One-on-One With Winemaker Angela Kasimos

Is the world of wine too stuffy for your taste? You’re not alone. That’s why Small Talk Vineyards who also happen to make Shiny Apple Cider) is producing an approachable line of wines with irreverent labelling aimed at impressing your next dinner party. Actually, they promise to “knock wine off its pedestal”. We spoke with winemaker Angela Kasimos about the casual approach to wine, pairings, and everything in between.

Knocking wine off its pedestal and bringing it back to the dinner table sounds like a pretty tall order. As a winemaker, where do you start with that?

“As a winemaker, everything starts with the grapes. I treat all the grapes like spoiled children and give them whatever they need to flourish. Bringing wine back to the dinner table is important but it is simple as well. We make sure that all of the wines we make can be paired with food and we work to educate our customers as to what to cook to make the wine come alive. There is also a lot of fun and playfulness in our labels. We created these labels to bring a sense of fun back to wine. It was never meant to be buttoned up and stuffy. So we have labels that on the front say things that you say at a dinner party like “Can I help in the kitchen?” and then on the back it has what you are likely really thinking, like “This fool can’t cook!” So we take our winemaking very seriously, but the bottles are playful.”

It seems like diners in France and Italy have more of a casual approach to wine. How do we capture some of that attitude in North America?

“You’ve got to come to wine country in Niagara. It’s slower out here, people take their time, people know their neighbours. Another reason we wanted to bring wine back to the dinner table was to bring everyone back to the dinner table. Our attention is so fragmented, with work and cell phones, that if we can return to the simple pleasures of cooking our own food and sitting down with our loved ones, our lives get better.”

Do people over-emphasize wine pairings?

“Wine pairing can be very simple. We can smell thousands of different aromas but only taste four things: sweet, sour salty and bitter. If you can compliment or contrast the four tastes, everything else falls in place. But remember everyone has different palate so If you like to pair our wines with a hot dog, I’m not going to stop you. If you like it, go for it.”

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about wine. Where do I start?

“The key is to trust what you like. If you like a grape or a blend, or a region, start looking around there. A wine can be award-winning, but if you don’t like it, you don’t like it and that’s OK. A great place to start is coming to wine country. Our staff at Small Talk are knowledgeable and friendly, and if you say to them “I know nothing about wine,” they’ll make sure that when you leave you won’t be able to say that any more. Another good resource is the LCBO. The have specific representatives to help you with VQA (Niagara) wines. If you have a frame of reference, or a wine you’ve enjoyed before, tell them and they can make suggestions. The best thing is to be open to trying new things and willing to learn.”

What do you drink when it’s not wine?

“I like to joke that all winemakers are secretly beer drinkers when they’re off duty. And we also make Shiny Apple Cider at Small Talk. We have a new one that is Shiny Apple Cider with some Pinot in it, I really like that. But truthfully, if I am not drinking wine or cider, I drink water. As a winemaker, I am on my feet and running around a lot, so I have a bottle of water with me to keep hydrated. It’s water or wine with me. Nothing in between!”

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