Farm to table... to mouth

Posted Jun 30th, 2010

Farm to table... to mouth

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She's the director of marketing for a winery that's like a little piece of Europe in Niagara.

But Michele Bosc, whose family owns Chateau des Charmes Wines, is something else.

"Even though you see the chateau," Bosc said motioning to the winery's sprawling castle-like abode, "we're farmers at heart."

As such, Bosc presented the first instalment of Chateau des Charmes' Farm to Table Experience Sunday. It was a showcase of local food, featuring  celeb local chefs Anna and Michael Olson and cured meat guru Mario Pingue of Niagara Food Specialties, and Chateau des Charmes' vintages.

Time For Grub Blogs - Anna Olson
Anna Olson autographs a cookbook for a guest at Chateau des Charmes Farm to Table Experience

All are heavy hitters in their respective worlds but anyone new to local food and wine and curious about the greatness produced right here in Niagara need not be intimidated. Everyone, no matter their aptitude for the edible — and drinkable —is welcome at the Chateau des Charmes' table.

"The whole notion is to celebrate what we do have in Niagara locally, not only food and wine, but the place, and to share that with friends," Bosc said.

Meet Bosc and it's easy to see she's sincere in her sentiment. Her warm handshake, welcoming smile and a glass of her family's 2008 Aligote — a dry white more common in Burgundy and Eastern Europe than Niagara — greeted guests at Sunday's event before the down-to-earth hostess, clad in khaki capris and hiking shoes, led a crowd of about 20 foodies, oenophiles and the curious to the vineyard where most Chateau des Charmes visitors never venture.

Nestled at the base of the Niagara Escarpment, the group was introduced to the Chateau des Charmes St. Davids Bench Vineyard, one of four sites spread over 280 acres of vines that the Bosc family grows.

To the untrained eye, they looked like typical grapevines but as Bosc explained, this was no ordinary vineyard.

A spring passing underneath the lush rows carries limestone and other minerals from the escarpment to the roots of the vines.

"It really makes for a signature style, particularly from this vineyard," Bosc said. "For me,  that notion of terroir is the uniqueness of that space, whether it's the soil, the bugs, the human intervention..."

Time For Grub Blogs - Michele Bosc
Michele Bosc gives a tour of Chateau des Charmes St. Davids Bench Vineyard

Bosc also has her own signature style. Her relaxed approach to championing local food and wine is refreshing in a world that's becoming populated with pretense and off-putting to newcomer locavores.

She made no apologies for the fact that Chateau des Charmes isn't organic — the family grows grapes in a way to mitigate the use of pesticides, relying on them as little as possible but "reserving the right" to turn to them in times of need. She praised her father-in-law and Chateau des Charmes founder Paul Bosc, aka the Baron Phillipe Rothschild of Ontario, for not resting on his laurels and sipping Chardonnay, but rather Chardonnay crossed with something else.

Bosc said Paul has created a thousand new varieties just by crossing what already exists.

"He has the curiosity of a child and I say that in an innovative way," Bosc said. "We're about 10 years into this research and deciding what we're going to plant and what we're going to scale."

Meanwhile, Chateau des Charmes squeezes out 70,000 cases of wine a year. Sounds like a lot of tipple, but as Bosc explained, that puts them comfortably in the mid-size winery range — big enough to still be family-owned, small enough that there's little to no marketing budget. Enter the Farm to Table Experience to help get the word out.

Back at the table, guests took in the banter between husband and wife cuisiniers Anna and Michael Olson and started sampling the goods, served up first by Mario Pingue.

As Pingue shaved delicate, tissue paper-thin slices of prosciutto, Michael Olson rhymed off the ingredients in Pingue's version of the mainstay of Italian cured meats: a pork leg, salt and time.

"Whenever you have a product as good as this, we encourage you to leave it alone," Michael said.

Time For Grub Blogs - Pingue's Prosciutto
Pingue's Prosciutto wrapped around a bread stick

Next was the beef incarnation — bresaola — and its tough-to-miss "steak elements."

"Where prosciutto has a distinct pork richness, this picks up the spices. There's black pepper, nutmeg," Michael said.

And then came the pancetta.

"Wherever you use bacon, pancetta is better," Bosc said.

Feasters listened as Anna Olson described the intricacies of eating local. Even within a season, there are different seasons and with them, different tastes and ways to best serve fresh veggies, like the chilled asparagus in an almond and blanched garlic sauce that would soon be adorning our plates, alongside a remarkable canneloni sans tubular pasta noodle. It was ricotta and herbs wrapped in a light, airy crepe. The plate was completed with red oak leaf lettuce topped with strawberries, sheep's cheese, balsamic dressing and the Olson's passion for local food working in harmony to create one of the best tasting salads I've ever eaten.

Time For Grub Blogs - meal
The meal

"This isn't about bragging about buying local," Michael said. "We're simply searching for the best things we can find. We're looking in our backyards.

"Everybody has the ability to make good choices... I think food should be on everybody's list."

The meal was paired with Bosc's choice of a 2006 Chateau des Charmes sparkling Rose, which was the perfect match for a meal that was filling without being heavy and served on an oppressively humid summer day.

But Bosc realized not everyone would feel bubbly about her wine selection and that was fine by her.

"Not every palette is going to enjoy the combo and that's totally cool," she said. "I look forward to your feedback."

That approach makes it tough not to look forward to more Farm to Table experiences.

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