Here we go:
Our weekend started on Thursday night with a winery/media reception at the White Oaks in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Lots of old friends and people we’ve been following for years (Andrew Jefford, Chris Waters, Jaime Goode, and on and on.)
We were invited to bring a sample of a red wine, so we brought a bottle of our C-squared Cabernet, and quietly put it on the table with the big boys from Niagara and PEC. Pretty soon folks started looking for the ‘new and different’, and sampling their first DSV wine. Then surprised reactions started. This was the first Lake Erie NorthShore red wine ever poured at i4c, and ripeness of our EPIC reds (that people sometimes take for granted) was the first thing mentioned, followed by the balance and the subtlety of the wine.
Encouraged by the feedback, we headed off to our B&B to rest up for day 2.
Up early and back to the White Oaks for the first in person School of Cool since 2019. Walking into the huge lecture room, and all the table places set up with 12 wine samples (plus all the things you need to taste wine) you could feel the collective “We’re back!” joy in the room.
The session began with one of the best keynote speeches we’ve had at i4C. Andrew Jefford’s articulate and passionate speech can be found in full here: Andrew Jefford i4c Keynote
It’s worth reading. His theme was wine as music. Here is one of our favourite passages:
And this leads us to ... our cherished Chardonnay. You could fill a warehouse with instruments. They're all important; they’re all perfect -- somewhere or other. For all that, in the very centre of the warehouse, sits the most useful and the most adaptable instrument of all. Somewhere in the middle of the warehouse sits … a piano.
I suspect Syrah might covet the role, but in truth there's only one grape variety which can really claim to be as useful and as well suited to a variety of different sites as the piano is to different sorts of music. That variety is Chardonnay. PICTURE
Following the keynote there were back-to- back sessions on the “Great Chardo Swap”. Back in the ‘before times’ CCOVI at Brock started a fascinating experiment: what if winemakers on the East Side of the Welland Canal (NOTL) got a load of Chardonnay from the West Side (Beamsville/Vineland)? What would they do with the wine? And what would West side winemakers do with East side grapes?
What the School of Cool did was put (almost) all the wines on the table in front of us, with the winemakers at the front discussing what they did and why, and how it compared to a sample of what they do with their own fruit. So, two sessions, 12 wines each, 12 winemakers discussing making Chardonnay, all led by Chris Waters of the Globe and Mail. At the end, we needed lunch to recharge and think about what we just learned.
After lunch, it was the international wineries turn. Chaired by Andrew Jefford, the question on the table was: “What defines ‘cool’ in Chardonnay?” Wineries from South Africa, France, Sonoma, BC, Sicily, and Ontario debating questions like this, while tasting wine, is what the School of Cool is all about. Was there an answer – no. Were there 7, yes. And that was just on the stage. The audience all had their own opinions.
Following the session was the Trade Tasting. Trial Solution was on the table, but we headed back to the B&B to rest up for the evening, and “Chardonnay in the City”
“Chardonnay in the City” is the newest i4C Signature event – held at Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. It’s the casual event of the weekend. Lots of cool dishes to sample, and every i4C winery there pouring a Chardonnay. The crowd was great – serious tasters trying to sample as many Chards as possible in 4 hours. What it means for a winery is standing and pouring samples for 4 hours. On concrete.
We were pouring Random Number. Looks of compliments on the wild ferment and its unique mouthfeel. A number of winery staff stopped by to check it out. The folks from Quebec really liked it – it sounds like wild ferments are big in la Belle Provence.
Highlight of the evening was when a winemaker, who I really look up to, came over specifically to try Random Number, having tried Trial Solution at the Trade Tasting. Big compliments and encouragement – this winemaker uses only wild ferments and is an absolute rockstar in the industry.
Then back to the B&B at midnight to crash.
At least we got to sleep in and enjoy the breakfast. But pretty soon we had to get up to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a special lunch. At the last minute we got invited to pour at a special i4C lunch at Trius. It’s scary pouring at a large event with all these wineries, but to do a small event where you have to stand up and present alongside Craig McDonald from Trius and Keith Tyers from Closson Chase, that’s close to terrifying. And with this menu!
You know what? Our wines held up the test! (Not so sure about the winemaker.) It was honestly a big rush, and we stayed too long talking to Chardonnay fans. As a result, we barely had time to get back to the B&B, change clothes, and get out to Riverbend Inn in NOTL for "Chardonnay in the Vineyard".
"Chardonnay in the Vineyard" is the premiere event of the weekend – 100 plus chardonnays, plus some red guest stars, a five-course dinner, fireworks, all in massive tent beside the Riverbend vineyard. We started with 2 hours of pouring samples of Trial Solution and Random Number to dinner guests, followed by hosting a table for dinner. The best way to describe the event is with pictures:
And, once again back to the B&B by midnight.
Last morning, starting to run on vapours. Another breakfast then one more event, "The Movable Feast."
"The Movable Feast" is the wind-down event of the weekend – a multi-station brunch at Ravine Vineyards. Volunteers pour, so wineries get to socialize. Caught up with some more old friends, met Andrew Jefford, thanked him for the speech (and for hosting the Virtual School of Cool in 2020.
And finally, headed home on the 401, having declared Dancing Swallows at i4C at major success.