As I get older (feel free to laugh at me if you know my real age), my alcohol consumption and tolerance increased (duh!). However instead of chugging 1 litre of vodka and getting wasted, I much prefer a fine glass of wine & whisky these days – understand the process behind these fine creations, smell and take my time with them!
When I was invited for a visit to the Wayne Gretzky Winery and Distillery in Niagara-on-the-lake, I couldn’t turn it down. Wayne Gretzky is no doubt a Canadian icon, but his success on the ice is not the only thing that’s memorable, one visit to this winery/distillery and you will forever understand the vision.
Designed by award-winning architect Gren Weis, the new facility integrates itself into a rural Ontario context but with a contemporary vision and interpretation. The 23,000 square foot facility includes a winery, distillery, tasting areas, retail and hospitality spaces, and barrel cellar.
The first stop of our tour was the gorgeous outdoor Whisky Bar Patio, accompanied with a food warming station, fire pits and a fountain – which act as a skating rink in the winter.
The resident mixologist – Zak Kvas whipped up a lovely “Rusty Skate” cocktail, which consisted of a homemade pumpkin & nutmeg syrup, house spiced whisky and topped with a black pepper whisky cherry. I will be honest, I don’t enjoy whisky on its own, but I love a good whisky cocktail. All of the cocktails crafted by Zak that night were just incredible – strong but balanced.
After the cocktail reception, we then attended a private class with Zak on how to make our own signature cocktail – the Grotto Smash – which consists of honey lavender syrup, Red Cask Whisky and ginger bitters.
Can we please take a moment and talk about that strange-ice-making-machine on the right? Have you ever wonder why homemade cocktails taste different than the ones at the bar? Sure, the environment/ingredients/fruit sugar concentrations will definitely make a difference – but I never realized ice is a big factor! Ice taken from your freezer is different than that taken from the ice well on a bar. A sphere has the least amount of surface area of any ice shape, so your drink stays cool longer with less dilution. That machine will create a perfect spherical ice shape for your beverage – mind blow.
After the hands-on experience at making cocktails, our group moved on to the dinner at the VIP Lounge where each course will be paired with wine & whisky. A fun little game was also played where the guests voted at every course on which drink paired better with our food – guess which one won? 😉
If you are a fan of Bailey’s, you will definitely enjoy the Wayne Gretzky Creamed Whisky! It was sweet and smooth with rich tones of almond, cream and dark biscuit; along with a gentle whisky bite that cuts through the cream to make it quite warming and refreshing.
If you made it this far and guessed the cocktails won – well, you got it right! I usually prefer wine over cocktail for dinner, but the cocktails crafted by Zak that night complimented really well with the food. It’s almost as if the cocktail was a backup singer – where it can be off-key and ruin the singer’s performance, or it can be back there with the perfect tone to set the mood – and in this case, it was the latter.
The next morning, our group met with Craig McDonald – Vice President and the head winemaker for Trius Winery at the Wayne Gretzky Estates.
He has devoted the last 20 vintage to creating award-winning VQA wines in Niagara, and was named Ontario Winemaker of the Year in 2008. I’m no wine connoisseur and I must say all the wines from the Gretzky collection were extremely complex with layers of flavors and finished that makes them easy to enjoy no matter the vintage.
Craig gave us a tour of the vineyard and explained to us the entire process of wine making from start to finish. He then took us through the cellar and showed us where they ferment the wine. It was quite intriguing to taste the wine at different aging stage and examine the changes in flavor/acidity.
After an informative tour of the winery, we were then headed back to the estate for brunch.
There was no way that we could leave the Wayne Gretzky Estates without a tour of the famous whisky distillery and understand the process behind the famous Wayne Gretzky No 99 ‘Red Cask’ Canadian Whisky.
We were greeted by Joshua Beach whom is the Master Distiller at the Estates. Similarly to the Trius Wine tour, Joshua also took us through the whisky making process – from the raw materials to how the whisky is distilled, matured, blended and then finished in different wine casks.
Other than the Canadian Cream whisky, the other three whisky’s offered at the Estates are Ice Cask, Red Cask and Ninety Nine Proof. Each of these whisky’s are actually finished in a specific wine barrel and they all had a distinct flavor profile to it.
The Ice Cask is finished in Gretzky Vidal ice wine barrels. On the nose, I found the Ice Cask had some nice, clean, fruit. On the palate, it was slightly tangy, leading into a buttery finish full of bright fruit and spice.
The Ninety Nine Proof is finished in cabernet sauvignon barrels. The nose is still in the oaky, spicy style – but bigger, and with more overt wine influence. The palate is very much a whisky, but with loads of wine influence – with notes of a spicy, big, cabernet blended in.
The Red Cask is finished in red wine casks. As I took a sip, there is a lightly buttery mouthfeel which is pleasant. I found the wine enhancement is quite noticeable in the flavor profile as a firm taste of red licorice accompanies light flavours of vanilla and butterscotch within the spice and heat.
After a whisky lesson from Joshua, our group took a final tour of the Wayne Gretzky Estates before heading back to Toronto. I found the tour of the Estates to be highly personal, engaging, and it was definitely an educational experience. Joshua, Crag and Zak had a wealth of information to pass along and an excellent way of presenting and teaching you about the process and the spirits. If you are a whisky/wine fan, or even just someone who’s looking for an educational experience where you don’t have to feel intimidated, the Wayne Gretzky Estates is the place to be. The Estates offer a wide varieties of tours and dinners where guests can participate. To learn more about them, check out their website here.