Travel Photographer / Writer
chasing the essence
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Fun, Food and Wine in Jordan, Ontario(Part 1)
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Canadian Chapter members of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) spent 2 days touring the wine and fruit producing region of Jordan under the hashtag banner #wherethehellsjordan. Hint: it's in the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.
Creative development is taking root in the region. Unlike its well-known sister community of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Jordan is off the lake and slightly west. It's intimate, contagiously friendly and growing nicely with pride and care.
Featherstone was our introduction to Twenty Mile Bench appellation. Heritage breed Southdown and Suffolk sheep are the lawn mowers. They eat the lower vine leaves (but not the grapes!), allowing sun to do its work on the fruit. How perfect is that?
Husband and wife winemakers David Johnson and Louise Engel greeted us with tastings of dry riesling and Canadian oaked (a rarity) chardonnay. They met as students at U. of Guelph, ran a butcher shop after graduation, sold it and bought the 25-acre farm that's become Featherstone — named after chicken feathers and the limestone soil. Of course.
As part of their organic philosophy, they employ Amadeus, a Harris hawk, to discourage swarms of starlings from feasting on the fruit. Much quieter than the bird bangers used in many vineyards. Starlings have grown by millions since being introduced into the USA by the American Acclimatization Society in the late 19th century to bring every bird species mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. Art and agri-commerce haven't mixed well since.
A very short drive from Featherstone is a handful of buildings from the mid 1800's when this was a busy community named after the Balls brothers who founded it. A rumbling mill still produces flour. In contrast, a LEED certified building showcases art galleries and green architecture. The hamlet has a fascinating connection to Sir Isaac Brock, the British commander who died stopping an American invasion during the War of 1812.
Though no longer state of the art, the LEEDS visitor centre (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building system — now you know!) has a self-contained eco system of beneficial but delicate bacteria. Ironically, this means no cleansers with bleach can be brought into the building, a concept which had to be explained to the public health inspector.
The falls, normally free flowing, were almost bone dry from this summer's drought.
A couple of us get lost on the way to 13th Street Winery for lunch. We find it tucked inside the city limits of Ste Catherines. Bad luck driving turns to good as we arrive just in time to meet two women bearing plates of food. What to do? I take a picture.
It gets even better as I find the food is for us! Inside the restored century farmhouse affable co-owner Doug Whitty is describing the history of the region, his third generation family roots and the winery. To stimulate all the senses, 13th Street encompasses contemporary architecture, a serious bakery plus local art inside and out. Nice.
After that delicious knosh we pop outside for a wine and cheese pairing by seminar chef/sommelier Corinne Maund, then race through the bakery and onto our waiting bus. I missed the garden sculptures!
Still licking our fingers, next stop is Beechwood Doughnuts in downtown Ste. Catherines where we meet Taylor Book, the owner of Niagara's first and only 100% vegan doughnut shop. Taylor poses for a shot behind a display of a few of the 30 varieties her kitchen turns out on a seasonal basis. Surprisingly, they aren't overly sweet. A continuous stream of customers confirms their popularity.
Hefting wine, cheese and doughnuts doesn't technically qualify as hard work, but we take a break anyway to check into our digs for the night, the Inn on the Twenty in prim "downtown" Jordan.
Describing the makeover of tiny Jordan as a renaissance is no exaggeration. Cave Springs Winery provided the impetus. To quote from the website, 'in the early 1920s Giuseppe Pennachetti emigrated from his hometown in Fermo, Italy, to work as a mason building Niagara’s Welland Canal.' Home-made wine eventually led to Cave Springs, whose original quarters now anchor an upscale transformation of the village.
After a refresh at the inn, we gather for a village walkabout.
Valley Jewellers are a new tenant in the Village Mews shops.
Original Cave Springs cellars remain beneath the wine shop and restaurant.
Kenneth Lane Smith sells photo art on canvas.
Visitors dine al fresco while a few short blocks away the Historical Society has restored pioneer artefacts.
Wine maker Rob Power and company president Andrew Howard greet us at the entrance to Creekside Winery. Rob is exhausted from several days of bottling — "a necessary evil in this industry", he says. Fatigue notwithstanding, Rob and Andrew usher us "behind the scenes" to partake of their liquid assets and gain a deeper understanding of wine making in Niagara.
"Creekside got popular in 2004", Rob tells us. He's been wine maker since 2000, "so I remember all the sordid details" he jokes about the growing pains. "Ultimately, wine is farming and in Ontario heat is the limiting factor."
Thanks for the pours, Jessica.
Continuing..."The Niagara Peninsula is going to emerge as a wine destination of the world that will appeal to everyone."
During an inspired feast of a BBQ dinner by chefs Nathan Young and Adam Hynam-Smith on The Deck, 13th Street vintner Doug Whitty had heartfelt words of praise for Rob.
Some wineries, such as Creekside, are bike friendly, which is great. For anyone needing wheels for longer distances and which not incidentally avoid roadside breathalyzer tests, there's a bus service. Fourteen of us were squired around in an oversize mini van by Coventry. It even had disco lights and a center pole which I tried out. Sorry, but the video wouldn't upload.
Breakfast is at the winery which happens to also be Sue-Ann's home. Her new high-end oven is toast, but she quickly recovers with her old oven to whip up two different fritatas plus home fries, fruit salad, coffee and tasting setup for our gang. It's soon evident that nothing fazes Sue-Ann. The only action faster than her entertaining rapid-fire comments is how quickly she's rung up some 450 national and international wine maker awards.
Sue-Ann's pet Bernese 'Brix' steals the show with a Good Morning! tail wag for each of us while less sociable 'Shiraz' watches from under a chair.
The 104-acre farm which she shares with her brother's family next door is also a venue for weddings and special events. A semi-permanent tent with interlocking brick and stone dance floor (yes!) comes with the stipulation that only Staff wines come with the event. Not all that hard to take.
We move inside for a pinot noir and double sparkling tasting. The white she describes as an "easy, leesy, cheesey wine" which she named Irridescence "for life's changing colours." Fancy Farm Girl is her brand concept catering "to what's in all of us". (The other
'F' words she reserves for the tractor when it doesn't start.)
She turned on the AC for us. Johann Munro and her husband Ryan run a funky pottery business from their home. Not every bedroom has a kiln on the floor below that reaches internal temperatures of 1221°C / 2230°F. The mudroom and living rooms are galleries and there's a second kiln in the basement. Website photos poetically show the artistry that goes into each piece. Free-range chickens meander outdoors, each having a name. Without pretence, shed pottery is definitely a comfortable place with 'a modern country vibe.'
Johann's grandmother made pottery. With no formal training Johann began her business after being laid off from a job in the hospitality industry. "If I can work 10 hours a day for someone else, I can do that for myself." Her talent was rewarded with immediate commissions for which she painstakingly applied each layer of paint by hand to ensure unique results. It's become part of her technique.
Grant and Carolyn Westcott make wines with a crazy passion and a sense of artistry. Their wines are named for an impressive lineage of remarkable women in the family and various connections with names such as Chrysler and Amelia Earhart; ask about the posters in the room above the dining area. The winery is young, but with careful tending of small batch chardonnay and pinot noir, is making a name for itself as a class act.
Joining our luncheon was Sandra Easton, mayor of the town of Lincoln, whose vision for growth is to enable businesses that protect and work within the natural landscape.
"This is a really special place. We don't want to be known as a bedroom community, but we're certainly in bed with agriculture."
Victoria Westcott gives a tour of the inner workings.
Wine maker Arthur Harter strives for wines with clarity and classic elegance.
It seems fitting to close this story with a visit to a fruit market because Niagara Peninsula's micro climate has made its produce renowned across Canada. Vineyards are now replacing orchards, driven by market forces, housing, climate and ever important terroir. And yet fruit growers like the Kowalik family are a continuing agricultural force. The Kowaliks proudly cultivate excellence the old-fashioned way: as naturally as possible with minimum sprays. It's something they've been doing for over 60 years and four generations.
I'd been chatting while the rest of our group shopped in the store. Suddenly, we had to go. Licking my peach ice cream (no lie — the peachiest I've ever had) and my wounds as Doug, our organizer, yelled at me to get on the bus, I said "Gotta go!" and bid farewell to a tasteful and pleasant 2 days in and around Jordan.