I don’t know when the culture of France became normal and the Canadian culture became foreign, but it must have happened gradually some time in the last two years, and it’s hitting me hard on the return home. For example… when going to class or work, in France one typically greets everyone in the room with a kiss on each cheek or a handshake (unless one is late in which case it is awkward. Speaking for a friend). Even at a social gathering where there may be people one has not met before, a girl still does the kisses as if they were new bosom buddies. I’d forgotten that this is not necessarily normal in Canada. Here, if you happen to make eye contact or cross each other’s path, then a Good Morning greeting is in order, but there is no physical contact (absolutely none!), and one is rarely searched out to be bid a morning greeting. This was normal life for me only two years ago, and upon my return, it feels cold.

Early forays into French social scenes took some getting used to, but the return to Canada is a tad… cold…

Oy Vey! The Plenta (128 oz/3.7 L!!) and the Micra (2 oz/60 mL) are apparently real sizes according to the Starbucks website

The work rhythm is quick, and business-like. A half hour lunch, and no breaks; whereas an hour for lunch in France is short. Have you noticed how large the coffees are? The Starbucks (shudder!) venti size – extra large for normal people – looks like a small bucket after the espresso-sized cafés I’m now used to. Fortunately there’s a Bistro Normandie that’s just opened up on the Danforth near my mom’s house in Toronto, so I can get my fix of exquisitely buttery croissants, pains au chocolat (chocolatines for you Bordelais!), fresh baguettes and teeny tiny coffees on my weekend returns home.

Culture shock aside, the last three weeks have been a quick and intense turnaround from battling jet lag, buying a car (my first!), and moving to St Catharines in the Niagara region to start my new internship at Tawse Winery. I picked Tawse for a few reasons:

  1. I consistently hear great things about the team there, and was fortunate enough to have a contact (my beer-brewing buddy buys barrels from them) who could help put me in touch with their powers that be.
  2. Building on my biodynamic experience in Alsace last summer, Tawse is one of only two biodynamic-certified vineyards in Ontario. The other is Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which I plan to visit later this summer.
  3. They seem to know what they’re doing: with the first vineyard only purchased in 2000, this winery has already been recognized several times: Canadian winery of the year 4 times (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016), Ontario Winemaker of the Year (Paul Pender in 2011), and even one of the best Chardonnays of the world outside Burgundy (Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2011).
  4. Despite having the biodynamic philosophy in common with my previous stage, Tawse is otherwise incredibly different. It is twice the size of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (DZH) in vineyard space and volume of wine, and offers a wider range of wines: red and sparkling are new for me, but I’ve already worked with white and sweet wines. I’m hoping this shows me another perspective of grape-growing and winemaking, not to mention in the context of my home country, which will be invaluable in helping set myself up to become a Canadian winemaker.

The first day at Tawse is overcast, but you can just see some vines to the left. We’re using a training system I don’t yet recognize, with 4 canes, instead of the usual 1 or 2. Even though buds burst in Bordeaux well over a month ago (though unfortunately many were lost to the subsequent frost), it’s still a little early for budbreak in Niagara.

My role here is a cellar/production intern until the end of October. During the summer months prior to harvest, that means I’m involved in the daily rhythm of indoor tasks. One of the big differences between my experience last summer and this summer is the level of intervention in the winemaking process. The style at DZH was incredibly low intervention. That meant that once the grapes were crushed and the juice (or grape must) moved into the large barrels, the wine was barely touched for 9 months to a year, aside from topping up the barrels when wine was lost to evaporation. Once the wine was finished fermenting (which, if you’ll remember, sometimes took up to a year), sulfur dioxide was added to stabilize the wine, and then it was bottled. This meant that there was very little cellar work during the summer, which is why the whole winemaking team actually worked in the vineyards until bottling began in August.

By comparison, there’s more to do in the cellar at Tawse because the intervention strategy is a little different and we’re also dealing with several different types of product, and four production facilities, so the work is piling up! Some of the wines are ready to be bottled, and others are still going through various stages in the vinification process.

While our unfiltered red wines are bottled and sealed with wax, others are in barrel needing to be topped; and still others are in tank undergoing cold stabilization. See how cold it gets? That is ice forming on the outside of a tank where the wine inside is at -2°C/28°F. This is a method to stabilize the wine and prevents tartrate crystals from forming after it’s been bottled.

Because the vinification process for sparkling wine is quite different from red and white, we have a different facility with a special line just for these wines.

Beer bottles? Nope, these are sparkling wine bottles that have not yet received their final corks. We’re giving them a vigorous shake to make sure the lees don’t stick to the bottles. Next step is to put them in these riddlers (technically they’re called gyropalettes) to gently shift the yeast cells into the neck of the bottles, and then into cages so the lees can settle for easy removal in the next step

The other big activity for me this summer is the thesis that I will be writing, which is only thing really standing in the way between me and and my master’s degree. My topic of choice is measuring the difference/impact to wine between grapes that have been manually harvested vs. mechanically harvested. This is a particularly interesting topic in Niagara due to the need to harvest grapes quickly (as soon as they’re ripe) compared to the available (and slightly insufficient, one might say) labour force.

The winery has just purchased a new Grégoire harvesting machine which we will be trialing for this year’s harvest. The big question will be – will the grapes (and therefore wine) taste different depending on whether we harvest by machine or by manual labour?

I will leave you on that cliffhanger for now (and for the next few months while I do my research and testing) as I need to go rehearse for a barbershop chorus. More about that next time…

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7 thoughts on “return of the prodigal daughter

  1. I so had to laugh about morning greetings, kisses and the coffee! Seems the States (the Buck and others) has infected the world with ginormous coffee avec beaucoup de lait. It does sound like you are off to a great start. Enjoy having a car 😉

    • Haha.. .thanks Lynn! I knew you’d get it. I keep thinking of the great cappucinos in Capucins every time I have one here. Funnily enough, my consumption has drastically decreased… 🙂

  2. I’m getting more and more fascinated with biodynamic wines. If you want company on your visit to Southbrook I’d love to join!

  3. Bravo Cat, c’est super intéressant! Et compliments pour ton français 😉 continue de nous tenir au courant.
    Moi j’ai commencé mon stage aujourd’hui et je retrouve la vie de bureau!
    Bises (true, we French like kisses 😉

    • Merci Gonzague, et avec grand plaisir! Ça va le stage? Pour moi c’est un peu difficile d’être dedans quand il fait très beau (comme aujourd’hui). Les montagnes d’Alsace me manquent.

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