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Stratus Vineyards and Soma Chocolatemaker Raise the Bar

Stratus Vineyards and Soma Chocolatemaker have raised the bar on traditional chocolate and wine pairing. Today they release the “Stratus Bar,” a 70% chocolate made from Venezuelan Ocumare cocoa with vinous nuances from ageing, like wine, in a lees-filled oak barrel.

Soma’s partners Cynthia Leung and David Castellan have pioneered microbatch chocolate making for over 10 years. “When we started carrying Soma’s chocolate in our Tasting Room over a year ago,” says Suzanne Janke, Stratus’ director of retail and hospitality, “we recognized that their quality focus, design sensibility and social responsibility were a very good fit for us.” But just selling their chocolate wasn’t enough. “We wanted to come up with an inventive way to combine our crafts,” continues Janke.

Soma brainstormed with Stratus about using a wine barrel in an experimental chocolate making technique. It was winemaker J-L Groux who suggested that lees – the residual yeast cells from the winemaking process – might impart a more profound flavour to the roasted cocoa nibs. And with that, the experimentation began.

After the cocoa beans were roasted and the shells removed, the resulting nibs were added to the lees in a wine barrel and it was sealed. “We weren’t sure what to expect,” says Castellan. “We were prepared that we might have to throw out the whole batch.” At the end of three months, the lees had soaked completely into the nibs and there was an incredible aromatic. The nibs were then dried, and Leung and Castellan completed their normal chocolate making process – grinding, refining and conching. To their delight, these final steps also further concentrated the desirable flavours. “It’s not that it tastes like wine,” says Leung, “but there is no mistaking the added fruitiness and top notes. It’s subtle and elegant.”

Another batch is ageing on the lees right now – using a different cocoa bean to continue the experimentation – and Castellan and Leung hope to release it before Christmas. The bars from the first experimental microbatch are being released today at both the winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and at Soma’s two locations in Toronto. The 80g bars retail for $12.

The Stratus Bar from Soma is yet another innovative product shaped by Stratus’ continuing efforts to creatively utilize by-products of winemaking. Other retail offerings include grapeseed oil, serving accessories made from barrels, and BBQ bundles of vine clippings.

“We are delighted to partner with Stratus,” says Castellan. “Our sense is that they occupy the same place in the wine world as we do in the chocolate world.” Soma is Toronto’s first “bean-to-bar” chocolatier, with all phases of the process taking place on their site. Stratus Vineyards, established in 2000, is a sustainable, innovative winery located in the heart of Niagara, Ontario wine country. Stratus is dedicated to growing and producing limited quantities of premium wine on their 55-acre estate vineyard.

For more information, please contact:

Suzanne Janke
(905) 468-1806 ext. 228

Soma Chocolatemaker

32 Tank House Lane
Distillery District
Toronto, ON
(416) 815-7662


443 King St W
Toronto, ON
(416) 599-7662

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