What I Learned From This Year’s i4C Conference

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There is no finer way to travel to i4C than on Will Predhomme and WMAO’s chartered transport.

Sure, it means getting out of bed at 5am on a Friday morning, but seriously, what could be better than a comfortable, air-conditioned ride to White Oaks resort with a motley cru (pun intended) of Toronto Sommeliers? It sure beats travelling on a schoolbus, public transport, or a cramped car full of hungover Winemakers, that’s for sure. The Will Predhomme-organised, and Wine Marketing Association of Ontario-funded bus ensures that the conference is getting the right Sommeliers from Hogtown down to Niagara (and back) for the Friday sessions. A great idea… long may the tradition continue

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The Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine procures the most tremendous of cheese and meat breakfast platters.

Another bonus of taking the aforementioned early morning Bangbus down to i4C is the inclusion of the most tremendous of breakfasts. Being the ingenious fellow that he is, Will Predhomme came up with the concept of making one stop on the way out of Toronto at the mighty Cheese Boutique. As well as coffee, orange juice, and decent bottled water, Afrim Pristine presented an enormous wooden platter simply stacked with his personal selection of cheeses and cured meats. What more could a body ask for at that ungodly hour? Mannnnn, that was good.

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John Szabo MS knows how to moderate a panel discussion… and then some.

Following Ian d’Agata’s infectious-laughter-filled keynote came the meat and potatoes of the conference : The School Of Cool.

Corralling a bevvy of opinionated, passionate Winemakers, and facilitating a series of three serious panel discussions around some fairly contentious subject matters, for an audience of 360 wine professionals, was never going to be a walk in the park… but it has to be said that Kékfrankos posterboy and Master Sommelier John Szabo did a bang-up job. His touches of wry humour peppering steadfastly academic foundations made for a winning combination that kept the audience glued to the discussion for the length of Friday’s sessions. It has to be said that the inclusion of sli.do to encourage (and moderate) some fairly lively audience contributions was a touch of sheer genius. John, I doff my cap to you, for both your incomparable facilitation skills and your interactive midnight, bed-of-broken-glass, barefoot karate demonstrations.

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“Sunshine Is The New Rain”

There was a lot to digest over the course of the three seminars. A hell of a lot actually. One of the things that really stood out for me (during the first session concerning harvest timing) was the concept of sunshine being the new rain… that is, much like rain, a little sunshine is good, a lot can be extremely detrimental to the quality of the fruit, and hence the endowment of the eventual wine. What with the hotter and drier vintages we have been experiencing as of late, excess sunshine has grown to become just as much of a viticultural challenge as that of excessive rainfall. Who’d have thunk it?

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Foxes Island Winemaker John Belsham makes some of the finest southern hemisphere Chardonnay I have ever tasted

After the second session (Cellaring Cool Climate Chardonnay) the general consensus around my neighbouring School Of Cool students was that the wines of John Belsham’s Foxes Island (Auckland, New Zealand) were the hands-down stars of the show thus far. This sentiment was echoed multifold throughout the following two days, his restrained, and immaculately-crafted Chardonnays winning innumerable fans over the duration of i4C. On the Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with him over lunch at Trius about his winemaking philosophies, and in person the gentleman was just as erudite and cultured as his excellent bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Now, the question is, just where can I track down more of his juice?

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Winemaker Nicolas Potel has the constitution of the proverbial ox.

And I don’t believe that anything more needs to be said upon the subject.

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Raymond’s Jeremy Bonia is truly a Prince amongst men.

Whilst it always a pleasure to receive a visit from Newfoundland’s most affable ambassador, a special medal of commendation should be awarded to Jeremy Bonia after i4C for putting up with my oft-juvenile sense of humour, my inane storytelling, my bordering-upon-hallucinatory text message pics, my late night speaking in tongues, my music-driven hissy fits, and my more-than-occasionally daft thoughts on what exactly is in the glass. I just wish that he would spend even more time with us here in Ontario (even if he continues to insist upon foisting his retrogressive 60s music upon me). Thanks for enduring me for three days though.

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Despite the terrible pun (Flights of Chardonnay at an airport) the concept of having the Friday evening consumer event in an aircraft hangar was sheer genius

Getting hundreds of people to drink wine in a huge tin box on what must have been one of the hottest nights of the year thus far may not seem like the best idea in the world, but by jove, it worked. This unique venue was a real winner, and I was quite frankly astonished at how well it played out. Even the band were pretty good, and you’ll rarely hear a compliment like that from me… which brings me to…

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There is certainly a market for an accessibly-priced consumer event like this… with a much younger, hipper (and in many cases more knowledgeable) demographic than usually attends wine events.

I had noticed that a few critics of i4C had been grumbling about the consumer ticket prices being too steep. Well, personally I felt that the $45 cost for the Flights Of Chardonnay event was terrific value. Where else could you taste some of the world’s best cool climate Chardonnays (and Pinot Noirs and Craft Beers) to your heart’s content over the course of four and a half hours, for a paltry 45 bucks? Amazing. And it brought out and entirely different, younger-leaning, stylish bunch of folks too. A really excellent event all round.

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The vast majority of those involved in the wine business enjoy exactly the same party music as my Mother.

I have this theory that for many people there is a direct correlation between choosing a career in wine and a taste in music that hits an arrested development somewhere around the end of the 1980s. I think that someone needs to do a study into this phenomenon, as it’s something that I have observed for many a year.

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Those i4C folks also know how to throw a top-notch “society” shindig

i4C’s signature event on the Saturday evening was a Cool Chardonnay World Tour Grand Tasting and dinner for 1,000 people in the serene environs of St. Catharines’ Ridley College. After a huge, well-spaced-out walkaround tasting, the crowd moved over to a plethora of white tables and chairs under the trees of the school’s courtyard, the family-style food service working so very well in such environment. This was i4C’s big ticket item ($150), and judging by the responses of my fellow diners, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Ravine is a truly beautiful venue for a life-affirming brunch after a couple of days of intense study of Chardonnay.

After two pretty hardcore tasting days, it was finally time to relax and take stock of what we had experienced throughout the duration of i4C. Sunday was certainly a day for contemplation, as we sat on the terrace at Ravine, acoustic music drifting from betwixt the vines, glass of Benjamin Bridge in hand. As we chatted with friends old and new, there was a collective sadness that this coming together of so many Chardonnay lovers from the world over was finally coming to an end. Here’s to 2017!


Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that was fantastic. Thanks to all involved. Great job.

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