By Rick VanSickle
High up on the Hill of Wingfield, one of the prized parcels in terroir-hunter Thomas Bachelder’s dizzying array of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, you get a true sense of place in the Niagara winescape.
This Wismer family-owned Wingfield Vineyard is a coveted spot on the Twenty Mile Bench, valued by winemakers lucky enough to source Chardonnay from here. At the top of the hill, you can see and feel the dolomitic limestone terroir that’s influenced by clay soils with a solid silt component.
This is what gives the Hill of Wingfield its personality, or as Bachelder will tell you: “We are all created equal, this is true, and wine’s beauty is certainly at least partially in the eye of the beholder, but come on, the Hill of Wingfield is grandiose! A calcaire bomb that is incomprehensible at the present time. Truly, a ‘grand vin,’ a grand terroir.”
No other winemaker in Niagara knows the terroir from east to west better than Bachelder, who has been carving up vineyards, blocks, and rows within blocks since 2009 under his own label with his wife Mary Delaney and as the founding (and current) winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne, beginning in 2005.
Last Wednesday, Bachelder and the Wismer team picked the Hill of Wingfield grapes, the latest ripening Chardonnay parcel, furthest from Lake Ontario at 6.8 km, and at the highest elevation (169m at the very top). Wingfield comes in 10 days to three weeks after Wismer-Foxcroft, which is 1,000m closer to the Lake.
As we stare down the gentle slope of the “Hill,” there’s a sense of excitement as Bachelder recounts a 2023 vintage that could have gone very wrong with a wet mid-summer and concerns over disease threatening the young grapes. But, with all the Burgundy grapes now in the house after a beautiful fall, Bachelder is looking forward to a more “classic” year with intense flavours and the tight tension and finesse he prefers in his Burgundian-style wines.
Two days after picking his seven rows of Hill of Wingfield, I am deep inside the “Bat Cave” cellar on the Beamsville Bench. A daunting collection of 10 single-vineyard Chardonnays and nine Pinot Noirs (plus the Villages wines released a year ago) from the 2021 vintage are set up for us to taste in advance of Wednesday’s “La Toussaint” (all Saints Day) release Nov. 1.
If you are on the Bachelder mailing list (if you aren’t, go here for more information) you should have received an email for ordering the wines reviewed below. Included in the information about the release is an incredibly detailed “Terroir Catalogue” and flip book that outlines each wine. Go here to view this incredible resource. The release is now live and ordering has begun. Go here for the full release.
Over several hours, chaotic discussions over terroir, and pontificating about the future of Niagara wines, I meticulously tasted over 20 Chards and Pinots with Bachelder. My notes reflect a snapshot in time and are as detailed as one can be tasting 10 Chardonnays and nine Pinot Noirs from east to west terroirs across the Niagara Peninsula in a limited amount of time. When making your buying decisions, it should be noted that the wines were poured and tasted, as Bachelder chooses to do, in an east-west order to paint a picture of the terroir in sites beginning in NOTL and ending in Grimsby. While it might be more prudent for some to taste in order of intensity from lighter to fuller, such is not the case here, and not the way Bachelder wants to taste. I totally understand the methodology. Before we get to the tasting, some notes.
The 2021 vintage
Bachelder calls the Chardonnays quite classic in 2021, particularly for Burgundian varieties, “a pretty, pure, floral-fruited year with great savoury minerality and solid acidity. The young, still-mute wines are in bottle but portend a great future. Niagara’s Chardonnays age well.” For the Pinots, he says that “ever since they were pressed off to barrel, the 2021 Burgundian reds have shown medium colour, surprisingly lovely floral perfumes, and great mineral verve. Classic fruit aromas mingle with great firm minerality that will hold the wines as they age and improve.”
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,” said Bachelder.
Pushing the envelope on labelling
Another thing consumers will immediately notice with the 2021 La Toussaint release is the label redesign that started with the spring Gamay release and is now complete for the entire production. As you can see in the two photos above, the vineyard takes top billing on the new labels with the name Bachelder in smaller type and the estate’s logo relegated to the back label. “We wanted to get the vineyards front and centre,” said Bachelder. “So, we leaned into this most agreeable task with the goal of first branding place and secondly, sensitizing wine lovers as to its importance. We trust and hope that you will like the European flourish, and artful minimalism of our labels.” You will find more details of what’s in the bottle in the wings of the label left and right and through a bar code on the back of the bottle, which also features a map of where the vineyard is located.
The appearance of “Niagara Cru — Single Vineyard” embossed in gold lettering between the producer’s name and the vineyard’s name on the label is also part of the new labels on the Pinots and Chards. Bachelder said that Niagara Cru, or the French term lieu-dit, refers to a vineyard-specific location. “What we are doing is using cru as a single vineyard, not affixing any level to it,” said Bachelder. “We’re not pretending it’s a premier cru,” he adds, referring to the French system of assigning “levels of quality” to certain iconic vineyards.
Here’s what I liked from the tasting:
Bachelder Wines Bator Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 ($45, 91 points) — The Bator vineyard is located in the Four-Mile Creek sub-app, in the extreme west of the appellation, not far from the border of St. Catharines. There is a lovely saline, crushed oyster shell minerality going on here on the nose, an attribute not usually associated with Niagara-on-the-Lake. The fruits are all about the pear, peach, yellow apple, and bright lemony notes. There is a creamy texture on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lemon tart, flinty/stony minerality, lovely spices and a lifted, fresh finish. Ready to drink or cellar a couple of years.
Bachelder Wine Willms Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 ($49, 92 points) — This Chardonnay vineyard is located near Old Town in NOTL, and is from the Four-Mile Creek sub-app. It was planted in 1983, when there was hardly any vinifera in Niagara. The Willms Vineyard (which was called Sandstone in an earlier incarnation) is uniquely located between two bodies of water, some six km from the lake, and about four km from the Niagara River. It is a combo of silt, loamy-clay, gravel, limestone, and sand. It’s elegant and fresh on the nose with subtle chalky minerality, pear skin, nectarines, yellow apple, peach, and shy spice notes. It’s juicy and lifted on the palate with just a hint of reduction and then apple/quince fruit, zesty fresh cut citrus, more evident spice notes, bright acidity, and saline on the finish, which is lifted and long.
Bachelder Wine Bai Xu Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 ($49, 92 points) — The Byland Vineyard is located close to two major bodies of water — Lake Ontario, and the Niagara River. The Chardonnay grapes, Clone 95, were planted in circa 1981. It starts on a shy saline note then opens to wet stones, white flowers, quince and peach, citrus/lemon and seamless oak spices. It’s richer on the palate with riper orchard fruits, saline minerality, lemon zest, lovely integrated oak spices and a lifted, finessed finish.
Bachelder Wine Wismer-Foxcroft Chardonnay 2021 ($60, 93 points) — Bachelder has always worked with the Wismer family, now in its second generation, and has been growing grapes on the Vineland Bench for 25+ years. “Craig Wismer is a wine lover with a good palate, a man of passion and commitment, and he and I have been thick as thieves for years in our pursuit of understanding soils, terroirs, clones and viticulture,” said Bachelder. The Foxcroft Vineyard “Nord block” is just off Victoria Avenue on Moyer Road. It has a beautifully flinty/floral note on the nose with perfumed pear, quince, lemon chiffon and elegant spice notes. It’s rich with some savouriness on the palate showing concentrated pear, bergamot, flint, a touch reductive, and stony with gorgeously rich spice expressions though a razor sharp and lifted finish. I retasted this wine a day later and was struck by the elevated notes of crushed oyster shells and salinity. Such a minerally-laced Chardonnay. Can cellar 5+ years.
Bachelder Wine Wismer-Wingfield Chardonnay 2021 ($60, 93 points) — As explained in the intro, this is another coveted site for Chardonnay in Bachelder’s arsenal of single-vineyard, single-block expressions. He keeps seven rows of the Wingfield Vineyard for the Hill of Wingfield, with some declassification into the Wismer-Wingfield expression. It has an enticing nose of stony minerality, white flowers, perfumed pear, lemon/citrus, nectarine, and fine oak spices. It has more concentration on the palate but tempered by an electric vein of acidity and showing ripe orchard fruits and lemon tart, a silky texture with a vibrant, lifted finish with a spicy bite.
Bachelder Wine Hill of Wingfield Chardonnay 2021 ($75, 95 points) — Bachelder sources the grapes for this single-block of the Wismer-Wingfield Vineyard from seven rows, at the south-west side of the vineyard, set aside for just him. What he doesn’t use ends up going into the wine above, sourced from other rows in Wingfield. Bachelder not so quietly refers to this as one of his “grand cru” parcels, 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 of all the Chardonnay grapes Bachelder sources. There is a certain ethereal minerality that runs rampant on the nose and through the core of this wine. Not quite saline, not quite stony, and not quite flint, but an impressive amalgamation of all three. Even at this tight stage, give it time, there is beautiful perfume on the nose with white flowers, pear, lemon zest, bergamot and savoury spices vying for attention. It turns lush and more overt on the palate with generous pear, lemon tart, yellow apple, that lovely melange of minerality, vanilla toast, savoury spice and then tingly acidity and length through a pristine and lifted finish. I tasted this wine a day later and it was still shy, but starting to fully express the savoury minerality, wet stones and profound pear and bergamot notes I love from this expression of Chardonnay. Such a beautiful wine with 6+ years of improvement on the horizon.
Bachelder Wine Ivy and Warren Chardonnay 2021 ($49, 92 points) — Warren Saunders sadly passed away on April 20 of this year shortly after celebrating his 102nd birthday. Warren and Ivy’s daughter, Ann-Marie Saunders, explains the history better than I can of the Saunders Vineyard. “Although it seems hard to believe, Warren, who was born and raised in Hamilton, started at Stelco, just before the war, in 1941, when he was just 20 years old,” she told Wines in Niagara. “When my parents met and married in the early 1960’s they purchased the farm in 1965. They were still in relative youth as my mom (Ivy) was only 31 years old and my dad was still working at Stelco (he retired from Stelco in 1983). So, for much of his working life Warren was juggling three jobs … Stelco, co-running the farm and selling fruit at farmers markets around Ontario. For Ivy, moving to the country meant quitting her nursing career and embarking on the steep learning curve of farming while raising three kids. Luckily, she had a natural affinity to plants and could make just about anything grow. Always having a bit of a researcher knack, she was even doing selective leaf pulling and applying sea-kelp to manage table grape sweetness and flavours, well before they became a common practice in present day grape growing.” Bachelder honours the couple (Ivy predeceased Warren in 2015) with their first names of “Ivy and Warren” on the label. “What the Saunders have achieved is a humbling lesson that shows us what intent, commitment and constancy can achieve and how it can influence and inspire us all,” said Bachelder. “Santé, Warren!” The Saunders vineyard, still in family hands, is organically certified on soil that consists of clay, silt, sand, and limestone. The “Haut” Chardonnay block is in the higher, southern part of the vineyard in the older vines with an inspiring view of Lake Ontario. It has a pretty and perfumed nose with enticing chalky/saline notes followed by pear/quince, lemon-lime zest, nectarine, and spice. It’s pristine and lifted on the palate with lovely quince and a subtle herbal note, citrus, stony minerality and integrated spices with zippy acidity keeping it all vibrant and finessed through a long finish.
Bachelder Wine Laundry Chardonnay 2021 ($45, 92 points) — The Laundry Vineyard is grown and certified organic. It was originally planted in 2000, and today run “with passion, love and intense commitment by Heather Laundry,” said Bachelder. “It’s so close to the lake that Heather has to be careful when she is turning her tractor.” This, too, has a lovely perfume/floral opening with integrated stony minerality, ripe pear, yellow apple, apricot, citrus zest, and toasty spice notes. It has good concentration on the palate and a ripe array of orchard fruits, including peachy-apricot notes, stony minerality, vanilla-tinged spices, and a pristine, echoing, and finessed finish. It should be noted here that the official grape here is actually Chardonnay Musque, picked at brix levels to qualify as straight up Chardonnay.
Bachelder Wine Red Clay Barn Block Chardonnay 2021 ($45, 93 points) — The Grimsby Hillside Vineyard is a wild, stony site out in the extreme west of Niagara. It’s nestled into the foothills of the escarpment. This is the second time making the Red Clay Barn Block, which is another gorgeous and personable Chardonnay that shows a beguiling nose of perfumed pear, lanoline, bergamot, fresh salinity and chalky minerality, lemon oil, and quiet vanilla toast and spice. There is more concentration of fruit on the bright but somewhat creamy palate that reveals ripe pear, lemon, yellow apple, subtle flinty notes, and toasted spices on a long, echoing finish.
Bachelder Wine Frontier Block Chardonnay 2021 ($60, 95 points) — The topsoil in the Frontier Block of the Grimsby Hillside Vineyard varies from silty clay/loam mixes to grey and red clays, over top of heavy red clay subsoils, with another layer that appears to contain calcareous limestone shale and gravel deposits (suspected to be eroded material from the escarpment face that settled on the site). This is the third iteration of Frontier from Bachelder and I find myself drawn to its charms every time I taste it. I’m a sucker for those crushed oyster shells/saline notes that this seems to impart in spades every time I smell and taste it. It starts with pretty, perfumed pears then lemon curd, yellow apples, and quince before the profound minerality, toasted almonds and elegant spices kick in. It’s textured, layered and lacy on the palate with a pure vein of fresh salinity and flinty accents followed by ripe pear, lemon tart, yellow plum, pure and elegant oak spices, toasty/nutty notes, and a luxurious, long, and finessed finish. A beautiful Chardonnay here, if you prefer the more minerally expressions. Can cellar 5+ years.
The Pinot Noirs
As with the Chardonnays, we tasted in order from east to west starting in Niagara-on-the-Lake with the Bator Vineyard Pinot Noirs.
Bachelder Wines Bator Pinot Noir 2021 ($49, 92 points) — The Bator has an enticing nose of perfumed cherries, black raspberries, cranberries and cassis with woodsy spices and vanilla toast. There is good concentration and texture on the palate, some subtle stony/granite minerality, savoury/earthy notes, dark cherries, wild raspberries, subtle blueberry pie, anise, spices, and a long, finessed finish. Can cellar 3+ years.
Bachelder Pinot Noir Patte Rouge Pinot Noir 2021 ($45, 91 points) — The Red Paw Vineyard, once part of the Coyote’s Run winery, is no longer, but Bachelder sourced the last harvest in 2021 before the vineyard was uprooted. In the waning years, the vineyard was tended to by Niagara College, but as it was a cold site; the winter of 2022 was too much for the vines. The nose shows savoury black cherries, beet root, wild, ripe raspberries, brambly forest floor and rich spices. It’s tangy on the palate with smoky notes and forest decay before the ripe red berries, touch of cassis, plums, and woodsy spices kick in. It shows length and finesse on the finish.
Bachelder Wine Lowrey Pinot Noir 2021 ($60, 92 points) — On the tail-end of the St. David’s Bench, planted on the shores of the old riverbed of where the Niagara River used to run many moons ago, lies the picturesque Lowrey Vineyard. “It is surely one of the great honours of our lives to work with this special place,” said Bachelder. The oldest, eastern part of the vineyard was planted in 1984 by the Lowrey family for Karl Kaiser (winemaker and co-founder of Inniskillin). Kaiser used the vineyard for his ground-breaking international collaboration Alliance series Inniskillin made with Burgundy’s Jaffelin (Bernard Répolt, now with Rémoissenet). The idea of doing an Alliance brand soon led to the idea of Le Clos Jordanne, that Bachelder, Delaney and his family eventually moved to Niagara from Oregon to help start. Such a profound nose of dark cherries, forest berries, brambly raspberries, earthy/chalky notes, anise, and clove spices. It has lovely texture and verve on the palate with earthy red berries, cran-cherries, fine-textured tannins, a touch of red currants and a long, finessed finish. Cellar 5+ years.
Bachelder Wine Old Eastern Block Pinot Noir 2021 ($75, 94 points) — As above, but the Eastern Block of the Lowrey Vineyard consists of a blend from the original five rows of Lowrey planted in 1984 and the 1988 plantings. 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. There is intensity and depth on the nose with ripe black raspberries, summer cherries, damp forest/undergrowth notes, beet root, a touch of cedar, 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. So beautiful on the palate with ripe red raspberries, anise, savoury/spicy notes, dark cherries, earthy/savoury notes, medium+ tannins, and a long, luxurious finish with sharp acidity keeping everything in harmony. Can cellar 7+ years.
Bachelder Wine Hanck Pinot Noir 2021 ($60, 93 points) — Across the canal and onto the Twenty Mile Bench, the Hanck parcel is located just 10 metres across the headland from Wismer-Parke’s Wild West-End parcel. It shares a similar aspect and soil profile to Wismer-Parke, however, it is a little lower in altitude, and a little closer to the lake. This is so pretty on the nose with a floral/lilac note, fresh red berries, some undergrowth, damp forest floor notes and lingering fine oak spice. It all integrates nicely on the palate with the red cherries and raspberries joining the anise and woodsy spice notes for a lifted, long, and finessed finish. Can cellar 4+ years.
Bachelder Wine Wismer-Parke Pinot Noir 2021 ($60, 93 points) — From the sweet spot of the Twenty Mile Bench, on reddish magnesium and dolomitic-limestone clay soils with a solid silt component, this first expression of the Wismer-Parke Vineyard offers pretty floral notes on the nose, but also more of that bloody/iron minerality we see in Bench Pinots sometimes. The floral notes are joined by anise, plums, and more spicy accents that we see in the Pinots above. It’s rich and savoury on the palate with more mature and fleshy black cherries, wild raspberries, anise/licorice, florals, savoury spice notes and flecks of iron on a silky frame and a long, lifted finish. Can cellar 6+ years.
Bachelder Wine Wild West End Pinot Noir 2021 ($75, 94 points) — 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. It shows the lightest colour in the glass but packs the biggest punch with profoundly scented ripe red berries, brambly, floral notes, cassis, and such elegant and perfumed spice notes. It’s beautiful on the palate and harmonious with the full range of red berries, currants, ripe, polished tannins, enticing spices, and plush with plenty of lift on the vibrant finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
Bachelder Wine Ivy and Warren Pinot Noir 2021 ($49, 92 points) — The Saunders ‘Parcelle Bas’ Vineyard Pinot Noir also gets the special label for this vintage that honours the memory of Warren (above) and Ivy Saunders. It has a lovely nose of spicy dark cherries, brambly raspberries, violets, and subtle darker berries with fine oak spices. It’s silky smooth on the palate with integrated, ripe, red berries, black currants, earthy/savoury notes, and clove spices with an elegant, lifted finish.
Bachelder Wine Beam City Pinot Noir 2021 ($39, 91 points) — This is new to the Pinot portfolio from a “village assemblage” of Beamsville Bench vineyards. As Bachelder tells it, this “Goût de Beamsville is an insider’s look into the taste of the town. Quite simply, we came up with the idea of the Beam City assemblage whilst blending and building the Les Villages Bench Pinot Noir blend: as we were tasting through all the barrels, we realized we had two glorious wines, both from Beamsville; two family-owned vineyards from whom we had made un- forgettably perfumed wine.” This is a lovely blend that brings all the Beamsville Bench attributes together in one bottle. The nose shows ripe red berries, floral/perfume notes, earthy/savoury notes, and fine oak spices. It’s rich, layered, and silky smooth on the palate with brambly wild raspberries, dark cherries, plums, and toasted spice notes through a pristine, lifted finish. Great debut with more of this come in future vintages.