PLAYING IT COOL IN NIAGARA
Weekend-long event is a giant toast to Chardonnay grown in more moderate climates around the world
If you find yourself muttering “Anything but Chardonnay” when contemplating what to drink, 59 winemakers would like to have a word with you in Niagara next weekend.
They’ll be there, Chardonnays from their respective corners of the globe in tow, to show you that perhaps you’ve had it wrong all this time. That when produced in the right climate — a cool climate — one of the most popular wines in the world is worthy of room in your Riedel.
They’ll be making their case one glass at a time at the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (a.k.a. i4C) July 21 to 23. It’s the seventh edition of an event intended to be a giant toast to Chardonnay grown where the mercury’s rise is tempered by altitude, latitude, or a body of water.
i4C also serves as a mind-changer for those still clinging to the notion that Chardonnay is nothing but overwrought tipple best passed up. “Ontario grapes tend to get a bad rap in terms of the domestic wine industry and this shows our grapes and wines can stand up to international wines and hold their own,” said Stacey Mulholland, i4C chair. “Especially Chardonnay.”
The weekend-long affair features plenty of opportunity to hobnob with winemakers from Canada, the U.S., northern Europe, New Zealand and Australia at events that mix education with leisure.
The curated selection of Ontario, Canadian and International wineries includes a few firsts this year, including participation by vintners from emerging wine regions in Quebec (Coteau Rougemont and Domaine Saint-Jacques) and Uruguay (Familia Traversa).
“The wines we’ll be tasting at i4C will be quite distinctive,” Mulholland said. “Chardonnay can be grown everywhere and it’s a true expression of terroir.”
The itinerary kicks off Friday with The School of Cool, an industry-focused viticultural, winemaking and networking session headlined by wine expert Karen MacNeil, who authored “The Wine Bible.”
The flagship Flights of Chardonnay, at the Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake Friday evening, gives guests access to more than 60 Chardonnays and a culinary marketplace offering the creations of some of Niagara’s top chefs. One caveat here: as of July 14 the original tickets were sold out; organizers were working to accommodate those on the waiting list by opening more seats, weather permitting.
Saturday features tasting and dining events at participating wineries throughout the region. The day culminates with the weekend’s signature gala, Cool Chardonnay World Tour and Dinner on the pristine grounds of Ridley College. It’s a showcase of regional, seasonal fare alongside all the Chards poured over the weekend and more than 40 cool climate red vintages, such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay Noir.
Sunday brings with it the laid back Moveable Feast brunch at Ravine Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Down the QEW in Beamsville, the inaugural Brunch on the Bench at Redstone offers a more formal three-course breakfast-lunch hybrid paired with selected international Chardonnays.
Tickets for the individual events range from $25 to $150, ensuring a fit with every oenophile’s budget.
Those attending i4C events should keep notes about their favourite wines. And those who can’t make it at all can still get in on some of the action. The wines featured at i4C will be available for sale through the LCBO online (lcbo.com) from July 20 to Aug. 4. This will be the only opportunity to buy many of the i4C vintages in Canada.
The Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration was founded by six Niagara winemakers after a local Chardonnay topped Burgundian and Californian editions at the illustrious Cellier Wine Awards in Montreal in 2009. They were determined to show the world that Chardonnay, and Niagara as a wine region, were worthy of more serious consideration.
Eight years later, with 2,500 guests — many of them repeat visitors — expected to partake in this year’s festivities, Mulholland is certain they’ve succeeded.
“It reaffirms what we already know,” she said. “We make killer Chardonnay ... It’s having the rest of the world acknowledge we make killer Chardonnay here in Ontario, and they want to fly here to be part of the program.”
Visit coolchardonnay.org for more information and to purchase tickets.
Last year’s Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catharines.
The School of Cool at White Oaks Resort and Spa, Niagara-on-the-Lake, last July. A walk-around industry tasting followed the seminar portion of the day.
Wine expert and author Karen MacNeil