Norm Hardie: The tastemaker

The winemaker with the eponymous Prince Edward County vineyard makes wines by this mantra: 'They have to taste of a place'

As the 2014 Wine in Canada guide makes its debut, Maclean’s dips into the archives to publish some of the best of the 2013 edition online.

The manicured hands that once poured wine at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto have since been weathered to the texture of old leather. “Sommeliers understand the tastes of consumers and they know how to craft wines with the table in mind: ones that are lively, food friendly,” says Norm Hardie. “Being a sommelier taught me how to taste and what to look for. I know what I’m aiming at,”  he says as his large, calloused fingers generate unintelligible text messages from his BlackBerry that not even autocorrect can decode.

Born in Johannesburg in 1966, Hardie moved to Canada in 1980. He studied economics at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., before moving to France to earn a sommelier certification at the University of Burgundy, in Dijon. He returned to Toronto and got his foot in the door at the Four Seasons hotel as a dishwasher, then convinced the manager to create the position of sommelier in 1991, which he filled.

Hardie decided that he needed to know how to make wine to understand it better. From 1996 until 2003 he worked with top names in Oregon, South Africa, Burgundy, New Zealand and California. His notion of great wine crystallized: “They have to taste of a place,” he says. This belief eventually drew him to Prince Edward County, where Hardie established his eponymous vineyard and winery in 2003. “I’ve always believed the best wines with a sense of place are grown on the edge. P.E.C. was on the edge of the precipice,” he recalls.

Hardie intervenes little in the cellar, allowing processes like alcoholic and malolactic fermentations to happen naturally. Patience obviates the need for fining and filtering, and natural stability means little sulphur is required. But for such a hands-on grape grower, keeping his hands off the wine is not careless: he says it’s the tiny details that make the difference.

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