Trail Estate’s Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay a beautiful thing, plus Niagara highlights from Vintages release, new Flat Rock wines

By Rick VanSickle
For a master class on how terroir influences the glass of wine in your hand, look no further than the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard on Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench.

I am struck by the notion that soil, climate and aspect have much more to do with the outcome of the wine than most of us are willing to accept (or even understand).

Recently cracking open a Chardonnay purchased in Prince Edward County last summer, it was like visiting an old friend. The nose exploded with a familiar profile, the kind that jolts your senses with aromas of stone fruit, salinity, flint, citrus zest and just a trace of spice. There was such depth, complexity and freshness that you never want it to end.

This time it was Mackenzie Brisbois’s (above) version of the Niagara Wismer-Foxcroft Chardonnay 2016. This exciting winemaker, on her way to super-stardom with her portfolio from Trail Estate in PEC, has crafted a beautiful and soulful Chardonnay using many of the same principals of other key winemakers who make Chardonnay from this glorious vineyard. All the Chards I have tasted from Wismer-Foxcroft (made by Thomas Bachelder, Leaning Post’s Ilya Senchuk, 2027 Cellar’s Kevin Panakapka and now Brisbois) are designed in a similar fashion — minimal intervention, a deft touch with the oak, low sulphur and controlled reduction. These are conditions perfect for portraying perfectly what the soil and microclimate in the vineyard have to offer.

Wismer Vineyards was established in the late 1980s with one goal in mind: “To produce premium quality vinifera grapes; for premium, single-vineyard wines with a sense of place,” explains Craig Wismer, manager at Glen Elgin Vineyard Management.

The Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay blocks were planted in 1998 with the vines sourced on clone 96, with 3309 rootstock from select French nurseries.

Says Wismer (above): “The gentle, rolling slopes of the Vineland bench allow these 21-year-old vines freedom from the shadow of the escarpment that typically shade benchland vineyards. This allows for increased southern exposure throughout the day. This exposure allows for fuller, riper flavours to develop.”

The vineyard’s location (just south of King St. and west of Victoria on Moyer Rd. in Vineland) is designed to retain the natural acidity and minerality of the site; and to grow high quality fruit for premium, hand crafted, small batch wines, he added.

The minerality is derived from the Lower Bell Terrace of the Twenty Mile Bench appellation with its “ancient glacial erosion and deposition (that allows) for a rich calcareous clay loam soil, with varying degrees of silt and limestone gravel and boulders. The slopes tend to be shorter and steeper on the Lower Bell Terrace, providing excellent air drainage during cold nights,” says Wismer.

The fruit derived from this vineyard appeals to the winemakers mentioned above. For Brisbois, the Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay fits in perfectly with her  mission is to create “honesty inside the bottle — whether it be our skin-ferment Riesling, orange wine, pét-nat sparkling, soulfully complex unfiltered chardonnay, or barrel-aged varietals.”

Trail uses only wild ferments (indigenous yeasts) and leave many of their artisanal wines whole and unfiltered without the use of additional enzymes or tannins.

Here is a review of Brisbois’s Foxcroft Chardonnay along with past reviews of other Chards made from this unique Niagara vineyard.

Note: Reviews for Niagara wines being released at Vintages stores Saturday are also included in the report along with two new releases from Flat Rock Cellars.

Trail Estate Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Niagara ($45, 93 points) — Yes, Trail Estate is a proud Prince Edward County winery with a varied and exciting portfolio of mostly County wines, but when winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois turns to Niagara to source fruit she knows where to look. Wismer-Foxcroft is a terroir-driven vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and her Chardonnay mines that vein of profound minerality that is buried deep in the soil found there. Her version is fermented naturally in stainless steel. It was transferred to French oak to complete fermentation. Natural malolactic was completed in full while ageing on lees in barrel. The wine was racked out of barrel after a year, allowed to settle and racked once for further clarity. A minimal amount of sulphur was added. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered. Such grace and beauty on the nose with an immediate saline sensation with flint and river-rock that permeates the Bosc pear, apple skin and ever so subtle toasted oak spice notes. It is crisp and soulful in the mouth with integrated stone fruits, gunflint and steely resolve that is revealed in layer after layer. This wine keeps coming at you and never loses its grip. There is a subtle reductive note on the palate with bright acidity that keeps this Chardonnay lively and interesting through such a long and sensuous finish. It is a beautiful wine, one I keep thinking about a week after the bottle was drained. Go get it!

A few other key wines from the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard reviewed previously:

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2017 ($23, 94 points) — Wow, just wow. When winemaker Kevin Panakapka hits it, he hits it out of the park. This is one of those wines from his favourite vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench (he’s not alone). Let’s get the technical notes out of the way. All 2027 Cellar Chards are 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented with 100% French oak aging (30%, new oak). The nose is mind-blowing; the first impression is like walking in a mountain stream, the sharp river rock scents combining with gunflint, pear, fresh-picked bin apple, fine elegant spices and lemon/citrus accents. You could bury your nose in this Chard for days, but it gets better. It’s fresh and lively on the palate, a lean and lively cool-climate Chard that combines layers of pear and apple with elegant spice and all that flinty goodness that is kept fresh by racy acidity. This wine was Wines In Niagara’s White Wine of the Year for 2018. It’s that good!

Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($45, 92+ points) — The Wismer-Foxcroft Chards have a pretty consistent profile. It’s a late bloomer out of the gate with a taut profile on both the nose and palate. Hang on though, because it will develop into something wonderful. The ’15 shows the beauty of the vineyard if you give it time — apple skin, salinity, pear and subtle spice notes on the nose. On the palate it is more revealing with quince flavours, vanilla cream, river-rock minerality, lovely integration, length and finesse on the finish. Buy and hold 3+ years.

Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($35, 92 points) — Penetrating aromas of pear, apple, flinty/chalky minerality, jasmine, toasted vanilla and light spice … what a beauty! This is a well-built Chard on the palate with rich and creamy orchard fruits on a textured frame that reveals profound minerality and integrated spice through a long, finessed finish.

Niagara wines being released
at Vintages Saturday

It looks like a Henry of Pelham party at Vintages Saturday with the release of no fewer than six wines by this Short Hills Bench winery hitting the shelves.

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($22 89 points)— The nose shows quince, citrus and toasted oak spices. It’s a mouth-filling Chardonnay with creamy pear, apple, baking spices and energy and verve through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2017 ($19, 88 points) — The blend is Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir with the fruit barrel aged for 17 months in a mix of French and U.S. oak. It has a smoky/spicy nose with notes of cassis, cherry, raspberry, cracked black peppercorns and earthy/loamy accents. The dark and cherry fruits turn savoury on the palate with a lovley range of barrel oak spices all propped up by firm acidity.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2016 ($25, 91 points) — A nice warm vintage brings out the best in Baco with a concentrated nose of plums, blackberries, bacon fat, herbs and smoky/spicy notes. The fruit turns to cherries and raspberry on the palate with a supporting role from plums, blackberries tasted oak spice, savoury herbs and good acidity through the finish.

Also released Saturday, but not reviewed:

Bricklayer’s Reward 20 Barrels Chardonnay 2017 ($19)
The Foreign Affair Embrace 2017 ($17)
Henry of Pelham Cabernet, Vidal and Riesling Icewine Trio (3 X 200 mL bottles, $100, no vintage specified)

A beauty from the Okanagan
released at Vintages Saturday

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Meritage 2016 ($30, 90 points) — The blend here is 35% Cabernet Franc, 31% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Petit Verdot. It’s dark and dense in the glass with highly extracted black cherries, cassis, currants, blackberries, cocoa and spice on the nose. It’s dark and earthy on the palate with a range of dark fruits, bramble and raspberry/cherry accents that’s altogether rich and smoky with firm structure and a vibrant finish.

Two new releases from
Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars Twisted 2017 ($18, Vintages Essential, 89 points) — This unusual white blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer is Flat Rock’s No. 1 top seller, and you can see why. It’s such a friendly and tasty wine that appeals to a lot of palates out there. Winemaker David Sheppard does a nice job here highlighting the best of all three varieties with a highly aromatic nose lychee, grapefruit, apricot, citrus, pear, nutmeg and honey. It’s off-dry but nicely balanced with racy acidity to with ripe tropical fruits, lychee, ginger and zesty citrus on the finish.

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017 ($20, Vintages Essential, 88 points) — Another nice job by Sheppard with this lovely, well-priced Niagara Chard. The nose shows rich, ripe pear, apple, citrus and spice accents. It’s creamy and textured on the palate with a range of orchard fruits, toasted vanilla, spice and a vibrant finish.

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