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Celebrating Malivoire’s 20 years in Niagara, plus: A dam fine Chardonnay, JoieFarm’s new Chic Fille Pinot Blanc, top Niagara reds at Vintages Saturday

Niagara winery

By Rick VanSickle

A special night was celebrated by a special Niagara winery on Friday — 20 years of shock and awe from the Malivoire Wine Company.

Note: In this report, the Niagara wine release at Vintages features some tasty reds for the holidays, a Toronto wine writer releases his second wine and an interesting Pinot Blanc from JoieFarm’s Chic Fille series of experimental wines.

Guests mingled inside the retail and tasting room in Beamsville and found their way up to the working winery where great food prepared by Erik Peacock and his team was paired with a couple of brand spanking new wines plus the signature Courtney Block Gamay 2016 served in magnums.

It was a nostalgic night with photos hung around the winery showing the early days of Martin Malivoire’s dream all the way through to present day.

Niagara wine

The Malivoire team — from the owners, to the winemaking squad led by Shiraz Motiar (above), the retail and marketing crew — has a lot to be proud of. Malivoire has always been a leader in what was at the beginning the lesser known grape varieties and styles few were making in the region. Think Gamay; think pink and a full slate of rosé wines that not only set the standard, but still boasts the most complete and versatile range of rosés in Ontario, maybe Canada; and think off-beat — Old Vines Foch and Melon de Bourgogne.

Martin Malivoire, below, committed early in the evolution of the winery to make rosés — Moira and Vivant sell out quickly every vintage — and Gamays the focus of the winery and the result has been a continuing parade to the podium at wine competitions (Malivoire Gamays won a combined six medals at this year’s Ontario and National Wine Awards) and praise from critics and consumers.

Ontario wine

Malivoire takes special pride in the diversity of its single-vineyard Chardonnays and their expressions of origin. As if to prove a point, the winery revealed a new single-vineyard, single-block Chardonnay from the Moira Vineyard that was a showstopper at the anniversary party Friday.

Canada wine

The Cat on the Bench Chardonnay 2016 (one barrel of the wine was made and can be purchased at the winery now, if there’s any left) was paired with Peacock’s brown butter brioche with salt baked salmon, crème fraîche and chives.

It was the Old Vines Foch, the winery’s original red, that proved to be an instant sensation when the winery first opened and proof of the difference smart winemaking can make to an oft-overlooked hybrid. It also signaled Malivoire’s arrival on the wine scene and was about to set itself apart from the more “traditional” wineries in Niagara.

Malivoire also debuted its new user-friendly charmat method sparkling wine called Che Bello NV Sparkling that paired beautifully with both the East Coast oysters and shellfish, potato cream and Pacific cod pie and leek oil served on acorn squash.

Some of the visitors to Malivoire gathered on Friday may have been reminded of those early days when the winery first opened 20 years ago and how far it has come. With its concrete floor, folding table and duct-taped electronics, the store looked anything but permanent, and for good reason — it shared space with two functional 18,000-litre stainless steel tanks. Retail was designed to be bundled up and rolled away whenever winemaking needed the space.

Also influential was the fact that Martin Malivoire, preoccupied with planting his vineyards and establishing winemaking principles, was not yet convinced that the new winery was ready to add retail to its regular operations.

Nevertheless, if only on weekends, the doors to the early wine shop remained open.

The shortcomings from a hospitality point of view were obvious, and improvements came gradually. By fall of 2000 the wine shop was open on an almost daily basis and soon, the concrete floor was tiled over. The folding table gave way to the more attractive and capacious serving bar that greets consumers today.

By Malivoire’s tenth anniversary, the trappings of the store explicitly declared, “retail is here to stay.” Gone were the tanks, making space for the construction of a well-appointed, permanent bar. Other embellishments included illuminated display shelves and a glass ceiling to allow winery visitors to view the production area without having to share its noise and occasional spray.

The retail room now has an adjoining room, giving it space to host private tastings and special events, or to simply relieve congestion. Another addition was saved for outside: a licensed patio where visitors can enjoy a glass of wine nestled between the winery and the hillside Moira Vineyard.

Congratulations to Martin and Moira Malivoire and the entire team past and present for 20 amazing years and many more to come.

Note: You can read the entire 20th Anniversary story of Malivoire here

Hot dam! It’s a Chardonnay!

Toronto wine writer André Proulx has done it again. Proulx and his enthusiastic team of Guillaume Frenehard, Trish Mullen and Vadim Chelekhov have released their second iteration of Niagara wine, following up last spring’s When Pigs Fly Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 with something a little closer to Proulx’s heart — Chardonnay.

The fruit was sourced from Rockway Vineyards on the Twenty Mile Bench and that is where you will find the wine — at the Rockway retail story.

Proulx has always been an outspoken proponent for Ontario Chardonnay. The story goes that when the group was deciding on which wine variety to try next, and much pleading with the financial partner (Trish Mullen), she finally relented: “Fine. You can have your damn Chardonnay.”

Thus was born Dam (with the n x’ed out and the beaver theme label) Chardonnay 2017.

Here’s my review:

Dam(n) Chardonnay 2017 ($25, available at Rockway or here, 90 points) — The fruit is partially wild fermented with the rest barrel fermented and aged in two- and three-year-old oak. The nose shows creamy pear, apple tart, toasted vanilla spice and roasted nutty notes. It has a creamy texture in the mouth, with subtle flint and spice to go with poached pear and baked apple fruits that benefit from fresh acidity through the finish. A style of Chardonnay that straddles the line of Old and New World and should appeal to lovers of both. Another nice effort from Proulx and friends.

A Chic new offering
from B.C.’s JoieFarm

The Chic Fille label from Heidi Noble’s JoieFarm winery on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley is intended as a fun, experimental brand. They were inspired by Nobel’s keen desire to revisit techniques that she had used when first teaching herself how to make wine. Many of these practices such as native fermentation, lees contact, skin contact, and semi-carbonic ferments have become incorporated into the cellar at JoieFarm over the course of 15 vintages. The Chic Fille label re-visits each one of the techniques singularly with the goal of making fun, textural, highly drinkable, and interesting wines.

The Pinot Blanc is the second wine in the Chic Fille series and only two barrels were made of this wine. Half the grapes were de-stemmed and the whole berries were sent to a 400 L open-top bin fermenter. Once the berries began to “pop” they were foot tread and left to ferment with skin contact until 10 brix. At 10 brix they were pressed off their skins by being dumped by gravity into the press.

The finished wine was racked to a neutral barrel by gravity. The barrel was left to go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation. The other barrel was the free run juice from the press from our JoieFarm Pinot Blanc (same old-vines vineyard site).

The barrels were left to age over the winter with a light bâttonage every 4 weeks. They barrels were combined in a stainless steel tank in June 2018 and then bottled in July 2018. They were unfiltered and unfined with a minimal sulphur addition at bottling.

Chic Fille Pinot Blanc 2017 ($35, 91 points) — Such depth of minerality on the those of this unique version of Pinot Blanc with profound notes of fresh hay, lemon, white flowers, summer’s first apples picked right off the tree, citrus and sweet grass. It’s lemony, salty and sea-breezy on the palate with other notes of peach skin, apple and minerals all delivered on a textured frame with light tannins and a tart/racy finish. A wine you just have to try to appreciate.

Vintages Niagara wine
releases on Saturday

The first of the Christmas holiday releases at LCBO/Vintages stores begins Saturday with some tasty reds (a top-drawer bubbly) hitting the shelves. Here are our recommendations from the big release.

Vineland Estates Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($50, flagship stores only, 91 points) — A stylish cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker Brian Schmdit that took meticulous vineyard work and severe sorting to reach the reserve status this Twenty Mile Bench winery strives for every vintage. A third of the fruit was discarded by a mechanical optical sorter leaving only pristine fruit for the final bottling. Schmidt delivers what the vintage gave, a medium-bodied Cab Sauv with a bright nose of cassis, black currants, plums, some red fruits and well-integrated spice notes. It’s smooth on the palate with electric acidity that fires up the dark fruits, earth, crushed black cherries and subtle oak spices. There is vibrancy to this red, with texture and fine, elegant tannins that’s already nicely balanced. Enjoy with further aging 5+ years.

Hidden Bench Terroir Cache 2015 ($45, 91 points) — This blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the three estate vineyards is aged in 100% French oak (25% new) for 20 months and is bottled unfined and unfiltered. Such richness and depth on the nose, with layers of plums, raspberries, cherries, cassis, black currants and peppery spice. This is a well-structured red on the palate with fine-grained tannins and a rich broth of primarily darker fruits, some savoury accents and elegant wood spice notes. Age 5+ years.

Lakeview Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($30, 89 points) — A core of ripe fruit including black currants, black berries, vanilla, oak spice and underlying cherry/raspberry notes. The red and dark fruits on the palate are joined by lovely barrel oak spices, assertive tannins and high-toned acidity to keep it all fresh and lively through the finish.

Stratus Red 2015 ($48, 93 points) — In talking to winemaker JL Groux at the harvest bash last month, he explained that because of the terrible winter of 2015 (the back half of the brutal Polar Vortex that killed so many vines in Niagara) yields were down drastically. But while many wineries diverted grapes from their top bottlings, Stratus begins at the top and works down, so that was not an option. This estate vineyard blend of all five Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec) had yields as low as 1.2 tonnes per acre. The irony of 2015 is this: it was the winter kill that made it a tough vintage not the quality of the grapes or harvest — both were quite good for red grapes. Like the Stratus White, Groux has dropped a key grape in the red blend that we’d come to expect — Syrah. I like this purer expression of the 2015 with a rich and simply beautiful nose of fleshy and concentrated black currants, blackberries, sweet tobacco, graphite, cassis and untamed (at the moment) barrel spice notes. Everything is a bit out of whack right now — juicy and thick dark fruits, big barrel spice notes, firm tannic structure, high acidity — but this will all integrate into a complete and harmonic red that will reward for a decade or more if cellared properly. Everything I like about personable red wines is right here in this bottle.

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2011 ($35, 93 points) — This is a traditionally made blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) sparkling wine that spends six years on the lees before disgorging. The bubble is energetic upon pouring but fades to a small vigorous bead in the centre on the glass. Notes of bright lemon, brioche, green apple, toasty vanilla and biscuit on the nose. Such freshness and energy on the palate with flavours of zesty citrus, creamy pear, brioche and apple all delivered on an elegantly textured frame with length and finesse on the finish. Beautiful bubbles.

And one from Argentina …

Versado Malbec 2014 ($23, 90 points) — I couldn’t leave this delicious Argentine Malbec off our list of suggestions. Versado is owned by Niagara couple Ann Sperling (Southbrook winemaker and owner of Sperling Vineyards in the Okanagan) and Peter Gamble (Canadian wine consultant extraordinaire). The same attention to detail and winemaking goes into the Versado entry-level wine as the top one, so this little beauty offers a snap shot of Malbec at its best. Very nice aromas of blackberries, plums, brambly raspberries, savoury spices and a certain earthiness. It’s quite thick and juicy on the palate with a fine balance between rich and savoury dark fruits, spice, tannins and balancing acidity on the finish.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed:

• Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2015 ($30)
• Union Forté 2012 ($18 for 500 mL)
• Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine KP 2016 ($80 for 375 mL)
• Megalomaniac Bubblehead Sparkling Rosé ($35)
• Penninsula Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2017 ($25)
• 13th Street White Palette 2016 ($16)
• Tzafona Cellars Nava Blanc KPM 2016 ($20)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($20)
• Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($37)
• Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($25)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Riesling 2016 ($23)
• The Foreign Affair Chardonnay 2015 ($27)
• Tzafona Cellars Cold Climate Riesling KP 2017 ($20)