By Rick VanSickle
It’s off the beaten path with no flashy road signs pointing the way, but those who know about the Good Earth Food and Wine Co. always find their way.
For wine and culinary tourists coming to Niagara, it’s a secret hideaway, a mecca for honest local food and well-made, smartly priced VQA wines, but for locals, it’s no secret at all — they’ve been coming for years would rather have it all to themselves.
Owner Nicolette Novak, below, has never strayed from her vision of a beautiful symphony of food and wine — locally inspired farm-to-table cuisine in the bistro, her legendary cooking classes and, of course, the wines. “Let’s be honest, I make wine that goes with food,” she tells me over a delicious meal on the patio with winemaker llya Senchuk, top photo, owner of Leaning Post Wines and now also crafting Novak’s full portfolio of Niagara wines.
There are no mysteries at Good Earth; everything flows from Novak, who surrounds herself with key staff that she treats as family. It’s been that way since the winery, culinary school and bistro opened in 1998. It’s always been a haven for discerning food and wine lovers.
Novak is a lifelong native of Niagara. And as many people over the years have observed, me included, she is The Good Earth. With wit and charm (not to mention her forthright honesty, go ahead and ask a question … you just might not like the answer!), Novak has put together all the ingredients for success at her Beamsville oasis of goodness. It’s what makes Good Earth so special.
I have been tasting and eating here for years and can’t wait to sit down with Novak and catch up on her life and whatever else she wants to bring up. Often, it’s just about politics or gossip of the industry, but sometimes the mundane things in life that come up in friendly conversation — like my ever-changing hairstyles that she ribs me about (in a good way). On this day, she comments that it’s getting long again, and that spurs some reflections of a dark period of time when I grew it out to epic proportions. Pretty sure Novak was not a fan.
Novak has always had a pretty good feel for the kind of winemaker she wants to carry out her vision; which are wines she likes to drink and wines that shine a spotlight on her food.
Since the 2016 vintage, Senchuk has acted as consulting winemaker, a pretty good catch for Novak as he is a respected winemaker who is doing special things at Leaning Post in Winona.
Senchuk has tweaked the portfolio, added a couple of interesting wines and has taken the entire program to a whole new level. Obviously, Novak has found the prefect fit on the wine side.
Here is what I liked from what we tasted this summer over lunch, two photos above, made by executive chef Andrew Thorne, another good hire by Novak.
Good Earth Aria Sparkling Rosé NV ($29, 90 points) — This 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay is primarily from the 2017 vintage. “Everybody needs a bubbly,” says Novak. “It’s a good way to start a party.” It shows a light blush colour in the glass with a fine mousse and aromas of pretty red berries, herbs, citrus zing and freshness. The cherries rock on the palate with raspeberries, savoury herb notes and a bright, crisp finish. Lovely sip.
Good Earth Pinot Gris 2017 ($18, 89 points) — Senchuk was looking for texture in this wine so he let the skins soak for 24 days. It shows a light amber glow in the glass with a nose of melon, fuzzy peach and red apples. It has textural interest on the palate with rich, deep flavours of stone fruits, honey and apples to go with a vibrant finish.
Good Earth Betty’s Blend 2018 ($18, 88 points) — A fruit forward white redolent in peach, citrus and grapefruit notes on the nose. It’s off-dry with mouth-filling stone fruits and just a touch of citrus on the finish for balance.
Good Earth Gewurztraminer 2017 ($22, 89 points) — Senchuk admits that Gewurztraminer is a difficult variety to balance. You want ripeness to show all that spicy goodness, but you need acid to keep it fresh and not flabby. “Balance is hard to achieve, but I love the balance of this wine,” he says. Senchuk decided to employ 26 hours of skin contact on this Gew that shows all the hall marks of the varietal — spice, lychee, grapefruit, ginger and rose petals. It’s viscous, what Senchuk calls texture, on the palate with rich, spicy fruit, grapefruit, honey, ginger and lychee with decent balance.
Good Earth Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($18, 89 points) — With 17 months of lees contact to give it some punch and texture, look for lemon, cream, pear and a floral note on the nose. It shows a mineral edge on the palate with creamy pear, lemon and apple notes with a finessed finish.
Good Earth Chardonnay 2016 ($29, 91 points) — A wild fermented Chardonnay with 13 months of oak aging in all French oak barrels. A good ol’ oaky/spicy nose with poached pear, cream, baked apple and underlying citrus notes. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with lovely spice notes, stone fruits and refreshing acidity on the finish. Shows the ripeness on the vintage but maintains poise and vibrancy.
Good Earth Viognier 2016 ($25, 91 points) — This Vio sees five months of oak aging in older barrels. Beautiful apricot, pear, pineapple, spice and guava notes on the nose. It’s rich and creamy with an oily texture and a complex array of exotic tropical fruits on the palate with spicy bite and good acidity on the long finish.
Good Earth Rosé 2017 ($18, 88 points) — 83% Cabernet Franc and the rest Pinot Noir from the estate vineyards. The nose shows lovely red berries and fresh herbs. It’s a touch off-dry on the palate with raspberries, cherries, herbs and a savoury note on the finish.
Good Earth Pinot Noir 2016 ($29, 92 points) — A lighter hue in the glass than some 2016 Pinots, but expressive with a highly floral nose and notes of wild raspberry, bramble, minerals and integrated spice. Simply gorgeous on the palate with a silky feel, lovely red berries, earth, sour cherries, forest berries and a long, long finessed finish. So nice.
Good Earth Big Fork Red 2016 ($22, 88 points) — The blend is 71% Cabernet Franc, 26% Pinot Noir and the rest Syrah with a nose of dark fruits, cherries, savoury herbs and meaty notes. It’s smooth, approachable, spicy and rocks the red and dark fruits with a smooth finish.
Good Earth Syrah 2016 ($35, 91 points) — “This is classic,” says Senchuk, “everything I like in Syrah.” Such a smoky, meaty, floral nose with cassis, red berries, spice and earthy/loamy notes. It’s gorgeous on the palate with rich and savoury red berries, smoke and meaty notes, integrated spice and good tannic structure through the long finish. So good with the wood-fired Margherita pizza.
Good Earth Merlot 2016 ($35, 92 points) — Another beauty from the warm and near perfect 2016 vintage for Niagara Bordeaux varieties. A pretty nose of crushed red berries, cassis, anise, elegant spices, minerals and graphite. It has firm tannins from the first sip and a structured frame with rich red fruits, currants, lovely spice notes and finesse through the long finish. Lay down some bottles for 5+ years and be richly rewarded.
Good Earth Cabernet Franc 2016 ($29, 91) — A nose of perfectly ripe wild raspberries, black cherries, subtle herbs, smoke, anise, bramble and spice. It’s deep and structured with rich and savoury red fruits, herbs, earth, anise and expressive spice notes through a smooth and long finish.