The Cuvée Grand Tasting rang in a milestone 30th anniversary by bringing more than 800 guests together to celebrate excellence in the thriving Ontario wine industry.Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), a record crowd came to the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls on Friday, March 23 to sample from the largest selection of Ontario wines under one roof and taste unique culinary dishes from local chefs.“The strong turnout of guests from across Southern Ontario year-after-year truly showcases the importance of our grape and wine industry and the strong level of support it garners from our community,” said Cuvée manager Barb Tatarnic.The Grand Tasting also honours the talented people who work in the $4.4 billion Ontario grape and wine industry.Donald Ziraldo, right, presents Angelo Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, with the inaugural Cuvée Winemaker of Excellence Award Friday, March 23 in Niagara Falls.The inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavan, chosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada.Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.Teamwork and collaboration is also key to success, he stressed, adding “to be successful and to be acknowledged for your work, one needs to contribute to the industry at large and not just your own operation.”Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winner Albrecht Seeger, an eighth-generation grape grower in Niagara-on-the-Lake and sitting member on the Ontario Grape and Wine Research Technical Committee, speaks to the crowd after being given the honour Friday, March 23.This year’s Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award went to Albrecht Seeger, an eighth-generation grape grower in Niagara-on-the-Lake and sitting member on the Ontario Grape and Wine Research Technical Committee. Sponsored by BASF Canada Inc., the award recognizes a grape grower who promotes excellence in vineyard practices.“BASF believes that we achieve excellence not just by using current practices to their fullest potential, but by looking for new innovations to continuously improve and evolve,” said Scott Hodgins, Crop Manager, Horticulture for BASF Canada Inc. “The Vineyard of Excellence Award provides the opportunity to celebrate others in the industry who do the same.”Alongside his wife Anja Bertelmann, Albrecht maintains a sprawling 150-acre vineyard of premium Vitis vinifera grape varieties and has made viticulture his life’s work. He is dedicated to being a grape grower in Ontario, which he calls “one of the best regions in the world to grow grapes.”CCOVI Senior Scientist Jim Willwerth said Seegar is “truly deserving of the Vineyard of Excellence Award.”“His vineyard is meticulously managed right down to the finest detail,” Willwerth said. “Albrecht strives to produce grapes of the highest quality destined for world class wine and this was demonstrated in every way throughout the evaluation process.”The Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence was awarded to Sue-Ann Staff Friday, March 23.The Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented to the individual or institution that best furthers the aims and aspirations of Ontario’s wine industry, was awarded to Sue-Ann Staff. She is a fifth-generation Niagara grape grower and internationally recognized winemaker who has won some of the most respected wine competitions in the world. Staff worked for several Niagara wineries before creating her own eponymous facility, and Tony Aspler said she has since become an “articulate ambassador for the Ontario wine region on the international stage.”Cuvée also celebrates the next generation of winemakers and grape growers by providing scholarships to Brock University Oenology and Viticulture students through the Cuvée Legacy Fund.The Cuvée Scholarship winners are:Cuvée Hosting Award for Academic Excellence: Grant McKinnonCuvée Award for Academic Excellence: Nick PappasCuvée Award for Academic Excellence in OEVC: Carol McLennanCuvée Graduate Scholarship: Andréanne Hébert–Haché“We are pleased to provide these funding opportunities and industry recognition for the very deserving students of Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture program,” said CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis. “The Cuvée Grand Tasting is a full-circle celebration of excellence in our industry, honouring the best and brightest in the business today, and looking forward to those who will shape the industry in the future.”Cuvée Manager Barb Tatarnic, left, and CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis, right, handed out Cuvée Scholarship awards Friday night to students Andréanne Hébert-Haché, Carol McLennan, Nick Pappas and Grant McKinnon.