I never would have imagined that I would find myself spending the night in the private staff quarters of one of Ontario’s finest wineries, but then again, Adam always has had a way of surprising me.
Let me explain. Immediately following our trip down to Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, we spontaneously decided to make our way through Ontario before returning to Montreal.
We drove through Niagara Falls (I’ll spare you the photos I ecstatically took of the insane wax museums, cheesy restaurants, and, inexplicably, haunted houses that line the mains streets of the town) and spent one day and one night in Toronto (more on that soon!), so Adam could do more work on his book.
The morning we were to leave Toronto, we were faced with a question — should we drive straight back to Montreal, or take a day-long detour through Prince Edward County?
PEC is a gorgeous, bucolic wine region in Ontario known for its delicious Burgundy-style pinot noirs. At the lobster dinner party we hosted earlier this summer, we sampled a fair amount of French white burgundies — eight, in fact. (It was a hectic night). But there was one lone bottle of Canadian white burgundy, from a small winery in PEC called Norman Hardie.
Amazingly, the verdict was unanimous: this bottle of Ontario wine was everyone’s favorite burgundy. By a long shot. It was sublime.
So back in Toronto, Adam tells me to pack my bags. We’re leaving Toronto in an hour, and we’re going to Norman Hardie after all. To stay. For the night.
“Wait. So what you’re saying is, we’re staying at a hotel near the winery? Is that what’s happening?” — Me
Nope. We were staying at the winery. In a bed. On their property. Oh, and they were cooking us dinner. Don’t ask me how Adam makes these things happen. He has a gift for it.
A few hours and three Popul Vuh CDs later, we arrived at Norm’s estate, just as the sun was dipping out of sight. It was a stunning property — undulating acres of twisting vines, all bearing tiny, hard green grapes.
When we arrived, our host, Richard, one of the associate wine makers, welcomed us into the kitchen, which was housed in this beautiful hangar that also housed all of their barrels. Of course, he poured us a glass of wine right away.
I was happy to sit back, while Adam had the pleasure of fiendishly nerding out with fellow wine freaks. After all, it’s not often you have a wine maker make you dinner.
The night went on and on, in the best way possible. It was like having dinner with old friends — that’s how fast we clicked.
We snuck upstairs to the tasting floor to pick up more wine for the dinner and grab some pasta.
Richard put us right to work, cutting squash, mushrooms, and onion for a huge pot of tomato sauce he was making. I’m glad he asked for help. I always feel more comfortable when I’m busy in a kitchen.
By then, the sun had almost disappeared. The sunsets in PEC? Spectacular.
This was our dining room table. We were surrounded by vats and vats of wine. It was a little surreal.
Of course, we had to being a few wines of our own, to spread the love. I died over this 2002 bottle of Simon Bize & Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses. (Just a few days earlier, we drank the 1996; I can say with confidence that the 2002 vintage is spectacular in comparison).
Since the main topic of conversation was wine, they showed us a few priceless bottles that they’ve enjoyed on a few drunken, late nights. Apparently that 1982 Penfolds is really something else.
The pasta — made with heirloom tomatoes and basil from their own garden — was outstanding. Meaty, rich, and full of sweet tomato flavor.
Oh, and it was topped with a perfectly grilled, medium-rare beef tenderloin. I told you this night was special. At this point, I was beside myself with happiness. I ate all of my steak, plus a few bites stolen from Adam’s plate.
We drank a lot of wine that night, including a very special Cabernet Franc that tasted like jalapenos. It was uncanny.
After dinner, Richard gave us a killer tour of their barrels, and explained a bunch of weird, insider wine knowledge (as a wine neophyte, I can honestly say that I had no idea what was happening).
Full of fantastic food and even better wine, I don’t think I’ve ever slept better in my life.
The next morning we woke up early and did — what else? — but a barrel tasting. (I had never done one before!) We grabbed coffee, muffins, toast, jam, and peanut butter at the adorable Tall Poppy Cafe, and then headed back to Norm’s for one final tasting before hitting the road. I wish I had taken photos at the Tall Poppy — they had hosted a wedding (!) the night before, so there were beautiful jars full of flowers everywhere.
A wine tasting at 9am may sound a bit intense to some (it certainly did to me), but the opportunity to taste straight from the barrel was too cool to pass up.
We were told to sip and spit — right onto the floor! (I tried to aim for the little cracks between the tiles). I laughed every time I attempted to spit, and dribbled wine onto my shirt like a crazy person.
We left shortly thereafter, with plenty of souvenirs (read: a case of wine) with which to remember our trip. As a final present, Richard sent us down to their garden, where he said I could pick whatever I wanted to take home with me. I went for the tomatoes and peppers, and we ate half of them, still wet from the morning dew, in the car on the way home.
Man. What an unforgettable night. Thank you Norman Hardie and crew for your incredible hospitality and generosity — and come visit us in Montreal soon!