Monday, July 28, 2008

Report from ... British Columbia Day 2 – July 23, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

Day two in the Valley see us wake up early - as I suspect most days we will – for a 9AM meeting at La Frenz.

La Frenz …
We meet with transplanted Aussie winemaker Jeff Martin, he is confused as to who we are, I’ve ne
ver met him either. Turns out his wife thought we were from some BC inspection agency; when he learns I am a writer he becomes more congenial, and realizes that he’s gonna have to do some pouring at 9 in the morning – I’m a professional, I can handle it if he can. La Frenz winery offers a fabulous view (once portrayed on the Canadian hundred dollar bill), but alas it is raining and the view is more gray and cloudy, but still lovely. We learn all about the winery and taste some of Jeff’s award winning wines. Interesting fact: in the past 6 shows (3 of them international) they have won 9 trophies, 19 gold and 20 silver medals … not only is that impressive they are well deserved. Got a bottle of the 2007 Chardonay.

I liked everything Jeff poured and I can see why he wins so many awards, here are a select few recommendations:
2007 Semillon ($18); 2007 Chardonnay ($20); 2007 Alexandria ($18); Also impre
ssive were the 2006 Merlot ($25); the Non-Vintage Liqueur Muscat ($20 / 375ml – sweet) and Tawny Port ($20 / 375ml – not as sweet) which would at this point be considered a 5-year old Tawny.

Next up we
meet with Alan McGinty once again and head south to Black Hills Winery – most noted for their sell out wine “Nota Bene”.

Black Hills Winery …
We meet with General Manager Graham Pierce who
is a talker with a permanent grin on his face - I would have a grin on my face too if I was at one of the Okanagan’s most successful wineries, and sitting on what could be an Okanagan record: their 2006 vintage of Nota Bene (a Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc plus Merlot) sold out in 47 minutes just this past May (2008). So with no current wine to pour Graham walked us around the small winery, talked about expansion plans and the heartbreak of letting so many people down who want to try and buy their wine. He let’s us try three that were still in tank and barrel: Nota Bene 2007 (delicious and smooth even at this time – release May 2009); Chardonnay 2007 (big 14.5% alcohol but a killer flavour and wonderful integration – release fall/winter 2008); and the restaurant only 2007 Carmenere (only 175 case production from half an acre … this wine is a beauty in the making). As we leave we notice the sign: Black Hills Winery – SOLD OUT … an enviable position to be in for sure.

With no f
urther appointments we decide to make hey while the sun is shining (or raining as the case may be, it actually was raining off and on all day); and drop by a few wineries in the Oliver area, unannounced; and in all cases we did not tell them who we were (ie: writers). We hit 6 more places, I think the anonymous drop by was new to Alan these days, but he got into the swing of it after the first two wineries.

Also visited: Stoneboat Winery, Hester Creek, Gehringer Brothers, Stag’s Hollow, Wild Goose and Blasted Church.

Wines of Note from the wineries visited ...

Gehringer Brothers 2007 Auxerrois - $14.99

Gehringer Brothers 2007 Dessert Sun - $12.99
Stag’s Hollow 2005 Merlot - $25.00
Wild Goose 2007 God’s Mountain Riesling - $18.95
Blasted Church 2007 Gewurztraminer - $16.99
Blasted Church 2006 Merlot - $25.99

Dinner was back at our B & B (D'Angelo's Vineyard View Bed and Breakfast - run by Sal D'Angelo and his daughter Stephanie ... for those who think that name sounds familiar, it is that Sal from D'Angelo's winery in the Lake Erie North Shore). Dinner consists of Sundried tomato and basil spaghetti and meat sauce with salad – and we had our bottle of La Frenz 2007 Chardonnay, tasted even better then when we had it at 10 that morning. We also learned that Safeway is a real expensive place to buy your groceries, it’s like Dominion on steroids … Save-on-Foods proved to be more to our liking.

Report from ... British Columbia Day 1 - July 22, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

We arrive by 11:00 in the morning local time … got our luggage and car sorted out and it is off to the first winery … better to hit the ground running then crawl our tired carcasses around getting acclimatized.

Mission Hill … this really is the must see place everyone says it is. It’s like a university campus dedicated to wine and food. We lunch with fellow wine writer Alan McGinty and it is a fabulous affair with salads, soups and a wonderful Braised Beef Short Rib Farfalle. The main course is Halibut and Trout and dessert is some sinfully delicious chocolate treats – including a chocolate milk that is made with Earl Gray Tea … go figure. We get a tour and tasting of past SLC vintages and later are taken to the retail shop for the current vintages. I walk away with a bottle of Mission Hill 2005 Reserve Shiraz ($24.99).

Wines of Note: 2005 SLC Chardonnay – $33; 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve - $29.99; 2007 Five-Vineyar
d Sauvignon Blanc - $15.99; 2005 Merlot Reserve - $23.99; 2005 Shiraz Reserve - $24.99.

Quail’s Gate
just down the road from Mission Hill (and a little to the left), literally, is this beautiful little property with tons of history. Settled in 1873 by John and Sue Alison, and now owned for the past decade by the Stewart family this little winery is another must see. The newly opened (July 1, 2007) wine shop is beautiful, with a state of the art tasting-counter. They make approximately 15 different “skus” (wines) and double up on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Old Vines Foch (over 40 years old). They consider themselves to be a Pinot and Chard house and these wines prove to be real hits – especially the Family Reserve line. But in the end it was their 2005 Merlot ($26.99) that proved to be the real winner.

Wines of Note: 2007 Dry Riesling - $16.99; 2007 Gewurztraminer - $16.99; 2006 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay - $29.95; 2006 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir - $45.00; 2005 Merlot - $26.99.

Dinner was at the Old Vines restaurant right on the property and, what felt like, smack dab in the middle of the vineyard. Crab Cakes, Salmon Gravlox, Rib eye, risotto and filet mignon were consumed at the table between Alan, my mom and myself. The Filet looked like meat cake (see picture) and was very good – if my doctor saw it he’d say I’ve had my meat fill for the month.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Report from ... The Riesling Experience – Brock University – July 17, 2008

For years people have been touting the come back of Riesling, but as far as I’m concerned, Riesling never went away … I guess with all the big name reunion tours happening these days, the grape industry has decided it had to join in on the fun and find one of its own to tout as making a “comeback”. Brock University, in St. Catharines, hosted the first (and according to organizes, hopefully bi-annual) Riesling Experience. Inviting Riesling wine “experts” to talk about the grape’s popularity, growth and other Riesling-centric topics. These speakers included: Olivier Humbrecht, from Zind Humbrecht in Alsace, France; Ulrich Fischer, from the department of viticulture and enology at German University; David Peterson, winemaker for Swedish Hill, Goose Watch and Penguin Bay in the Finger Lakes region of New York state; and Jim Willwerth, representing Brock University.

Olivier got the ball rolling and the crowd pumped with a four wine tasting of Zind Humbrecht wines and a talk focused on his winery’s move to bio-dynamic winemaking and practices throughout the years leading up to now: meticulous viticulture practices, green harvesting, single vineyard allotments; terroir based wines and other things Riesling and Alsatian. Ulrich took over and spoke about the marketing of Riesling, not only in Germany, but also around the world, and how the face of Riesling is changing with, and for, the times. David Peterson stood up, shocked the crowd, and made Olivier wring his hands and pull out what’s left of his hair, by discussing the Wild West approach to winemaking in New York: adding acid, sugar, using spoiled grapes, “whatever it take” to put wine in the bottle … “it’s gonna sell anyway.” He was very candid and honest, maybe too much so. His most memorable quote came right at the beginning of his talk when he said that not all practices work in all regions and that those assembled should not rush home and instill these practice in their vineyard, “keep doing what works for you,” picking piecemeal from what you learn today could ruin what you’ve already got going. Then Jim Willwerth got up and delivered a fairly dry and analytical lecture about his experience and experiments with Niagara Rieslings and water status. The lecture and findings were well thought out and presented, but it could have been shorten and simplified for the folks in attendance; plus many were itching to question Olivier during the Q & A portion of the program.

When all the dust had settled from the speeches Olivier was the one who fielded most of the questions, because all were directed his way. He was engaging, articulate and knowledgeable, and with each answer he gave another question seemed to develop. He truly was fascinating – or was it more his philosophies and vineyard practices we all found intriguing? Afterall, this is one of Alsace’s top Riesling and winemaking houses.

Lunch was served after the lectures and every course (4) was paired with a Niagara Riesling specially selected by the Riesling Experience committee members (plus a reception sparkler, making 5 wines in total). Darryl Brooker, winemaker for Hillebrand, hosted the proceedings, inviting each of the 5 winery’s winemakers to come up and speak about their wine. Chef Jason Parsons (of Peller Estates) also came up to discuss the reason for pairing this food with that wine.

Most Impressive Wine: Cave Spring Cellars 2003 CSV Riesling … divine.
Most Impressive Food: Peller Estates Blue Ice – a full wheel of Benedictine Blue is infused with 2 bottles of Riesling Icewine … incredible.
Most Impressive Pairing: 2003 CSV Riesling with Icewine Suckling Pig … inspired.

Afterward we all walked around and took part in the Riesling Showcase, where 44 Rieslings were poured from and array of Niagara wineries – from the very new (Foreign Affairs) to the well established.

Top 3 Rieslings at the Showcase … (reviews to follow)
Cave Spring Cellars 2004 CSV Riesling
Foreign Affairs 2007 Appasimento Riesling
Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Riesling

Report from ... Jackson-Triggs Twilight in the Vineyard starring Colin James – July 12, 2008

The Jackson-Triggs concert series continues to impress me with the caliber of talent they get to perform on their stage. In this, the second of five for the season (starting with 54-40 a couple of weeks ago), Colin James took to the stage with his brand of rock and blues. He ran through his back catalogue, current songs, covers and everything in between; everybody was dancing and playing their air guitars and drum kits. The usual 15-minute break between sets did little to quell that electric feeling in the air; patrons refreshed themselves with concession goodies and wine in anticipation of another high energy set. About 20 minutes from the end of the show it started to rain lightly, and by the time Colin said his goodnights, goodbyes and drive safely the rain was pouring down (Jackson-Triggs graciously walked around handing out single use plastic ponchos to keep the crowd dry). But this wet weather didn’t stop the crowd from giving Colin his much deserved rousing send off of cheers and appreciation … and he graciously did make us wait long to perform the encore, afterall it was raining, typical considerate Canadian.

As an aside, I was told that the Grille (which I did not attend this time) ran smoothly, started on-time and had an abundance of cooked food … once again those fries were a big hit.

Report from ... Hillebrand Jazz at the Winery – July 12, 2008

What started out as a beautiful, hot summer day, turned into a downpour and then back to a beautiful, hot summer day over the course of a four hour period. This year’s Hillebrand Jazz at the Winery featured The Pat Carey Group, Kely Lee Evans, Darryl Stuermer and Molly Johnson, and was a fantastic, fun-filled event that had a little of everything. 1500 people packed into the area around the stage, which also includes in and amongst the vines, the side part of the courtyard and, of course, the beautifully set up red sling back chairs in the main courtyard (directly in front of the stage). I had the good fortune to sit up in the winemaker’s tower with a dozen or so other folks and was treated to a variety of tasty dishes from the Hillebrand kitchen, paired with a number of delicious wines (some new, some old – all wonderful).

The rains came rolling in mid-way through the second act and delayed the opening of the third act’s performance. Between sets I met KellyLee Evans, a very talented genial singer who has a real lilt to her laugh and an ever-present smile; and Darryl Stuermer, who, unbeknownst to us all in the tower, is the touring second guitarist for Genesis – you know Phil Collins, Anthony Banks and Mike Rutherford. In my glee of finding this out I went looking for him to shake his hand and was rewarded with a Genesis 2007 World Tour guitar pick … too cool. (Deep down I’m a fanboy of music as well as wine … movies too, but no actors were present that I could gush over – but of course I digress.)

My fanboy glee aside, the afternoon proved to be a great success, even with the rains. I remembered hearing somebody say, just before the concert began, as we stared up at the cloudy sky, “In all our years of having this event we’ve been lucky, it’s never rained.” And so with those words of hubris, mother nature decided to send some liquid sunshine down … but it didn’t deter a soul, in fact it made it all the more fun.

Look for the Blues at the Winery event coming in August.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Report from ... Huff Estates 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs – July 2, 2008

Lanny Huff and his staff couldn’t have ordered up a more perfect evening, weather-wise, for their 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs event. The Chefs: Bryan Steele (The Old Prune), Michael Potters (Harvest), Scot Kapitan (The Bloomfield Carriage House), Hiro Yoshido (Hiro Sushi), Chris McDonald (Cava) and Ryan Crawford (The Stone Road Grille) match-up their culinary skills with the winemaker’s creation (so far) from the 2007 vintage. The wines we sampled are still in barrel, and most of them will be there for the next 6 to 12 months, but this event gives you a preview of what the ’07 vintage was like, and, in some cases, like with the two Huff Chardonnay barrels, or Hardie’s two Pinots, the difference wood can give to the same wine from the same year.

The event starts with registration at the Huff wine store, and just beyond that, o
n the patio, the jazz band Straight Flush are playing – no offense to these young men (a three piece local ensemble that played last year - pictured), but they look about 12 years old … or maybe it is I who am feeling older; maybe it’s true, the music does keep you young. Anyway, from the registration table you received your menu/tasting notes for the evening, cutlery and napkin, and a glass of Huff Rosé to help you on your way to the first food station located in the vineyard.

There is no set course, you could start anywhere and end anywhere you liked … I began at station 4, did 5 and 6 – which were the Pinot Noirs from Norman Hardie (2) and Roshall Run and ended with 3, 2,1 – which were the Chardonnays from Huff (2) and Closson Chase. For those who recall last year's 6 Barrels event, you not only notice some new chef participants, but 2 new wineries have joined the mix – Closson and Rosehall, both were welcome additions to the event.

Three shout outs to give: Best Wine, Best Food, Best Pairing – and they go something like this …

Best Wine – Red …
for it’s rich cherry nose and taste, along with silky smooth tannins, Rosehall 2007 Pinot Noir (in Long Toast, 1st Fill, Billion barrel).

Best Wine – White … toss up here between the two Huff Chardonnays; same grape, same year, same vineyard, same toasting on the barrel (medium plus), both 1st Fill, but from two different coopers: Taransaud and Radoux. The Taransaud was crisper, more acidic and more food friendly; while the Radoux was softer, fuller in the mouth and much more sippable on its own. Both were delicious wines.

Best Food … hands down, after a quick straw poll of attendees, and with my own opinion thrown in for good measure, the Michael Potters “pan-seared Bay of Quinte walleye with young green garlic” takes this crown. Maybe it was the presentation: Potters bent over an open fire “pan-searing” the fish, throwing ingredients on and working up a sweat – or maybe it was that great tasting potato salad that paired beautifully … or maybe, just maybe, it was the light flaky melt in your mouth fish – yup, that was it. Delicious.

Best Pairing …
does the wine make the food or does the food make the wine? An age old question that can never truly be settled. But in this case the best food and best wines went together. The walleye from Michael Potters went exquisitely well with the Huff Radoux Chardonnay (see best wine–white, above). In second, and just beaten out by a bill (or is that a quack) was the Ryan Crawford “confit duck and foie gras tart with pickled cherries” paired with; you guessed it, the Rosehall Run 2007 Billion Pinot Noir. Does the wine make the food or the food make the wine? Who really cares when they both go so well together. I’ll let others debate the age-old question, I’m just gonna eat, drink and be merry.

Another great event at Huff – see you next year when we’ll see who’s cooking, who’s bringing the wine and who reigns gastronomically supreme.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Report from ... The Wine Writers Tour of Niagara – June 25, 2008

Being an Ontario wine journalist who focuses primarily on Ontario wine this tour was about the company – other wine writers - a day to spend talking and tasting wine with some of the best in the business. I didn’t care that I had been to these wineries countless times before (Cattail Creek, Coyote’s Run, Niagara College) and have tasted through their portfolios, there’s always something new to learn. Speaking of new, we did stop by the new Southbrook and learned a few things and had a 20-minute lay over at a new (as in just being built) winery for a look around. So let’s see what kind of nuggets I can pass along to you.

Southbrook Winery (arrival 11:30am) …
… that wall everyone talks about is there so that you’ll talk about it – get it.
… that “colour” that you’re talking about as either hideous or beautiful is call “Queen’s Reef” and is part of the periwinkle blue family.
… finally, about the wall anyway, it’s 205m long.
… organic sheep will help maintain the Southbrook vineyards, you heard me “organic sheep” – they will make their arrival sometime in July.
… they are the "only LEEDS certified winery in Canada"* and 2nd in the world (the other is in Oregon).
… Triomphe (reserve) wines will remain; the Triomphus line (super premium reserve) will have it’s name changed to “Poetica” and there will be a competition for Canadian poets to see who’s verse will adorn each year’s label. Time to get out those pens and dust off your rhyming couplets.
… in 2006 they harvested 10 tons of their own fruit, in 2007, 60 tons, hence they are still buying much of their fruit from growers.
… another 75 acres were purchased beyond the tree line, making the total holdings of Southbrook land 150 acres.

Wines of Notes:
2007 Triomphe Sauvignon Blanc - $18.95
2006 Triomphe Chardonnay - $21.95
2006 Whimsy Syrah (Lot 19) - $32.95

*This quote was made by Southbrook owner Bill Redelmeier ... upon further investigation I discovered that they are the first to be Gold LEEDS certified in Canada. The very first LEEDS certified winery (complete winery) in the world was our very own Stratus winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake (who hold a Silver certification).

Cattail Creek (1:30pm) …
See my review of this winery

Wines of Note:
2007 Chardonnay Musque - $17.00
2007 Off-Dry Riesling - $15.00

Coyote’s Run (2:45pm) …
See my In the Cellar with Dave and Jeff

Wines of Note:
2006 Black Paw / Red Paw Cabernet Franc Comparison - $20.00 each
2006 Meritage - $24.00
2007 Black Paw Pinot Noir – sneak peak: big, black, robust, meaty wine. Earth tones are hidden by supple tannins; raspberry, black cherry and a touch of cranberry. Nice licorice mid-palate. Still six months to go in barrel, but so far this one’s amazing to taste right now. Only 120-case production expected.

Ravine Winery in St. David’s (4:10pm) …
Surprise visit to this new winery in St. David’s (Niagara-on-the-Lake) to meet the principles Paul (cook), Alex (winemaker), their father (I’m bad with names or I missed it) and Michael Olson (Olson Foods fame). The property has a 34-acre planting of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Riesling, it was the first peach farm in Ontario and boasts 13-to-24 feet in top-soil. Olson is setting up a division of his popular food establishment on the property (Olson Foods @ Ravine Winery) where they will serve sandwiches and sell foods in a relaxed atmosphere (much as in the same vein as Olson Foods at Port, in St. Catharines) overlooking the vineyard. Olson is scheduled to open July 5, Ravine wines will be served and sold there hopefully by August with the completed retail space for the winery opening next summer (2009). And in five or six year, look for Paul to open a fine dining restaurant on the property, but first he must complete his apprenticeship under some pretty big names in both Germany and France. This will definitely be a winery to watch.

Wines of Note:
Look for the 2007 Riesling Estate off-dry (~$20) – This fabulous Riesling has flavour and smell to spare, could be because of the one-fifth botrytis affected grapes that went into the blend. A nose that is very orangy-grapy and peachy; flavours are very grapey and peachy with a long apple finish that seems to go on forever. This wine reminded me of Italian Moscato D’Asti without the fizz and even more length of flavours. This tasty wine bodes well for the future of this new winery.

Niagara College Teaching Winery (4:45pm) …
… news from NCT is that their new 3-million dollar Wine Education Building breaks ground this summer (2008) and is set for completion in the summer of 2009 – it looks pretty impressive if all goes according to Hoyle.

Wines of Note:
2007 Riesling - $11.95
2007 Dean’s List Sauvignon Blanc - $18.95
2006 Dean’s List Chardonnay - $27.95

Report from ... Nederburg Dinner - June 12, 2008

You’ve undoubtedly seen their name on a bottle of wine in the South Africa section of your local liquor store – that’s because they are not a small company by any stretch of the imagination. They are owned by Distell, the 10th largest wine marketers in the world with a 45% market share in South Africa alone, and they are the 2nd biggest producer of cider in the world. They produce just under 20 million cases of wine per year (Distell). Nederburg is South Africa’s largest selling super premium brand and the most award-winning winery in South Africa. The property was settled in 1791, but the first official Nederburg wine didn’t flow out the cellar door until 1934.

I joined head winemaker Linley Schultz and Devron Wilcock (Distell USA) for dinner on a Thursday night at Veritas (on King Street) to discuss their award winning wines, taste and pair them up with a variety of foods.

Not being much of a foodie – I leave that up to my colleague and partner in wine crimes (on this night anyway) Dean Tudor – who’s notes about the evening’s food you can see on his blog under the June 12 heading. I’m all about the wines and tonight we tried 6 wines. 3 from the Winemaster’s Reserve Collection: Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon (all available on the general list at the LCBO) and the same three varieties from the Manor House Collection – a more limited reserve selection (the Shiraz and Cab will be available at Vintages August 2, 2008).

Across the board Nederburg offers good wines at great value, the Winemaster’s Reserve line all fall under $13 and the Manor House wines are all priced at $16.95. Let’s take a look at where to best put your money.

Sauvignon Blanc …
Considering you can’t get the Manor House version here in Ontario (unless you go the private order route), you’re best value is the $11.95 Winemaster’s Reserve, side by side they are very similar with their grassy, lemony aromas and grassy-tropical fruit flavours, but the Winemaster’s crisp finish beats out the length of finish and acidity of the Manor House, especially for the $12 price tag.

Shiraz …
This one’s a no-brainer, you’ll have to wait until August to pick up the Manor House 2006 Shiraz, but considering two prestigious wine competitions (International Wine & Spirits Competition and Syrah du Monde) have honoured Nederburg’s Manor House Shiraz with gold medals. Black licorice, black fruit and black pepper accost the nose, while in the mouth it’s smooth, easy sipping, with a palate of black (pepper and fruit) – there’s just more elegance and length in this bottle and for a few dollars more (not the Clint Eastwood six gun kind) it’s worth picking up. Don’t get me wrong, the Winemaster’s is good value, but this one’s better.

Cabernet Sauvignon …
This one’s a toss up. Very little difference in flavours or smells … both had black fruit, chocolate and a sweet mid-palate. Difference is berry selection and longevity. So for drink-now buy the $12.95 Winemaster’s, if you’re wanting to hold onto this wine for a few years (5-8) spend the extra $4 in August and get the Manor House – either way you can’t go wrong … in fact, you’ll have some for now and some for later, and that’s never a bad thing.

Report from ... Jackson-Triggs Twilight in the Vineyard starring 54-40 (June 28, 2008)

I’m gonna come right out and say it, Jackson-Triggs should get out of the food business but keep right on truckin’ in the music business. Sure it was their first gig of the season (of a 5 concert series), and a new caterer was aboard for the ride; but they had the same, if not more problems this time than last year. The “caterers” were from Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, they showed up an hour late due to traffic issues coming out of Toronto – this prompted someone to remark, “couldn’t they find someone local?” Good question, considering that local cuisine is really beginning to take off in Niagara. After the almost an hour and fifteen minute wait (start time 6:00pm); dinner was derided as a disappointment by many at the Vineyard Grille … sure the french fries were very tasty, but the small hamburger, stale bun and over cooked tiny chicken breast was not worth the money to those who had paid fifty dollars for this meal. The best part of the dinner was the cold beat, bean and “local greens” salads, but you couldn’t make a meal out of them.

I was sitting beside a couple of ladies (one from Toronto the other from Ottawa), who had plenty to say about last year’s Grille. “We were here la
st year and took advantage of the BBQ,” one said, “I just didn’t think it was worth it.” The other nodded in agreement as she added, “looks like we were right not to do it this year.” A staff member I spoke with during a lengthy stoppage in food service said, “I feel so embarrassed, not for myself but for them.” “The caterer or the winery?” I asked. “Both,” he replied. “This is not at all like we planned it.”

Of cour
se there’s the story about the irate group that finally got their meal after waiting an hour and a half for it, and they ended up with a burnt chicken breast and hamburger tartar. “We didn’t pay $105 each to come here and starve,” she wailed. 20 minutes later complete plated-dinners were brought out to where she, and her group, were sitting. I looked back at her throughout the evening and noticed that she and her party barely touched their plates.

Having been to two Vineyard Grilles I would suggest
Jackson-Triggs simplify this whole ordeal by opening up the BBQ to all in attendance as a pay-as-you-go option. Have a couple of large grills going, offer burgers, dogs, chicken breasts and sausages for around $5 a shot, salads for a couple of dollars, drinks (pop, water) a dollar and wine the usual $5 a glass … make it to order. I just think they’re trying too hard at this Grille thing – it’s a concert in a field folks, an upscale field mind you, but a field none the less, most people are expecting to let their hair down, give them the opportunity.

One coup
le I spoke with did think everything was hunky-dory, “we love the atmosphere and the food is good – we got to eat in a vineyard, what could be better?” They said enthusiastically. “Values good too,” they remarked, though, when I asked what they had paid for this night out neither could remember. To Jackson-Triggs credit, and in an attempt to “make good” on this fiasco, staff wondered about to Grille goers and offered them a $20 gift certificate (per person) to use on concessions, wine or in the wine store.

Amidst th
e grumbling of a half satiated crowd Del Rollo, national director of hospitality, and Rob, introduced as the artistic director, took to the stage to announce the band and apologize for the glitches. The crowd half-heartedly applauded their appreciation as 54-40 took to the stage, the band had been given an uphill battle to win this unhappy crowd over, half of which were miserable after a lackluster meal and a long wait to eat, some were even still in the middle of their dinners. But these 27-year veterans were more than up for the challenge – I can imagine they’ve played tougher crowds. By the first intermission the crowd had warmed up to them. By the last song the crowd was riled up and enthusiastic; and as they stepped onto the stage for the encore, the crowd had become downright giddy.By the end, it seemed that all was forgiven about the dinner nightmare, as the band invited all to get on stage with them, “in the spirit of the evening and rock n roll” – more than 100 people packed the stage and danced around with the band as they played “Nice to Luv Ya”. The bad taste of the Grille replaced by the sweet memories of a joyful evening of music. Which is why I say again: Get out of the food business and embrace this music thing you’ve got going – these concerts are amazing, intimate and very memorable affairs, the dinners, not so much.