Niagara organic wine

By Rick VanSickle

Southbrook Vineyard’s passion for organic winemaking is an endless quest to not only practice what they preach in their own backyard, but to seek out others who share their passion and values.

While organic is the mantra at Southbrook’s home vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake it hasn’t always been easy to convince other grape growers to supply the few organic wineries in Niagara with fruit they can use in their wines.

“Over the years I have worked with several organic growers, and have had the opportunity to get to know the quality of each vineyard nearly as well as our own Southbrook Estate,” said winemaker Ann Sperling, below.

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“I felt we were ready to show off these unique and worthy vineyard sites as stand-alone wines. So, this year we bottled single vineyard wines from our favourite growers — Laundry Vineyard and Saunders Family Vineyard.”

Added to the Southbrook family that includes the Connect, Triomphe, Estate and Poetica tiers is the new Single Vineyard collection using fruit from the organic grape growers Warren Saunders, and Heather Laundry.

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Laundry and Sperling have worked closely together over the years while she developed her home vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. “We decided that the resulting wines (Gamay, Riesling and Pinot Noir) were showing such promise that single-vineyard status was merited,” Sperling said.

The Laundry Vineyard shows classic properties of the geological area known as the Vinemount Moraine, Sperling said. Working on some of the steepest slopes in Niagara, and with mineral-rich soils, both Gamay and Riesling are well suited to these early season warm conditions.

Single-vineyard Saunders wines will be released early in 2019.

I tasted the three new Laundry wines in the single-vineyard series plus the new Southbrook Orange wine and a couple of Chardonnays just released.

Here’s what I liked:

The Laundry Vineyard Collection

About the Laundry Vineyard: Heather Laundry has been specializing in Chardonnay since she graduated as one of the first enology and viticulture students from CCOVI at Brock University in 2000. While most of her classmates went on to become winemakers, Laundry had her heart set on being among the vines. Her mentor, Deborah Paskus, who made some of the most compelling Chardonnays produced in Niagara, taught her that the biggest impact on a wine could be made in the vineyard. The 2017 bottling is from her old vines planted in the Lincoln-Lakeshore sub-appellation.

Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Organic Riesling 2017 ($23, winery, 91 points) — This something … an expressive, unique nose of ginger, lime and peach pie with perfumed notes of wet-stone minerality and a subtle note of honey. It’s juicy on the palate and bursting with stone fruit, citrus zest, lime and ginger with a lovely tug of sweet and tart that’s all nicely balanced by the acidity.

Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Gamay 2017 ($25, winery, 90 points) — A nose of fresh red berries, plums and earthy/savoury notes. It is everything you want in a Gamay on the palate — juicy, fresh and vibrant, with notes of plums, black currants, red berries, savoury herbs and subtle earthy notes. Simply open and crush it; it’s highly gulpable!

Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($35, winery, 92 points) — The fruit for this Pinot was harvested by hand, wild fermented with 40% whole clusters and aged in older French oak barrels for 17 months. It has a pretty nose of rich, ripe raspberries, sweet cedar, red licorice, bramble/earth and subtle strawberry and spice. It has gorgeous texture on the palate and delicate structure, built on a smooth and silky frame that reveals integrated spice, red fruits in a fresh and finessed style through a long and vibrant finish. Really nice Pinot.

The Chardonnays

Southbrook Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2017 ($40, winery in December, 92 points) —It should go without saying: Southbrook only uses grapes that are organic certified and farmed biodynamically (so suitable for vegans and vegetarians). Working with selected organic Chardonnay growers, individual vineyard lots were fermented wild in French oak barrels. After aging, select barrels were blended. The 2017 wine is the first vintage of the “Wild Ferment Chardonnay” series not from the estate vineyard. The fruit was sourced from the Saunders family on their home vineyard in Beamsville. This is a gorgeous and personable Chard with an expressive nose of pear/quince, subtle spice, and a lovely vein of citrus and minerality. It’s fresh and clean on the palate with rousing acidity that amps up the range of orchard fruits and lemon accents melded perfectly to elegant oak-inspired spices. Lots of room for this to grow with some time in the cellar.

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2016 ($25, winery, Vintages, 91 points) — The enticing nose shows Bosc pear, bin apples, toasted vanilla and spice. The pear and apple notes are creamy on the palate with layers of elegant spice and hints of citrus on the finish to keep everything in balance.

The Orange

Southbrook Skin Fermented Vidal Orange Wine 2017 ($30, winery, 89 points) — Small lots of 800 kg Vidal were cluster sorted and foot-trodden, then fermented stems-and-all with wild yeast and malolactic over a 30-day period. After a gentle pressing the wine was naturally chilled outdoors, settled and bottled cloudy without additives of any kind. The nose shows citrusy Orange Pekoe tea and marmalade with subtle tropical fruit and earthy notes. It is bright and lively on the textured palate with notes of tangerine, citrus rind, lime zest, light tannins, some herbs on the back end and underlying earthiness. A completely different wine experience and worthy of your attention.