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Saturday, March 26, 2022


1a.WHEN CONCORD WAS KING! (Tellwell Talent, 2018, 163 pages, $31.87 CAD Amazon.Ca papercovers) is by Jim Warren, an acclaimed amateur winemaker who later started Stoney Ridge Winery, and who in 2000 joined the faculty of Niagara College and assisted with the development of the Vineyard and Winery Management Program, acting as both instructor and winemaker. In 1997 Jim was selected as Ontario winemaker of the year (Ontario Wine Awards) and 10 years later received the Cuvee Award of Excellence for his contribution to the wine industry. As a consultant Jim has assisted with the creation of numerous new wineries and wines in Ontario. "When Concord was King!" is a book exploring the early beginnings of the wine industry in Eastern North America, focusing on Ontario. It's more than just Concord grapes of course – it looks at all the "foxy" tasting grape wines not made from V. vinifera (European varietals). V.labrusca is the most prominent; indeed, it is called the fox grape. Cultivars and hybrids here include Concord, Catawba, Delaware, Dutchess, Niagara, and Isabella. He begins with the "southern fox" – North America's first wine – from Muscadine. He moves through the centuries and arrives in Upper Canada in 1790. A big chunk of the book deals with Ontario developments 1880 – 1980. He walks us through Prohibition, the start of the LCBO, the Depression, the Second World War – and Harry Hatch with Brights. It took until 1951 before vinifera was planted, when chardonnay was grafted onto phylloxera-resistant root-stock. It was later marketed as Pinot Chardonnay. This is a compelling read, made more vivid by Warren's writing style. He's got his reference material cited, a series of glosses in each chapter, and some critical notes and histories of many early Eastern North American grape hybrids. There is no index, which is unfortunate, but if you can get hold of the PDF or ebook version, then word searching should be no problem for all the names and places. Quality/Price Rating: 91.
1b.FROM CONCORD TO CABERNET! stepping stones and milestones in Ontario's wine making odyssey (soon to appear on,  like the above book at 1a). It's a sequel from Jim Warren, relating the rest of the story from 1980 through 2020. And it has been forty years of dramatic action. Part one deals with a short history of the immediate period before 1980, with French-American hybrids and indications of the first cottage wineries in Ontario (Inniskillin in 1975, Chateau des Charmes in 1978, and Newark (now Trius) in 1979. Part two covers 1980 through 2000, with the expansion of the cottage wineries building a wine business that was quality-driven with limited production and family-run ownership. By 1980 there were several sources of "wines", such as the labrusca-based port-like and sherry-like wines sand others, the French hybrids, vinifera, and "blend" with Ontario and imported wines. Still, in 1981 vinifera had only a share of 5.6% of all vines. Jim has many stories about the 21 new wineries that existed between 1975 and 1990. He covers the explosion of winemaking in the Lake Erie North Shore region, Ontario icewine, the ethyl carbamate scandal, the blending with imported wine, the threat of NAFTA and government subsidies and competition – all leading up to the beginning of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) after 1990. He comments on the designated viticultural areas and sub-appellations, the 2001 Asian ladybug infestation, and tax reform. This is all intriguing, insightful commentary by an insider who has been in the business for decades. The 1990s saw fruit wines, VQA expansions, consolidation within the industry, the beginnings of agri-tourism and weddings at destination wineries. The decade also saw Brock University and Niagara CAAT take on wine business courses leading to degrees and diplomas, along with the start of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture institute at Brock and an actual producing winery at Niagara. Throughout it all we read about Jim's personal take on sales, marketing taxes, and LCBO listings, as well as life reminiscences and his own winery, Stoney Ridge. Chapter 9 opens part three – the new millennium post-2000. The names and numbers grow – to over 200 wineries across Ontario. But through it all we still must not forget that the five largest wineries in Ontario were responsible for 90% of that province's wine production. And that 20% of industry winemakers in Ontario are owner-operators of their own winery. Ontario winemakers and wineries are an inclusive community with new approaches such as the issue of climate change and global warming, green sustainability and organic/biodynamic principles, equality in hiring practices, making appassimento wines, making orange wines – and sharing all of this with others. To this end, Jim gives a fine appreciation of Larry Paterson, the LCBO employee who took on tasting challenges to show that Ontario wines were just as good as European wines, if not better in some cases. As Jim says, "The story of Ontario wine is not a myth about becoming the "best" or the "greatest" in the wine world but a saga of dinging success and soaring to new heights after a long and determined odyssey to achieve greatness". There are a variety of appendices. Appendix A looks at the current taxes, sales, and distribution of alcohol in Ontario with some great insight in its clear explanation of a complex, complicated subject [not for the faint of heart]. Appendix B lists the Ontario Wine Awards' Winemaker of the Year in chronological order. Appendix C covers the demise of various "ghost" wineries over the past few decades, going back to 1980. And appendix D looks at two decades of progress by VQA Ontario. This is a compelling read, made more vivid by Warren's writing style. He's got his reference material cited, a series of glosses for each chapter, and some critical notes and histories. There is no index, which is unfortunate, but if you find  the PDF or ebook version, then word searching should be no problem for all the names and places. Quality/Price Rating: 95.

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