A few months back my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a dinner at Aure Winery in Beamsville. (Readers - not to mention the owners - will be glad that I resisted the obvious – “Auresome!” or “In Aure” - settling for a more prosaic title.)
Though a bit out of the way at the top of the Escarpment , it is a beautiful and welcoming family-run operation, with some interesting wines as well as a fine young chef in the kitchen of the Silo Bistro. (Kristin Allin is also Niagara-grown, or more accurately Niagara-trained as she was raised in Kilbride.)
Kristin and her team turned out a fine six course meal to feed a bunch of critical but appreciative foodies. A pea soup shooter was followed by a summer salad with fresh Mozzarella and fava beans. It was accompanied by the 2010 Aure Riesling ($15.20). This wine is available at the winery only and it’s described on the website as “straw coloured and zippy (…) refreshing green apple and citrus flavours, with a floral hint on the nose. “
A salmon tartare, with Ontario smoked perch and pickled cucumber, was coupled with the 2011 Aure Rose ($14.50) which I found had hints of berries and melon on the nose. Some other local and not-so-local wines came with the three final courses (Roasted rabbit wrapped in pancetta with mushroom ragout and parsnip purée, a game pie with superb, jus-enhanced mashed potato, and – as someone who knows about these things – a very fine fruit trifle.)
The winery easily accommodated our group of about 30. It is a soaring barn-like two storey space with a cozy library at one end overlooking the tasting area and wine outlet. The walls are graced with photos taken by the owners’ son, James Hoare. Another son, William runs the sales and promotion end of things, while daughter Sarah sous chefs for Kristin.
But, ultimately, it’s the owners, David and Annette Hoare, and their vision that are really interesting: as is the story behind the logo on the bottles and the name of the winery itself.
As Annette, a colourful and enthusiastic presence at the winery tells it, they moved from London, England to Moncton to set up a North American arm of their electronics company. That was 17 years and three kids ago. While on a tour in Niagara’s wine country, it was William, aged 16 at the time, who said, “You know we could do this!”
“Don’t be silly, we can’t do this!” said the parents. It was several days “and many Tim Horton’s stops” later that Annette came to the realisation that they could in fact do it, building on the skills and passions each of the family members brought to the table. For instance, Dave brought the Engineering and Production skills, Annette HR and psychology, and William had wanted to own a restaurant or hotel since age 8!
The Hoares originally found a going concern in Prince Edward County, but came to realise they wanted the challenge of building something from scratch themselves. Eventually they found the present 50 acre site where they began their new journey by ripping out the Concord grapes. They replanted vinifera varieties: currently twenty-two acres are under vine, with Gamay, Riesling, Cabarnet Franc, Marechal Foch and Vidal featured.
To build their dream, and incorporate many of the environmental features they wanted, they had to tear down most of the existing structures. Many of the materials were repurposed, stone from the barn walls was used in the patio and in low decorative walls, and barn beams became tables. Passive solar features, a rainwater diversion system to feed the washrooms, and a living roof were all incorporated in the design.
At the same time, Dave and Annette also wanted to find the perfect dinner service for their own house. (In truth I suspect Annette wanted the perfect dinner service.) Casting around, they realised they wanted something rooted in Edwardian England. “Like Downton Abbey” said Annette.
Finding the perfect match they built their own house around a teapot! Thinking about a logo for the winery they came to a similar conclusion. That is how a telephone booth teapot, quirkily combining elements of Dr. Who and Alice in Wonderland, came to grace Aure Wine’s labels.
As for the origin of the name Aure, Annette traces things back to 1068, when William of Normandy was awarded a white feather signifying his bravery in battle. The name Hoare also came to represent white (think hoarfrost), and eventually also became associated with both a place marker, and the term “breath of air.” Ultimately, the Aure was a wind spirit. “We thought that was very appropriate as it is always windy up here”
Indeed, a spirited name for a spirited winery.