Open thread: 20 Bees and local wines

Two confessions:

  • I’ve only just started learning about wine
  • I’m already a complete, unrepentant snob about Ontario wine

My first lesson about wine was, in fact, that most wine from Ontario was crappy. If I was prepared to enjoy horrid wine, then I should dive right in, but I could probably spend less money on better stuff that was being brought in from Italy, France or even Portugal.

Since then I have had my attitudes adjusted, of course. I’ve learned that few places make better ice wine than the Niagara region (Inniskillin makes an Innis-killing if you know what I mean ha ha ha okay I promise never to do that again), and that there’s even a burgeoning wine region popping up out in Prince Edward County. Ontario growers and vintners are tirelessly promoting, comparing and pricing themselves alongside imported wines in order to win over the jaded hearts and minds of locals.

Jaded hearts and minds like mine, despite everything. My experience to date with Ontario wines has been that they are generally more expensive and less enjoyable than their global counterparts, if not openly hostile to my taste buds and extended faculties. So imagine my relative lack of interest when I came across a hardy soul at the free sample area of my favorite LCBO, a group of bottles all around her blazoned with the name 20 Bees.

“Would you like to give them a try?” she offered to me, as I geared up to pass her by.

“Um,” I said.

Before I could go on, she said, “This is a new Ontario wine that’s been put together by a group of growers and a single vintner, with the goal of combining the best of their individual crops into a group of high quality wines. All the grapes are grown in Ontario, making our wines certified VQA, and its lead to some great results!”

“Uh,” I countered.

“And all our bottles are under $11.95.”

Ding! “Okay,” I said. “I’ll try some.”

On display that day were a Baco Noir and a Chardonnay, and if you ask me what a Baco Noir is I’m going to shrug at you and say, “The one I liked the most.” Also available was a Cabernet Merlot, but the Baco Noir was a lighter red wine than I thought it would be, and just I was in the mood for at the moment.  I sampled as freely as I was permitted.

“Now,” I said. “There’s something I’m supposed to ask you about the Chardonnay that all my Wine Friends keep telling me about.”

(This is exactly what I said, I swear, and I really do have Wine Friends who are forever trying to steer me away from bottled calamities, explaining to me in terms of noses and legs, as though these are units of measure and not items of anatomy.)

“Yes, it is non-oaked,” she answered. “20 Bees doesn’t use an oak barrel for their Chardonnay, so you don’t end up with that…”

“Horribly acrid, alkaline, burning flavor?”

“…yes,” she laughed. “Actually yes, exactly. So this ends up finishing very smooth, but still having some body to it.”

It was enough to sell me, the value of the wine being doubled by its power to spare me walking any farther into the liquor store. I have since bought the Chardonnay twice more, winning happy reviews from those with whom I’ve shared it. This very night, as I sit down to watch the baseball playoffs and blog about nothing to do with food, I am about to tuck into a bottle of the Pinot Noir, to see whether I really will have to admit to being a fan of Ontario wine.

Even if it is just the one brand.

So what about it, readers?  Are you a fan of the local wine, or would you prefer to go unmolested by the local dreck?  Can the refined palette endure vintages that cost under a ten-spot?  Am I currently tolerating the Welch’s-grape-juice-freshness of (eggghkkkk) this Baco Noir because I (uggghhh) can drink twice as much of it?

Weigh in with your comments!

  • Lo!

    Alright, I’ll bite.
    We’re down here in Wisconsin… but we have similar issues with the local wines. Lots of sickeningly sweet “Door County Cherry Wine” here… which made me completely tentative about ever trying the fare from local wineries. But, we’ve found a couple of late that are actually not too bad. We’ll never be competing for awards against California, Oregonian, or European wines. But, that’s OK.

    And as far as 20 Bees goes… that label is cute enough to lure me in, so if it’s drinkable, I’m all about it. I’m a big believer in saving the spendy wines for special occasions. For us, everyday wine runs between $10-12.

  • Tina

    I’m a huge fan of local wines, and really enjoy seeing what’s out there – not just on the shelves of the liquor store. When we were in Essex county we did a wine tour and I brought home seventeen (yes, 17) bottles of different wines which were my favorites from the ones we tried.

    I will be the first to admit that I buy new wines from the liquor store based on:
    1) the packaging. I’m such a G.D. sucker….
    2) the price….I’m also a poor sucker…
    3) recommendation
    I’ve found some fabulous (and often affordable!) finds this way!! I’ve also had a lot of cheap tooth-rotting plonk which gave me a hangover while I was still drinking it. I don’t care if it’s Chilean, Italian, Californian, Ontarian…if I don’t like it, I don’t like it.

    In Ontario we’re very limited by the LCBO which runs the liquor stores across the province and dictates what can and cannot be sold. Their determinations are often very political, and many smaller or local wineries cannot afford to compete. I think that’s a crying shame, and I feel that people are often missing out because of it. Our local wines are made with pride and craftsmanship, the prices are often VERY affordable, and I’ve been lucky to find many gems that I would serve willingly and drink with relish.

    I really enjoyed meeting one winemaker in Essex (who served me THE BEST rose that I have ever sipped) who said with a sniff, “Well, you COULD go to Inniskillin…if you’re into WINE MAKING FACTORIES like that…” Very dismissive, but often very true.

  • Astra Libris

    I am so intrigued by your wonderful, witty post! I’m now lamenting that we live waaaaaay south of Ontario, because I would love to try the 20 Bees wine! Is it available over the internet?

    We haven’t had much luck with the wines down here, unfortunately – mostly the problem of “too expensive and yucky tasting” that you described – alas, not a good combo! I’ve been continuing to persevere, though, because I love the idea of supporting local wines, so thank you for the encouraging local wine success story!

  • Mike

    The problem with the LCBO throwing open their shelves to everyone is that they don’t, as a business, want to manage a hojillion products that are inconsistently produced. I don’t blame them for that, really; blocking anyone else from selling wine in a retail setting? That I could blame them for.

    It’s a funny catch-22: They can’t introduce us to local wines unless they can supply them to everyone, but they can’t get anyone interested because they’re mostly mass-produced and shitty.

    As for me, I found the Essex County wines to be a really pleasant surprise, after I toured through Prince Edward County and had my hair absolutely curled by some of the stuff I tried there. The most costly and unfriendly experiences I had were in Niagara, which also featured some of the poorest wines — the snobbery I was expecting, but the crappy vino was a little bit of a surprise.

    We have hyper-local wine too (aside from Tina’s parents’ cellar of home-made humdingers), but I’ve never had the courage to drive out to one of them and give it a try.

  • Tina

    Mike, you know what you just did there, right? You just condemned yourself to a weekend of driving around with me as I bring you to 5 of the super local wineries that are all within a half hour drive. And then I’m going to make you buy me a bottle of Framboise from Southbrook, and that quirky fruit wine that tastes like apple pie from a place near Reesor farms.

  • Mike


  • Kristie

    I am deathly afraid of bees. I’m actually more afraid of wasps. When Chris and I started dating, I was already TERRIFIED of flying insects with stingers, but had never been stung. I had also claimed to Chris that I did not ever smoke, on account of his medical opinions (despite the fact that I did smoke. Every day). As a result of this karma, when I was outdoors smoking a cigarette at work. In the Colorado snow. In October. I got stung by a wasp ON MY FINGER. My hand swelled up like crazy and I got track marks up my arm from a resulting blood infection (which, btw, apparently does NOT qualify me as “allergic” to wasps). And I had to lie about how I’d been stung, and Chris had to drive an hour through the snow to get me because I was hysterical, and then I had to lie about why I smelled like cigarettes. That ended my 10 year habit for good. That’s right. A pack a day to ZERO, all because of a bee sting. Take that, Nicorette!

    Now, on to something at least partially relevant. We have a lot of ostensibly good wineries in TX. I’ve only done a tasting at one of them, and it was because a 10K race ended at that particular winery. And they gave us free wine instead of water. It was awesome.

    So if you’re ever up for a trade…I’ll ship you some Texas wine in exchange for your (probably far superior, or at least far less American) wine.

  • noble pig

    What a great post about wine, as a winemaker I appreciate learning about newer regions. Thank you.

  • Tina

    Kristie – I’ve never been stung by a bee but if that’s an effective way to quit smoking then I’m willing to try!! I’ll be honest…I didn’t know that Texas even made wine. See? You learn something new ever day! And I’m ALWAYS up for a trade – we’ll ship if you will!!! Yeah..I’m not kidding…..
    (think you could ship some real ribs as well?!1)

    Noble Pig – I know you’re a winemaker and I really enjoy reading your posts on the topic!! If we ever get down to California I definitely want to sample some of your wares….and investigate your Hallowe’en decorations! They’re priceless.

  • Tina

    Astra – sorry, I missed that one! I don’t know if that one is available over the internet, but a lot of other quality Ontario wines are! I’ve actually never ordered wine off the internet…I was traumatized when I took a trip out to BC and tried to bring back a bottle of wine in my suitcase. That was a very wet mistake that I won’t make again….

  • michelle @ TNS


    have you tried ice cider? i’m dying to get my hands on some, but can’t find it state-side.

  • Tina

    Ice CIDER? My ears are so perked up I look like Spock. Oh god. I just made a Star Trek reference. I’m not the person that I thought I was.

  • Glenn

    Sounds like another trip to PEC is in order perhaps…