Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

Who doesn’t love a good Niagara crime story? Well, here’s a whopper.

Sometime in the early-to-mid 1900s, there were two quarrelling Mennonite congregations who disagreed about the acquisition of a pipe organ.

Believing the organ to be evil, the more conservative congregation broke in, stole the organ, put it on a buggy, threw it down the embankment … and (violá!) there was silent night. Many decades later … The Organized Crime Winery was born.

It’s a cool story, more elaborately recalled by the associates of the Jordan Historical Museum, who gave their insights on the pipe organ incident to the branding geniuses at Brandever, who in turn created the fascinating story-telling label art that adorns all the bottles at Niagara’s Organized Crime.

Ontario wine

best Niagara wine

It’s a fun bit of kitsch in an industry that often takes itself far too seriously. Brandever’s Bernie Hadley-Beauregard has created other kitschy wine brands including B.C.’s Blasted Church and Niagara’s Megalomaniac. But, while the story behind the labels and name are tongue in cheek, the wines are anything but.

Now crafted by winemaker Greg Yemen, above, the wines from this Beamsville Bench producer have always needed a steady hand in the winery to bring consistency and establish the style of the winery beyond a fun name. Yemen, who began at the winery working with head winemaker Ross Wise at Organized Crime in 2014 and took over as chief winemaker in 2016, is that steady hand Organized Crime has needed to bring purpose to the wide-ranging, but tiny, production at the estate in the heart of the Beamsville Bench on Mountainview Road.

The winery was started in 1999 by Jan Tarasewicz, below, and his wife Krystyna when the only other neighbours on the precious piece of real estate in the area were Thirty Bench and EastDell (Mike Weir Wine, now closed and for sale). The wines were first made by winemaker Andrzej Lipinski (owner of Big Head Wines), and an early pioneer of the kiln-dried style of wines. His method of drying grapes (appassimento) in old tobacco kilns from Norfolk County was something Lipinski initiated and used at various wineries where he has made wine and it is the signature style of wine at his own Big Head winery.

I have never believed in the dried grape method of wine for most of what grows best in the absolutely beautiful, minerally-driven terroir of the Beamsville Bench — Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and others. And Yemen agrees; he has left the kiln-dried wines to the bigger red varieties of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and has cut down on the dried-grape style wines considerably.

I like the direction Yemen, owner Jan Tarasewicz and his daughter Ania de Deluba (sadly, Jan’s wife passed away in 2016) are going.

“I’m trying to make elegant, balanced and drinkable wines,” says Yemen during a recent tasting of the portfolio. “We’re using only 100% estate fruit and have dialled back on kiln dried grapes.

The small boutique winery sits on south-facing land that hangs over the hillside edges of the Beamsville Bench, and provides an ideal environment for cool climate winegrowing. The property is planted to 27 acres of grapes, which translates to between 4,000 and 5,000 cases of wine per year.

“Our production volumes are very small. We purposefully lean towards the passion side of the business, rather than the commercial,” says Tarasewicz.

Here’s what I can recommend from our tasting:

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($19, 88 points) — Whole bunch pressed and fermented in stainless steel, this is a fresh-made savvy with a nose of grapefruit, lime, herbs and gooseberry. The electric acidity drives the lively profile of this wine with a range of fresh- cut citrus and herbs through the mouth-watering finish.

Organized Crime Chardonnay 2016 ($21, Vintages in Sept., 90 points) — Fermented and aged in 20% new puncheons with the rest in neutral oak, this has a generous nose of rich orchard fruits, minerals, baked apple and oak spices. This shows some freshness on the palate despite the warmth of the vintage and big flavours of apple pie, toast, minerality and citrus on the edges with a vibrant finish. Wonderful Bench Chardonnay for near-term drinking.

Organized Crime The Mischief 2017 ($19, 88 points) — A highly aromatic blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that reveals peach, pear, lychee and spice on the nose. A peachy-apply profile on the palate with citrus accents and a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Porch-sipping wine for the hot, summer months.

Organized Crime Riesling 2016 ($19, 90 points) — A tricky vintage for Riesling on the Bench; all that heat meant canopy management and picking decisions to maintain acidity were crucial. Winemaker Yemen was himself tested as it was his first vintage as the head winemaker and it was the hottest vintage since 2012. I give him full marks on the end result. This is a delicious Riesling, atypical of Niagara Riesling, but delicious nonetheless with white peach, apple, lime, lemon and river-rock minerality that will impart petrol notes in short order. The mineral aromas are more pronounced on the palate and the apple/peach flavours overtake the citrus, but it still has vibrancy and verve on the finish. Ready to enjoy now. Yemen also has a 2017 wild ferment Riesling he’s working on that shows a high level of texture and vibrancy with a racy, taut profile that I will be watching once it arrives on the shelves.

Organized Crime Pinot Gris 2017 ($21, 91 points) — A delicious Gris that was whole bunch fermented, had some skin-contact and 60% of which was fermented in foudre with the rest fermented in stainless steel. It shows a light copper colour in the glass with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, apple skin, melon and cantaloupe. The flavours are ripe and range from melon, apple and grapefruit to subtle spice notes with racy acidity to keep it fresh through the finish. Good job here.

Organized Crime Rosé 2017 (90 points) — I hesitate to write about this delicious rosé because you can only get it at restaurants. A full third of the production went to Treadwell’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and if James Treadwell buys that much, you know it’s a great wine. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot that was fermented in a combination of neutral oak and stainless steel. It’s a little darker in colour than the current trend but has lovely aromas of crushed red berries and mineral notes. It has beautiful texture and shows a richer, more complex profile on the palate with minerals and balancing acidity. A really nice, bolder style of rosé.

Organized Crime Break In Pinot Noir 2016 ($21, 90 points) — So, again, a hot vintage called for a gentle extraction and only 20% new oak for fermentation and aging. It has a bold nose of dark cherry, cassis and rich spice notes. It’s ripe and loaded with spicy cherry, raspberry, dry extract and fairly decent acidity to keep it vibrant on the finish.

Organized Crime Pipe Down 2016 ($22, 89 points) — The Pipe Down is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and kiln dried Petit Verdot and was fermented with both wild and commercial yeasts with 10 months of aging in 20% new French oak barrels and the rest neutral. There is a bevy of red fruits, black currants, plums, kirsch and barrel spice notes on the nose. It’s juicy and rich on the palate with fruit forward flavours, complementing spices, decent tannins and structure and a smooth finish. Can cellar 4+ years.

Organized Crime The Download 2012 ($45, 92 points) — Only former winemaker Ross Wise knows for sure how much of the grapes were kiln dried for this big, powerful red from Organized Crime. The blend is nearly half Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It has a “wow” nose of deep, rich black currants, plums, cassis, anise, sweet tobacco, cocoa and punctuated by rich oak barrel spices. It is ripe and generous on the palate with the full spectrum of dark, ripe fruits, structured tannins, earth, dark chocolate and baking spices. It is a big wine that still needs time in the cellar to mellow and round out, but the wait will be well worth it. Or drink now with grilled red meats.