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:
Importation Le pot De Vin
Banville & Jones: Gary Hewitt
Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia
Wineboy Wine Agency
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