For more than a quarter century, at the end of February and beginning of March, a very special weekend celebration takes place in Niagara wine country. It’s called Cuvée. This year it ran from Feb. 28 to March 2.
The festivities kick off with a grand tasting gala on Friday evening at the Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls. Many wineries (51 this year) set up around a ballroom, pouring some of their wines. Each winery is asked to provide a singular wine in the style that is used at prominent wine events around the world and is one of their winemaker’s personal favourites.
In other words, one of their best products! Many of the winemakers are on hand to answer questions about their creations.
To accompany the wines, many top local chefs are set up at cooking stations amidst the winery booths, creating culinary offerings to accompany the wines. Chefs present this year included Ray Taylor, Fallsview Casino and Resort; Erik Peacock, Wellington Court Restaurant; Frank Dodd, Trius Winery Restaurant at Hillebrand; Tim Mackiddie, Inniskillin Niagara Estate; David Watt and Anthony Greco, Garrison House and Zest Restaurant; Rich Francis, District Red (and a contestant on Top Chef Canada); and Giovanni Del Priore and Leonardo Priore, Criveller Cakes. Culinary professors, students and other industry groups also had food stations.
Later in the evening, “Après Cuvée” takes place with live music, dancing and icewine, sparkling wine and craft beer bars.
It’s a spectacular event where the Ontario wine community – producers, retailers, restaurateurs, journalists and consumers – comes together to celebrate the vinous treasures and gastronomic bounty of the province.
Two important industry awards were presented. The Cuvée Award of Excellence in Viticulture, sponsored by BASF Canada Inc., was presented to Ron Koop of Koop Farms Limited and Moray Tawse from Tawse Winery was recognized with the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence for an unparalleled consistency of wine quality, vintage after vintage.
The VQA Promoters’ Awards from Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) were also announced and presented on Saturday at the CCOVI Experts Tasting for industry folk. This award acknowledges those who have helped promote Ontario wines throughout the past year.
This year’s recipients included, from the LCBO, William Mancini, Royal York and Bloor, and David Churchill, Head Office (awarded posthumously); from the hospitality industry, Erik Peacock, Wellington Court Restaurant; from the media, David Lawrason, Toronto Life; the promoter-at-large, Shawn McCormick, uncorkOntario.com and a lifetime achievement award for viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt.
Throughout the rest of the weekend were all kinds of special events, tastings and culinary opportunities at individual wineries. This is called “Cuvée en Route.”
Consumers purchased a weekend passport ($30 per person at participating wineries or included in the ticket price for the gala on Friday night) and travelled to different wineries.
Passport holders also had the opportunity to purchase the special winemaker selections unveiled at Friday’s gala.
Perhaps best of all, proceeds from the Cuvée wine weekend went to the Niagara Community Foundation. Established in 2000, the foundation has raised more than $23.5 million and granted over $5.7 million from its endowment fund to local charities working in the arts, heritage, environment, social services, health, education and community development fields.
I was at the very first Cuvée back in 1989, have attended many over the years, and even filmed an episode of my past TV show, Vine and Dine, at one. Although the venue has changed over time, the concept has remained intact and this “not to be missed” event keeps getting better every year.
It’s never too early to mark your calendar for next year’s edition in early March. Details can be found at cuvee.ca.
Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator and judge
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