By Rick VanSickle
Things are different these days here on top of the Beamsville Bench where winemaker Richie Roberts, above, hangs his hat at Fielding Estate Winery.
Need a clue? Look no further than the igloo huts dotting the front lawn at the family owned and operated winery. They provide a safe haven for wine lovers in a private and fun environment to escape the COVID-19 pandemic that consumes our lives these days.
It’s a comfortable retreat that comes with spectacular views down the escarpment to Lake Ontario and Toronto in the distance, cheese plates and flights of wine all inside cosy wine domes that are heated, transparent, socially distanced and exclusive to your party, allowing guests to enjoy the outdoors in comfort. It’s by reservation only with members of your household and/or a max of two people essential to your physical or mental health with a maximum of four people.
Fielding has been way ahead of the curve since last March when the virus first reared its ugly head and caused so much scrambling and consternation for wineries in the region. It was one of the first wineries to offer a safe space with socially distanced seating in the new outdoor vineyard lounge. The team eventually added umbrellas and a seasonal tent to the lounge space and spread out picnic tables around the property to enjoy your wine, cider and picnic lunch.
Winemaker Roberts also adapted quickly to the new reality by hosting some of the first virtual wine tastings in the region. His idea was to offer consumers different wines purchased online from Fielding, and then invited tasters to join in on a live broadcast via a link on Facebook and Instagram and taste along with him as he shared the story behind the wines, how he made them, what to pair with them and answer questions from viewers.
On this day, the first time I have tasted with Roberts, masked above, in person since the pandemic began, we met in the retail facility where our stemware and wines were placed at separate tables. Consumers can still go into the retail facility to purchase wines, but not taste them. We wore our masks until it was time to taste and carefully moved around (when we had to) wearing our masks. All staff on hand wore masks as Roberts and I tasted a range of wines. We certainly felt very safe with this arrangement.
Roberts and assistant winemaker Clark Tyler preside over a fairly robust lineup of wines (and ciders!) over several tiers and labels. The popular Long Weekend wines are well-made wines for every day enjoyment and are generally sourced from different vineyards throughout Niagara and widely available at the LCBO and winery. There are core wines, like the Pinot Grigio reviewed below, that represent some of what Niagara does best and come from either sourced fruit from trusted Niagara growers or estate fruit. Then there are the Estate wines, which are 100% grown at two vineyards Fielding owns — the home vineyard on the Beamsville Bench and the Tufford Road Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation. And lastly, Roberts sources single-vineyard wines from top growers around the peninsula and puts his enormous talent behind these special bottlings.
We tasted through some of the top wines made by Roberts, and, make no mistake, this winemaker brings some really fine wines to market at all levels, but at the Estate and single-vineyard level, they are among the best being made in the region.
Here’s what I can recommend from our tasting:
Fielding Brut NV ($40, winery only, 93 points) — This consists mostly of the 2014 vintage with 50 months on the lees when disgorged. The blend is 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir and it’s made in the traditional method with a tiny dosage of 6 g/l of RS. What a gorgeous sparkling at an attractive price point. It has a lovely toasty nose with lemon, brioche, crisp apple, cream and citrus zest with a persistent bead in the glass. It’s vibrant and fresh on the palate with underlying toasty/brioche notes, baked apple, a creamy texture, lemon tart and wonderful finesse and energy on the finish.
Fielding Pinot Grigio 2019 ($17, winery and LCBO, 88 points) — This is a large (by Niagara standards) production of 4,000 cases, but Roberts does a nice, consistent job building a dry and flavourful Pinot Grigio each and every vintage. The nose shows melon, lime, apple and pear and shows a tinge of colour in the glass from some skin contact. It’s refreshing and vibrant on the palate with crisp apple, citrus and melon notes with a round texture and plenty of juicy acidity on the finish.
Fielding Rock Pile Pinot Gris 2019 ($28, Christmas release, 92 points) — This is one of the signature wines from Fielding, in my opinion, and always one of the top examples of this grape made in Niagara. It comes from the estate-owned Tufford Road Vineyard in the Lincoln-Lakeshore sub-app from vines 30+ years old, believed to be the oldest planting of Pinot Gris in Niagara. It’s usually picked later than the regular Pinot Gris and 40% of the pick is barrel fermented in neutral oak puncheons. It also has about 8 hours of skin contact. The nose, just a little tight out of the gate, reveals rich Bosc pear, apricot, melon, golden apple and a touch of spice. It’s a textural marvel on the palate with layers of pear, honey, ripe melon, wild honey and cream notes, spice and enough zippy acidity to keep it lip-smacking good to the end. I prefer to lay down this wine for a year or two to let it fully reveal itself and even gain a bit of viscosity.
Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2019 ($20, winery, 90 points) — This is the 10th vintage of this estate Riesling that’s grown directly below the winery and retail facility. It’s a lime bomb on the nose with citrus, crisp apple and a vein of Bench minerality. It has a playful sweet-tart feel on the palate with lime leading the way, mineral kicking in and apple joining the party on the mid palate. It has 18 g/l of RS but feels dry due to the rousing acid rush on the finish. A good candidate for the cellar, say 3+ years.
Fielding Lot No. 17 Riesling 2019 ($28, winery, 92 points) — Another signature wine from Roberts, this one made from 20-year-old vines planted to the Alsatian Clone 49 on an east-west vineyard plot at the Beamsville estate. This is such a gorgeous Riesling with a profoundly perfumed nose of lime, citrus, apple skin, honeysuckle, a pretty floral note and lovely wet-stone minerality. It gushes on the palate with ripe pear, peach cobbler, golden apple, honey, ginger, crushed stones and balancing acidity that gives a dry impression despite 25 g/l of RS. It clocks in at under 10% abv and will only get better with time in the cellar. Benchmark Beamsville Riesling for the collector out there.
Fielding Estate Gamay 2019 ($25, winery, 89 points) — This is Roberts’ first single-varietal Gamay from the estate’s Tufford Road Vineyard in Lincoln-Lakeshore. The grapes spent 15 days on the skins. Roberts says he wanted a wine that wasn’t “too heavy handed … the subtleties of Gamay are part of it.” The nose shows plums, savoury raspberries, cherry Twizzlers and earthy/peppery notes. It’s juicy on the palate with bright red berries, plums, underbrush, pepper and subtle savoury notes through the lifted finish. A down-the-hatch crowd pleaser while sitting around a roaring winter fire outdoors. We’re all going to need wines like this for what’s ahead.
Fielding Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($43, winery, 93 points) — Roberts is one of five winemakers (including Wes Lowrey at Five Rows Craft Wine) who gets these grapes from the iconic Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench. Roberts gets a mix of the original five rows and other older plantings at the Lowrey farm. As with all of Roberts’ reds, the wines are finished unfined and unfiltered. What a beautiful, delicately perfumed nose of rose petals, crushed wild raspberries, ripe cherries and savoury/spicy notes. It possesses classic “iron fist in a velvet glove” structure on the palate with perfect balance between ripeness and elegance, softness and tannic grip. The fruits are a mélange of cherries, field raspberries and a touch of cassis with earth, spice and length through a finessed finish. Can drink now but will improve for 7+ years in the cellar. Another Lowrey beauty.
Fielding Merlot 2019 ($25, 89 points) — This Merlot was aged in French oak, 15% new barrels, for nine months. It has a meaty/smoky nose with notes of ripe dark cherries, cassis, black currants and lovely spice notes. It has tannic grip on the palate, which will need time to resolve, then a range of dark and red berries, earthy notes, spice and good tang on the finish. Cellar 5+ years.
Fielding Lowrey Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($55, winery, 92 points) — Syrah is another superstar grape grown in the Lowrey Vineyard, and Roberts knows a good thing when he sees it. This was poured beside one of two Syrahs from the 2010 vintage Roberts had left in his private cellar to show the aging potential of this fascinating wine. It was the perfect comparison as both the 2010 and 2016 vintages were similar — hot and dry with a long, worry free growing season. The 2016 is still coming around on the nose, but there is plenty of room to open up. Swirl and, if you can, decant, to reveal smoky, bold blackberries, black currants, smoked meats, black pepper, blueberries, black olives and savoury spices. It opens up beautifully on the palate with a profile dripping in dark berries and smothered in smoky/savoury/meaty notes, black licorice, eucalypt, fine grained tannins and barrel oak spices that all lead to a long, long finish. The 2010 vintage is all of that, but more plush with everything beautifully synchronized. Can cellar the 2016 10+ years if you have the patience, and even longer if you dare.
This is the original review published on Wines In Niagara of the 2010 Lowrey Vineyard Syrah:
A serious Syrah, sourced from the Lowrey vineyard in St. David’s, with those deep, rich earthy aromas that’s big and beefy on the nose with dark fruits just beginning to emerge. It comes packed with a full range of flavours on the palate including roasted meats, white pepper, boysenberry, bramble, blueberry, cassis and peppery spices. Needs time to come together but it has the structure to last. Or drink now with lamb stew or charbroiled steaks.