Q&A: Behind the bottle with winemakers from April’s Toronto Life Wine Club
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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Caroline and Maggie Granger
Grange of Prince Edward Estate Grown Cabernet Franc 2016
Mother-daughter team Caroline and Maggie Granger are wine pioneers in Prince Edward County. They make wines with great character and personality: Gamay and cabernet franc are their passion plays, but a visit to the Grange tasting room always reveals hidden gems. The cabernet franc, which was featured in April’s Toronto Life Wine Club, is one of their best — easy to enjoy now, but with enough stuffing to take it along for a few years.
Where were you born?
Maggie: I grew up in Prince Edward County. In fact, I grew up on the farm that is now the Grange winery. My brothers and I used to play in the fields that are now vineyards, and I used to perform séances with my friends in the barn that is now the winery.
What does your wine taste like?
Maggie: I have always felt that Prince Edward County wines are the most “old world” of the “new world” and I think that idea distinctly applies to our farming and winemaking practices. Our wines are earthy, hardly ever crystal clear, delicate, stony, restrained. These are all things I really love about County wines.
What’s it like being a mother-daughter team? Who does what?
Caroline: I think it is a demanding relationship that brings out the best in both of us. As to who does what, we tend to work together on most things. But we also both have our pet projects.
What varieties do you specialize in, and what do you love about them?
Maggie: Gamay has a special place in my heart. It’s such an underdog in the wine world, but it produces supremely drinkable wines, which is, to me, the most important quality of any bottle. I’m not drinking wine for its prestige.
What do you love about the winemaking process?
Caroline: Harvest is the most compelling time, the culmination of a season’s work and the beginning of a new vintage. It is a thrill that never gets old.
What gives you the most personal satisfaction about making wine?
Maggie: I love work that is real. In winemaking you take something from the earth and your preserve it and bring out its most dynamic character. From one step to the next you are building to the final product. Outside of the vineyard, jobs become less concrete, but growing grapes is just so pure and real. We try to translate that process into the cellar, doing only the winemaking that needs to be done, but letting the process flow by its own course as much as possible.
Why are you a winemaker?
Caroline: Necessity, really. I started out to be a farmer, planting grapes on my family farm. The grapes we grow find their expression in our wines. Winemaking is our way of capturing each crop of grapes to savour later.
What does spring mean to you?
Maggie: Spring is all I’m thinking about these days. I am so excited for lighter, fresher foods and wines with all the acid.
Describe your ideal wine fan, someone who’s a loyal Grange fanatic?
Maggie: We see these folks out in the County all the time. It’s people who care about the story of their wine. Who care about the people that make the wine, why they are doing it. Our fans care about what they put in their bodies, they care about the environment, they care about their local community, about supporting and encouraging women. Just like we do. We kind of have a love fest at the bar sometimes because I am just as excited to meet all the interesting, passionate people that walk through my door as they are excited to see an actual winemaker behind the bar.
What’s your favourite farm animal? Why?
Maggie: Right now we are all obsessed with our tiny flock of chickens. They are so goofy and weird. We have a free ranging flock and they just roam around everywhere. It’s really interesting to see how our guests react to that… There have been some amusing scenes of bachelorettes jumping up on picnic tables to get away from our feathered friends.
Paul, Matt and Dan Speck
Speck Bros. Three of Hearts Rosé 2018
Three young brothers and a bunch of shovels working hard and planting vines in the 1980s. That’s pretty much how the Henry of Pelham winery got started. Today it’s one of Ontario’s most prominent wineries, and the three Speck brothers, Paul, Matt and Dan, still run it like a family business (though now with 70 employees). Their new Three of Hearts Rosé, which was featured in April’s Toronto Life Wine Club, is a testament to a lot of hard work. We chatted with the brothers to get a perspective on their success, how to appreciate Ontario wine, and a few insights on how winemakers unwind (hint: there’s big-hair rock-and-roll and a Harley involved).
Describe your rosé for me? What do you love about it?
Dan: My brother Matt and the winemaking team lead by Lawrence Buhler have made a wine that perfectly reflects what the Short Hills Bench is about: broad, round flavours with angular precision. Three of Hearts is beautiful but not wimpy. It’s like a bouquet of roses wrapped in a leather jacket.
What do you like to pair it with? How do you like to drink it?
Paul: Rosés are so versatile. They can act like a white or light red wine. As an aperitif or with fresh fruit, cheese or even salads that have a light vinegar touch. Slightly chilled on the patio or watching a movie. I always like to have a couple of bottles around cooled, as one is never enough.
How did you get into the wine business?
Dan: Indentured servitude. We now have a “no child labour policy” but in 1982 when our dad and mum bought the first 65 acres of land from our cousins, it was my dad’s idea that his three boys (8, 13 and 16) should plant the vineyard with foot and shovel. The rest, as they say, is history.
What do you love about the wine making process?
Matt: Being a part of the cycle of the vine growth through our four seasons to harvest, and ultimately to enjoy a glass of wine that captures and reflects this cycle which has its own unique qualities every year or “vintage.” I remember the people, the weather, and what happened in the vineyard every year we have made wine back to 1988 and opening a bottle from any of those given years brings back the memory and experiences from that time.
Any hints on serving wine?
Dan: I decant reds as needed. And when I chill wine it’s always in a bucket with ice and water. Chilling a bottle is all about surface area covered. Too often I see a bottle sitting on top of the ice—how’s that going to get cold?
What do you do for fun?
Dan: We always have music playing in my house. I like to download the lyrics onto my phone and then hide the phone on my lap and sing like I know the lyrics from heart. I can’t keep a tune but it’s fun and everyone thinks I have this amazing memory for lyrics. Until now I guess. I like to dance, too. I’m about as good as Will Ferrell.
Matt: One of my favourite things to do at the winery is to ride my dirt bike around the property, for fun and to check on the vines. We built a motocross track out at the back of our vineyard. Most summer weekends I’m there with friends and my sons, riding and having a BBQ.
Paul: I’m a big hard-rock and hair-band fan. I love riding my Harley Davidson around Niagara in the good weather. I try to get out on it as much as possible.
What’s your favourite wine and food pairing?
Dan: Baco noir with strawberries rolled in freshly ground pepper. It’s Henry of Pelham’s answer to the tequila shot. Try it, it’s good.
Paul: Baco noir and a New York strip just off the BBQ.