The Essence of Essex County
Dawn Ferron loves Essex County.
"Summer crop fields are so beautiful, and so is winter wheat," she gushes. "I'm a bit of a 'tree hugger,' as they say. But I've almost always lived near water. I thrive on hiking trails, on beaches, and near campfires." The outdoorswoman likes to dwell in her hammock as much as possible - "even well into the fall with a sleeping bag and hot tea." Camping scents make her feel safe. Lilacs, the stars, the smells of the earth.
It's only fitting that her two of her favourite authors are Jane Austen and Ian Fleming. While they may seem contrary to one another, Dawn is intrigued by their respective representations of "the good life."
Dawn is a Sales Representative at Cooper's Hawk Vineyards - a winery located in the Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) wine region. Initially hired seasonally for the tasting room, she has yet to get tired of educating people about her region and its wine. She's especially busy between late March and early October.
She deals with the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance of Ontario) products available through the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) as well as promotional marketing. "I have several passions," she tells me, "but one that is directly linked to wine is through the grapevines and how they grow." Dawn is highly attentive to the effect climate has on their growth as well as the types of soil.
Several grape varietals thrive in the LENS region, including Cabernet Franc. "Specifically, we grow in a lot of Sandy Lome, whereas Niagara has a lot of limestone. That makes a difference."
The twenty seven year old is a very patient individual. She tells me the environment she grew up in was "always that of hard work, mostly surrounded by blue collar workers.” She puts a lot of effort into her daily activities and believes that "with time, effort, and good intentions, anything can be done well."
RS: What are you reading right now?
DF: I'm reading about climate change, intersectionality, and, most recently, Indigenous land boundaries and colonialism.
RS: What have you learned?
DF: It is incredibly important for people to know their colonial privilege, so knowing whose land you occupy is a step in the right direction. For example, I currently reside on Annishnaabe land. It is important to respect the lands [and acknowledge] those which we reside on and their ancestors. This is stolen land, not borrowed or owned. I encourage settler peoples to support Indigenous artists, crafters, and designers as much as possible. For example, Cheekbone Beauty is an Indigenous makeup brand that I like a lot.
RS: You're very connected to nature as well. What's your favourite plant?
DF: I appreciate all types of greenery and foliage. This might sound somewhat strange, but tomato plants have always made my heart sing. They grow very well in Essex County and are a prominent commercial and domestic crop. Tomatoes are my favourite fruit. When I was very young, my papa had MASSIVE tomato plants in my grandparents' backyard. They're long gone, but I have such a visual memory of him standing beside them. I can be quite nostalgic.
RS: Me too. It's a blessing and a curse.
DF: After a trip to Colasanti's, can I also add that I like succulents and cacti? They're low maintenance like I am.
RS: Oooh speaking of Colasanti's, what's a place in the county that you would recommend to someone visiting?
DF: For those who have not visited Point Pelee National Park, I highly suggest it. This is the Southernmost point in Canada. There are several different ecosystems existing in a single place. From marsh wetlands to forested areas to sandy beach dunes. Not only is it beautiful in the spring and summer months, but changing of leaves in the fall, wet ground smells, and massive ice shelves along the shoreline beaches are certainly a sight. Word of advice: dress appropriately for winter outdoor exploration and BUNDLE. Wear a double layer of socks. Point Pelee is also a massive factor in the migration of Monarch butterflies, as well as local wildlife, some of which only exist within the protected borders of the park. Giant Swallowtail butterflies are commonly seen here, whereas the rest of the country hardly gets to experience them. I'm terrified of snakes, but I can appreciate that the Fox Snake calls the point its home. They've actually been placed on a provincial protected species list.
RS: That’s impressive! I loved seeing the monarch butterflies as a kid. So, tell me, what's a typical day at the vineyards like?
DF: Any given day can include LCBO responsibilities, inventory, being a cellar hand, packing wine orders, lots of laughs with our Assistant Winemaker (who I'm always learning from), assisting in event curation, working with our Certified Master Tasters… Consistently testing the quality of our restaurant soup de jour is a wonderful pastime of mine.
RS: For you, it's all about being personable. You told me you like people who "can pull you out of a dark spell with their laugh."
DF: I applaud when our guests step out of their comfort zones and try something new. I really enjoy making genuine connections with as many people as possible while working. If I ensure they learn a little, laugh a little, drink a hit of wine, have a bit of food, they'll more than likely come back for the same personal experience.
RS: Can you comment on the assumption that winemaking is a boys club?
DF: The assumption that women are mean to be pretty sales objects for capitalist gain has always been a major issue for me. Still, this is the societal ideal people decide to continue to follow (along with countless others that are just as outdated). Winemaking can be a bit of a boys club simply because of the heavy amounts of strenuous tasks involved in vineyard management and productional undertaking. However, there are several successful women in the wine industry, and that makes me hopeful for my career. It is the ability that deserves merit, not someone's gender identity.
RS: Wine has its own lingo. Can you explain some of your favourite terms?
DF: I often catch myself in casual conversation with using several different wine terms, but 'punt' is probably my favourite. The 'punt' refers to the indent located in the bottom of your wine bottle. Honourable mention to 'legs.' Showing off your 'legs' is a visual representation of the sugar content in your wine. While seeing, swirling, smelling, and sipping are all important steps in the tasting of a wine, watching how quickly the wine moves down your glass is also. The faster the 'legs' move down the glass, the lower the sugar content, the (generally) higher alcohol content. When the viscosity of a wine is higher, you can assume it has a higher sugar content. Confirming this with how slowly it moves down the side of the glass, it would (generally) have lower alcohol content.
RS: Red or white?
DF: I'm most definitely a red drinker, however I love a good Dry Riesling. A truly DRY Riesling. The more time the yeast has to consume the grapes' residual sugar and expel alcohol, the better for my palate. Typically, we are a warmer climate than the Niagara Region, but cold climate grape varietals like Riesling still thrive in Lake Erie North Shore. With more consistent weather, the grapes can ripen faster, which leads to further accumulation of residual sugars in the fruit. This means the wine can have a longer fermentation time. With balanced acidity, Dry Riesling from the LENS can offer a bright white peach flavour, and a slight river rock minerality. For those of us with a 'gas station palate,' it can taste something like Fuzzy Peaches. It should be served (ideally) at 43 °F, (or 6°C).
RS: And what do you pair that with?
DF: I tend to enjoy it in the autumn months with spiced squash soup. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice... All of those spices are pretty compatible with an off-dry Riesling. When I can have them, definitely soft cheeses, as well as baked fish with a splash of citrus.
RS: What are your dietary restrictions?
DF: My body can't properly digest a lot of animal proteins, so I have a bit of a restrictive diet. Very little egg, hardly any dairy unless it is fermented or aged, but thankfully I love cheese alternatives (i.e. cashew cheese). No beef, no pork, and very little chicken. I'm also allergic to shrimp and some seafoods, so aside from fish, I tend to avoid.
RS: You said you never ate mango or avocado before the age of 17. What was that first experience like?
DF: My parents were always very much 'meat and potatoes' people, and my brother never complained. I usually did, but it was never really understood that ground beef hurt my stomach. Therefore, I wouldn't eat it, but was told I couldn't leave the dinner table until I had eaten my plate of spaghetti. When I was 17, I had my first boyfriend. His siblings were a group of well-travelled, educated adults. (I hadn't even tried sushi until around that time, too.)
DF: The second oldest actually lived in Africa and worked for the UN, the third youngest was a great cook and loved avocados (cue me trying them and loving them), and the second youngest was an adventurous, bright, HILARIOUS woman who studied Environmental Science. I idolized her. We got quite close, and I think about her often still. She and I played Call of Duty often, and one day she had me try a mango. All while simultaneously introducing me to the Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Kill/Death ratios. I'd say she played a pivotal part in shaping me and my love for mangoes, and, more importantly, ginger.
RS: That’s awesome. Something else that people never believe when you tell them?
DF: People never believe that I've driven Rally cars, or that I know anything about automobiles. I could give more specs on Nissan VQ35 and Dodge Pentastar engines than I care to admit sometimes. It's a damn shame that more women aren't educated on simple things like how to change a flat tire, or how to change a headlight bulb, how to check their oil, or even refill their windscreen wiper fluid.
RS: What do you like in particular about driving?
DF: I don't just like driving, I LOVE driving. It's my preferred method of travelling. I was pretty late to the game in getting my driver's license. I was 19 when I got my beginner's. Once I had my G2, I got a car and had freedom at my fingertips. I still drive my first car, a 2002 Sunfire called Roxanne. It's what I learned to drive in. It's taken me all across the province, and to New England and back several times over. Over the years I have learned when I should relinquish control, and when I shouldn't or don't have to. Being behind the wheel falls under not having to. I have control, and I know what to do to get the car to do what I want. It's acceptable to do with objects meant to be operated, but never people.
RS: That's so true. Where does your love of automobiles come from?
DF: From my father, and Papa. As both were labourers in the blue collar automotive industry, cars were always a part of our lives. A 1979 Dodge Lil' Red Express pick-up truck started some of it, the Dodge Caravan is [responsible for] the rest A tour of one of the Windsor Assembly Plants (now there is only one: Plant 3), really opened my eyes. As a young child, I was enthralled with the manufacturing process of the Caravan, now the Pacifica (known as the Voyager in Europe). I wanted to know how things worked, so that's when I started to take things apart and put them back together. Most of the time, the things I operated on survived and eventually worked again.
RS: What do you find romantic?
DF: Bonding over music. It's a language we can all understand. I also love the idea of someone remembering my dietary restrictions.