When faced with a choice between a vineyard and a motorcycle, what’s a wine loving gal to do?
Catherine Langlois was faced with this dilemma in the late 1990s and wisely, I think, chose to sell the motorcycle and start Sandbanks winery. Planting her fist vines in 2000, this Prince Edward Country winery now produces almost a dozen wines, from their soft Rosé to their full-bodies Baco Noir Reserve.
A month ago, a gaggle of Ottawa, Whitby and Toronto bloggers descended on Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine region. Like locusts during a plague, we cut a wide swath through the County, sampling PEC’s bounty along the way. Organized by John Squair, one of Sandbanks’ sales representatives, we headed to PEC on a bright and sunny, but incredibly windy day.
I first met John in 2010 at a Savvy Company event and I remember being struck by the Rosé and the Dunes white, thinking they would appeal to those who like light, fragrant wines. The other thing that struck me? The orange! (I can honestly say that I do not own a single article of orange clothing and, although my sofa is red, my house is bereft of orange.)
Once you meet Sandbanks’ owner and visit the winery, the orange makes complete sense. It is bright and energetic and speaks to the force behind the wine. Catherine Langlois is a high energy, incredible woman. She had just flown in from South Africa and was battling jet lag, yet still had more life than I do after eight hours of sleep!
As we battled gale force winds coming off the lake, I was once again struck by the bright orange colour: the logo, the banners flying as though it were about to take off, the low-lying tasting building. Catherine’s mother is an artist and it is her work that inspired the brand and lines the walls of the winery (large pieces, I wish I had the space to hang one…maybe in the next house?)
The story of Sandbanks Winery is one of love: love of land, of grapes, of wine and of community. Catherine trained in Burgundy, France, and first worked in Canada at Pelee Island Winery in “the cellars with the boys.” After a stint in wine sales, she was looking to get back to the land and “came to Prince Edward County for a party and stayed.” The vines she tended to with a baby on her back, the wines she sold out of the basement of her house… are chapters in this love story. Today, Sandbanks grows on six acres in PEC and buys grapes from another 4-6 growers in the area. They hire all local staff and are big proponents of the county’s bounty.
Although the majority of Sandbanks grapes are organic, the winery is not designated as such. While Catherine uses no herbicides, she, as she puts it, “Have not made the commitment to organic in my mind. If something is eating my entire harvest, I will kill it.” As a mother, I understand her protective feelings!
And, like any good parent, when I asked Catherine which wine was her favourite, she was unable to pick one over another. A woman after my own heart, she declared, “Wine is like clothing. Each has its place.” (Just like shoes!)
We were greeted on our visit by a cornucopia of foods for us to match to the wines. Each member of the Sandbanks team choose and made a dish that they thought would best pair with a Sandbanks wine and showcased a local PEC product or ingredient. Included were meats from Seed to Sausage, fantastic hot sauce from Vicky’s Veggies, and even maple syrup from John Squair himself.
The standout wines, for me, are the unusual ones, the ones you might not find every day. These include the Baco Noir and the Mouton Noir (100% Marechal Foch grapes). Both red wines, these are not the Pinot Noir that is often grown in PEC these days.
I confess. I fell in love with the label of the “Mouton Noir.” Drawn by Kassandra Woodland of the winery as a cute and endearing Black Sheep, it is a label quite different from the Sandbanks line. And, just like the label, this wine is a black sheep. Few wineries make wines that are 100% Marechal Foch grapes, which, according to Catherine, is a shame. This grape is cold hardy, ripens early and grows on its own root stock (no grafting required). But the yield is low and the grapes are not high in sugars, so wineries tend to use it to provide tannic structures to blended wines. This is a bit of a shame because, if Mouton Noir is anything to go by, it can certainly stand on its own.
Sandbanks is particularly known for its Baco Noir. Available as a Reserve as well, this wine is still under $20, making it a great value. The Baco Noir Reserve is the perfect red wine gift: attractive both in and out of the bottle. With oak ageing, you get some great vanilla and woody notes but the wine is not drying in the mouth. Married with the blackberry and cocoa flavours, this wine would, I think, please most red wine drinkers and even a few white wine lovers.
On Sunday, as Lil’foodiePrints and I were invited to the neighbours for traditional Sunday roast, I brought a bottle of the 2010 Sandbanks Cabernet Franc. At $15 a bottle, I can recommend this wine as my Wine Wednesday affordable drink.
This wine was the classic “easy drinking” red: ripe cherries and subtle cocoa notes. It was nice with the rich salty gravy, having a little bit of tannic structure to support the red meat, but also quite yummy on its own. Although we are heading into warmer weather, there are still come cold days ahead and I think you’d enjoy this wine sitting by the fire on a cool Spring evening.
As Catherine so poetically described Cabernet Franc, “It’s the little brother of Cabernet Sauvignon. Not as handsome, but twice as charming.”