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Two terroirs, one winemaker: The wines from Organized Crime and Keint-He

By Rick VanSickle

Winemaker Greg Yemen has been a calming influence at The Organized Crime Winery, quietly guiding and shaping the modern and eclectic portfolio of Beamsville Bench wines since 2016.

Yemen, below, began at Organized Crime in 2014 as the assistant to Ross Wise (MW, and currently Black Hills Estate Winery and senior winemaker for Andrew Peller Ltd. in B.C.) with a portfolio that was at one time heavy into appassimento wines, influenced by Andrzej Lipinski (owner now of Big Head Wines). Yemen has backed off somewhat from focusing on dried grapes and built a portfolio of wines that is more consistent with what the Beamsville Bench can deliver while honing winemaking techniques that satisfy the skin-contact/orange crowd out there.

Ontario wine

Organized Crime was started in 1999 by Jan Tarasewicz and his wife Krystyna, who sadly passed away in 2016, when the only other neighbours on the precious piece of real estate in the area were Thirty Bench and EastDell (where Locust Lane Winery is now). The wines were first made by Lipinski and his method of drying grapes (appassimento) in old tobacco kilns from Norfolk County was something he pioneered and used at various wineries where he has made wine and it is the signature style of wine at his own Big Head winery.

Last fall, Jan Tarasewicz sold the winery and retired. Krystyna’s daughter, Ania De Deluba along with her husband Edward Zaski and their two daughters purchased the property and moved into the estate house last summer.

“Needless to say, this year of transition, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely hectic, says Yemen. “Through all the chaos, the 2020 growing year gave us the best fruit I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The first 2020 wines were bottle in April and have just been released.”

While Yemen controls the winemaking from tending to the vineyard to bottling, he still finds time to consult on other projects, such as making the wine at Prince Edward County’s Keint-He, which he has been doing since the summer of 2019 (we review the current wines below).

Yemen’s style of wine at Organized Crime is more instinctual than by the book. “I always attempt to make wine on gut instinct, trying to be in the moment and trusting my palate rather than following any plan or recipe,” he says. “I do my best to avoid ideology and bandwagons and really just focus on trying to make wines that best express the grape variety, vintage and vineyard I am working with. The techniques and methods I use to do such are varied and change as I better understand our vineyards.”

His first skin-contact orange wine is a prime example of that. Yemen spent four years on trials until he found that the best results with the estate Gewurztraminer was to ferment it on its skins as an orange wine. His Pinot Gris, one of the most unique and interesting made in Niagara, always shows best with some degree of skin contact fermented in large wooden foudre. And his Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling seem to show best with gentle whole bunch pressing, and always with components fermented in older foudre or puncheons, he says.

For the red wines, says Yemen, “I have taken a very less is more approach with very minimal cap management during ferment. I am starting to play with more large format oak aging with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc with very good results. And we still play around with a little bit of appassimento with our Bordeaux reds, as I find it makes a very interesting blending component.

“I guess I just try to keep an open mind and learn a bit more every vintage. Hopefully by the time I’m 85 I’ll have this wine thing half figured out.”

As we look at Yemen’s newest white wines and skin contact whites, I’m quite certain he has it figured out. It’s a solid portfolio of wines with a nice mix of traditional winemaking and experimental offerings that will appeal for the more adventurous wine lover.

Here’s what I liked from Organized Crime’s new releases (with red wines to come later). Keint-He wines, also under Yemen’s guidance, follow after that.

Organized Crime Sacrilege 2020 ($26, winery, 90 points) — This is Yemen’s first skin-contact fermented orange wine, the result of four years of small batch trials with different grapes and techniques to help him better understand this category. The blend is 74% Gewurztraminer, 24% Riesling, 2% Pinot Gris that’s all co-fermented from hand picked estate fruit. The Pinot Gris component was used as a pied de cuve wild ferment starter. Whole berry Gewurztraminer and then Riesling was layered on top of the fermenting Pinot Gris. The ferment was constantly fed captured CO2 from other ferments to encourage carbonic maceration, while the pied de cuve below started a traditional ferment. The wine fermented on its skins for 12 days with only very minimal hand plunging every other day to minimize phenolic extraction. On day 12, the ferment was gently pressed with half going to older puncheon and half to stainless. The wood portion underwent full malo while the stainless portion had malo blocked with cooling to preserve the acidity. Yemen called this a “very fun wine to make.” It shows a light copper colour in the glass and has aromas of lime cordial, orange peel, touch of reduction, lime zest, citrus pulp and white flowers. The fruit on the palate is quite ripe, but made in a bone-dry style, with layers of mature peach, savoury herbs, ginger in spades, lychee, citrus rind, tea tannins and underlying reductive notes that is all bolstered on the finish by electrifying acidity.

Organized Crime Pinot Gris 2020 ($21, winery, 91 points) — This is quickly becoming a signature wine from Yemen. Almost half the fruit is from the estate and the other half from another Beamsville Bench winery. As in previous vintages, this wine is a blend of a number of small batches, each employing different techniques and methods. 55% of the Pinot Gris was given 28 hours of skin contact before pressing and then fermented in various sized neutral wood vessels from 225L up to 1000L in size. The other 45% was gently whole bunch pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Wild as well as various cultured yeasts were used and 25% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. The portions fermented in wood were left on their ferment lees for four months before the wine was blended for bottling in April. It shows a bright copper colour in the glass with a nose of tangy marmalade, fuzzy peach, a fresh a saline note, melon, touch of spice and interesting red berry accents. It’s ripe and bold on the palate with sun-ripened peaches, wild berries, citrus rind, earth and lovely texture structure and firm acidic backbone keeping it lively through the finish.

Organized Crime Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($19, winery, sold out at Vintages, 92 points) — From the estate’s low yielding estate Sauvignon Blanc, the fruit is 100% gently whole-bunch pressed. 82% of the juice was fermented in stainless steel and the other 18% fermented wild in older barrels. Both the barrel and tank components were left on the lees after fermenting. Oh, wow! This has such a bright and persistent nose of fresh grapefruit, passion fruit, herbs, wild flowers and lime zest. It softens on the palate with gorgeous texture, riper pear and citrus fruits, pinch of spice, herbs and a juicy finish from the mouth-watering acidity.

Organized Crime Mischief 2019 ($19, retail, sold out at Vintages, 88 points) — The blend is 53% Riesling (estate), 32 % Gewurztraminer (purchased), and 15% Pinot Gris (estate). As is the case with almost all of Yemen’s wines, this is a blend of stainless and old wood fermented components. The point here was to make a balanced and easy drinking white wine. I would say, mission accomplished. It has an interesting nose of pear, apple, melon, lemon and subtle lychee and grapefruit. It has a bit of RS on the palate, which plays well with sweet-tart play of apple, pear, grapefruit, touch of ginger and decent acidity on the finish.

Keint-He Winery and Vineyards

Yemen has been working with Keint-He since the summer of 2019. For the 2019 vintage, a local Prince Edward County winemaker worked the harvest under Yemen’s consultation and since early 2020 there has been a cellar helper working under his supervision. The six wines reviewed here are all current releases with some made by the previous winemaker, some finished by Yemen and some started and finished by him. Yes, it’s complicated!

Keint-He Arrowmatic White 2020 ($25, 88 points) — This is a blend of 43% Riesling, 43% Gewurztraminer and 14% Pinot Gris all sourced from Niagara. It has a bright and cheerful nose of perfumed lychee nut, grapefruit, melon and citrus notes. It’s a touch off-dry, but juicy on the palate and loaded with grapefruit, pear, melon and lychee. Easy drinking sipper.

Keint-He Vacay Chardonnay 2020 ($30, 91 points) — The fruit for this tidy, tropical Chard is sourced from David’s Bench in Niagara. It was aged in French oak puncheons, of which, 25% was new, 50% 2nd and 3rd use and 25% neutral. It has a fresh and minerally nose of pear, pineapple, lemon blossom, crushed stones, apple skin and elegant spice notes. It has lovely texture on the palate with denser, more persistent fruit on the palate that ranges from ripe pear and pineapple to citrus and apple with lovely spice notes and bright acidity on the finish.

Keint-He Portage Chardonnay 2016 ($25, 89 points) — The fruit is all from Prince Edward County with a nose of pear, apple skin, Meyer lemon, sea shells and a lovely vein of salinity. It’s minerally rich on the palate with fresh apple, pear and citrus and made in a fresh and lively style.

Keint-He Greer Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($40, 92 points) — This Chardonnay is all from the estate’s Greer Road Vineyard in the County and sees a 50-50 mix of second use and neutral oak. It’s bottled unfiltered and unfined. This is a gorgeous, distinctly PEC Chard with chalky/saline notes, pear, bin apple, lemon biscuit and just a lovely, fully integrated hint of spice. It’s lean and vibrant on the palate with chalky minerality, pear, lemon and a subtle savoury thing going on that adds interesting complexity to the mix. It has length and vibrancy on the finish with zesty citrus acidity. Pure County goodness.

Keint-He Portage Pinot Noir 2017 ($25, 89 points) — This 100% County sourced Pinot has a ripe nose of black cherries, summer ripened raspberries and a touch of cassis. It’s smooth and ripe on the palate with a riot of red berries on a lifted finish. Good sipping Pinot.

Keint-He Little Creek – Benway Block Pinot Noir 2017 ($55, 92 points) — This single-block Pinot is 100% from the Little Creek Vineyard and is bottled unfined and unfiltered. A bit more complex than the Portage above with a lovely nose of tart cherries, brambly raspberries, minerals, cranberries and light spice notes. It’s smooth on the palate with some tannic structure to go with fresh red berries, earthy/savoury notes, a pinch of spice and persistence and verve through a finessed finish. Tasty Pinot.