Marc Pistor grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, not the first town you would think of for grape-growing. When I learned that he had taken up wine-making as a profession, and that he was launching his own line of wines, Fogolar, I was curious to learn what the path was that brought him to where he is to-day.
Here, then, is what I discovered.
Marc, how did you decide on Wine-making as a Career, and how did you prepare for it?
After my first year at the University of Ottawa, I took a job at a Wine Rack in Ottawa. My manager helped turn my interest in wine into a passion and after reading about Brock University's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) I looked into the options they had for studying wine. I decided to transfer into the B.Sc. Oenology and Viticulture degree program at Brock University. It is the only co-op degree of its kind in Canada. It is, in my opinion, the best way to prepare for a career in wine.
After completing my degree I went to teacher's college. I did not have a teaching job lined up by the next fall so I contacted Bruce Nicholson to see if he needed any vintage help at Inniskillin. It wasn't until the summer of 2008 after great support and guidance from Bruce that I decided to pursue winemaking as a career.
I know you have worked extensively in Niagara. Have you ever gone elsewhere in pursuing your wine-making goals?
I completed the co-op portion of my degree with Vincor/Constellation in the Okanagan Valley working a summer in the vineyards and a fall in the winery. The rest of my winemaking has been in Niagara. I really enjoyed my experience in B.C. but it showed to me the importance of learning the nature of specific regions, vineyards or blocks, and I knew that if I was going to pursue a career in winemaking it was going to be in Ontario. At Constellation I worked with great winemakers with vast experience and I try to learn as much from colleagues in the industry who have made wine in other regions to bring different ideas and techniques into what I do.
You have started your own label, Fogolar, taking the dialect word for ‘Hearth’ from the Friuli region of Italy. What are your hopes for these wines which will bear your personal stamp?
Fogolar has been an awesome experience so far. When I started learning about Ontario wine, I fell in love with Cabernet Franc. It was tasting the 1998 Reserve Cabernet Franc from Inniskillin that solidified my decision to enter the programme at Brock. In the same way, I want Fogolar to provide great wine experiences. Buying grapes from great growers and making complex wines that are true to region and variety is the goal of the brand. For me Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc are varietals that Niagara can consistently achieve world class wines with. I hope to use the wines that I make to promote our industry as much as possible, demonstrating the quality and complexity that Ontario wines can have. For the foreseeable future I do not plan to grow beyond the 3 varietals and 400-600 cases per year that we are currently making.
You've been involved in wine-making for several other wineries. Are there specific wines that you find particularly noteworthy? Are any of these currently available from either the winery or at the LCBO?
The wineries that we work with have dedicated and passionate ownership that allows us to be very satisfied with all of our finished products, but if I had to choose some personal favourites, they would be these:
At the LCBO:
- Lot 74 White from PondView Estate Winery ($14.95) is a white blend, great value and very versatile.
- Burnt Ship Bay Cabernet Merlot ($13.95) is a great value Niagara red. Medium bodied, ripe, complex, great on the table or on its own.
From the Winery:
- Di Profio Wines Gamay Noir. I have never worked with Gamay Noir fruit that is consistently as good as the fruit from the Mia Cara Vineyard at Di Profio. All fruit is estate-grown and examples like this are the reason this is such a growing varietal. A great value that rivals the best in the world of this varietal in my opinion. (www.diprofiowines.ca)
- Rancourt Winery 2012 Founder's Blend. Even blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot from the awesome 2012 vintage. Rich, complex, cellar worthy from the estate vineyards at Rancourt Winery. (www.rancourtwinery.
- Dark Horse Estate Winery. A new winery that will be opening this summer in Grand Bend. The starting wines are from Niagara and really good across the board but my favourites in the portfolio are a big, fruit forward and toasty 2013 One Horse Town Pinot Noir and the 2014 Valegro Chardonnay, barrel fermented, barrel aged from Hughes Vineyard (great grower!). (www.darkhorseestatewinery.com
What is life like for a "consulting" winemaker?
Life as a winemaker for me is truly one of those instances where work does not always feel like work. I love what I do, some aspects more than others, but I enjoy getting up and going to work. There is variety and challenge, success and a need for continuous improvement. As a "consulting" winemaker, I get to work in different cellars with different, dedicated teams and with grapes and wines from many vineyards in the region. Each winery has its own style so we try to continue it as best as possible while putting our own stamp on the wines. In this case, another layer is added as we have to also run a small business while helping wineries achieve their business goals. I think we have a great model, but it certainly adds another element to the winemaking game.
What are the challenges with wine-making that engage you the most?
I love harvest. It's a grind, hard work, long hours, creative and scientific. You make decisions on the grapes and wines that won't become evident until months or years later, you hope they are the right ones. Sometimes these decisions are based on experience, sometimes in pursuit of improvement. I make wines with the end-goal in mind, so I hope that once harvest is finished, I will not have to do too much to the wines to get them ready for bottle besides waiting for them to mature.
What are the greatest satisfactions that you have experienced, or experience in general with winemaking?
The greatest satisfaction I have experienced is sharing wine with customers at the tasting bar, in a restaurant or with friends and family at the dinner table. They are all great learning experiences for me as well, I like to know what people like and don't like about the wines and use that to guide my future decisions in the winery.
What would you say are your long-term goals?
I guess I would have to say that my long-term goals are to continue to make wines and to continue to grow my involvement with wine education. I have had the opportunity to teach at Brock University over the last few years and really enjoy it.
Is there anything else you would like to add, anything you think people would be interested in knowing about?
I think it is very important to support our local wine industry. There are so many great wines being made in Ontario and we have been gaining traction but we have a long way to go. Many of our best wines are only available at the wineries, but most wineries deliver. Look for reviews in magazines or online or take a trip to a wine region to taste for yourself, it's always a great experience.
Fogolar Wines can be ordered in case lots by contacting [email protected].
Fogolar Riesling 2014, $19.20, is medium sweet with 34 grams of residual sugar. The first impression is of orchard fruit – apple and peach – with an initial soft mouth-feel. On the finish the acid makes its presence felt, just enough to bring the wine into balance. Marc suggests it would be a good accompaniment for Thai or Indian cuisine.
Fogolar Chardonnay 2013, $22.20. This wine struck me as being very much in the style of a good Burgundy, reminding me, too, of the great Chardonnays produced by Norm Hardie in Prince Edward County. Careful use of yeasts and barrel fermentation, along with 8 months aging on the lees has resulted in a very sophisticated wine with a silky entry, balanced flavours and acidity, and a lingering finish which carries a shimmer of oak and vanilla. It is well worth the price.
Fogolar Cabernet Franc 2013, $22.20. Cabernet Franc is probably the “workhorse” noble varietal in Niagara, and many of the wines are so-so, but here we have what I consider to be one of the best I’ve tasted, period. Reading the notes provided, it is clearly evident that a great deal of thought has been invested in the wine-making process every step of the way. Light tannins kiss the palate, and the red and dark berry fruit lingers appreciably. It is a wine that is enjoyable on its own, or with any “red wine” dish from stew to sirloin.
Mini-South African Promotion
Until September 11, the LCBO is featuring a number of South African wines from the general list – along with a booklet of South African recipes. The wines weren’t expensive to begin with, and at $1 to $2 off they are down-right bargains. You would have a hard time going wrong with any of the selections, and the booklet provides some useful descriptors. I tried and enjoyed the two mentioned below:
The Pavillion Chenin Blanc Viognier 2016, $9.50. Some identify a sweet grace-note in this wine, but it is all fruit, as the wine has only 6 grams of residual sugar per litre. It is light, with floral notes and good fresh white orchard fruit – perhaps peach, perhaps pear - and satisfying citrus on the follow-through. The winery suggests serving it with scallops, and the booklet provides a spicy recipe with Snapper.
Spier Signature Merlot 2014, $10.95. Spier has been making wine in South Africa for over 300 years, and what might be dismissed as a humble red, is actually very well done, with a smooth, medium body and the suggestion of raspberry or strawberry at the tail-end. It is another example, though, of a wine that is much better when it has had a chance to breathe, so try using an aerator or even decanting it for an hour. You will be impressed with the results.
September 6 Vintages Release
Maycas Limari Sumaq Reserva Chardonnay 2014, $14.95, one of the Chilean wines featured on this release, is solid with scores in the mid to upper 80’s. Apple notes and some oak are apparent, along with a solid finish. From the Concha y Toro stable, it is a good value.
Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2014, $16.95, is a product of northern Italy’s Alto Adige district. It demonstrates bright acidity and minerality, with accents of pear and bitter almond on the palate. Good weight for a Pinot Grigio.
Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $24.95, represents the top of the line from a winery which emphasizes purity of fruit. The heady aromatics are citrus-laden, with some pungency akin to passion-fruit. Initial impressions of grapefruit and bracing acidity are accompanied by some peppery notes – I have seen them described as “Jalapeno” – but the texture has a density to it that ties everything together in a very tasty package.
Montgó Monastrell 2012, $13.95, is one of two very good Monastrells on this release. The Wine Enthusiast scored it 91, identifying ”a smooth plummy palate…toasty black fruits and peppery spice” and a finish that is “meaty and full”.
Wits End Luna Shiraz 2014 $17, from Australia’s McLaren Vale, is drinking beautifully now according to Wine Align’s Sara d’Amato. She describes it as “very pretty, appealing, and well-balanced. A touch of smoky cedar and bacon add dimension and compliment the fruit.” 90
Escudo Rojo 2013, $18.95, is the flagship red for the Baron Philippe de Rothschild enterprise in Chile. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, with 20% Syrah and a splash of Cabernet Franc, this dark, almost opaque red is liquid velvet with seamless integration of flavours reminiscent of dark berries, with perhaps a hint of coffee. The winery describes the attack as “powerful and succulent”, and I agree. Mouton Rothschild, the French Premier Cru, sells for between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the vintage. Escudo Rojo is an exciting alternative!
Fine Food and Wine at Richards Landing
On Saturday, September 24 La Terraza Franzisi at the Marina at Richards Landing on St. Joseph Island will be hosting an evening of food and wine, with dishes prepared by Chef Sal Franzisi paired with wines to match selected by me, Vin Greco. The evening begins at 6:00 P.M., and cost is $50 per person, plus gratuities and HST. To reserve, please call La Terrazza Franzisi at 705-246-1500, or Maria Franzisi at 705-542-3837