As Chef Shawn Murphy serves a simple but elegant salad of fresh, local strawberries, tender greens and his favourite aged cheese, the talk at the table turns to berries, berry picking, preserving and eating. Bill Redelmeier, founder of Southbrook Vineyards, boasts a background rich in food production experience, and has lots to say about this local resource and why it's important to convince people to eat from where they live.
Redelmeier and his family have decades of farming experience ““ including a strawberry growing and picking operation ““ and have applied their knowledge to the sustainable and local philosophies that Southbrook Vineyards is built on.
“When we started the winery, and our winemaker Ann Sperling asked me if I was interested in making organic wine, I said, 'no, I'm interested if you can make it biodynamic',” says Redelmeier.
At its essence, being biodynamic means taking an approach that sees the vineyard as an ecological whole; not just how the grapes are grown, but the soil they are grown in, along with the plants and animals that grow along with them.
Southbrook is Canada's first winery to have its vineyard certified by Demeter, the international body that oversees biodynamic agriculture.
At Southbrook, even the building itself seems to have made a point to be in tune with the landscape; a long, lean limb stretching across the property, its blue shade blending away into the sky in the distance.
Now that Redelmeier has his winery, and his wine, the next step naturally, is a chef with a philosophy that matches his own.
With the same uber local thinking that goes into the bottle, Chef Shawn Murphy has laid out a plan to serve Southbrook guests some of Niagara's finest food on his plates.
“We have been working with local growers and producers to source ingredients from literally down the road,” says Murphy. “Their products will be served along with all the things we are growing here at the winery. When I make a salad, it will be from the planters right here in gardens, whatever looks good that day.”
He speaks with passion for food, and about the place he calls home and opening Farmers' Table.
“I get an immense amount of satisfaction serving a guest the best quality local ingredients. It is my passion. In addition to managing our garden and it's many heirloom varieties, we are also supporting the local Niagara business and farming community. We have formed great partnerships and look forward to bringing our guests a uniquely Niagara experience. There are not many places you can eat where the produce is a few hours old. Vegan, vegetation, pig addict, there will be something for everyone. That is what excites me about Farmers' Table,” he says.
Murphy graduated from Niagara College's Culinary Management Program, going on to hold positions at Hillebrand Winery, Ravine Vineyards and Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland. It was there he developed a taste for foraging, an approach he plans to use to bring new dishes to Farmers' Table.
The menu will change weekly, based on what has ripened and matured in the gardens, and what his developing network of local growers and producers have available. Dining is on the covered patio, newly planted vines just a few feet away. Hours are limited ““ as is our growing season ““ with Farmers' Table open to guests from June to Thanksgiving weekend. Hours are typically from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but checking the website is a must for updated hours and menu.
We slice into a pizza, piping hot from the outdoor oven as Murphy describes the toppings. Meatballs and hot peppers are typical enough pizza toppings, but this is lamb sausage made from lamb that is not just from the region, but from the property. There are 130 or so sheep on the vineyard's 150 acres. Sweet and sour hot peppers were harvested and made by Murphy, along with the pesto made from foraged wild garlic mustard, a despised invasive plant thought of as, well, a pest.
RECIPE: Strawberry Salad
RECIPE: Southbrook Pizza
– 581 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905.641.2548; southbrook.com