Thursday, October 28, 2010

Credo Coffee, 104th Street, Edmonton

“Exceptional Coffee – One Cup at a Time”

For many of us, a coffee shop is an oasis, a place where we can sit quietly and read or visit with friends. Credo Coffee, on 104th Street in downtown Edmonton, became my home away from home last week.

A home hobby that got out of control
Geoff Linden is the owner of Credo Coffee. Geoff says that coffee was a “home hobby that got out of control.” He started out searching for a good cup of coffee and progressed to buying bigger and bigger expresso machines. Now he owns a coffee shop.

The timing was right. Geoff’s two sons were grown, and he had time on his hands. His wife was a teacher and had a steady income. “I decided to give it a shot,” he says. “If it didn’t work, I could go back to a regular job.”

Geoff knew about 104th Street and what people hoped it would become, and he wanted to be a part of it. Credo was the first tenant in the Icon Tower when it opened in June 2009.

Geoff had expected that the Icon condo residents would be his primary customers. Instead, it’s the whole neighbourhood. “There’s a real community feel,” says Geoff, “the condos, the warehouse lofts, the independently-owned businesses. We’ve become really good friends. I love the people who come in here every day.”

Intelligentsia coffee
Credo serves Intelligentsia direct trade coffee. Direct trade coffee is sourced from individual farmers and farms.

“One of the Intelligentsia partners travels 90% of the year tasting and buying coffee,” says Geoff. Intelligentsia’s first priority is quality, but because they have a direct connection with the individual farmers, they can reward the ones who farm ethically.

“It’s not cheap,” says Geoff, “but this is one way we can give back to parts of the world that we may never visit but whose products we enjoy.”

Freshly roasted and freshly ground
Credo receives weekly shipments of freshly-roasted coffee. “Now it’s our responsibility to brew it so that everything that’s in the bean comes through in the coffee,” Geoff says.

Geoff only purchases as much coffee as he thinks they will sell in a week. It can be touch and go if they have a busy day, and there are times when they are avidly waiting for their next delivery. Any coffee that is left over at the end of the week goes to the food bank.

Credo’s attention to detail doesn’t stop there. They grind and brew the coffee as you order it, one cup at a time. Each station grinds just enough coffee beans for a single cup of coffee.

“We have a really good system,” Geoff says. “You never have to wait more than 4 or 5 minutes.” The Edmonton City Market draws 20,000 people to 104th Street every Saturday from spring until fall; this would be the test of the single-cup system. And Credo pulled it off. They make hundreds of cups of coffee on market days, and each one is prepared individually.

There are three stations – two for expresso and one for brewed coffee. “We really pride ourselves on our brewed coffee,” says Geoff. “We give it equal space and a separate station.”

Fresh food from scratch
Credo deliberately offers only a very limited amount of food, but what they do offer is freshly-made, from scratch every day. I can testify to the quality of the grilled bocconcini and arugula sandwiches, and the macchiato brownies with cream cheese icing are awesome.

“Bring what’s inside of us out”
Geoff is a calm, quiet person who is obviously very fond of his staff. He praises them for getting to know the customers, remembering their orders and creating community. Geoff says that it is a joy for him to come to work. Well, it’s a joy for us as well – fresh, honest food and drink served by honest, caring people. It restores my faith in humanity when I talk with someone like Geoff.

Black Stilt Coffee Lounge in Victoria, BC, shares many of Credo’s beliefs about direct trade coffee. And Saskatonians can drink fresh coffee by the cup at Museo Coffee (Jimmy, the owner, is a friend of Geoff’s).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chef Simon Reynolds, Saskatoon

“from fruit salad to sticky toffee pudding – the history of a country defines its food”

What shapes us as individuals and as nations? So often it is small, seemingly inconsequential happenings that determine the future.

Personal History
Simon Reynolds, Simon’s Fine Foods, applied for two jobs when he left school at 17 in his home town of Norwich, England. One was with the RAF, the Royal Air Force. The other was as a trainee chef in a local hotel. At his interview with the RAF, they asked for his religion. When he asked why they wanted to know, they told him it was so they would know how to bury him if he died.

Suddenly, the job as a chef was infinitely more appealing. And his future career was confirmed his first day on the job when he was asked to make fruit salad. “I’d never seen or tasted some of them before,” Simon says. “It was the perfect job, tasting stuff I’d never experienced.”

Simon’ attraction to cooking grew when he had the opportunity to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant. “It blew me away,” he says. “Id never seen anything like it. Everything was just perfect – the preparation, the flavours, the way they treated the food. . . .”

Simon continued to work in hotels that had received one or two rosettes from the British Automobile Association. He was in charge of a 51-bedroom hotel in Lavenham with over 10 chefs, 4 or 5 porters and banqueting facilities. Under his leadership, the hotel went from one to two rosettes.  The Swan had lost both of its rosettes, a very big deal in the food industry. On the inspector’s first visit after Simon took over, it regained both its rosettes, and it would have received a third, but this required an additional visit. Simon is very proud of this achievement – and so he should be.
“Being a chef is not seen as a ‘manly’ profession,” says Simon. “But the chef has a huge gamut of responsibilities: management and stock control, HR and training, finances. I have to ensure the safety of the food throughout the chain, from supplier, to delivery, to kitchen, to plate.”

Home Cooking
“If you cook for a living, it envelops you, and you want to know more about it,” says Simon. He loves to share his knowledge of chemistry and nutrition in the cooking classes he offers at Wild Serendipity Foods. “I share a lot of the science, what happens when you cook things,” he explains.

He also shares his passion. For Simon, food is both fuel and enjoyment. The smell of coffee or fresh-baked bread excites your senses. It’s a social event. Sunday roast is a chance to bring your family together around the dining room table.

Fast food is beginning to lose its grip. “Thirty years ago, it was the norm to grow your own food in Britain,” says Simon. “Then everything was bought prepared. Now it’s trendy again to have an allotment and grow food. Young people want control over what they feed their kids.”

Food and History
I asked Simon for a definition of British cuisine hoping he would give me his recipe for sticky toffee pudding [he didn't - sigh]. Instead, he gave me a look at British history and its impact on British food.

“World events will change the course of a country’s food,” Simon says. “When the Romans conquered England, they built roads, which provided better transportation and more and fresher products. British food has a reputation for being stodgy and basic. But that’s understandable if you remember that there was rationing in Britain for many years after World War II. People made do with what they had.”

Recent history continues to shape British food with immigrants introducing new food products and traditions. “Nowadays British cuisine is based, where possible, on local products and cooked using a variety of techniques,” explains Simon. “It’s a fusion of nationalities.” But Simon insists that “Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, done properly, is one of the best dishes you’ll ever eat.”

Looking Ahead
Simon has spent the last few years being a full-time dad and running Simon’s Fine Foods, a part-time business offering personal dining and cooking classes. His daughter is now old enough for day care, and Simon is looking for new challenges.

I look forward to finding out what the future holds for Chef Simon Reynolds. Who knows what chance event is even now shaping his destination.

Note: Article has been updated as indicated to include additional information from Simon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

El Designo and Carbon, Edmonton

Going Green – in your Life, in your Work, and in your Advertising

As I googled the web for interesting places to eat and things to do in Edmonton, I stumbled upon El Designo: “We use our wrestling skills to protect the environment, battling papers that lead to deforestation, inks that lead to pollution and printing techniques that create waste.” [fun website!] As an environmentally-conscious communications consultant, I instantly wanted to know more.

I had a very informative visit with Marc Nipp, one of El Designo’s owners, and asked him how he had decided to take this particular business direction. He smiled and said it was a long story.

Protecting your Children’s Health and Safety
“I didn’t use to be so aware of environmental concerns,” says Marc Nipp, “but it became very personal when my wife and I started having children.” The couple started with food, examining what their children were putting in their mouths: “We were shocked at what was in some of the products.” As a result, they expanded their research to include everything their children came in contact with.

“We’re living in an illusionary world,” Marc says. “We assume that if it’s on the market and government approved, it must be safe. No. It’s buyer beware. You have to do your own research.”

Carbon
Some products were really hard to find – teething toys and natural clothing, for example. Allison MacLean, Marc’s wife, really wanted to find a solution. So she opened a store at 10184 104 Street NW that would stock the type of products that she wanted to buy for her family. Carbon stocks products that are non-toxic (safe for your health, sustainable (efficiently made, useful, durable, reduced consumption) and manufactured ethically (fair wages, safe labour practices).

Carbon stocks an amazing array of products from children’s clothing and toys, to environmentally-friendly paint and flooring. It’s not cheap, but you can’t put a price on health.

El Designo
Marc Nipp is a graphic designer with over 13 years experience, so he prepared all the marketing and design work for Carbon. And he immediately ran into problems as so many of the standard techniques were toxic or bad for the environment. Marc was already thinking about starting his own design studio. His goal was now to start a green business.

“I didn’t want to wag my finger and shame businesses,” says Marc. “I wanted to do my research and make green solutions economically viable.”

Green design options go far beyond your choice of paper or ink. Instead, the focus is on planning ahead and on developing coordinated marketing strategies. Marc outlined the strategies that his company uses to help customers who are interested in employing green design strategies.

1. Use as much of the press sheet as possible.
Printing presses use large sheets of paper, and there can be a lot of waste if your pamphlet or flyer is not designed to maximize use of the sheet. Marc recommends to his customers that they bundle design projects together as much as possible. By printing postcards, business cards and posters all at the same time, you can make sure that you are using as much of the press sheet as possible.

Marc has also developed a close relationship with the printing company so he knows exactly how the materials will fit on the sheet and can suggest minor adjustments to the publication sizes to make the best use possible of the paper.

Plan ahead so you know how many copies you will need and how frequently they will need to be updated.

Stock rooms are often full of surplus materials that end up being thrown out. A little planning can help you avoid this situation. Covers can be designed so that they don’t become outdated. If you know that a document will need updating frequently, it pays to do smaller runs on a digital printer, printing copies as and when needed.

2. Do your own binding.
Marc’s company uses a grommet machine to do their own binding. This way, they can make up what they need, when they need it.

3. Capture the trial run paper.
Printers always do a trial run to make sure that the print job is set up correctly. If you have established a good relationship with your printer, you can capture that paper and use it internally. For example, El Designo uses the trial run as examples in their portfolio.

4. Be creative about reusing surplus copies of publications.
Marc asks customers what they have an excess of to see if maybe it can be transformed into something useful.

El Designo generates a lot of paper waste. They turn outdated paper swatches into mini sketchbooks and give them away as a promotional device. Marc says that European companies are being really creative about reusing surplus materials. One company created 3D snowmen from outdated annual reports and gave them away as promotional items.

5. Design multi-purpose marketing items.
Creative thinking can help you use marketing items for more than one purpose. Carbon placed bus boards on Edmonton’s hybrid buses. At the end of the advertising period, they collected the majority of the banners. Two are now up in the store as banners, while others are held in reserve to be pulled out for trade shows.

6. Make non-toxic choices.
It isn’t just personal perfumes or recycled air that are degrading workplace air quality. Lots of printer inks, plastics and vinyls contain volatile organic compounds that are released into the air we breathe. Stockrooms can be very unhealthy places.

El Designo lets their customers know that there are alternatives (bamboo veneer, wheat board, Mythic Paint). However, many of these products aren’t available locally. The customers themselves weigh up the different options and make their own individual choices.

Will that be paper or electronic?
“I really like paper,” says Marc. “It’s such an important part of our lives, from wedding certificates to drivers’ licenses, and it works really well as a communication tool.” Marc also points out that electronic documents have their own environmental costs – from electricity needs to rapid turnover of electronic equipment.

Marc uses paper that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. He also emphasizes that products that have been well designed will be kept. It’s bad design if your product is immediately thrown out.

Green Design Options
Marc emphasizes that El Design is, first and foremost, a design studio. “We’re here to start a dialogue with business and see how we can produce greener promotional products. We offer our customers eco solutions, but not all of them are interested.”

If you would like more information about green design options, there is lots of educational material available on the websites of two US green design firms – Celery Design and Re-Nourish. Green Graphic Design by Brian Dougherty and the Celery Design Collaborative provides a step-by-step guide to green design.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Comparison of Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market with the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market

I was up bright and early this morning in order to visit the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. It was interesting to compare it to the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

Space – Old Strathcona Market has a larger indoor space but lacks Saskatoon’s attractive outdoor patio.Old Strathcona is only open on Saturdays - a much easier arrangement for the farmers and producers.

Meal and Seating Options – There is more seating in Old Strathcona, but they don’t have the fantastic restaurant options that we have in Saskatoon (Prairie Pie Company, Riverbend Plantation, Guiseppe’s, Garlic Guru, Cava Café).

Fruits and Vegetables – There seemed to be fewer vendors in Edmonton, but each of them ran a large operation. I felt that there was more of an emphasis on organic, including organic fruit from BC.

I was very impressed by the variety of greens that were available: arugula, sprouts, rapini, bok choy, green and purple kale, rainbow chard and more. Maplewood Acres had an awesome selection of potatoes: ptarmigan, sangre, kennebec, shepody, satina, agria. Another stand had a couple of varieties of fingerling potatoes.

Old Strathcona had two big BC fruit stands – lots of concord grapes, and even walnuts and hazelnuts.

Local Products – It was nice to see locally-made cheese for sale from Sylvan Star Farm Cheese – but they didn’t have yogurt! There were also herbal teas that had been grown locally, as well as organic fruit wine from en Sante Winery.

The variety of dips from Dip Sea Chicks was amazing (and very tasty!), and The Happy Camel sells pita bread and dips. Olive Me offers an amazing assortment of stuffed olives that I’ve been enjoying all week long.

Ethnic Food – Old Strathcona Market is larger than Saskatoon’s, so it is able to include a wider variety of ethnic food – from Ghanaian goat stew to Korean kim chee to Mexican sauces.

Crafts – I thought that too much space at Old Strathcona was devoted to crafts. Saskatoon tries to emphasize the farmers and food producers, but it’s a continuing balancing act.

P.S. There was way more meat for sale in Edmonton than Saskatoon, including dog bones. But I was obviously not all that interested.

Slide Show Below
Old Strathcona Farmers' Market

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Snapshots of Downtown Edmonton

I am really enjoying staying in downtown Edmonton. Locals tell me that it used to be pretty awful with parking lots, drugs and prostitutes, but it has really been turned around. Huge chunks of downtown are taken up with office towers, high-rise condos, and a shopping centre, but there are hidden gems.

Warehouse District
Edmonton was booming in the first decade of the twentieth century, and many of the old warehouses and stores have been restored. I’ve had fun walking around and reading the plaques about the businesses that originally occupied these spaces.










Art
The new Art Gallery of Alberta is a fascinating place to visit. The architect has woven silver metal ribbons around and through the glass front façade of the building. Photographs really don’t capture the full impact as they only show a small slice of the circling ribbons and glass.


The Alberta Craft Council (101086 106 Street) is very close to the downtown core and has a large showroom selling beautiful craft objects from Alberta and the surrounding provinces. I particularly enjoyed this sculpture by Voyager Art & Tile in Red Deer. They also host temporary exhibits.

Books
Audrey’s Books (10702 Jasper Avenue) is a huge treasure chest of books just waiting to be discovered. They even have a Writer in Residence.


Downtown Grocery Store
I was a little nervous my first evening to be walking around a strange city in the dark. But Sobey`s Fresh Market is open until 10, even on Sunday evenings, and there were lots of people stopping by to shop. It does a thriving business during the week as well as they have a large salad bar and deli section where office workers can pick up a quick lunch. Saskatoon needs one of these!


Alberta Legislature
The grounds around the Legislature are a great place to enjoy the sunshine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wild Tangerine Restaurant, Edmonton

“Unexpected, Playful Harmony”

So many restaurants rely on large servings or traditional menus to attract customers. Not Wild Tangerine. Their menu is subtle, creative and full of surprises – as well as being absolutely delicious. It’s a feast for the mind as well as the senses.

Perhaps the first hint that this is not your typical restaurant comes when you see the scooter parked by the front door. Enter the restaurant and you find modern furnishings and a blend of orange, brown and white that is surprisingly restful. I was at the restaurant on a quiet night and really enjoyed the mix of vocal music playing in the background.

The food is creative and unique, and there were several options for vegetarians. I tried the lemongrass-thai basil lentils with portobello mushroom, and it was both healthy and exotic. The flavours and textures were subtle and harmonious. The light, slightly citrus flavour of the lentil broth was balanced by the chewy, rich flavour of the mushroom.

It was really difficult to choose a dessert as all the options were intriguing. In the end, I chose the warm gingered bread pudding with banana ice cream. There were tiny chunks of fresh banana in the ice cream. The bread pudding was comfort food at its best, spiced with cardamom and ginger and topped with crunchy caramel. The chunks of watermelon provided a colourful highlight and cooled the mouth.

I don’t usually wax quite this poetic over food. But eating at Wild Tangerine was an intellectual exercise as well as a sensory pleasure. Chef Judy Wu’s cooking marries Asian philosophies and flavours with traditional western cuisine. She balances the flavours, colours and textures of each dish.

And there’s a healthy dose of fun thrown into the mix. The couple eating prickly shrimp lollipops were advised to lean well forward so as not to drip on their clothes.
Owner Wilson Wu says that the word “commonsense” doesn’t exist in the Chinese language. Instead, the Chinese use the word “harmony.” And Wild Tangerine is the perfect spot to experience harmony.

Wild Tangerine is a member of Original Fare, a “select group of independent [Edmonton] restaurants committed to promoting, protecting and preserving culinary diversity.”

Wild Tangerine is located at 10383 112 Street NW in downtown Edmonton. They are open for both lunch and dinner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

McKeown’s Ready Made Meals and Catering, Saskatoon

I’m a workaholic – just ask my family! And that doesn’t leave much time for cooking. So I was delighted to hear about McKeown’s Ready Made Meals and Catering. Restaurant-quality meals that I can just pull out of the freezer and stick in the oven? Sounds heavenly!

Gourmet Shepherd’s Pie
There is nothing more reassuring and familiar than [vegetarian] shepherd’s pie. But Mike McKeown takes it up a notch or two on the gourmet scale. There are nuggets of goat cheese nestling in the mashed potato topping and whole chanterelle mushrooms from northern Saskatchewan are a flavourful surprise in the filling. In addition, there’s fresh tomato chutney that is tangy and refreshing. And I paid $16.50 for a two-pound container. It’s good value.

Spin
Mike is offering both ready-made meals and in-home catering. “I want to make healthy meals that are rustic but upscale,” Mike says.

I asked Mike to describe an ideal meal that he would cater, and he described enchanting items like potato and rosemary waffles with butternut squash whipped cream and homemade doughnuts with chilled coffee and homemade chocolate gelato in coffee cups topped with kahlua whipped cream. “I want to make eating an experience and to put some spin on things – like coffee and doughnuts or savory whipped cream,” explains Mike.

Fishing Camp – the Ultimate Cooking Challenge
Mike’s first full-time job after completing his apprenticeship was cooking for a fishing camp up north. “I’d never done desserts or high-end dining before,” Mike says, “and here I was by myself feeding 18 guests and 6 staff three-course meals from scratch.” It was 12-18 hour days for 55 days in a row.

Mike says he became addicted to working up north and did it for 6 summers. “You had to rely on an airplane every 4 days for your supplies,” says Mike. “It really makes you think on your feet as you have to work with whatever is available. Now that I’m back in the city, I really appreciate being able to run out and grab something if I need it.”

Local Food
Mike has worked with Chef Anthony at the Saskatoon Club for the past couple of years. “Anthony has been a big influence,” says Mike. “He treats food as it should be.” Mike’s goal is to source as much food as possible locally, and Chef Anthony has opened the door for Mike to some of the local suppliers.

“I go to the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market first thing Wednesday and Saturday mornings,” says Mike. “I see what is available and go with it.”

McKeown’s Ready Made Meals and Catering
Mike offers fresh weekly specials based on the produce he’s discovered at the Market, or you can order any frozen dishes that are still on hand. The specials are normally posted on his website by Thursday afternoon and are available for pick up or delivery on Saturday afternoon. One convenient way to find out the weekly specials is by following McKeown’s Catering and Ready Made Meals (note the rearrangement of the name) on Facebook. Then you can find out right away what is available.

Mike promised me (only limited amounts of arm twisting required!) that there would be a vegetarian special each week. He is also hoping to cater to people with gluten allergies. Each meal is two large servings, but if families are interested, they can pre-order larger quantities. And Mike is already looking ahead to Christmas to see what side dishes he can offer that will add to your holiday meals.

Catering
Mike is also available to cater weddings or in-home dining. Mike has been satisfying American fishermen for the last 6 years – now it’s our turn to enjoy his great cooking!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Saskatoon Farmers' Market: October Newsletter

You’ll get a taste for the variety at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market in the October newsletter.

Tim Yoder of Peasant’s Pick direct seeds or transplants 35-45,000 plants – on less than half an acre of land. He offers Market-goers a choice of 20 to 30 different strains of vegetables, including at least 15 different kinds of lettuce. Tim is also proud of his “big sweet onions and monstrous sweet carrots.”

Raw Serenity is a recent newcomer to the Market. They offer an amazing assortment of raw food. The sushi rolls contain a colourful mix of fruit and vegetables and are bursting with flavour.

Michelle Zimmer, Wild Serendipity Foods, is currently in Paris taking a Cordon Bleu course in how to make French macarons – “two little clouds of soft meringue sandwiched with icing.” “I’ve heard they’re tricky,” she says, “but I’m determined to master it.” An additional blog post about Michelle highlights her business skills.

You can follow the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on Facebook. Or send an email to sfmnews@sasktel.net in order to receive email bulletins and copies of future newsletters. Thank you – and I hope to see you at the Market!

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the September issue of the newsletter.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Doug Reichel Wine Seminars: Good Wine, Good Food and Good Company

Reds Rule the Wine Horizon was the first time I’d attended a wine tasting organized by Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc., but it won’t be the last. I really enjoyed the quiet, friendly atmosphere and the knowledgeable presentation of an interesting assortment of wines.

Doug Reichel and Luis Manino, the Export Manager for Bodega Melipal, put a personal face on the wine, providing a connection between the wine producer and the consumer. Doug has visited all the wineries, and his daughter has worked at Cape Jaffa, so we were able to move beyond the anonymity of the liquor stores and put a face to the wines.

About 30 of us gathered in a side room at TCU Place last Friday evening to take a leisurely stroll through a series of nine wines from around the world, starting with the Melipal Malbec Rose, which is light, but flavourful – the perfect wine for sipping while you visit with a friend. Melipal only makes a limited amount of this wine, so I made haste to the liquor store on Saturday to buy two bottles.

Doug Reichel introduced each of the wines, and I was particularly interested to learn more about the grape varietals. Three of the wines were the signature grapes for their regions. Pinotage is the trademark wine of South Africa and is a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage. Monastrell (or Mourvedre) is the signature grape of the Mediterranean. Malbec is the flagship wine of Argentina.

I enjoyed sitting around a table and comparing reactions to the different wines. One of my favourites was the Italian Perbruno 2006 from I Giusti & Zanza, which is made with 100% Syrah and matured in French oak barrels for 12 months. The winemaker named it for his father, Bruno. It was a smooth, velvety wine. Luis Manino noted how the flavour lingered and had a “nice butter cream finish.”

Luis introduced the Melipal Malbec and the Melipal Malbec Reserve. He made a point of noting that they are two distinct wines. One is not necessarily better than the other; they’re just different. I had told Luis point blank when I met him that I didn’t like Malbec wines, and he was really hoping he could change my mind. I’m afraid he didn’t. They were good wines, but not my personal taste. All became clear when Luis and some of the others at the table discussed how the Malbec would go well with a thick, juicy steak. When I told Luis that I have been a vegetarian for 27 years, he breathed a sigh of relief and said it was no wonder that I didn’t like Malbec wines.

Luis also pointed out that it is easier to convert a white wine drinker into a red wine drinker than it is to get someone who already has a preference for a certain kind of red wine to change their preference. That certainly proved to be the case at our table. One woman, who normally only drinks white wine, enjoyed several of the red wines we tasted. My tastes didn’t change.

The final wine we tasted was the Luzon Dulce. This is a dessert wine made with 60 % Monastrell grapes and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are picked a month later than the normal harvest when they have already begun to shrivel, so the sugar is very concentrated. It is then aged for 8 months in oak barrels. It was sweet but not cloying, with a depth which is sometimes lacking in dessert wines.

I had a really good evening. I enjoyed talking with friends. There was no rush. We could see how the wine tasted accompanied by bread or cheese. We had privacy, and we had knowledgeable people to help us learn more about the wine.

Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc. has an informative website with videotaped interviews and information about each of the wineries. You can also sign up for an electronic newsletter.

See Also:
     Bodega Melipal: Malbec Wines from Argentina
     Caligiore: The Best Organic Wine in Argentina
     Reds Rule the Wine Horizon

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Caligiore: "The Best Organic Wine in Argentina"

There is nothing more valuable than a good friend, because they will believe in you and boast about you even when you aren’t there.

I asked Luis Manino, Export Manager for Bodega Melipal, about organic wines. His face lit up, and he told me that his friend, Gustavo Caligiore, makes the best organic wine in Argentina. Caligiore had tasted some organic wine and didn’t think it was very good. So he set out to make a quality wine that just happened to be organic.

Gustavo Caligiore was an industrial engineer. He quit his job, and he and his father set out to recover an old family vineyard. With a handful of assistants, Caligiore runs the winery – from tending the vines to harvesting the grapes and making the wine.

And the good news is that he’s having some success. Staccato, Caligiore’s Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon blend 2006, and Grazioso, a Chardonnay-Torrontes 2007 blend, received gold medals from the 2008 Taster’s Guild. Only three Argentinean wines received a gold medal so that’s high honours. The wines also received gold medals in the 2008 International Green Wine Competition (alongside a handful of other organic wines, including Bonterra).

The love and care the Caligiores put into their wine is evident on their website: “Each wine embodies the work of man and the spirit of our land and through this expresses the essence of both, almost like a piece of art and thus instills their artistic essence into the beholder.”

Caligiore wines are available to a limited extent in Alberta (and possibly other provinces) – let’s hope they’ll be available soon in Saskatchewan.

Organically Grown and Made
One final tip from Luis Manino. He says to look out for wines that are organically made as well as grown. For example, it is easy to grow grapes organically in Mendoza, Argentina. Because of the cool, dry climate, there is no need for pesticides or fungicides. In addition, the chemicals would have to be imported at great cost, particularly given an annual inflation rate of approximately 30%.

However, even if the grapes are grown organically, the wine may not be made organically. So, if you want organic wine, you need to do your research into both stages of the winemaking process.

See Also:
     Bodega Melipal: Malbec Wines from Argentina
     Reds Rule the Wine Horizon
     Doug Reichel Wine Seminars: Good Food, Good Wine and Good Company

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bodega Melipal: Malbec Wines from Argentina

“building a reputation for quality and consistency”

I talked with Luis Manino, Export Manager for Bodega Melipal of Argentina, when he was in town last week with Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc. for Premier Saskatchewan. I learned so much about Argentinian wine and the Melipal Winery.

A European Tradition
Argentina has been making wine since the 1600s – not surprising when you learn that 80% of the population is of Spanish and Italian descent. But it was a very basic wine designed to satisfy the local market. Things have changed in the last 20 to 30 years, and Argentina is now one of the top five wine-exporting countries in the world.

“Argentina is all about over-delivering on quality, says Luis. “Our $15 wine can compete with a $30 wine from another country.”

Malbec
The flagship wine of Argentina is the Malbec. The grapes were originally grown in France where they are used in Bordeaux blends or to add colour to lighter-coloured wines. The grape adapted well to a dry, high-altitude climate and has evolved into a distinct Argentinean variety.

Mendoza, one of the principal wine-growing areas, is located at the foot of the Andes, and its wineries are at an average height of 900 metres. The area is a desert with cool, dry air and more than 300 days of sunlight a year. “At Melipal, the harvest extends from mid-January to mid-April,” Luis says. “We don’t have to rush to harvest because it’s not going to rain. The grapes mature more slowly, so our wine is more complex, more concentrated – intense.”

Terroir
Farmers are intimately connected with their soil because they work with it every day, and it’s the source of their product. This is particularly true of winemakers. They are not growing a generic crop of carrots. Instead, they are working with a unique harvest from a specific area and a specific climate and season and endeavouring to show it off to its full advantage.

“The poorer the soil, the deeper the roots, and the more they get from their surroundings,” says Luis. “You can compare the different wines in Mendoza and taste the difference.”

Luis goes on to say that 85 of the top 100 Malbec come from one specific area of Mendoza – Lujan de Cuyo. And the very best, including Melipal, are situated in Agrelo along an ancient riverbed that is rich in minerals and glacial dust.

Melipal
Melipal, which means southern cross in the Quechua language, is a relatively new winery, but its owners, the Aristi family, are third-generation farmers of cereal crops. They established the vineyard in 2000 and have gradually added more parcels of land. They now have 90 acres of vines ranging in age from 15 to 87 years, all within a kilometre of the winery.

Using tanks of varying sizes, their winemaker is able to track the parts of the field where the grapes were grown and to identify which areas excel or produce a distinct product. He then puts this knowledge to work in developing the various Melipal products.

The company’s flagship wine is the Melipal Malbec Reserve. They also produce a Melipal Malbec and a Malbec Rose.

They are currently developing a blend that will be their second premium product. “Wines need to be blends,” Luis says. “You can taste the benefits of adding different grapes to the wine to round it off or make it more elegant or give it more punch.” 

Ikella, a second line of Bodega Melipal wines, will soon be available in Saskatchewan. In addition to a Malbec, the Ikella line includes a Cabernet Sauvignon blend and will be expanding to include additional red wine blends and Torrontes, a white wine.

Torrontes
The original Torrontes vines were brought to Argentina from Spain in the 1600s by the San Franciscan monks. They adapted well to the soil and climate and have become the premiere white wine of Argentina.

Bodega Melipal does not grow the Torrontes grapes themselves. Instead, they obtain the grapes from another wine-making family north of Mendoza. The families have been friends for many years and know that they can trust the health and quality of each other’s grapes.

A Family Affair
Bodega Melipal is a small winery. Not only does the Aristi family take a personal interest in the winemaking, but the staff is small and often related. There are only four management staff – Luis Manino and the general manager and his two daughters.

Almost all the work is done by hand with the men working in the fields while their wives label the bottles.

Boca a Boca
Melipal is neither a cult wine nor a large producer. So they build their reputation slowly by word of mouth (‘boca a boca’). “We want people to buy our wine because of its reputation for quality and consistency,” Luis says. Working with agents, such as Doug Reichel, Luis is travelling to several Canadian centres so that he can hold tastings and talk directly with people.

“We want to go slowly and to show people what to look for in a good quality Malbec,” says Luis. “If we sell better, we’ll eventually sell more.”

Luis says that wine is part of an experience. Our memories of a wine are coloured by our memories of the people we were with and the place we were in when we drank it. I know that I will smile whenever I see a Melipal wine because it will bring back memories of my conversations with Luis who, at the end of the wine tasting, swirled the wine in his glass and said, “I love my wine.”

Thank you, Luis, for sharing your love of Argentina and Melipal wine with the people of Saskatoon. We hope you come back soon!

See Also:
     Doug Reichel Wine Seminars: Good Food, Good Wine and Good Company

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bringing the Streets to Life

The following post is based on the Livable Saskatoon talk by Gil Penalosa on September 30, 2010. The photographs are of Granada, Nicaragua.

In Merida, Mexico, the community gathers in the zocolo (town square) at sunset. There are families with toddlers, teenagers out with their friends and old people watching from the sidelines. A military parade officially retires the flag. The shoe shine stands are packing up for the night, but the vendors selling toys and balloons have just arrived. There is dancing in the street on Sunday evenings, and the zocolo is surrounded by stands serving hot food. Even the sky is alive with flocks of birds coming in to roost for the night.

Contrast this image with the downtown core of any Canadian city at sunset. If there’s late-night shopping, the streets will be lined with cars. On a nice night, you may see a few people gathered on the Starbucks patio. But in general, the streets are deserted. All that space and no people – no life.

Streets – for People or for Cars?
Gil Penalosa is the Executive Director for 8-80 Cities and the former Parks and Recreation Commissioner for Bogota, Colombia. Speaking to an audience of believers, he emphasized the importance of creating public spaces that attract pedestrians and cyclists.

“When you define your city around cars, all you get is more cars,” Gil says. You’ll always have traffic congestion, no matter how much money you spend on new bridges and wider streets.

Gil goes on to note that if you look at cities from the air, you realize that streets are the largest municipal public space. “Streets are the most valuable asset of a city,” Gil says. “How do we distribute them – for cars or for people?” Imagine what our cities would look like if we turned parking lots into parks and widened the sidewalks to include benches, trees, outdoor cafes, and play areas for children.

Many cities are closing off their streets to all vehicular traffic on Sundays. Ciclovia brings over 1 million people out on the streets every Sunday in Bogota. 350,000 people in Guadalajara, Mexico, enjoy 65 kilometres of roadway free of cars every week.

Protecting the Vulnerable
Last year in Toronto, a car hit a pedestrian every 4 hours. They hit a cyclist every 7 hours and 10 minutes. Is it any wonder that I make eye contact with drivers before venturing across a street on foot?

8-80 Cities has a very simple but profound goal. They want to make cities and streets around the world safe – for 8 year olds – or 80 year olds.

Take a look at their website and sign up for their newsletter. Let’s work together to turn our cities into safe, healthy places for people of all ages – on foot and on bicycles as well as in cars.

Related Blog Posts on the 2009 Jan Gehl Lectures and Book
     Cities for People Not Cars
     You Can Do It
     Architecture on a Human Scale