As a “locavore” who prefers locally-grown or produced foods, I often write of local food. But I am also a locaholic, preferring to imbibe locally-made beer, wine, or spirits, and recently discovered a wonderful addition to the Barrie locaholic’s wine rack: Georgian Hills Vineyards.
This young operation cultivates grapes and fruit halfway up the slope of the Niagara escarpment, not on the famous “bench” south of Lake Ontario, but rather where the escarpment passes near Collingwood and Thornbury. A microclimate moderated by nearby Georgian Bay means late blooms protected from the last spring frost and a later harvest in the fall. Despite the short growing season, it is ideal for cold climate wine production, similar to Alsace, Germany, northern Italy, Chile or New Zealand.
Unlike the big, full-bodied wines grown in warm climes, which stand up well on their own, more balanced cool climate wines shine best when paired with food. To emphasize this, Georgian Hills offers a wide variety of food pairings with their wine tastings. By learning firsthand which foods go well with which wines, you will be sure to bring home something that will complement your own table.
My wife and I recently toured Georgian Hills Vineyards with founding partner Robert Ketchin, who paired many of their wines with matching local foods. Some were Ontario and Quebec cheeses from Dags & Willow in Collingwood or The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury, but we went beyond those standards to pairings with charcuterie, local fruit & jelly, and even dark chocolate to complement their dessert wines, harvested or pressed after the winter freeze sets in.
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Robert’s decades of experience in wine, beer, and spirits marketing and sales found the ideal partnership with John Ardiel, a 5th-generation apple grower overseeing local orchards and viticulture, and Murray Puddicombe, a 6th generation Niagara farmer whose Niagara grapes help balance Georgian’s red wines, vinted by his daughter Lindsay.
After testing various sites in the region in the late 90s and early 2000s, John and Robert found ideal locations for grapes midway between the Beaver Valley floor and Niagara escarpment peak and planted 17 acres of vines, then 4 years ago presented their first vintage. So far they have produced 6 white wines, 3 reds, a rosé, sparkling apple and pear ciders (a dry treat!) and 4 dessert wines: a frozen-on-the-vine Vidal and three “frozen to the core” iced apple or pear wines.
Sitting by the warm fireplace in their tasting room, we saw people “simply sampling” 4 wines (free with purchase) but took our time with the “perfect pairings” 90-minute educational program about the whole range of wines paired with all 4 food groups.
As an even more intense localization of their product, Georgian Hills features an “après ski” package pairing appetizers with wine samples, concluding with roasted marshmallows and chocolate with dessert wines. Or if you prefer to snowshoe, you can bring your shoes (or rent a pair) for a free trek on the “Apple Pie Trail” around the vineyard and escarpment before warming up with samples by the fire.
What better experience than traversing the slopes where food and wine are grown, then sitting down to enjoy them in perfect pairings? If this sounds like heaven for the locavore or locaholic in you, visit www.GeorginaHillsVineyards.ca online or in person to learn more.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner