Q&A: The Foreign Affair Winery’s winemaker tells us what makes their award-winning 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon so special

Q&A: The Foreign Affair Winery’s winemaker tells us what makes their award-winning 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon so special

It has to do with their unique Appassimento process

The Foreign Affair Winery was founded nearly two decades ago by husband-and-wife team Len and Marisa Crispino. They had been living as expats in Italy, and fell in love with Amarone wines from the Veneto region of the country. When they moved back to Ontario, they purchased a plot of prime farmland in the Vineland region of Niagara, and began the process of bringing the distinctive Appassimento technique (where the grapes are air-dried for two to three months before pressing) to Canada. After three years of nurturing the vines, they harvested their first crop in 2004. Now, the winery sells a unique collection of award-winning bottles, from buttery Chardonnays to tons of big, bold reds. One of their best yet is the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon—which was awarded 90-92 points from renowned wine critic Tony Aspler.

We spoke to their winemaker and true master of the craft, Barclay Robinson, a former sommelier with a degree in oenology and viticulture, about what being a winemaker is all about, and why readers should definitely try and get their hands on a bottle of the 2015.

What’s the biggest myth related to winemaking?
“That it’s a glamorous job. I’m not saying that there isn’t a glamorous side to it, but for the most part it involves a lot of planning, hard work and long hours.”

What does a typical day look like for you?
“During harvest, I start my day in the vineyard at 7 a.m. to pick grapes. Then, I’ll come back to the winery to make sure my team has the equipment cleaned and ready to receive and process the fruit. I’ll also monitor the fermentations that are already going to make sure they complete the process cleanly. Next, I’ll head back to the vineyard to sample grapes from our other blocks in order to plan upcoming pick timing. I’ll then return to the winery to sort and process the harvested fruit. I’ll also sample the grapes drying for our Appassimento wines to make sure they have the flavours and concentration I’m looking for. Other regular activities include inoculating the new fermentations, monitoring our harvest targets and cleaning the equipment for the next day.”

How do you choose what to produce next?
“It depends: there are certain wines that we produce every year, and other wines that we only make during the best years. Then there are a few wines that are either very small-batch or one-offs, which we can experiment and innovate with. I love trying new winemaking techniques and working with different varietals to make new wines.”

Do you ever get it wrong?
“Sometimes experiments don’t work out as planned, but they are never disasters—just wines that wouldn’t necessarily be showcased by themselves. Luckily we’ve had some incredible examples of single-vintage innovations in the past, including a Sangiovese last year.”

Tell us about your favourite wines.
“I’m a ‘food and mood’ wine drinker, meaning the kind of meal and people I’m dining with determine which wines I drink. That said, I love a well-crafted Brunello di Montalcino, Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling wine and Chardonnay.”

What do you wish more consumers knew about winemaking?
“Wine is about enjoyment. Know what you like, be open to new wine experiences and try not to overthink it.”

Tell us about some of the more unique winemaking techniques you use at The Foreign Affair Winery.
“We are known for crafting wines using the traditional Italian Appassimento method. Before pressing, we dry our grapes in large open buildings using no heating or cooling systems—we manually manage airflow to ensure even drying. Though the Appassimento process typically concentrates the flavours and tannins in red wines, the tannins are smooth and elegant. All of our wines are touched by the Appassimento process in some way, including our Ripasso-style wines which are re-passed over the skins of our full Appassimento wines, or our partial Appassimento wines that combine traditionally fermented wine and full Appassimento wine.”

What makes the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon so special?
“The 2015 is special because the vintage gave us smaller Cabernet Sauvignon grapes than usual. This gave the wine a higher concentration of ripe fruit flavours, with a balanced acidity to complement the complexity and provide a lengthy finish. Twenty per cent of this wine was made from our full Appassimento Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 18 months in American and French oak barrels.”

What should we drink it with?
“This wine has aromas of sweet black currant, dried cherry, kirsch, fig, vanilla, tobacco and oak. On the palate it’s big with dry, smooth tannins. Flavours of ripe cherry, baking spices and dried currant lead to a long finish with subtle notes of oak. It pairs extremely well with most food, especially grilled red meats and roasted vegetables.”

To seek out the last of this incredible Cabernet Sauvignon, connect with your local LCBO store, or shop the LCBO online. While this bold red is sold out at the winery, you can visit The Foreign Affair Winery to discover other exciting wines.