Malcolm Jolley snuck onto the bus carrying some of South Africa’s top winemakers to Norman Hardie’s for an epic wine party.

Norm Hardie has had a busy spring: he celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Norman Hardie Winery, hosted the Prime Minister and Sophie Gregoire, Hosted the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and sent wines for the refreshment of President Obama. He also, early last month, hosted a group of some of South Africa’s best and interesting winemakers on a Friday afternoon and evening.

The group that got onto a bus in Toronto that Friday morning to head out to Prince Edward County comprised of winemakers and representatives from PIWOSA, or The Premium Independent Winemakers of South Africa, as well as some of their iporting agents and a handful of wine journalists. There are only ten members of PIWOSA wineries, and all were represented including: De Grendel Wine EstateThe Drift FarmGlenelly EstateJordan Wine EstateJourney’s EndKen Forrester VineyardsKlein Constantia WinesPaul Cluver WinesRaats Family Wines, and The Winery of Good Hope (Radford Dale).

The group of PIWOSA people were in Toronto for a week of consumer and trade events. In a fantastically unjust division of labour, Jamie covered the technical trade tasting and seminars, and actual journalism (watch for his interview with Paul Cluver shortly), while I went to lunch with the group and some of their delicious wines on the Wedensday and snuck onto Will Predhomme’s ‘Magic Bus’ to Norm’s on the Friday. The end of week event was really, I think, designed as a reward for all the hard work the PIWOSA group had done over the previous days. Norm Hardie, of course, has an intimate connection to South Africa and its wines, having been born there and learned his craft among its vines. The County and Norm’s winery were a perfect combination of the exotic and familiar, and everyone had a great time. Here are some pictures I took of the event…

Among the group to be welcomed by Norm was Hans Astrom the Managing Directot of arguably South Africa’s most renown winery, Klein Contanzia. Apart from their delicious sparkling MCC, he brought their famous sweet wine Vin de Constance, said to be favoured by Napoleon.

As the PIWOSA group disembarked and were welcomed by Norm and his team with all manner of wine and pizza, from the famous wood oven, I went around back to stretch my legs. Who should I run into but Chef David MacMillan from Montreal’s Joe Beef group of restaurants, holding a maginifiscent homemade sausage. Was the charcuterie a gift in exchange for the wines he would serve Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau at Liverpool House the next week?

It was around 2pm and unseasonably cool when we arrived, and yet the Norman Hardie parking lot was full and so was his patio full of winers and diners sitting around the wood fired oven. Norm is not just a winemaker, but a seasoned hospitality veteran and winner, this year, of an OHI Gold Award. Our party was happy to have our pizza at the back of the winery, where we could easily have a look at the barrel cellar and tanks and slip out to the vineyards.

The group went out to look at Norm’s original County vineyards, to look at the soil that Norm, rightly by all accounts, believed to be perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Well, most of the group did. Paul Cluver got distracted by the trampoline Norm keeps to amuse kids while their parents taste wine. (Paul turned out to be pretty good a the trampoline, actually.)

Intimations of the dinner feast to come were realized with the appearance of John Bil, who organized the famous oysters and much more at Norm’s before opening Honest Weight in Toronto. As Will Predhomme to his right is predicting, we ate well, including a particularly toothsome dish of razor clams.

Members of the press are seen here working very hard, in between rigorous tastings: Michel Godel shares a joke with his Calgary-based colleague from, Brad Royale.

Most of the afternoon, as John Bil and company toiled in the kitchen and around the wood oven, was spent socializing and catching up over alternating glasses of South African Chenin Blanc and Norm’s Riesling or Chardonnays, or whatever other treats were being opened. Here, PIWOSA events organizer and Wines of South Africa Canada’s Laurel Keenan shares some screen time with Craig de Blois from Noble Estates Wines & Spirits.

Norman Hardie’s Jarrad Kal Mustillo presents a magnum of the 2015 County Chardonnay ‘Sans Soufre’, made entirely without sulphur and entirely delicious.

The great ‘marvelous’ Chenin Blanc legend Ken Forrester endures a tough journalistic grilling from Michael Godel, but maintains good humour, likely strengthened by the minerality present in both the Canadian and African wines.

Bruwer Raats is making some of the more interesting wines at his family’s winery, including his ‘B Series’, which focuses on South Africa’s ‘heritage grapes’ like Pinotage, which are coming into Ontario thanks to his agency Lifford, which was represented that day by non-conventional wine enthusiast Nicole Campbell.

Another young-ish Turk and innovator in the PIWOSA line-up is Alex Dale, who has a connection to the Ontario wine scene beyond his own namesake wines from the Winery of Good Hope, since Radford Dale also makes Will Predhomme and Nicholas Pearce’s Chenin Blanc. One of the really cool wines he brought was cheap and cheerful rosé, the low intervention Thirst Cinsault.

Having stretched the boundaries of serious wine journalism as far as they could go, by dinner time, I put down my camera and abandoned myself to the pleasures of PIWOSA and NH wines, delicious food on the patio and a bonfire at darkness… before it was time to get back on the bus and rest up for the next adventure.