Sunday, December 30, 2018

Bedrock Formation in Canada's Niagara Peninsula

Earlier this year I paid a visit to Hidden Bench Winery Estate which is located in the Beamsville sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula appellation (illustrated graphically below). Being totally unfamiliar with the region, I decided to do a deep dive into its characteristics before discussing the estate and its wines.

As shown in the top-left image of the chart above, Canada currently recognizes four province-level wine regions: British Columbia (BC), Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Of these four regions, BC and Ontario have formed in-province regulatory mechanisms -- Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) -- which guarantees the high quality and authenticity of origin for Canadian wines made under the system. The VQA is similar to the wine regulatory systems currently implemented in the major European wine-producing countries.

Our immediate interest lies in the Ontario wine region as it is within its boundaries that Hidden Bench lies.

The Michigan Basin
The rocks underlying the Niagara Peninsula include igneous and metamorphic rocks formed during the Precambrian Age (4520 - 542 million years ago (mya)) and more recent sedimentary rocks laid down in the Michigan Basin between 540 and 250 mya (see figure below).

The Michigan Basin is the oval-shaped formation in the center of the map above and is the key determinant of the soil types currently resident in the region. It is 250 km wide and 5 km deep (at its deepest point) and extends beyond Niagara Falls to the east, beyond Prairie du Chen (Wisconsin) to the west, to the edge of the Michigan peninsula in the north, and just beyond the Michigan-Ohio border in the south.

It is not clear how this basin formed originally but we do know that sediments from between 24 and 30 transgressions from a shallow sea were deposited therein. Sea conditions varied from incursion to incursion and this was reflected in the sedimentation.

Paleozoic sea conditions Results/Drivers
Warm and clear Supporting a myriad of shelled creatures
Muddy As a result of receiving great volumes of fine silt and decaying vegetation from low-lying land
Desert conditions Seas excessively salty supporting little life or brackish  with gypsum and sulfide and chloride minerals
Shallow, huge swamp Vegetation

Below is a cross section of the deposits in the Michigan Basin through the Paleozoic age.

Landscape Formation
Beginning about 2.6 mya, the region was subjected to several periods of glaciation. Continental glaciers, advancing from the north, eroded the softer rocks down to the harder limestones and, in the northern portions of the Great Lakes Basin, the Precambrian rocks. The eroded rocks were converted to sand, silt, clay, and gravel that were carried along with the advancing glaciers. As the glaciers receded, the melting of glacial ice deposited entrained detritus on the surface as loose, unconsolidated stones. The most recent period of glaciation ended approximately 10,000 years ago.

The figure above shows small deposits of Jurassic Era rocks as the upper most strata in the Michigan Basin Series. These deposits, plus the presence of the Precambrian rocks of the Canadian Shield on the surface in the north of the Great Lakes Basin, points to erosion of the uppermost layers of the Great Lakes Basin rocks by the advancing glaciers; down to the basement rock in the places where the glaciers had the greatest mass, and the harder limestones where the mass was less.

Niagara Escarpment
Sedimentary layers made of the shells and skeletons of ancient sea animals become the hard rocks limestone and dolostone. Layers made from sand form the similarly hard sandstone. Layers comprised of mud form the weak and crumbly shale rock. In above-water environments, the weaker rocks erode at a faster rate than do the stronger rocks, forming, in some places, an overhang and subsequent collapse. Such a process is illustrated graphically below.

Escarpment retreat.

In the case of the Michigan Basin, its edge was defined by such an escarpment comprised of the thick, strong layers of limestone and dolostone (Lockport Formation) which serve as the caprock of the Niagara Escarpment. Normally, the erosion-collapse sequence of escarpment retreat proceeds in the direction of the erosion. The Niagara Escarpment is stabilized by vegetation and is not retreating much.

Niagara Escarpment.

Bedrock Geology of Niagara Peninsula
The figure below shows a two-dimensional view of the bedrock geology of the Niagara Peninsula while the figure immediately below shows it in cross-section. Note the heavy brow of the Niagara Escarpment (Lockport Formation) in the second picture.

Source: Dr. Anthony B. Shaw, Diagrams and Technical
Information for the Niagara Peninsula

In my next post I will focus on the soils and climate of the region.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Fermentation, Distillation, Aging, and Tasting: The Appleton Estate Rum Tour

In my prior post on the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Tour, I covered the raw material production exhibits. In this post I cover the fermentation, distillation, and aging processes and exhibits as well as a tasting of selected rums.

Molasses is one of the by-products of sugar production and is used as one of the key raw material inputs of rum production. At Appleton, the molasses is diluted with spring water and the resulting fluid is fermented using specialized yeasts. Fermentation occurs over 36 hours with fermented molasses (alcohol 8%) and CO₂ as the end products. The fermented molasses is then distilled to separate out the alcohol.

We passed through a security gate and mounted a number of steps in order to survey the distillation area from above. Appleton Estate utilizes both the Pot Still and Column (continuous) distillation processes in its rum production. Every rum produced at the estate is a blend of these two processes.

Pot Still Distillation
Pot Still Distillation is a 15th-century invention. The process, as employed at Appleton, is illustrated below.

Column Still Distillation
This is a more modern process, invented, as it was, in the 19th century. At Appleton, triple-column continuous stills are in use. Each column has a heat source at the base with the first column stripping out the alcohol from the wash and the remaining columns purifying and concentrating the alcohol vapors. According to Appleton, the column stills produce "clean, light flavoured rum which is perfect for toning down the robust and flavourful rums produced in the Copper Pot Stills."

We left the secure production area and ambled back over to the main buildings wherein the aging house is located. This aging house is the largest of 17 Appleton aging facilities on the island and its 40,000-barrel capacity represents approximately 16% of the 250,000+ bottles that are being aged on the island by the company at any point in time. The rums are aged in used, 40-gallon Bourbon barrels.

The characteristics of the Appleton aging process are shown below.

Parlo in the Barrel Room
On the far wall, opposite the entrance to the Barrel Room, is the display shown below.

The display showcases Appleton Estate Prime Minister's Reserve, a blend created on September 19, 2012 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica's Independence. On the aforementioned date, Jamaica's nine current and former Prime Ministers -- or their representatives -- poured one bottle each of Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Rum into nine barrels, each one containing rum from the 2012 crop year.

These barrels will age until 2062 when they will, in honor of the Jamaican 100 Year Independence Anniversary, be bottled as a Limited Edition Appleton Estate  Blend. Each bottle will be a 50 Year Old Rum but will contain rum that has been aged up to 100 years.

Another short walk, this time to the tasting room where every position had been set up with three rums: Signature, Reserve, and Rare blends.

Tasting Room prior to our entrance
Photo credit: Donna Henry

Our team (BTW, the kid is drinking water).
Photo credit: Donna Henry

These were three wonderful sipping rums with decreasing harshness and diminishing need for mixers with age. Fruit, spice, and barrel notes predominate with cocoa, coffee, and almond evident in the Rare Blend. Tiffany had us taste a piece of chocolate along with the Rare Blend and it was heavenly. I couldn't wait to get the 21 Year Old that was waiting for us at home.

Lauren was pretty satisfied with the tour;
she bought something at the merchandise shop.
Photo credit: Donna Henry

All in all a wonderful tour. It took a while, but there was a lot to cover. I came away with a better understanding, and appreciation, of the rum-making process and, specifically, Appleton Estate and its rums.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Appleton Estate (St. Elizabeth, Jamaica) Rum Tour -- Raw materials production

The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Tour is fulsome, educational, informational, entertaining, and tasty, a worthwhile experience.

Founded in 1749, Appleton Estate is Jamaica's oldest continuously run distillery. The estate recently came under the ownership of Campari Group when it acquired Jamaica-based Lascelles de Mercado and its Appleton, Wray and Nephew, and Coruba brands.

We were warmly welcomed by a duo of Appleton Estate employees and ushered into a spacious, light-filled, esthetically pleasing interior. The ticket counter was immediately on the right upon entrance, with a merchandise shop immediately behind. There is a spacious sitting area, with a variety of seat types, separating the ticket counter from a well-stocked bar situated to the far left of the room. A hallway leading off the room has its walls tastefully decorated with artwork depicting local scenes and pictures honoring Joy Spence, the company's Master Blender and the person after whom who the tour is named.

Joy Spence tribute wall

The tour does not begin until a minimum number of guests have signed in. The maximum number per tour is 50. When our guide (Tiffany) was satisfied with the attendee count, she called for us to congregate in the aforementioned hallway. She welcomed us to the tour, explained the tour logistics, and then began to introduce the estate and its history.

Appleton Estate is 11,402 acres in size, according to Tiffany, with 3707 acres dedicated to the growing of sugar cane. The estate has both sugar production and rum distillation facilities on site with sugar production of up to 160 tons/day and rum production of 10 million liters/year. A summary of the estate's history is shown in the picture below.

Joy Spence, the distillery's Master Blender, is the only female Master Blender in the world. All of the estate's current offerings are her designs. Important landmarks in her career are illustrated in the timeline below.

At the conclusion of her introductory presentation we were ushered into a movie theater for a short, but informative presentation on the estate and its rums. We exited the theater through the rear into an open air exhibit consisting of separate stations, reach covering a specific stage of the raw-material-production process.

Photo credits: Donna Henry

Sugar cane pressing -- the Donkey technique
Photo Credits: Donna Henry

Historical sugar cane pressing -- the wooden mill
Photo credit: Donna Henry

Molasses tasting station.
Photo credits: Donna Henry
Molasses mustache. Photo credit: Donna Henry

At the conclusion of the raw-material-production stage of the tour, we passed through a security-manned gate into the distillery. I will pick up that portion of the tour in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Road to Appleton Estate Distillery (Nassau Valley, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica)

I am a fan of Appleton Estate aged rums and, on a prior trip to Jamaica, I had been treated to a personal, in-home tasting of the Signature (15 aged rums), Reserve (20 rums), and Rare (youngest rum a minimum of 12 years old) blends. For my most recent trip to the island, my friend Paul took it up a notch: he arranged a visit to the distillery so that we could experience how the rums are made.

We started out right after breakfast. We were told that the trip would be approximately 3 hours from our starting point and we would be traversing the internal mountain range (By the way, this visit runs 90 minutes from Negril and 3 hours from Kingston.). This notice did not adequately prepare us for the trip. The mountain range is essentially a limestone plateau and some effort is required to attain the high point. Travel across its core was characterized by twisting, turning travel through winding narrow roads with limited opportunities to pass slower-moving traffic. There were a few instances of motion sickness during the course of the transit.

The map below shows our route, with the light-green coloration representing the scope of the Dry Harbor Mountain Range.

Our route from Priory on the north coast to Appleton Estate
The B3, the north-south artery that we were using to traverse the mountain, forks at a town called Cave Valley, with one branch continuing south and the other striking out southwest and then west to Appleton Estate. We stopped at Cave Valley for a breather, beer, and the bathroom. While drinking some refreshments in a dive bar I challenged the bartender to a game of dominoes but the team was having none of it; onward.

Refreshments at Cave Spring

Street food

Appleton Estate is located in Nassau Valley in Jamaica's St. Elizabeth Parish. The valley is 443 foot above sea level and is the result of erosion of the limestone plateau. The erosion resulted in a flat-bottomed valley with productive terra rosa soils.

As we came around a bend in the trail, the valley stretched out below us as far as the eye could see: lush, green, and with sugar cane leaves swinging lazily in the wind.

We were tired and stiff after the long ride and hurried to exit the bus and stretch our legs once it came to a stop. The surroundings were clean, orderly and welcoming. I snapped a few pictures.

The tour and tasting will be covered in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Vineyard Wine Company (Heathrow, FL)

The Vineyard Wine Company has been in business for 10 years and I was there at the beginning. Actually, I was there before it was even a gleam in Tom Jones' eye.

Before The Vineyard (The Yard, for the initiated), a small group regularly (Thursday and Saturday afternoons) gathered at Petty's Meat Market in Longwood to syndicate wines. As the name indicates, Petty's was known for its meats but it also sported a few shelves of quality wines towards the back of the store such that if someone needed a wine to pair with a dish, they could procure it here.

The group (Thad and Stacy Hudgens, Dr. Jose, Fred Wittenstein, Laurie Levin, Liz, Tom Jones, Bob Hughes, the author, and a few others) would convene around a makeshift table and take turns selecting bottles. At the end of the session, we split the costs equally. Those sessions were a lot of fun as we learned about each other and wine. Further, over the years, Petty hired quality people to work in the wine section (Dino, Dan, etc.) and they became great friends and integral parts of the group.

The level of fun diminished after Dan left but we persevered. Things truly came to a head, though, when Petty's hired a French guy as the wine expert. He did not appreciate our contribution to the in-store shopping experience or our occupation of "his space." And he went to great lengths to let us know of his displeasure. Conditions eventually became unbearable and we decided to cease and desist. Tom told us not to worry, he would build a small wine bar so that we could have someplace to hang out. I didn't think that we deserved that type of consideration but ...

A while after my last visit to Petty's I heard that Tom had begun looking into actualizing his thought. As time went on, the project expanded and Tom had brought Dan (his favorite Petty's wine guy) back to Orlando to help plan and, eventually, assist with the management of the establishment. When The Vineyard Wine Company eventually opened, it was a restaurant, wine bar, and wine retail shop all under one roof. Tom's daughter managed the retail shop, his son Robbie managed the wine bar, Dan managed restaurant operations, and Fidel (yes, that Fidel) was the Sommelier and wine buyer.

In the early days we lived there: birthday parties, wine tastings, wine dinners, and just plain old hanging out. If I was not on the golf course or, god forbid, working, I was at the yard with my buddies and the staffers. This place was our Cheers. We quickly forgot how petty Petty's had been at the end.

Friendly staff

Ten years later The Vineyard Wine Company is still thriving. It has endured growing pains, economic downturns, a narrowing of focus, and staff defections but has weathered those and arrived at a place of comfort: comfort with the customer base, with the product offerings, and with the staff in place. The food has improved markedly over the years and Robbie has grown tremendously in wine knowledge, confidence, and people skills. These guys launched into this space with no experience beyond Dan's and have negotiated the shoals admirably.

If you go into the restaurant at any time during the course of the day, Tom will be the guy at the bar on the stool furthest away from the door. He has occupied that same seat for 10 years now. The staffers are like family with many of them having been there for 8+ years, largely due to work conditions that Tom insists on. The restaurant is closed on most holidays so that staff can spend time home with their families.

Both started at The Vineyard in 2009

The Vineyard Wine Company is a successful pioneer and I look forward to updating this post on their 20th anniversary.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme