In a world grown weary of COVID-19 case counts and bleak economic outlooks, Queenston Mile winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake gave us all something to smile about last week.
The story was irresistible to international media, garnering attention not just from Canadian news outlets, but CNN, Forbes, Fox News, “Good Morning America” and even a mention from Stephen Colbert on 'A Late Show.”
What was all the fuss about?
Taco Bell announced it was pairing a premium wine with its new menu item, the Toasted Cheesy Chalupa. And the wine? None other than Jalapeno Noir, from NOTL’s own Queenston Mile Vineyard, made with grapes from its own 50 acres of vines.
In a media release, Taco Bell extolled the pairing, saying, “Just like the delicious aged cheddar of the Toasted Cheesy Chalupa's shell, every bottle of Jalapeño Noir, made by Queenston Mile Vineyard in Ontario, has gotten better over time. Together, the duo is irresistible.”
Queenston Mile general manager Alison Zalepa described the circumstances that led to the pairing as “a little bit fortuitous.”
“When we opened two years ago,” Zalepa explained, “our marketing partner was a company called Grip Ltd.” It turns out, Grip is also Taco Bell’s marketing partner, “so when they were looking to launch in Ontario,” Grip thought of us.
The timing for the wine itself had serendipity on its side as well.
At the time, the winery had five barrels of 2018 Pinot Noir aging in newer French oak barrels, which gives it a little extra spice, Zalepa said. They were keeping it because they “knew there was something special there, something different.”
It turned out to be just the thing for the new Cheesy Chalupa.
At Queenston Mile, they “never want to put wine on a pedestal, we want it to be accessible,” Zalepa said, so this partnership made perfect sense. “We’re always trying to take the pretension out of wine.”
Consumers couldn’t wait to show their enthusiasm.
The first 20 cases sold out in just 11 minutes. Zalepa said Taco Bell asked for the rest, another 80 cases, and they sold out in 40 minutes.
The wine was sold online, and through Uber Eats, from two licensed Taco Bell outlets in Hamilton and Toronto.
It wasn’t just the popular press who were taken with this story. Serious wine aficionados got in touch with Queenston Mile, too.
Wine Spectator Magazine published a full article in its newsletter and well-respected winemaker Joe Wagner, who specializes in small batch Pinot Noir in California, called as well. “He heard about the wine and wanted to buy two bottles,” Zalepa said.
In a summer bereft of stories to make us smile, this speaks to an appetite for something with a spark of fun, and on a more serious note, it shines an international spotlight on Niagara wines, giving a boost to their growing reputation.