By Rick VanSickle
On Seven owner Vittorio De Stefano and winemaker/consultant Peter Gamble, below, waited until they could wait no more. They had a challenging decision to make.
The small block of estate Pinot Noir from the difficult 2021 vintage in Niagara was either going to be the first commercially viable Pinot made at On Seven or it was going to be the first rosé. When the rains came in September, Gamble recalls, it never stopped. “We either risk making a Pinot Noir or abandon that course and make rosé — average Pinot or really good Pinot Noir rosé. We defaulted to rosé.” Noted De Stefano: “I didn’t like it, but …”
The young vineyard was already cropped to less than a tonne per acre, so it wasn’t the wisest of financial decisions. But, as it turns out, it was the only alternative. The deluge of rain never did stop and pulling in the Pinot Noir when they did salvaged what has turned out to be a special bottling of Pinot Noir rosé and likely the only rosé that was ever entirely produced from a vineyard with a yield of less than a tonne an acre of fruit.
The total production is only 46 cases (two barrels) and it will go on sale on June 27 to mailing list members first and other consumers the following day, if there’s any left.
It’s a special wine that offers a hint at how the estate Pinot Noir will express itself once it comes into full production. A tiny bit of the 2020 vintage (less than a barrel) was made, but consumers likely won’t get a chance to purchase any it because of its scarcity.
On Seven, located a pristine calcareous five-acre Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard, has taken a long view to getting where they want to be. There are no shortcuts with a slow, steady, and deliberate approach to viticulture and winemaking under the careful purview of Gamble. “Most of these decisions are vineyard decisions,” says Gamble. “I don’t like making ordinary wines.”
But we are getting a clearer picture of what the portfolio will look like. “We are veering away from our original plan for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only,” says De Stefano. Along with the rosé, the boutique winery has started a sparkling program with the first blanc de blancs (Chardonnay), tucked away in a cellar for the next 10 years. The “expanding portfolio offers flexibility,” De Stefano says.
The only other wine being released this summer is a full run of The Pursuit Chardonnay 2019, as Gamble and De Stefano elected to only make the flagship Chard in 2019. The winery released an elevated tier, called Devotion from the 2018 vintage, has some 2020 in barrel and is still waiting on 2021 to evolve to decide. The 2019 Pursuit Chardonnay will be released on Aug. 21 to mailing list members. To get on the list, go here.
Wines In Niagara sat down with Gamble and De Stefano to taste the two wines that are being released this summer. Here is what we liked.
On Seven The Allure Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 ($40 for mailing list members en premierJune 27, then $45 if there’s any left after that, 93 points) — 2021 was a memorable vintage that demanded attention to detail and some tough decisions. A very wet September forced Gamble to choose between average good Pinot Noir or spectacular Pinot Noir rosé. He chose the latter after the fruit did not meet his ripeness standards for a Pinot Noir table wine. The result was the 2021 inaugural rosé with only 1,500 bottles available. The rosé was crafted from a 2017 estate planting of Pinot Noir Dijon clone 115. The fruit was hand-harvested and the whole clusters were then pressed to produce juice. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to French oak barrels (100% neutral) for wild yeast fermentation and aging. After 8 months in barrel, the wines were coarsely filtered and bottled. It shows a pale pink colour in the glass with a beguiling nose of savoury red berries, rhubarb, grapefruit, floral undertones, and a touch of earthiness. It’s deep and rich on the palate with a lovely creamy texture and verve that highlights the range of wild raspberries, strawberry tart, touch of citrus zest, a soft note of savoury spice and lovely finesse and lift on the finish. Fans of the more structured style of rosés — think Bandol, but with Pinot Noir — will love this wine, a gorgeously dry, crisp rosé that will pair with the many flavours of summer and could stand a bit of cellaring.
On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2019 ($48 for mailing list members en premier Aug. 21, rising to $55 on Aug. 22 if there is any left, 94 points) — This Chardonnay was created predominately from a 2014 planting of Chardonnay Dijon clone 76. The fruit was hand-harvested and the whole clusters were then pressed to produce juice. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to French oak barrels (25% new, 75% neutral) for wild yeast fermentation and aging. After 20 months in barrel, the wines were coarsely filtered and bottled. “I love 2019 for Chardonnay; if anyone wants to do classic (Burgundian) style, it was a year that had terroir and intensity right across it,” said Gamble. The nose is intense with poached pear, golden apple, shades of citrus zest, a touch of flint and wet stones, beautiful perfume, and savoury notes with elegant spices. It has dense stone fruits on the palate with some weight and structure, flinty minerality, a savoury accent, lemon tart, cream, and length through a finessed finish. It just gets better with every sip, suggesting time (5-7 years) in the cellar for further development.
A pink surprise from The Farm
The Farm, the Pinot/Chard specialist on the Twenty Mile Bench, has a surprise this year that only those who have signed up for the pool party and annual wine release on Sunday, Aug. 14 will experience. Well, that’s not entirely true … a small allotment of The Farm’s first Poolhouse Rosé 2021 was divvied up between the estate’s favourite restaurants in Ontario.
But for everyone else, those who haven’t lucked into this inaugural vintage, you will be happily sipping it poolside or on the patio as you nosh on great food and pickup your wines.
The 2021 Poolhouse Rosé of Pinot Noir, “inspired by days spent by the pool sipping wine at The Farm,” will not be available at the retail level this year. Wines in Niagara got a taste of it recently and here is our review. To get on The Farm’s list for the annual party and wine release go here.
The Farm Poolhouse Rosé of Pinot Noir 2021 (92 points) — It shows a pretty, light salmon colour in the glass with a subtle nose of brambly wild raspberries, red cherries, herbs, and watermelon. It’s perfectly dry and vibrant on the palate with a melange of red berries, fresh rhubarb, subtle herbs, and a bright, juicy finish. Pairs well with beach balls and warm summer days.
Meet the new Divergence Wines
A new Niagara virtual winery wants to take a “different path” in its approach to creating a brand.
Jeff Moote (above), proprietor/winemaker of Divergence Wines, decided it was time to take a different career path and enrolled in oenology and viticulture courses at Brock University five years ago while working as an engineer. He went on to work at some of Niagara’s top wineries before launching Divergence in May 2020.
With its first wines now on the market, Moote wants Divergence to target wine enthusiasts looking for the best the Niagara region has to offer. “Divergence was imagined to be a unique and premium expression of wine styles from select vineyards in Niagara,” says Moote, who was born in Niagara Falls and now calls Beamsville home.
As a virtual wine brand, Divergence doesn’t have a physical winery location, but as the owner and winemaker, Moote has been able to shape development of his brand from the selection of grapes to the design of the packaging. For the initial release, three wines are now for sale online here, as well as at a growing list of bottle shops and restaurants such as the newly opened Archives Wine & Spirit Merchants in downtown St. Catharines, and at a number of local markets and events.
“The way in which consumers access wine in Ontario is changing,” said Moote. “It has been gradual, but COVID-19 accelerated what was already happening. It brought awareness to a lot of people that these channels existed.”
The winemaker points to take-out alcohol sales in restaurants, the expanding bottle shop market, and a growing farmers market presence as the evolution of wine sales. What hasn’t changed, he said, is Niagara’s reputation as a producer of high-quality wines, and Moote’s desire to make exclusive products meant for a discerning audience.
“By nature of being small, I don’t need to satisfy every person who walks through the LCBO, I only need to cater to an audience of engaged consumers who want these unique and interesting products,” he said. “I wanted an outlet to make wines without external pressures. Most winemakers would love to do the same.”
Divergence Wines launched in April with three wines — a Pinot Noir rosé, a Pinot Gris, and a Sauvignon Blanc. A traditional method sparkling wine, one of Moote’s preferred styles and an eventual focus for the brand, will first be included in the fall release, along with other wines currently aging in barrel.
Here’s what I liked from the three wines currently released.
Divergence Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 ($25, 92 points) — This single vineyard expression of Pinot Noir from the Crispino Vineyard on the Vinemount Ridge was fermented in three older neutral barrels with the remainder kept in a stainless-steel tank. The four components were fermented separately using selected yeast strains. The wine was then racked and combined before being returned to the barrels to age on fine lees for four months. An impressive nose of wild raspberries, strawberries, grapefruit zest, black cherries and just a hint of fresh summer herbs. It has lovely texture on the palate with integrated red berries, pomegranate, savoury/earthy notes, good length, and finesse on the finish and just a pinch of spice. A wonderful, perfectly dry and refreshing rosé.
Divergence Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($28, 92 points) — The fruit was sourced from the Hughes Vineyard in the Lincoln-Lakeshore sub-app. It was aged in 37% new French puncheon, 17% neutral oak barrique and the rest stainless. It has a lifted, spicy entry with grapefruit, passion fruit, lemon tart, spiced apple, pear, and light summer herbs. It has a creamy texture and plenty of zip to keep the grapefruit, pear, guava, and gooseberries perky and fresh. There’s an intriguing smoky/flinty note on the tangy and long finish. Stylistic savvy here that highlights the vineyard.
Divergence Pinot Gris 2021 ($25, 90 points) — The fruit was sourced from the Grimsby Hillside Vineyard in the Lincoln-Lakeshore sub-app. Following fermentation, the wine was racked once and allowed to age on fine lees for an additional four months. It has a vivid nose of summer peach, melon, green apple, grapefruit, and a lovely saline quality. It’s ripe and loaded with stone fruits, melon, a creamy/leesy texture and a bright, fresh finish.
New wines from Kacaba
Kacaba Susan’s Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($20, winery, 89 points) — An expressive nose that bursts with passion fruit, gooseberries, grapefruit, lime, and grassy herbs. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with gooseberries, snap peas, grapefruit, tangy lemon-lime, and a crisp, fresh finish.
Kacaba Reserve Riesling 2021 ($21, winery, 90 points) — An enticing nose of lime, peach, lemon, nectarine, and pineapple. It’s more minerally driven on the palate with lemon, apple, and pear notes with a kiss of honey that’s nicely balanced by a firm vein of acidity on the finish.
Kacaba Rebecca Rosé 2021 ($20, LCBO July 16, 92 points) — This 100% Gamay rosé shows a bright magenta hue in the glass with a lively nose of summer watermelon, plums, strawberry tart, and candy floss. It’s juicy and ripe, but made in a bone-dry style, with a basket of strawberries, watermelon, subtle citrus, and cherries with a fresh, vibrant finish. Delicious rosé!
Kacaba Irresistible Sparkling Rosé 2019 ($30, winery, 89 points) — This charmat-style sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the base aged for 22 months and lees aging for two months. It looks pretty in pink in both the bottle and glass and starts with a heady froth in the glass that tapers off somewhat over time. The nose shows integrated red berries, some leesy notes, blackberries, plums, and subtle herbaceous notes. There’s a bit of sweetness on the palate with ripe strawberries, raspberries, plums and herbs and a lively finish. Fun and fruity bubbly for poolside sipping.