Q&A: Behind the bottle with three Ontario winemakers from this month’s Toronto Life Wine Club delivery

Q&A: Behind the bottle with three Ontario winemakers from this month’s Toronto Life Wine Club delivery

Behind every great bottle of wine is a winemaker with a story to tell. Get to know the winemakers behind the bottles in this month’s Toronto Life Wine Club delivery.

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Ann Sperling

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Merlot 2017

Ann Sperling makes wine for Niagara’s Southbrook Vineyards and her own Sperling Vineyards in B.C. She lives in St. David’s, Ontario, with her husband Peter Gamble, a winemaking consultant, and their children. Sperling and her husband also own a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, where they make Versado malbec from vines planted in 1920.

What do you like to pair your merlot with?
Since we’re a biodynamic farm, we also raise lamb, pork, eggs and soon we’ll have beef. The animals are tended to the highest standard of humane raising, spending much of their life outdoors and raised in our farm pastures. Each of the meats is flavourful and pairs with merlot, but my favourite would have to be a classic rosemary-roasted rack of lamb. We also enjoy our share of veggies, so herb-roasted portobello mushrooms make a great non-meat match.

Southbrook is passionate about sustainability and eco-responsibility. Why are they important to you?
First, biodynamic and organic vine growing produces better wines, and I’m all about making the best wine possible. Secondly, pesticides are a huge problem for humanity. We are only now finding out about how bad they are, especially for the people who handle them every day. I’ve spent my life in vineyards and, more importantly, we ask our vineyard team to spend their working lives among our vines. Since we can grow organically, I feel we must do it.

Do you decant your wines? Any other tricks or hints you like to use when serving wine?
I decant everything and wish everyone else would too. Think of it like facing an acquaintance first thing in the morning: they’ll be polite, but often tense. Most people would rather be seen an hour or two later, when they’re more relaxed and open. Wine is the same. Besides, you can’t spoil wine by decanting it, so why not?

What do you do when entertaining to make a dinner feel really special?
Since our dinner parties are as much (or more) about the wines as the food, I find braising offers the biggest reward. I start cooking in the morning before anyone else in the house is up. With the kitchen to myself, I can assess the elements going into my braise one at a time and bring them together in the right proportion. After hours in the oven, the rich flavours pair with a range of wines, especially older red wines. Serving timing isn’t critical with most braises, so if we get sidetracked tasting and talking, I’m not uptight about serving the main at a precise moment. We also love white dessert wines, and pairing them with baked apples is my secret finisher. The added bonus: a few pieces of great cheese rounds out the profile.

What’s your favourite farm animal?
This is the toughest question. I grew up with cows, horses, farm cats and dogs. At Linc Farm at Southbrook, we have all of these as well as sheep, laying hens and pigs. Knowing them as I do, I see each one as an individual with unique traits and habits. They’re not there to serve me but to share a space and time together, so there are no favourites.

What do you do for fun?
I make wine.


Dan Sullivan

Rosehall Run The Certain Ratio 2016

Dan Sullivan has been making wine for 30 years, beginning as an amateur enthusiast. He and Lynn Sullivan founded Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County in 2000, on 150 acres. Today, Rosehall’s estate vineyards are planted primarily with pinot noir and chardonnay, along with pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, muscat and tempranillo. Sullivan’s pinot noirs are legendary among Ontario pinot fans for their delicacy, finesse and complexity, but his red blend— he calls it The Certain Ratio—is a wholly different beast.

Describe your wine for me. What do you love about it?
The Certain Ratio is my chance to work and play with varietals, make the wine, choose the élevage (raising of the wine) and blending of various really good lots. Typically, I’m trying to create an alter ego to our pinot noir offerings that are weightier but still approachable on release. We don’t offer The Ratio every year, and I’m pretty selective about vintages to make it. The last one was 2012, and it’s showing magnificently now, if I may say so.

What do you like to pair it with?
The usual suspects: grilled meat, stews and game. But I have to say almost any good red wine goes with a simple roasted chicken.

If your wine were a person, what would their personality be like? 
The Certain Ratio is the kind of person who is confident but not arrogant. It knows it doesn’t know everything, it’s open minded and curious about the possibilities out there. So in that sense I see The CR as an accomplished artist or performer. Like Brian Eno or maybe Laurie Anderson, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Tweedy, Damon Albarn or Beck.

Tell me a little bit about the name of the wine and the Brian Eno connection?
And speaking of Brian Eno, The Certain Ratio gets its name from the lyrics from a song called “The True Wheel” on the album Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) released in 1974. I love his work and consider him to be one of the most important artists or our time. Around the time of the making of this record, Eno and Peter Schmidt developed a deck of cards call Oblique Strategies that were designed to help artists (especially musicians) break creative blocks through the use of phrases randomly selected from the deck. You can look it up online and there is now an app that generates cards for you. It is fascinating to me and I have used over the years at various points in my winemaking

Any tricks or hints regarding the serving of wine?
Sometimes I decant, especially if the wine has thrown sediment. A little trick I tend to do is put red wine in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes before opening to focus the fruit.


Charles Baker

Charles Baker Ivan Riesling 2017

Charles Baker is really into riesling. Though he works full time as the marketing director for Stratus Vineyards, he’s also the steward of his own eponymous wine label. Baker’s wines are made by JL Groux at Stratus, but Baker is the only guiding hand in the vineyards. It’s his mission to demonstrate the terroir of the Niagara Escarpment using riesling as his conduit. He makes minuscule amounts of intense wine, and his B-Side, exclusive to restaurants (and Toronto Life Wine Club members), is a sommelier favourite.

Describe the Charles Baker Ivan Riesling 2017 wine for me. What do you love about it?
I love that it provides a pathway for my son to eventually get into something he loves. Other than that? It was born of curiosity, tastes like adventure, finishes with a nod to all the people who we work with to get it done.

What do you like to pair it with?
People, lots and lots of people. And maybe a big plate of choucroute garnie.

If your wine were a person, who might it be?
Well, it would be mix of Django Reinhardt, as it is a bit of a gypsy, and that ever-present Maitre D we all know that is always at the door with a smile and a table for you no matter how long it’s been. But it’s not a person, it’s a wine and it reminds me of big chunks of rock. Really refreshing rock.

At home, how do you drink wine?
Every time I open a bottle, I think of the heat in the vineyard, the toil, the sacrifice, the vision, the history, the hardship, the risk, the joy and all that many people went through to get that wine in a bottle for us all. Then I grab a plate of ham, smash the neck off the bottle, forget the tumbler, and have a drink. Ceremony is inherent no matter how casual the occasion for most of us in this business. It’s our life and it’s good to be reverential.

How do you like to serve wine or have it served?
I decant whites more often than reds, and I like the temperatures to be appropriate. Too often, especially restaurants, whites are served too cold and reds too warm. It’s an easy fix. After all, it took so much to get the wine that far, the least that can happen is that the person drinking it gets the full scope of the experience.