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  • Norfolk County: Canada’s Next Official Wine Region?

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    At wine tastings, you’ll often hear the French term terroir arise. Terroir, or the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, includes such factors as the climate, soil and topography. For many, this conversation inevitably turns to one about appellation. In Ontario, Canada, appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical marker used to identify where the grapes for a specific wine were grown. The distinctiveness of these landscapes have created three clear Designated Viticultural Areas (DVA) so far in the province, that is home to over 160 wineries.

     

    The emerging wine region of Norfolk County hopes to join the ranks of existing DVAs Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County and become the nation’s newest official wine region. The Ontario South Coast Wineries & Growers Association has submitted its application to the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which is the governing body that controls wine appellations, to grant the region this special status.

     

    “DVA is an absolutely important designation,” says Mike McArthur, the president of the local wine association. “To many consumers, it legitimizes a region’s wineries and their products and has serious economic spin off.”

     

    As a DVA, the wineries within the proposed geographical boundaries could brand its VQA-quality wines as “Norfolk County,” in the same way that Lake Erie or Grand River Valley are recognized regional viticultural appellations in Ohio. There is a requirement that 85 percent of the wine is produced from grapes grown within the confines of the viticultural area.

     

    “That’s what winemaking is about – the story of a place,” says Ryan Bosgoed, winemaker at Inasphere Wines, a new family-run winery that just opened in the fall. “DVA status helps guide that story and allows us to showcase the unique character of Norfolk County grapes.”

     

    Plotting terroir and explaining its influence through appellations of origin is a trusted system for consumers to measure the quality and distinctiveness of the wines they are buying. It also has serious impact for grape growers.

     

    “I think the positive outcome of identifying an area as a DVA is it brings value to the land,” says Lydia Tomek, winemaker at Burning Kiln Winery, many of whose award-winning wines are created in appassimento style by drying the grapes.

     

    “Norfolk County is part of a unique microclimate. Our fruit is different, our ripening stages happen at different times of the year and certain varieties will do better here versus other spots in the province. It’s important to distinguish ourselves, to add value to our land and put us on an even playing field with other producers.”

     

    The wait is on for the local wineries, as their application works its way through the different channels and they see if their DVA status is approved or if further research or grape growing is required. Regardless, their goal will stay the same — to produce quality Norfolk County wines with distinctive personality and charm.

     

    For more info about Norfolk County, visit www.norfolktourism.ca.

  • Cape Winelands & Stellenbosch, South Africa

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    In this broad South African valley surrounded by rugged mountains, sea breezes from the nearby South Atlantic create a climate particularly conducive to grape-growing, and for touring as well. The town of Stellenbosch and the first vineyards here date back to 1679, and today the region has more than 200 wine producers.

     

    I knew better than to try and visit all of them, so I started with a few famous for a unique South African cultivar, Pinotage. A professor at Stellenbosch University, the seat of internationally recognized viticulture and oenology programs, created this wine in 1925 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, once called Hermitage. These fruity, medium-bodied and affordable reds became South Africa’s signature wine.

     

    I traveled from Cape Town with Brian Vandayar of Jorvan Tours, which offers full- and half-day trips that typically include tastings at two wineries and leisure time in the town. I was more interested in visiting wineries, though, so I chose a full-day trip but added a third winery.

     

    We started with the Pinotage 2015 at Eikendal Stellenbosch, a winery on the slopes of the Heldberg Mountains with a tasting room overlooking a tranquil pond, which the locals call a “dam.” Winemaker Nico Grobler studied at Stellenbosch University and joined Eikendal in 2006. His tasting notes tout the pomegranate and fresh strawberry aroma of Eikendal’s Pinotage; I enjoyed its full body. The winery also specializes in its flagship Bordeaux-style Classique. Regular tastings include five wines and, for families traveling together, there’s good news: this is a kid-friendly winery with cookie tastings for the kids and a pizza and wine pairing.

     

    Eikendal is a destination winery, offering cellar tours, picnics and two marked hiking trails through the vineyards. In February and March, visitors can pitch in and help harvest grapes. The property stocks its ponds for fly fishing and an on-site shop stocks all necessary gear. Eikendal Lodge has nine rooms, all with private terraces overlooking the vineyards, valley, and mountains, making it easy to linger and enjoy all these activities. A night’s stay includes a wine tasting and gourmet breakfast served on the patio, weather permitting. It’s a difficult place to leave, but we had more wineries to check out.
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