By Rick VanSickle
Break out the Ray-Bans, the flamingo shirts, beach balls and your favourite swimsuit; Niagara’s most anticipated wine release party is about to unfold.
While wine is central to The Farm’s annual bash, it’s also gained a reputation as a party too good to be missed with great food, pool games, live music, and dancing into the wee hours of a steamy summer’s night. If you love small-batch Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, an exclusive rosé, and summer’s most exclusive pool party, put Sunday, Aug. 14 in your calendar and get on The Farm’s mailing list here to reserve your spot to the party.
Once you are on the list, an email will be sent on July 14 at 10 am to book a tasting and your place at the party. Online sales open on Aug. 3 at 10 am (for mailing list only). A lot of these wines sell out quickly, so move fast.
The Farm is releasing its annual allotment of one Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from various terroirs in Niagara along with the signature Neudorf Vineyard and the Mason Vineyard Pinot Noirs. I have tasted all these wines and offer my thoughts further down in this post.
In addition to these wines, The Farm made its first Pinot Noir rosé from the 2021 vintage. It was only made available to key restaurants, while most of the small production wine will be poured for guests of the party on Aug. 14. There will be no bottles available for sale.
The 2021 Poolhouse Rosé of Pinot Noir, “inspired by days spent by the pool sipping wine at The Farm,” 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.
The Farm brand is owned by the Neudorf family (Jeff Neudorf is president of Ferguson-Neudorf Glass), and the family’s namesake vineyard surrounds their home and winery on the Twenty Mile Bench near Jordan. The vineyard first achieved greatness when it was called La Petite Colline of Le Clos Jordanne fame. When the Neudorf family bought the 10-acre property it was planted to hybrids from the 1960s. In 2000, the Neudorfs replaced those native grapes with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and it was immediately contracted to Le Clos Jordanne. At the time, the Le Clos brand was owned by Vincor, now Arterra Wines Canada, which has returned to producing the Le Clos wines. The vineyard was named La Petit Colline and provided some stunning single-vineyard wines for Le Clos.
After a decade of providing grapes for Le Clos, Constellation Brands, owner of the project at the time, decided to discontinue the brand. Next up was Thomas Bachelder, the original winemaker at Le Clos, who purchased the grapes for Domaine Queylus, where he was the founding winemaker. The Neudorf family bought back two barrels and made the first Farm wine in 2012. Production was ramped up for the 2017 vintage, with up to 20 barrels, still tiny for any winery, but large enough that The Farm had to consider how they were going to sell the wines beyond restaurants.
Kelly Mason (head winemaker at Domaine Queylus, Honsberger and her Mason Wines brand) was hired as the founding winemaker and grapes from her own Mason Vineyard were added to the mix. As of the 2015 vintage, the Mason Vineyard bottling is one of two single-vineyard Pinots in the portfolio, joining Neudorf Vineyard as the other. The Farm also has a Niagara-sourced Pinot Noir “Black Label” offering and a Niagara Chardonnay. Both the Pinot and the Chard are from grapes sourced around Niagara and offer good value and provide a steady supply for restaurants around Ontario, and now, of course, consumers who are on the mailing list.
The single-vineyard 2019 Pinots were made by Mason, but that was her last vintage with the project. Morgan Juniper, the winemaker at 16 Mile Cellar, has taken over for Mason and is responsible for the current vintages of the 2020 Niagara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on sale in August. The 2020 single vineyard wines are under Juniper’s watch and will be released in a year’s time.
Because Peter and Dora Neudorf reside on the property, a tasting room is not a reality. The family worked together to determine how they could sell the wines without disrupting day to day life on the property. It was such that the annual party came to be, opening the cellar door to friends and family with the opportunity to taste new vintages, kick back, eat, laugh, and dance.
This tradition has continued for six years (OK, not so much during COVID), and it is Peter Neudorf’s dream that The Farm remain in the Neudorf family for future generations to come.
Here’s what you can expect from the four wines on offer.
The Farm Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 92 points) — This Chardonnay is from grapes sourced across the Niagara peninsula using “fruit from friends.” It’s wild fermented, goes through full malo and is aged in French oak barrels and puncheons in a combination of second fill and neutral casks. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered. Such an expressive nose of ripe pear, bergamot, crisp apple, lemon tart and un-obtrusive oak spices. It’s clean and racy on the palate and displays juicy stone fruits, lemon zest, a touch of honey and saline minerality with a creamy texture, deftly spiced and a lifted, fresh finish. Good enough to be a showcase white in your cellar but priced to be your next everyday Chardonnay. A bargain of a wine.
The Farm Pinot Noir Black label 2020 ($25, 92 points) — Another smart buy with the fruit sourced and blended from various terroirs across Niagara. The wine was aged in neutral French oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The warmth of the 2020 vintage is all over this Pinot Noir with plump and juicy dark cherries, black raspberries, anise, a touch of earth and elegant baking spice notes. It is ripe, round, and silky smooth on the palate and loaded with robust red berries, savoury spice notes, dark plums and polished tannins on a lifted finish.
The Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 ($50, 94 points) — The Mason vineyard, owned by former winemaker Kelly Mason with grapes 30+ years old, allows The Farm to work with two distinct terroirs within the Twenty Mile Bench appellation. The grapes are handpicked, hand-sorted and undergo wild fermentation (both primary and secondary) with a cold soak and a long maceration on the skins post fermentation. Wow, such a lifted, floral, and perfumed nose with earthy/savoury red berries, baking spices and forest berries. It’s perfectly smooth on the palate and lithe on the palate followed by dense black cherries, sun-drenched strawberries, savoury notes, lovely texture, and complexity with electric, mouth-watering acidity on a finessed finish. Can cellar 5+ years, but it’s quite enticing right now.
The Farm Neudorf Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 ($55, 94 points) — Just a great comparison for the two extremes of terroir on the Twenty Mile Bench. The grapes for both Pinots are hand-picked, hand sorted and undergo wild fermentation (both primary and secondary) with a cold soak and a long maceration on skins post fermentation. They are fermented and aged in French oak barrels ranging from second fill to neutral. The estate Neudorf Vineyard is central to The Farm wines. It was originally planted with Pinot Noir in 2000 for Le Clos Jordanne and aptly named La Petite Colline, meaning little hill, a nod to the gentle slopes that permeate the plot. The vineyard was farmed organically from the beginning and the wine sees no manipulations, including fining or filtering. True pinotphiles will taste these two single-vineyard Pinots side-by-side and dive into the unique attributes and differences of each. For me, the Neudorf is touch tighter on the nose, but as it opens up the floral/violet notes emerge with earthy red berries, a touch of savouriness, minerals, wild black berries, and elegant spices. It’s pretty and polished on the palate with dark cherries, summer strawberries, crunchy cranberries in a concentrated, dense profile buoyed by underlying savoury spice, earth, lovely texture, medium+ tannins and a fresh, vibrant, long finish. Gorgeous wine that will cellar well for 7+ years.