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Cru Gamays galore in Bachelder’s spring release — what to expect from the wines

By Rick VanSickle

Hauling a big-ass map showing the intricately laced terroirs of Niagara Wine Country’s sub-appellations, Thomas Bachelder stops in the middle of New York City for a quick photo.

He’s standing on Lexington Avenue, across from Dos Caminos, home of the famous Margarita Madness, and on his way to the Canadian Consulate with a café latte in hand, where he and partner/wife Mary Delaney are about to pour Bachelder and Domaine Le Clos Jordanne wines for the New York City wine trade as part of a Team Canada contingent. Wherever Thomas goes his terroir map is sure to follow.

Niagara wine
Wherever Thomas goes his map is sure to follow … even to New York City!

It’s not unusual for those who know Bachelder to see him lugging around that treasured map, the one that pinpoints where all his “cru” vineyards are located, but, oh, to be a New Yorker and see a sight like that, you have to admit, kinda weird even for New Yorkers!

Bachelder and Delaney returned home from a whirlwind trip that took them to Amsterdam (in search of new clients), Düsseldorf for the Prowein big wine show in Germany, and finally New York just in time to launch the April 2 release, their 7th, of La Violette wines that features eight single vineyard “cru” Gamay Noirs, one Villages Gamay, three Villages expressions of Chardonnay and one Villages Pinot Noir. They aren’t messing around. EIGHT single-vineyard Gamays from across Niagara, east to west, all distinctly different. THREE Chardonnays, all blended from three different regions on his terroir map and sourced from trusted single vineyards from growers he trusts.

It’s all a bit mind-boggling when you think about it, but for Bachelder it makes perfect sense. “I don’t just want to make good wines; I want to show the terroir.” And what that entails is a lifetime of exploring the dirt, the aspect, the distance from the lake, the slope, yields, harvest methods, picking dates … and on and on with a dizzying array of factors that determine into the unique differences between one vineyard and another, one sub-appellation from another, and east/west Niagara traits, with the Welland canal being the dividing line.

After that, it’s up to the consumer to decide if they buy into it or not. Can you tell a Wismer Gamay from a Bator? Do you prefer Grimsby Hillside from Bai Xu? Are you a NOTL fan, a Twenty Mile Bench devotee, or a Beamsville Bench fanatic? For seven years Bachelder has been guiding fans of his wines to help them determine their favourites and hopefully bring understanding as to why they like them. That is his ultimate goal.

I tasted the full lineup with Bachelder on Easter morning, deep inside the “Bat Cave” cellar over several hours. It’s always an intellectual exercise to taste with Bachelder as he weaves his way through his myriad wines, 13 on this day, so he can put the finishing touches on the expansive notes he provides with the release to consumers. He uses many words and descriptors I am unfamiliar with, and he can find the differences and similarities between the wines with a sniff and a taste. It’s important to him that each single-vineyard expression (and even regional expressions) can be clearly defined. If they can’t be discernibly differentiated, he won’t put them in the lineup.

While many have come to respect Bachelder and the wines that made in his name in Niagara (and Burgundy and Oregon, for that matter), namely his beloved Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs from equally mapped out terroirs, his Gamays have quickly earned standing at the top of the hierarchy in Ontario, certainly in terms of serious Gamay — Gamays that can consistently express place (and vintage) without tricking up the wine in the cellar.

All the Gamays are essentially made the same way. No new oak, all older barrels and puncheons for 16 months of aging. The only difference in the winemaking is in the percentages (if at all) of whole cluster pressing and destemming (if at all). And, of course, when each parcel is picked, and how it’s picked. Other than that, it’s all about the fruit from the single vineyards of his choosing.

As Bachelder explains, “our process is low intervention in micro lots. We vary the ferments by trying different percentages of whole cluster and perfectly round destemmed berries — all in an effort to find the best combination of terroir, whole cluster, and of course, to best express the vintage. As with all Bachelder wines, we favour the use of wild yeast, minimum sulphur addition at completion of malolactic, and long élevage in neutral oak barrels to better reveal terroir and let the wines fall clear, so that only minimal filtration is needed. All the Gamays were aged in a combination of neutral Burgundian 228L French oak barrels and neutral French oak 500L puncheons, which give great freshness and varietal accuracy.”

Here’s what I liked from the release that is now live on the Bachelder website. To get them, go here.

Note: Wines in Niagara tasted all wines in an east to west order (NOTL to Grimsby), as Bachelder prefers so he can best highlight the terroir as you move from A to B through Niagara. The notes below aren’t in perfect order, but close, as some switching of the wines was done on the fly (as often happens when tasting with Bachelder).

The 2022 vintage

Bachelder says that “of course, the backstory of this vintage was the brief episode of cold in winter 2021/2022 — the perfect recipe for bud and trunk damage. The Bench shone, with less loss than in some other places, but even there, aspect, lower yields and careful viticulture were essential too. Gamay Noir fared particularly well. Make no mistake — this is an impressive vintage for Niagara, but one that will be scarce. Small but utterly beautiful.”

Les Villages Gamay Noir

Bachelder Les Villages Gamay Noir Niagara 2022 ($26, 90 points) — The Les Villages Gamay is a blend of the various single-vineyard terroirs Bachelder sources from Niagara that is 24% whole cluster pressed. This has a forward nose of ripe plums, red berries, rhubarb pie, red/black currants, and spicy/perfumed elegance. The ripe red and dark fruits on the palate are joined by earthy/savoury notes, light tannins, a hint of cedar and spice and a vibrant finish all lifted by juicy acidity. Drink now or hold until 2027. 804 cases made.

The single-vineyard Gamays (east of canal)

Bachelder Kirby Gamay Noir 2022 ($29, 92 points) — The Kirby Vineyard sits on a beautiful parcel of land in the Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation and is owned by Scott and Maria Kirby, who also bottle their own wines (but not Gamay) under their Kirby Estates Winery label. This is Bachelder’s first year working with their fruit. The grapes are 43% whole cluster pressed. There is a lovely floral note on the nose followed by ripe raspberries, cherries, cranberries, subtle minty herbs, pepper, and spice. It shows more intensity on the palate with savoury red berries, a touch of plum and darker berries with light tannins, juicy acidity, and a vibrant finish. Might want to give this a bit of time to open up on the nose. Can cellar to 2027. 246 cases made.

Bachelder Lil Kirby Gamay Noir 2022 ($33, 93 points) — The “Lil” Kirby, from the same western edge of the vineyard as the Kirby above, “is just what it sounds like,” says Bachelder, “a smaller, much-loved baby cuvée but with a bigger percentage of whole cluster (53%), hence its big personality.” A bit darker in colour, and a lot more savoury and wilder on the nose with brambly raspberries, dark cherries, anise, and plums all blanketed in peppery spices. The wildness factor of whole cluster pressing is evident on the palate, showing more dark-toned fruits, savoury herbs, gravelly/mineral notes with brambly raspberries, pepper, and anise and plenty of zip on the finish to suggest a bit more cellaring time might be in order here. I suggest cellaring until 2028 or drink it now for the wild factor. Only 49 cases made.

Bachelder Willms Gamay Noir 2022 ($32, 92 points) — From a 1983 planting at the Four-Mile Creek Willms Vineyard, this Gamay is 55% whole cluster pressed. “We have learned that we simply cannot push these older Gamay Noir vines to give something they can no longer give. We make sure to never over-extract, we just let it be,” Bachelder says. There is a perfumy prettiness on the nose of the Willms with an array of red and dark fruits, a touch of minty herbs, cranberries, and integrated spices. The ripe tannins bring a sense of structure on the palate with earthy/savoury raspberries, dark cherries, plums, blueberry pie, lovely spice and juicy acidity that carries through the finish. Can cellar to 2028. 95 cases made.

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir 2022 ($32, 92 points) — Bai Xu hails from the oldest vines Bachelder works with, planted in 1981 on Line Three in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “The vines are cared for by hand with great love — and parental wisdom — by Jackson Bai (Xu Bai) himself,” notes Bachelder. The fruit is 30% whole cluster pressed. A complex and interesting Gamay that begins on the nose as a bright, cheerful, and fresh expression with ripe plums, dark cherries, raspberries, light spice notes and crushed gravel. It does an about face on the palate with highly concentrated, weighty, and juicy red berries, dark plums, wild blueberries, red currants, fresh herbs, savoury notes, plush, tannic structure, and rich spice notes on a long, vibrant finish. Fascinating Gamay with cellaring to 2029.

Bachelder Bator Gamay Noir 2022 ($29, 91 points) — Bator is located on the western side of Line Two in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation. The grapes are 33% whole cluster pressed. This just might be the burliest of the NOTL Gamays with a nose of concentrated black cherries, brambly raspberries, stewed strawberries, anise, black currants, and savoury spice notes. It’s bold and sassy on the palate with red- and dark-fruited concentration, earthy/gravelly notes, minty herbs, savoury spices, a touch of cocoa, smooth tannins and bright acidity holding it all together on the finish. Good go out of the gate but can cellar to 2027. 45 cases made.

The single-vineyard Gamays (west of canal)

Bachelder G and H Wiley Gamay Noir 2022 ($27, 91 points) — This is only the second vintage of Bacheler’s “cru” Gamay from the Short Hills Bench sub-appellation. The G&H (for George and Hester) Gamay is 100% destemmed. A much more elegant style with a lighter colour in the glass and a pretty nose of fresh cherries, raspberries, plums, and subtle spice notes. It’s a touch more intense on the palate with the full range of red fruits, red currants, plums, earthy/spicy notes, and a lifted finish. Good to go on this one but can take cellaring to 2026.

Bachelder Wismer-Foxcroft Gamay Noir 2022 ($33, 94 points) — On to the Twenty Mile Bench, from a vineyard with pedigree and a favourite of Bachelder for all the varieties he makes. “This wine, vinified with 34% whole grape clusters, is the more closed, and the more structured of all our Gamay Noir Crus,” says Bachedler. “We find the use of 33% whole cluster speaks a little more clearly to us about its gravelly, iron-tinged magnesium oxide soil origins, and since the taste of the land is what we are all about, we are so happy to work with Wismer-Foxcroft – not least for the contrast it underlines between the Twenty Mile Bench VQA (Vineland side), and the beautiful, more lush propositions coming out of the Niagara-on-the-Lake terroir parcels.” For my palate, this is the top of the class of this year’s release, with everything I like about more serious Gamays happening in this wine. It’s a perfectly balanced, elegant Gamay with an enticing nose of soft red berries, blueberries, plums, cherries jubilee, gravelly/flinty notes, minty herbs, just a tinge of earthy/savoury accents and integrated spices. On the palate, you could confuse this for a bolder style Pinot Noir with its rich and juicy red berry fruit, anise, plummy goodness, rhubarb, bramble notes, touch of anise and iron-y minerality, toasty spice notes and long, vibrant finish. Very fine Gamay which can be cellared until 2030. 216 cases made.

Bachelder Mio Gamay Noir 2022 ($29, 92 points) — “Corey Mio and his family have spent years building a beautiful vineyard on the Lincoln Lakeshore in Beamsville,” says Bachelder. “Mio has an amazing vista – big sky country — gently-sloped towards the lake. Mio is quite varied in soil makeup, located just below the bench and north of Highway 8.” 25% whole cluster pressing is used for this Gamay. An interesting, more earthy nose, with notes of brambly raspberries, kirsch-like cherries, wild Muskoka blueberries, juicy purple plums, perfumy spice notes and a touch of savouriness. It’s nicely structured on the palate with concentration of red and dark berries, anise/licorice, earthy/savoury notes, spice, and a juicy finish held together with racy acidity. Cellar to 2028. 48 cases made.

Les Villages: Pinot and Chardonnays

The single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are always released in the fall, while the Les Villages “reserve-level” wines are released in the spring. This year, Chardonnay has three expressions: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Bench and Lincoln Lakeshore. Villages Pinot Noir is here too with a single “Niagara” version.

Bachelder Les Villages NOTL Chardonnay 2022 ($35, 92 points) — The first of three “Villages” Chardonnays from Bachelder is sourced from vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake/St. David’s Bench, including Willms, Bai Xu and Werner vineyards, the latter of which is new to the portfolio. There’s a lovely chalky note on the nose to go with yellow pear, apple, citrus zest, and spice. The pear/apple/quince notes are concentrated and juicy on the palate and play nicely with the flinty minerality, creamy texture and zesty citrus finish. 96 cases were made.

Bachelder Les Village Lincoln Lakeshore Chardonnay 2022 ($35, 92 points) — The fruit is sourced from Grimsby Hillside, Laundry and Mio vineyards. A much more minerally laden Chardonnay than the above Chardo with an elegant, nuanced nose of orchard fruits, lemon zest, flint, toasted vanilla, and spice. It opens up a bit more on the palate revealing yellow apple, bergamot, pear skin and spice on a creamy texture that shows length and vibrancy on the long finish. 199 cases made.

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2022 ($35, 93 points) — The Wismer and Saunders sourced fruit from the Bench is the most elegant of the three Chards in this trilogy. The nose is wispy, flinty, and laced with saline freshness follow by lemon zest, pear, apple skin and elegant spice notes. It’s such a mineral bomb on the palate with a complex array of stone fruits, bergamot, citrus zest, lemon cream and a lifted, long finish. A delight. 396 cases made.

Bachelder Les Villages Pinot Noir Niagara 2022 ($35, 91 points) — A profoundly floral note on the nose followed by dark cherries, crunchy cranberries, black raspberries, and elegant spices. It’s round and silky on the palate with a melange of red berries, anise, a touch of spice and a layered, vibrant finish. Delicious and elegant Pinot to enjoy now while you wait for the single vineyard expressions coming in November. 454 cases made.