Have you been to Prince Edward County lately? On your next trip, promise me that you will drop in to visit Stanners Vineyard. Located ‘at the top’ of the winery map not far off Hwy 401 at the Trenton exit, the winery is perfectly situated to be your first stop into Prince Edward County or last stop enroute home. Mark my word…the visit with winery owner & winemaker Colin Stanner & a tasting of his wines will make your County trip complete.
In a life previous to this, both Cliff (father) and Colin (son) Stanners were research scientists: Cliff has a PhD in physical chemistry and Colin a PhD in cell & molecular biology. The two also had considerable experience in winemaking before embarking on the adventure of owning a vineyard & winery. In Montréal, Cliff was a force to be reckoned with in an amateur winemaking club. In the meantime, Colin and his wife (Mary) moved to California in the 1990’s where he took an Intro to Oenology (winespeak: the science & study of all aspects of wine & winemaking) course at the highly acclaimed University of California – Davis Campus (aka UC Davis) learning about the wines of the world & winemaking basics.
The Story of Stanners Vineyard
Much experimentation ensued in Colin’s basement small-scale winery where he converted local California grapes into well respected wine. Both Colin & Cliff saw the potential of making high quality wine from Pinot Noir grapes in Prince Edward County (recently named the 4th ‘Designated Viticulture Area’ in Ontario). While Cliff neared retirement, the father & son team were primed for a new adventure. They made the leap to turn their passion for nature & premium wine into reality. The result rivals French Burgundy wines but their goal is not to imitate but bring forth the beauty of the minerality that is characteristic of Prince Edward County wines.
Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir is the most critically acclaimed wine of their portfolio. The 2010 garnered a Silver medal and judges ranked it right up there amongst the Top 4 Pinot Noirs in Canada! The Royal Winter Fair voted it the best wine of the show.
And you heard it first…here, WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada announced that Stanners 2011 Pinot Noir VQA Four Mile Creek was awarded Silver in the category of Red Wines & 2012 Chardonnay VQA Lincoln Lakeshore won a Bronze medal.
Settling in Prince Edward County
Colin and his wife, Mary, moved to California in the 1990’s. Armed with an UC Davis introductory course in general wines of the world & winemaking basics, Colin visited wineries at harvest time to bring home grapes to his basement mini-winery. He learned by making wine & making mistakes. He experimented with full cluster fermentation with stems, even ripe stems, resulting in very astringent tannins (think of a mouth-drying sensation like over-steeped black tea).
Meanwhile, Colin’s father Cliff discovered the Hillier area in Prince Edward County (PEC) on a cycling trip. Cliff & Colin visited and looked at properties & wineries in this area near Trenton. After lots of research – they are scientists afterall – they chose a property that borders on an environmentally-protected bird area with lots of wildlife.
Their extensive research continued as they tasted wines from neighbouring wineries – By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery, Grange of Prince Edward, Rosehall Run, and Norman Hardie – to learn more about the distinct County minerality. The father & son team sought advice from Mike Peddlesden, a key figure in PEC wine industry, and Dan Taylor for economic development. Through this research process, they recognized the incredible potential of The County & they were excited to become part of it.
Opening Stanners Vineyard
In 2003, they purchased the 25 acre property that would become Stanners artisanal, family-owned & operated vineyard & winery. In the fall of 2004, all hands were on deck to grab a hoe or shovel to help prepare the land for planting in the spring of 2005. Pinot Noir vines were growing by 2007 but the grapes were not ready to sell until the harvest of 2009. Then the grand opening of the winery happened at the end of 2010. Ever since their opening we have been contacting them inquiring if they were ‘ready’ to be featured in Savvy Selections. All of us in the Savvy Team are delighted to introduce you to their wines.
Cliff & Colin (pictured right) sought advice of many people before building their winery. Their Barrel & Tasting Room are constructed of straw bale which is highly insulated & keeps a constant temperature in a very ecologically friendly way. Digging a cave was not an option for them due to the great amount fractured limestone. You can actually see this in different parts in the vineyard: the high spots are full of rock, the low spots have less. This very limestone is perfect for Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. Their roots have to dip deep through the fractured rock to produce concentrated wines.
Of the 25 acre property, 18,000 vines are intentionally planted densely into 7 to 8-1/2 acres … the number of vines would fit closer to others’ 18 acres. The first acre was planted 4-1/2 feet between the rows and 3 feet between the plants (not unlike Burgundy France). They really have to hedge down & keep on top of the canopy. Now they plant 6 feet between the rows at Stanners Vineyard. This helps greatly with airflow and the reduction of disease. As you can imagine, these scientists have good reasoning for this approach.
Colin hopes to make Pinot Noir from parcels of land. In his lab, he will make the wines separately and then compare the results. Depending on his findings, he may blend them or he may not. All along, his focus is to really show the characteristics of the grapes & vineyard, to make every sip rewarding & different from the last. He says, “It’s a matter of not trying to influence it too strongly. Not hitting it over the head with oak.”
The difference between California grapes and those grown in PEC is the Brix level (winespeak: the natural sugar content of the grape). In California, grapes had to be so ripe (at 24-25 Brix) to get flavour. In The County, it takes comparatively only 20 brix to develop phenolic (physiological) ripeness at a much earlier rate. For now, Stanners produce 1000 cases per year. The goal is 1500 cases as they grow bigger. This is considered very small by Ontario wine industry standards.
The Winemaking Process
”The magic lies in how the grapes are handled from vine to bottle,” explains Colin. “The grapes are hand-picked into small flat picking bins. Next the whole berries go into the de-stemmer. No crushing throughout the winemaking process”. Pinot Noir & Cabernet Franc go directly into the fermentation bin where whole berries sit longer & at lower temperature than usual. The must is punched-down by hand then goes into a gentle bladder press.
At this time of the year, you will find Colin in the vineyard & working on Pinot Gris in the winery. There will be only 85-90 cases of this popular, pinkish-salmon coloured beauty. They will be grabbed up quickly so get it while you can by calling the Savvy Team to arrange a delivery.
“It is somewhat of a quiet time in the vineyard right now.” states Colin. “Measurements are done, leaf-pulling is all done, the weeds have stopped. It is the calm before the storm where we have a week or so to relax before we hit the ground running with harvest.”
Stanners Vineyard Tasting Notes
Stanners Vineyard Chardonnay VQA Lincoln Lakeshore
The grapes are sourced from a single vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation in the Niagara Peninsula. When you have a look at the label, it may surprise you that this Chardonnay is 15% abv (alcohol by volume). So perfectly balanced between caramel & flinty smoky minerality that you won’t notice the high alcohol.
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Buttery & concentrated caramel/butterscotch, ripe green apple & pear, toasted coconut & wildflower honey. But wait! … There’s that medium+ acidity & flinty minerality cutting through that full-bodied, buttery character. As it warms up, white pepper, smoke & vanilla make their appearance. The finish goes on and on and on….
Suggested Food Pairing: Stanners creamy-textured Chardonnay absolutely beckons Gravlax (recipe follows) or bagel & cream cheese with smoked salmon or trout (like they have at Supply and Demand restaurant in Ottawa), pan-seared scallops, classic French onion tart. The slight smokiness will lend itself to barbeque or roasted poultry as well.
Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir VQA Ontario
This is a blend of grapes from Prince Edward County (60%) and Lincoln Lakeshore (40%), hence the VQA Ontario on the label. Bright, elegant & delicate with a Gamay-esque quality. Our Savvy Sommeliers recommend to chill ever so slightly as you would a French Beaujolais. Chilling for 10-15 minutes in the fridge will release the delicate & elegant aromas & flavours. This is a very Burgundian-style Pinot with that distinctive County minerality we have been talking about since page 1!
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Decant or let age for a year or so & you will be greatly rewarded for your patience. It’s coming up roses … the colour, the aroma & flavour. Roses waft through ripe strawberries & pomegranate.
Suggested Food Pairing: Chill slightly like a French Beaujolais and serve with: duck confit grilled cheese served with cherry shiraz jelly & Bleu Elizabeth artisan cheese, decadent bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese, prosciutto-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese; rustic paté, artisanal charcuterie, roast turkey or chicken. This Pinot Noir is very versatile.
Stanners Vineyard Cabernet Franc VQA Prince Edward County
Ready for a completely different red wine? This one blew all of our Savvy Selections tasting panel away. And at our recent All Canadian Wine Taste & Buy, some of our ‘loyal & regular’ Savvy Event attendees were tipping Debbie off about this wine. “Try it & you’ll be amazed!” they promised.
Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: And no doubt, they were right…now we’re talking! Aromas & flavours of rip juicy fruit abound. Chock-full of ripe black fruit, plum, cranberry, floral (think red roses), baking spices (think cinnamon or allspice) and good black liquorice. The acidity & tannins are well-balanced for drinking now or this wine will definitely age for a few years in your cellar.
Suggested Food Pairing: Spans the range of pairings from pulled pork & burgers to duck, cured meats and Creole-blackened fish.
Recipes to Pair With Stanners Vineyard Wines
Easy Salmon Gravadlax (Gravlax)
From Jamie Oliver
1 heaped tablespoon dark soft brown sugar
25 mL vodka
½ an orange zest from 2 lemons
a bunch of fresh dill
2 x 150 g salmon fillets, pinboned, skin on
4 tablespoons soured cream
1½ teaspoons jarred grated horseradish
extra virgin olive oil
1 x 250 g vacuum pack of beetroots
Serve with 1 punnet of cress & a loaf of rye bread
- Place the sugar, vodka, 3 heaped tablespoons of salt, the orange zest and the zest from 1 lemon into a bowl. Pick the dill leaves and reserve in a bowl of cold water in the fridge, then finely chop the stalks and stir into the mixture so well combined. Pop the salmon fillets into the bowl, turning them over in the marinade until well coated, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 5 hours.
- Meanwhile, make the horseradish sauce. Add the soured cream, grated horseradish and the juice from ½ a lemon to a small bowl. Mix well, season with a pinch of salt and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, then place in the fridge until needed.
- Add the beetroot (including the juices) to a bowl with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt, then mash with a fork to a rough paste. Have a taste and add a splash more vinegar if you think it needs it, then set aside until needed.
- After around 5 hours, remove the salmon from the bowl, then wipe off and discard any excess salt. Drain and finely chop the reserved dill leaves and rub all over the salmon. If you’re not serving straight away, sandwich the salmon together, with the skin-side outside and wrap in cling film, then return to the fridge, until needed.
- To serve, remove the cling film and peel away the salmon skin, then transfer to a board and finely slice. Snip over the cress, then serve alongside the horseradish sauce, balsamic beets, rye bread and lemon wedges for squeezing over. I sometimes like to serve it with a shot of vodka on the side too. Enjoy!
Duck Confit Grilled Cheese
Duck Confit (recipe below)
whole grain bread
mildly nutty cheese like Emmenthal or Fontina
- You can use any basic recipe for duck confit (see below), and then, instead of preserving it, shred the meat, including the crisp skin. (If you are using duck confit made earlier or one that you buy, warm the meat up a bit in a sauté pan.)
- Layer the duck onto a slice of nice sandwich bread; seven grain or whole wheat is a good choice.
- Top with a few thin slices of a mildly nutty tasting cheese that melts well, like Emmenthaler or Fontina.
- Top with the second slice of bread, and press down lightly.
- Film a skillet with olive oil (butter burns too quickly), and get it hot (but not smoking) over medium heat.
- Brown the sandwich on both sides, and lower the heat under the pan, letting the sandwich steam long enough to melt the cheese and get it all oozy.
- Cut on the diagonal, and let ‘er rip.
3 tablespoons salt
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
6 sprigs thyme
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 duck legs with thighs
4 duck wings, trimmed
About 4 cups duck fat
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt in the bottom of a dish or plastic container large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer.
- Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots, and thyme in the container.
- Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, then sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, and thyme and a little pepper. You can cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.
- Preheat the oven to 225°F.
- Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan & brush the salt and seasonings off the duck.
- Arrange the duck pieces in a single snug layer in a high-sided baking dish or ovenproof saucepan. Pour the melted fat over the duck (the duck pieces should be covered by fat) and place the confit in the oven.
- Cook the confit slowly at a very slow simmer — just an occasional bubble — until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, 2-3 hours.
- Remove the confit from the oven. Cool and store the duck in the fat. (The confit will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.)
- Note: The duck fat can be strained, cooled and reused.
Oven Braised Pork Shoulder with Apple Juice
About.com Southern Food
Serves 6 to 8 with leftovers
1 bone-in pork shoulder roast, about 6 pounds
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced or coarsely chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons of a seasoning blend for pork or chicken or salt and pepper
1 cup apple juice
1 to 1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce
- Lightly grease a large covered Dutch oven or casserole.
- Heat oven to 300°.
- Put onions in the casserole.
- Rub the pork with the seasoning blend or sprinkle generously with salt and pepper then place the roast on the onions and add apple juice.
- Cover and bake for 5 hours, basting occasionally.
- Remove the roast to a large platter and shred or chop the meat. Discard bones and fat. Strain the juices and put the solids back into the casserole or Dutch oven.
- Discard the liquids and add the shredded or chopped pork. Then add barbecue sauce and stir to blend ingredients. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
- This is delicious served with macaroni and cheese or scalloped potatoes, or serve it in buns with pickles, slaw, and baked beans.