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Pizza at Norman Hardie’s

Norms pizza

I visited Norman Hardie’s winery for lunch earlier this summer. With all the #MeToo focus on the owner/winemaker, I was curious to see how things were doing.

The last time we had eaten there was in 2016. The patio had been packed with people and the wait time to be seated was estimated to be half an hour. My cousin, who has his WSET diploma, and I spent that time wine tasting in the shop. He loved the wines. Lunch was the best wood-fired pizza in the County paired with Cabernet Franc. Paul remembers it as a high point of his visit.

On this visit, there were only six couples at the tables and a lot of staff standing around. To be fair, it was Monday and there was also a heatwave with high humidity. Our server said it had been pretty hectic the day before. The pizza was still great, the wine full bodied, but something was off.

There had been an article in the Globe and Mail newspaper 12 days earlier with complaints from close to 20 women, predominantly winery workers, over the past twelve years about inappropriate sexual innuendos and advances by Norman Hardie.

The response had been almost immediate. The Prince Edward County Wine Association suspended his membership. The LCBO, Liquor Control Board of Ontario, took his wines off the shelves of its liquor stores, as did its counterpart the SAQ in Quebec. Prominent restaurants in Toronto, Montreal and even Newfoundland cancelled their wine orders. The final blow was having his Winemaker of the Year award was rescinded.

So why had I wanted so much to go to the winery for lunch? I’m not usually a rubbernecker who stops to gawk at a train wreck. The only response I can think of was loyalty to the wine.

Norman Hardie makes beautiful wine. He trained as a sommelier at the University of Dijon in Burgundy and worked as a sommelier for Four Seasons hotels for seven years before giving it up to learn winemaking. For six years he apprenticed at wineries in France, New Zealand, Oregan, South Africa and California.

In 2003, he bought the land near Wellington Ontario to start his own winery. Norm has an exceptional palate and, thanks to his sommelier training, a deep understanding of what wine should taste like and what kinds of foods it would pair well with.  He was able to bring in his network of contacts among restauranteurs, master chefs and wine writers to buy into his belief that Prince Edward County would be Ontario’s next great wine region.

Over the next 15 years, he has put his heart and soul into bringing his signature winery up to a production of 25,000 cases a year and as his popularity rose so did that of other County wineries. In a high tide, all boats float. Then in one week, everything came crashing down. Although probably not criminal, the stories from the women were difficult to read, about totally inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power as an employer.

He has posted on social media, on his Twitter profile, Facebook page and website, a heartfelt apology to the women he offended and a statement of the changes put in place by an outside auditor at his winery to create a more respectful workplace. Can it be enough?

After my pizza, we went up to do a tasting and bought several bottles of wine. There was no sign of Norman Hardie but an assistant winemaker was behind the counter. When I asked her how things were going, she admitted it had been quieter than usual. She added that she had never experienced anything but support from Norm and he had helped her obtain second harvest work over the winter with a winery in South Africa.

She reminded me that there was a huge team effort that went the wine production adding, “A lot of my blood, sweat and tears went into the wines in our cellar. I want them to be appreciated.”

It’s questionable if that will happen. I was chatting later with a neighbouring winemaker as to how this will evolve. He was dubious if a winery that produced 25,000 cases of wine could sell their stock without the LCBO, SAQ and restaurant standing orders. You just can’t sell that much through the winery itself in Prince Edward County.  Yes, he confirmed Norman Hardie wines are good, but there is a lot of good wine made in the County these days that may get more attention now.

I barely know Norm Hardie, He was very helpful when I interviewed him by phone for an article for Grapevine Magazine but I doubt if he would recognize me. I know him better by his wines. Wines that pair well with real food – even pizza.  Several years ago, my family raised our glasses of Norm Hardie Chardonnay for a Christmas toast, and my beer loving oldest daughter exclaimed,”Mum, this is fantastic wine!”

Symbolically as I was coming close to the end of my Cabernet Franc at lunch, I noticed in its dark red depths a fly was floating. Without thinking, I fished it out, but the wine that had tasted so good a few minutes earlier had lost its appeal.


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