A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 571: Vitinord Conference

Monday, November 9th: Wrote my On the Go magazine wine reviews and went to record got 680 NEWS. My producer said my voice was still not right (because of the lingering cold) so I only did one week’s worth of recordings. I’ll have to go in next week. In the evening, a Grapes for Humanity dinner hosted by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson at Barberian’s – an auction item my friend Joe purchased. We were 13 at table in the wine cellar. Here is the menu:

Barberian's Menu: Grapes for Humanity Dinner. 1st Course: Warm Lobster Salad with Burnt Butter. 2nd Course: Bone-In Filet (14 oz) or Bone-In Rib Steak (16 oz). Served with Scalloped Potato, Beet Chips & a Seasonal Vegetable. 3rd Course: A Selection of the Finest Cheeses. 4th Course: Barberian's Bourbon Sundae. Coffee or Tea.

And here is a list of the wines that were donated for the evening:

  • Bouchard 2009 La Bolorée Champagne (Blanc de blancs of Pinot Blanc)
  • Pichler Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner 2007
  • Hirtzberger Hochrain Grüner Veltliner 2008
  • Domaine de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998
  • Domaine de Marcoux Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2000
  • Pierre Usseglio Cuvée de Mon Aieul Châteauneuf-du-Pape 200I
  • Domaine de Pegau Reservée Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003
  • Hugel Gewurztraminer SGN 1989

The wines of the night were the Pichler and the Beaucastel. Arron Barberian presented Geddy with a lifetime supply of Barberian’s steak spice.

Tuesday, November 10th: Up early to catch a flight to Chicago en route for Nebraska City to attend the Vitinord Conference. At Omaha airport I was met by a Quebecoise agronomist, Gaelle Dubé, in a Lied Lodge shuttle bus. We were joined by a young German couple, Anja Antes and Tobias Breit, also here for the conference. An hour’s drive to Lied Lodge in Nebraska City. The driver told me that Nebraska City has a population of 7,200. How come it’s called a city, I asked? He just shook his head.

Lied Lodge – a cathedral dedicated to trees

Lied Lodge is a cathedral to trees. There are inspirational messages about trees by Thoreau, Frank Lloyd Wright, Theodore Roosevelt and Rabindranath Tagore and others inscribed on the walls. But it must have taken thousands of trees to construct the building. Had dinner with the young German couple and ordered a bottle of Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

Wednesday, November 11th: Breakfast in the dining room. I’d forgotten how large American portions are. I ordered a “short stack of buttermilk pancakes.” I could have ordered the long stack for another $2 but I could only eat half of the short stack. A woman at the next table ordered a large Coke for her breakfast.

Vitinord sign: 2015 VitiNord, Nebraska City, USA. www.Vitinord2015.org. International Cold Climate Viticulture & Enology Conference, November 11-15, 2015. Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice:

Sat in on a talk by Dr. Hans Rosenfeldt, a viticulturist and winemaker from Norway, on what was the world’s most northerly vineyard. First we had to establish what constitutes a vineyard – how many vines, what the grapes were used and whether the vineyard was a commercial proposition or not. The largest vineyard in Norway is one hectare west of Oslo where the owner makes sparkling wine from Solaris. Most vineyards in Norway are just a few rows of wines. Hans Rosenfeldt has 1200 square metres of greenhouses where he grows his grapes. After discussion from the floor, Mark Hart, acting as the unofficial secretary for the discussion, came up with the following notes and definition of a vineyard:

  • Size/extent: An outdoor vineyard of at least 100 vines and/or 0.1 hectares size.
  • Commercial nature: It must have produced 2 consecutive crops of ripe grapes, variety dependent.
  • Allowable protection: Protection for season extension is permissible, but the vines must not be protected from post-bloom to veraison.

Here is the composite description he developed:

A vineyard must be at least 100 vines or 0.1 hectares, permanently planted outdoors, and produce a ripe fruit crop for a product two consecutive years without protection during the midsummer period…

Tested out my PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow’s session. Had lunch (hamburger and fries) in the bar. At the opening ceremony for the congress the Chairman, Max McFarland, explained that the event is held every three years. The first was in Riga in 2006, followed by Ste. Hyacinthe in Quebec in 2009 and Neubrandenberg, Germany, in 2012. Eleven countries are represented this year and 19 US states.

A letter was slipped under my hotel door warning that there is a tornado watch on effect and what to do if the siren goes off. It’s raining hard outside and 60 mph winds are threatened.

This evening, a tasting of wines from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Tasted a lot of Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix. Impressed by Tom Plocher’s crossings, Petite Pearl and Crimson Pearl. A winery in South Dakota, Valiant Vineyards, the oldest in the state, has a wine called Menopause Merlot. I grabbed this image from their website, as the wine wasn’t available for tasting:

Menopause Merlot

Thursday, November 12th: Prepared for my keynote address – “Building a Strong Model for Cool & Cold Climate Wine/Grape Industry Growth: Lessons Learned from Nova Scotia Success.” It seemed to go over well. Especially the final words when I did my Superman impression by opening my shirt to reveal this T-shirt:


After my 45-minute session, I sat in on “The Anatomy & Physiology of Winter Hardiness” by Dr. Tim Martinson from Cornell. Then had a tasting with Rod Ballinger, the owner of Bear Creek Winery in Fargo, North Dakota, and Tom Plocher, who created the hybrids Petite Pearl and Crimson Pearl. Ron poured two vintages of a new crossing of Troubador and an unnamed Swenson variety called Verona, formerly known as T.P. 1-1-34. The 2012 was deep purple in colour with an earthy blackberry flavour, well extracted from with startlingly vibrant acidity. The 2013 was deeper in colour and richer, rounded out with some oak. Then we tasted Bear Creek Crimson Pearl 2013: deep ruby colour; plum on the nose, earthy with light oak notes. Bear Creek Petite Pearl 2012 was dense purple in colour. I thought I caught a touch of cork in the sample. But the 2013 vintage of the same wine was really rich and dense, reminiscent of a Touriga Nacional.

Bear Creek Petite Pearl 2013

A buffet lunch and then a Sparkling Wine Workshop presented by Larry Mawby, the proprietor of Mawby Winery in Suttons Bay, Michigan. We tasted the base wine for three different sparklers compared to the finished bubbly: Mawby Winery Vignoles 2014 and the Cremant Classic 2009; La Crescent 2014 and August Hill Stereo 2013; and Brianna 2015 and James Arthur Vineyards Solace.

For dinner a group of us went out for dinner in Nebraska City to a Chinese restaurant recommended by the congress organizers – Imperial Palace. It turned out to be a diner. You gave your order at the counter by the kitchen and they called out when your dish was ready – the worst Chinese meal I’ve ever had. But it was cheap.

At 8 pm a tasting of wines brought along by the participants in the Vitinord conference – wines from England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Vancouver Island, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick as well as local Nebraska wineries. Really enjoyed Valentin Blattner Les Mergats from Switzerland – very Sauvignon Blanc-like.

Valentin Blattner with his Les Mergats 2014 from Switzerland

Motts Landing Vineyard Sabrevois 2013 from New Brunswick

Friday, November 13th: News reached us of the horrific terror attacks in Paris. At 10 am I attended my last session at the Vitinord conference. Chris Foss (with whom I shared the awful Chinese meal last night) delivered a lecture with slides on “Climate Change & Sustainability in Wine Production in the United Kingdom.” Chris is head of the wine department at Plumpton College near Brighton. Then I finished packing, had a spot of lunch before taking the hotel shuttle to Omaha for the flight to Chicago then on to Toronto.

On the second leg of the flight I was sitting next to an Indian woman from Goa who lives in Mississauga. She told me that her daughter and her husband were vacationing in Paris and had wanted to dine in Le Petit Cambodge restaurant but couldn’t get in. This was the restaurant where ISIS terrorists slaughtered the diners.

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