Niagara Wine Reviews

Thomas Bachelder’s dream trilogy of Chardonnays: Niagara, Burgundy, Oregon

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Thomas Bachelder has been on a pretty wild ride his entire winemaking life.

He is Quebecois through and through, and Quebec is where his heart is. If he could make his beloved Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the harsh (at least from a Burgundian point of view) climate of Quebec, he would.

But failing that, Bachelder has pursued his passion for those two grapes in Burgundy, Oregon and here in Niagara, where he has now firmly entrenched himself with his wife and business partner Mary Delaney and school-aged daughters.

Thomas Bachelder, Mary Delaney and their daughters.

Bachelder is better known in Niagara for his brilliant winemaking at Le Clos Jordanne, the Vincor-owned label that only makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and through his consulting with other wineries. He is known as a hard-working perfectionist when it comes to making wines at the highest end of the quality spectrum.

He left Le Clos to chase a dream — a dream to make cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in three of the regions where he had made them before.

That dream is revealed for all to taste this Saturday when Bachelder and Delaney’s three 2009 Chardonnays from Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy are unveiled together at the Vintages release.

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Thomas Bachelder in Burgundy.

Bachelder’s quest was this: What exactly would the Chardonnays from Burgundy, Niagara and Oregon taste like if they were all made by the same family, using the same approach? If they were each handled in the same respectful way, wouldn’t most wine lovers be able to easily taste and learn the differences between the three terroirs?

Bachelder and his family rented cellar space in all three regions and, using similar winemaking strategies (organically-sourced grapes when possible, minimal intervention, the same deft touch with similar, mostly older, oak barrels for 16 months, all, or mostly, fermented with wild yeasts) produced the three Chardonnays from the 2009 vintage.

All the wines are made with a “small-lot” mentality to “maximize subtlety and demands long aging for terroir expression, finesse and nuance.”

Thomas Bachelder in Niagara.

It’s a fascinating experiment and certainly one that hasn’t been repeated in the wine world (that I know of).

Tasting the three wines side by side with Bachelder and Delaney, in their gorgeous Fenwick home with a nice hunk of cedar-plank BBQ salmon, the typicity of the three regions shines through the wines. All are fine examples of where they come from but also represent what can happen in the hands of an accomplished winemaker such as Bachelder.

Overall, the wines are defined by their fruit, not the oak, with a mineral edge that shows more in Burgundy than in the New World regions.

All three of these gorgeous wines go on sale Saturday at Vintages (they are also available in Quebec at the SAQ beginning March 1) for $35 each. It’s recommended that you buy all three and make an evening out of it (and tuck some away in the cellar).

NOTE: After originally posting this story, a development came up. Some bottles of the Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay were pulled off the shelves at some Vintages stores due to the presence of harmless “wine diamonds” or tartrates that had crystallized in some bottles.

Tartrates are not in any way harmful but the LCBO was worried that consumers would react to the crystals and return the bottles and therefore they were yanked from the shelves. Sommelier Sarah Goddard does a good job explaining tartrates in a post that’s worth a read.

I finally heard from the LCBO’s main public relations guy, Chris Layton today on why the LCBO took the bottles off the shelve and the next move. It appears the affected bottles will return to the shelves with a note explaining what tartrates are. Here’s his reply to my questions in full:

“First of all, not all bottles of the Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay are affected. Unaffected bottles will remain available for sale. There have been no issues reported with the Bachelder Niagara and Burgundy Chardonnays.

You are correct. Tartrate crystals are harmless and naturally occuring. However, we spoke to the producer and advised we would not be releasing affected bottles for now out of concern for customer reaction and to essentially protect the producer’s reputation. There is nothing on the bottle label that advises that the wine contains tartrates. Naturally, some consumers may assume this to be the case and would be fine with the product but not everyone would have this understanding. The action we took allows us to get a handle on how many bottles have been affected and gives us time to consult with the producer and determine what further action would be in the producer’s best interests.

Most likely, we will instruct staff to return the inventory to sale and post a note advising customers that the wine contains sediment comprised of tartrate crystals which are naturally occuring and harmless. However, this action would require the producer’s agreement.”

— Chris Layton

By Tuesday, three days after the bottles were pulled from LCBO shelves, they were back on the shelves.

Layton said an advisory was sent to LCBO stores  instructing staff to release the bottles of Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay that contain tartrate crystals for sale to customers.

“Staff have been instructed to create a shelf talker (on-shelf sign) to accompany the bottles that reads as follows. ‘A note from LCBO Quality Assurance: This wine contains naturally occurring tartrate crystal sediment. This sediment is harmless and the wine may be decanted or filtered before serving.’ ”

Here are my reviews in the order they were tasted with Bachelder and Delaney:


Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2009 ($35, 89 points) — Bachelder chose the Willamette Valley to source his grapes and the Lemelson Vineyards winery to make the wine. It’s lovely on the nose with a ripe expression of Bosc pear, citrus, cantaloupe, and subtle oak and spice. It’s defined by a supple texture in the mouth with ripe fruits, minerals and a juicy vein of acidity running through the core. Well-made Oregon wine with fine balance.

pourBachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2009 ($35, 92 points) — When Bachelder first introduced this Chardonnay, back in July at the Niagara I4C venue at Tawse Winery, he said his motive behind the making of the three Chardonnays was to “tell the truth of all three regions.” In notes at the time, I described his Niagara version, sourced from Beamsville Bench fruit and made at Southbrook, as a tight, minerally style that is more about finesse and grace than power and defining fruit. I loved the mineral nose and fruits on the palate that are revealed in layers rather than as one-dimensional. As I said, a very tight wine that will be interesting to watch as it evolves. In the seven months since I first tried this, it has evolved and blossomed into a more voluptuous wine with more fruit intensity, sublime minerality with interesting spice notes starting to emerge. Like all three wines it has impeccable balance through the long finish.

Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009 ($35, 91 points) — The grapes for Bachelder’s Burgundy expression were sourced from the Cotes du Beaune and produced at Alex Gambal’s winery. It is certainly the most mineral-laden of the three wines and the tightest at the moment. It reveals notes of citrus, stone fruits, acacia blossom, and limestone minerality. It’s bathed in wet-stone minerality on the palate with lemon, lime, stone fruits, green pear, and underlying spice on the palate. An elegant and pure expression of Chardonnay to round out the triology.

Some other reviews from Saturday’s Vintages release:

Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rose ($35, 92 points) — Peller has perfected the art of blending in a dosage of about 15% of Vidal and Cabernet Franc icewine to traditional method sparkling wine (made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cab Franc grapes). This is such a magical wine with strawberry, citrus, watermelon, raspberry, spice, honey and toast on the nose. Simply delicious in the mouth with a sweet, vigorous bead of bubbles, lush red fruits of raspberry and strawberry and just a kiss of sweetness to balance out the acidity.

51813640213th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2010 ($18, 88 points) — The June’s Vineyard Riesling is really about as un-Riesling a Riesling as you’ll find in Niagara. The nose is very different with ripe pear, grapefruit, peach, citrus peel and light minerality. The palate shows tropical fruit, subtle white peppery bits and even a touch of earthiness to go with a fleshy texture and viscous feel in the mouth. It messes with your mind a bit. But delicious nonetheless.

13th Street Old Vines Riesling 2010 ($24, 90 points) — A much more classic style of Riesling from the old vines of Funk Vineyard. The nose shows citrus, lime and apple fruit but is defined by a flinty minerality. It’s a touch off-dry on the palate with juicy, ripe fruit that sings in the mouth and plays well with the minerals. Will age for five or more years.

Creekside Laura’s White 2009 ($19, 88) — This is Creekside’s signature white assemblage, named after owner Laura McCain (so it better be good, right?), consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat and Viognier. There was no 2008 made of this flagship white. The nose is a mélange of sweet, ripe tropical and tangerine fruits touched by spice. It’s delicious on the palate and layered in fruit with peach, tropical, pear and vanilla all chiming in.

Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay 2009 ($20, 87) — From Tawse’s second label, the Chard shows pear, vanilla, citrus and butterscotch-spice on the nose. It’s juicy and fresh in the mouth with forward fruit that plays nice with the oak and spice.

Also released but not reviewed:

Mike Weir Riesling 2008 ($15)

Creekside Laura’s Red 2007 ($20)

Kacaba Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008 ($19)