Winemaking talent shows through in Nyarai wines

Featuring Nyarai Cellars
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Is it me or are there more younger winemakers arriving on the Canadian wine scene? In the past couple of months, I have attended wine industry conferences – Society of Wine Educators in Sacramento, California and Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – where talented winemakers from every corner of the world were celebrated. It was interesting to see that a large number of these winemakers were under the age of 40!


With aspirations of one day owning their own winery, some new-to-the-industry winemakers have been provided the unique opportunity to create a virtual winery with their own label while working in the cellars of their employer’s winery. In Ontario, there are currently five winemakers who are crafting their ‘own label’ in this virtual winery setting.  In this month’s Savvy Selections, we are proud to introduce you to Steve Byfield and his new wines – labeled Nyarai Cellars – that he crafts in the cellars of Calamus Estates Winery in Niagara (featured in Savvy Selections in June 208).


Steve launched Nyarai Cellars just last month in time to be featured in the Savvy Selections.  This is an opportunity for you to sample Steve’s talent as you open the bottles of:

– Sauvignon Blanc VQA 2008 – Steve’s favorite white grape to work with

– Cabernet-Merlot VQA 2007– an easy drinking red wine to have on hand with BBQ fare

– Syrah VQA 2007 – an outstanding red wine that is turning heads


In this Savvy e-Zine, read more about how Steve’s involvement at a brew your own place was the stepping stone for a winemaking career.  In nine short years, Steve’s career includes making wine at five different Niagara wineries. As always, below you will find our Savvy Sommelier tasting notes and recipes chosen to pair with the selected Nyarai wines.


These wines are hard to come by!

You will definitely not see Nyarai wines at the LCBO. When you would like more of the wines or other wines from previously featured Savvy Selections, simply call me to (613-728-8926) make the arrangements for a delivery. The wine can be sent to any Ontario address: to your home, office – even your cottage!


Be forewarned….there are VERY few cases of Nyarai wines available.  Steve is predicting that the Sauvignon Blanc (he only made 126 cases) & Syrah will be sold out by September so don’t wait too long to contact me if you would like to re-order extra bottles.  When the reviews for these new wines get published, the wines could sell out quickly.


Here’s to the launch of Nyarai Cellars! 

Debbie & the Savvy Team

Follow me: www.twitter.com/savvydebbie

Nyarai Cellars
Presented by Sommelier Debbie Trenholm

The word Nyarai (pronounced Na-rye) literally jumped off the page when Steve was searching for a name to for his own wine. “Typically a winemaker will use his name on the label, but that is not my style”, explains winemaker Steve Byfield. “I was looking for a name that was more subtle, yet, still had a personal connection.”


Born and raised in St Catherine’s, Steve became interested in wine while working at a ‘Brew Your Own’ store.  Here, he had a hand in both beer & wine making on a small scale. 


Trained as a jazz musician & music educator, Steve decided to put both on the back burner to devote his time to develop his skills as an amateur winemaker.


He launched into a wine career during the whirlwind activity of the harvest of 2000.  Hired on as product consultant at Southbrook Vineyards (featured in Savvy Selections May 2008), during the five years at this winery, he was exposed to all aspects of commercial winemaking as he apprenticed as a winemaker. “There is nothing like jumping in with both feet.” remembers Steve about his first day on the job. “I realized that my chemistry was a bit rusty, so after work, I enrolled in courses to brush up.”


While at Southbrook, Steve was involved in the development of all wines. Southbrook’s famous Frambroise wine – made with raspberries – was one of the products that Steve had a hand in crafting each year.


In 2006, two small boutique wineries opened on the Beamsville Bench (aka Niagara Escarpment). Steve jumped at the opportunity to be assistant winemaker at both Ridgepoint Winery and Calamus Estates Winery.  The two wineries shared the equipment and services of a consulting winemaker and Steve as the assistant winemaker. Talk about expedited learning!  “I prefer hands on learning.  Everyday I walked through the vineyards checking the progress of the vines & grapes.  The best part was that I was always learning because I had two different wineries to oversee,” recalls Steve.


Talented and in hot demand, Steve helped the owners at Thomas and Vaughn Winery (also located in Beamsville) during the 2007 harvest. This harvest has been considered by many as the best harvest of the century.  Again, Steve talent showed through in the wines that he crafted.


Throughout all of this time, Steve, like many young winemakers had the pipedream of owning his own winery.  “I think that it is natural that we all think about it at some stage.” The running joke in the wine industry is that to make a million of profit, you need to start with 10 million dollars. Start up costs & large capital expenditures is the common obstacle for new winemakers. “When the owners at Calamus provided me the ability to create my own wine at their facility using their equipment – this was a dream come true. Having my own label allows me to develop my own expression & allows me to experiment to fine tune my winemaking skills.”


Steve & other virtual wineries source premium fruit from local grape growers or their own vineyards.  They make the wine in the cellars using the technology & equipment available to them in their host winery. Now that you know that this style of winery exists, keep these young winemakers on your radar as their labels are making an impression in the Ontario wine industry: Charles Baker at Stratus Vineyard, Kevin Panagapka at Featherstone Estate Vineyard (featured in Savvy Selections in January 2008) & Wes Lawry at Five Roads Winery all located in Niagara.  Frederic Picard at Huff Estates (featured in June 2007) is located in Prince Edward County.


The story of Nyarai

No doubt that Steve will be constantly telling the story & correcting our pronunciation of the unusual word Nyarai.  “I wanted a name that honoured history & celebrated my African-Canadian roots”, explained Steve.  Nyarai means to be humble or humility in the language of the Shona tribe – native people of Botswana & Zimbawe. “The name is fitting as I think it is a humbling process & experience to take fruit from the land to make wine”, states Steve.  Throughout his research, Steve found that Nyarai is often used as a girl’s name.  Have you met a woman named Nyarai?  Steve hasn’t – yet!


Does Steve ever stop?

With two winemaking jobs on the go, does Steve ever take time to unwind? “I will sometimes pick up my sticks & play the drums or sit down to the piano”, states Steve.  “By far though, my favorite way to relax is in the kitchen cooking for family and friends. Being a winemaker, I have the opportunity to meet and work with many great chefs to pair my wine with their specialties.  I am always trying new recipes or creating my own.” Steve shares one of his recipes with you below. 


Cheers & Enjoy!



~ Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes ~

Sauvignon Blanc VQA 2008, $18


With many options of quality grapes available to him, Steve wanted to focus on his love of Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  “I absolutely love working with Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  It is my goal to make Sauvignon Blanc my signature wine for Nyarai”. 


“You can smell the freshness as soon as the cap is untwisted”, commented Debbie during the Savvy Selections tasting panel.   


Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: As you swirl this crisp, dry wine, refreshing aromas of lime, green melon & white grapefruit jump out of your glass. These aromas continue into the taste with a zingy key lime pie finish that lingers forever. A well made, elegant wine has loads of acidity – perfect to brighten our soggy summer weather!


Suggested Food Pairing: Serve chilled (at about 11C) on its own or with food – perfect for a picnic.  Try with scallops in lemon butter, pasta dishes topped with goat cheese or fresh from the garden steamed green beans tossed with butter and toasted almonds. Try your hand at the Cashew Encrusted Halibut with this wine provided by Chef Glen “Skip” Sansome of Petit Bill’s Bistro in Ottawa.


Cellaring: No need to wait…just chill this bottle and enjoy this summer.



Nyarai Cellars Cabernet Merlot VQA 2007, $18

What timing to start a new label – during the 2007 vintage when ripe fruit is plentiful. Named ‘Mother Nature’s gift to winemakers’, the 2007 vintage has created some of Ontario’s best wines.


A blend of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc & 15% Syrah that was aged for 13 months in French oak. Steve made this wine with the intention to have on hand and serve with any meal.


Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Concentrated aromas of black fruit (think fresh juicy black cherries or wild blackberries) that then integrates with flavours of warm spices (can you find cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves?). “There is black licorice woven in through the aromas, taste and finish”, comments Debbie during the Savvy Selections tasting panel. Medium bodied with just enough tannins that will be softened with a few years in the cellar or why wait….simply serve with a burger to see how the tannins smooth out.


Suggested Food Pairing: This well made wine is a perfect ‘weekday wine’.  Why not have a few bottles on hand to serve with BBQ fare – burgers or lamb chops, pizza, pasta or a hearty stew when the cool autumn nights come around.  Steve shares his Louisiana Blackened Catfish recipe to enjoy with this wine.


Cellaring: This wine is impressive as is. Enjoy now or cellar for 2 years to soften the tannins. Serve at 12C to 14C.

Nyarai Cellars Syrah VQA 2007, $18
This wine is a work of art! Steve’s talent as a winemaker shows through in each glass.  Made with the same grape variety of Australia’s infamous Shiraz, the main difference is that Syrah style (rooted in France) is typically not as bold & in-your-face as the Australian blockbuster counterpart.  Syrah is only just coming onto Niagara’s radar with a few grape growers & wineries working together to produce an impressive red wine. Steve is devoted to Syrah as he sees that it will become Nyarai’s signature red wine.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: “The elegant aromas of dark fruit prepare you for a masterpiece wine.” stated Debbie during the Savvy Selections tasting panel.  This full bodied wine has flavours of freshly brewed coffee, dark chocolate & dried figs dance all over your palate with a lingering blackberry finish. 

Suggested Food Pairing: This outstanding wine has good tannins that will soften as you enjoy with food. This wine is begging to be enjoyed with BBQed steak, beef tenderloin or prime rib with all the trimmings grilled vegetables. Slow Food Chef Roger Weldon of Ballygiblin’s Restaurant offers his Rack of Lamb with (not so spicy) Chimchurri Sauce. 

Cellaring: This wine is ready to serve right now or if you choose, it could cellar quite comfortably for 5 to 7 years to soften the tannins. Serve at 16C to 18C. 



~ Recipes to enjoy with the Savvy Selections ~

With Nyaria Cellars Sauvignon Blanc…

Cashew Encrusted Halibut with Citrus Aioli

Serves 5
From the kitchen of
Chef Glen “Skip” Sansome of Petit Bill’s Bistro located on Wellington Street in Ottawa

The Petit Bill’s Bistro is named in honour of the co-owners’ father – “Little Bill” Fitzpatrick. The Westboro restaurant offers a unique menu marrying fine French food with “down home” comfort, “speaking French with a Newfy Accent”.  More about this fun restaurant at www.petitbillsbistro.ca   



1 cup (250 mL) cornmeal

1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped cashews

Five 6-ounce (170-g) halibut filets

1 tablespoon (15 mL) plus 1 cup (250 mL) olive oil, divided

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon (5 mL) orange zest

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) each lime and lemon zest

1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh orange juice

1/4 tablespoon (7 mL) each lime and lemon juice

2 egg yolks

5 medium red and/or yellow beets, roasted, peeled and cubed

8 fresh mint leaves, chopped

1/4 small fennel bulb, shaved thin

3 oranges, peeled, cut into segments

1/2 cup (125 ml) balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh orange juice




1. Mix cornmeal and cashews in small bowl. Lightly press filets in nut mixture to coat all sides evenly.


2. Heat 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil in heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Sautée fish on each side until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.


3. Pulse garlic, zests, juices and yolks in food processor until combined; with motor running slowly, add 1 cup (250 mL) olive oil in continuous stream until mixture is thick. Set aside.


4. To make beet salad, combine beets, mint, fennel, orange segments, vinegar and orange juice in a shallow pasta bowl.


5. To serve, place fish on the salad topped with dollop of garlic aioli.



With Nyarai Cellars Cabernet Merlot…

Louisiana Blackened Catfish with Roasted Red Pepper Butter

Serves 4
From the kitchen of Nyarai Cellar’s winemaker Steve Byfield


Blackened Seasoning

3 Tbsp dried thyme

2 Tbsp each garlic powder, onion powder, paprika

1 Tbsp dried oregano

2 tsp each salt, black pepper

1 tsp each ground cumin, ground nutmeg


Roasted Red Pepper Butter

1 red pepper

¼ cup soft butter

½ tsp paprika

Salt and pepper to taste


3 Tbsp butter

4 catfish fillets




1.      To make seasoning, combine all seasoning ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.


2.      To make butter, set red pepper in oven or toaster oven. Roast until blackened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool. Peel and seed. In a small bowl, mash red pepper into a puree. Add remaining butter ingredients. Whip by hand until well mixed. Set aside.


3.      Sprinkle seasoning on a plate, enough to cover bottom. Set aside.


4.      In a small pan, melt butter over low heat. Place a fillet in the pan, flipping over to coat both sides. Set fillet into seasoning, coating both sides. Repeat for each fillet. Use more seasoning if needed.


5.      Place fillets in pan. Increase heat to high and cook until blackened on both sides and slightly crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes each side. Use more butter if necessary.


6.      Serve hot with a dollop of red pepper butter.


With Nyarai Cellars Syrah…

Rack of Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce

Serves 2 or 3 people
From the kitchen of Chef Roger Weldon at Ballygiblin’s Restaurant located in Carleton Place

Located in the heart of Downtown Carleton Place, this dazzling, lively spot has the trappings of a pub-like atmosphere in the back and quaint dining in the front.  Savvy Company is proud to be the Sommeliers at this farm to table restaurant featuring an all-Ontario wine list.  More about the restaurant at www.ballygiblins.ca 



1 frenched 6-rib rack of fresh local lamb (Chef Roger prefers Lanark County lamb)


For the chimichurri sauce:

1/4 cup (125 ml) olive oil

2 tablespoons (25 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon (15 mL) red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 clove shallot, minced

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) kosher salt

1 teaspoon (5 mL) crushed black peppercorns

1 bunch fresh spinach, well washed

1/2 bunch each fresh parsley, cilantro, mint and basil



1. Process sauce ingredients in food processor until minced. Let rest at least 2 hours before serving.


2. Place lamb rack on hot barbecue grill about 2 minutes per side to sear surface. Reduce heat or move rack to a cooler part of grill to roast about 10 to 15 minutes per side, using meat thermometer for rare (about 120 F/50 C) or medium (about 150 F/65 C). Serve with sauce.




Enjoy Nyarai wines while you can! 

You will definitely not see Nyarai wines at the LCBO. When you would like more of the wines or other wines from previously featured Savvy Selections, simply call me to make the arrangements for a delivery. 


Be forewarned….there are VERY few cases of Nyarai wines available.  It is anticipated that the Sauvignon Blanc (only 126 cases were produced) & Syrah will be sold out by September so don’t wait too long. Contact Savvy Company if you would like to re-order extra bottles. 

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