by Malcolm Jolley

Norm Hardie is complaining about the dark December afternoon gloom over a beer in a mid-town Toronto pub. But while the summer sun that warmed his Prince Edward County vineyards may be long gone, a ray of light may be said to have appeared over Hardie’s namesake winery in the form of Matt Kramer’s influential ‘Wines of the Year’ column in the recent edition of The Wine Spectator. It’s a big deal when a top wine writer, who must taste tens of thousands of wines from across the globe, picks out a relatively obscure wine from a still emerging region. Kramer chose the 2008 Norman Hardie County Chardonnay as one of the three best wines he tasted in 2011 (the other honours also went to white wines: a dry Hungarian furmint and an Aussie Reisling). Kramer’s excitement jumps off the page, describing Hardie’s wines as “laser-etched with acidity, minerality and the sort of originality we all once thought only Burgundy could deliver”.

Hardie is understandably pleased, but stresses that he sees the column as a victory for all Ontario wines, since Kramer is famous for championing the concept of “terroir”, that wines should taste like the particular place they come from. Hardie bought and planted his vineyard in 2003 based on the conviction that he could make wines there unlike any other in the world. Hardie told GFR that “if we’re going to be global leaders, then we have to make wines that taste like they come from Ontario,” adding that he hoped the recognition in a major American magazine would help spur interest in domestic wines at home: “We need to get people in Ontario drinking Ontario wines.”

Kramer tasted the 2008 County Chardonnay (and the 2009, which he also praises in the column) on a visit to Hardie’s winery this summer, when he was in Ontario for the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Hardie recalls handing Kramer a glass and saying, “Matt, you’re either going to love this, or hate it.” Kramer tasted the wine and then took a very pregnant pause before replying, “This is glorious, this is what wine is all about.” Kramer’s praise and recognition is especially gratifying to Hardie, who had to repeatedly submit the 2008 County Chardonnay to the VQA, who mistook its unique taste for flaws. Eventually, the wine passed on an appeal, and the rest is quickly becoming history.

UPDATE: There are actually a few bottles of the 08 County Chardonnay still kicking around the LCBO system. Click here to find one, and don’t forget you can get your local store to order a bottle of two for you to pick up.

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the non-profit organization that publishes GFR. Follow him at Photo: John Gundy.