Up until now, Panagapka was operating under a host licence, which actually meant the host technically owned the wine. With that arrangement, Panagapka was able to retail his wine through the store where he made his wines, in this case the helpful folks at Featherstone Estate Winery, or through his own online retail store.
Panagapka recently completed the arduous task of getting a manufacturing licence, which gives him the ability to sell his wines directly to restaurants and the LCBO, in the same way that other “modified” virtual wineries, such as Union and Thomas Bachelder, operate.
“It’s my wine now,” Panagapka tells me as we taste barrel samples of his upcoming wines deep in the cellar at Featherstone. “I own my wines,” he says proudly.
Panagapka is appreciative of Featherstone for allowing him to sell and make his wines there, but with the manufacturing licence he now has more control on where he can sell his wines and less dependent on website sales. The downside is the loss of web sales and retail sales at the winery.
Panagapka says his main target for his wines, a gorgeous selection of terroir-driven Pinots, Chards, Rieslings and sparkling wines, is the restaurant trade with only 10% of sales coming from retail and another 10% from online sales.
He has had a great response from the LCBO and will continue to “offer” his wines for sale in that retail stream, but will concentrate on restaurants where he has enjoyed most of his success.
What that means for you and me is this: we will have to enjoy 2027 Cellars wines from offerings at Vintages stores or when we come across them at a restaurant.
Panagapka continues to evolve his wines with each passing vintage. His 2013 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, quietly soaking up French oak at the Featherstone winery, are brilliant. The Queenston Road Pinot Noir is highly aromatic, not as earthy as previous vintages, while the Aberdeen Road Chardonnay, with full malo employed and aged for 18 months in French oak, is a voluptuous and alluring offering that’s showing depth and complexity as it develops in barrel.
Panagapka made the wine with zero dosage (no sugar added) “not because it’s trendy to do so but because it’s the best thing for the wine,” he says. “It’s a more pure expression of the wine, pure terroir. It is what it is.” A what a beauty!
The blend of 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay shows a nose of toast, yeast, mineral and citrus. It’s round on the palate with lower acidity than previous vintages, but bigger and richer with gorgeous texture. Simply one my of my favourite bubblies made in Ontario.
I also tasted his just finished (but not bottled) 2027 Cellars Fox Croft Chardonnay 2013. Panagapka sources his Fox Croft fruit from the Wismer Vineyard and it is always a mineral-driven Chardonnay. The 2013 is ripe with poached pear, flint and lovely oak spice on the nose. The flavours build on the palate with spiced pear, apple and that lovely flinty thing going on. Sensational Chard.
“It’s not about the winemaker,” Panagapka tells me as we revisit previous vintages of his wines. “It’s about the vineyard. I stay out of it! It’s what it is, it is what the vineyard is.”
That has always been Panakapka’s mantra; it is what makes his portfolio so exciting.
A whole pile of wines reviewed
Some other wines I’ve tasted and liked recently from around Niagara. Note: There are no more wine releases at Vintages stores before Christmas, so come out to Niagara and fill up with the hidden treasures you can’t get at the LCBO anyway.
Tawse Estate Winery
Tawse Limestone Ridge Riesling Spark 2013 ($20, released in new year, 89 points) – A single-vineyard Riesling sparkler made in the traditional method. A toasty-yeasty nose of bright lemon-citrus and baked apple. It is brilliantly refreshing and feels quite dry on the palate despite 12 grams/litre of residual sugar. The flavours are all about the lemon and grapefruit, which is juicy in the mouth and lifted by racy acidity.
Tawse Spark Brut 2012 ($25, winery, LCBO direct delivery, 89 points) – A quirky blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a splash of Pinot Gris made in the traditional method and spending 12 months on the lees. It’s fresh and flinty on the nose with lemon, citrus, melon and a subtle hint of tangerine and toast. It has an energetic mousse with vibrant acidity to go with grapefruit, lemon and toasty-vanilla nuances. Very clean and crisp through the finish.
Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2013 ($25, winery, 90 points) – From the estate’s certified organic-biodynamic Quarry Road Vineyard on Vinemount Ridge. A soft, pretty nose with lifted rose petals, ripe grapefruit, lychee, cloves and spice. It’s lush and exotic on the palate with wild honey, cloves, ripe grapefruit, lychee and an array of spices that lead to a long, textural finish.
Tawse Gamay Noir 2013 ($19, winery/Vintages June 27, 88 points) – A nose of plum, cherry, wild berries and soft vanilla spice from 8 months in oak. It has mouth-filling flavours on the palate with cherry, raspberry, plums and lightly toasted spice notes. Good quaffing wine.
Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Pinot Noir 2011 ($27, January release at the winery, May 16 at Vintages, 91 points) – A gorgeous nose of pure and pretty cherry, currants, small wild berries and raspberry with seamlessly integrated spices. Simply delicious in the mouth with rich and savoury red fruits, spice and smooth, silky tannins. A joy all the way through the finish.
Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir 2011 ($36, winery and LCBO direct delivery, 92 points) – From the estate’s certified organic/biodynamic vineyard on the Vinemount Ridge. The nose shows black cherry, anise, bramble-underbrush, toasted oak spice, violets and raspberry bush. It is like silk on the palate with gorgeous savoury spices on top of warm cherry, anise, licorice, raspberry and earth that is complex and layered through a long finish. Drink now or cellar five years or more. A beauty.
Tawse Van Bers Cabernet Franc 2010 ($50, winery, Classics Fall Catalogue, 93 points) – This is a blockbuster of a wine, a brilliant example of what can happen to this classic varietal if all the stars align. And align they did in 2010 for Cabernet Franc at this particular vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. This wine possesses a thick and rich nose of alluring field raspberry, warm summer cherries and anise all enticingly blanketed in spicy oak, earth and just a touch of wild herbs. The earthy flavours are married perfectly to the ripe red fruits, smoke, tar, anise and eucalypt. Ripe tannins emerge to offer structure and power and lead to a long, long finish. Enjoy this for many years to come.
Redstone Limestone Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 ($30, winery, 90 points) – This Pinot from the Limestone Ridge sub-appellation sees French oak for 14 months, 30% of which was new oak. A unique and inviting nose of cherry-cranberry, vanilla, clove and earth. Quite layered and complex on the palate with cherry, currants, spices and good tannic structure that suggests it will integrate further and improve in the cellar.
Henry of Pelham
Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012 ($18, 91 points) – A fascinating nose of mineral-laden citrus, grapefruit and quince. Simple mouth-watering on the palate with gushing grapefruit and citrus with river-rock minerals and a lovely tug of sweet and tart. It’s quite complex and dramatic through the refreshing finish.
Henry of Pelham Pinot Grigio 2013 ($15, 88 points) – You say Pinot Grigio, I say Pinot Gris! A nose of melon and apple fruit that’s refreshing and pure. A simply delicious and refreshing wine on the palate, nothing too serious, with pure apple, white peach and sliced melon with a clean and vibrant delivery.
Henry of Pelham Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($15, 87 points) – A nose of juicy grapefruit, lime zest, subtle cut grass and honeysuckle. It’s fresh and vibrant on the palate with citrus, herbs and lime flavours. Good summer sipper.
Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut ($30, 90 points) — The nose on this sparkler, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in the traditional style, is all about melba toast and brioche with fresh baked apples and lemon citrus. I love the apple flavours, searing acidity, toast and roasted almond flavours that are refreshingly delightful on the palate. This sparkler has a lively and textured bead of bubbles.
Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($20, 89 points) – All fruit is grown on the estate’s Short Hills Bench vineyards. This is gorgeous with a nose of pear, oak spice and vanilla cream. The pear and apple fruit on the palate is wrapped in toasted oak and lifted by an energetic wave of citrus and acidity through the finish. Everything in balance here, nothing overdone.
Henry of Pelham Chardonnay 2013 ($14, 87 points) – A simple Chardonnay but still pleasurable with creamy apple and bright citrus notes on the nose. It’s made in a fresh, unoaked style with vibrant citrus and quince flavours.
Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2012 ($15, 88 points) – A friendly red blend from a warm vintage that delivers earthy red fruits, spice, bramble and mocha notes on the nose. The raspberry-cherry fruits are joined by campfire smoke, baking spices and fairly firm tannins on the palate.
Family Tree Red 2012 ($19, 90 points) – Family Tree is companion label for the ambitious Speck Brothers, owners of Henry of Pelham, and the fruit is sourced from estate vineyards as well as “friends, neighbours and distant cousins.” This is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and has a meaty nose of earthy dark fruit, black cherry, chunky spice and a wisp of raspberry jam. It’s a big, bold wine on the palate with thick red and dark fruits, licorice, and layers of spices. Very nice.
Nyarai Cellars Cadence 2011 ($22, available online here and at coffin Ridge Winery, 89 points) — Virtual winemaker Steve Byfield crafts his wines from sourced Niagara grapes and always finds a way to squeeze the best out of his favourite varietals and blends. The Cadence is a red blend of Cabernet Franc (42%), Merlot (33%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), and Syrah (5%) and has a bright, bold nose of red fruits, oak spice, cassis, blueberry, herbs and bramble. It’s a lovely mix of red and dark fruits on the palate with savoury spices and fine tannins adding to the profile. It’s a lighter version of the 2010, but nicely done from the 2011 vintage.
Flat Rock Cellars
Flat Rock Cellars Estate Pinot Noir 2012 ($20, Vintages, 89 points) – The 2012 vintage is not only notable for the hot, dry conditions but also for the fact that it was the inaugural vintage for new winemaker Jay Johnston. He’s done well with both the Estate and Gravity Pinots. The Estate has an attractive nose of black cherry and raspberry fruit with integrated spices. The fruit takes on a darker profile on the palate with touches of earth, cloves and nutmeg spice to go with lovely ripe tannins. Great value Pinot.
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2012 ($30, Vintages, 91 points) — The nose shows rich black cherry, vanilla toast, raspberry patch, earth and loam, cedar and attractive spice notes. The palate reveals bold brambly red fruits that are bathed in oak-derived spices and tannins that sing. There is an earthiness at the core of this bold Pinot yet the wine maintains its vibrancy through the finish.
Chateau des Charmes
Chateau des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($15, LCBO, winery, 87 points) – A nose of lime, grapefruit, tropical fruits, herbs and grassy notes. The nice tropical notes are balanced out by citrus and zesty lime flavours and light grassy-herb notes. Good value wine from the estate’s St. David’s Bench Vineyard.
Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet-Merlot 2012 ($20, winery or boutique stores, 88 points) – Quite expressive on the nose with cherry fruit, Espresso bean, oak spice, currants and rich mocha-vanilla notes. The palate reveals black cherry, oak spice, firm tannins on a well-structured frame. Can cellar this for a few years. Another well-priced wine.