By Rick VanSickle
What is one to do when you sellout of your wines as quickly as you make them? If you are Grant Westcott and Carolyn Hurst, owners of Westcott Vineyards, you buy another vineyard, of course.
And they did; in 2019 purchasing the spectacular Butlers’ Grant Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench, a 43-acre jewel that allowed the couple to expand their primarily Pinot Noir/Chardonnay/sparking portfolio from the home vineyard to old vine Riesling, Cabernet Franc and more Pinot and Chard.
Note: Top photo by is by Steve Elphick.
Once the vineyard purchase was complete, the Westcotts decided it was finally time to hire a full-time winemaker. Casey Kulcyk joined the winery last July for his first vintage as Westcott’s full-time head winemaker, after working with Jackson-Triggs as the assistant winemaker prior to that for six years. Some of his first wines — two Rieslings from the 2019 vintage in Butlers’ Grant — are just being released now (one of them already sold out).
The Westcotts, above, also hired full-time chefs Ricky + Olivia (Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson) in 2019 for their busy patio that recently closed for the winter ahead.
The in-house chefs allowed the winery to extend patio hours and gave them more flexibility to stay open longer into the season. Casipe and Simpson are big advocates for cooking with local ingredients and eating within a 100 km radius by sourcing their meats and produce from around Niagara.
For Westcott, who comes from a successful career in banking, and Hurst, from an equally successful career in tech, purchasing and running a vineyard seemed like the perfect way for them to combine their talents and passions (farming and wine) and finally bet on themselves. Initially thinking they would grow grapes and sell them to other wineries, they started with a vision of the type of wine they would love to help to create. After consulting with local experts and winemaking trailblazers and being inspired by the cool climate Chardonnays and Pinots coming out of Moira Vineyard at Malivoire, 13th Street, Flat Rock and the Le Clos Jordan vineyards, they planted twenty-eight acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and were on their way.
As time went on, however, they realized that they wanted to produce their estate wine under the Westcott Vineyards label. The first vintage was released in 2012 to critical success.
They continued their study of cool climate viticulture and were fortunate to have their son, Garett Westcott, join them in the vineyard and Alain Sutre guide their viticulture practices the next year. Construction on the main building (which features a reclaimed 200-year old timber frame and foundation from a barn several kilometers away) began in the fall of 2013. The tasting room was opened in July 2014 and their daughter, Victoria Westcott, joined the team to lead the customer experience.
The plan has always been to produce 100% estate grown wines (they source only a small amount of Gamay for the Temperance blend) in tiny quantities for a 7,500-case (or so) portfolio that sells out quickly. The addition of Butlers’ Grant will increase the case count, but not the philosophy behind what the couple wants to achieve.
Wines In Niagara met with Westcott, Hurst and Kulcyk recently to taste in a safe, socially-distanced setting in the main tasting room at the winery. We kept the politics down to a dull roar (Hurst is chair of Ontario Craft Wineries and has a lot of on her plate these days) and will leave that for another day. We were focused on the wines, many of which were sold out (sold out wines were reviewed, but not scored, below), and a glimpse of what’s to come from the new Butlers’ Grant Vineyard.
Here’s what I can recommend:
Westcott Lillias Chardonnay 2019 ($25, sold out) — This is Westcott’s unoaked version of estate Chardonnay that underwent about 50% malo and some lees aging. It has an attractive nose of green apple, fresh pear, lemon blossoms and flinty minerality. It’s more austere on the palate with racy acidity driving the bus and shining a spotlight on fresh tree fruits, citrus, flint and a subtle smoky note on the finish. Makes one think of Chablis. Can cellar to tame the high acids and fill it out a bit.
Westcott Block 76 Chardonnay 2018 ($45, sold out) — From a single block on the southeast facing estate vineyard on Vinemount Ridge, with full malo, wild fermentation, some lees stirring and aging in French oak (25% new) for 10 months. A much more overt nose (compared to the Lillias) with fleshy pear, soft baked apple, toasted almonds, rich oak spice notes and lemon tart. It has a creamy feel on the palate with ripe quince notes, lemon curd, spice and toasted vanilla with citrus zest and length through the finish. Can cellar this for 4+ years to better integrate the oak.
Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2019 ($30, Vintages Nov. 28, 91 points) — This is the baby sister of the Reserve Chard below with the difference in the two wines all down to barrel selection. It’s aged in French oak for 10 months with 30% new barrels. I love the balance in this classy Chardonnay. Yes, the spices play a role on the nose with butterscotch/toasty notes but there’s a lovely salinity to counter it with ripe apple, pear, pineapple and lemon toast chiming in. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with baked apple, lavish spices, pear, underlying citrus zest and a finessed, long finish. Delicious now, but can cellar 4+ years.
Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($45, winery now, 92 points) — A beauty of a Chardonnay that underwent full malo and was aged in French oak for 10 months (20% new, 40% one year old and 40% neutral). It presents on nose as a much more fulsome wine than the estate Chard with creamy, toasted oak spice notes to go with ripe pear, peach, baked apple fruits and butterscotch accents. It shows its mineral side on the palate with the full range of ripe orchard fruits, rich and layered spices with creamy texture that is tempered on the finish by the racy acidity. Beautiful length and energy here and it should continue to improve for 5+ years. Lovely Chardonnay.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 (around $45 when released, 93 points) — This is the first Chardonnay from the newly acquired Butlers’ Grant Vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. “There was a lot of elegance and restraint this year (2019),” Kulcyk says. That’s a pretty accurate assessment as this is a much more refined, tight and elegant Chardonnay with plenty of upside as it develops. The nose takes a few minutes to open up then reveals a beautiful saline freshness with apple skin, pear, flinty minerality, lemon peel, some toasty/spicy notes and subtle caramel. It has depth and precision on the palate with quince, citrus, flinty/matchstick notes, length, vibrancy and a finish that echos for minutes. I feel this wine will age beautifully for 6+ years and will build in intensity in the cellar.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Riesling 2019 — The first vintage from the recently purchased Butlers’ Grant Vineyard (located on the south side of Highway 8 across from Stoney Ridge Winery), sold out as quickly as it was released. The Riesling from this vineyard, planted in 1980, has always been highly distinct and noted for its profound vein of ginger in previous iterations. Remember Creekside’s version? It had a cult-like following. It shows lovely citrus, lemon blossom and ginger in spades. It’s made in a dry, austere style, with juicy citrus, wet stone minerality, subtle reduction, green apple and a ginger kick with a clean, refreshing finish.
Westcott Reserve Riesling 2019 (price to be determined, released before Christmas, 88 points) — A very interesting wine that will divide Riesling lovers due to its unique styling. Fully 25% of the fruit was botrytised and winemaker Kulczyk chose to ferment the wine dry, to 4 g/l of RS and left it to undergo full malo. The nose is shy at the moment and shows understated apricot, pear, lanolin, pear, lemon pith and perfumed ginger notes. It’s layered on the palate and showing notes of apple skin, grapefruit, apricot, ginger, lemon and mineral notes in a nervy, fresh, high-acid style that will need time to all come together. We will see where this wine goes, but it definitely needs time in the cellar to show off the best of what botrytis can bring to the table. If drinking now, a full decant would be advised (I tasted this newly opened and later after hours after it was opened and notice a big difference. I would love to see more RS in this in the future to really showcase the botrytis characteristics (maybe one of each)?
Westcott Brilliant 2013 ($40, sold out) — Westcott is gaining quite a reputation for its sparkling program. Both the Brilliant and Brilliant Rosé 2018 ($33) quickly sold out — and for good reason; they are simply delicious. Both are traditionally made with Brilliant being a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, hand riddled, hand disgorged and on the lees for 75 months. The 2017 version of this sparkler will be released after Christmas this year. The ’13 Brilliant has such a glorious nose of lemon tart, crisp apple, biscuit and brioche with a vigorous mousse. There’s freshness and an elegant attack of bubbles on the palate with bready/yeasty/brioche notes to go with pear, apple and citrus on a vibrant and long finish. The Rosé 2018 shows an exciting range of red berries, an energetic mousse, toasty/biscuit notes and a finessed finish. Two very nice sparklers, but you have to act fast when they are released.
The Pinot Noirs
Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, Vintages Nov. 28, winery now, 90 points) — From estate fruit from the home vineyard with aging in French oak (15% new) for 23 months. It has an attractive nose of black cherries, cassis, earthy/bramble notes, wild raspberries and elegant oak spice. It’s bright and finessed on the palate with tart red berries, cranberries, soft tannic structure, spice and verve through the finish. The 2016 version of this wine, long sold out, is a more voluptuous Pinot with darker fruits, power and complexity.
Westcott Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($45, winery, 92 points) — The wine spent 22 months in French oak (25% new oak) and was whole cluster wild fermented. It has an earthy, mineral nose of savoury cherries, brambly raspberries, cassis, anise and toasted spices. It’s framed by fine tannins on the palate with crunchy red berries, dark fruit nuances, earth and well integrated spice notes with a finessed and long finish. This will age nicely for 7+ years. The 2016 version, long sold out, is much more concentrated and structured with riper red fruits and firmer tannins.