By Tod Stewart
The sleek, minimalist lines of Toronto’s Gardiner Museum and the exquisitely crafted ceramics inside provided a classy and elegant backdrop for a sold-out Grapes For Humanity event on the evening of May 10, 2012.
The gallery proved to be a fitting venue to showcase another form of artistic excellence, namely, that of the œnophilic sort being crafted in California. The popularity of California wines continues to surge across Canada with double-digit sales increases being recorded in 2011. And while many of the top performers fall squarely within the “value” end of the segment, the premium end is also experiencing growth according to those in the know.
Close to 200 guests packed into the third floor Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner restaurant and spilled onto the adjoining terrace to enjoy the weather, the wine and a selection of Chef Kennedy’s mouthwatering canapés (the mushroom fritters were impossible to resist). Throw in both fresh east and west coast oysters courtesy of Oyster Boy restaurant and a silent auction featuring some top-name vintages from California and abroad (think Staglin, Grace Family, Opus One, Helen Turley, David Arthur, Kistler, Williams Selyem, etc.) and you had the makings of a truly decadent night out.
Having been ushered in with a flute of Mumm Napa “Brut Prestige” bubbly, guests had an assortment of quality libations to choose from that ran the gamut of California’s star grape varieties. From the dark, brooding power of the Stags’ Leap Winery 2008 Petite Sirah with layers of smoky, bramble-laced fruit to the poised, elegant, mineral-driven Sonoma-Cutrer 2009 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay, there was a style to tantalize every palate. Other gems included Cabernet Sauvignons from Louis M. Martini Winery, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Raymond Vineyards and Irony Wines, a silky “Heritage Reserve” 2009 Pinot Noir from DeLoach Vineyards and more mouth filling Chardonnays from Cuvaison Estate Wines and Raymond Vineyards.
However, the whole point of Grapes For Humanity is to assist those who, unfortunately, will never experience this type of gastronomic showcase. Proceeds from the Uncork California event go to support A Place of Rescue, an organization devoted to “Rescuing those without hope in Cambodia,” particularly children, the handicapped and the elderly – all typically abandoned through no fault of their own. Spokesperson Jessica Felker talked of the “absolutely amazing” work the organization was doing to provide food, shelter and human companionship and praised the extremely significant contribution Grapes For Humanity was making in helping to alleviate some of the hardship. Grapes For Humanity Canada’s Tony Aspler confirms that the event raised $45,000, an amount that will no doubt go a long way in helping to provide a place in Cambodian society for those struggling with poverty, illness and hopelessness.