The SAS Blog: Stories, Wine Highlights, Events, Recipes, etc.

March 12, 2015

Presented by Sommelier Velma LeBlanc

Introducing…
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

Presented by Sommelier Velma LeBlanc

“Years back, while tending my family farm, I had a revelation,” said Sue-Ann Staff, the accomplished winemaker…“I loved the farm life. This is my Paris, my Australia, my South Africa, my freedom. So, I dress the part and enjoy life through the rose-coloured glass of the fancy farm girl. The farm is a metaphor, the attire an approach. The reality? There is a fancy farm girl in all of us.”

Fancy Farm GirlThese marketing words are behind the winery’s new Fancy Farm Girl label – available in 60+LCBO locations as one of the “Wines to Watch” –  but they also capture the very essence of Sue-Ann, who has received more than 450 national and international wine awards and has twice been recognized as one of the world’s top four “Women in Wine” by the International Wine and Spirits Society in London, England.

“The best day for me is when I start out in steel-toed work boots and ripped jeans, get up to my elbows in the vineyards or tank room, and then head home, shower, pop on a gala dress and go to pour wine at a splashy event. I love the contrast, the diversity, the glamour.  But my roots are in the farm,” matter-of-factly states Sue-Ann.

A Family History of Growing Grapes

And those roots run deep. The Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery is located in Jordan, along the Niagara Escarpment, on land that has been owned by her family for seven generations. The last five generations have grown grapes, making it one of the oldest commercial vineyards in Canada (perhaps even the oldest). When Sue-Ann was growing up, it was also the largest privately owned fruit farm in Canada, with more than 800 acres of grapes, most of which were destined for the industrial Jordan Wines.

SAS grandfathers tractor - winery cameraAs early as the age of seven, she began spending time in the vineyard with her grandmother, who managed the crews that were tying and thinning the vines. By 13, she was driving tractors and cultivators. “We had over 30 varieties of grapes and we were one of the first to plant Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Baco Noir. Grapes were a big part of our lives and a big discussion around the dinner table every night.”

Sue-Ann is the first member of the family to become a winemaker, a career she decided to pursue when she was 16 years old.  “My grandfather was very much of the mindset that we were farmers first (photo of his tractor at right). As well, the whole estate winery thing didn’t exist at the time. Wineries were factories and they processed wine, so it was a totally different feel back then.”

Today at her winery, she manages 104 acres of land, 35 of which are devoted to grape vines and, of those, 70 percent to Riesling. Until now, however, focusing on her own vineyard has been a part-time job or, as she describes it, “an expensive hobby”. All of that is about to change.

Food Truck festivalFrom the time she completed her studies (first with a double major in horticulture and bio-technology from the University of Guelph, followed by a graduate degree in winemaking from the University of Adelaide in South Australia), Sue-Ann has been paying the bills by using her talents to help advance other wineries. She worked for 10 years as the winemaker at Pillitteri Estate Winery (where she won many awards for her icewine) and then worked for the original management team at 20 Bees Winery, until it went into receivership. That was a turning point in her life.

“I was 37 at the time and had a cat, of course” she laughs. “I thought if I can’t start a winery now and support a cat, it will never happen.”

She launched the Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery in 2008 and opened it to the public in 2009. About the same time, John Howard (of John Howard Cellars of Distinction) invited her to be the winemaker forMegalomaniac in nearby Vineland.  This position would include liaising with its sister property – Château La Confession – in St. Emillion, Bordeaux, France. “With the travel, it sounded pretty enticing,” she says.

The reality is that more than 50 percent of her time was spent at Megalomaniac, while her own winery took back seat for the past six years.

Focusing 100% on Sue-Ann Staff Winery

Sue-Ann recently made the decision to alter her course. Beginning this April, she will refocus 100% of her attention on her own winery.  “I’ve given a lot at Megalomaniac and we’ve grown quite a bit and have done well too. I’m sad to leave that behind, but at the same time my own winery hasn’t really taken off and it needs to. If I’m going to do this, I need to get two feet behind it & give it my all.”

“It’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s sad (to be leaving Megalomanic), it’s happy.”  Mostly, though, she sounds excited about taking her winery to a new level.

sue ann at workAmong her plans, she wants to increase production to 10,000 cases and export some of her ice wines. She earned the reputation of being the “Ice Queen” when she was at Pillitteri and laughs that, “at least I hope they were talking about the wine!”  She is also anticipating that her new Fancy Farm Girl label does well at the LCBO over the next couple of months, so it will be considered for inclusion in the general listing, which would represent a huge step for her. Give it a try – the Savvy Team were impressed with both the ‘Frivolous White’ and ‘Flamboyant Red’.  At $14.95 – she’s giving it away!

Sue-Ann is also looking forward to increasing her focus on hosting special events on the estate property, an area of her business that has been growing rapidly for her over the last several years.  A 4000-square foot tent, complete with chandeliers and a dance floor, overlooking a two-acre pond, plays centre role in weddings and other events, including a recent Family Day party, where the pond was transformed into a large skating rink. “It’s fun having people come in and enjoy the property. It’s a special place in the world.”

Sue Ann Staff propertyThe large picturesque Victorian farm house on the estate is where Sue-Ann lives as well as the winery,  It is the same home that belonged to her grandparents and in where she spent a lot of time as a youngster.  This homestead now hosts many visitors casually in the kitchen. It has undergone extensive renovations – “it’s done up a bit more fancy than the average farmhouse” – and today plays a double role as the winery’s retail space. “People love it – they think it’s fantastic – but sometimes I just want to make a grilled cheese sandwich,” she laughs. “So, I would like to get my kitchen back.” Part of her four-year plan is to move the retail shop to a different building.

By the time you crack the seal on one of Sue-Ann’s wines in your Savvy Selections, Sue-Ann will be in Düsseldorf, Germany for “Prowein” – the largest wine trade show in the world.  This marks a milestone as this visit will be the first international show where the only wine that Sue-Ann will be showcasing is the wine from her winery.

Good luck, Sue-Ann, and best wishes on the next chapter of your winemaking career!

 

March 12, 2015

FANCY FARM GIRL...Presented by Debbie Trenholm

There is a Fancy Farm Girl in all of us!

Timing is everything.  When I visited Sue-Ann in August last year, we walked through the vineyards & I suggested that we feature her this month; at that moment in time neither Sue-Ann nor I knew that March would be a turning point for her.  Sue-Ann Staff is, to use her words, “going at it on my own”.  She is shedding her responsibilities as a winemaker at other wineries and focusing 100% on her own winery: Sue-Ann Staff Estates Winery.  This is a big leap for anyone, yet, in my humble opinion, this remarkable woman can do anything.

Sue-Ann & I have been friends since I started The Savvy Grapes over 13 years ago.  She was the first woman winemaker we featured at a winemakers dinner showcasing her talent at Pillitteri Estates Winery.  And she wowed everyone with the delicious wines she made and most of all, her charm. Read on as our Savvy Sommelier Velma LeBlanc captures more about the dynamic Sue-Ann & her deeply rooted ties to Niagara’s vineyards. 

Meet Sue-Ann!

You are the first to know….The Fancy Farm Girl herself is coming to Ottawa.  We are delighted to host a portfolio tasting on Wednesday April 22nd at the Orange Art Gallery,where Sue-Ann will be showcasing all of her wines – and perhaps some barrel samples too. This event will also showcase Pondview Estates Winery of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  We are just nailing down the final details, so watch your inbox for your invitation.

As a Savvy Selections subscriber, 2 complementary tickets await you.  To be added to the guest list, email me directlydebbie@savvycompany.ca

Can’t attend?  You can still order the featured Sue-Ann &Pondview wines.  And share the experience by giving the tickets to friends.

Cheers!
-Debbie & Savvy Team

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Caroline's Culinary Delights

Fancy Farm Girl

March 6, 2015 · by Caroline · 

At a recent wine event I heard about this Ontario wine for the first time and was instantly drawn to the name, Fancy Farm Girl. One day soon after, I found a little burlap wrapped package at my door and was so delighted how it brightened up my day.  The message that I found inside won me over, and so did the wine.

   

After a few years as a blogger, having tasted many gems around the Niagara region, I now know why they have grabbed the world’s attention.  See the frivolous white and the flamboyant red below.  If you are still one of those few who stay away because of some old fashion attitude – get over it!

    

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February 16, 2015

LCBO Wines to Watch: Fancy Farm Girl

FANCY FARM GIRL

Wines to Watch: Fancy Farm Girl...

Snap up these Fancy Farm Girl wines while you can — they're available in limited supply — and savour the craftsmanship of Sue-Ann Staff, one of Ontario's most successful winemakers.

This month, our featured Wines to Watch come from fifth-generation grape grower and talented winemaker Sue-Ann Staff, who combines her love of the simple life and finer things in Fancy Farm Girl wines. Pair Flamboyant Red, an elegant and approachable Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend, with appetizers, red meats, rosé sauce or milk chocolate. Refreshing and citrusy, Frivolous White is great with chicken, seafood or mild cheese.

 

FANCY FARM GIRL

Meet Sue-Ann Staff, the record-breaking, medal-winning Niagara winemaker at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Wines and Megalomaniac, and creator of Fancy Farm Girl wines. Here, Staff talks about getting dirty, cleaning up and the secret to fabulous wine.

Q. Your family owned the largest private vineyard in Niagara. What did you learn from that? 

I learned not to be afraid of hard work. I used to drop my school bag and run outside to watch trucks loading up or help my grandma plant vines — there was always something happening. Life on a farm doesn’t stop at 5 or on weekends, but the work is wholesome and honest and I get so much satisfaction from it. 

Q. What made you become the first winemaker in your family? 

You can make a really great wine that tastes fantastic but if the pH is too high, for example, it will be a lovely wine for two months instead of two years. If the pH is too low, it might have an amazing shelf life but be unpalatable. The artistry of making a fabulous wine and the science of lining up the technical details is what appeals to me. 

Q. Your wines have already won 500+ awards — more than most winemakers collect in a lifetime. C’mon, what’s your secret?

I got a degree in horticulture from the University of Guelph, then I studied winemaking in Australia. The University of Adelaide trained us for every imaginable condition, so that helps me deal with difficult vintages. I also like to drink really great wine. If I want to drink it, I’d better make it!

Q. Many wineries and farms have a dog around to help. What kind of dog does a fancy farm girl have?

That’s Brix, my five-year-old Burnese Mountain Dog. He’s my greeter: he’s with me wherever I go. Most farm dogs are shorthaired. I’ve got a purebred that has to go to the groomer every month to smell good!

Q. Your new wine labels feature the drawings of Francesca Waddell, a fashion illustrator whose work has appeared in Vogue. What inspired your Fancy Farm Girl wines: Frivolous Red and Frivolous White?

I’m not a typical farm girl. I renovated my family’s 120-year-old farmhouse to make it more glamorous. One minute I’m in the fields with steel-toed boots, and the next I’m at a gala wearing stilettoes. A fancy farm girl is authentically who I am, and I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. 

Watch this video to find out how Sue-Ann Staff mixes New World and Old World in her wines for Megalomanic. Or, check out this video to discover her favourite grape and her digital trick for making better wine.

 

 

2012 Flamboyant Red - $14.95  Loaded with bright red fruit and tannin on the finish that isn’t overbearing.  This bottle isn’t just a flashy label… but let’s face it the artwork on both the White and the Red are fantastic.  This Red blend is well worth the price of admission from the great 2012 vintage.  This is drinking great right now with no need to cellar until a later date.  The thing that’s great about this wine is that at the price point you can dress it up by pairing it with an expensive steak or fine roasted lamb or dress it down by matching it with pizza.  

2012 Frivolous White - $14.95  This is a good easy drinking, well balanced Riesling that offers up a nice mineral note on the finish.  There is some sweetness that rolls off the back of your tongue before it’s greeted by the crisp acidity.  Flavours of apple and citrus are also what you will find in the glass.  Pair with Roast Chicken, or lighter pasta dishes.

January 20, 2015

January 14, 2015

October 21, 2014

FOOD TRUCK FALL FAIR PHOTOS...Great Weekend, Great Wines and Great Music!

2nd Annual Food Truck Weekend!

Thank you to all that attended...the ultimate back yard winery party!

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