Our day in Niagara began with a mid-afternoon trip to Lailey Vineyard to try a couple of 2008 whites (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc - not yet released), 2007 Chardonnay (set for bottling in July) and a peak at a couple of Pinot Noirs (2007 – awesome – & 2008 – coming along nicely). In the late afternoon we found ourselves at Cattail Creek, where we sampled the 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, Serendipity Rosé, Gewurztraminer and got a sneak peak at the soon to be released Select Late Harvest Meritage (a real winner in my books).
But the piece-de-resistance (as they say), and our reason for being in Niagara in the first place, the opening of the 9th Annual Twilight in the Vineyard concert series at Jackson-Triggs, starring Chantal Kreviazuk. Now, for those who have read my previous Jackson-Triggs Twilight write ups, you’ll know that I seem to be a jinx for the caterers’ performance. One year the caterer ran out of food, the following year the caterer was late; this year I decided to give the concert a fighting chance of getting a good review, and not even bother with signing up for the dinner. As I walked into Jackson-Triggs and was presented with my tickets I was told, “The Vineyard Grill is going wonderfully well”, not once, not twice, but at least three times by three different people. And it was true. Smiles were on the faces of those sitting or standing with plates and there was no griping. I wandered over to the food tent to get a glimpse of what was on the menu, there seemed to be plenty of food to choose from and many stations you could wander up to to fill your plate. A J-T staff member (Stacey) offered me a sampling of the night’s fare, as I stood in line for water and wine. I’ll never say “no” to a light bite. What she put together for me was a small plate with a bean and pea salad, grilled veggies, roasted mini potatoes, salmon and pork loin – all delicious, and served at just the right temperature. I wandered back into the food tent to get some pictures and bumped into the man behind tonight’s delicacies, chef Michael Olson. We spoke for a bit about the food and the evening. Michael told me he had done his homework, “there are two things you never do in the catering business,” he said in his usual jovial tone, “arrive late or run out of food. You can get drunk, start a fight, set fire to a table - but never arrive late or run out of food.” He gave out a jovial laugh as he finished reciting his rules of catering and with that we shook hands and he was off to tend to one of the food stations, to talk with his staff. I caught up with him about 5-minutes later doing some hands on work with the pork loin (see picture at left). I should also mention the delicious desserts, of which the mini-strawberry shortcake was a personal favourite. Now it was time to wait for the night’s main event.
Finally, the wait was over, Del Rollo appeared on stage, as he does every year, to welcome us all and hype the night, and the upcoming season. With a cheer Del turned and was hugged by the emerging Chantal K, who took her seat at the piano, pulled the mike in close, and tinkled the first few bars of ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’, which was greeted with an appreciative roar from the crowd; she began singing just as a single-engine jobbies flew over-head. Music and banter filled the amphitheatre, wine flowed and people sang along with the songs they knew (and head-bobbed to those they didn’t - including a sampling of some new material from her upcoming album). It was the perfect end to a perfect lazy day in Niagara. Chantal called the Jackson-Triggs venue her favourite “and I get to play Massey Hall,” she said. “With the crowd, the wine, the beautiful Niagara location in the vineyard, what more could you ask for?” What more indeed. I now find myself looking forward to the 10th Annual Twilight series.
If you’ll permit me to voice my wishlist for the 10th season … My two cents would start with the boys from Great Big Sea who I think would bring a perfect celebratory atmosphere to such an auspicious anniversary occasion - and I’m sure there brand of down-home East Coast ‘kitchen party’ is just was the celebration calls for. A comedy festival would be a welcome 10th anniversary present for the audience, or how about a one-day concert event to commemorate the occasion. Of course I am just spit balling here, but what the heck. But that’s a whole summer away, still to come this year is Bruce Cockburn, David Usher and two other acts that don’t immediately come to mind.