Posts Tagged ‘St. David’s Bench’

Savvy Selections for the Holiday Season: Ravine Vineyard

Posted by Julie

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

You probably hadn’t bargained for a history lesson with this month’s delivery yet Ravine Estates Winery offers an abundance of both wine and history. Julie and her husband, Doug (also on the Savvy Team) visited the winery in July and spent some time with winemaker, Shawna White, walking through the vineyards as little gold finches and swallows flew about making their acquaintance and giving them a warm welcome to the “ravine.”

Are you starting to think about holiday entertaining? We can make it easy for you with this month’s Savvy Selections. Ravine is well known for their premium wines and our Savvy Sommeliers are sharing with you their hands-down favorites:

  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Riesling VQA 2010 – simply outstanding!
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Gewürztraminer VQA 2010 – the aromas that waft from the glass will melt all holiday stresses away – guaranteed!
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Meritage VQA 2010 – WOW! A solid red wine

In the following pages of this Savvy eZine, Julie shares history about the winery along with the Savvy Selections tasting panel’s notes and recipes to pair with the featured wines.

Optional Wines: White & Red wines under $20

Perfectly timed for stocking up for holiday entertaining, Ravine just released 2 delicious wines that are under $20. Have a stash on hand as hostess gifts or when friends drop in.  Labeled as Sand & Gravel York Road VQA 2010 (white) and Sand & Gravel Redcoat VQA 2009 (red), the wines are blends of 3 different grape varieties…the results are impressive! Comments that were flying around the table when Savvy Sommeliers & subscribers sampled the wines:

These wines are definitely crowd pleasers.”

“ Easy to drink – on its own or with hors d’oeuvres.”

“ I’ll be getting some of these for hostess gifts!”

If you would like to order some of these wines or any of your favorite Savvy Selections, simply email me to make the arrangements for a special wine delivery.

Here comes January!

We are kicking off the new year with the Savvy Selections delivery date on Friday January 13th.

From all of us at Savvy Company, we thank you for being a subscriber to Savvy Selections this year.

Here’s to a fun filled holiday season & delicious wine discoveries together in 2012!

Debbie & the Savvy TeamSavvy Company

Ravine Estates Winery

Presented by Sommelier Julie Stock

The story of Ravine is deeply rooted in history.  The vineyard and Woodruff House (shown on left), which now houses the winery’s tasting room, have a cornerstone of Canadian history. The land on which the winery sits was originally purchased in 1867 by David Jackson Lowrey, the current owner’s great grandfather.  Norma Jane (Lowrey) Harber can still remember as a child, playing in the cherry, peach and pear orchards where five farming generations later, grapes are now flourishing. She and her husband Blair Harber, decided to plant European grape varietals and wonderful for us they made that decision. I know you’ll agree after tasting this month’s selections.

The house that is now the tasting room was originally built in 1802 by David Secord, a major in the 2nd Lincoln Militia. He later sold it to a William Woodruff who was a Member of Parliament in Upper Canada and the house has kept his name.

The Woodruff House tasting room is like walking through an early 1800’s time capsule. The paint colours have been resurrected all the way down to the original fireplace that was left from the Lowrey farm homestead after it burnt down in the war of 1812. It would not surprise me if next year we see the original Lowrey house in the news as Canada celebrates 200 years since the war that helped define our nation.

During the war of 1812, the buildings in St. David’s – a grist-mill, a blacksmith shop and a general store – were all demolished. The house however was rebuilt and remains an authentic example of Loyalist Georgian architecture. Norma Jane remembers how the people in the village affectionately called it the House of Nations as many families rented and lived here when they first settled in the country. The house was later sold to a Judge on the condition it remains in tact. He eventually sold it to someone who was going to restore and relocate it to the Caledon Hills area. The subsequent owner hired a Norwegian architect who numbered and labelled all the beams and posts as the house was dismantled but unfortunately, he did not see this relocation realized.

It was after Norma Jane and her husband decided to plant a vineyard that she got wondering what happened to the original farmstead. They eventually found the “boxed up” house in Port Hope and decided to bring it home to it’s original and final resting place where we sip wine today. Many descendants still remember the “House of Nations” which is a landmark of not just St. David’s village but of Canadian history.

The Winemaker and the Vineyard

Having a conversation with Shauna White, Ravine’s wine-maker, a master craftswoman in the vineyard, was kind of like talking to your local grocer. She knew everything about the produce and production: the soil, the slopes, the wines, the year’s harvest – as in any year’s harvest and I was soon wishing I had a tape recorder to catch all her dialogue; not to mention her infectious enthusiasm and love of the land. She knew when the vines would be ripe for harvest, spoke of harvesting the grapes to encourage botrytis and noble rot (winespeak: grapes that left on the vine, shrivel and hold the most precious of nectar) as well as Ravine Vineyard’s constant experimentation with brotritis effected grapes. Shauna explained they harvested four batches of Riesling infected with noble rot last year. When grapes get infected with noble rot, the same way a great sauternes does in France, it gives the wine an intense zippy flavour.

This unique, organic 34 acre winery is located in the sub-appellation of Niagara known as St. David’s Bench. It’s position on the Bench is at the highest elevation, making the soils a little lighter, and the airflow and water drainage more consistent than in other locations in the region. Their signature grape tends to be Merlot, confirmed by the wine awards it’s been receiving. If there is a wine-making philosophy or statement behind the Ravine Vineyard Estate winery, Shauna said “wine is made in the vineyard not the winery”.

I suppose that’s easy enough for a winemaker to say, when most of us are only familiar with the basic steps of winemaking, but when Shauna was walking through the vineyard, picking up handfuls of dried caked dirt, I sensed she knew exactly what was coming out of land. She pointed to the exact locations of where the 5 acres of Pinot Noir grew, the 6 acres of Chardonnay, the 5 acres of Merlot, 4 acres of Riesling and 2 rows of Petit Verdot.

There are three main sections to the vineyard – the upper bench (the top), the slope (the hillside) and the bottom, each having different soil compositions. Shauna explained that when she and wine consultant, Peter Gamble, initially sent soil samples to Brock University, they thought the lab had made a mistake since the soil compositions were so different not only in each area of the vineyard, but also different from other soils in the region. But no, the scientists from the university said they ran the tests twice since it even surprised them. Some areas in the vineyard are higher in clay and organic content, other areas are mostly sand and low organic content, all of which result in different grape varietals giving different flavours to the wines.

Shauna is passionate about their organic and biodynamic certifications; the first taking 3 years, and the latter one more year. Ravine Vineyards has been certfied organic by Pro-Cert Organic Systems, Canada’s foremost national certification agency for organic food products with some 1,700 procedures and processors from across Canada and the United States. Similar to VQA standards the agency is compliant and accredited by the Standards Council of Canada.

Shauna also explained that there are hundred of swallows that return every year to the barn to dine on the insects in the fields and vineyard. Their pest control presence is just one reason that they can farm 100 percent organically. Official biodynamic cetification is expected in 2012.

Much has happened since Ravine Vineyard produced it’s first vintage in 2006. At the end of our tour with Shauna, Doug and I stood in the Woodruff house sampling many delicious wines. We have visited many vineyards in our world travels and whether it was the cloudy day, the walk through the sloped ravine or the Woodroffe House itself, Ravine gave us a sense of longing and timelessness that we were someplace special.

Enjoy this month’s Savvy Selections now knowing it’s rich history. Cheers!


Ravine Vineyard Riesling
St. David’s Bench, VQA 2010


Grapes typically become infected with noble rot or Botrytis when they are ripe, but when they are exposed to drier conditions the grapes become partially raisined and the form of infection brought about by the partial drying process is known as noble rot. Grapes when picked at a certain point during infestation can produce particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine. Some of the finest Botrytized wines are literally picked berry by berry in successive tries (French for “selections”). In the case of Ravine vineyards, the grapes effected by noble rot give a further dimension and complexity to the wine.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  This polished light straw coloured beauty surprised us with it’s lovely aromas of honey, sweet stone fruit, hint of floral, pinch of minerality and petrol that follow through in taste offering a silky and elegant mouthfeel with just a bit of spritz. The wine is slightly off dry and well-balanced with the right amount of acidity.

Suggested Food Pairing:  The Savvy panel had no difficulty coming up with food to match this gem. A lovely drink on its own, being low in alcohol, which also makes it a perfect match for everything from Mexican burritos and Thai curries, to lemon meringue pie. It was a hands-down winner.

Cellaring: Great for drinking now or lay down for 2-3 years.

Ravine Vineyard Gewürztraminer
Niagara Peninsula, VQA 2010


Gewürztraminer was first grown in Alsace around the 19th century and like many wines, the grape and the wine share the same name as the wine is a “single varietal”.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  This was another show stopper for the Savvy Panel and we had 10 tasters at our table! Fresh aromas of lychee, sweet spice, beeswax and roses. The palate has a mouth coating texture, medium bodied, with hints of honey and peach and a slightly herbal finish, tarragon came to mind as well as a bit of lemon and lime.

Suggested Food Pairing:  While traditional Asian dishes came to mind, we all agreed that with buttered chicken there would be a line up at the door- best to have a couple of bottles for that dinner party.

Cellaring: Drink now to enjoy the freshness or within 12 months.

Ravine Meritage, Niagara Peninsula, VQA 2010

A red Meritage is made from a blend of at least two or more of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carmenere, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend. Although many people, including many wine experts, have a tendency to pronounce the word “Meritage” by pronouncing its last syllable with a “zh” sound, as in “garage,” the Meritage Alliance specifically states that the word should be pronounced to rhyme with “heritage.”

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  A stunning, clear, medium ruby just in time for Christmas. Dark red fruits, plum, cranberry, pencil shavings, pinch of pepper and sweet spice; aromas that make this Meritage exquisitely put together. The luscious aromas follow through on the palate with hints of licorice and black cherries. A medium to full bodied wine with a long slightly tannic finish.

Suggested Food Pairing:  Thoughts to pair the Meritage varied from grilled veal chops with herbs and garlic, to any grilled meat, osso bucco and spicy sausages also entered in the discussion.

Cellaring: Great for drinking now or cellar for 3-5 years.

WHITE: Sand & Gravel York Road VQA 2010

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  A dry crisp blend of 46% Chardonnay, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Gewürztraminer that results in a well-balanced light to medium bodied wine with refreshing aromas of yellow and green apples, almonds and fresh apricots that follow through in the taste. With each sip, there is a salivating citrus rush in your mouth that makes you want to drink more!

Suggested Food Pairing:  Great on its own, with hors d’oeuvres such as chicken satay, phyllo pastry, hard and soft cheeses, hummus or even with turkey and all the trimmings.

RED: Sand & Gravel Redcoat VQA 2009

“Red coat” is a historical term used to refer to soldiers in the British army because of their red uniforms, formerly worn by the majority of regiments during the War of 1812

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  A classic Bordeaux or Meritage blend of 46% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this too is an easy drinking medium-bodied wine with concentrated aromas and tastes of raspberry, ripe cherries, cocoa and cranberries.

Suggested Food PairingThe decent tannins make it a great wine to pair with hearty stews, classic holiday tourtieres, comforting shepherds pie, cheese laden pizza or saucy tomato and meatballs on pasta. 


With Ravine Vineyard Riesling…
Tortilla-Crusted Whitefish with Salsa

From Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen, 100 of my Favourite Recipes Cookbook

Serves 4


1 cup (250 ml) of all-purpose flour

2 eggs lightly beaten

2 cups (500 ml) of hand-crumbled multi-coloured tortilla chips

sprinkle of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

4 skinned fish fillets or any white fish (about 1-1/2 pounds/750 g in totaly) patted dry

For the Salsa

1/2 cup (125 ml)  of your favourite salsa

1/2 cup (125 ml) of cherry tomatoes halved

1/2 cup (125 ml) of ciltranto leaves and tender stems

1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of minced halapeno

2 green onions thinly sliced

the zest and juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil


Preheat your oven to 400 (200 C). Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Put the flour, eggs and tortilla chips in 3 separate bowls. Season the flour. Working with one fillet at a time, dredge the fillet in flour, coating it evenly and shaking off the excess. Dip the fillet into the egg, coating it evenly and holding it up to drain for a few moments. Finally, dip the fillet into the tortila chips, turning, pressing and sprinkling as needed so the crust adheres. Place the fish on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fillets. Bake until the fish is cooked through and crusty, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together the salsa salad In a small bowl, mix the prepared salsa with the tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeno, green onions, lime zest and juice and olive oil. Arrange the finished fish on serving platter and top with salsa.

With Ravine Vineyard Gewürztraminer…
Easy Butter Chicken

From Dairy Farmers of Canada and Prairies Milk Marketing Partnership

Serves 4-6


2 tbsp (30 mL) butter

2 tbsp (30 mL) tandoori or tikka curry paste

1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh ginger root

2 tsp (10 mL) minced fresh hot pepper

1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin

1 tsp (5 mL) paprika

1 can (28 oz/796 mL) crushed (ground) tomatoes

1 cup (250 mL) 35 % whipping cream

1-1/2 lb (675 g) boneless skinless chicken, cut into chunks

1/2 cup (125 mL) plain yogurt

1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp (30 mL) freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice


Preheat oven to 375 °F (190 °C). Place half of butter in a 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) glass baking dish. Place in oven for about 3 min or until melted. Swirl to coat dish; set aside.

In large deep pot, melt remaining butter over medium-high heat. Cook half of tandoori paste, the ginger, hot pepper, cumin and paprika, stirring, for about 2 min or until fragrant . Add tomatoes; bring to boil. Stir in whipping cream; return to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring often, for 10 min or until sauce is thickened.

Meanwhile, in bowl, combine chicken, yogurt and remaining tandoori paste; toss to combine. Spread in single layer in prepared baking dish. Bake in oven for 10 min. Pour tomato sauce over chicken; bake for about 10 min longer or until sauce is bubbling and chicken is no longer pink inside. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and lime juice.

With Ravine Meritage…
Penne with Creamy Sausage Sauce

From The CKFM Bonnie Stern Cookbook

Serves 6



3 tbsp. (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp hot red chili flakes (optional)

1 lb (500 g) sweet or hot Italian sausages, removed from casings and crumbled

1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp (1 ml) freshly ground pepper

1/4 tsp (1 ml) nutmeg

1 lb (500 g) penne

3 tbsp (50 ml) unsalted butter

1/2 cup ( 125 ml) grated Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp (25 ml) chopped parsley or basil


Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red chili flakes and crumbled sausage meat. Cook until all traces of pink disappear, about 5 minutes

Add the whipping cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes or  until the cream reduces and the sauce thickens somewhat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain the noodles well but do not rinse.  Toss the noodles with the sauce, butter, cheese and parsley. Taste and adjust seasons if necessary.


Happy Holidays from all of us at Savvy Company!



Earth to earth: Ontario soil’s effects on winemaking

Posted by Julie

Monday, October 24th, 2011

My interest in soil has come from writing about the Savvy wineries for the by-the-month delivery and visiting wineries such as Coyote’s Run located in St. David’s Bench in the Niagara Escarpment, Ravine’s Vineyard (for Savvy subscribers, December’s wine delivery) and frequently visiting Prince Edward County, also known as “the County” 3 hours west of Ottawa.

First, let me start by saying I am not a soil specialist or geologist or agronomist. I remember just scrapping through Grade 10 chemistry, which is why I find it amusing that I am now writing a blog on soil.

We all know that great wine starts in the vineyard, but the more I study wine, the more I realize that it is in mother earth where it really begins and who often points to which grape to plant where, for optimum results.

The soils that engulf the Niagara Escarpment, have been compared to those in Burgundy, France, where we also share a similar latitude at approximately 44 degrees. Thousands of years ago, huge glaciers carved out the Twenty Mile Bench leaving a literal bench for growing grapes. This bench protects the soil from harsh winds yet helps the warm breezes from Lake Ontario to circulate. It is the balance of heat and coolness combined with the minerality in the soil that lends acidity to the Niagara wines. This is the same micro-climate found in the County, where the breezes from Lake Ontario temper the climate and the soil.

Most winemakers that I have interviewed, have had their soil analyzed at universities such as Brock or Guelph where there are soil experts on site. In the case of Coyote’s Run, when the owners sent their samples to Brock, the results showed that the toledo clay loam soil in one vineyard is estimated at 15,000 years old and in another vineyard the Trafalgar clay loam soil is estimated at 450 millions years old. At Ravine vineyards, the soil samples were sent back twice because there was such complexity and diverseness of soil contained in such a small acreage. Gosh, for a winemaker, where would you start?

I think that’s one reason that would make growing grapes so much fun, the “wait and see” what they will do in different types of soil. I remember one winemaker saying that, “we threw some Riesling down there to see what would happen” and another winemaker planting a variety of grapes in a small plot of gravelly limestone to see how they grow. Another winemaker said to me that “Chardonnay will go to bed anywhere”, which amused me to no end.

Both the Twenty Mile Bench and the County are blessed with a bounty of limestone, shale and clay which allows for good drainage for the grapevines.

I recently did two seminars at the TASTE festival in Picton, Prince Edward County, on “Wines to Serve with Thanksgiving dinner” and in my preparation for this, I discovered there were over 10 different kinds of soil in the County ranging from various colours of clay loam that overlay limestone bedrock and shale fragments to various specimens of gravelly and fine sand. I also learned that grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in this soil, although having tasted many other County wines, they clearly have a repertoire of success with other grapes.

The stony soils allow for good drainage and force the vines to grow deeper to look for moisture during the warm summer months. Believe it or not, the limestone also acts like a sponge and retains moisture that is in part why the grapevines are so successful growing in limestone fissures. On Doug’s (my husband and also a Savvy Sommelier) and my last trip to the County we visited several vineyards and could not believe when we looked at the earth that anything grows in this rocky looking clay.

Soil science is about classification and chemical properties. I also learned that one of the most important scientific discoveries was how soil forms spontaneously from rock. Under the influence of physical factors like deformation by heat and cold, assault by wind, rain, hail and ice, and the enormous levering forces of water expanding into ice, solid rock is shattered into smaller pieces and hence over time, becomes soil.

I’ve come to have a definite appreciation for what lies beneath and like faith, what is unforeseen in our eyes. Watching grapes through veraison (winespeak: grapes’ change in colour) is exciting. Perhaps being raised on a farm left me with images of my grandfather at harvest. To say I have a great respect for grape growers and winemakers is an understatement. Winemaking sounds sexy and fun but for the grape farmers, always anxious about what mothernature is going to deliver, it is very hard work.

Thanks to the earth that connects us. Every fall we celebrate harvest and the grapes that have come to fruition.

Earth to earth, from my glass to yours.