By Rick VanSickle
A lot of imagery bombards my senses when I sip the natural wines from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. Not the least of which is a hookah-smoking caterpillar sitting there calmly amid tangerine trees under marmalade skies.
OK, yes, that’s weird, but I just can’t help dusting off those classic vinyl records in my basement when tasting the juicy, glug-glug orange, pét-nats and skin contact whites Brisbois, below, and Trail Estate in Prince Edward County continue to champion.
They are a trippy, curious diversion from the tried-and-true classic wines that dominate my tasting table, and cellar. We all need to a little untethered fun now and then, a challenge for our tastebuds and, for me, a trip down memory lane to the music of my youth that seems such a perfect fit for these wines. Let’s face it, if Woodstock was staged today, the house wine wouldn’t be a well decanted, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon or even an elegant Chardonnay served in polished Riedel Winewings stemware from the comfort of your Happier Camper. No, it would more than likely be an astringent ORNG wine, a slightly tannic but oh-so-juicy Oh Julius or the savoury Red Pét Nat poured generously into plastic cups or, even better, guzzled straight from the bottle, while The Flaming Lips perform anything from American Head under a starry, starry sky.
The natural wine movement is a growing community with more and more wineries going all in on the style while bottle shops are popping up offering nothing but these wines sourced from around the world and increasingly, from B.C. and Ontario. Brisbois has been a trail blazer of natural wines in Ontario, and to some extent, it has trickled down to all her wines that tend to be made with very little intervention, few additives and always edgy.
Her latest releases are a nice mix of natural wines and classic examples that are made with minimal sulphur. I’ve broken down my reviews into two segments — the three natural wines paired to songs from my dinosaur-era record collection that, for one reason or another, remind me of each particular wine, with the classic wines following.
Three trippy wines,
three trippy songs
Trail Estate Oh Julius 2010 ($35) paired with the classic Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
“Picture yourself in a boat on a river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies / Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly / A girl with kaleidoscope eyes / Cellophane flowers of yellow and green / Towering over your head / Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes / And she’s gone / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Ah / Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain / Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies / Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers / That grow so incredibly high / Newspaper taxis appear on the shore / Waiting to take you away / Climb in the back with your head in the clouds / And you’re gone
Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Ah / Picture yourself on a train in a station / With plasticine porters with looking glass ties / Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile / The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds”
So, the blend is 59% Riesling, 35% Gewurztraminer and 6% Muscat all sourced from the Wismer Vineyard in Niagara. A mixture of skins was added to the top of each tank to create a cap and protect the wine for further aging. It was bottled raw, straight from the tank with no sulphur or additives. It was wild fermented and finished unfined and unfiltered. It shows a light orange colour in the glass, and you can drink it as cloudy (and flavourful) as you want by stirring the sediment (see very top photo in this post) before pouring into your glass. The nose is alive with tangerine, Orangina, mulled peaches and pears, ginger spice and concentrated lime/citrus notes. It’s tangy, dry, and austere on the palate with light tannins, fresh tangerine, orange zest, peach skins, an earthy note, and a bright, vibrant finish. Lucy would approve.
See a video of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds here.
Trail Estate ORNG 2020 ($55) paired with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit
“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all / Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall / And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall / Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call / He called Alice, when she was just small / When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go / And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low / Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know / When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead / And the White Knight is talking backwards / And the Red Queen’s off with her head / Remember what the Dormouse said / Feed your head, feed your head”
Brisbois’s ORNG wine is one of the benchmarks for the style in Ontario. It’s an unlikely blend of 50% Riesling, 35% Gewurztraminer and 15% Sauvignon Blanc all sourced from two vineyards in Niagara. The fruit was de-stemmed and fermented naturally in vertical stainless-steel tanks. During fermentation the cap was punched down twice daily until it started to weaken. Tanks were then sealed tight for several months. It was pressed after nearly 8 months on skins and aged in neutral oak for just under two months and bottled unfined and unfiltered with a minute amount of sulphur added. I paired this with one of the strangest songs from the psychedelic era of music, because, well … like the wine, it’s as trippy as it gets. I suggest decanting this wine to let the funk blow off (unless that’s your thing and don’t mind, er, going down that rabbit hole), but under the funk there is some interesting dried apricot notes, marmalade, lychee nut, marzipan, umami, and nectarine notes. It’s fully dry with evident tannins and complexity on the palate followed by citrus rind, earthy/savoury notes, dried orange peel and a tangy, bright finish.
See a video of White Rabbit here.
Trail Estate Red Pét Nat 2021 ($35) paired with Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze
“Purple haze, all in my brain / Lately things they don’t seem the same / Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why / Excuse me while I kiss the sky / Purple haze, all around / Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down / Am I happy or in misery? / Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me / Help me / Help me / Oh, no, no / Ooh, ah / Ooh, ah / Ooh, ah / Ooh, ah, yeah! / Purple haze all in my eyes / Don’t know if it’s day or night / You got me blowin’, blowin’ my mind / Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time? / Ooh / Help me / Ahh, yeah, yeah, purple haze / Oh, no, oh / Oh, help me / Tell me, tell me, purple haze / I can’t go on like this / (Purple haze) you’re makin’ me blow my mind / Purple haze, n-no, no / (Purple haze)”
The pairing works here because this pét-nat is a riot of purple haze fruit, and, oh, the edgy guitar of Hendrix is so absolutely, completely and brilliantly chaotic that you won’t be able to get enough of both. Please crank this tune up to 11. The blend is 40% Riesling, 37% Baco Noir and 23% Cabernet Franc from a combination of Niagara and estate Trail fruit. It was fermented with temperature control and racked for clarity and the wine was bottled three months after the first grapes were picked. Another interesting nose of savoury wild blackberries, anise, cherry cola, black raspberries, and minty herbs. It’s already showing a vigorous mousse in the glass and lights up on the palate with a mix of red and dark berries, a basket of herbs, earthy/savoury notes and a bright, lifted finish.
See a video of Purple Haze here.
Note, do you want to round out your trippy playlist? Add these classics: See Emily Play (Pink Floyd), Eight Miles High (The Byrds), Time of the Season (Zombies), Sunshine of Your Love (Cream), In the White Room (Cream), Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Interstellar Overdrive (Pink Floyd), Season of The Witch (Donovan).
Three of the more traditional Trail wines
Trail Estate enjoyed one of the largest harvests ever at the estate in 2021, said proprietor Alex Sproll. “We made a few custom projects and expanded the piquette lineup.” Sproll also revealed, that with Brisbois currently working on a harvest in South Africa, she is making three small batches there and Trail and hopes to import them to Canada next year to share with consumers.
Trail Estate Traditional Method Pinot Noir 2017 (not released yet, in the $75 range, 93 points) — This 100% estate Pinot Noir was pressed and cold settled before being wild fermented in stainless steel. After settling, it was sterile filtered prior to bottling for a secondary fermentation. It was aged for 3.5 years and will be disgorged 72 bottles at a time every three or four months over the next few years. There was zero dosage. It has such an interesting and beautiful nose of fresh cranberries, baked bread/biscuit, an array of red berries, spice, and toasted almonds. It has an elegant, persistent bead in the glass with tart forest berries, cran-cherries, white raspberries, pink grapefruit, brioche, toasty/nutty notes, spice and a lifted, bright finish. Beautiful sparkling wine.
Trail Estate Barrel-Fermented Riesling 2020 ($38, 90 points) — Fermented naturally with natural malolactic, it was racked out of barrel after 10 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Minimal sulphur was added. This has an expressive nose of lime, apricot, earthy/savoury notes, peach fuzz, a floral accent, and spice. There is subtle effervescent in the glass with deep lime and lemon notes, dried apricot, earthy undertones, perfectly dry and austere with a bright, lifted finish. Would love to age this up to five years to see where it goes.
Trail Estate Cabernet Franc 2019 ($45, 91 points) — The fruit was hand harvested from the Foxcroft Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara. It was de-stemmed and fermented naturally with punch downs with a month of maceration. It was then pressed and racked to barrel to age for 19 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered with only minimal sulphur. This wine has a deep, dense nose of cassis, anise, forest berries, pepper, undergrowth, savoury spices and subtle stemmy, pyrazine notes. It’s rich and savoury on the palate and loaded with savoury dark berries leather, spice, plums, minty herbs, and nervy acidity keeping it lifted and fresh on the finish. Will age nicely for 5+ years.