The last time I caught up with Andrew Brooks, exactly two years ago, he had just released his first wine, The Big Reach Riesling, and was just beginning to realize the dream of owning a vineyard and making wine.
He was giddy with pride; the adventure with his wife Christina was now captured in a bottle of very good Riesling.
Today, their 10-acre property in Niagara (where Christina grew up) between Vineland and Beamsville in the Lincoln-Lakeshore appellation is a going concern with a quaint, inviting tasting room and retail store and a full range of wines that represent what Niagara does best — Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and a tasty rosé.
The couple is happily living their dream of owning a vineyard and making wine that began nearly 17 years ago when Andrew was at the delightful River Café in Calgary and a small vineyard owner had come in to talk to staff about wine as part of the education of staff.
“He spoke of his passion for wine, how he had attained a small parcel of land and started his little winery. We were immediately smitten,” says Andrew Brooks.
After finding an ideal spot in Niagara, the couple spent 10 years building a wine business, renovating the house and replanting the derelict farm.
The Brooks run Crush on Niagara Wine Tours with several packages available for guests from touring around Niagara to more personalized wine adventures.
While running that business the Brooks replanted the rundown vineyards on the property to Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Featherstone’s David Johnson has been mentoring and guiding the couple with their plantings and wine project.
Johnson has consulted on everything including clonal and rootstock selection, vine spacing soil preparation, control of weeds, mold pressure and pests in the vineyard. He has been making the wine at Back 10, with Brooks deciding on the style he wants for the portfolio.
Brooks has done a nice job steering the portfolio into something that has unique touches throughout the small, tiny-production lineup.
For the Chardonnay, he uses wild fermentation and Canadian oak (a favourite of Johnson at Featherstone). “How do you be cool without being weird,” Brooks told me. “OK, Canadian oak, let’s try it.” He was going for a fatter, rounder mouthfeel and achieves that with the more open-grained Canadian wood.
One of the constant themes in the Back 10 portfolio is a restrained approach to oak aging. Nothing is over-powered by oak spices and the fruit shines through all the wines.
I was impressed with the wines from the 2013 vintage, which are all available at the new tasting room, open Friday to Sunday now and will switch to seven days a week in July and August.
Here’s what I liked.
Back 10 Cellars Rose Coloured Glasses 2013 ($19, 89 points) — This is the only wine in the Back 10 portfolio that uses sourced grapes, the rest is estate fruit. The nose shows pretty strawberry, raspberry and watermelon in a subtle, feminine style of rose. It’s made with just a touch of sweetness and bursts with raspberry and cherry fruit flavours. A nicely balanced package.
Back 10 Cellars Start From Scratch Chardonnay 2013 ($28, 91 points) — A lightly oaked (75% used Canadian oak barrels) Chard made wild wild fermentation. Wonderful nose of apple, spice, Anjou pear with an enticing apricot note with integrated spiciness. It’s juicy and round on the palate, yet poised, highlighting citrus, apple slices, pear and spice with vibrant acidity and length through the finish.
Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 ($23, 89 points) — A nose of lime, apple, citrus, mineral notes and a pinch of ginger and honey. It’s off-dry but balanced with racy acidity on the palate that highlights lime, slate minerality, grapefruit and a lingering finish.
Back 10 Cellars Blood, Sweat & Years Pinot Noir 2013 ($30, 90 points) — Why the name? Brooks explains, referring to the tiny yields: “It’s the most we put in and the least we get out of it.” The wine spends 12 months in French oak barrels, in keeping with the style of lightly oaked wines from this small producer. The nose shows cherry, cranberry, soft vanilla spice, a lifted floral note and bramble. On the palate look for earthy red fruits, mid-weight, toasted spice, and a subtle cassis note through a clean, focused finish.
Back 10 Cellars The Big Leap Cabernet Franc 2013 ($29, 91 points) — A wonderful Cab Franc nose of cherries, integrated herbs, cedar and spice. It shows good concentration and richness on the palate with a dominating cherry-fruit profile with balanced oak spice and herbs. Drinking quite nicely right now.