Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment. Cheers! - Bethany

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Smokie's Pride

It's early September, and I'm on board a golf cart with Paul Morneault, one set of hands in the close-knit team behind Smokie Ridge. We're taking a drive to what Paul calls "The Magic Corner", where four blocks of vineyards intersect. Swollen clusters of Sabrevois, Louise Swenson, Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Noir grapes dangle amid broad green leaves; harvest isn't too far off.

Morneault is telling me the story of how the winery came to be when, back in 2006, Paul "Smokie" Leblanc purchased this rugged plot of farmland in Mountain, Ontario, a half-hour south-west of Ottawa. There was no shortage of healthy skepticism among family members when he suggested they make wine. That doubt lingered right up to the first sip of the inaugural vintage, so it came as quite a shock to 'the kids' when it actually tasted good.

"You worked your asses off out there ... and you thought we would fail??" Morneault recalls saying to them, incredulously.

Hard work is nothing new to this military family, who share 146 years of service between the lot of them: Smokie served with the Airborne Regiment for over 30 years; his dad is a Korean War vet; and his son and several in-laws are still on active duty. Not one of them, however, has any experience in winemaking. (Wine drinking is another story, so Morneault tells me. "We've all got elbows, don't we?" he chuckles.)

Everyone helps out, from the grandfathers mowing the lawn between the vines, to Smokie's daughter designing the labels, and to the youngest grandchild lending his name to a blend of Vidal, Frontenac gris and Louise Swenson called Raisin' Nathan. "This is (Smokie's) legacy," says Morneault. "He wanted to build something for his kids and grandkids, so that they wouldn't have to work for anyone else."

Earlier this month, Smokie launched Soldier's Pride, a pair of blends (one red, one white) bearing the "Battle Born" name. Fifteen percent of sales were earmarked for the Canadian Forces Appreciation Program, as a way to give back to his fellow service men and women.

Three harvests in, prospects are looking good. Several of their signature "Cold World" wines have sold out, and the latest harvest was a success, thanks to the streams of eager volunteers, neighbours and touristy types who all wanted to lend a hand. Future plans include event facilities and the horse stables Smokie promised his wife, Debbie, when they first visited the site.

Wines can be tasted and purchased at the winery until December 20, when Smokie Ridge will close for the season.

Soldier's Pride 2011 Battle Born White (Frontenac Gris / Louise Swenson) - Off-dry apricot, caramel, hints of peach on nose. Crispness bordering on effervescence with medium weight on the palate. More buttery-rich, honeyed and smoky flavours  with a pop of lemon zest and spice on the finish.

Unexpected Guest 2010 Pinot Gris - This was the first wine produced, made from Niagara fruit. Light, pale gold-orange in colour, with a nose of flint and citrus zest, followed by plenty of peach flavours and a smoky finish. Named in honour of all the "unexpected" helping hands of friends and family alike who pitched in to help establish the vineyard in 2007.

Smokie's Le Blanc 2011 Estate White (Frontenac Gris / Louise Swenson / Vidal) - Pale straw colour tinged with gold. Aromas of wet stone, honey and tropical fruit; off-dry pineapple and canned fruit syrup on the palate; juicy, ripe tree-fruit finish.

Cabernet de Montagne 2011 (Frontenac Noir / Sabrevois) - There isn't a mountain to be seen anywhere, but since the vineyard lies equidistant to the tiny hamlets of Mountain and South Mountain, the name fits. Red blend with Sabrevoix dominating, Morneault calls this the "steak wine". Big nose of peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves and violets. Smooth, well-balanced, rich red fruit and peppery, chewy tannins and firm acid will complement a nicely marbled sirloin quite well.

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