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Love Pinot, love Chard? Then you need these County stunners from Rosehall Run

By Rick VanSickle

Well, then, you make some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 15 years of lovingly growing grapes in The County, but 2018 is the lowest yielding vintage in memory, isn’t that ironic?

It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

OK, maybe not as ironic as quoting Alanis Morissette makes it out to be, but certainly bitter sweet. Rosehall Run winemaker and co-owner Dan Sullivan, says “what we got in quality was paid for in full measure by the scant yields of the 2018 crush.”

Sullivan, pictured below, notes that the 2017 vintage at the estate’s Rosehall Run Vineyard was record setting in terms of yield. “I fully expected yields to be off somewhat in 2018 but to be down 65% from average was a sobering reminder of the cool, damp year preceding it,” he says. “The bunches looked pretty normal but smaller than average with very thick skins owing to the warm growing season. The vintage conditions were textbook and we were able to harvest the entirety of our Pinot Noir crop prior to my mom’s birthday on Sept. 29. The Chardonnay was harvested about a week after.”

Both the single-vineyard Pinot and Chardonnay from 2018 are stunning, with depth, complexity, power and chock full of County minerality. They are some of the best I have tasted from the County — and that’s saying a lot.

Sullivan says 2018 “will go down in my books as the year our west block, planted in 2007, took centre stage as possibly the best fruit we grow. In particular our clone 828 Pinot and 548 Chardonnay were absolute standouts. If I could start all over again I would have a lot more of both planted at Hungry Point. As these vines continue to mature I look forward to crafting some very fine wines with this parcel.

“Certainly the upcoming 2019 in barrel and prior to that 2016 showed the consistently superior quality of this meeting of genetics and environment.”

In what Sullivan calls an unusual move, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 2018 estate wines were not barrelled down into new oak. “The elevage of Pinot took place in barrels that had been seasoned for 5-6 months with some of the 2017 Hungry Point cuvee then stored until use in the fall of 2018,” he says. “The Chardonnay ferments all took place in second and third fill 500 L puncheons with all but one being tight grained French oak. One third of the Pinot was racked to new wood in the late fall of 2019 once the barrel shipment arrived and was finished there for 5 months prior to blending and bottling.”

He noted that, “oddly, or perhaps not, given the contrarian nature of cool climate Pinot Noir and to some degree Chardonnay, cooler higher acid vintages take oak on better than warm/hot years in my experience. Perhaps it’s just me but I think more than a few winemakers have noticed the same thing — oak and acidity are a firm handshake, about the only one allowed these days, LOL.”

Sullivan believes the 2018 JCR (top tier) wines will stand as some of the most age worthy produced at Rosehall Run, “although the Pinot Noir, usually approachable early, will require 3-5 years to shed some of the tannic grip that is dominant now. The Chardonnay will last for a decade for sure I believe, proving once again that Ontario wines are worthy additions to any serious cellar.”

You would be well advised to seek these wines out, what little there is, upon release.

Here’s what I liked from the new releases (some upcoming) from Rosehall Run.

The wines

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Run Pinot Noir 2018 ($42, fall release, 94 points) — This 15th vintage of the JCR (the monogram of Rosehall’s co-founder John Campbell Reston) Pinot, from estate vines planted in 2001-2002, is the best I have tasted not only from Rosehall, but perhaps the County in any vintage. It is an outlier for the more delicate, pretty and minerally driven Pinots that are always charming but rarely show the power and depth that this has. Only 300 cases of the Pinot were made and I suspect it will sell out quickly when released this fall. The power of this wine shows immediately on the nose with aromas of crushed violets and garrigue with forest berries, black cherries, concentrated raspberries, cassis and spice that all builds in intensity has it opens up. It’s intense and pure on the palate with black cherries, raspberries, cranberries, bramble and cassis, grippy tannins, depth, complexity, crushed stones and a beautifully long, long finish with finesse and fine oak spices that linger for minutes. Can cellar 5+ years and will integrate further. Such a powerful and well-made Pinot Noir that you need in your cellar.

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Run Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($36, limited release during i4C July 17-19, 94 points) — This, too, is from the north block of the estate vineyard planted in 2001-2002 with the fruit fermented in 500 L puncheons and aged on its lees for 17 months. It’s an ethereal example of County Chardonnay with a pure and minerally nose that combines creamy pear, apple skin, lemon blossoms, salinity, citrus and elegant oak spice notes. It’s mouth filling on the palate with rich, creamy orchard fruits, river-rock minerality, integrated oak spice, lovely texture and depth through a lifted and long finish. Such a beautiful Chardonnay with a score to match the Pinot above. This will be a great Chard to cellar 6+ years and see where it goes.

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir 2019, VQA Ontario ($20, LCBO, 89 points) — This non-County Pinot is aged in 30% French oak with 10% of the wine seeing new wood for five months. It has a savoury nose of beetroot, dark cherries, brambly raspberries, violets and spice notes. It shows more purity of fruit on the palate with crushed red berries, subtle anise/licories, toasted oak spices and a vibrant finish.

Rosehall Run Unoaked Chardonnay 2019, VQA Ontario ($15, LCBO, 88 points) — There’s a certain creaminess on the nose of this unoaked Chard with apple, pear, peach and subtle citrus zest. It’s quite lovely on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, a creamy texture and plenty of juicy acidity on the finish. $15? Great value.

Rosehall Run Small Lots Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019 ($29, winery and online, 91 points) — This is the Rosehall’s first rosé made entirely from estate grown Pinot Noir from the south block planted in 2003-2004. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a highly aromatic and pretty nose of ripe raspberries, cherries, violets and summer herbs. It’s perfectly dry with succulent red berries and savoury herbs on the palate that all lead to a bright and zesty finish.

Rosehall Run Just One Rose Rosé 2019, VQA Ontario ($18, 89 points) — This blend of 96% Gamay and the rest Pinot Noir and Zweigelt is close to the same shade as the rosé above with a nose of raspberries, watermelon and citrus. It’s dry with ripe red berries, watermelon and lemon zest on a bright finish.

Rosehall Run Pét-Nat 2019 ($32 and $69 in magnum, winery, 91 points) — Rosehall Run’s first foray into the world of pét-nats is a celebration of blended estate County fruit that I can safely say has never been attempted anywhere on this great Earth of ours. Winemaker Dan Sullivan looked to his experimental plantings in the estate vineyard and took Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Muscat Ottonel and Tempranillo to craft this one of a kind sparkler. He wasn’t done yet — a top up of sparkling Chardonnay, or pre-bottling triage, was used to up the bubble potential. It shows a bright magenta colour in the glass with a soft effervescence to go with aromas of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and earthy/brambly notes and just a subtle hint of reduction. It’s bright and dry on the palate with defined red berries, earth, black cherries, searing acidity and remarkably clean through the finish.

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Gris 2018 ($26, winery in the fall, 89 points) — Such a well-defined nose of lemon tart, apricot, grapefruit and fuzzy peach. It’s juicy and ripe, but made in a dry style with pear, apricot, subtle peachiness and lime zest on the finish. Quite tasty and refreshing.