When he isn’t jetting to France or Oregon, Thomas Bachelder is enjoying a more peaceful life with his wife and family in the pastoral setting of Fenwick, Ont.
He seems settled down now after years of a somewhat nomadic life in pursuit of the grape. Always chasing those grapes.
On the few occasions I have been to his house, usually to taste his wines, there is a comfortable homey feel. The open and airy living room is an odd collection of his beloved guitars and a plethora of wine-related stuff strewn about and the comfy couches and chairs that surround a big wooden table in the centre of the room.
We taste his wines wherever we land — around the kitchen table, in the living room or on the backyard patio. There are no rules, just spotlessly clean glasses and bottle after bottle of his latest juice (and the odd treat … for comparison, of course) as he emerges time and time again from the cool basement always with bottles in tow.
To taste with Bachelder and his wife Mary Delaney is an exercise in controlled chaos. Bachelder arranges the wines in an order he feels is right and then changes his mind over and over again. You taste, you listen, he points to places on detailed wine maps where he sources his grapes, and we taste some more. Up, down, up, down, we are never stationary at the Bachelder home.
Three or four wines in and Bachelder is taking us back to the first wine, which he swears has transformed into a different beast than when first opened.
There is dialogue, lots of banter, and a subtext of coded verbiage between husband (winemaker) and wife (marketing, sales) that can only be understood by the two of them. They complete each other’s sentences.
If tasting in peace is the way you like it, this is not the place for you. It’s not in Bachelder’s DNA to taste in silence. For him, wine is a show and a give and take between all the participants within his reach. There no free rides.
He and Delaney make drinking wine, fun, informative and worthy of discussion, no matter the pedigree of the wines that are being tasted.
There is a buzz about the Bachelder wines after the 2010 whites were released over a year ago. In case you are not up to speed, the Thomas Bachelder project is a tri-regional virtual winery featuring hand-chosen vineyards in his favourite regions — Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara.
Bachelder applies the same winemaking skills to each of his wines under his label: organically-sourced (some biodynamic) grapes where possible, minimal intervention, the same deft touch with similar, mostly older, oak barrels for 16 months, and all, or mostly all, grapes fermented using wild yeasts.
He takes a Burgundian approach to winemaking and has turned out single-vineyard wines as well as more regional blends to expand the portfolio.
“I use the same Burgundian techniques, which are revelatory of terroir and not of the winemakers’ whim, to make wines that taste of Niagara, of Burgundy, or Oregon, whether they come from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” he says.
For Bachelder, who has made wines in all three regions but is perhaps best known in Niagara as the first winemaker for the wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist winery Le Clos Jordanne, finding a home to settle down has given him renewed focus to make the wines he wants while raising a young family.
“I travel about three weeks a year to make wine in Burgundy, another three in Oregon. Then one and a half in each to bottle, and, in between, a week in the summer to check on vines and contracts for the upcoming season,” he says.
“The rest of the time I am in Niagara worrying about Niagara.”
It is a routine that has brought Bachelder and his family full circle.
“It is a life that lets us sew together our pasts and our present and our future: We were a young couple in Burgundy; the girls were born in Oregon, and have completed primary (school) and are now in francophone high school in Niagara,” he says.
A year ago I remember sitting at Bachelder’s kitchen table tasting his first bottles of wine from the new project (though he did make two wines from the 2009 vintage, a Niagara and Burgundy Chard). I had no idea what to expect from the wines made in three regions. But when we got to the Niagara Wismer Chardonnay 2010, that was it, I knew then and there that Bachelder had created something very special.
All his wines in that first vintage have gone on to critical and commercial success through Vintages, the SAQ and restaurants.
And this fall consumers will finally get to see the Pinot Noirs for the first time along with the new 2011 Chardonnays from all three regions.
These are the wines we tasted on a warm summer’s day in Bachelder’s living room (and followed later by a feast of fish, grilled pork chops, artisan cheeses and salad).
Here are the highlights of what we tasted.
Note: It’s a little hard to pinpoint exact release dates for Bachelder’s wines as they are at the whim of the two major liquor boards and not available through a tasting room or retail store.
Bachelder Puligny-Montrachet ‘La Corvee’ 2011 ($63, 93 points) — Such a gorgeous wine with an elegant and attractive nose of quince, nectarine, subtle nutty vanilla and minerals that gather momentum as the wine opens up. It is still tight on the palate with lighter spice notes to go with pear and apple fruit, and sweet oak spice, all lifted by a beam of racy acidity. This has power, balance and the energy to reward for years to come.
Bachelder Cote de Beaune La Grande Chatelaine 2011 ($35, 89 points) — Not the star of the Burgundy collection but an attractive wine that shows lovely minerality and ripe pear-apple aromas on the nose to go with subtle spice notes. The intricate minerality and freshness steals the show on the palate with quince fruit and a deft touch with the oak completing the package. Quite seamless and balanced.
Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011 ($30, Vintages, 90 points, previously reviewed) — Thomas Bachelder earned a coveted “Vintages Essential” listing for this Niagara Chardonnay. That means when the 2010 vintage runs out, the 2011 quickly fills the void. The 2011 vintage is simply delicious with a pear-apple nose and subtle notes of citrus and vanilla spice . I love the stony mineral profile on the palate and graceful finesse and length through the finish. It’s beautifully balanced by full-bore acidity. Superb Niagara “village” Chardonnay.
Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Winfield Block Chardonnay 2011 Niagara ($45, 92 points) — The Wismer Chard from Bachelder was a blockbuster in 2010 and the 2011 isn’t far off that form. It’s quite tight at the moment but still reveals poached pear, spice, nougat, hazelnut, toast and flinty minerality with just a pinch of citrus zest in the background. It’s complex and juicy yet maintains a graceful feel in the mouth while exposing an array of fruit, spice and minerality. Just wait for this to open up a bit more. Gorgeous.
Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011 ($30, 89 points) — The grapes for this Chard were sourced from the Willamette Valley and displays showy peach, pear, almond brittle and a nice refreshing citrus nuance on the nose. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate with apple and citrus leading the way with touches of soft oak spice, smoke and minerals chiming in. Love the energy of this wine and it should be nicely integrated by the time it hits the shelves likely next spring.
Bachelder Johnson Vineyard Oregon Chardonnay 2011 ($45, 91 points) — A beguiling nose of poached pear, vanilla toast, tangerine, cream, marmalade (sounds like a Beatles’ song, no?) with a balanced approach to the oak spices. This is already showing well with good finesse on the palate that weaves the range of fruits, spice and creamy notes. It is complex and detailed with a touch of smoke and honey on the finish.
Bachelder Niagara Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay ($45, 91 points) — Pure Beamsville Bench minerality on the nose with pear, spiced apple, lemon and lovely creamy vanilla. This is a voluptuous Chard in the mouth with rich, layered fruits, a vein of stony minerality and touches of nutmeg-cinnamon spice that’s all propped up by fresh acidity.
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Niagara ($45, 92 points) — Bachelder sourced the fruit for his first Niagara Pinot from the Lowrey vineyard’s original five rows in St. Davids. This is a pretty Pinot with violets, black cherry, cassis and earthy-spicy notes on the nose. It’s ripe yet silky on the palate with gorgeous cherry-raspberry fruit that’s persistent through a lengthy finish. Such finesse and verve and balanced already.
Bachelder Nuits-Saint-Georges La Petite Charmotte Burgundy 2011 ($54, 93 points) — The Bachelder style shines through all his Pinots from Niagara to Oregon to Burgundy. They are never overdone, always a sense of graceful power and finesse. This gorgeous wine shows fruits of anise, raspberry, ripe cherry and cassis with pretty floral and incense notes. The tannins are evident but smooth and the ripe fruits are bolstered by crunchy minerality and light savoury spice through a long finish. Buy, hold and enjoy years down the road.
Bachelder Cote de Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2011 ($35, 92 points) — I adore this wine for its pure Pinot funky nose of foraged mushrooms, forest floor, anise, cherry, nutmeg and baking spices. It’s has a velvety texture in the mouth but evident tannins to go with flavours of field raspberry, earthy cherry fruit, small black berries and a range of spices all propped up by fresh acidity. Very fine Pinot Noir.
Bachelder Oregon Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($45, 91 points) — A single-vineyard Pinot from the Willamette Valley appellation, this has a floral note on the nose to go with cherry-raspberry aromas, beetroot, mushrooms, fresh herbs, fennel and dark plums. The spice and fruit flavours are layered on the palate with some smoky-mineral notes that are just beginning to emerge. It shows youthful complexity with grippy tannins that will need time to fully integrate.