Wine glasses were swirling last week with the School of Cool back in session.
The event was held as part of the 13th annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) that took place at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Thursday, July 20.
Co-sponsored by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), the event welcomed hundreds of participants representing 62 VQA Ontario wineries as well as industry partners from Nova Scotia, British Columbia, France, New Zealand and Germany.
“It is amazing to think about the growth of i4c and its educational component, the School of Cool, in Niagara,” says Barb Tatarnic, CCOVI’s Manager of Professional Studies and Outreach. “Something that started as a conversation between Niagara winemakers in 2009 has become an international celebration devoted to Chardonnay — one of the most widely cultivated varietals in Ontario.”
Chardonnay is a wine often complemented with a bit of cool, either cooled by altitude, latitude, marine influence or climatic conditions.
The Niagara Peninsula, with its cool climate extremes, moderating lake effects and the escarpment’s steep slopes that trap and recirculate breezes coming off the water, provides vintners with all the necessary elements for a diverse portfolio of wines.
The School of Cool signature event included a keynote address by Master of Wine Michelle Cherutti-Kowal followed by three industry sessions with tastings: “Learn to taste like a Master of Wine — A study in Chardonnay — 2.0,” “Blend like a Winemaker” and “Filling in the ‘Blancs.”
Participants, including students and alumni from Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) program, got a peek behind the winemaking curtain as Queenston Mile Vineyard Winemaker Rob Power (BSc ’00) led a panel of four Niagara winemakers who presented their unfinished Chardonnays to illustrate some of the process choices winemakers make and what goes into the final blend of 100 per cent VQA Chardonnay.
Power, who graduated at the top of CCOVI’s inaugural Class of 2000, has worked tirelessly for the past 20 years to innovate within the Niagara wine industry. Widely considered as one of the leading Canadian winemakers by colleagues, media and critics alike, Power provided commentary on blends and vinifying unique varietals.
Providing valuable insight into cool climate winemaking and viticulture, Winemakers Casey Kulczyk of Westcott Vineyards, Philip Brown of Jackson Triggs, Jessica Otting of Tawse Winery and Yvonne Irvine of Queenston Mile Vineyard each pulled two unfinished, unfiltered wines from their barrel cellars for the educational session.
Each wine, about 10 to 14 months from being complete and bottled only a few days prior, was used as part of a blind tasting session that discussed barrel size and shape, fermentation and more. Afterwards, participants had their own hands-on experiences trying to create their own blends.
“For the students and new grads in attendance, meeting and learning from winemakers, grape growers and sommeliers from across Ontario and Canada’s diverse wine industry provided a unique opportunity to continue learning tangible real-world skills,” says Debbie Inglis, CCOVI Director and Researcher. “Networking with established Brock alumni who are industry professionals demonstrates to our students that CCOVI grads are not just employable but leaders in advancing the industry.”
As winemakers took to the stage throughout the day, common themes included how personal style influences decision-making, the limitations of climate change and marketability, and how no two wines produce the same result.
Keeping with tradition, CCOVI again hosted educational outreach activities with an i4C session called ‘What Kind of Cool Are You?’ as part of the “Chardonnay in the Vineyard World Tour Tasting and Dinner” at the Riverside Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Saturday, July 22.
The session took its more than 350 attendees on an interactive deep dive into the four different profiles of Chardonnay to help them understand their preferred style.