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To glou or not to glou, these crushable County wines from Trail Estate hit the spot

By Rick VanSickle

Talented Prince Edward County winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois doesn’t like the French term glou-glou much, but with one of the most varied portfolios of crushable wines in the province the term certainly applies.

Glou-glou wines, which simply translate to glug-glug wines (not sure why this onomatopoeia word is different in French, but there you go) are not new; they are rooted in the natural wine movement in Beaujolais and the Loire valley and have quickly migrated to every wine region of the world including Canada — for those who dare make them. They are meant to be as natural as possible, usually low alcohol, often with some spritz, come in myriad styles (think skin-fermented orange wines, pét’-nat’ and vin de soif), with a juicy and vibrant taste and, perhaps most of all, invite spontaneous glugging.

Prince Edward County wine

“My motivation with these wines was to try and keep the fruit with nothing added but I want them to be free of fault,” says Brisbois, above. “I’m still learning about how they evolve in bottle, but I’m enjoying drinking them as research.”

Brisbois, above, is a flavour and texture devotee and goes to great lengths to capture that in her wines. She ardently believes that good wines can be created with little or no additions or subtractions in the winemaking process. Wild fermentation is a key factor in Trail wines. “The idea of selecting yeast has never appealed to me,” she says. “It makes me feel like I am painting by numbers. While the end product can be beautiful, it lacks the beauty of imperfection. Great wines are not simple — the aromatics are complex, changing and opening with time, while the palate is layered, flavours are plentiful and finish long.”

A recent tasting of a half dozen new Trail wines made by Brisbois shows the diversity of the winemaker’s skill. From three “glou-glou” wines, a spritzy, grapy wine called Supersonic (made with a Canadian specialty, Concord), a chugger called Little Fluffy Clouds made mostly with Muscat Ottonel, and an “Orange Nouveau” called Oh Julius, a skin-fermented white blend bottled with no sulphur added. Also tasted was a skin-fermented Riesling, an unfiltered, foot-stomped, skin and stem contact Riesling, and perhaps what is the flagship wine at the estate — the County estate Chardonnay that’s bottled unfined and unfiltered.

We had a chance to ask Brisbois three burning questions in light of tasting these wines. This is our Q&A.

Wines In Niagara: I tasted six wines, not one of them was made with what most winemakers would commonly consider textbook winemaking. In musical terms, you could be considered the John Coltrane of winemaking, a disruptor of rules and exploring the outer edges of normalcy. You might not see it that way, but certainly you have taken risks that have led to a style all your own. Can you describe the process in simple terms that guide your winemaking decisions and where did this creative approach come from?

Mackenzie Brisbois: My approach to the wines has always been to craft minimal intervention wines conscientiously and to figure out ways of making wines that taste good and reflect where they come from. Ideally, I want them to be grown using better techniques that are good for people and environment, to make them without compromise to quality but I also want to maintain the sanity of our employees and myself. My aim is perfection, a perfect approach that results in a perfect wine. This is not something that can ever be achieved as there is always a way for improvement, which makes it good motivation. Every year I make changes and tighten up processes to get the tastiest wine.

WIN: In line with the above question, three of the wines I tasted, the Supersonic, Little Fluffy Clouds and Oh Julius, are unlike anything being made in Ontario. Would it be fair to call them “glou-glou” wines? They are all low alcohol, essentially natural wines, some non-VQA using forgotten varietals, and all chug-worthy. What is the motivation behind them? Do you lay awake at night dreaming up new recipes for your glou-glou collection?

Brisbois: I definitely don’t stay up thinking about wines at the moment. I do stay up thinking about how to make the kids go back to sleep so I can sleep! Trail Estate has always been set up to produce small-batch, craft wine and I just keep exploring because its fun! I’m lucky because Alex (Sproll, partner, marketing and sales at Trail) is supportive of anything I want to try! My ideas just seem to come about whimsically and they are influenced by the market trends. The idea for the Nouveau wines came from our Quebec Importer, Ward et Associés.

I think you can call the wines glou-glou if you want — it’s not a term I use, but I think Alex likes it! In contrast to the Chardonnay or Cabernet Franc they are quite unusual and I wouldn’t assess them as I would the classic styles. My motivation with these wines was to try and keep the fruit with nothing added but I want them to be free of fault. I’m still learning about how they evolve in bottle, but I’m enjoying drinking them as research!

WIN: One more question … How are you doing? How are you juggling isolation with a young family and still having to keep the wine flowing?

Brisbois: This pandemic is difficult. I am surviving. To tell you the truth, the big difference in my day-to-day life is that Aubrey, who is 3 now, is home with me and he is both a delight and not-so-much a delight. I was already on maternity leave and Damian is still finishing up a construction job so our life is mostly the same. His job will end in a few weeks, which will make our life more of a struggle if he is out of work for a few months. We normally see my parents a few times a week and that has been really difficult. I picked up a grocery box last week and they were in the parking lot at the same time. They could look through the window to see June, who is 3 months now, and it was heartbreaking. I cried a lot when they left, which surprised me because we still talk and video chat, but it really isn’t the same.It is nearly impossible to carve out time at the moment to work. Luckily I made wines this year knowing I would be having a baby! So everything is aging in barrel and I only have one or two things to bottle in the early summer. My assistant, Meghan, has just returned from South Africa and is out of her quarantine now so she is able to do the work for me. I just have to taste! She is absolutely amazing and will carry through tasks exactly as I ask her to and will also leave the cellar cleaner than I would! I am really, really, really lucky to have her.This time in our lives will bring a lot of change and it is making us all look at life and death a little closer. It has been overwhelming to see the support from our wine community! We are lucky to have people that care about our business and I am also very excited to see how the new line-up is received as it does deviate a bit from the normal! I hope it brings a bit of cheer amid the sometimes overwhelming fear and anxiety.

The Wines

Trail Estate wines can be ordered online here.

Trail Estate Supersonic 2019 ($25, 88 points) — From grapes long ago shunned from the premium winemaking world, Brisbois sourced this non-VQA but historic Concord grape from the Lipsitt Vineyard in Niagara. It was difficult to press and took three cycles over the course of eight hours to get all the juice out. It’s wild fermented with a small amount juice added at bottling to create a light spritz in the bottle. It shows a light, cloudy garnet colour in the glass and has aromas of Welsh’s grape juice and black currants. On the palate, it’s raw, refreshing, crisp and has that immediately recognizable flavour of Welsh’s (except for adults) with a touch of earthy funk and bright acidity on the finish. Glug glug.

Trail Estate Little Fluffy Clouds 2019 ($25, 90 points) — The blend is 90% Muscat Ottonel and 10% Riesling from Velo and Trail vineyards in Prince Edward County. The juice was fermented naturally until dry, settled for about a month and a small amount of juice added back at bottling. It pours a nice, frothy mousse with a hazy glow. The aromas range from bright grapefruit to zesty lime, some fresh pear and saline minerality. It shows tingly acidity on the palate with a soft spritz, grapefruit pulp, citrus zest and a vibrant finish. Glug glug.

Trail Estate Oh Julius (Orange Nouveau) 2019 ($35, 90 points) — Brisbois is one of the early adopters of orange and pét-nat wines in Ontario. This orange wine is a blend of Viognier, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel and Gewurztraminer from a combination of PEC and Niagara fruit. The Muscat and Gew were destemmed and fermented on the skins for five days before being pressed and blended. The Vio was destemmed and fermented on the skins for five days and the Riesling also fermented on the skins for five days. A mixture of Riesling and Gew skins was added to the tanks to create a cap to protect the wine for further aging. It was pressed after 17 days of further aging on the skins and bottled without sulphur or additives. It shows a cloudy copper colour in the glass with a juicy nose of peachy/nectarine, earth and funk. It’s really quite delicious on the palate with flavours of tangerine, lime, tart citrus pulp, subtle tannins, earthy notes and a bight, refreshing finish. Drink up. Glug glug.

Trail Estate Foxcroft Riesling 2018 ($35, 92 points) — This Niagara Twenty Mile Bench sourced Riesling is crushed by foot with skin and stem contact for 10 hours over two presses. It’s cold settled and then transferred directly to barrel where it is wild fermented. It’s racked out of barrel after 10 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered. It’s a complex and intriguing Riesling with a nose of rich stone fruits, ginger, lemon, apricot and lime cordial. It is complex and displays a creamy texture on the palate with a range of apple, lime, apricot, stony minerality and this crazy ginger thing going on. It finishes with mouth-watering acidity. Would love to see a little age on this beauty.

Trail Estate Skin Fermented Riesling 2018 ($35, 89 points) — This Hughes Vineyard sourced Riesling from Niagara was wild fermented on the skins for 12 days, pressed and put in neutral oak for five months. It shows a golden glow in the glass with a nose of limy/pulpy/grapefruit, white flowers and marmalade. There are leesy notes on a textured palate with citrus marmalade, light tannins and pop on the finish.

Trail Estate Chardonnay 2018 ($40, 93 points) — This estate grown Chardonnay is aged in variously older oak barrels for 10 months. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered. The nose explodes with fresh apple, lemon cream, stony and flinty minerality, subtle reductive notes and elegant barrel spices. Such verve and intensity on the palate with rich and creamy pear, apple skin, lees, lemon, spice and driven by profound flint and salinity that all lead to a fresh and finessed finish. It’s a beautiful expression of Country fruit when put in the hands of a talented and creative winemaker such as Brisbois.