It was an evening born of respect for deep family ties firmly rooted in the soils of two distinct terroirs — the Rhone Valley and the Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara.
It was a bold move for Vineland Estates to invite E. Guigal winemaker Philippe Guigal to Niagara to pour his wines beside Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt’s wines, but not surprising.
The wine club at Vineland Estate has always been “inclusive,” said Vineland Estate director of customer service David Hulley.
“We know that our guests’ cellars are not just filled with Vineland wine because our personal cellars are not exclusive to Vineland either,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a broad and genuine wine experience with Vineland Estates as the centre hub.”
Hulley said that Vineland fully expected at some point to “use our international wine contacts to make the proper introductions to our wine club.”
Convincing one of the world’s most respected winemakers to come to Niagara was a coup for Vineland but not that far-fetched when looking deep into the family connections and values that Guigal and Schmidt share.
Both winemakers pay respect to their grandfathers for pioneering modern grape growing in neglected and/or overlooked regions of great potential, said Hulley.
“An ocean and a continent separated Etienne Guigal and Frank Schmidt, and most certainly neither man knew of the other, but they were bound and connected together in ways they could not even imagine.
“Their progeny would enthusiastically follow in their footsteps and … their grandsons, both highly regarded and respected winemakers,” came together almost half way between the two founding vineyards (Frank Schmidt in the Okanagan Valley, Etienne Guigal in the Rhone Valley) at Vineland Estates.
“Tonight we celebrate Vineland’s first on-site expression of an international connection, said Hulley. “We do this through an exclusive tasting of selected wines bred from the vision of Etienne Guigal, shepherded by his son Marcel and passionately made by his grandson Philippe.”
What an exquisite night it was. Though the wines poured beside each other couldn’t have been farther apart in style that really wasn’t the point of the event.
All wines represented the unique regions where the grapes were grown — the unmistakable wines of the Northern Rhone and the terroir-driven wines of Vineland’s key vineyards, St. Urban and Bo-Teek, on the Twenty Mile Bench.
While the highlight of the evening was the stunning Cote-Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape poured on their own and the reserve wines from Vineland, the memorable “family-style” meal of endless trays of charcuterie, oysters, seared flank steak, flavourful chicken, artisan cheeses and desserts prepared by chef Justin Downes was a perfect end to a memorable event.
Guigal seemed perfectly at home as he dove into his food happily engaged in deep conversation with Schmidt and the wine club guests who were lucky enough to get a seat at the two long tables set up in the “VEW” restaurant for the event.
For Vineland Estate, there was “absolutely no hesitation” to share the stage with the legendary E. Guigal.
“To stand shoulder to shoulder with a highly recognized ‘great’ was a true honour,” said Hulley. “Philippe was also very generous with his praise for our wines and admitted openly that he was jealous of our ability and licence to pioneer, explore and iterate to find the best expression of our vineyards through varied vine selection.
“Knowing that we really do not like to boast, as the world around keeps us truly humble, we know that Vineland wines are of top international standard and are highly respected around the world. With all of the passionate, hard work that has been done over the last three decades, Vineland has humbly earned the right to share the stage with an international wine giant.”
The lineage of the families breaks down like this:
Guigal (Rhone Valley)
Grandfather: Etienne Guigal
Father: Marcel Guigal
Son: Philippe Guigal
Schmidt (Okanagan Valley, Niagara Peninsula)
Grandfather: Frank Schmidt
Father: Lloyd Schmidt
Son: Brian Schmidt
Here are the highlights of what we enjoyed throughout the evening.
Note: Most of the Guigal wines were offered for sale to Vineland club members by special order. Only the Croze-Hermitage is in Vintages now with most of the others to follow at some point. Prices may not reflect the final price at Vintages.
From E. Guigal
Guigal Gigondas 2011 ($32, 89 points) — The Gigondas is a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah from vines with an average age of 40 years old. The wine is aged for two years in oak foudres, 50% of which is new oak. A nose of sweet cherry, violets, blackberry, anise, earth, bramble and spice. The ripe fruit shines on the palate with good balance between the acid and spices. Can drink now or cellar for five years.
Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2011 ($29, 91 points) — The ’11 Croze-Hermitage, which is made from 100% Syrah from vines that average 35 years old, is a classic Northern Rhone with a gamy, meaty, peppery nose that reveals a range of dark fruits, boysenberry, olives and savoury spices. There is good acidity in the mouth but not overly tannic with flavours of smoky black currants, lovely integrated herbs, spice and pepper. Can cellar for a few years but attractive right now.
Gigual Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2011 ($35, 88 points) — A blend of Marsanne (95%) and Roussanne (5%) that spends 12 months is new and used oak. A rich and fragrant nose of white flowers, poached pear and soft oak spices. It is round and concentrated on the palate with stone fruit, lovely integrated spices and length through the finish.
Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune et Blonde 2011 ($75, 92 points) — The blend for this Cote-Rotie is 96% Syrah and just 4% Viognier from plots grown on the limestone-rich soil on the steep slopes of the Cote Blonde and Brune. The average age of vines is 35 years old and the wine spends 36 months in oak barrels, 50% of which are new. A gorgeous nose of warm raspberries, herbs, grilled meat, blackberry jam, earth, tar and smoke. It is complex and fleshy on the palate with an array of red and dark fruits that play nicely with the oak spices and soft tannins. Age 5-10 years.
Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011 ($59, 92 points) — A blend of 75% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah and 5% other grapes (average age of 45 years old) from soil that is a mix of round pebbles and red clay. The wine spends two years in oak foudres. Such a gorgeous nose mature red fruits, boysenberry, plums, smoke, game, garrigue, tar, anise and spicy notes. It is complex and powerful on the palate, showing youthful vigour that highlights the darker fruits and ripe, full tannins. It is a showy red that will need time to bring all the parts into balance. Cellar 5-10 years.
From Vineland Estate
Vineland Estate St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2010 ($18, wine club only, 91 points) — Winemaker Brian Schmidt held this single-vineyard Riesling back to offer to wine club members once it was properly aged. It is gorgeous with a nose of lemon, petrol, grapefruit, lanolin, beeswax and minerals. It’s silky on the palate with honeycomb, minerals, citrus and a touch of ginger that is round and lush on the finish. Ready to drink now.
Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012 ($40, 92 points) — This is a beautiful Cab Franc from the near-perfect 2012 vintage in Ontario. A rich nose of raspberry, cherry, cassis, currants, integrated herbs and spice. It is defined by its smooth and lush entry in the mouth as the rich array of fruits wash over the palate with perfectly integrated spices following behind. It has structure but is already nicely balanced to enjoy now or cellar for 10 years or more.
A couple other Vineland Estate wines tried recently:
Vineland Estate Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($25, 89 points) — An expressive nose of creamy pear, citrus, and apple notes. The fruit is harmonious on the palate, nothing over the top, with a vein of minerality, and clean and fresh through the finish.
Vineland Estate Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Cabernet 2012 ($25, 90 points) — The temptation here would be to over-extract this wine to take full advantage of the hot summer, but there is surprising restraint with more balance that heft. The nose shows black currants, blackberries, cherry-raspberry, cigar-box cedar and touches of herbs and vanilla-oak spices. The Cabernet Franc shines on the palate with lovely red fruits, herbs and spice that play nicely with currants, cocoa and licorice. Very smooth through the finish.