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Niagara’s Cloudsley Cellars rounds out stellar lineup of Pinots and Chards

By Rick VanSickle

Adam Lowy has only spent a scant three years chasing his dream of making top-notch Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Niagara, but his impact is already leaving quite an impression.

His Cloudsley Cellars, inconspicuously located on Victoria Avenue just south of King Street in Vineland, is the culmination of a passion that has consumed him of over 20 years. Making classic, elegant wines out of the noble varieties of Pinto Noir and Chardonnay is tied to his love of Burgundian wines and has led the Torontonian (soon be a full-time resident of Niagara) to the cool climate, limestone soils of the Twenty Mile Bench. It was his destiny.

For Lowy, it’s a project informed by over 20 years spent tasting wines — some of the best in the world — as a wine professional. “It is inspired by my love of Burgundy, but squarely focused on this stretch of land that intrigues and beguiles me.”

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Lowy spent 17 years working for Lifford Wine and Spirits, one of Toronto’s premier purveyors of the world’s finest booze. In 2014, he left to establish Cloudsley Cellars with the singular goal of making boutique Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from different terroirs in Niagara using a minimalist approach to winemaking that best shines a light of where the grapes are grown.

“What I saw happening with Pinot and Chardonnay in Niagara really impressed me,” Lowy told me in 2016 when his first wines were released. “I’m a Burgundy nut so I wanted something that suited my palate.”

He purchased eight barrels of 2013 Pinot Noir for his first go at making wine in Niagara. The wines were finished at a Niagara winery and sold to restaurants, friends and family to pretty decent reviews, at least good enough to inspire Lowy to “get serious” by 2016. So he acquired the best fruit he could get his hands on from the Twenty Mile Bench, leased a building that he’s turned into a winery and thus was born Cloudsley.

Lowy, below, makes the wine with assistant winemaker Matt Smith and employs winemaking consultant Peter Gamble. His first wines to be made at the upstart winery were Pinot Noirs but he added Chardonnays as of the 2017 vintage. He now produces both Chards and Pinots it two tiers — village and single vineyard wines. As of the 2016 vintage, all fruit is sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench.

“I want to keep it simple,” he said. “There’s a focus and simplicity to it. We’ve done everything with a wine-first approach. I’m a wine geek, that’s where I come from.”

I revisited Cloudsley recently while he was still in the throes of harvest. Not much has changed at the working winery — it’s still jammed with stainless steel fermenters and a cross-section of new and used French oak barrels, all barriques. There is no fancy tasting room, just Lowy’s office that’s crowded with cases of wines, a few chairs around a modest table and no retail store where you can browse for what you are looking for. But, don’t be shy, wander on in, and friendly staff will help you with whatever it is you want.

It’s clear, Lowy is all about the wine, Cloudsley is all about the wine, and if it’s classic, terroir-driven wines sourced from some of the finest vineyards Niagara has to offer, he can help with that. It’s hard to argue against that.

Here’s what’s new at Cloudsley since my last visit. All wines reviewed here are available either at the winery or online here or otherwise noted:

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench 2017 ($35, 90 points) — This first vintage of Chardonnay from Cloudsley was made from grapes sourced from the Wismer family’s Foxcroft and Wingfield vineyards in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. It’s wild fermented and aged in all French oak, 25% of which is new oak. It has a beautifully perfumed nose of apple, saline minerality and pear with integrated oak spice notes. It shows bright stone fruits on the palate, flint, persistence and vibrancy on the finish.

Cloudsley Cellars Wingfield Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($50, 92 points) — The same winemaking as above but the components are a blend of the best barrels from the Wingfield Vineyard. It’s still a bit tight on the nose but be patient and it reveals elegant stone fruits, stony minerality and elegant spices. It turns richer on the palate with depth of apple, pear, lemon biscuit, underlying oak spice, persistence and length through a vibrant, finessed finish. Cellar 5+ years.

Cloudsley Cellars Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($50, 94 points) — Made in the same way as the above two Chardonnays, but it’s a selection of the best barrels from the Foxcroft Vineyard and sees 50% new oak. This is the bomb, among the best Niagara Chardonnays I have tasted this year. It’s pure elegance on the nose, almost restrained on release with beautiful Bosc pear fruit, lemon blossom, flinty-stony minerality, pure salinity, green apple and already integrated spice notes. It’s just as lovely on the palate, a beautiful balance of stone fruits, oak spice and citrus driven by vivid stony-flinty minerality and laser-sharp acidity that provides lift and balance through a pure and finessed finish. In asking Lowy about his deft touch with oak, he says: “I don’t want it to stick out. I want the oak to be complementary.”

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2016 ($35, 91 points) — This Pinot Noir was made from grapes sourced from the Wismer family’s Glen Elgin and Homestead vineyards in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. The wine is wild fermented and barrel aged in all French oak barrels, 25% of which is new oak. It shows a perfumed nose of black cherries, brambly raspberries, minerals, light spice and savory notes. It’s silky and vibrant on the palate with savoury red berries, polished tannins, earth, and minerals with finesse and length on the finish.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2017 ($35, not available yet, 92 points) — This was a sneak peek at the first of the 2017 Pinots at Cloudsey, which were completely made from start to finish at the home winery. It’s tight at the moment and a bit more reductive than the above wine with lovely savoury notes of cherry, brambly raspberry, beetroot, touch of cassis and lovely spice and minerals. It’s deep and complex on the palate with meaty, brambly red fruits, power and polish with fine-grained tannins, finesse and length through the finish. This should age well once released for 5+ years.