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Cloudsley Cellars: Carving up terroir on the Twenty Mile Bench one vineyard at a time

Rick VanSickle

Let’s just go ahead and name this collection of nine 2020 Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnays and Pinots — the most wines to date from one vintage grown on the Twenty Mile Bench — the “Cloud 9” release.

Adam Lowy, owner/winemaker of Cloudsley in Vineland (in the very top photo and below), continues to carve up the Twenty Mile Bench into unique single-vineyard expressions that appeal to his Burgundian background and precisely the kind of wines he himself likes to drink. Lowy spent 17 years working for Lifford Wine and Spirits, one of Toronto’s premier purveyors of the world’s finest booze. In 2014, he left to establish Cloudsley with the singular goal of making terroir-driven Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from single vineyards exclusively on the Twenty Mile Bench, using a minimalist approach to winemaking that best shine a light on where the grapes are grown.

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His has made his largest collection yet of six single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, two single-vineyard Chardonnays, and Bench blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

All the Pinots and Chardonnays are farmed the same way and the wine is made the same with the only difference being the amount of used vs new oak in each expression.

“It’s a tremendous snapshot of one vintage from a single sub-appellation,” he says. “I’m incredibly proud of this vintage. This is something pretty special. As a lover of Burgundy and a lover of wines about place, to see the differences is really special.”

It is his love of Burgundy that brought Lowy and his family to make the move to Niagara and put everything they have into Cloudsley. “What I saw happening with Pinot and Chardonnay in Niagara really impressed me,” Lowy told me in 2016 when his first wines were released. “I’m a Burgundy nut so I wanted something that suited my palate.”

Lowy doesn’t trick up his wines, and aside from subtle elevage differences, crafts them essentially the same — wild fermentation, light to no filtration, hand-picked fruit, cold soaked and aged in (give or take) 25% new French oak for 18 months. He is meticulous about his French oak regime and uses only tight grained, medium toast from top coopers he trusts.

He reserves the best barrels for the single-vineyard wines while the rest goes into the Twenty Mile Bench expressions and licensee bottlings for restaurant lists. Lowly and his winemaking team of Eden Garry and Matt Smith spend an inordinate amount of time tasting barrel samples to get the single-vineyard bottlings just right and the rest trickles down to the Bench blends. “The single-vineyard wines appeal to my wine geekery,” Lowy says.

The 2020 wines from Cloudsley are Lowy’s best across-the-board release to date, and his six single-vineyard Pinot Noir expressions from one Niagara sub-appellation are the most from any one winery in Niagara that I am aware of. I love that the team has found restraint and typicity despite the heat of the vintage and enough differences to show how even a few hundred yards of separation from vineyard to vineyard can impact the wine. These all highly finessed wines and just a hint more robust than the cooler vintages. Plus, Cloudsley made its second rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench 2022 vintage. It’s pretty much all gone, with only a few cases remaining. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass and and shows pretty red berries, a touch of citrus and herbs with a lovely dry finish. It’s $25 and it’s a perfect match with your favourite summer tiki bar. 

You will want to get your hands on these wines quickly as they are limited to small quantities, especially the single-vineyard wines.

The 2020 vintage started off sunny with low humidity. Scattered rain and thunderstorms provided the vineyards with just enough water to last through the higher-than-average temperatures in the summer. These factors, along with a dry harvest, produced some of the highest quality fruit that Niagara has ever seen, Lowy says.

Cloudsley is hosting a taste and buy event on June 24 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday June 25 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. To reserve a spot, email Courtney (at) with your name, the number of people, and approximately what time you will be attending. Walk-ins accepted based on availability. Each tasting flight will be $25, and this fee will be waived with a purchase of $150 or more.

If you can’t make the taste and buy event, make sure you are on the email list by going here and watch for an email telling you how to order the wines this week.

Here’s what I liked from a tasting last week with Lowy at the winery in Vineland:

The Chardonnays

Cloudsley Wingfield Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($60, 93 points) — Wingfield and the single-expression below from Foxcroft are only 800 metres apart, but, incredibly, so different from each other. The Wingfield sees about 33% new oak and only 72 cases were produced. It’s fresh and lively on the nose with pear, golden apple, and nectarine with a lovely saline note and subtle spices. There is richness on the palate but also restraint with quince, buzzy citrus notes, elegant oak spices, and a bright, finessed finish.

Cloudsley Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($60, 94 points) — The Foxcroft sees 40% new oak and 121 cases were made. This was picked about two weeks before the Wingfield. There’s a titch more lemon/citrus aspects on the nose with fresh apples, pear skin, stony/chalky notes, and integrated spices. It’s slightly more concentrated on the palate with pear, yellow apple, juicy citrus, stony/saline minerality and a freshening, lifted finish that goes on and on. A beautiful thing.

Cloudsley Twenty Mile Bench Chardonnay 2020 ($37, 92 points) — While Lowy prides himself on the single-vineyard expressions, the “Twenty Mile Bench” Chard and Pinot, made with the same care and attention as the single-vineyards, represent incredible value for what you get. This is a blend of two Wismer vineyards, Wingfield and Foxcroft with about 25% new oak aging. It’s quite fragrant and rich on the nose with ripe pear, bergamot, yellow apples, and chalky/stony notes. It’s mouth-filling on the palate with some fleshy notes but lovely salinity holding it all in check. Look for ripe stone fruits, lemon/citrus zest accents, a touch of flint, spice, and a lifted vibrant finish.

The Pinot Noirs

Cloudsley Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2020 ($37, 92 points) — Lowy says that his 2020 Burgundian variety wines are “stylistically in line with what we do” despite the warmer vintage of previous harvests. His Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is a blend of Glen Elgin, Parke, Hanck and Homestead vineyards aged in 20% new oak. I have to admit right here and now that I am impressed with the 2020 vintage despite the heat and it shows right here in this multi-vineyard Pinot Noir. This is nicely perfumed with brambly raspberries, red cherries and red currants that is fruity without being too earthy with just a pinch of spice. The melange of red fruits is integrated on the palate with ever-so-subtle savoury/earthy notes adding complexity, a touch of anise, smooth tannins, and a finessed finish. You can age this 5+ years.

Cloudsley Glen Elgin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($60, 93 points) — the Glen Elgin Vineyard was panted in 1996 with clone 115 and sees 20% new oak. It has a delicate nose of perfumed dark cherries, brambly wild raspberries, a touch of anise, and earthy/spicy notes. There’s more complexity on the palate with the full range of red berries, cassis, earthy/savoury notes, a bit of a spicy edge, smooth tannins, and a long, bright finish. Cellar 6+ years.

Cloudsley Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($50, 92 points) — This site was planted in 2002 with clone 777 and sees no new oak. Only 40 cases were made. Lowy says, “there is no recipe, you just listen to the wine,” when blending. If it needs new oak, that’s what you do if it doesn’t, you don’t. This ends up as a pure and expression Pinot on the nose with fresh-picked cherries, warm summer strawberries, cranberries, and light spice notes. It turns richer on the palate with interesting earthy/brambly notes to go with a rich broth of red berries, forest floor, soft tannic structure, and a long, finessed finish. Can cellar 4+ years.

Cloudsley Homestead Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($60, 93 points) — This is the last vintage from Homestead and it sees 33% new oak. It has a pretty, floral note on the nose with earthy underpinnings, red berries, a touch of cassis and a bit more expressive spice. It turns sturdier on the palate with robust and concentrated brambly black raspberries, dark cherries, black currants, savoury spice notes and a long, fresh finish. Can cellar 6+ years.

Cloudsley Parke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($70, 95 points) — “This is a powerhouse in the context of our wines,” Lowy says. The Parke Vineyard was planted in 1999 with clone 667 and 115 and it’s a quite different expression of Twenty Mile Bench Pinot. It jumps from the glass with a lifted floral note followed by concentrated dark cherries, forest berries, damp earth, savoury notes and spice (27% new oak). Wow, everything I love about Pinot Noir is in this glass. It’s pretty and untamed at the same time with complexity and layers of red berries, cassis, and anise. It’s an incredibly detailed wine with a silky texture, elegant spice notes and nuanced through a lifted, extremely long, and finessed finish. Can cellar 7+ years, maybe more!

Cloudsley Hanck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($70, 94 points) — The Hanck Vineyard is located just northeast of the winery and was planted in 2007 with clones 114 and 777. “There’s just something very special about this vineyard,” says Lowy. It’s the old “iron fist in a velvet glove” thing going on, he adds. It was a tad closed when tasted with Lowy, but with swirling opens up to rose petal florals, a melange of red berries, aniseed, a touch of spice and lifted perfume. It’s lovely on the palate, more open knit, with red and dark berries iron/bloody minerality, some earthy/savoury notes, polished tannins, structure, length and a long, echoing finish propelled by racy acidity. A beautifully complex Pinot Noir that can be cellared 7+ years.

Cloudsley End Of the Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($50, 93 points) — The End of the Road Vineyard Pinot tastes “a little more New World to me,” Lowy says. “It shows the vintage in a big way.” It starts with a floral note of violets and then penetrating red berries, Pinot perfume, brambly accents and lovely integrated spices. There’s more substance on the palate with earthy/savoury red berries, good structure and ripe tannins, a touch of cassis, elegant spice notes and a long, bright finish. Can cellar this 8+ years. A cool addition to the lineup.