06 6 / 2011

06 6 / 2011

06 6 / 2011

My sister and I have the same birthday - two years apart to the day - which as a child was incredibly annoying. Sharing the limelight as a youngster was challenging but as adults we have embraced the birthday and started a tradition of taking a trip together to celebrate! 

Having grown up in the world of wine we love incorporating winery visits into these trips and since she lives in Vancouver, a trip to Oregon Wine Country made perfect sense!

Our first night was spend in the quaint little town of Astoria on the north-west tip of Oregon, once the economic hub of the pacific north-west. We stopped for dinner at Fort George Brewery and Public House where we enjoyed an intense game of Jenga over a pint of 1811 Lager and Vortex IPA. We enjoyed some Willapa Bay oysters to get things started and then split Albacore tuna fish & chips and Rock Fish Tacos to get our fill of local seafood! We spent the evening by our campfire in Fort Steven’s State Park sipping back on a few of the 1811 Lager’s we brought back with us to end a perfect day.  

The next day we drove the coast down to the Dundee Hills to visit with the folks at Sokol Blosser Winery. What an experience! The guys in the tasting room we’re not your average retail staff…. not only did these guys have a passion for the area and the wines they knew everything you could possibly know about their soil, grapes, wines, etc! They are extremely eco-friendly, using bio-diesel in their tractors, solar power in their building and encouraging birds and animals in the vineyards just to name a few of their practices. The treated us to a lovely meal with fresh, local ingredients including the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever eaten (shhhh don’t tell my Mum) and washed it all down with the 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. We tasted through the entire line-up including the 14th edition of Evolution which is quite possibly the best release since the 9th edition! 

We spent the whole day at the Winery, walking through their wild-flower filled vineyards, the bunker wine cellar and watching the portable bottling line in the back of an 18 wheeler. It was such a pleasure to spend the day with people who were 100% passionate about every aspect of their winery! 

Before we left for our stay at the historic McMenamins - Hotel Oregon in downtown McMinnville we asked for a restaurant recommendation for the evening. The guys suggested Nick’s Back Room, located down an alleyway, known only to the locals. Man, was it worth it! They had amazing fresh mussels, wood-fired pizzas, and a wine-list of the regions finest. We washed down an amazing meal with Pinot Noir from R. Stuart & Company (ordered simply because our last name is Stuart) which turned out to be the servers favourite and extremely velvety smooth! 

Even though we didn’t make it very far, I’d say our first day in wine country was a success!

19 4 / 2011

Every time I travel in the world of wine I learn even more about why I love this business and the people that make it work. Since Bishop’s Cellar was founded in 2003 we have used the line ‘Wine is Food ~ Wine is Fun’ in our promotions, after a day in the vineyards with Michael Pilij, MW, I find out that ‘Wine is Food ~ Wine is Fun and Wine is Passion’. No where does this passion show itself more clearly than when Michael is introducing you to his producers and their crop.

A Canadian, Michael immigrated to the UK in 1989 after studying English and Philosophy in his home city of Toronto.  He qualified as a Master of Wine in 1995 at the age of just 29.  A career in retail was cut short when he was recruited as the wine buyer for Windrush Wines in 1994 and sent on his first buying trip to Italy.  He promptly fell in love with both the country and its wines and has subsequently visited Italy on more than 200 occasions. In 1997, he founded Winetraders U.K. a premium Italian wine Merchandiser specializing in the wines of Italy. I first meet Michael several years ago through my friend Chef Michael Howell, of the ‘Tempest’ restaurant while in Italy combining Vinitaly and Slow Food business.


Michael met us at I Tamasotti, a beautiful agro-tourist home perched overlooking the fortified village of Saove. Our first stop was at a small biodynamic vineyard visible across a small valley from our villa balcony, Corte Sant’Alda the passion of Marinella Camerani. Marinella made the decision to pursue her dream of returning to her family roots living on the land. She has invested all of her resources and energy in revitalizing what had been her family’s weekend country estate above the village of Mezzane de Sotto. In 2009, Slow Food name Marinella ‘GROWER OF THE YEAR’ and one glass of her Amarone quickly assures you Marinella’s passion is rich. This winery was the sole winery from which we all brought wine to bring back home and I hope we bring these wines to Halifax!


Giovanna Tantini, like Marinella is a hands on vineyard and winery owner, who left a professional career to follow her passion wine. Her 19 hectares are located in the Bardolino DOC and Custoza DOC regions, where wines are light and refined using the Corvina, Rondinella, Cabernet and Merlot. In 2002, the cellar was built and Giovanna’s dream became reality. ‘Bardolino Chiaretto’ is a perfect rose summer wine that is round yet crisp on the palette, perfect for the polenta, cold meats and cheese Giovanna shared with the six of us. The ‘Bardolino’ is made from two different grape types from three different vineyards that had been left to mature longer in the vineyard.


Giavanna glows as she tells us about ‘Ettore’ and how she selected the Corvina and Cabernet. She also explained that before harvesting they remove the excess leaves from both sides and when the maturing had finished cut the branches and left the grapes to semi-dry on the vine. Similar to Amarone, this technique allows the grapes to partially raisinate, condensing the sugars and flavours in the grapes.

 

After a quick trip on the autostrada we arrive in Soave to visit Federica and Daniele Nardello’s 14 hectare vineyard. The result is an amazing combination of flavours, hopefully soon in Nova Scotia. . Daniele’s Bianco from Veneto IGT named “Blanc de Fè” is a blend of 1/3 Garganega, 1/3 Trebbiano di Soave, 1/3 Chardonnay. It is delicate on the nose with a progressive sensation of intensity and pairs perfectly with the ever present Parma. Recioto di Saove Suavissimus, a sweet aperitif is delicate on the palate balanced and full with a honey and yellow flower aromas. This golden wine was the perfect golden elixir to send us cruising to the very peak of one of the Soave hills for a vista beyond compare, the passion of Italy.


Michael’s dedication to every wine he showed reflected the passion of his growers and winemakers; these are the wines we love to see at Bishop’s Cellar!

 

04 4 / 2011

Located just 35kms from Venice in the aptly named town, Bibano di Godegna di Sant’Urbano, (Bibano meaning “drink”) Distilleria Bottega exports approximately 70% of the world’s grappa.  From its humble beginnings grappa has evolved into a world class spirit along side Cognac or Armagnac.

Greeting you at the entrance of this magnificent facility where Distilleria Bottega houses its operations are two hundred year old mulberry trees that used to support a thriving silkworm operation.  Now in modern, geothermal buildings, this location’s history can be traced back four hundred years when it was a monastery.      

Looking out over farmland which is sprouting two day old prosecco buds, Sandro Bottega the distilery’s owner and our guide (the Bishops crew with Leonardo Ricci in tow) for the day  tells us that the land was originally used to farm olives. 

 

Sandro Bottega showing us his vineyards. 

The switch to prosecco happened in the early 18th century when a great freeze destroyed all of the olive trees.  Today, the land is producing grapes that are used in more than 40 products. In addition to the variety of fine wines and spirits, Bottega also produces all manner of  glassworks that assure that his products always stand out from the crowd.

After our visit to Distilleria Bottega, we followed Sandro to a small ristorante in the country where we were to have lunch. Imagine the picturesque stereotype of a family lunch in the Italian countryside, and you have a pretty good idea of how we spent Sunday afternoon at Richeton Agriturismo. We ate outside on a large wooden table while children played in the fields all around us. 

Spanning four courses, Sandro had us try three different proseccos his Ripassa Valpolicella and his Amarone.  For a digestif he had us sample limoncino (a grappa based liquer) his Sambucca and Grappa Amarone which were enjoyed alongside single shot espressos.

After that four hour lunch we followed Leonardo back to Collato’s Winery for a quick tour in their Willy military jeep of their ever continuously expanding vineyards.  We saw vines that had been planted since John’s last visit in 2008 and vines that have been growing for decades. 

"Hop in guys!"

It had been a couple of hours since we ate, a rarity thus far on our travels, and Leonardo suggested we accompany him back to his house where he would hold an informal tasting of Collalto’s wines and we would assist him in preparing a meal. 

To accompany the portfolio of wines Collalto has to offer, Leonardo had ten Italian cheeses, fresh artichoke risotto, and beef steak served with a side of polenta and Sicilian tomatoes.  

Perhaps some of the most interesting wines from Collalto are those made from hybrids rarely seen outside of Conegliano. Most of these stem from the efforts of Luigi Manzoni who strove throughout the 1920s and 30s to find grapes after the phylloxera outbreaks that would ideally compliment the growing conditions in Treviso. The most successful of these hybrids is Manzoni Bianco, a cross of Riesling with Pinot Blanc, which is planted throughout Conegliano as well as southern Italy.

On our journey back to the castle we sat in awe of the hospitality that had been shown us so far on our travels.

04 4 / 2011

As far as you can see there is a gentle spring green on the landscape heralding the beginning of another crop season in Conegliano. Placed against this green is the mystical outline of the Alps and the stark imposing battlements of Castello di Salvatore and here you have our rest stop of day one in Italy. Jason, Tristan and Conor, the backbones of our Bishop’s retail staff were perky and excited as we sat in the airport waiting for our New York flight connecting to Venice, for Italy ‘John Style’. Between touch down in Venice at 11:00 am and heads down at Castello di Salvatore around 2:00 am we experienced our first true taste of this fantastic country . April 1 in Venice has the ability to make fools of all, as the city can be warm and inviting, or harsh and cold, for us it was the later with bright sunshine a gentle breeze out of the south, plus we had the city virtually to ourselves. Stop number one was the Plaza San Marco for a combination of tasty treats and our first of many bottles of Prosecco.

Venice and the Conegliano area are the heart of Prosecco and the wine was the perfect way to add a bit flush in the cheeks and a bounce in our step as we amble through this amazing city. Venice is a city built on an island in a giant salt water, tidal lagoon. It only took us 2 hours of wandering aimlessly throughout the city to realize the water taxis are the way to travel. The setting of the sun coincideded with the arrival of my dear friend Leonardo Ricci a self professed lover of everything to do with Venice. I first meet Leonardo in 2003 just as we were opening Bishop’s Cellar, he had recently become the Export Manager of Cantina Georgio Lungarotti and was doing his first trip into the North American . We instantly became dear friends largely based on our love of food , good wine and farming, like myself Leonardo was the son of a farmer and had chosen to stay in the business not as a farmer but as merchant of farm products, namely wine. Leo arrived with his friend Georgo Suppeji and a large cooler filled with food and prosecco, the adventure was just beginning. Georgi was born and raised on the canals of Venice whereas Leonardo was an ‘outsider’ a term used by Venetians to describe anyone not born in Venice, there are a lot of outsiders in the world according to the locals. After a fifteen minute walk through the narrow alleys of the city we arrive at a boat shop which has existed for over 1000 years, it is filled with gondolas of many shapes and sizes. 

 

A sleek petit two seater build in the mid 1800’s sits on work horses while endless shelves of ”forcola”, the arm for holding the rowers (vogatori) oars, which sit like rows of old manuscripts along the walls. This is the home of the Venetian Gondola Historic Society and the starting point for our midnight cruise , prosecco tasting and dinner on the canal. Georgi worked the aft oar while Leonardo worked the midship oar as we cruised through the city. In many areas only the aft oar was used as the canals are so narrow you can easily run your hands along the walls, while in other areas the canal is over 200 meters wide. Collalto was our Prosecco and to appreciate this wine all you need do is open the bottle and sip this rich, floral wine. Prosecco is the Champagne of Italy and for me the sparkler of first choice as I love the floral nose and the more creamy and satisfying taste quenching nature of the wine. By 1:00 am the warm night air started to chill, thus we headed back to the boat house, however before driving back to our apartment we stopped at da Piero Mauro a small 8 seat restaurant where the owner opened a new 1.5 Magnum of Prosecco with a sabre, let me tell you that draws a crowd even in Venice.

From there it was a quick trip back to the Castle. Now when I say castle I mean a 800 year old stately structure on the top of a hill which affords a view for miles in every direction when you peak over the battlements. But that is a story for another time and for now it is bed and dreams of Venice.

26 3 / 2011

Walking up to meet Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassmann we were unsure of what to expect. What we did know was that at each of our previous visits, when Pierre Gassmann’s name was mentioned, his peers repeatedly spoke with extreme respect and praise.

Immediately things took an interesting turn - Pierre spoke very little English and we spoke very little french. Over the next four hours we summoned all of our past french teachings (with Caroline leading the way) and, with the help of a few glasses of wine, were actually able to have great conversations and gained a wealth of knowledge from one of the most interesting figures we have ever met.

Marie-Therese - the matriarch of the family - lending a hand while Pierre took a phone call. A true family operation, Marie-Therese worked the cellar door.

Rolly Gassmann has a long history of tending vines and making wines. The Rolly family (Pierre’s mother’s side) has been involved in viticulture since 1676, with the Gassmann side being involved since 1611. The marriage of Pierre’s mother and father in 1976 brought the two wine making families together to form the Rolly Gassmann estate. Pierre grew up in this wine culture and now owns and runs the domaine.

After a walk through the vineyards to learn about the biodynamique methods Pierre utilizes (he does not certify his wines as he does not beleive in using this as a marketing tool, rather he just believes its just how things should be) and the over 20 different soil compositions found in his vineyards, we made our way to the cellar.

In the words of Pierre, “we are lazy in the cellar”. This certainly didn’t refer to the cleanliness or lack of detail paid to the wines, both were outstanding, rather  commented on the fact that all of the hard work in the vineyard and attention to the vines resulted in minimal effort required in the cellar to do anything to the wines. Essentially, the grapes are pressed, the juice goes into various tanks and Fudres (large wooden casks) and left to ferment. Simply put - the wine is made in the vineyard.

After making our way from the cellar, we embarked on what can only be described as an EPIC TASTING. Pierre, pictured on the left, walked us through 64 wines, explaining in great detail the effect of the soil and vineyard on what we were tasting. YES that’s right… 64 wines.

Pierre produces approximately 40 different wines every year, each coming from different vineyard holdings from the surrounding area and varying classifications (Vendages Tardives and Selection Grains Noble). 

This tasting was absolutely incredible. We learned while tasting the various vintages (1989 all the way up to 2009) that Pierre made wines to age.  Skipping back and forth between wines from 1997 to 2008 back to 2003 and so on - this tasting highlighted the effect that the soil composition and vintage had on the wine’s ability to age. Several of his wines were still in the cellar “Sleeping” - as Pierre affectionately referred to several of his releases - stating it was not yet their time.

Wine after wine, vintage conditions and soil types were expressed through the wines. It was quite amazing to see the balance that these wines achieved over time. As the sweeter wines gained age, the minerality and acidity came through, achieving a harmony that is actually quite difficult to explain.

The amount of information from this afternoon was overwhelming. Fortunately, our colleagues from the UK at Richard’s Walford (a fine wine importing agency and the kind people who set us up with our visit at Rolly Gassmann) have prepared an outstanding overview of Rolly Gassmann’s history, their vineyards, winemaking process and everything else under the sun. Click here to view this exceptional document.

A truly remarkable experience, we cannot wait to showcase some of these wines in the shop. Perhaps some day we will be able to convince Pierre to take a few days off from the vineyard and travel across the pond so others can have the chance to experience (even if it isn’t a 64 wine tasting) a few hours with this truly amazing individual.

26 3 / 2011

The World of Gustave Lorentz - our 2nd day in the Alsace began with a tour of grand cru vineyards with Pascal from Gustave Lorentz. Pascal drove us around Bergheim and showed us several of their grand cru holdings, including the vineyards pictured above.

To see photos from our visit with Gustave Lorentz click here

26 3 / 2011

This is a view from the top of the Clos St Urbain Au Rangen de Thann.  After driving at the bottom of the vineyards for a while, we found a small winding road that took us up to the top. Needless to say, there wasn’t much room for error on the tiny road. The views were breathtaking and it was our first experience with extremely steep vineyards. Our travels to the Mosel a few days later would make these vineyards look like rolling hills!

This is a view from the top of the Clos St Urbain Au Rangen de ThannAfter driving at the bottom of the vineyards for a while, we found a small winding road that took us up to the top. Needless to say, there wasn’t much room for error on the tiny road. The views were breathtaking and it was our first experience with extremely steep vineyards. Our travels to the Mosel a few days later would make these vineyards look like rolling hills!

26 3 / 2011

Sorry for the lack of posts these past few days - by no means has it been due to a lack of amazing sights and adventures. Our Tumblr blog acted up on us our last night in the Alsace and wouldn’t let us post, followed up by virtually no internet in the Mosel. Lots of posts coming in the next few hours!

Cheers