The last time I saw Bruno Moos, the hard-working co-owner of Alvento Winery in Vineland, was during crush last fall. He was buried in a sea of squished grapes, his hands purple from mucking out the leftovers from the grape crusher.
Moos is not a young man, nor is he a big man, but he loves to get his hands dirty and works as hard at his craft as anyone I know in Niagara. And he does it all — in the vineyards, through crush, into bottle and even in the retail store.
He doesn’t compromise on quality. If a wine’s not good enough to make in any given vintage, he just won’t make it. Which, of course, can be a strain on the books, especially when the wines you make are fashioned after the Bordeaux varieties, as well as Viognier and Nebbilolo, which have their ups and downs in Niagara, depending on the weather.
But for Bruno, and his equally hard-working wife Elyane, it is what makes Alvento such a treasure in Niagara. I send people looking for delicious boutique, small-production, hand-crafted and artisinal wines to Alvento all the time and they are usually surprised at what they find there. I can’t remember a time when Elyane or Bruno haven’t been behind the counter enthusiastically pouring their wines.
Bruno accepts nothing other then the best. He just won’t sell or make sub-par wines.
The Moos have been growing grapes at their five-hectare waterfront Vineland estate for nearly 10 years, crafting three different styles of Bordeaux blends (which changed to two styles in 2008) as well as a Viognier and a Nebbiolo, one of only two being made in Niagara.
They have kept their promise to produce only ultra high quality wines or they will not bottle the vintage.
So, it is very sad to see Bruno and Elyane in a fight for their very survival these days. I am told their ugly battle over the partnership (there is a 50-50 partnership, I am told) for their winery is headed to the courts where a judge, oblivious to what Alvento means to Niagara or what the Moos put into it) will decide what will become of Alvento and who will control its future.
I don’t know a lot of the details, only dribs and drabs from what people have told me. I don’t know who’s at fault or why it’s taken the unfortunate turn toward the court system.
But I do know this: Alvento without Bruno and Elyane at the helm is just not right. They alone have made this winery so important to the mosaic that is Niagara. They embody all that is good about winemaking in Niagara: Hard working, salt of the earth and genuine people making wines for all the right reasons. They believe in the region, they believe in quality and won’t sacrifice that for the immediate reward of money coming through the door.
Alvento wines have made great strides in Niagara, at incredible reasonable prices, and their wines seem to get a good showing at Vintages. The name Alvento stands for quality without compromise. We need to encourage this kind of approach. And support those that dare take the chance.
Alvento has just released its second vintage of Nebbiolo, or as the Moos call it, Aria. Getting this Italian grape planted in Niagara was a difficult chore for Bruno. First it was a challenge sourcing decent Nebbiolo vines with the first plantings suffering from a devastating virus. He didn’t give up. He replanted with better vines and his first nebbiolo, Alvento Aria 2006 was a lovely wine with cherry fruit and earthy-leather flavours that was true to the Piedmont style. But it is the 2007 that is a real blockbuster. Here’s my review:
Alvento Aria (Nebbiolo) 2007 ($35, winery, 92 points) — This Neb spent 18 months in Burgundy oak barrels, 70% of which was new oak. What a nose! Roasted meats, dried sweet cherries, cigar box cedar, leather, currants, blueberry, loam and vanilla toast. It’s youthful and vibrant on the palate with red cherry, tar, minerality, firm tannic structure and a long finish. Enjoy now with game, beef or other red meats or save in the cellar for five years as it all the moving parts come into balance.
Some other wines from around Niagara I’ve tasted and enjoyed recently:
Henry of Pelham Pinot Blanc 2010 ($15, Vintages Saturday, 87 points) — A floral nose with citrus and apple fruits in a clean, fresh approach. In the mouth it’s just a wonderfully fruity wine with fresh flavours that’s simple and clean. Perfect for porch sipping.
Nyarai Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($20, nyaraicellars.com, 89 points) — Virtual winemaker Steve Byfield likes to source the best fruit from any given vintage and craft wines that reflect that. He has a fondness for Sauvignon Blanc and has built up a reputation for this variety in a few short years. The 2010 version shows gooseberry, kiwi fruit, lime, summer herbs, melons and tropical fruits. On the palate, a spice note kicks in from minimal oak treatment. It’s creamy and tropical, ripe and juicy with citrus, melon and stone fruit flavours in a mouth-coating style.
Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2010 ($21, nyaraicellars.com, 90 points) — A highly aromatic nose of summer flowers, melon, mango and tropical fruits. It’s fleshy on the palate with layers of lush ripe fruit and gorgeous texture.
Mike Weir Underdog Red 2009 ($14, LCBO, 87 points) — Mike Weir has joined the growing crowd of wineries making a “second label.” This one is called Underdog, appropriate, we assume, considering the slump Weir is in on the PGA tour. This value, four-variety red is pretty good for the price with wild berries, violets, savoury spice and kirsch on the nose. It’s a mid-weight wine with juicy fruits that show cherry, bramble, licorice and spice in the mouth.
Mike Weir Underdog White 2009 ($14, LCBO, 86 points) — The white version is also a four-variety blend (including Auxerrois!) that has a nose of fresh citrus and peach. It’s round on the palate with peach-melon fruit in a forward, fruity style.
Pillitteri 23 Chardonnay 2010 ($10, LCBO, 85 points) — Pillitteri has also joined the lifestyle brand fray with two new labels: 23 and Straight Up. The 23 brand is quirky but has a back story to it involving the winery owner’s love of the number 23 (you can read about it here). It’s not often a $10 VQA wine gets reviewed here, because it’s extremely difficult to make it well at this price in Niagara, but I gave it 85 points so it certainly has appeal. It’s a simple, unoaked Chard that’s clean and laced with apple and tropical fruit. And it’s $10. A staple for the cottage?
Pillitteri Straight Up Red 2009 ($13, winery/LCBO, 85 points) — A blend of red grapes, I would serve this a touch chilled. Red currants, cherry and wildberries on the nose. The cherry flavours take over on the palate in a fruit forward, smooth style.