It’s so very easy to become a snob in this industry. Whether it’s food, wine or beer, a little bit of experience can evolve into an awful lot of ego, and makes the atmosphere at any event having to do with food, and especially wine, more than a little intimidating for newcomers. Which is no doubt why the words “wine tour” conjure up images of high-society folks with haughty expressions and snooty attitudes sipping and slurping and generally thinking very well of themselves.
Angela Aiello and Paxton Allewell aim to change that, and their iYellow Wine Club has a mandate to make wine fun, interesting and best of all – unintimidating. With way more energy and enthusiasm than any two people should have on a Saturday morning (they have the envious recuperative powers of youth still on their side), they load 28 participants onto a bus and we head south to wine country and the Niagara icewine festival.
Despite a combined twelve years in the wine industry working at various wineries and wine shops (Chateau des Charmes, Peller Estates and Vineland Estates), Aiello and Allewell (aka Ange and Pax) refer to themselves not as wine experts, but as wine enthusiasts, and seem to revel in learning and absorbing everything there is to know about wine.
The wine club was started in 2005 by Aiello in the form of a newsletter, and Allewell, who had worked with Aiello both in university and at Vineyards Estates Wines on Queens Quay West, quickly joined in. Feeling that wine is a shared link between people, they wanted to find a way to bring the love of wine to a younger generation who might not be comfortable with the traditional methods of learning about the beverage. They began planning socials and then tours, usually based on a theme, such as the icewine tour we took part in.
Response has been overwhelming with membership in the club multiplying from 250 members at the beginning of 2007 to over 1500 by year’s end. Membership is free and includes a bi-weekly newsletter, invitations to all iYellow events and tours as well as membership discounts at various retailers and wine events.
The pair are both consummate hosts, and spent the first part of the bus ride explaining a bit about where we were going, some wine terms we’d hear used and some general information about how icewine is made.
Our first stop was Peller Estate Winery where we headed directly to the snowy fields to view the vines. Icewine has some specific rules and regulations relating to its harvest and as the temperature had already reached the minimum of –8’C required to be ice wine (Peller waits to pick their icewine grapes until the temperature hits –10’C), the vines were already bare. In the Reserve Boutique Tasting Room, we were taught how to properly taste the wine and then got to try samples of their 2006 Riesling, 2005 Oak-Aged Vidal Blanc and 2006 Cabernet Franc icewines. Outside in the garden, we enjoyed hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows, both made with Peller icewine.
From there it was off to downtown Niagara On The Lake to the outdoor Icewine Lounge where a bar made of solid ice took centre stage as part of the Niagara Icewine Festival. With twenty wineries offering samples, there were too many to try them all, especially at $5 a pop. Set up inside a tent, the space was cramped and colder than outside, so most people were enjoying their icewine samples in the open air. Personal favourites here included Maleta Estate Winery’s First Frost Last Grape Oak-Aged Vidal Icewine, and Chateau des Charmes Vidal Icewine.
Our final stop of the day was at Lailey Vineyard, a small boutique winery where we got to try a very cloudy barrel sample of 2007 Chardonnay and then samples of their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Chardonnay, 2006 Syrah (my personal favourite, as I tend to like my wines big and spicy), 2005 Cabernet and finally their 2005 Vidal icewine.
By choosing both a small and large winery for us to visit, Aiello and Allewell ensured that tour participants got to see the best of both worlds. Lailey is small (only 23 acres) and completely hands on, bottled on-site, 6 bottles at a time, while Peller is a huge enterprise with a chic restaurant, gift shop and a sister vineyard in British Colombia. The differences between the two speak to the uniqueness of their products and also the different approaches to winemaking.
Aiello and Allewell are planning more wine events for the coming months with their next tour, slated to have an organic theme, tentatively planned for May. For now they will continue to concentrate on the Niagara region wineries, as that is the geographic area they know best, but future trips to Prince Edward County are not out of the question.
Before heading back onto the bus and home to Toronto, we ended our tour of Lailey vineyard with a toast to the season, our unique terroir and a celebration of the product, the region and our country. With a hearty “Cheers to Winter”, we toasted the icewine industry and the wonderful products we are so lucky to have nearby.
The iYellow Wine Club is a fantastic way for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn more about wine in an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and enthusiastic. The tour was fun and informative, with not even the slightest hint of pretension. This pair of wine enthusiasts truly make the experience of wine an enjoyable one.
For more info on iYellow Wine Club or to become a member, check out their website.