Stratus and the Genius of J.L. Groux
Yes, hello my normal friends, you wonderfully normal people who simply cannot live without my incredibly appropriate and entertaining information. Hail and well met! My fondest greetings are now yours, as I sit here writing and listening to Van Der Graaf Generator's new CD...
...and to all the rest of you super moronic, Brock and Judy faced Bone Jesters, who refuse to own a cel phone that's more than 2 weeks old, but sit around moroning, and bastarding, and focus on "important stuff" like getting as many flu shots as possible, and talking about how many miles per gallon your SUV gets, and reminiscing about how much money you had before the paper condom market collapsed...
Bite my rich red rocket!
Damn it feels good to be a gangsta...
OK...here we go. It was a beautifully clear, and mostly chemtrail-free day when my Ace Homeboy, Michael "The Glans" Pinkus, hooked up with your humble Deacon, under the fine stonework of Union Station. We met at Harvey's for what was advertised as "breakfast" and to call it vile would be to unfairly credit it with quality. I mean this would have been sent back by a starving salt mine worker in a gulag! We had originally envisioned a bacon and eggs with toast and coffee sort of meal, but instead found ourselves presented with Harvey's version of the usually tolerable Egg McMuffin. Imagine a slimy pale egg with a couple of strips of slithering undercooked bacon slopped to one side on top, with a slice of irradiated and anemic tomato under the entire open sore. Then imagine stuffing this mess into yesterday's hamburger bun, and you get a sense of the massive affront to our olfactory and gustatory senses. (That's smell and taste for those of you in Keswick) At least the McDonald's variant all fits together nicely, is actually filling, and a pretty good start to the day if you're in a rush. None of this can be said for the Harveys creation, which resembled a carbuncle wrapped in a crusty diaper. Only the addition of some depleted uranium could possibly have made it worse. Let's keep in mind too, that a hamburger bun is actually the cheapest piece of crap that can still be somehow classified as "bread". Now my question is: Why don't Amy Pataki and the Canadian League of Professional Ass Clowns, Criticasters, and Bone Jesters go after Harveys instead of picking on decent little restaurants that serve real food? There's a whole frickin' expose here folks...Calling W5...Anyway...I beat my "breakfast" with a plastic fork until it stopped struggling, and chucked it in the garbage, and Pinkus followed suit. Which leads us to another question? Why do we have to use plastic knives and forks at a railway station? Do they think if they give us metal cutlery, we're going to hijack a frickin' train?
So we walked back across Front Street from Union Station to board our Niagara bound bus. We crossed the busy road using a method I call "The Eglinton East Walk". It's pure Scarlem. You can get across any busy street, if you just cross without looking. That forces the drivers to assume full responsibility and slam on the brakes. Try it. It's awesome!
"Bus?" you ask. "What bus?" Well that's the really cool part. Pinkmeister and I were on the list for a trip to Niagara and lunch at Stratus, Ontario's Ultra-Lurch winery, and yes, they actually sent a cool little bus for the five of us! Now that's frickin' class! I left the gunmetal gray Aston Martin DB5 parked in front of the Royal York and we raucously boarded the mini-bus, Pinkus grabbing the best spot for himself, where he could stretch his size fourteens out in the aisle. Our driver Keith handed us each a snack bag with H2O, OJ, fresh muffins and croissants (crescent rolls to my Keswick readers) and we hit the Gardiner Expressway at full tilt. Within about 40 minutes, we took a break at the huge Wendy's and Tim Hortons and were off again. I won't give you a lot of info about the bus trip, as I want to give Stratus the linoleum's share of the article. Suffice to say, there were the usual hilarious double entendres, brilliant japes and hysterical laughter from Pinkus and yours truly. I love hangin' with this dude. It's kind of like having Hunter S. Thompson as a friend; the high jinks are never far away...The Pinkmeister brings out the best...and worst in me. I put him onto one of my fave books: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. In return, he got me into the dark sounds of Australia's Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and their CD Murder Ballads, which is definitely not for the faint of heart. My stomach was a bit churny after the "food" at Harveys, and I commenced singing a brilliant composition of my own entitled The Colon Song. (Lyrics available on request) Pinkus has an English degree, and he quickly learned the words and joined in lustily, although the melody eluded him for most of the day.
Our driver Keith did a four-wheel power slide into the Stratus parking lot, and we roistered into the tasting arena, where we were greeted by the lovely and svelte Suzanne Janke. We stood around swashbuckling for a while, and drank some very nice Stratus Riesling in Riedel that sliced through the remains of the Harvey's glop like a High Explosive Anti-Tank round goes through reactive armour. Ultra refreshing and very bracing, it prepped us for the amazing wines and food to follow. We hung on until a couple of Niagara wine writers arrived, including my new homey, Evan "The Greek Avenger" Saviolidis, who's right into the whole UFC thing and closely followed my own Octagon career, including my defeat of Robert "Nosey" Parker a couple of years back. After a while, we hooked up with Stratus' winemaker, the Glenn Gould of the Grape, the Wanderlei Silva of the Winery, the immortal J.L. Groux. Now I have a helluva lot of respect for Ontario's winemakers. We've got some real talent here, including Frederic Picard, David Sheppard, Jean-Pierre Colas, Ronald John Giesbrecht, Norman Hardie, Carlo Negri, the team of Craig McDonald and Rob Power, etc., etc. And when you're talking about talent, J.L. Groux is truly a frickin' heavy-hitter. Like Stratus itself, J.L. drips with quiet class. He took us out to the vineyard to check out the vines while Suzanne and staff poured some delicious rose. The Cab Franc was already budding and the grapevines looked as though they'd been trimmed by Vidal Sassoon. After a fascinating discourse with the man I call "The Albert Einstein of Wine", we headed up to the patio, where Pinkus, Evan and I sipped pink wine in the sunshine and alternately faked kicks at each other's crotches and laughed like baboons.
Now you got's to undestand: Stratus is as far from being typical as your Deacon is from the average cage-fighting wine writer. Stratus sits on 62 prime acres at the perfect temperature moderating distance from Lake Ontario. The soil contains three types of clay and drains really well. Also, they get less rain than some of the areas of Niagara, and dryer soil leads to hardier grapes with deep rooted vines. I've spoken before about Stratus' pump free winery, it's amazing eco-consciousnessand the gorgeous design of the building itself, so I won't go over it all again. Check out the winery here for all that lurch info.
We headed into a private room and sampled the flagship wines, Stratus Red and Stratus White - three of each. These showcase J.L.'s genius insofar as they're different every year. He gathers whatever has done well and assembles them into a highly complex and age worthy wine, thus the name "assemblage". This creates a kitchen sink wine, but it's the kitchen sink of the Ritz in Paris! J.L. is careful to create wines that are drinkable with food immediately, but are extremely age worthy, like a fine Bordeaux. We also sampled their first ever Gewurtztraminer of the 2006 vintage. The floral nose on this will knock your sox off! As we sipped it, I wondered if there's anything J.L. can't do well...We moved on to the 2005 Cab Franc, my particular fave. I think Cab Franc is Ontario's red grape and to be honest, nobody does it better than Stratus. If you think you can find a better Cab Franc anywhere then buy it! And then bite my wand, 'cause you're a DIK for thinking that! My brother-in-law Craig, who lives in France, raved about Stratus Cab Franc, and he's practically an alcoholic!
We then had an unbelievable lunch, catered by Treadwell. We had perch, duck confit, pork belly, spinach greens picked that morning, amazing artisan cheese, etc. It was beyond good, and was so perfect, it had almost become annoying. How could I ever enjoy food again, after something this amazing, combined with J.L.'s outstanding super-premium wines? We ended with 2007 Stratus Icewine Red. It's a rollicking combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Syrah. It smelled exactly like ripe red berries and had a finish that went on 'till next Tuesday. The thing that made it all so great, was J.L. sat and had lunch with us and is a really easy-going, friendly kind of guy. I remember another Ontario winemaker of note, who when I brought up J.L. Groux's name, went quiet and then said "J.L. Groux...yeah...he knows what he's doing alright..." If I told you who said it, you'd realize the level of the compliment. We were joined over our meal by Suzanne and also Director of Marketing, Charles Baker. Charles is a really friendly and highly entertaining fellow. He has a unique talent of answering virtually any question with a convergence metaphor, both hands in the air; gradually moving together as he speaks...Get him to show you when you visit...And you will visit, because Stratus is like Paris. Everyone needs to go there once...and once you do...you know you'll be back again.
You can buy Stratus wines from the winery, and be warned: You're going to pay a premium price. But since these are super-premium wines, it makes total sense. These are good enough to serve to the King of Mars. I picked up a bottle of Gewurtz, a couple of bottles of Cab Franc and yes, I grabbed the icewine too. Suzanne presented each of us with a goody bag, containing a special Stratus tasting glass and a box of delicious truffles. Thanks babe. You rock big time!
All good things come to an end, and we climbed back on the bus and Keith drove us back to Toronto and the Royal York Hotel. On the way back, Pinkus tried to get me singing the Colon Song again, because he'd forgotten the melody. I wasn't into it though. I was practicing telling fascinating convergence metaphors with my hands moving slowly together to illustrate the point I was making.
Thank you Suzanne, Charles and Ontario's wine genius, J.L. Groux. May he live long and prosper, and continue to raise Ontario's wine bar higher and ever higher.
You heard me.
Deacon Dr. Fresh
Gonzo Wine Journalist