By Rick VanSickle
To fully comprehend what Westcott Vineyards has accomplished in 10 short years of crafting wine in Niagara, you need to taste the portfolio across the full spectrum.
They have found their cadence; a comfortable rhythm that brings together vineyards, key grape varieties, a distinct house style, and a clear vision for the future. Owners Carolyn Hurst and husband Grant Westcott (below) gave up successful careers in technology and banking only to “retire” to Niagara and have worked harder than they ever have before to get to this point. And it’s beginning to pay off.
As Hurst fretted recently over how “to tell the story” of their wines to a wine scribe, it was perfectly clear that every bottling has a purpose and a place in the portfolio of small-production lots. The two Westcott vineyards — the Home Farm Vineyard, where the winery, tasting room and retail store are located in Vinemout Ridge sub-appellation, and the Butlers’ Grant Vineyard, purchased in 2018, on the Twenty Mile Bench — always take centre stage in the style of wines being made by winemaker Casey Kulczyk.
The team has expanded from being a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wine estate, to adding Riesling, Cabernet Franc and different terroir-focused expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the 43-acre Butlers’ Grant Vineyard. The purchase of the historic property, dating back to the first modern-day plantings in 1973, forms the backbone of the “Old Vines” program at Westcott. The term is not used loosely. Any bottle with “Old Vines” on the label from Westcott is from plantings 35+ years old and follows criteria set out in Jancis Robinson’s Old Vine Registry.
With both vineyards humming along nicely, Westcott has embraced a winemaking style that focuses firmly on the dirt it comes from. Kulczyk has proven in a few short years that the key to expressing the terroir comes from low-intervention winemaking, coupled with lower yields in the vineyard.
Westcott only uses wild yeasts and an oak program that never overwhelms the wine. Pinot Noir is made in oak cuvées and barrels with whole clusters and long macerations. Chardonnays are barrel fermented with full malolactic fermentation. Rieslings are sourced from botrytis-affected old-vine grapes.
Another aspect at Westcott that consumers appreciate, is the late release of most the portfolio. Wines are held back in bottle so the consumer can be assured it will show well upon purchasing. “We’re aging these wines, so people don’t have to,” Hurst says. “They can if they want to, but they don’t have to.”
Don’t for a second believe that Westcott is going to stop exploring and expanding its portfolio any time soon. Grant Westcott let me on a little secret; the winery has started and “infinity vintage” Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine beginning with the 2018 vintage. A portion of Pinot Noir grapes have been harvested each vintage since 2018 and blended with the previous vintages to make a non-vintage sparkling wine with equal parts of several vintages. It’s an exciting project that you will all have to wait for until the estate feels it’s time to bottle the first iteration.
Oh, and look for a Lenko Chardonnay from the 2022 vintage. The prized Chard from the historic Beamsville Bench was acquired in a trade with Two Sisters’ winemaker Adam Pearce for some Westcott Pinot Noir. Westcott doesn’t use much out-sourced fruit in their portfolio, but a chance to make a Lenko “old vines” Chardonnay was too good to resist.
Here’s what I liked from our tasting:
The sparkling wine
Westcott’s sparkling wines are hand-crafted from estate fruit from the two vineyards they farm and own. These wines draw on the experience of the “grower movement” in France where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are picked with higher maturity to enhance phenolic development and resultant taste. Westcott uses only natural yeasts in both the primary and secondary fermentation, neutral oak aging and little to no dosage to showcase natural fruit aromas and taste. All bottles are hand riddled and disgorged in small lots.
Westcott Brilliant Sparkling Rosé 2020 ($35, 92 points) — This is a traditionally made sparkling wine that consists of 100% Pinot Noir from the Home Farm. It was soaked on the skins for two hours, giving it a lovely light coral colour, and spent 12 months on its lees before being hand riddled and disgorged. “The whole concept with this wine,” says Kulczyk (above), was to focus on the fruit and the place.” It’s lively and fresh on the nose with an elegant bead in the glass to go with red berries, red currants, and watermelon. The palate reveals a melange of bright red berries, a touch of citrus, a persistent bead and plenty of acid lift to keep it finessed and fresh through the finish.
Westcott expanded its small portfolio of estate single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays when it purchased the historic Butlers’ Grant Vineyard 2018. The Twenty Mile Bench vineyard was the perfect partner for the Vinemount Ridge Home Vineyard and enabled Westcott to expand into Riesling, along with Cabernet Franc, and added more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes for the estate’s wine program.
The Butlers’ Grant Riesling, originally planted in 1980, making these vines by any definition “Old Vines,” has always had a unique profile with a profound vein of ginger, minerality and petrol that develops over time. These wines, when crafted famously by the team at Creekside, had a loyal, if not cultish, following.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Riesling 2020 ($19, 93 points) — From the oldest vines planted at the Butlers’ Grant Vineyard, the grapes were wild fermented (like all wines at Westcott) and finished with just 10 g/l. It opens with a stunning nose that shows a tsunami of ginger, lime cordial, nectarine, flinty minerality and lemon blossoms. It has gorgeous texture with subtle petrol emerging to go with lemon and lime zest, peachy/stone fruits, ginger, and a long, vibrant finish. Even though Westcott releases its wines late, I would still love to see how the petrol emerges from this warm vintage Riesling over time. Only 10% abv.
Westcott Riesling Reserve 2019 ($30, 92 points) — Same grapes, different approach with this “reserve” Riesling from Butlers’ Grant. The grapes are picked later with about 10% of the pick botrytised. There is some aging in older oak puncheons and three years of bottle aging before release. It has a lovely, elegant nose of more mature orchard fruits, lemon oil, flinty notes, and toned-down ginger, but still lurking. It’s layered and textured on the palate with ripe summer peaches, nectarine, lime, flinty minerality and a luscious, long finish. Pretty tasty right now, but can cellar for further development, say 3+ years.
The Pinot Noirs
The fruit for the Pinot Noir collection is sourced from vines grown on the two Westcott properties. The rich clay loams and highly calcareous soils of both vineyards produce fruit that the winery describes as “bright and intense.” Wild ferments, long macerations, unfiltered and unfined, and held in bottle for two years before release are all consistent within the Pinot tiers. The Butlers’ Grant bottlings earn the “Old Vines” designation as described by Jancis Robinson on her Old Vines Registry as vines 35+ years old.
Westcott Pinot Noir Estate 2019 ($32, previously reviewed, released at Vintages stores last Saturday, 92 points) — The 2019 estate Pinot, a blend of the estate’s Westcott Home Farm vineyard and Butlers’ Grant, is 30% whole cluster fermented with all wild malolactic fermentation. It was fermented in 100% French oak, of which 20% was new oak, and aged for 22 months. Such a gorgeous nose of pretty red berries, black raspberries, seductive Pinot perfume notes and perfectly integrated spice notes. It’s nicely integrated and balanced right with bright red berries, anise, fine tannins, some structure, a pinch of spice, subtle earthy/savoury notes, and a bright, finessed finish. Very nice Pinot that represents the house style.
Westcott Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 ($45, a tiny bit left at the winery, 93 points) — The fruit was sourced 100% from the Westcott Home Farm Vineyard and was 30% whole cluster fermented and all wild malolactic fermentation. The Pinot was fermented in 100% French oak, all older barrels, and aged for 22 months. Lovely integrated nose of savoury red berries, dark cherries, earthy/spicy notes, and a touch of anise. It’s silky smooth on the palate with wild red raspberries, beet root, dark cherries, baking spices and a lifted, long finish.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Old Vines 2019 ($60, not available) — The Old Vines Pinot shows a more floral, open knit nose with pretty red berries, anise, less earthy/savoury notes and integrated spices. It shows structure on the palate with plush tannins, ripe red berries, depth and layered with subtle spices and lifted finish.
Westcott Carolyn’s Block Pinot Noir 2019 ($60, limited availability, less than 10 cases left, 92 points) – Sourced from a block of young vines at Butlers’ Grant Vineyard planted in 2016. The Pinot is 100% whole cluster fermented and all wild malolactic fermentation and spends 22 months in oak, all older oak barriques. It’s lighter in colour in the glass with a nose of bright, fresh red berries, cassis, subtle herbs, a lovely floral lift, and integrated spices. It’s vibrant and floral on the palate with a medley of bright red berries, anise, subtle spices, and tangy acidity on a lifted finish. Quite elegant and enjoyable right now.
Westcott Reserve Pinot Noir 2020 ($45, released in the fall, 93 points) — Yes, you’ve heard all about 2020, the warm, perfect growing season, the best vintage EVER … etc. It is true, but it still took a careful hand in the cellar and vineyard to produce a Pinot Noir without going overboard. Kulczyk navigated the low yielding, tight cluster Pinot with a deft touch in 2020. It shows much more colour in the glass with an intense nose of concentrated red berries, cassis, floral notes, just a touch of fresh-turned soil and subtle spices. The palate reveals firm tannins and structure, an intense red fruit attack with raspberries, dark cherries, rich cassis, and fine oak spice all balanced and lifted by juicy acidity through the long finish. A great candidate for the cellar, say 7+ years.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Old Vines Pinot Noir 2020 ($60, released in the fall, 93 points) — A bit lighter in colour in the glass, but focused on the nose with ripe black raspberries, cassis, and dark cherries, then lovely Pinot perfume, spice, and subtle earthy/savoury notes. It shows more power on the palate with darker berries, tannic structure, smoky wild raspberries, anise, fine oak spice notes, depth and layered all leading to a finessed and long finish. A beauty of a Pinot that can cellar 5+ years.
Westcott Carolyn’s Block Pinot Noir 2020 ($60, released in the fall, 92 points) — This young vineyard is showing great promise in its early life. The 2020 version has a pretty, violet nose with ripe red berries, black currants, earthy/spicy notes, subtle savoury accents, and fine oak spices. It’s lovely on the palate with good tannic structure, integrated red and dark berries, seductive texture and verve and rich spice notes all leading to a long, lifted finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
The Cabernet Francs
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2019 ($60, only 15 cases left, 89 points) — This Cabernet Franc is the inaugural vintage from the 30-year-old Butlers’ Grant Vineyard. It was aged for 22 months in barrel with 33% new oak, the remainder older barrels. Only three barrels were made. The 2019 and 2020 vintages are vastly different and which one you prefer will depend on what you look for in this stellar Niagara grape. The grapes were planted in 1988 in a cooler part of the vineyard that, maybe in hindsight, wasn’t the best decision — again, depending on the style of CF you enjoy. Cooler vintages will yield more herbaceous, leafy notes, while warmer vintages are more focussed on the red and dark berries and less overt savoury notes. The 2019 version has a nose of brambly red raspberries, fresh herbs and eucalypt, a touch of cassis, and integrated spices. There is a subtle reductive note on the palate with underlying herbs, savoury red berries, plums, earth, a pinch of spice and a tangy, fresh finish.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Cabernet Franc 2020 ($60, not released yet, 92 points) — I personally prefer the Cabernet Francs from the warmer vintages and believe that 2020 is a breakout vintage for this grape across the peninsula. This has a much more expressive nose with a melange of ripe red berries, cassis jam, baking spices, nutmeg, and juicy plums. It has a rounded, plush feel on the palate with a full mouth of red and dark berries, touch of licorice, savoury spice notes and a vibrant, long finish. Can cellar 6+ years.
The Chardonnays from both estate vineyards are barrel fermented with natural yeasts. They have undergone complete malolactic fermentation in French oak. Limestone clay soils coupled with mature and old vines concentrate the taste and aromatic profile. Alluvial soils of the Westcott Home Farm add to the mix and complexity.
Westcott Block 76 Chardonnay 2019 ($48, retasted, all gone) — The wine is aged in oak, very little new oak, for 16 months. It’s bottled unfiltered. The one-acre Block 76, the south-eastern facing part of the Westcott Home Farm Vineyard, is the youngest of the Chardonnay vines farmed at the estate. It’s quite intriguing on the nose with a flinty/reductive note, lemon, apple, pear, and subtle spice. It’s finely textured on the palate with fresh pear, vibrant lemon, underlying flint, integrated oak, and electric acidity driving the back end.
Westcott Block 76 Chardonnay 2019 ($48, original review published in May, 2022, 94 points) — Such gorgeous saline freshness on the nose, then Bosc pear, apple skin, elegant and fully integrated spice with subtle lemon-citrus notes. It’s vibrant and mouth-filling on the palate with electric acidity that highlights the fresh pear, apple, quince, lemon zest, flinty minerality and seamless spice notes that melt into the fruit. It benefits from length and finesse through a lifted finish. It’s just starting to reveal its full potential, so I recommend a bit of cellaring or even a decant to get started. Make sure to tuck one or two bottles in the cellar to watch how this will develop over time.
Westcott Block 76 Chardonnay 2020 ($48, available later this year, 95 points) — Noticeably richer, but still that impressive flinty/saline note on the nose to go with ripe pear, bright lemon, subtle creamy notes, and fine oak spice. It has a creamy texture on the palate and robust stone fruits, lemon tart, underlying flinty notes, perfectly integrated spice, layers of pleasure and a firm vein of acidity guiding this beauty through the long, contemplative finish. A very fine Chardonnay that will reward with 5+ years in the cellar.
Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2021 ($45, winery, 92 points) — The Reserve Chard is sourced from the very best parcels at the Home Farm Vineyard. The mineral-laden nose displays ripe pear, lemon chiffon, apple skin and elegant spice notes. It’s creamy and textured on the palate with yellow apple, lanolin, poached pear, flint-driven minerality, fine oak spice notes and lifted by the racy acidity prevalent on the Vinemount Ridge. Such a gorgeous Chardonnay that will age nicely over the next few years.
Westcott Butlers’ Grant Chardonnay 2021 ($48, released soon, 93 points) — A highly aromatic nose with a hint of reduction that leads to yellow apple, summer pears, nectarine, lemon, and integrated spice notes. It has lovely texture and verve on the palate with subtle creamy notes, rich pear, apple, lemon tart, flint minerality all leading to a finessed, long finish. Can cellar 5+ years.