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Remembering a Canadian wine icon
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Remembering a Canadian wine icon

When you write about wine, you get to meet your share of interesting people.

Most of the folks involved in making the stuff we drink don’t have their names or faces on wine bottles — typically they just work away behind the scenes, making the wines we love to drink and leaving most of the schmoozing to marketing types and, occasionally (and begrudgingly), the winemaker.

Tawse Winery winemaker Paul Pender, seen here in 2008, died on Feb. 3 at age 54. (Cheryl Nadler / The Canadian Press files)

Paul Pender of Vineland, Ont.’s Tawse Winery (and Redstone, Tawse’s sister project) managed to wear both winemaking and marketing hats, as it were, with equal ease. Somehow he balanced heading up the winemaking team at two wineries with representing them at trade shows and tastings around the globe, acting as a proud advocate for the Ontario wine industry in general.

Typically sporting ripped jeans, a t-shirt and dusty Blundstones, Pender was infinitely skilled at both — enthusiastic, patient, approachable, easy-going and relatable, whether you were a wine novice, a sommelier or somewhere in between, he’d give you all the time in the world.

On Feb. 3, 54-year-old Pender died near his Ontario cottage in what the winery described in a press release as “tragic circumstances.” The grim details are out there if you poke around online, but my goal here isn’t to report hard (in more ways than one) news — more, it’s to remember the talented, extremely kind man I crossed paths with multiple times over my 15+ years of writing and tasting about wine for the Free Press, and as a judge at Wine Access’ Canadian Wine Awards (which later became WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada).

Pender joined Tawse in 2005 after taking Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture program (you can read the college’s tribute to Paul here), and was instrumental in helping the winery achieve organic and biodynamic certification. His name may not have appeared on the labels of most of the wines he had a hand in making, but he was the driving force behind Tawse’s award-winning output, leading the winery to winning Canadian winery of the year four times at the above-mentioned competitions.

I crossed paths with Paul a few times in Niagara, the heart of Ontario wine country, as well as a handful of times here in Winnipeg. The last time I saw him was here in town in 2019, when he was pouring Tawse wines at a 20th anniversary event for Banville and Jones (now Jones & Company, who carry over a dozen Tawse products, which you can order here.)

There was an impressive number of top-shelf winemakers from around the globe on hand for the event, but I lingered at Tawse’s booth the longest — not just because their wines are great, but also because Paul was always such a genuinely kind and thoughtful person to talk to, be it about wine or otherwise. He’s the kind of guy you wanted to shoot the breeze with over a glass of his wine (or, as he’d probably prefer, a beer).

Winnipeg private wine store Jones & Company carries a wide range of Tawse wines, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and more.(Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press)

For those in the Ontario wine industry, Paul’s death has hit particularly hard. There have been some lovely tributes written since his passing, including by my Toronto wine-writing pal Michael Godel, as well as by Rick VanSickle of the website Wines in Niagara, who first broke the news of Pender’s tragic death last weekend.

For more about Paul, including plenty of photos of him pouring wines and chatting with folks, see the Paul Pender Photo Memorial Group Facebook page. His very moving obituary is here.

My deepest condolences to Paul’s family, everyone at Tawse/Redstone and his extensive network of friends both inside and outside the Ontario wine community. I ordered a half-dozen Tawse wines from Jones & Co. earlier this week, and will crack one open and raise a glass tonight in his honour.

Ben Sigurdson, literary editor and drinks writer

Tasty tidbits

Folks who have been missing their morning java at the Starbucks Coffee on Academy Rd. have a reason to raise a hot cup of joe in celebration. Earlier this week, Empty Cup Collective opened its third location at 544 Academy Rd. in the old Starbucks location.

•••

Hy’s Steakhouse and Cafe Carlo have made the list of Top 100 most romantic restaurants in Canada, according to a new survey from OpenTable. The listing is based on diner reviews and a user survey, which found that 45 per cent of respondents haven’t celebrated Valentine’s Day in a restaurant since 2019. Thanks, COVID.

Cafe Carlo owner Joel Boulet credits his staff with the restaurant’s high online rating. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

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•••

The Winnipeg Folk Festival has announced it is partnering with local brewery Little Brown Jug for the 2022 fest, slated to take place July 7-10 at Birds Hill Provincial Park. In addition to their product being available at all Folk Festival taverns, the main beer tent will now be dubbed the Little Brown Jug Tavern, meaning it seems longtime folk fest partner Big Rock is out.

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Manitoba distilleries picked up some serious hardware at the 2022 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition, who released the results earlier this week. Patent 5 Distillery took home a best in class award for their spiced gin old fashioned in the bottled cocktails category, as well as one gold medal and four silvers. Capital K, meanwhile, nabbed two gold medals, three silvers and five bronzes. The full results can be found here.

Recommended fare

Ben: In honour of Paul Pender, I’m currently enjoying the Tawse Winery 2020 Growers Blend Unoaked Chardonnay. Made from grapes sourced from numerous Niagara Peninsula vineyards, it’s a delicious, medium-bodied white that delivers loads of tropical fruit, red apple, a quick hit of lemon that comes with some zippy acidity and a crisp, clean finish. Like Paul, the wine is an approachable delight with some underlying depth. Available at Jones & Co. for $22.99 a bottle.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated Licorice Pizza is, quite simply, a thing of beauty. The Best Picture finalist stars Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (of the band Haim), and is a love letter of sorts to 1970s California and Anderson’s formative years that’s beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and features a killer score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. It’s now only playing at Cineplex Odeon McGillivray Cinemas and VIP — get in there while you can.

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Eva: If you’re into true crime documentaries about catfishing, I highly recommend checking out the podcast Sweet Bobby and following it up with The Tinder Swindler on Netflix. Both are mind-boggling examples of how easy it is to get conned on the internet and how frustratingly difficult it is for victims to get retribution.

On the food front, I recently subjected my colleague, Jen Zoratti, to a taste test of banana meatloaf — yes, you read that correctly. I found the recipe while researching the story of Mrs. Madeline Day and knew I had to try making it. Please enjoy this video of us enjoying a loaf of ground meats and tropic fruit, which, spoiler alert, wasn’t that bad.

Homemade

In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the Free Press is making a community cookbook. Submit a recipe here and be entered into a draw to win a copy of the cookbook and other prizes.

Our latest feature shares the story behind nian gao, a sweet, chewy cake traditionally made during Chinese New Year. Find the recipe here.

Winnipeg pharmacist Jimmy Le has learned how to make nian gao as a way to carry on his family’s traditions. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

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