Niagara Wine Reviews

Norm Hardie’s Niagara-County wines

Norman Hardie sign

What: Norman Hardie Winery

Where: 1152 Greer Rd., Wellington, Ont., Prince Edward County

Tastings: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, March to November. By appointment at other times.

Proprietor: Norman Hardie.

Winemaker: Norman Hardie.

Specialties: Norman Hardie is synonymous with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Must try: Because Hardie makes wines from grapes grown in both Prince Edward County and Niagara it’s recommended that you try his Pinots or Chardonnays from the same vintage but totally different regions side by side to explore first hand the differences in the two terroirs. Also try his Riesling, which is sourced from Niagara.

Availability: Winery, web, and some limited Vintages releases.

Website: Norman Hardie

By Rick VanSickle

WELLINGTON, Ont. — Don’t let winemaker Norman Hardie’s dual citizenship fool you, his heart definitely belongs to Prince Edward County.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir
Norman Hardie Pinot Noir

He may source a lot of his grapes from Niagara and bottle a lot of his wines with Niagara proudly on the label, but, make no mistake, it’s in The County where he hangs his hat and is building his rather stellar reputation for a superb portfolio of Burgundian-styled Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

On a recent trip to The County we were greeted enthusiastically by “Norm” himself. I loved the unpretentiousness of his winery, which Hardie calls “simple modern barn architecture,” and the feel of the tasting room and surrounding vineyards.

Hardie was eager to show off his winery, even with guests arriving for a special lunch in the cellar.

We started with a look at the vineyard site, which, of course, was the key for Hardie when he was searching for the perfect soil to make his beloved Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. His vineyard sits on a limestone shelf and has the clay and calcareous limestone soil that is “as close to Burgundy as you can get.”

Norman Hardie
Norman Hardie.

Hardie is a Pinot freak, loves the Burgundian style, and is highly motivated to make wines that are as close to that style as he can make them. He believes The County is the perfect location outside of Burgundy to make nuanced, finessed pinots that show a special sense of place and he has staked all that he has on that pursuit.

The biggest hurdle in the way for County wine producers has always been the severe winters that ravish vines, claiming large numbers with winter kill each and every year. The way to avoid the yearly loss was to bury the vines each fall and reclaim them in the spring. It was a struggle to find the most effective strategies to do this without it breaking the bank and passing the cost onto consumers. Hardie and other growers have learned through trial and error how to do this without adding a lot of money to the finished wine. The process now adds about $1.25 per bottle to the cost of County wines.

Hardie grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in the County and sources Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling from Niagara, vineyards he has a hand in managing.

The dual sourcing of fruit (ranging from 60-70% County fruit to Niagara depending on the vintage) is like an insurance policy, says Hardie. If he has a bad vintage in The County he will always have a good source of fruit from Niagara. Hardie’s reserve wines are a blend of County and Niagara grapes, which some scoff at, claiming that a mixture of two regions is an affront to terroir-driven wines. Hardie isn’t the kind of guy to bow to such criticism. His mission is to make the best Pinot and Chardonnay he can from the grapes he has access to.

And, right now, his best stuff is a blend of two very good regions.

He’s very clear on where his allegiances lie.

“I much prefer The County,” he says. “It’s agricultural, pastoral. There’s no traffic here. It’s a lot softer, gentler.”

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir
Norman Hardie Pinot Noir

The centrepiece of Hardie’s winery is the barrel. He uses only French oak and has room for 250 barrels in the cellar. That’s about the limit of where Hardie wants to get to — a total production of 4,500-5,000 cases. For him, it’s not about volume, “it’s purely good quality grapes,” he said.

Oak is key to Hardie’s wines, but they’re made with a deft touch. “I never want someone to say my wines are oaky.” He uses oak as a spice, and it’s never overdone.

Here’s what I liked from the Hardie collection (all available from the website or winery and at the LCBO where noted).

Norman Hardie Melon de Bourgogne 2009 ($19, 3.5 stars) — Crisp and flavourful wine with apple/floral notes and wonderful acidity. A match made for oysters.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2009 ($21, the 07 is listed at Vintages at $19, 4 stars) — With fruit sourced in Niagara, Hardie’s Riesling is a mineral-driven lime and citrus laced wine with a firm acidic backbone. There’s a touch of peach/quince flavours amid all that juicy citrus fruit.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2008 ($35, 4 stars) — A very fine chardy that shows citrus fruits, fine subtle oak tones, minerals, focused flavours, textured on the palate and pure elegance from stem to stern. Burgundian in style, County by birth.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered Niagara 2008 ($35, 4 stars) — British wine critic Jancis Robinson went “gaga” over this wine at a recent tasting in London, England, of Ontario chardonnays. For good reason, this Niagara offering shows opulent pear, apple, tropical notes on the nose and a nice mineral edge throughout. It’s held together with fine oak and vanilla mousse all neatly balanced.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvee L 2008 ($49, 4.5 stars) — The top-tier Cuvee L, so-named as a homage to Hardie’s late sister Lisa, is a blend of the best of the best Chardonnay from both Niagara and the County. The 2008 cuvee is 65% Niagara fruit and the rest from the County. This is a very fine wine, leaning toward luxurious and textured with tropical/pear fruits and spurts of citrus mingling always with that distinct flinty-minerality.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered Niagara 2008 ($39, 4.5 stars) — The fruit for this exquisite pinot is exclusively from low-yielding grapes grown on the Beamsville Bench in Niagara. It shows both power and grace from the vivid black cherry, nuanced earthy bits, fine oak and spice that travels through the entire length of this superb wine. I love the bones on this wine, structured, yes, but also quite approachable.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee L 2007 ($69, 5 stars) — This consists of exactly the same regional percentage as the Cuvee L Chardonnay — 65% Niagara pinot and 35% County pinot. This is the last of the fabulous 2007 vintage left of Hardie’s lineup, which is surprising because it’s such an amazing wine. Simply a gorgeous wine that shows cran-cherry fruits, mocha spice, plush tannic structure and silky smooth in its delivery. To me, what Niagara pinots can do when winemakers show restraint in a big, hot vintage.