“We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.”
I’m trying not to think of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but it’s very difficult as 2027 Cellars’ winemaker Kevin Panakapka stands atop a ladder in the snug barrel room where he keeps his modest collection of very fine wine.
As he strokes and caresses the belly of an oak barrel, he says, rather passionately and, frankly, to no one in particular (remember Gollum!!): “These are my babies, I love these funky (he actually used a different f-word here) things.”
They are his “precious” and they’ve definitely got a hold of him. “I’m a Sirugue guy,” he says, and there is true love in his eyes.
He’s referring, of course, to his small collection of Tonnellerie Sirugue French oak barriques, his favourite barrels to work with in the whole wide world, and, Gollum aside, they are precious, both in price and the flavours they impart in his complex and funky Pinot Noir, version 2011 and 2012.
We are tasting his 2012 wines in barrel, which he keeps in a barrel room at Featherstone Estate Winery, and the various components will be brought together at a later date. He uses different fine French oak and keeps them separate until it’s time to blend.
Panakapka is a “virtual winery” owner and Featherstone his home base. He is simply making some of the finest wines in Niagara from the varieties he thinks do best in this region: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a vintage-dated bubbly that will be revealed in a year from now.
He has the advantage of purchasing fruit from the finest vineyards in the sub-appellations he chooses for the kind of wines he wants to make: Pinots from Queenston Road on the St. Davids Bench and another from the Twenty Mile Bench for 2012; Chardonnay from Wismer Vineyard’s Fox Croft Block on the Twenty Mile Bench; Riesling from Falls Vineyard and Fox Croft Vineyard both on Vinemount Ridge.
It’s a formula that has worked brilliantly for Panakapka. The best fruit made into wine exactly how he wants to and no one from marketing or finance on his case. His only boss is the consumer and so far they have liked what they’ve tasted and purchased.
But they better brace for a change in direction, especially from his Pinot Noirs beginning with the 2011 vintage.
His Pinots have had, until now, a prettiness to them, a silky feel on the palate and intense red fruits that have been quite enjoyable right out of the gate.
But that is not the kind of Pinot Panagapka enjoys to drink.
He’s more in love with the Chambertin style from the Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy, long-lasting Pinots with grip and somewhat unapproachable in their youth. He likes wines that develop in the bottle, revealing themselves over time as all that fruit, wood spice, tannin and acid harmonize.
Panakapka wants “deeper, darker” Pinots. “I want to make wines that I like to drink.”
His 2011 Pinot from St. Davids is his first shot in this new direction. Just under a third of the fruit is whole berry fermented. The grapes were cold soaked for 8-10 days pre-fermentation. There is no filtering or fining and he uses all wild yeasts for fermentation.
His oak regime is 20% new with a combination of 1- 2- and 3-year-old French barrels.
“To me this (the 2011) is the best Pinot I have made for the long haul. It has all the good fruity components but the difference is the core of the wine, the sub-structure (on the palate),” he explains.
“It has the prettiness of Pinot but it’s made more age-worthy, more masculine. I want both, pretty and serious.”
I tasted through Panagapka’s newly released wines recently and this is what I liked.
Note: 2027 Cellars wines are available online here and you can also purchase and taste at Featherstone Estate Winery.
Note 2: These wines won’t last long, in fact the Chardonnay may be gone already.
2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($19, Vintages Dec., online now, Featherstone, 89 points) — Panagapka has always made fantastic Riesling, especially from Vinemount Ridge where the wine is defined by the riverbed minerality of the appellation. This is priced for the LCBO which is getting a fairly big allotment for a winter release. The nose shows rousing grapefruit, lime, quince and stoney mineral notes. The fruit is refreshingly tart and laced with lime-grapefruit, crushed stone and zippy-racy acidity. You would never know that there is 16 g/l of RS in the wine.
2027 Cellars Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($25, online, Featherstone, 90 points) — A very different offering from Panagapka and slightly outside the boundaries of his own house style. The nose is showing hints of sweet petrol already with ripe citrus, ginger-jasmine spice, key-lime pie and a subtle core of minerality. It’s a riper style showing those fruity citrus notes with some peach and petrol-mineral-smoke action going on. A complex and provocative Riesling.
2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2011 ($30, sold out, 92 points) — All 2027 Chards are made with no filtration or fining, 100% malo and wild fermentation. The Fox Croft is aged in 25% new French (Cadus) oak with the rest in 1-, 2- and 3-year-old barrels. Such a rich and well-defined Chardonnay with gorgeous citrus, pear, apple, roasted almond, vanilla and spice notes on the nose. It is best described as voluptuous in the mouth, with caressing notes of poached pear, creamy vanilla and butterscotch that hold up to the rest of the integrated fruits and spices. This is a polished wine with enough acid to give it just the right amount of finesse through the finish.
2027 Cellars Queenston Road Pinot Noir 2011 ($35, online, Featherstone, 93 points) — As mentioned above, wild ferment, no fining agents or filtration and all that “precious” Gollum-like Tonnellerie Sirugue French oak, 20% of it new. The nose is much deeper and earthier than previous vintages but still the ripe cherry and raspberry rise to the top with beetroot and oak spices mingling in the background. The wine does a turnaround on the palate, guided by a wall of fine oak tannin and earth, and, well, that Pinot funk that slowly reveals the beetroot, the sour cherry, the field raspberry, the anise and darker fruits. It’s altogether a more masculine expression of this fascinating grape that starts with a wink and a promise but delivers a subtext of complexity that will make you work hard for the pleasure within this intellectual offering. It will take some time to enjoy all that this wine possesses but I’m predicting the rewards will be great.