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East meets west in the friendly Great Chardo Swap competition, plus Vintages’ Niagara wine picks for Saturday

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By Rick VanSickle

Chardonnay has always been a superstar in Niagara; it just loves the cool climate and mineral-rich soils from one end of the Peninsula to the other.

Now, in a never before attempted feat, a dozen Niagara winemakers are creating wines from two specific vineyards to produce an assortment of one-of-a-kind Chardonnays for a showcase comparison.

Niagara has been named as the host for the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) in 2020, the event’s 10th anniversary. As part of the lead-up to the symposium, 12 Niagara winemakers are taking part in the “Great Chardo Swap” that will see six winemakers from east of the Welland Canal making wine from Chardonnay grapes grown on the west side of the canal, and six winemakers from the west side making wine from grapes grown on the east side.

Niagara chardonnay

Two of those winemakers, Emma Garner from Thirty Bench Wine Makers and Shiraz Mottiar, above, from Malivoire Wine Company, are graduates of Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture program. All of the fruit to make the Chardonnays is being donated by Inniskillin Wines and Thirty Bench.

In total, 14 different Chardonnays will be developed during the initiative and unveiled at the ICCWS in 2020. Other than using the same closures and bottle type, the winemakers will have free rein to make their own distinct Chardonnay however they wish.

Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) collaborated with stakeholder organizations across the country to bring the ICCWS to Canada, and it was CCOVI Senior Oenologist Belinda Kemp who came up with the idea for the Great Chardo Swap after hearing about a similar initiative that took place in New Zealand.

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“The focus on terroir in wines is usually from a vineyard perspective that can sometimes neglect the influence of the winemaker and how their decisions and techniques impact the final wine,” Kemp said. “It will be interesting to see if specific traits and flavours follow through from one vineyard, regardless of who is making the wine, and whether we end up with very similar or very different wines from each vineyard.”

Craig McDonald, vice-president of winemaking at Andrew Peller Limited, said he was on board to donate fruit from Andrew Peller’s Thirty Bench from the start.

He said the experiment will provide new insight into the differences between the Niagara-on-the-Lake and Beamsville bench areas.

“Likely, it will take some winemakers out of their comfort zone and challenge them with something new. In the end, it will be both a sensory and intellectual journey of discovery for all involved,” McDonald said.

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Bruce Nicholson, winemaker from Inniskillin Wines (above), said the initiative will serve as a means to showcase the local wine industry on an international level.

“Niagara makes world-class wines, Chardonnay being right up there, and this really gives people a chance to see what we’re doing and how far we’ve come,” he explained. “We’re an industry in our infancy compared to other regions, but we’ve come such a long way. This will put a spotlight on our brilliant winemakers and really just be a lot of fun.”
All of the wines will be part of a grand tasting at the ICCWS, where attendees will have the chance to discuss the decisions made by the winemakers at each stage of the process.

East side winemaking team:

Note: Photos are a bit confusing. In the east side photo, Craig McDonald is missing and Bruce Nicholson is in the west side photo. Both Emma Garner and Bruce Nicholson are making two wines (their own, plus the donated fruit) so technically should be in both photos, as Emma is. Confused? Herding winemakers is like herding cats … you just can’t do it!

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CCOVI Senior Oenologist Belinda Kemp, in Brock shirt, is pictured with the east side winemaking team including, from left, Fabien Reis, Ferox; Amelie Boury, Château des Charmes; J.L. Groux, Stratus Vineyards; Emma Garner (BSc, ’04), Thirty Bench Wine Makers; and Ann Sperling, Southbrook Vineyards. Missing from photo is Craig McDonald. Photo provided by Brock.

• Fabian Reis, Ferox
• J.L. Groux, Stratus Vineyards
• Ann Sperling, Southbrook Vineyards
• Amelie Boury, Château des Charmes
• Bruce Nicholson, Inniskillin Wines
• Craig McDonald, Trius Winery

West side winemaking team:

CCOVI Senior Oenologist Belinda Kemp, centre, is pictured with the west side winemaking team including, from left: Bruce Nicholson, Inniskillin Wines; Emma Garner (BSc, ’04), Thirty Bench Wine Makers; Angelo Pavan, Cave Spring Cellars; Shiraz Mottiar (BSc, ’00), Malivoire Wine Company; Sandrine Bourcier, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery; and Arthur Harder, Westcott Vineyards;  Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines, is pictured below. Photo provided by Brock.
Thomas Bachelder of Bachelder Wines is also part of the west side team of winemakers.

• Arthur Harder, Westcott Vineyards
• Emma Garner, Thirty Bench Wine Makers
• Angelo Pavan, Cave Spring Cellars
• Sandrine Bourcier, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
• Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire Wine Company
• Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines

Niagara wines at Vintages Saturday

Continuing on the Chardonnay theme, two Niagara Chardonnays, one from east of the Welland Canal, the other from west of the canal lead our recommendations for Niagara wines hitting the shelves at Vintages stores across the province on Saturday.

Plus, below that, another Chardonnay, this one from Chateau des Charmes, and a Pinot from that estate winery are reviewed.

Six Niagara wines to consider

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2015 ($25, 90 points) — Such a delicious wine at a tasty price point, look for a nose of bright apple, creamy pear and a smidge of peach, smoky/leesy notes and integrated oak spice. Shows elegance on the palate with creamy orchard fruits, seamless spice and a finessed finish.

Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2015 ($22, 90 points) — This Chard was fermented wild yeast strains in Canadian (from Brantford) oak barrels and further aged in Canadian oak for one year. Engel makes no bones about it — “if you’re going to oak Chardonnay, oak it!” This has a big buttery nose of poached pear, ripe baked apple, caramel, toasted vanilla and a range of baking spices. It’s a big, full-on Chard with orchard fruits and then butterscotch, vanilla, caramel and toasted oak flavours that benefit from just a squirt of citrus on the finish. If you like your Chardonnays bold and spicy, this is for you.

2027 Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 ($35, 92 points) — Winemaker Kevin Panagapka calls the 2013 vintage “the best Pinot year I’ve seen.” He’s always preferred the more masculine style of Pinot in Niagara, this from St. David’s Bench, and has left the 2013 in barrels longer (18 months) and increased the percentage of new oak (40%). It’s wild fermented and unfined but he did filter the wine. It has deep, rich aromatics of black cherry, earthy raspberry bush, concentrated cassis and a range of stylistic oak spices. It has grippy tannins and structure on the palate with earthy red fruits, a full range of barrel spices, with plenty of depth and power. This is a Pinot built to last five-plus years.

Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2012 ($25, 89 points) — A poised and polished Pinot with a raspberry, cherry and cranberry nose to go with subtle spice notes. Turns a bit more complex on the palate with red fruits giving way to darker tones, more evident spice and fine, silky tannins leading to a long(ish) finish.

Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling 2012 ($35, 91 points) — This is 100% Chardonnay that spends 30 months on lees and another two years in bottle and made in the traditional method. The nose shows toasty biroche notes with citrus, biscuit and apple. It’s deliciously dry on the palate with an energetic mousse and citrus/apple flavours with lovely toasted notes through the finish. A highly pleasurable sparkler.

Featherstone Pinot Noir 2013 ($25, 90 points) — Well, this is going to missed. It is the last of Pinot Noir that will be made into a still wine at the estate. Going forward, all the Pinot is all destined for the growing sparkling program. It has a delicate nose of pretty raspberry and cherry with well-integrated spice notes. It’s juicy on the palate with cherry/raspberry fruit and a finessed feel through the finish. It’s about the balance and a deft approach to the oak. Good-bye Pinot, you have had a good run.

Also released, but not reviewed:

• Rosewood Origin Mima’s Block Riesling 2014 ($16)
• Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2014 ($25 for 375 mL)
• Wildass Riesling 2016 ($17)
• 13th Street Gamay Noir 2016 ($20)
• Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 ($24)
• Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2016 ($48)
• Rosewood Lock, Stock and Barrel 2014 ($40)
• Vieni Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2012 ($23)

From B.C.

• Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2016 ($25)
• Quail’s Gate Dry Riesling 2015 ($18)

Flagship stores only

• Kacaba Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 ($45)

New from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2016 ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — This Chardonnay was barrel fermented with extended lees contact and aged for about nine months in the same French oak barrels. Just try and find a better barrel-fermented, barrel-aged Chardonnay in Niagara at this price point. I have no idea how Chateau des Charmes does it year-in, year-out with this wonderful Chard. Such a lovely nose of pear, apple, buttered toast and rich oak barrel spice notes. It’s a nicely balanced approach on the palate with rich and creamy orchard fruits, well-integrated spices, subtle minerality and still vibrant and lively through the finish. Here’s to making great wine with a great price to match.

Chateau des Charmes Estate Pinot Noir 2015 ($17, LCBO, 88 points) — This Pinot is a blend from the estate’s four farms. The nose shows nice, bright cherry and raspberry with vanilla, earth and spice notes. The earthy red fruits and spice on the palate are lifted by freshening acidity and delivered on a silky smooth finish.