The 12th year of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (branded as i4C by those associated with the three-day event) was certainly a well anticipated one after a two-year hiatus from the annual in-person celebrations. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario, and 57 VQA Ontario wineries, put together an incredibly memorable weekend to honour the quality and excellence of Ontario VQA chardonnay.
The School of Cool
Friday morning began with wine enthusiasts buzzing around, greeting one another and catching up before entering the ‘School of Cool’ – a kick-off to the many events and tastings of the weekend that shed a light on cool climate chardonnay.
The School of Cool’s moderator, wine and spirits columnist Chris Waters, opened the sessions with not only his highly creditable insight, but his charm and humour, that actively engaged the audience throughout the event. “How do you define cool climate? Usually the term freshness comes to mind, and brightness and vibrancy. So, here you have warmer areas and you have more generous fruit, but you also have vitality,” explains Waters, speaking on the terroir of Niagara.
The first two sessions of the School of Cool consisted of a comparative tasting called the ‘Great Chardo Swap’. Twelve Ontario winemakers crafted wines from two Niagara vineyards, one from the east and one from the west, to compare the impacts of terroir on Niagara chardonnay. Wines from both vineyards, regardless of winemaking style, showcased how special and distinct these vineyards and locations are for growing quality fruit.
The third session hosted a tasting and lecture from an international panel of winemakers including Danielle Coetsee of Boschendal in South Africa, Clementine Baud of Domaine Baud Generation 9 in Jura, and Joseph Ryan of Ernest Vineyards in California.
The conference was enriched by the 2022 keynote speaker – wine writer Andrew Jefford. He captivated every single person in the room with a poetic and moving speech on the infinite parallels of cool climate chardonnay and music. He spoke on latitude, altitude, and terroir of cool climate chardonnay grown around the world. Jefford remarked, “…what does all this mean for winegrowers? It means that cool climate needs to go from perhaps being a passive concept, to being an active concept – something that you seek, you guard, you fight for, and you sustain.”
Chardonnay in the City
Friday evening was ‘Chardonnay in the City’ – a walk-around tasting under an outdoor tent in Market Square, downtown St. Catharine’s. It truly was a wine geek’s dream, being both intellectually stimulating and seriously fun! The event included diverse and delicious food and music in a “seriously cool” outdoor party space.
Dozens of wineries showed off their top cool-climate chardonnay side by side. They included Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec wineries in Canada, as well as France, South Africa, and California. The tasting provided a deep dive into the global presence of cool climate chardonnay.
Cool climate – more than a feeling
The rest of the i4C weekend saw events such as ‘Chardonnay in the Vineyard’ and ‘The Moveable Feast’. Several other chardonnay centered celebrations were hosted by individual VQA wineries. All of weekend’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration attendees, whether wine industry or just wine lovers, were uplifted by the VQA focused experience.
Hidden Bench winemaker Alex Baines from Ontario, who sat on the international panel at the School of Cool, shared his feelings on the occasion: “The School of Cool is a great educational event, and the rest of the weekend provides a great opportunity to taste wines from a lot of different producers and interact with the people that helped make them. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet people and talk to them about our wines, whether they have tried them before or are new to Hidden Bench – it’s always a pleasure sharing the journey of our wines from grape to bottle.”