Canadian Wine Insider – December 2022

The Pinnacle Project: Pouring Canada’s Best for Thousands at The Kitchen Party

By David Lawrason

From the start it was a bold almost cheeky idea — that might have flopped. The notion was to ask wineries to donate some of Canada’s very best rare and expensive wines to Canada’s Great Kitchen Party for guests in eight cities across Canada to enjoy. Sure. Would the wineries respond, especially after severe crop shortages in Ontario and B.C. due to damaging winter weather in 2022?

VIP Elite Wines at Toronto Kitchen Party 2022

Canada’s Great Kitchen Party (formerly Gold Medal Plates) is a series of regional chef competitions that lead to the Canadian Culinary Championships next year in Ottawa (Feb. 3 and 4, 2023). Each of these consumer/corporate events includes six to eight chef stations, performances by top Canadian musicians, live auctions of trips around the world — in 2023, these include Ireland, Vietnam, Verona, Andalusia — and appearances by Olympic athletes. Over the years, the initiative has raised $17 million and funded youth programs such as The Juno’s Music Counts and Spirit North, which brings recreation programs to indigenous youth in Canada’s north.

I got involved in the cause in the mid-2000s when approached by CEO Stephen Leckie and culinary advisor James Chatto with the notion that the events — which promote Canadian excellence — should pour exclusively Canadian wines. Canadian wine was struggling up the hill of consumer acceptance at that time but, as co-founder of the National Wine Awards of Canada with Anthony Gismondi, I was well positioned to know which wineries were doing well and might be willing to help out. And indeed, they responded very well. For the next 15 years up to 75 wineries, breweries and distilleries took part each year, usually in about ten cities. With an average guest count of 500 people per event, 5,000 people per year were drinking decent Canadian wine at a gala event.

Delivery in March 2023

Coming out of the Covid blues, it was time for some excitement — time for more Canadians to experience excellent Canadian wine. I have been watching the quality leap ahead in recent years at the  WineAlign National Wine Awards. I have also done dozens of tastings at WineAlign and at wineries in the Okanagan and Niagara this year and I found myself coming away from these tastings clearly excited. So many terrific wines! Many Canadian wines were achieving the summit —The Pinnacle.

So, while in the Okanagan Valley in August with Kitchen Party CEO Stephen Leckie we hatched the Pinnacle Project and presented it to some key wineries. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The winemakers too felt the time had come.

I made my list and began approaching wineries in September. It was not a blanket “call.” I wanted to pick excellent examples of different styles and regions and wines that would provide variety to our guests and demonstrate what Canada was doing best. And I wanted as many wineries involved as possible. So, the ask was two tiered. For the Pinnacle Project I requested donations of three to six cases per wine — depending on the city — so the entire audience could partake. For the VIP Reception Elite Wines Table — pouring eight different wines — I asked for one case.

When all was said and done at the end of the Vancouver Kitchen Party on November 25, 18 Pinnacle Project wines had been supplied across the country, plus another 27 single cases of VIP Elite wines, for a total of 117 cases. At an average retail cost of $50 bottle, wine worth over $70,000 had been donated to Canada’s Great Kitchen Party. Add in another 100 cases of wine donated to or acquired by the chefs across the country, and the total worth of the donations in 2022 surpassed $100,000.

For a complete list of wines poured and the names and bios of our judges in each city go to Canada’s Great Kitchen Party website.

The Pinnacle Project Wines

The following wines were donated in quantities large enough to be served to virtually all guests in their respective cities. The wines are from three provinces and several sub-regions:

13th Street Blanc de Blanc Brut 2019, Niagara Peninsula, ON
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2019, Twenty Mile Bench, ON
Bachelder Wines Hanck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020, Twenty Mile Bench, ON
Stratus Red 2019, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
O’Rourke Family Estate Brut 2019, Lake Country, BC
O’Rourke Family Estate Pinot Noir 2019, Lake Country, BC
Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020, Okanagan Valley BC
Mission Hill Terroir Series Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2020, Okanagan Valley BC
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2019, Okanagan Valley, BC
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2019, Okanagan Valley, BC
Spearhead Cuvee Pinot Noir 2020, Okanagan Valley, BC
UpperCase Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, BC
Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Blanc de Blancs 2017, Annapolis Valley, NS
Closson Chase South Clos Pinot Noir 2019, Prince Edward County, ON
Closson Chase Churchside Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019, Prince Edward County, ON
Thirty Bench Wild Ferment Cabernet Franc 2020, Beamsville Bench, ON
Laughing Stock Portfolio 2019, Okanagan Valley, BC
Tinhorn Creek Reserve Cabernet Franc 2019, Golden Mile Bench, BC

The Best of Show Competition

As well as wineries getting their wines in front of hundreds of engaged food and wine consumers, the wines were also tasted by leading culinary influencers/judges in each city, and by wine media, sommeliers and retailers. The latter group met with me mid-afternoon before each event to judge the Best of Show, with the winner proceeding to the Kitchen Party Wine of the Year competition at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Ottawa on February 3 and 4.  Donated chef wines were also entered in this competition, which is why you will see some winners below not listed as Pinnacle Project wines. This competition was not run in Ottawa, Montreal or Saskatoon due to differing formats.

Each wine is linked to existing WineAlign reviews.

The Winners in 2022


Bachelder Hanck Pinot Noir 2020

Bachelder Hanck Pinot Noir 2020, Twenty Mile Bench, ON


Quails' Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020, Okanagan Valley, BC


Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2019

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2019, Vinemount Ridge, ON


Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Sparkling Riesling 2019

Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Sparkling Riesling 2019, Twenty Mile Bench, ON

St. John’s

Closson Chase South Clos Pinot Noir 2020

Closson Chase South Clos Pinot Noir 2020, Prince Edward County, ON


Mission Hill Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Syrah 2020

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Syrah 2020, Okanagan Valley, BC

The Canadian Culinary Championship (for Wine Lovers)
Ottawa Feb 3 and 4, 2023

The six wines above will be competing for Wine of the Year at the CCC in Ottawa. For Canadian wine lovers the CCC is a must attend event, especially due to the fascinating Mystery Wine Competition on February 3. I am selecting a wine — to remain nameless to the bitter end — that will be given to competing chefs in an unmarked bottle during the opening reception on February 2. The chefs will taste the wine and have 24 hours to prepare their matching dish. Guests at the Mystery Wine Competition will be tasting along — still blind — until the wine is revealed at the end of the evening. They will vote for People’s Choice of the Best Pairing, while the chefs are being judged by a national culinary panel on this first of three competitions. Several other wines will be poured at the reception as well.

Full details of the three-event championship with the list of chefs and their wines — plus registration information — are available at:

Hope to see you in Ottawa!