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Your one and only chance to purchase The Farm Niagara wines this year — don’t say you weren’t warned

By Rick VanSickle

No one markets wine like this, at least not here in Niagara. It took me nearly a year just get an interview with the owner and to taste the wines with the winemaker — and try buying a bottle!

And it was only by chance I even became intrigued after seeing a Niagara wine I had never heard of mysteriously appear on the Bolete restaurant chalk board one day. The Farm. Pinot Noir.

“What’s this all about, Andrew (McLeod, chef/owner of Bolete)?” He poured a taste and I was immediately smitten; it was so beautiful, pure, mineral-laden and silky, everything I love about Niagara Pinot. “Who owns it,” I asked McLeod. The Neudorf family, he told me. You mean the glass people, you see along the QEW near Beamsville? Yep, that’s them.

Niagara wine
Winemaker Kelly Mason and owner of The Farm Jeff Neudorf at Bolete.

McLeod asked if I wanted to meet Jeff Neudorf (president of Ferguson-Neudorf Glass), whose family owns The Farm winery and the gorgeous Neudorf Vineyard, formerly called La Petite Colline (of Le Clos Jordanne fame), where one of the single vineyard wines is grown. I said absolutely and the wheels were set in motion. A few emails later and a few failed attempts (timing issues on both parts) to get together saw a year go by with nothing to show for it. A few glasses of The Farm Pinot just piqued my curiosity even more; then one day this summer, sitting at the chef’s table at Bolete, a guy drops off a bottle of The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay for Andrew. I learned later it was Neudorf, a frequent diner at McLeod’s St. Paul Street restaurant in downtown St. Catharines. He was dining on this afternoon with family and friends.

McLeod poured a glass for me, and again, I just had to make things happen.

The Ferguson-Neudorf building along the QEW on the north side in Beamsville.

I knew Kelly Mason was the winemaker (of course, right?) so I touched base and a committed meeting with Neudorf and Mason was scheduled for, you guessed it, Bolete.

Neudorf’s family bought a farmhouse on old Highway 8 with 10 acres of grapes was planted to hybrids in the 1960s. In 2000, Jeff Neudorf replaced those native grapes with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and it was immediately contracted to Le Clos Jordanne, at the time owned by Vincor and now in the hands of Arterra, which recently brought the brand back from the dead after Constellation shockingly laid it to waste. The vineyard was named La Petit Colline and provided some stunning single-vineyard wines for Le Clos.

After a decade of providing grapes for Le Clos, Constellation Brands, owner of the project at the time, decided to discontinue the brand. Next up was Thomas Bachelder, the original winemaker at Le Clos, who purchased the grapes for Domaine Queylus, where he is the head winemaker. The Neudorf family bought back two barrels and made the first Farm wine in 2012. With the 2017 vintage, they are now up to 20 barrels, still tiny for any winery, but large enough that The Farm had to consider how they were going to sell the wines beyond restaurants. With Kelly Mason hired as the winemaker (who is also a winemaker at Queylus and the head winemaker at Honsberger, yes, she’s in demand), grapes from her own vineyard were added to the mix at The Farm. As of the 2015 vintage, the Mason Vineyard bottling is one of two single-vineyard wines in the portfolio, joining the Neudorf Vineyard as the other. The Farm also has a Niagara-sourced Pinot Noir “Black” label offering.

Neudorf said over lunch that “it was never our intent to have a retail licence” but they now have one. Here’s the catch — they only open it once a year to consumers. ONCE A YEAR! And this is the entire marketing brilliance behind The Farm.

Consumers who join the website mailing list here are invited once a year to come to the Neudorf farm, enjoy music and great food and hopefully buy some wine. So far, it has been a great success, says Neudorf. There are enough people who know the quality and rarity of The Farm wines that there is no problem selling out every vintage. And because the wines are in high demand at restaurants, whatever they don’t sell ends up in restaurants around Ontario.

That magical day, folks (hint, hint, nudge, nudge) is this Sunday, Aug. 11 (THIS SUNDAY!), where invited guests can taste, buy, eat, listen to live music, play bocce, swim, tennis … you name it, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

I would suggest you get there early.

New to The Farm portfolio is the “Unmarked” Chardonnay 2017, a wine born out of an event at Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto. The restaurant wanted The Farm involved in the popular Ontario Oyster Festival at Rodney’s held in July but The Farm had yet to bottle a Chardonnay. Mason was asked if she could make a case from the Chardonnay that was already in barrel exclusively for Rodney’s. A case of “unmarked” (unlabeled) Chard was made and poured at Rodney’s and “there was this buzz in the room. People would come over and say ‘are you pouring that unmarked Chardonnay,’ ” said Mason. Thus was born the name and reputation of The Farm’s first Chardonnay.

Here is a review of the Chard and Pinots you will find Sunday at The Farm (or on your favourite restaurant list).

The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017 ($22, 94 points) — Mason’s style has always been for low intervention, always wild fermented, hands off, gently oaked and finessed, highlighting the minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench. “This is as natural a wine as I’ve ever made,” she says over lunch. It is such a well integrated and lean Chardonnay I was surprised to find there was oak aging applied — 22% new French oak for 18 months and the rest aged in stainless steel. It has such a beautiful and pure nose of lemon, citrus, saline minerality, bright apple and pear with elegant subtlety to the oak spices that it’s almost imperceptible. It’s lean with electric acidity, stony minerality and vibrancy in the mouth to go with lemon, crisp apple, fresh pear and a texture that caresses the palate and finishes in a glorious burst of energy. I suspect that the oak might show up a bit more on the palate with a year or two in bottle once the bright acidity rounds out, but, my, what a beauty right now. Um, $22, folks.

The Farm “Black Label” Pinot Noir 2017 ($22, 89 points) — This is a Pinot that features a “ blend from carefully selected vines that showcase the alluring fruit driven character, finesse, and structure of Pinot Noir from the region.” It was crafted at The Farm after restaurants requested a second label to the single vineyard wines. It, like all these wines, is wild fermented and it spends 18 months in French oak, mostly older oak barrels. The nose shows red berries, spice, savoury/earthy notes and light spice. It pours a darker colour than the two single-vineyards. The flavours range from dark cherries and raspberry bramble to cassis and integrated spice that’s smooth and finessed on the finish.

The Farm Neudorf Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($53, 93 points) — 100% estate fruit from the Twenty Mile Bench winery, wild fermented, 18 months in French oak, 22% of which is new oak. A beautifully perfumed nose of raspberries, red cherries, minerals, sweet spices in check and altogether bright, lively and joyous. The red berries are rich and succulent yet dance lightly on the palate and are delivered on a bed of smooth, velvety tannins and finished in a flurry of finesse. Such complexity and texture in this Pinot. The 2015 of this wine was named the wine of the year in 2018 by the Ontario Wine Awards.

The Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($52, 93 points) — “I always wanted to own a vineyard,” said Mason. “So I bought one in 2011.” It’s planted to mostly Pinot Noir with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Farm started purchasing the fruit for Mason to make into a single-vineyard Pinot in 2015. It’s tighter and more reserved at the moment than the Neudorf, but opens up with vigorous swirling to pretty red berries, cranberries, touches of cassis and subtle spice with a rich vein of minerality. It’s more expressive on the palate with rich wild raspberries, cherries, minerals, anise, integrated spice, complexity, length, polished tannins and finesse on the finish. This will come into harmony with a year or two in the bottle and cellar much longer than that. Quite a beautiful Pinot with a truly bright future ahead.