There is a Fancy Farm Girl in all of us!

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Savvy Selections wine of the month club 
Sue-Ann Staff Estates Winery

– March 2015 –

Timing is everything.  When I visited Sue-Ann in August last year, we walked through the vineyards & I suggested that we feature her this month; at that moment in time neither Sue-Ann nor I knew that March would be a turning point for her.  Sue-Ann Staff is, to use her words, “going at it on my own”.  She is shedding her responsibilities as a winemaker at other wineries and focusing 100% on her own winery: Sue-Ann Staff Estates Winery.  This is a big leap for anyone, yet, in my humble opinion, this remarkable woman can do anything.

Sue-Ann & I have been friends since I started The Savvy Grapes over 13 years ago.  She was the first woman winemaker we featured at a winemakers dinner showcasing her talent at Pillitteri Estates Winery.  And she wowed everyone with the delicious wines she made and most of all, her charm. Read on as our Savvy Sommelier Velma LeBlanc captures more about the dynamic Sue-Ann & her deeply rooted ties to Niagara’s vineyards.

In your Savvy Selections, you will find:

Robert’s Block Riesling VQA 2011

Pinot Grigio VQA 2012

Cabernet Franc VQA 2011

“I believe in letting the fruit do the walking and talking & letting it express where it is grown. I also want to make wines that are consumer friendly – approachable, drinkable & price savvy.” explains Sue-Ann when Velma asked about her winemaking style.  Although Sue-Ann would never disclose her favourite grape variety – it’s like picking your favourite child – she does have an affection for Rieslings (70% of the vines on her property are Riesling).  She makes many different styles from this grape variety – dry (as you will taste in the Robert’s Block), off-dry, semi-dry & sparkling. She also has a sparkling ice-wine, but it is sold out.  Bar none, Sue-Ann can make magic with Rieslings.

SAS bio photoMeet Sue-Ann!

You are the first to know….The Fancy Farm Girl herself is coming to Ottawa.  We are delighted to host a portfolio tasting on Wednesday April 22nd at the Orange Art Gallery, where Sue-Ann will be showcasing all of her wines – and perhaps some barrel samples too. This event will also showcase Pondview Estates Winery of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  We are just nailing down the final details, so watch your inbox for your invitation.

As a Savvy Selections subscriber, 2 complementary tickets await you.  To be added to the guest list, email me directly debbie@savvycompany.ca

Can’t attend?  You can still order the featured Sue-Ann & Pondview wines.  And share the experience by giving the tickets to friends.

Debbie & Savvy Team

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

Presented by Sommelier Velma LeBlanc

“Years back, while tending my family farm, I had a revelation,” said Sue-Ann Staff, the accomplished winemaker…“I loved the farm life. This is my Paris, my Australia, my South Africa, my freedom. So, I dress the part and enjoy life through the rose-coloured glass of the fancy farm girl. The farm is a metaphor, the attire an approach. The reality? There is a fancy farm girl in all of us.”

Fancy Farm GirlThese marketing words are behind the winery’s new Fancy Farm Girl label – available in 60+ LCBO locations until May 7 as one of the “Wines to Watch” –  but they also capture the very essence of Sue-Ann, who has received more than 450 national and international wine awards and has twice been recognized as one of the world’s top four “Women in Wine” by the International Wine and Spirits Society in London, England.

“The best day for me is when I start out in steel-toed work boots and ripped jeans, get up to my elbows in the vineyards or tank room, and then head home, shower, pop on a gala dress and go to pour wine at a splashy event. I love the contrast, the diversity, the glamour.  But my roots are in the farm,” matter-of-factly states Sue-Ann.

A Family History of Growing Grapes

And those roots run deep. The Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery is located in Jordan, along the Niagara Escarpment, on land that has been owned by her family for seven generations. The last five generations have grown grapes, making it one of the oldest commercial vineyards in Canada (perhaps even the oldest). When Sue-Ann was growing up, it was also the largest privately owned fruit farm in Canada, with more than 800 acres of grapes, most of which were destined for the industrial Jordan Wines.

SAS grandfathers tractor - winery cameraAs early as the age of seven, she began spending time in the vineyard with her grandmother, who managed the crews that were tying and thinning the vines. By 13, she was driving tractors and cultivators. “We had over 30 varieties of grapes and we were one of the first to plant Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Baco Noir. Grapes were a big part of our lives and a big discussion around the dinner table every night.”

Sue-Ann is the first member of the family to become a winemaker, a career she decided to pursue when she was 16 years old.  “My grandfather was very much of the mindset that we were farmers first (photo of his tractor at right). As well, the whole estate winery thing didn’t exist at the time. Wineries were factories and they processed wine, so it was a totally different feel back then.”

Today at her winery, she manages 104 acres of land, 35 of which are devoted to grape vines and, of those, 70 percent to Riesling. Until now, however, focusing on her own vineyard has been a part-time job or, as she describes it, “an expensive hobby”. All of that is about to change.

Food Truck festivalFrom the time she completed her studies (first with a double major in horticulture and bio-technology from the University of Guelph, followed by a graduate degree in winemaking from the University of Adelaide in South Australia), Sue-Ann has been paying the bills by using her talents to help advance other wineries. She worked for 10 years as the winemaker at Pillitteri Estate Winery (where she won many awards for her icewine) and then worked for the original management team at 20 Bees Winery, until it went into receivership. That was a turning point in her life.

“I was 37 at the time and had a cat, of course” she laughs. “I thought if I can’t start a winery now and support a cat, it will never happen.”

She launched the Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery in 2008 and opened it to the public in 2009. About the same time, John Howard (of John Howard Cellars of Distinction) invited her to be the winemaker for Megalomaniac in nearby Vineland.  This position would include liaising with its sister property – Château La Confession – in St. Emillion, Bordeaux, France. “With the travel, it sounded pretty enticing,” she says.

The reality is that more than 50 percent of her time was spent at Megalomaniac, while her own winery took back seat for the past six years.

Focusing 100% on Sue-Ann Staff Winery

Sue-Ann recently made the decision to alter her course. Beginning this April, she will refocus 100% of her attention on her own winery.  “I’ve given a lot at Megalomaniac and we’ve grown quite a bit and have done well too. I’m sad to leave that behind, but at the same time my own winery hasn’t really taken off and it needs to. If I’m going to do this, I need to get two feet behind it & give it my all.”

“It’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s sad (to be leaving Megalomanic), it’s happy.”  Mostly, though, she sounds excited about taking her winery to a new level.

sue ann at workAmong her plans, she wants to increase production to 10,000 cases and export some of her ice wines. She earned the reputation of being the “Ice Queen” when she was at Pillitteri and laughs that, “at least I hope they were talking about the wine!”  She is also anticipating that her new Fancy Farm Girl label does well at the LCBO over the next couple of months, so it will be considered for inclusion in the general listing, which would represent a huge step for her. Give it a try – the Savvy Team were impressed with both the ‘Frivolous White’ and ‘Flamboyant Red’.  At $14.95 – she’s giving it away!

Sue-Ann is also looking forward to increasing her focus on hosting special events on the estate property, an area of her business that has been growing rapidly for her over the last several years.  A 4000-square foot tent, complete with chandeliers and a dance floor, overlooking a two-acre pond, plays centre role in weddings and other events, including a recent Family Day party, where the pond was transformed into a large skating rink. “It’s fun having people come in and enjoy the property. It’s a special place in the world.”

Sue Ann Staff propertyThe large picturesque Victorian farm house on the estate is where Sue-Ann lives as well as the winery,  It is the same home that belonged to her grandparents and in where she spent a lot of time as a youngster.  This homestead now hosts many visitors casually in the kitchen. It has undergone extensive renovations – “it’s done up a bit more fancy than the average farmhouse” – and today plays a double role as the winery’s retail space. “People love it – they think it’s fantastic – but sometimes I just want to make a grilled cheese sandwich,” she laughs. “So, I would like to get my kitchen back.” Part of her four-year plan is to move the retail shop to a different building.

By the time you crack the seal on one of Sue-Ann’s wines in your Savvy Selections, Sue-Ann will be in Düsseldorf, Germany for “Prowein” – the largest wine trade show in the world.  This marks a milestone as this visit will be the first international show where the only wine that Sue-Ann will be showcasing is the wine from her winery.

Good luck, Sue-Ann, and best wishes on the next chapter of your winemaking career!


Sue-Ann Staff Robert's Block RieslingRobert Block Riesling VQA 2011, $26.00

This award-winning wine comes from 15-year-old vines, which are planted in thin soil where the roots literally sit on the rocks of the Niagara escarpment. This is the oldest block of Riesling at the winery and Sue-Ann only makes this wine in premium Riesling years – 2011 was one.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: This classic Riesling exudes notes of petrol and minerals and has a silky, rich texture. It is nicely balanced and has a beautiful long finish.

Suggested Food Pairings: This versatile Riesling would pair well with a wide range of dishes, from very rich to acidic. On the following pages we’ve included a recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques – a lovely way to end (hopefully!) the winter.

Cellaring: No need to cellar – enjoy the wine has Sue-Ann intended – refresh & aromatic.

Sue-Ann Staff Pinot GrigioPinot Grigio VQA 2012, $18.00

This may be the last Pinot Grigio that Sue-Ann makes at her winery. It would definitely be a shame. Enjoy every drop! The delicate vines suffered last year, and this winter has been even colder.  Sue-Ann is not sure whether the vines will survive, so enjoy this bottle!  It may be the last from this winery for a while, depending on what the spring brings.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: This is an elegant, light, dry and aromatic wine, with notes of smoke, spice, almonds, and melons. It would be great with food, but also lovely just to sip.

Cellaring: Why wait?  Chill & serve now.  Sip & imagine that spring is on its way….

Sue Ann Staff Caberent Franc

Cabernet Franc VQA 2011, $21.95

The Cabernet Franc comes from 50-year vines and has been aged in French oak barrels for 14 months. “It has so much intensity and complexity,” says Sue-Ann, “that it gives me a lot of hope for the future. As it matures, it will get better and better.”

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: This approachable medium-bodied wine has a smooth juicy texture, with subtle tannins and fine acidity that helps to showcase rather than dominate the fruit. It has hints of red cherry and pomegranate, and Sue-Ann recommends it be served slightly chilled. 

Suggested Food Pairing:  This Cabernet Franc has a nice elegance to it, and would pair extremely well with lamb, sausages, grilled meats and braised ribs. With Easter just around the corner, we’ve included a recipe for a leg of lamb, with a crushed mint baste. 

Cellaring: Just released in December, this red wine impressed the Savvy Team.  There is enough backbone to cellar for 4 to 7 years, yet at the same token, the fruit & subtle tannins make the quandary of cellaring a difficult one to justify.   Take a sip and call us for more bottles to continue to enjoy now or cellar for later.


With Robert’s Block Riesling …

Coquilles St.- Jacques

Excerpted from Mom’s Secret Recipe File Cookbook by Chris Styler
Online recipe at www.epicurious.com


1 ¾  cups water
¾  cup dry white wine
1 small onion, chopped
Bouquet garni (see Mom’s Tip below)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound very fresh scallops
8 ounces mushrooms, washed and chopped
6 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bread crumbs
Grated Swiss or Gruyère cheese

Mom’s Tip: To make a bouquet garni, wrap a sprig or two of parsley, two bay leaves, and a sprig of fresh thyme (or ½  teaspoon of dried thyme leaves) in some cheesecloth. Tie into a neat bundle with thread or clean string.  This make it super easy to remove these herbs when instructed below.


Heat the water, wine, onion, bouquet garni, and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add the scallops, cover, and simmer on very low heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the mushrooms to the scallop poaching liquid and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Strain, discarding the bouquet garni and reserving the liquid and mushrooms separately.

Cut the scallops into 1/2-inch-thick slices. If too long, cut in half horizontally.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in the flour. Do not let it get dark. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the scallop liquid and mix until blended. Over very low heat, blend the flour mixture into the scallop liquid. Add the cream and simmer and stir until blended and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the scallops and mushrooms, and stir.

Fill 6 scallop shells or shallow 6-inch ramekins almost to the top with the scallop mixture. Dust the top lightly with bread crumbs and sprinkle with the grated cheese. (If you’re not ready to serve the scallops, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

Preheat the broiler. Broil the scallops until the mixture bubbles and the cheese melts and turns golden brown. 

With Sue-Ann Staff Pinot Grigio…

Maple Salmon

From allrecipes.com 


Photo from allrecipes.com
Photo from allrecipes.com

1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoonssoy sauce
1 clovegarlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoonground black pepper
1 pound salmon


In a small bowl, mix the maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, garlic salt, and pepper.

Place salmon in a shallow glass baking dish, and coat with the maple syrup mixture. Cover the dish, and marinate salmon in the refrigerator 30 minutes, turning once.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven, and bake salmon uncovered 20 minutes, or until easily flaked with a fork.

With Sue-Ann Staff Cabernet Franc …

Easter Lamb –  brushed with mashed-up garlic mint

A Jamie Oliver recipe


1 quality leg of lamb, about 2kg
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
1 clove garlic, peeled
125 ml olive oil
250 ml organic chicken stock
600 g new potatoes, sliced thickly
100 g baby fennel, trimmed and cut in half lengthways
225 g baby carrots, tops trimmed
100 g baby leeks, trimmed
200 g zucchini, sliced lengthways
250 g fine or yellow beans, trimmed
150 g asparagus, trimmed to 6cm lengths


Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Score the lamb all over and season.

Using a pestle and mortar, or in a food processor, pound or blend the mint leaves with the garlic and seasoning until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil to your mixture then brush all over the lamb.

Roast in the oven for 1½ hours, brushing with the seasoned oil regularly until the lamb is cooked.

While the meat is resting, remove the fat from the roasting tin. Add the stock to the tin and make a light, tasty broth by boiling and dissolving all the goodness at the bottom.

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 5 minutes. Add the fennel and carrots and cook for a further 5 minutes. Then add the rest of the vegetables and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Carve your lamb then serve the vegetables in a shallow bowl with the lamb on top and a little broth and mint oil drizzled over.

SAS with Brix - Stephen Elphick

Bon Appetit & Enjoy your Savvy Selections!


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