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On the Niagara terroir trail with Bachelder’s All Saints Day release (full reviews)

By Rick VanSickle

It’s harvest day on the Twenty Mile Bench and Thomas Bachelder asks me — insists, really — to taste this Chardonnay grape and that Chardonnay grape every few metres or so.

It’s a methodical and exhausting experience as he calculates where each row, each elevation of the Wismer-Foxcroft is going; how a lower slope impacts the fruit compared to the higher elevation and envisioning the end game for what will be another brick in the terroir wall of the multi single-vineyard, single-block expressions in this small parcel of Chardonnay royalty. The man never stops tasting, calculating, dreaming, and making some of Niagara’s most profound and expressive wines in the region.

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It’s uncanny, really, watching Bachelder define and formulate what the 2022 vintage will bring to the table as a crew of harvesters is busy hand-picking the vineyard to his precise instructions.

Craig Wismer, below right with Bachelder in the Wismer Vineyard, walks the vineyard he manages and owns along with his family at Glen Elgin Vineyard Management Inc. with Bachelder on this brilliant harvest day. The two have worked in tandem for years to perfect the now five wines — two Pinots and three Chardonnays — that come from the Wismer vineyards. Bachelder is meticulous about picking dates and isolating blocks that will best showcase his main mission — identifying terroir across the wide swath of Niagara from east to west.

A couple weeks after the Chardonnay pick at Wismer, I’m sitting with Bachelder in his “Bat Cave” cellar on Locust Lane in Beamsville. The last of his grapes — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay — are safely in the house, sliced and diced into French oak barrels and waiting for a winter of consternation as he starts the terroir hunting all over again.

The process of making and selling wine never ends. With the current vintage in barrels, Bachelder and his wife and business partner Mary Delaney turn their attention to the retail side. Every April they release the Gamays and Village level Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and every Nov. 1 — All Saints Day — they unveil the most complete array of single-vineyard, single-block Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Ontario. The family of wines, which is sourced from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Grimsby with every terroir in between, keeps growing as Bachelder discovers more and more pockets of deliciousness that bring something unique to the party.

In front of us on this day are nine Pinot Noirs from the 2020 vintage (eight single-vineyard expressions and a retasting of the Village that was released last April) plus a whopping 11 Chardonnays from 2020. We will be here for a while.

Bachelder always pours his wines from the extreme east of Niagara to the final frontier in the extreme west so he can convey how terroir expresses itself as it traverses the sub-appellations of Four Mile Creek, St. David’s, Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville Bench and Lincoln Lakeshore. It’s an exercise that is never-ending for a terroir freak such as Bachelder.

New in the 2020 release are wines from the Spencer-Morgan Vineyard (Pinot), Patte Rouge (Chardonnay from the former Red Paw Vineyard at Coyote’s Run), Grimsby Hillside Red-Clay Barn Block (Chardonnay) and Laundry Organic L.L.L (Lovely Little Lady, Chardonnay Musque).

Bachelder and Delaney don’t own vineyards, choosing instead to source the best grapes they can through long-term relationships with growers. They opened their tasting and retail facility a few years ago where consumers can book a tasting and buying session. The barrels of wine are also housed in the Beamsville facility, where Bachelder will blend, agonize, and nurse them to bottle.

A detailed map (drag to desktop for larger view) of Bachelder’s trail of terroir in Niagara.

All wines made at Bachelder are from local terroirs, using wild (indigenous) yeasts, and grapes from older vineyard parcels when possible. Low-impact viticulture – especially organics – is preferred wherever possible. Everything goes to barrels for long aging and development. The barrels are carefully chosen for their “transparency” and ability to help express terroir. No new oak is used in any of the Bachelder wines.

“The intent is to make pure, subtle, suavely textured wines that sing lightly and clearly of their vineyard origins, with as little makeup as possible – wines that are finely perfumed and tightly wound, offering the classic refined fruit and textured minerality of the delicate silt, clay and dolomitic limestone-laced ancient lakebed terroirs of Niagara,” says Bachelder.

Each bottle in the 2020 release features a QR for a detailed dive into that wine’s particular terroir, and a map that shows exactly where the grapes are sourced from.

Fans of Bachelder wines should receive emails tomorrow (Nov. 1) for the mad scramble to get their hands on any (or all!) of the 11 single-vineyard Chardonnays and eight Pinot Noirs on offer from the 2020 vintage in the “Toussaints” release. You don’t need to be on the mailing list for an opportunity to purchase, but if you want to subscribe, go here. Included in the information about the release is an incredibly detailed “Terroir Catalogue” and flip book that outlines each wine in detail. The release on is now live here.

For a detailed report of the spectacular 2020 vintage in Niagara, go here to read our extensive vintage assessment.

Here’s what I liked from the Toussaints release:

The Pinot Noirs

Bachelder les Villages Bench Pinot Noir 2020 ($35, retasted, at Vintages Nov. 5, 92 points) — The Villages Pinot has always been released six months before the single vineyard bottlings, but Bachelder is rethinking that approach. He feels the same amount of work goes into this anything-but entry-level wine, so why not let it have that extra six months in the bottle? He is right, of course. Retasting this wine, a purposeful, multi-terroir blend, has really brought all the moving parts together nicely. It has a floral and ripe nose of black raspberries, generous black cherries, cassis, and elegant spice notes. It has a voluptuous feel on the palate, with weight and girth showing cherry-kirsch, juicy wild raspberries, complementing oak spices and ripe tannins through a velvety smooth and long finish. A consumer-friendly Pinot that will gain a lot of fans at this price. You can cellar this but drinking fine right now.

The ‘terroir’ Pinots (from east to west,
beginning in Niagara-on-the-Lake)

Bachelder Bator Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir 2020 ($49, 92 points):

The Terroir: Bator is the only vineyard Bachelder has access to that has all three of the Burgundian varieties currently in the full portfolio (Gamay Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir). The vineyard is not far from Virgil, near Old Town in NOTL, and is on the western side of the Four Mile Creek sub appellation. “I discovered this vineyard in the first wave of the pandemic, (while) having my first restaurant meal in months,” says Bachelder.

The wine: A profoundly floral nose of violets followed by high-toned raspberry bramble, ripe cherries, lovely Pinot perfume and muted spice notes. It shows more power on the palate with deep and rich red berries, earthy-savoury notes, Medium+ tannins lending structure, a touch of anise and a lifted finish. Can cellar 6+ years.

The Lowrey Pinots (St. David’s)

Bachelder Lowrey Old Vines Pinot Noir 2020 ($55, released at Vintages on Sept. 24, 93 points):

The Terroir: The historic Lowrey Vineyard is at the tail-end of the St. David’s Bench, located just 5 km from the Niagara River with complex soil variability and limestone content due to both its glacier heritage and the fact that the river used to run through the property many eons ago. This Old Vines Pinot is planted on a very specific two-acre site on the 60-acre property on a gentle slope. This bottling is from the 1988 and 1993 plantings. In terms of Niagara “cru” vineyards, when we get there, Lowrey will be on that exclusive list.

The Wine: If you are a fan of the Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noirs, you might want to stock up on the 2020s. Yields are way down for the 2022 vintage and many of the wines will be in short supply, especially from the more recent plantings. The good news is this: The 2020s are outstanding. The nose shows dark cherries, summer strawberries, cassis, fresh turned soil and integrated spice notes. It’s still tightly wound on the palate but opens up to an array of wild red berries, earthy notes, fine-grained tannins that are smooth but assertive with a long, vibrant finish.

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Old Eastern Block Pinot Noir 2020 ($75, 94 points):

The Terroir: As above, but the Eastern Block consists of a blend from the original five rows of Lowrey planted in 1984 and the 1988 plantings, both planted by the Lowrey family for Karl Kaiser, winemaker at the time at Inniskillin, and used under the Alliance label — the first indication in Niagara that showed the region could make first class Pinot Noirs.

The Wine: Bachelder is one of five winemakers, including Five Rows Craft Wine, where the grapes come from, who craft this historic fruit into wine. Bachelder’s MO is to treat this with less oak to show the prettier side while maintaining freshness and finesse. It has an intense nose of wild raspberries, cherry tart, red currants, rose petals, a touch of anise and elegant spice notes. The red berries are bit more earthy and savoury on the palate and are joined by aniseed, fine oak spice and a certain goût de terroir that shows up every vintage from the Lowrey Vineyard and it is particularly evident in the older vines. The tannins are silky smooth and the finish long and vibrant. Can cellar 7+ years. A beauty.

Twenty Mile Bench Pinots

Bachelder Hanck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($55, 93 points):

The Terroir: The Hanck Vineyard, owned by Rob Harold and Joe Schenk and farmed by the Wismer family, is located just 10 metres from the Wismer-Parke Vineyard in Vineland. Reddish magnesium-oxide and dolomite-limestone is influenced by the clay soils with a solid silt component.

The Wine: Bachelder plans to release magnums of the Hanck and the two Wismer Pinots below at Christmas time as well as making the 750s available in the Nov. 1 Toussaints release. The nose is tight right now but as it opens up you will find pretty red berries, black fruits, underbrush, a subtle reductive note and savoury spices. The black cherry and brambly raspberries are riper on the palate with lovely earthy/savoury notes, chalky goût de terroir, silky tannins, integrated spice notes and a long, finessed finish. Cellar 6+ years.

Bachelder Wismer-Parke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($55, 92 points):

The Terroir: Wismer-Parke is 5.5 km from the lake at an altitude of 133 metres, from the sweet spot on the Twenty Mile Bench on reddish magnesium and dolomitic-limestone clay soils with a solid silt component. The vines were planted in 1999.

The Wine: The first of the Wismers is also a bit shy on the nose now but opens up to wild red berries, a touch of black currants and anise with lovely floral and spice notes. It shows a bit of muscle on the palate with darker berries, firm(ish) tannins (the classic iron fist in a velvet glove), underbrush, savoury spice notes and finesse through the long finish. Needs a little time to open up or decant if you cannot wait. Can cellar 7+ years.

Bachelder Wismer-Parke Vineyard Wild West End Pinot Noir 2020 ($65, 94 points):

The Terroir: The same as above, but this is from a specific block planted to a “mystery clone” that intrigued Bachelder as much as the song Wild West End by Dire Straits, hence the name of the wine.

“You’re just another angel in the crowd
And I’m walking in the wild west end
Walking with your wild best friend
And my conductress on the number nineteen
She was a honey”

The Wine: A bit prettier than the sister Pinot above with a lovely floral lift on the nose, wild raspberries, cran-cherries, perfectly integrated spice notes and intriguing Pinot perfume. The ripe tannins bring structure to this sturdy, yet attractive, Pinot with an array of red berries, cassis, and elegant spice notes with plenty of lift on the vibrant finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Bachelder Spencer-Morgan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($65, 92 points):

The Terroir: The Spencer-Morgan Vineyard sits on one of the high spots on the Twenty Mile Bench on Cherry Avenue in Vineland beside Ridgepoint. It’s one of the warmer spots on the Bench for Pinot Noir.

The Wine: It shows a darker colour in the glass with a nose of red and dark berries with earthy undertones and a spicy edge. It’s more integrated on the palate with grippy tannins, elegant spice notes and rousing, mouth-watering acidity driving the back end. Lots of room to grow with time in the cellar.

Bachelder Saunders Bas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($49, 93 points):

The Terroir: The Saunders Vineyard is in the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation, 3.9 km from the lake and is organically certified on clay, silt, and limestone soil.

The Wine: From relatively young vines, this organic Pinot Noir also has a tight opening that opens up to pretty black raspberries, dark cherries and crunchy cranberries with chalky minerality, a touch of reduction and well-integrated spice notes. It really struts its stuff on the palate with fine-grained tannins, red and dark berries, earthy-savoury notes, elegant oak spices, and wonderful finesse through the long finish. Like all these Pinots, cellaring is recommended.

The Chardonnays

(Note: I meant to take photos of each bottle of the Chardonnays, but in the chaos of tasting nine Pinots, I completely forgot. One subtle thing to note is the black cap on the Hill of Wingfield Chardonnay while all the others have the standard gold cap. This is a subtle reminder that Bachelder considers this piece of hallowed ground “grand cru” status.)

Niagara-on-the-Lake Chardonnays

Bachelder Bator Vineyard Old Vines Chardonnay 2020 ($45, 92 points

The Wine: The Bator Vineyard is one of four Chardonnays in this release from east of the Welland Canal. See terroir of Bator above in the Pinot Noir reviews. The 2020 vintage in Niagara was a hot one, and Niagara-on-the-Lake was certainly warmer than the Bench wineries. The result is on full display with this Chardonnay that shows a ripe and overt nose of generous white peach, golden apple, lemon tart and integrated oak spices. The peach, apple and pear fruits are pure and ripe on the palate with a touch of lemon curd, light toasty oak spice notes and decent balance through the finish. Drinking nicely right now.

Bachelder Willms Vignes de 1983 Chardonnay 2020 ($49, 93 points):

The Terroir: Willms is situated in the Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation, down near the Old Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The vineyard (once called Sandstone) was planted in 1983. The soil is a combo of silt, loamy clay, gravel, limestone, and sand.

The Wine: The Willms is a bit of an outlier for NOTL Chardonnay. It’s much more nuanced on the nose with flinty/reductive opening notes with saline freshness, apple skin, pear, citrus zest, and spice. While it shows more ripeness from the orchard fruits on the palate it does so with a measure of restraint. Excellent length through the finish that is finessed and vibrant. Can cellar 4+ years.

Bachelder Bai Xu Vineyard Vignes de 1981 Chardonnay 2020 ($49, 93 points):

The Terroir: The Bai Xu Vineyard is only one line north of Willms in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the Four-Mile Creek sub-app. It is one of the oldest vinifera plantings in the region, 41 years of age as of the 2022 harvest. The grape grower number is 011. The soil is a mixture of sandy and loamy sediments over lacustrine clay with some silt and limestone.

The Wine: This, too, shows some restraint on the elegant nose of salinity, oyster shells, apple, pear, and quince fruit with subtle spice notes. It is more generous on the palate with a touch of reduction, ripe orchard fruits, integrated spice notes, a touch of creaminess and a long, lifted finish. Can cellar 4+ years.

Bachelder Patte Rouge Vineyard Organically Grown Chardonnay 2020 ($45, 92 points):

The Terroir: Otherwise known as the Red Paw Vineyard, which was planted by Coyote’s Run and farmed by Niagara College following the sale of that estate. The property is on the edge of St. David’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Four Mile Creek) and produced some notable single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinots back in the day. The site has low vigour which is commensurate with quality wine production: as the clays slowed down the ripening, even early grape types such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were able to produce wines of elegance. Sadly, the vineyard suffered from the big freeze in 2021 and this is a one-off Chardonnay for Bachelder as the vineyard now is uprooted.

The Wine: I’m impressed with Bachelder’s desire to find “terroir” in all regions of Niagara and to highlight what he sees as unique. He applies his brand of winemaking and coaxes out the attributes he feels are particular to small plots of vineyards. This Chardonnay has a lovely, elegant nose with salinity and freshness to go with pear, bergamot and apple followed by integrated oak nuances. It’s fresh and elegant on the palate and showcases ripe apple, pear and lemon curd with subtle spice, length, and vibrancy through the finish.

Three Chards from Wismer

Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft Nord Chardonnay 2020 ($55, 93 points):

Picking Wismer Chardonnay this fall.

The Terroir: The Wismer family has been farming grapes across 300 acres on the Vineland and Jordan Benches for over 25 years. Bachelder is a huge fan of Wismer fruit and isolated two distinct blocks he uses for two wines, now three with the Wismer-Wingfield and Hill of Wingfield, which usually vie for the top two spots in the lineup every vintage. Foxcroft North, with its steep slope, stony-clay, and limestone soil, is chosen for the distinct minerally attributes it imparts.

The Wine: I always get crushed oyster shells and saline on the nose of this Foxcroft, and it’s there in spades on the 2020. It has a unique nose of lemon chiffon, bergamot, pear, a flinty/reductive note with light spice. It’s more generous on the palate with depth and concentration to the pear, quince and melange of citrus, flinty/stony notes, lovely texture, spice, and verve through a long, luxurious finish.

Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($60, 94 points):

The Wine: This is a wee bit shy now, but it opens up to pretty notes of sweet pear, fresh apple, citrus zest, wet stones and quiet spice. It’s more open knit on the palate with robust pear, apple, and lemon zest freshness, stony/chalky minerality, luxurious texture, elegant spices and mouth-watering acidity through the long finish. Cellar 5+ years.

Bachelder Hill of Wingfield Chardonnay 2020 ($75, 95 points):

The Terroir: This Chardonnay from “The Hill of Wingfield” is what Bachelder not so quietly refers to as “grand cru” even though it is a classification that still has no standing in Niagara (but should). The Chardonnay grapes grown in this parcel, which is at the highest elevation and furthest from Lake Ontario, are the latest ripening in Wingfield. As Bachelder says, and in this I agree 100%: “This wine’s beauty is certainly at least partially in the eye of the beholder, but, come on, the Wingfield is grandiose!” This was formerly called Wismer-Wingfield West.

The Wine: Oh, my! What a beauty. Such a beguiling and perfumed nose of pear/apple, savoury notes, beautifully reductive, stony minerality and so pretty and unique with bergamot, vanilla toast, creamy accents and already integrated fine oak spices. It just gets better on the palate with generous quince and lemon tart, rousing saline/flint/wet stone minerality, a touch of savoury spices, mouth-watering acidity, and verve through a long, clean, and finessed finish. Gorgeous Chardonnay that will age nicely for 6+ years.

Beamsville Bench Chard

Bachelder Saunders Haut Organically Grown Chardonnay 2020 ($49, 93 points):

The Terroir: The Saunders Vineyard is located about 4 km from the lake on the Beamsville Bench on Mountainview Road. The vineyard is certified organic, and the soil is clay, silk, sand and limestone. Bachelder takes his fruit from a higher, southern part of the vineyard with older vines.

The Wine: It has a penetrating and ripe nose of baked pear, yellow apple, lemon curd, stony minerality and salinity with elegant spice notes. It’s pure and balanced on the palate with ripe pear and apple with zesty bergamot, integrated fine oak spice, a touch of flint and a bright, finessed finish.

Wait, what? Chardonnay Musque?

Bachelder Laundry Organic L.L.L. Chardonnay Musque 2020 ($39, 91 points):

The Terroir: Grown and certified organic. Originally planted in 2000, and today run with passion, love and intense commitment by Heather Laundry. SO close to the lake that Heather has to be careful when she is turning her tractor!

The Wine: Chardonnay Musque is a highly aromatic mutation of the world’s most famous white-wine grapes, Chardonnay. This is sourced for the first time by Bachelder from the famed Laundry Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation. The winemaker has treated this usually fun and fruity variety the same way he makes his single-vineyard wines, bringing a bit of complexity and elegance to the table. The L.L.L. stands for Lovely Little Lady. It has a fruity nose of peach and apple with a touch of salinity and spice. It has wonderful texture, generous orchard fruits, elegant spice notes and plenty of acidity keeping it fresh through the finish.

A pair from Grimsby Hillside

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside Vineyard Red-Clay Barn Block Chardonnay 2020 ($49, 94 points):

The Terroir: Grimsby Hillside is a wild, stony windscape site out in the extreme west of Niagara. It’s nestled into the foothills of the escarpment. This is the first time making the Red-Clay Barn Block and second time for the Frontier Block. The Frontier Block is named “for the fact that it is the first — or last — vineyard/terroir in Niagara.” The soil there has very little sand, with silt, clay, and limestone. It has quickly gained the attention from top winemakers in Niagara.

The Wine: Such a beguiling nose of ripe pear, pure and fresh salinity and subtle flinty notes, apple skin, bergamot and lightly toasted fine oak nuances. It’s perfectly balanced already on the palate with a creamy texture followed by an enticing melange of stone fruits, lemon zest, saline/flinty minerality and an extremely long and finessed finish. Very nice wine that will improve in the cellar for 5+ years.

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside Vineyard Frontier Block Chardonnay 2020 ($49, 95 points):

The Wine:  Oh, boy, how good is this! There is such a defining perfumed note on the nose that always shows on the Frontier Block and then a savoury/flinty thing going on with fresh pear, yellow apple, lemon curd, toasty almonds, and spice. Bachelder calls it “lacy” on the palate with a richly concentrated and textured profile that shows dense apple and pear fruits, a touch of zesty lemon, gunflint, salinity, pure and elegant spices, toasted almonds, and a ridiculously long and finessed finish. Chardonnay at its best here and will only get better in the cellar.