By Rick VanSickle
One of the most anticipated wine releases in Niagara history was at The Farm Wine’s exclusive shindig last Aug. 11 at the Neudorf family’s property on the Twenty Mile Bench.
This was something different for Niagara — a once a year wine release where you needed an invite to get to the party just to taste and buy the wines you wanted to purchase. The Farm’s small winery on the sprawling property on King Street was jam packed with wine lovers who jumped at the chance to taste the limited portfolio of three Pinot Noirs and single Chardonnay and then lined up to for the privilege to purchase case after case of wine.
There was drool worthy food, including Pinot Noir glazed ducks with burnt plum jam and spicy mustard, followed by whole salmons glazed with whisky maple and fermented chili prepared by Bolete chef/owner Andrew McLeod, above, over an open fire and various noshing stations crowded with wine lovers who took in the view and vibe on a gorgeous summer’s day. There was music and an impromptu pool party and not a care in the world from the thirsty/hungry throng that left with case after case of Pinot and Chard.
What a difference a year makes! With the COVID-19 pandemic looming large, things are a little different this year. But one thing is certain — you need to be on the mailing list to have any chance of getting these wines that are going online Monday. If you want in, go here now and sign up.
If you are on the list, expect an email Monday that will outline where you can place an order for pickup at The Farm on Saturday, Aug. 8 or for shipping across Ontario. Or you can book a tasting appointment for Sunday, Aug. 9 at The Farm and buy onsite that day. The owners stress, you need an appointment for that day as social distancing protocols are being rigidly implemented. Niagara is still in Phase Two of Ontario COVID rules and awaiting Phase Three, so the situation is fluid. Chef McLeod will be back serving food and there will be a scaled down version of the in-person release, but what shape that takes is still unclear.
A little history about The Farm
The Farm Wines is owned by the Neudorf family (Jeff Neudorf is president of Ferguson-Neudorf Glass), and the family’s namesake vineyard surrounds their home and winery on the Twenty Mile Bench. The vineyard first achieved greatness when it was called La Petite Colline (of Le Clos Jordanne fame). When the Neudorf family bought the 10-acre property it was planted to hybrids from the 1960s. In 2000, Neudorf replaced those native grapes with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and it was immediately contracted to Le Clos Jordanne, at the time the Le Clos brand was owned by Vincor and is now owned by 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. Production was ramped up for the 2017 vintage, with 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 Mason hired as the winemaker (who is also the winemaker at Queylus and the head winemaker at Honsberger), grapes from her own Mason 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 Neudorf Vineyard as the other. The Farm also has a Niagara-sourced Pinot Noir “Black Label” offering and a Chardonnay (last vintage called “Unmarked” but just labeled Chardonnay for the new vintage). Both that Pinot and the Chard are from grapes sourced around Niagara and offer good value and provide a steady supply for restaurants around Ontario, and now, of course, consumers who are on the mailing list.
Neudorf, above with Kelly Mason, told me before last year’s release that “it was never our intent to have a retail licence” but they now have one. And they only utilize that licence one a year with one single release of all four wines. And this is the entire marketing brilliance behind The Farm.
I recently taste all four of the wines being released in August and ready for ordering as of Monday (if you are on the email list) with Mason. Here is what I liked:
The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2018 ($25, 93 points) — Fruit sourced for this high value Chardonnay is from “friends” around Niagara, says Mason, whose style has always been for low intervention, always wild fermented, hands off, gently oaked (less than 20% new French oak and elevage for 24 months), and finessed, highlighting the minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench. A Chardonnay of this quality at this price (up $3 from last year) is a no brainer — such a beautiful wine with a pristine and pure nose of pear, apple, lemon zest, saline minerality and subtle, elegant toasted oak spice notes. It’s caressing and textured on the palate with ripe pear/apple/quince fruit, integrated spices, stony minerality, and juicy, mouth-watering acidity driving through the finish. This has a touch more weight and a finer texture than the 2017 version and still comes with an attractive price tag.
The Farm “Black Label” Pinot Noir 2018 ($25, 91 points) — This is also a Pinot blend sourced from “friends” in Niagara and the price over last year has risen by $3 per bottle — still a steal at $25 for a Pinot of this quality. This, too, like the entire portfolio, is wild fermented with less than 20% new French oak aging over 24 months. Such lovely black cherries, crushed raspberries, beetroot and savoury spice notes on the nose. It’s pure and silky on the palate with savoury red berries, touch of anise, elegant spice and tingling acidity on the finish.
The Farm Neudorf Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($55, only 50 cases available, 93 points) — 100% estate fruit from the Twenty Mile Bench winery that’s wild fermented with 20 months in French oak, less than 20% of which is new oak. I love the fact that the two single vineyard Pinots, though both sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench, are vastly different from one another. The flagship Neudorf is the prettier of the two with a highly perfumed nose of tart red cherries, brambly raspberries, crushed stones, floral notes and lovely spices, very much in line with the previous vintage. That perfumed prettiness follows on the palate with notes of dark cherries, concentrated raspberries, anise, integrated oak spices and ripe tannins with a long, finessed finish. This should develop for a few more years and provide good drinking while you wait on the Mason Vineyard, below.
The Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($50, also only 50 cases, 94 points) — Mason’s own vineyard, which is 30+ years old, is 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. Like the previous vintage, it’s tighter and more reserved at the moment than the Neudorf, and shows a deeper red colour in the glass. After swirling and coming back to it, the nose shows a full range of dark cherries, brambly raspberries, earthiness, cranberries, cassis and anise with toasty oak accents and earthy minerality. While it still has to open up on the palate, it’s already showing power, complexity and concentration with ripe red berries, cassis, anise, a rich vein of minerals, grippy tannic structure, toasted spice notes and juicy acidity through a long finish. Needs time for fully open up, but will be worth the wait. Say, 5+ years. A great comparison for the two extremes of Pinot Noir on the Twenty Mile Bench when both are made by the same winemaker using similar technique in the winemaking. The style of Pinot you like to drink will drive your buying decisions.