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Tasting terroir at Tawse

A couple of weekends ago, I was given the opportunity to visit a winery that has recently been named Canada’s winery of the year.  I joined a group of Toronto-based wine and food writers touring the vineyards and facilities and tasting the wines at Tawse, led by their winemaker Paul Pender and the national sales manager, Daniel Lafleur.

Tawse, located on Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara escarpment, won five gold, three silver and 10 bronze medals at the Canadian Wine Awards. No other winery has won as many gold medals in a single year at these awards. In addition, Tawse won the White Wine of the Year Award for its 2008 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay. The chardonnay received a score of 93 out of 100 – the highest ever achieved by a table wine in this competition.

Our day began with a tour of the Cherry Ave vineyards (where the main tasting room is located), followed by a trip out to the Quarry Ave location.  This year it was an early harvest, but we were fortunate to see some Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc grapes ripe for the picking just days after our trip.

As we admired the beautiful setting, Paul explained the Tawse philosophy, driven by the idea of organic farming and biodynamics, both of which ensure healthy vines and soils resulting in healthy fruit.

The development of biodynamic agricultural practices began in 1924 with a series of eight lectures on agriculture given by Rudolf Steiner.  After the end of World War I, industrialisation was at its height, as people scrambled to find new ways to feed the increasing population, resulting in the use of chemicals fertilizers.  Steiner’s lectures were held in response to a request by farmers who noticed that the use of synthetic fertilizers degraded soil conditions and resulted in poor health and quality of crops and livestock.  Steiner recommended that no synthetic chemicals be used and that farmers needed to create a system of self-nourishment whereby the farmers would produce as many soil inputs as possible on their own property.

For Tawse, this means keeping its own horses  (the “tractors”), chickens (soil aeration), and sheep (nature’s lawnmowers and pruners). Tawse will hopefully add cows to this ménagerie sometime over the next year.  Paul let the chickens and sheep out for a run around whilst we were there – I have never seen happier animals!  At Tawse, they also plant clover at the foot of the vines – a natural weed killer.

In stark contrast to the organics and biodynamics outside, the interior of the winery is all modern technology.  Tawse treat their grapes with great care, using a gravity system to move them from one level of the facility  to the next.

We moved from the high-tech space to the gorgeous new tasting and event room where we would be treated to lunch, but not before we took part  in a blind-tasting competition.

This is where the concept of terroir comes into play.  Terroir, coming from the French “terre” (land, soil) and can be loosely translated as a “sense of place” embodied in certain unique qualities, the result of the effects the local environment (soil, weather conditions, farming techniques) has had on the land, and thus the fruit.  This concept is at the base of the French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system.

In this tasting, we compared wines produced from grapes grown at the Cherry Avenue property (Robyn’s Block, Carly’s Block, David’s Block) and those grown at the  Quarry Road property.  Quarry Rd. wines tend to have more minerality, due to the limestone present in the vineyard soil whilst the heavy clay in the soil at Cherry Road produces richer wines.  Wine tasting newbie that I am, I was pleased to get two out of the three correct (thinking quarry=limestone=minerals certainly helped) and it was just enough of a tasting with just enough information that my wine newbie brain was not over exerted.

(Thank you to Suresh for the opportunity to take part in this fabulous day.)

Some Tawse wines are sold in elsewhere in Canada. The availability varies a lot but if you are interested you can contact:

Québec
Importation  Le pot De Vin
Tel: 418-997-9264
Website: www.importationlepotdevin.com
Email: info@importationlepotdevin.com

Manitoba
Banville & Jones: Gary Hewitt
Tel: 204-948-9463
Website: www.banvilleandjones.com

Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia
Wineboy Wine Agency
Michael Green
Tel: 403-923-1002
Email: michaelgreen@wineboy.ca

** Did you know? Jamie Oliver is speaking in Toronto on November 18th.  Thanks to The Art of Cooking, I am able to offer a discount to you, my readers, of $10 per ticket (more if you purchase more than 5 tickets).  Click here for the special promotion code to be applied to your ticket price.  Don’t miss this event – I saw Jamie speak last year and it was inspirational to say the least. It inspired me to start Les Petits Chefs, for one…

One more thing -  I made it to Round 6 of Project Food Blog!  I would love your vote to move on to Round 7, where we have to make a recipe come alive through video.  Simply click here to vote. You have to be a Foodbuzz member to vote but it’s a simple sign-up process. Once you’re signed up, click the red heart to vote.  Thanks in advance. Voting ends today, Thursday October 28th at 9pm EST. Many thanks for your continued support.

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20 Responses to Tasting terroir at Tawse

  1. Mr. Neil October 28, 2010 at 11:35 #

    Great little write-up, Mardi. Definitely a Mr. Neil field trip!

    You’re not sounding like so much a newbie, I must say.

    (Must be all that wine we drink at home…) ;-)

  2. Anna Johnston October 28, 2010 at 12:34 #

    Great post Mardi. I recently visited an organic vineyard and love that an increasing amount of winemakers are organic & have moved away from so many additives, such a good thing for the wine lovers of the world.

  3. Belinda @zomppa October 28, 2010 at 14:53 #

    What a lovely trip!! I wish I could have tagged along.

  4. Jason Phelps October 28, 2010 at 18:22 #

    Isn’t blind tasting fun? The particular aspects you were trying to identify are key and being able to do so is a sign of a top notch palate. Bravo!

    Jason

  5. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction October 28, 2010 at 19:14 #

    Beautiful photos… I especially love the picture of all of the glasses!

  6. John October 28, 2010 at 20:36 #

    I love how the vines themselves are flaunting their fall foliage. This is a very informative post with beautiful pictures – it makes me want to travel north and put Tawse on my itinerary!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite October 29, 2010 at 19:27 #

      Thanks so much and you should definitely check out the Escarpment if you get the chance…

  7. K A B L O O E Y October 28, 2010 at 21:29 #

    Wow, 2 out of 3 sounds pretty good to me. I bet Neil was proud of you.
    And beautiful pictures too.

  8. penny aka jeroxie October 28, 2010 at 23:18 #

    There is so much about wine that I do not know…. looks like a fun day out!

  9. Megan Gordon October 29, 2010 at 00:30 #

    Love the photos of the wine barrels. Oh, and that one of Paul isn’t too shabby either :) Looks like great fun!

  10. Daydreamer Desserts October 29, 2010 at 09:02 #

    What a fun visit Mardi, loved their cellar with that curved wine rack.

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