The only thing better than visiting a really nice winery is eating a fabulous lunch on a patio overlooking that really nice winery. Sadly, there are far too many really great looking wineries out there that serve underwhelming food. I want to be as wowed by my meal as I am by the wine that accompanies it and I will admit that I was not sure that my lunch at Southbrook Vineyards was going to be able to knock my socks off but I was certainly happy to take a drive out to Niagara on the Lake and give it a try.
The winery and the vineyard are lovely and I have been there many times, perhaps to buy a bottle or ten of their delicious Framboise. I had not eaten anything here though and this visit was really about trying out their Farmer's Table menu. Starting in early June and ending on Thanksgiving weekend, the Farmer's Table @Southbrook is open from Thursday to Monday, from 11:30am to 5:00pm. Executive chef, Shawn Murphy has returned to Niagara after graduating from The Niagara College Culinary program and working in the kitchens of a couple of Niagara wineries before setting off for Newfoundland where his time at the Fogo Island Inn cemented a passion for foraging local ingredients. Back in Niagara, he is putting that passion to work in the kitchen of Southbrook, creating a kitchen garden in an unused planting row left over from the removal of damaged grape vines after our hard winter. He is dedicated to either growing everything himself or sourcing it from local farmers and purveyors that he has developed relationships with. In fact, all of the produce that we ate for lunch was picked within 5 hours of our meal.
Southbrook is a really interesting vineyard as is it's owner, Bill Redelmeier who comes from a long line of Ontario farmers. He and his wife, Marylin, bought the vineyard in 2005 and by 2008 they had become the very first Canadian wine estate to earn both an organic and a biodynamic certification for both the winery and the vineyard. Being biodynamic means that the entire place operates in a way that is ecologically, socially and economically sustainable. For instance, because it was becoming increasingly difficult to source the volume of organic manure they needed for their expanding vineyard, they decided to raise sheep on the land. The sheep graze on the wild flowers that grow between the rows of grape vines, nibbling away the suckers at the bottoms of the plants and their organic sheep poop provides the vineyard with the much needed manure. Now there is a natural way to groom, maintain and fertalize the grapes AND delicious, organic lamb meat for Chef Murphy to turn into delicious meals in the restaurant.
Instead of spraying chemicals, they make a "tea" from willow that is harvested on site and spray that on the vines. This tea, high is Salicylic acid makes them hardier and healthier and keeping the yields lower. The fact that they are not spraying insecticide means that whatever insects is eating the Japanese Beetles (a huge problem in a vineyard) is alive and well at Southbrook , taking care of the problem naturally. When I asked which bugs were killing the beetles, Bill said that it doesn't matter because the job is being done by something that is not being killed by the chemicals that kill off everything BUT the beetles. It's a win all the way around. They don't irrigate or worry too much about weeds, which also help keep the yields low, ensuring fewer, higher quality grapes at the end of the season.
He compared the operation to raising children: You pamper your first child, rush him to the doctor at the first sniffle, wipe away every speck of dirt, sterilize everything he touches but with the second child the ten second rule prevails, a cold is just a cold and, consequently, the second child usually develops a stronger immune system and is actually healthier than the first.
"I'm raising 158 acres of second children"
Okay, so on to the meal.
For $30 you can choose the three course prix fixe lunch, which I would highly recommend. We got to try two pizzas, the strawberry salad as well as the asparagus salad, a plate of amazing green tomatoes in olive oil with some in house flat bread and a dessert of cheesecake, local strawberries and some goat yogurt.
This strawberry salad is something I would have never ordered myself, assuming it would be too sweet and not to my liking but I am not too proud to admit that I was very, very wrong. The heavy dousing of black pepper and coarse salt brought out an intensity in an already intense Ontario berry that I was not expecting. The petite verdot vinaigrette and a smattering of peppery greens finished off the dish which has now become something I am going to try to replicate at home.
|Me and Chef Shawn Murphy, two Irish freshly shucked peas in a pod|
special thanks to Laurie and The Siren Group for inviting me to lunch at Southbrook, to Bill Redelmeier for being an entertaining and informative host and to Chef Murphy for filling our bellies full of lovingly prepared, delicious food
581 Niagara Stone Road, RR4
Niagara on the Lake, Ontario
Current Seasonal Hours are Monday to Sunday 10am to 6pm
Because I brought Shack along to take photographs for me (most of the photos are taken by him) and it was such a beautiful day, instead of heading straight back to the city, we drove along the lake up to Fort Eerie, right by the Peace Bridge and then looped back towards home. If you can, and you are in no hurry, I highly recommend this little side trip before returning to Toronto. The road hugs the water, twists and winds through beautiful, lush greenery, you pass through Niagara Falls and then continue on up to Fort Eerie. Stop on the way back for freshly picked, local fruit at one of the many roadside stands and you have got yourself a perfect summer day.
The other notable meal of the week was my media dinner at Sea Witch - click here to read all about it
So, tomorrow we leave for a road trip to Detroit where we are going to eat our faces off, see the Shepard Fairy exhibit at the Library Street Collective and experience this Detroit renaissance for ourselves. If you don't already follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook do something about that because I will be sharing the whole trip, in real time, as we go.
Pin of the week: This cake literally screams SUMMER!
Facebook share of the week:
Dispatch: Scenes from Croatia Road trip along the coast?? http://t.co/WtrFeQbRzH
Posted by The Yum Yum Factor on Sunday, June 21, 2015
Instagram of the week: Since this feed uses the word "essen" I assume it's german and everything looks delicious
Tweet of the week:
#Repost @lindamatarasso with @repostapp. People walking by be like "WTF"? 😄😄 ・・・ @Seawitc… http://t.co/wjUdWMkgng pic.twitter.com/MPhaXm7JJV— The Yum Yum Factor (@SMmamashack) June 23, 2015