 out of 5).
Ah Fred, moving really was fun … or so I keep telling myself.