Savvy Selections e-Zine featuring Pelee Island Winery

January 2009
Savvy Selections – featuring Pelee Island Winery
Canada’s wineries delivered to your doorstep

Happy New Year!

We are starting 2009 with a well-established, yet unique Canadian winery, Pelee Island Winery. You may recognize the winery for its well-known labels, featuring natural rare animals of the area.  However, with this month’s Savvy Selections we will introduce you to some of Pelee’s lesser known wines. 

As friends and I set sail on the M.V. Jimaan ferry from Leamington last summer, I felt like an intrepid explorer traveling to a new world.  The Jimaan (the word means ‘big canoe’ in Ojibway) is the principal method of transport for residents of and visitors to Pelee Island.  Not only does it carry people, it carries supplies, trucks, tractors and, during harvest time, hundreds of containers of ripe wine grapes.

The Pelee Island Winery vineyards are located on the island, yet winemaking takes place in Kingsville – on the mainland.  The vineyards, over 550 acres, amount to the largest private estate in Canada.  During our travels, we learned that the island is inhabited by about 150 families, most of whom are involved in agriculture or service industries.  We met two local families and learned of the challenges and the pleasures of living on the island. For instance, families still have to ‘stock up’ supplies for the winter.  In the early 1900s, the only way to the mainland in winter was on sleighs over the ice; today, the only method of winter travel is by air.  It is clear that while things have changed since the island was first settled over 100 years ago, many things haven’t – and one of them is the local enthusiasm for grape growing!

After the 1 ½ hour cruise to the island, we took a short road trip to the Pelee Island Winery Pavillon, where we learned more about the history of winemaking on the island, and tasted a wide range of Pelee Island wines.  The winery builds on a long tradition of grape growing and winemaking dating back to the late 1860s.  Local history records that the original grapes were imported from Ohio in 1866 by a settler family from Kentucky!  With the help of an enterprising Ontarian, J.S. Hamilton, wines from the Vin Villa winery on Pelee Island graced the tables of eastern Canada and the northeastern states by the late 1800s, and were successfully exported to Europe and the Caribbean.  In fact, one of these early Pelee Island wines won a bronze medal at a competition in Paris.

Other agricultural crops replaced grapes in the 1920s, but in 1979, an enterprising Austrian named Walter Strehn began the renaissance of the wine industry on the island.  Vines were imported from Germany and, in 1984, the Pelee Island Winery was built just east of Kingsville.  So began a new era of winemaking on Pelee Island (now established as its own viticultural area).  And from this new era, we are pleased to feature three of Pelee Island Winery’s premium wines – Barrique Chardonnay, Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend from the Vinedressers series.  Notice the Vinedressers label which features a photo dated in 1891 of the founding fathers of the original Pelee Island Wine and Vineyards Company, posing before the winery and the cellar.


We are certain you’ll enjoy these premium wines.  To order more Pelee Island wines or wines from previous Savvy Selections, simply call on us to organize a shipment for you.

– Debbie & the Savvy Team
Debbie Trenholm 








Pelee Island Winery
presented by Sommelier Susan Desjardins

 Location of Pelee Island

Pelee Island, the southernmost inhabited landmass in Canada, is about 10,000 acres in size – 6000 acres of which is arable land.  At 42 degrees north latitude, Pelee is at the same general level as other famous winegrowing areas of the world, such as Napa Valley, Burgundy, and parts of Spain and Portugal.  It has the highest heat units in the country (another words – great for ripening delicate Vitis vinifera grapes), and interestingly, the longest frost-free growing season in Ontario at 196 days.  The island has its own microclimate, influenced by its location 25 km offshore.  When rainstorms move in from the southwest, they tend to break up and flow around the island.  For instance, last summer, when the rest of Ontario was enduring rain through much of July and August, the island was enjoying wonderfully warm and sunny growing conditions.

The island is mostly below the level of Lake Erie, which becomes evident from the elevated road that circles the island.  The vineyards are located in the centre of the island, where somewhat deeper soils ensure the root systems can effectively establish themselves.  The vines on the island are often planted in an east-west direction, in order to take advantage of the high winds that blow consistently across the vineyards, limiting humidity and associated fungal diseases.  The winery has chosen to grow its grapes according to the World Wildlife Fund’s strict sustainable vineyard practices.  They are committed to making their own compost and recently achieved organic certification. 

Walter Schmoranz, the President and Winemaster and I spent time together when I visited the winery in Kingsville.  A native of Germany, Walter was educated and developed his winemaking skills in the Rheingau.  He came to Canada for a visit and was captivated by the country, along with the opportunity in southern Ontario.  He joined the Pelee Island Winery in 1985, just after the winery was built and as the Ontario wine industry was beginning to come to life.  Says Walter, “I have been very fortunate that the owners and investors are quite hands off.  As long as the financials are satisfactory, I have the latitude to implement creative viticultural strategies and new vinification techniques.”

And experiment he has, over the 23 years he has been with Pelee Island Winery.  Not satisfied to produce wines from varieties that are known to grow well in Ontario, Walter is constantly experimenting with new grape varietals.  To our benefit, this experimentation has led to the Vinedressers Shiraz and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend that we are showcasing in this month’s Savvy Selections.  Although Petit Verdot ripens even later than Cabernet Sauvignon, it is doing amazingly well in the island microclimate.  Other varietals such as Tempranillo and Malbec are also being experimented.  Along with Bruno Friesen, Pelee’s viticulturalist, Walter has tried a range of pruning techniques and has even experimented with biodynamic farming, which he studied while in university.  Not content with just expanding the range of varietals used and wines produced, Walter and Bruno harvested their first crop of lavender this year, and are growing sea-buckthorn, whose berries are used in the cosmetics industry and are recognized for their antioxidant properties.

As his role expanded, Walter recruited Martin Janz to work with him as winemaker.  “It’s a bit of a funny story.  My twin brother, who is also a winemaker, and I worked for Martin’s father when we were young.  I managed to entice Martin to Canada, and he’s been working with us now for over 10 years.”  Pelee’s philosophy of winemaking is simple:  produce a valued product that is as Canadian as possible. Walter explains, “It’s really about growing the best grapes, and then ensuring that we have excellent balance in the wines – this is very important.”

We think you’ll agree that the wines we’ve selected reflect the philosophy and commitment of Walter Schmoranz and Pelee Island Winery.  Enjoy these robust wines in the heart of winter!


~ Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes ~  

Pelee Island Barrique Chardonnay VQA 2005, $14.95
The grapes for this wine were harvested late in October to optimize the sugar content.  The juice was clarified and then aged sur lie (winespeak: aged for a couple of months with coarse sediment and inactive yeast cells – known as ‘lees’– allowing the flavours to gain complexity) for 10 months in French oak barriques.  The result is a round, dry & well balanced white wine.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: A lovely golden color, aromas of sweet spices – apple pie and vanilla waft from the glass.  Enjoy the rich mouth feel (winespeak: texture) of the wine, with flavors of ripe pears, toffee apple (the kind from a country fair), complemented by pleasant acidity.  The finish is long, warm and delicious.

Suggested Food Pairing: Serve this wine well chilled and enjoy it with a hearty chicken, veal or pork dish – as Susan offers below.  

Cellaring: No need to wait…this wine is ready to drink now.

Pelee Island Vinedressers Shiraz VQA 2005, $19.95
The Shiraz grape varietal is a relative newcomer to the Pelee Island vineyards, introduced in 2000.  The long, hot growing season of the island’s climate favors this grape – you can taste the sunshine in the wine!

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: A favorite of the Savvy Selections tasting panel, this deep ruby colored wine has aromas of forest fruits – imagine fresh blueberry pie – char (think BBQ), and a hint of black olive tapenade. A full-bodied and robust Shiraz, the palate is characterized by well-integrated ripe fruit, soft tannins and crisp acidity.  Enjoy the hint of smoky roasted peppers on the long finish. Yummy!

Suggested Food Pairing: This wine pairs well with hearty casseroles and roasted meat.  We also felt it would be a lovely sipping wine – try it with some Spanish Manchego cheese or the Carmelized Onion Tart recipe on the next page.

Cellaring: At 3 years of age, this wine is drinking well now, but could certainly cellar for another couple of years.

Pelee Island Cab Sauv/Petit Verdot VQA 2007, $19.95
This blend was just released in October 2008 (perfect timing to be featured in the Savvy Selections!), this Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot once again demonstrates the advantages of the climate and terroir of the island.  Petit Verdot grapes are not often grown in Canada – making this particular wine a special treat.  Verdot is late ripening with an erratic yield, yet it brings depth, intense color with a floral aroma to the wine or blend that it graces.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: “I can’t help rhapsodizing about the aromas of this bright but dense red”, explains Susan.  She recommends to let your glass sit for a minute, swirl, then enjoy a nose full of perfumed floral scents (red roses and violets – can you find them?) as well as aromas of dark cherries. The wine is medium-bodied, silky and dense.  Simply put – raspberry pie in a glass! The tannins are firm and drying, lingering through the long warm finish.

Suggested Food Pairing: This is a great wine to pair with boeuf bourgignon or prime rib, as well as grilled meats (such as the lamb loin recipe that follows). This could be enjoyed with hard cheeses.

Cellaring: This wine is wonderful paired with food and served now. 2-3 more years in the cellar would certainly soften the tannins.



 ~ Recipes to enjoy with your Savvy Selections ~

With Barrique Chardonnay…
Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Recipe from Aartje denBoer, Pickle Patch Farm
Serves 4

2 pork tenderloins, trimmed
4 sweet potatoes, split lengthwise
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

For seasoning:
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix the olive oil, thyme, salt & pepper in a small bowl.  Brush the cut sides of the sweet potatoes with the mixture and lay on a baking sheet, cut side down.  Roast for 35-45 minutes at 350F, depending upon size of potatoes.

Mix the seasoning ingredients together, and then brush them onto the pork tenderloins.  Place them into a roasting pan and place the pan in the middle of the oven, uncovered,  Roast at 350F for 35-40 minutes, or until the meat is slightly pink.  (I find that I can usually cook the meat and potatoes concurrently, but they might require a few minutes longer).

Remove the pork from the pan and let it sit on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing and serving with the sweet potatoes and a mesclun salad garnished with sun-dried tomatoes.


With Vinedressers Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot…
Grilled Lamb Loin
Recipe from Sebastien Centner
Serves 4

4 lamb loins
Salt & pepper to taste
12 or 16 large grape or cherry tomatoes
4 or 8 small carrots, with 1” greens attached
4 Tbsp olive oil
Aged Balsamic Vinegar – preferably 15 year old

Lightly season the lamb with pepper and a touch of salt.  Peel and halve the carrots and toss with tomatoes in olive oil, salt & pepper.

Pre-heat the grill to 400F.  Grill the cherry tomatoes and carrots until soft, then set aside and keep warm.

Grill lamb on medium to desired doneness, approximately 7-9 minutes for medium rare.

Slice each lamb loin in 2 and stack in the centre of the plate, then top with cherry tomatoes and carrots.  Drizzle about 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar directly in front of the lamb. 

Serve with roasted potatoes.  

A simple meal for a great wine!



With Vinedressers Shiraz…
Caramelized Onion Tarts
Recipe from A Matter of Taste, L. Waverman & J. Chatto
Makes about 24 tarts

Cream Cheese Pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt
¾ cup butter, diced
6 oz. cream cheese, diced

2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 cups thinly-sliced sweet onions
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup red wine
½ cup chicken stock
1 tsp granulated sugar
¾ cup whipping cream
1 tsp dried thyme
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 cup grated Pecorino or Asiago cheese

Place flour, salt, butter and cream cheese in a food processor and pulse until mixture just begins to form a ball. Turn out mixture and press into a flat disc. Wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll pastry out thinly on a floured surface. Cut 3” circles to fit 2” muffin or tart tins. Fit pastry into tins, prick and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Pastry can be formed into 1” balls and patted into tins.)

Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and salt them immediately to help remove water. Sautée for 5 minutes or until softened.

Add wine, stock and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30-35 minutes, or until onions are very soft and liquid has almost evaporated. Season well with salt & pepper.

Add cream & thyme and cook for 5 minutes, or until onions are a creamy mass. Remove from heat & stir in parsley and cheese.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Fill tart shells with onion mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is crisp and filling heated through.  Serve warm or at room temperature, as you sip your Vinedressers Shiraz!


When you would like to order additional Pelee Island wines or wines from other featured wineries in the Savvy Selections, simply contact the Savvy Team and we will organize a shipment for you.



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