By Rick VanSickle
Mary Delaney is a joyous person by nature, but on this day, a historic one for her and husband Thomas Bachelder, that eternal smile is as wide as the sky towering over Lake Ontario.
It’s infectious; you can’t help but feel the pride emanating from Delaney as she swings open the door to the first Thomas Bachelder Wines retail store on the Beamsville Bench. It’s the beginning of yet another chapter in the couple’s dogged quest to put more of their Niagara wines into the hands of a broader range of wine lovers.
“It’s a whole new world for us,” says Delaney. “So we have to wrap our heads around all of this.”
Delaney is first to arrive at the Locust Lane leased space at Walters Estates where the retail store is located and where Bachelder also makes his Niagara collection of Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Gamays. Bachelder is late (shocker) as he scurries around Niagara tasting grapes on the cusp of his full-throttle harvest (which he is now knee-deep in).
The new retail facility doesn’t need a sign out outside to tell you where you are (that will come). It already has that vibe that embodies the brand. Inside, the décor, furniture and ambiance is pure Bachelder-Delaney, like walking into their living room at their house in Fonthill. It’s comfortable and inviting, yet far from sleek and perfectly organized. One of Bachelder’s guitars, a Yamaha acoustic, is displayed along with many sentimental treasures the couple has collected over the years — framed wine maps from select Burgundy terroirs they adore, a classic photo of the Le Clos Jordanne vineyard (Bachelder was the original winemaker and now current winemaker of the reborn project), an Oregon licence plate (he makes Oregon wines under the Bachelder label as well as Burgundian and Argentine wines and is also the chief winemaker at Domaine Queylus), various wooden wine boxes that have meaning for the couple are strewn about, a large wood table hand crafted by Stan Pride from salvaged wood with a connection to Le Clos Jordanne and surrounded by kitchy, pastel-coloured amusement park chairs found at an antique flea market, and a large framed photo and story about the life of Niagara Ontario wine pioneer Karl Kaiser.
Bachelder counts Kaiser, who died in 2017, as an inspiration for him. “We feel like he’s still with us,” he says. Kaiser made what many call the most influential Pinot Noir in Canada while at Inniskillin Wines, which he co-founded with Donald Ziraldo, under the Alliance label. Alliance was the inspiration for Le Clos Jordanne under Vincor and Bachelder leaned heavily on Kaiser for advice when making the first wines.
There are also bottles on display, bottles that will be part of one of two major online retail releases a year, the first coming up on Nov. 1. This is no ordinary retail/tasting room, but it is in every way perfect for the brand.
You can’t just walk into what the couple is tentatively calling Bachelder Terroirs. You need to call ahead and, by appointment only, Bachelder or Delaney will pour wines for you to taste and hopefully buy (provided they have any to sell). It will be hit and miss, and likely miss during busy times such as harvest, but it’s a far cry better than what it has been up to now — wines only available at LCBO Vintages stores and nowhere else, not online, and unavailable any other way.
In a perfect world, Bachelder and Delaney say, the retail store will have absolutely no wine to sell because everything they made would have been be sold through Vintages stores.
“The number one thing is we want to be kind of like a cult winery. The scarcity is real. We sell a lot and don’t want to run retail 24/7 because there’s only two of us,” says Delaney.
The couple makes only 3,000 cases of wine a year but Bachelder feels with the retail store he can probably get that number up to over 4,000 cases annually. “This will enable us to make more terroirs because we have a venue for them now,” Thomas says.
They are already prepared for the first online release on Nov. 1 with a selection of current releases, library wines and a special treat for Pinot lovers that will only be available through their retail store Nov. 1 — a single barrel of Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir sourced from the original five rows at the St. David’s Bench grower. It is a magnificent wine (see review below).
Once Bachelder is organized, it is recommended that wine lovers get on the mailing list to view the wines available for the two releases — Nov. 1, as mentioned, and the second release on April 2.
You can go here to get on the email list for the Nov. 1 release or to make “by appointment only” arrangements for tastings in the new facility with casual lunches available by request.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” says Delaney. “But the reputation we’ve built (in the past 10 years) will help on online. We feel like we’ve built the pipeline.”
Here’s some of what will be available in the first release Nov. 1 and what I tasted with Bachelder and Delaney recently.
Bachelder Les Villages Pinot Noir 2016 ($30, 90 points) — This is sourced from a blend of Niagara terroirs but still has that signature perfumed nose that all Bachelder Pinots possess to go with savoury cherries, raspberry bramble, earth and light oak spices from neutral oak aging. It should be noted that many of Bachelder’s barrels are so special to him that he uses a local cooper to replace the oak staves as they fall apart instead of breaking in new barrels (see photo above). It has lovely texture and shows ripe red berries on the palate with a certain earthiness, finesse and integrated woodsy notes through a long finish.
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir 2016 ($47, 93 points) — Always a beautiful wine from the sublime terroir of the Lowrey family farm on the St. David’s Bench. A highly aromatic nose of bright raspberry, dark cherries, complex mineral notes, violets, forest floor and fully integrated oak spices. Such poise and elegance from a warm vintage and showing a range of red berries, fine, tight-grained tannins, luxurious texture and electric acidity on a long finish. A beautiful wine that shows solid structure for cellaring 5+ years.
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Vines “One Barrel” Pinot Noir 2016 ($60, 94 points) — Maybe the finest Pinot Bachelder has made in Niagara and it’s available exclusively through the online retail store on Nov. 1. This the is the first Pinot 100% from Lowrey’s original five rows planted in 1984 and the fruit first used for the Alliance project made by Karl Kaiser. Wes Lowrey claims most of the five rows, which he mainly blends with other Pinot on the farm, but Bachelder gets one row to himself and, until now, has always blended it with other Lowrey fruit. This particular vintage stuck out for the winemaker so he decided to somethig special with it. Only 270 bottles are available. Oh, my, this is something! An enthralling nose of fresh-crushed raspberries and dark cherries, integrated spice notes, heavily perfumed and enticing, with earth, touches of cassis and layered minerality. It is just so beautiful on the palate, a caressing mix of savoury red berries, cassis, bramble, toasted vanilla that seems just about perfect, complex and layered with waves of minerality that’s all together finessed and ever-lasting on the finish. This should develop for a decade or more. A tour de force.
Bachelder Les Villages Chardonnay 2017 ($35, 89 points) — This three-vineyard blend of Bachelder’s main sources of grapes is a lovely Chardonnay for the money. The nose shows apple, pear, minerality and light vanilla and spice notes. It’s pretty, textured and balanced on the palate with fresh apple, pear, citrus fruits and flinty minerality that gets lively through the finish by a firm acidic backbone.
Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft “Nord” Chardonnay 2016 ($45, 92 points) — Bachelder is obsessive about his Wismer fruit and the blocks within it. He has meticulously paced off (with several trips in his car) the distance of each block from Lake Ontario to figure out picking dates for the single-vineyard collection and uses the information as a baseline for harvesting. The “Nord” block has an intense and complex nose of flinty minerality, stone fruit, vanilla toast, salinity and lemon accents. It’s mouth-filling on the palate with Bosc pear, apple skin, lemon cream and toasted vanilla with a creamy texture and layers of flint-infused minerality that is all together rich and powerful yet finessed and vibrant through a long finish.
Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield “Est” Chardonnay 2016 ($45, 92 points) — This is a little tighter than the above Chardo, with pear and citrus notes emerging from the creamy/mineral/spice aromas. It’s deep and complex on the palate with a subtle earthiness to go with poached pear, elegant spice, apple and finesse on an echoing finish. Needs time to fully reveal itself. Try in 2-3 years or decant, but ideally cellar 5+ years.
Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield “Ouest” Chardonnay 2016 ($47, 95 points) — Let’s just say it right now. This is the finest Chardonnay Bachelder has crafted from his favourite terroir, the one that always comes out on top for me and does so consistently year after year. It’s about personality, terroir and winemaking, which for Bachelder consists of less is more and nothing added that doesn’t need to be added, including new oak. This particular block that loves Chardonnay and Bachelder embraces it. It’s subtle to start, but opens up to pure elegance and nuance with a range of bin apples, lemon, cream, flint, salinity and perfectly poised oak spice. And then the palate, holy-moly, the palate! It’s more open-knit and revealing with pear, lemon cream, a mineral bath, oak spices — the epitome of power and grace with a freshening finish that lasts and lasts. This is one memorable wine that will thrill lovers of personable Niagara Chardonnays. Can cellar 5+ years for further development.
Note: The following library wines are also part of the release Nov. 1. I retasted the wines with Bachelder and compared my scores and notes to what I wrote in September 2018. All the scores came up exactly the same and the notes were similar as well. So I left them as they were written.
Bachelder Saunders-Haut Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($45, previously reviewed and retasted, 93 points) — The Saunders-Haut vineyard is pure Beamsville Bench terroir with vines just below Thirty Bench winery on Mountainview Road. This is a beautifully nuanced, heavily mineralized Chardonnay with waves of pear, citrus, honeysuckle, integrated oak spice notes and wonderful defining slate and chalk accents. Such tangible minerality on the palate, turning to flint and chalk and integrated with the pear/apple/citrus fruit that is all kept fresh by the racy and mouth-watering acidity.
Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($45, previously reviewed and retasted, 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.
Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield 2015 Chardonnay ($47, previously reviewed and retasted, 94 points) — The 2013 vintage of this Chardonnay from the Wingfield Block in the giant-sized Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2017 (the Bachelder 2014 Lowrey Pinot Noir shared the top Red Wine of Year with the four other Pinots made from Lowrey fruit in that vintage, as well). So, there’s something about this wine that consistently rises to the top in my notes. It is subtle to begin, with flinty, saline minerality starting the attack on the nose. The apple and pear begin to emerge with citrus in behind. It is tight and fresh with fine oak spice that slowly emerges. It is such a pretty wine, a seductive wine on the palate with soft orchard fruits, a touch of acacia honey, fresh lemon, layers of flint, pebbly/river rock minerality and such beautifully integrated oak spice that never gets in the way of the fruit. It is layered and textured and dances delicately on the tongue and leads to a long, long finish. Simply gorgeous wine once again.