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Producers Reviews

TASTING THE WINES OF FLAT ROCK CELLARS

the wines of flat rock cellars
Photo credit: Flat Rock Cellars

Vintage after vintage, the wines of Flat Rock Cellars stand out for their approachable style and fine value for money. One could be forgiven for assuming that such consistency must be the result of formulaic winemaking. However, that, as I recently found out, is far from the case.

Ed Madronich opened his five-level gravity flow winery at the top of Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench in the early 2000s. His ambitions were clear from the outset. From the careful mapping of vineyard blocks, to the selection of high-quality clones, to the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system, and Sustainable Winemaking Ontario certification, the goal of making eco-responsible fine wines was clear.

Several equally impressive Ontario wineries got their start around the same time, investing similar time, money, and resources, with equally lofty objectives. What sets the wines of Flat Rock Cellars apart is their accessibility. Experimentation is rife at the winery, as it is in so many cellars, yet here, consumers are invited to follow along. Flat Rock bottles their trials so that customers can gain a deeper understanding of what different clones, terroirs, or winemaking methods bring to their wines.

In 2006, Flat Rock Cellars released a “clone research pack” consisting of four 2004 vintage Pinot Noirs. Three of the four wines were made from different Pinot Noir clones (Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777 for the nerdier among you). The fourth wine was a blend of the three clones that makes up the winery’s “Gravity” bottling. The pack was accompanied by a simple information sheet clearly explaining the impact different clones can have on a wine’s aromas and mouthfeel.

In the 2011 vintage, Pinot Noir was again featured, but this time from three different vineyard sites, offered as separate bottlings. The Pond Block, from a west-facing slope with abundant afternoon/evening sunshine and medium clay soils produced a ripe fruited, light bodied, early drinking red. The Summit Block, from a higher altitude planting, on a cool, windy, north-facing plot, gave a deep coloured, fuller bodied, bright acid style. Finally, the Bruce Block, the estate’s most northern parcel, with a south-facing slope, loamy soils on a limestone bedrock, yielded a structured, tannic wine requiring a few years’ cellaring.

The most recent experimental release is the Nature vs. Nurture series of 2017 vintage Pinot Noirs. The goal here is to show the impact yeast can make on wine flavour and texture. Both wines hail from the same vineyards and were vinified and aged in the same way. The only difference is that the Nature cuvée was made with wild yeast (natural yeast populations living on grape skins, as well as vineyard, and winery surfaces), while the Nurture was made with cultured yeast. The W15 strain was selected for its bright fruit and production of high glycerol levels giving a rounded mouthfeel.

Each of these experimental releases serves to draw back the curtain and teach consumers about different facets of the wonderfully complex world of winemaking. Efforts like this are to be applauded wherever they occur, but perhaps, especially in Canada. Ontario is a relatively young wine region still struggling to overcome an image of sweet, poor quality wines that dominated liquor store shelves into the 1980s.

While top-quality wine is now produced from coast to coast, we Canadians have been slow to adopt our wine industry. According to the Wine Growers Ontario organization, Canada is one of the lowest consumers of domestic wine among the top 16 largest wine consuming nations world-wide.

We are far quicker to champion the produce from our local farmers than our home-grown wines. And in a time where our wineries are suffering from the effects of dwindling tourism, limited capacity and/or closures at cellar doors, they need our support more than ever!

My notes from a recent: wines of Flat Rock Cellars (virtual) Pinot Noir tasting session:

Flat Rock Cellars Nature Pinot Noir 2017

Pale ruby in colour with brick hues. Wonderfully perfumed on the nose, with ripe strawberry, raspberry, floral, and tea leaf aromas. Reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir aromatics. Really vibrant on the palate, with a silky texture and an initial lightness that gives way to surprising depth of tangy raspberry and orange peel flavours. Medium weight fine grained tannins and just a whisper of spicy, vanilla oak on the finish.

Where to Buy: very limited quantities, inquire with winery

Flat Rock Cellars Nurture Pinot Noir 2017

Marginally deeper in colour than the Nature, with a more discreet nose initially. With aeration, the Nurture reveals ripe red and dark fruit notes underscored by hints of mocha. Mouth-watering acidity brings lift and definition on the palate. This is a fuller, slightly more taut wine, with dark chocolate flavours mingling with tangy red berry and dark fruit flavours. Moderately firm tannins frame the delicately oaked finish.

Where to Buy: very limited quantities, inquire with winery

Flat Rock Cellars Estate Pinot Noir 2018

This, for me, is Flat Rock’s best value bottling. The Estate Pinot Noir has easy drinking appeal vintage after vintage, with its perky nose of ripe cherry, red berries, and hints of menthol. The palate hums with juicy acidity and tangy red berry flavours on a smooth, lightweight backdrop. Best slightly chilled (16 – 18°C).

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.95$), LCBO (22.95$)

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2016

The Gravity cuvée is a weightier, fuller throttle Pinot Noir than the estate. Marked cedar and mocha notes on the nose, with underlying red currant, cherry, and herbal hints. Crisp acidity on the attack, with a dense, velvety core and overt roasted coffee, baking spice flavours overlying discreet red fruit notes. The tannins remain somewhat grippy. Cellar for 2 – 3 years further or decant a couple of hours before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ (38.00$), LCBO (34.95$)

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2017

Pleasantly open on the nose with ripe fruited notes of yellow apple, apricot, and honeyed hints. Crisp and lively on the palate, with firm, persistent bubbles, medium body, and a rounded, delicately creamy texture. Finishes dry, with bright apply flavours and intriguing hints of baker’s yeast. A bargain at under 30$ LCBO.

Blend: 61% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay

Where to Buy: LCBO (27.75$), Québeckers…there is a shameful lack of Canadian bubbly at the SAQ, go forth & pester your local store staff (or just inquire with local agent: Langevin Inc.)

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2010

This bottling is largely sold-out. It was sent to me to show how well sparkling wines can age when sealed with a crown cap (like beer bottles), which is Flat Rock Cellars’ preferred bubbly closure. The results are surprising. At ten years’ of age, this is a remarkably youthful wine, with its pale straw colour, and discreet aromas of chamomile, beeswax, and lemon. Very fine, silky bubbles and racy acidity on the attack, giving way to an expansive mid-palate brimming with roasted almond, brioche, and crème caramel flavours, befitting its 5+ years of lees ageing. The finish is long and layered, with bright citrus notes lifting the deeper, torrified notes.

Blend:  100% Chardonnay

 

 

Producers Reviews

THE SUSTAINABLE STORY OF SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS

Southbrook Vineyards
Photo credit: Southbrook Vineyards

Re-printing of an article published on JancisRobinson.com 

Bill Redelmeier does not believe in half measures. “When I was a kid, I loved collecting things like baseball cards and fossils. Now, I collect certifications” he chuckles. Indeed, Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s largest organic and biodynamic winery, is certified by Ecocert Canada, Demeter, and Sustainable Winemaking Ontario. What’s more, the estate’s hospitality pavilion was built to a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Standard.

A slow smile spreads across Redelmeier’s face when I ask what inspired this zeal for sustainability.  Telling stories is what he loves.  “I grew up on a farm” he says, settling back in his chair. “My father always told me: you have to work twice as hard as your staff. You have to learn all of the jobs firsthand, because you can’t expect others to do things that you are not willing to do.” For a young Bill Redelmeier, this meant long hours atop a tractor, spraying pesticides, and herbicides on corn crops.

Redelmeier’s watershed moment came with the birth of his first child. “My wife wouldn’t let me use the washing machine at home because she didn’t want to wash Andrew’s clothes in the same machine. This really got me thinking. I didn’t want to subject myself to the chemicals any longer and I couldn’t ask my employees to do it either”.

In 1991, Redelmeier established Southbrook Winery, a négociant-éleveur business making wine from grapes sourced in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. The wines were a popular addition to the family’s bustling farm market north of Toronto. When, in the early 2000s, respected Canadian winemaker, and ardent biodynamic practitioner Ann Sperling became available for consultation services, Redelmeier leapt at the opportunity.

By 2005, Redelmeier was ready to move away from the family farm and devote himself to his passion project, establishing an organic and biodynamic estate vineyard in Niagara. Southbrook Vineyards found its home on a 75-acre plot in Niagara’s Four Mile Creek sub-appellation with Sperling on board as Director of Winemaking and Viticulture.

While Redelmeier and Sperling were equally convinced of the qualitative advantage of biodynamic farming, Sperling also valued its practical benefits. “Organics is a lot about what you can’t do, whereas biodynamics provides solutions” she explains. “It adds an awful lot to the toolbox when you think about all of the various teas, the compost preps, all the things that are building biodiversity above the ground and making healthier vines.”

In the interest of improving vine health, the duo took a radical decision. Diseased vines due to leaf-roll and red blotch virus are a widespread problem in Ontario, and throughout North America. “At Southbrook, we started re-planting our vineyards early, so almost everything that we are growing now is virus-free” says Sperling, adding that “it is like night and day in terms of how well the vineyards are responding.” Not only has she witnessed more resistant vines with earlier ripening grapes, but the results in the winery have also impressed her. “When everything is working well in the vineyard the fermentations are more successful, and the wines have better structure and balance.”

In 2006, alongside vineyard re-planting and certifications, Southbrook was also breaking ground on their LEED Gold Standard hospitality pavilion. As part of the overall vineyard eco-system, it made sense to Redelmeier that the building should be an equally important part of the equation.  With its white, reflective PVC roof, its highly insulated walls, triple-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows, automatic faucets, and dual flush toilets, the pavilion is a model of energy efficiency.

Just beyond its cheerful purple façade lies a 170MwH solar panel field that has yielded an 80% reduction in the winery’s net electricity consumption. Running the length of the pavilion is a large strip of bioswale, whose native wetland plants break down pollutants from storm water that drains in from the property’s paved surfaces. Further wetlands on the property treat wastewater and disperse purified water into the surrounding soil.

To enhance the property’s biodiversity, Redelmeier purchased an adjoining 75-acre parcel of land in 2008. “It has about 15 acres of forest, which serves as a biodiversity reserve, and 60 acres of pastureland” says Sperling. The pastures are now the site of Linc Farm, home to a thriving population of sheep, cattle, pigs and laying hens raised in non-GMO, chemical-free conditions. The operation is managed by Sperling’s daughter and partner, animal welfare specialists. The arrangement suits Redelmeier perfectly. “She pays me shit for rent” he says with a grin, referring to the excellent compost and manure the farm animals provide.

The winery’s culture of ecological and ethical production is something Redelmeier and Sperling work hard to instill in their staff. “It is a constant exercise due to routine seasonal staff turn over” Sperling admits, but they persist, taking every opportunity to bring the team out to the vineyards and winery to learn. They also derive comfort in the knowledge that they are providing a safe environment for employees, visitors, and the community at large. “Nothing leaves our property that is going to harm or negatively affect people in anyway” says Sperling.

Organic viticulture is far from the norm in Ontario. According to Redelmeier, only 1% of the province’s vineyards are farmed organically. To encourage local growers to convert, Redelmeier has established long-term organic grape buying contracts, adding wines from sourced grapes alongside his range of estate bottlings. For now, he has no plans to expand the estate’s plantings. Preserving vineyard biodiversity is integral to Southbrook’s philosophy. “To go out and walk along the edge of the vineyard in the late summer and suddenly you’re surrounded by Monarch butterflies, that is a delight” says Sperling, detailing the recovery of this absent native species upon planting milkweed in their meadows.

Southbrook’s sustainability commitments don’t stop at the winery gates. “We source most of our bottles from an Ontario manufacturer of light-weight glass composed of 80% recycled materials. The labels are from Ontario. The Stelvin capsules are from Québec” explains Redelmeier. Transport costs are also low. The winery sells the majority of its production in a 160km radius around Niagara. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Redelmeier and his son have even taken to hand delivering orders to clients around the province. “If one good thing has come from this situation, it is the closer personal relationships we are developing with our customers” he says.

Despite his positive outlook Redelmeier admits that, while Southbrook is on solid economic footing, turning a profit is a constant challenge. According to a 2018 industry-wide benchmarking survey rising land, labour, and input costs, coupled with poor gross margins through the province’s alcohol monopoly, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), are major limiting factors for Ontario wineries. Yields are also low, notably in Southbrook’s biodynamic model. “When I started the winery, Ann made me promise to never go over two tonnes per acre. We may get there someday” Redelmeier says, unfazed.

For Redelmeier, the estate’s low yields are integral to the high-quality wines they strive to produce. Quality wines made with respect for the land and the people involved, this was the dream when setting up Southbrook, and remains the estate’s vision for the future. The way Sperling sees it, “we are the mask wearers – to use pandemic terms – we are the ones that are thinking about the big picture, the long-term; making decisions that protect us but also protect others”.


Southbrook Vineyards wines can be found in select liquor stores across Canada. To get your taste buds tingling, here are my tasting notes from a selection of three wines that were generously provided to me by the winery’s Québec agent: Vertigo Vins & Spiritueux

bubbly   riesling   vidal

 

Southbrook Vineyards Bubbly Pét Nat 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

Inviting aromas of spiced apple cider on the nose, underscored by hints of brioche and white flowers. Zesty high acid and fine, vigorous bubbles lift and shape the medium bodied, bone dry palate. Finishes with a touch of refreshing bitterness and flavours of digestive biscuit and tangy, dry cider.

Where to Buy: SAQ (27.95$), LCBO (29.95$)

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling “Laundry Vineyard” 2018, VQA Vinemount Ridge

Delicate aromas of ripe lemon, white orchard fruit and honey feature on the nose. The palate is equally engaging with its racy acidity tempered by just a hint of honeyed sweetness, its silky texture, light body and juicy fruit flavours. A very elegant unoaked white wine.

Where to Buy: Direct from the winery (2017 vintage. 22.75$), inquire with agent in Québec

Southbrook Vineyards Skin Fermented Vidal 2019, VQA Ontario

Pale amber in colour, with distinctive notes of quince, gooseberry, and orange zest perched above an earthy bass note. Lipsmacking high acid like a jolt of electricity on the palate, with a textural, grapefruit pith astringency, light body, and very dry, juicy finish. Packs quite a flavour and texture punch for its modest 10.7% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$), LCBO (29.95$)

Producers Reviews

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE MICHEL SARRAZIN

the wines of michel sarrazin

The Burgundian fog hung thick and relentless in the air as I guided my flashy fiat along the A6 southward to Givry. Exiting the highway at Chalon-sur-Saône, I was amazed to see how quickly I found myself ambling along tiny country lanes, crossing sleepy farming communities

At the top of a steep and winding path, I came across the hamlet of Jambles; part of the Givry appellation. I had arrived at my first visit of the morning: the Domaine Michel Sarrazin & Fils.

The Côte Chalonaise lies due south of Burgundy’s famed Côte d’Or. Aligoté, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards dot the landscape, but here they are interspersed with a variety of other crops and grazing land. From north to south, the top growing areas are: Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.

Apart from the nervy, elegant Aligoté from Bouzeron, the white wines of the Côte Chalonnaise are rarely lauded. The red wines, while often decidedly rustic, can achieve a vibrant fruitiness and silken texture in the right hands, on the right vineyard sites.

The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region.

The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region. My host for the morning, Guy Sarrazin, is certainly of this opinion. “Givry has a lovely, fruity expression”, he explained, “while Mercurey is generally earthier, and Rully often lacks weight”.  There are no Grand Cru vineyards here, but several excellent Premier Cru sites exist.

The Sarrazins have been growing grapes in and around Givry since the 17th century. The Domaine Michel Sarrazin was established by the current generations’ father in 1964, and it was at this juncture that the winery began bottling and selling their wines. Brothers Guy and Jean Yves are now at the helm, and have gained critical acclaim in France and abroad for the great value and consistent, high quality of their range.

Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey.

I was shown into a cool, dark cellar used to stock boxed, ready-to-ship orders. The tasting bar was tucked into the corner of this charmless room. Surveying my surroundings and my gruff host, I wondered what what I was in for. Thankfully as the morning progressed, Guy warmed to his subject and the twinkle in his eye was undeniable as he poured his finest reds.

Today, the Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey. The brothers produce 25 different wines ranging in style from crémant, to white, rosé, and red. The estates’ top wines hail from their Givry 1er Cru vineyards dotted through out the appellation. The vineyards are farmed according to the French lutte raisonnée system (literally translated as “the reasoned fight”, basically meaning that chemical sprays are strictly limited; used only when absolutely necessary).

All of Sarrazin’s wines, from the most humble to the grandest are matured in top quality French oak, sourced exclusively from the François Frères cooperage. Sarrazin believes that judicious oak maturation brings the structural lift and flavour complexity he seeks to enhance the individual expression of each terroir. The duration of ageing and percentage of new barrels used depends on the vineyard.

Overall, the wines were a revelation for me. The earthiness and rusticity of certain wines served to heighten complexity, underscoring lively fruit, floral, and spiced aromas. I was treated to a lengthy tasting, covering the majority of Guy’s range.

The fantastic value and dangerous drinkability of Guy’s Bourgogne AOC wines impressed me. Sarrazin’s Givry 1er Crus showed how versatile the wines of the appellation can be, from the elegant Champs Lalot, to the weightier, firmer Grande Berge.

Tasting notes from my favourite wines below.

 

Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Charnailles” 2017

Aromas of white flowers, lemon, grapefruit and anis hints feature on the nose. The palate is defined by its nervy acidity, light body, tangy citrus fruit flavours, and saline mineral notes on the lifted finish.

Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Blanc 2017

Though quite restrained on the nose, this medium bodied white comes into its own on the palate. Fresh, with attractive yellow apple and pear flavours, mingled with buttery notes, and hints of green almond. The subtle phenolic grip on the finish boulsters the structure nicely prolonging the lemon-infused finish.

Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2017

Pretty red cherry, raspberry and earthy nuances appear with aeration. Light in colour and body, this brisk red is brimming with juicy red berry flavours. The finish is smooth and rounded.

Givry “Les Dracy” 2017

Quite a light, lifted style of Givry, with restrained red berry and mossy, forest floor notes. Smooth and linear on the palate, with tangy red fruit flavours and lovely, silky tannins.

Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Rouge 2017

Very elegant, with a heady violet perfume underscored by raspberry, red cherry and cedar nuances. The palate is incredibly tangy and firmly structured, with lively acidity, medium body, tart red fruit flavours, and fine-grained tannins.

Givry 1er Cru “Les Bois Gauthiers” 2017

Discreet, with an earthier, less fruit forward expression than Champs Lalot. The palate is weightier, with quite firm, chewy tannins and lingering herbal, red berry notes.

Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2017

Intially restrained, the Grande Berge gains quickly in intensity, with intriguing exotic spice, red berry, red currant, and cedar notes. Crisp, vibrant acidity is matched by a very taut structure on this medium bodied red. It finishes quite earthy, with firm tannins and lingering mocha flavours.

Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2015

The 2015 vintage of Grande Berge is highly aromatic, with intense red cherry, black plum, and raspberry notes. Still tightly knit, but far weightier on the palate, with an abundance of ripe red berries, mocha, and spice. The tannins are broad and ripe.

Producers Reviews

TERROIR WINE: The Winemaker’s Holy Grail

Randall Grahm Terroir Wine
Photo credit: Nicole diGiorgio sweetnessandlightphoto.com/ Bonny Doon Vineyards

The ambition of many a vineyard-owning winemaker is to craft the finest possible vin de terroir. It is a lofty notion – the story of one vineyard’s specific climate, soil type, orientation, and so forth, expressed through its grape variety(ies) and through the winemaker’s touch, to create a unique wine that could only come from that specific place and vintage.

Randall Grahm is a renowned Californian wine producer; founder of the Santa Cruz-based Bonny Doon Vineyard. Grahm has focused on the pursuit of terroir wines since selling his major brands: Big House Red, Pacific Rim, and Cardinal Zin back in 2006. At a recent tasting in Montréal, Grahm waxed lyrical on the subject.

Grahm separates wines into two categories: those that express winemaking technique, and those that convey provenance.

Grahm separates wines into two categories: those that express winemaking technique, and those that convey provenance. Both are of value. Not every vineyard site has superior qualities. Many are simply adequate to the task of producing good value, easy-drinking wine. And there is nothing wrong with that. A skilled winemaker can enhance quality using a variety of specialized techniques, but the resultant wines will never provoke the kind of “emotional or psychic resonance” Grahm attributes to terroir wine.

In certain, very special vineyards the world over, wine producers have observed a curious phenomenon. Despite using similar grape growing and winemaking techniques as practiced in neighbouring vineyards, the wines from these sites are different, and inexplicably better. They possess a sort of ethereal beauty that stirs the soul. In long established vineyard regions, these plots have been identified with special names or hierarchical classifications like Grand Cru, Grosse Lage, etc.

Grahm has traveled widely, and tasted terroir wines from across the globe. The one common factor he perceives in all of them is minerality. This buzz word is a hot topic of debate in wine circles. Wine writers (yours truly included) regularly describe wines like Chablis or Mosel Riesling as mineral – generally meaning that they smell of wet stone or struck flint, or that they provoke a prickly textural sensation on the palate separate from acidity or carbonation.

“Before I die, one thing that I want to know is…what is minerality?”.

Earth Science experts dismiss minerality as hogwash. A vine’s mineral uptake is so minute in quantity as to be imperceptible to the nose or palate, they say.  Theories abound on what causes these flavour compounds, but for now, no common consensus has been reached.

“Before I die, one thing that I want to know is…what is minerality?”. Grahm views minerality as a “function of greater resistance to oxidation”; an essential “life force” possessed by terroir wines. He sees a correlation between this mineral expression and “a presence of higher concentrations of minerals in soil, a favourable ratio of grape root mass to fruit mass, and healthy microbial life in the soil”. These are the conditions that Grahm is working with in his vineyard.

In a quiet corner of the San Benito County AVA, an inland area of the Central Coast of California, Grahm found Popelouchum. This 113-hectare vineyard in San Juan Bautista was a former settlement of the Mutsun people, a subset of the Ohlone tribe. The word means paradise in their dialect, and this is just what Grahm feels he has found.

Every effort is being taken here to ensure that the full potential of the site is expressed through the grapes. Dry farming using sustainable and biodynamic practices, low yields, moisture retaining biochar for soil amendments, and so forth.

Grahm muses that minerality gives wines an essential “life force” that sets them apart.

Grahm has even dedicated a portion of the vineyard to experimenting with growing grape crossings from seed. His ambition is to create new varieties perfectly suited to his land (and similar such vineyards) – with the necessary disease and drought resistance, along with an elegant, and refined flavour profile. This is important work in an era where climate change is dramatically altering growing conditions, making grapes once ideally suited to a site no longer viable.

The Popelouchum project is still in its infancy. The sole release, a 2015 Grenache grown from ungrafted vine cuttings taken from Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-pape, is incredibly vibrant with a highly perfumed, complex nose, silky structure, and persistent, dare-I-say mineral-laced finish. Sadly, you won’t find it on liquor store shelves. The bottling was so small that Grahm is sharing it privately with friends and enthusiasts. Commercial sales are still a couple of vintages down the road.

In the meantime, there are a wide range of Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard wines on offer to distract us. They may not be the absolute expression of terroir that Grahm now seeks, but they certainly are skillfully made and very pleasant to drink.

My top 5 from this weeks’ tasting include:

(What do VW, PW, LW mean? Check out my wine scoring system to find out.)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare 2017 – 87pts PW

Pretty pale rose in colour. Subtle floral, and red apple hints feature on the nose. This tempting rosé really comes alive on the crisp, creamy textured palate. Light in body, moderately firm, with concentrated, tangy orchard fruit flavours.

Blend: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Carignan

Where to buy: SAQ (22.75$)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Proprio Gravitas 2015 – 88pts PW

Attractive Sémillon character, with notes of lanolin, lemon zest, acacia, and exotic spice on the nose. Fresh, medium in body, with a smooth, rounded mouthfeel and pithy grapefruit notes on the finish.

Blend: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat

Where to buy: SAQ (20.00$)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2014 – 92pts PW

Absolutely killer quality for the price. Sourced from a single parcel, the Beeswax vineyard in Monterrey County. Intriguing aromas of fennel, anise, ripe lemon, apricot, and hints of toasty oak keep you coming back for more. The palate displays excellent balance, with fresh acidity, an ample frame, and highly concentrated, baked pear and spice flavours. Beautifully creamy and layered in texture. Just a shade warming on the finish.

Blend: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne

Where to buy: SAQ (35.00$)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant 2012 – 90pts PW

Quite earthy and brooding in nature, with aromas of licorice, black cherry, hints of pepper, and dried floral notes. Fresh and full-bodied, with a firm structure and ripe, grippy tannins. Moderate concentration of juicy, brambly red and dark fruit gives way to cigar box and spiced notes on the medium-length finish.

Blend: Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault

Where to buy: SAQ (40.00$)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2016 – 93pts LW

Lovely floral nose, underscored by hints of dried orange peel, fresh cranberries, raspberries, and black cherry. This weighty, highly concentrated red really shines on the palate, with vibrant acidity, and well-integrated cedar-spice from mainly older oak ageing. The tannins are very elegant; fine-grained and ripe. The finish is long, earthy, and fresh.

Blend: 100% Mourvèdre

Where to buy: Enquire with agent, Trialto 

 

Life Producers Reviews

REQUIM FOR A VINE: Classical Music and Wine

Classical music & wine
Photo credit: Il Paradiso de Frassina

I am not a sceptic. When people tell me things, my first instinct is to believe them. I like magic tricks, and fairy tales. And I plan to use all of my wiles to keep my kids believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny as long as I possibly can (likely until some annoying child at school whose parents ‘didn’t want to lie’ ruin it for them).

Call me naive, or gullable, I don’t really care. In my experience, you enjoy life a lot more if you suspend your disbelief from time to time. After all, if you look back over the course of history, you would be hard pressed to find a cynic behind the important advancements our society has known. Rather, it is those that dare to ‘have a dream’, and potentially fail, that bring about change.

That is why I am always intrigued when I happen across a wine producer that has a unique story to tell about their vineyard or cellar practices. At a recent Brunello di Montalcino tasting in Montréal, I happened on such a tale.

At the foot of the Montosoli hill, in the Montalcino vineyards of Italy, lies a beautifully renovated 1000 year-old farmstead and a small holding of 4 hectares of vines. A walk through the vineyards reveals a most unusual site. Installed at regular intervals throughout the rows are Bose loudspeakers, playing Mozart to the grapes.

The estate is called Il Paradiso di Frassina, and is the brainchild of Montalcino maverick Giancarlo Cignozzi, renowned for his founding role in the acclaimed Tenuta Carpazo. In 2000, Cignozzi decided to leave Carpazo, yearning for a smaller operation, where he could craft artisan wines.

The vineyard, abandoned for some 50 years, was planted from scratch, and the tender, young vines were nurtured…with music. Originally, this consisted of a few acoustic speakers and a wide variety of classical and barroque styles. Within a short period, Cignozzi and his team discovered that the vines exposed to music were hardier, more disease resistant and ripened more consistently.

This discovery drew interest from the scientific community, with two universties, those of Florence and of Pisa, deciding to actively study the phenomenon. In Florence, the research is focused on the biophysical changes in the vines. In 2008, they asked Cignozzi to play only Mozart, to ‘give a single, geometric, and subtle textural tone to the musical harmonies’ to better determine how the sound waves benefit the vines. In Pisa, the study is focused on the insect population of the vineyards, and how it has changed under the musical influence.

The extraordinary developments at Il Paradiso di Frassina so impressed American technology company Bose, that they donated custom, all-weather speakers for the entire vineyard.

The results? According to Il Paradiso di Frassina’s patent, the size and thickness of the leaf has been found to be increased, along with the level of chlorophyll (essential to plant photosynthesis).  The need for copper and sulphur sprays (to ward off fungal infections) has decreased by 50%. Leaf respiration is improved, making them less resistant to climatic stress. The grapes have higher levels of anthocyanins and polyphenols (resulting in deeper colour and more robust tannins). And finally, the grapes are ripening more consistently and efficiently, allowing for earlier harvest dates, before the risk of autumn rains sets in.

And the wines?

Il Paradiso di Frassina Rosso di Montalcino 2015 – 88pts. PW

Very fresh and lively, with vibrant red currant, spice and earthy aromatics. Medium bodied, firm and moderately concentrated on the palate, with fleshy tannins and a clean finish.

Where to buy: Inquire with agent: Les Importations Olea Inc. www.olea.ca 

Il Paradiso di Frassina Brunello di Montalcino 2011 – 92pts LW

Complex aromas of ripe red cherry, talc and fresh, forest floor nuances are underscored by attractive minerality and subtle animal notes. Bright acidity gives way to a firm, dense mid-palate, with pretty floral and cherry flavours. The tannins are robust, but fine grained, and the oak imprint is subtle. The finish is persistent and savoury. Needs time.

Where to buy: 55.50$ (SAQ)

Flauto Magico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2011 – 93pts LW

Wonderfully suave, harmonious red. Intense aromas of red currant, red cherry and balsamic feature on the nose. Upon aeration, a lovely earthiness develops, with sweet talc notes and stony mineral nuances. Full-bodied and firm, yet velvetty in texture with a rich profile of fresh fruit flavours and a long finish, framed by robust, grainy tannins and woody tones from long ageing in cask.

Where to buy: Inquire with agent: Les Importations Olea Inc. www.olea.ca 

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out).

Producers Reviews Wines

PRODUCER PROFILE – ALAIN BRUMONT

alain brumont wines south west
Photo credit: Vignobles Alain Brumont

Alain Brumont is a force to be reckoned with. This is evident from the moment he begins to speak; from his commanding tone to his broad Southwestern French accent. He has worked tirelessly through out his career to bring the wines of a little known vineyard to the world stage. His estate, Château Montus, is better known in many wine circles than Madiran, the appellation from which it hails.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alain and his charming wife Laurence at a wine dinner in Montréal this past May. Seated beside him at table, I listened with rapt attention to his views on his region, his winemaking philosophy and his many passion projects.

Brumont is the quintessential “self made man”; a concept so dear to us North Americans. He left school at the tender age of 16 years-old and laboured in his fathers’ vines for a number of years before taking out a loan, on his own, to purchase Château Montus. Today, he crafts wines not only from his four properties in Madiran, but also from his négociant activities in the Côtes de Gascogne.

Brumont believes strongly in sustainable agriculture, though he doesn’t feel the need to seek out certification. His flock of sheep fill the vineyards in winter and nearby pastures in summer, providing an abundant source of natural manure. ‘We use no other form of fertilizers in our vineyards’ states Brumont with pride.

The climate in Madiran, Mediterranean with Atlantic influences, is ideal for grape growing, providing mild springs, optimal sunshine and tempering, cool breezes. With such optimal weather conditions, Brumont asserts that it is a relatively easy thing to limit vineyard treatments and work with minimally invasive products.

The same low interventionist methods are employed in the cellars.  ‘Our wines are never acidified or chaptalised’ says Brumont. In fact, he is working towards a zero entrants policy for his wines. Stringent cellar hygiene is a major part of this. ‘Our equipement (pumps, hoses, etc.) are washed with 300°c vapour before each use and inerted with nitrogen gas’. Lowering bacterial and oxidative risks allows sulphur levels to be sharply reduced.

These practices in vineyard and cellar all stem from one overriding goal: to create the best quality wines possible, that reflect the best of their terroir and their grape. The star variety of Madiran, Tannat, is often derided as yielding rustic, overly tannic reds. With his many years of experience, Brumont has learned how to harness this powerful nature, creating full-bodied, long-lived yet suave wines that delight critics world-wide. ‘I only use the free-run juice for my reds’ he explains. ‘The muscular tannins come from the pressed grapes”. Brumont’s ‘trash’ is another man’s treasure, as the dark, tannic press juice commands a good price on the négociant market, to beef up blends from other regions where the dominant grapes are lighter in body and structure.

The desire to craft wines that, while still powerful, are approachable in their youth, stems from Brumont’s love of food and wine pairing. Every day, at Château Bouscassé, Alain and his team dine together at mid-day, often inviting visiting guests to join them. So great is his interest in all things gastronomic that Alain is currently investing in a project to raise Noir de Bigorre pigs famous in the region for their fine hams.

A selection of excellent wines were served through out the evening, ably complimenting the fine cuisine of the Ritz-Carlton Montréal. Here are a short list of my favourites:

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out).

Photo credit: www.saq.com

Château Montus white 2012 (Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec) – 93pts. PW

The Madiran appellation is exclusive to red wines. Local producers grow their white grapes in the neighbouring vineyard of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. Dry and sweet whites are crafted from the local varieties: Arrufiac, Manseng, Courbu, Sauvignon, Sémillon.

Brumont uses the little known Petit Courbu as the dominant grape in his Château Montus Blanc. Aged for over 2.5 years in 600L barrels, this vibrant white features attractive toasty, stone fruit, floral and spiced notes on the nose. Crisp and lively on the attack, with a full-bodied, creamy mid-palate and a pleasant, slightly bitter grapefruit pith note on the long finish. This is a very stylish white for the price.

Where to buy: SAQ (24.90$)

Château Montus red 2012 (Madiran) – 92pts. PW

Opaque, deep ruby colour. Intense, ripe dark fruit aromas underscored by floral notes and hints of earth and cedar. Vibrant acidity offsets the big, brooding structure of this as yet tightly knit red. The mid-palate reveals lovely concentration of dark fruits, cocoa and coffee. Firm, chewy tannins and well integrated cedar oak frame the persistent finish. Decant several hours before serving.

Where to buy: SAQ (28.85$)

Château Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes 2006 (Madiran) – 94pts. PW

The Tannat vines for this cuvée were planted between 60 and 100 years ago, and yield small quantities of incredibly concentrated fruit. The 2006 vintage was aged 2 years in barrel, followed by a further year in large oak casks. The result is highly complex wine, offering ultra ripe black fruits, hints of dried flowers, citrus peel and cedar on the nose. Upon aeration, attractive mocha notes come to the fore. Bright acidity gives way to a dense, firmly structured wine with concentrated tertiary flavours. The tannins remain firm, and subtly drying, on the long finish. Pair with hearty red meat dishes. Again, a serious bargain for the quality level.

Where to buy: SAQ (35.25$)

Château Montus Cuvée Prestige 2009 (Madiran) – 95pts. LW

Planted on a southern facing slope, in fertile, red clay soils, this is a weighty, powerful wine. The 2009 vintage was particularly sunny and hot, making for an especially rich red.

Fragrant aromas of macerated black and red fruits, mingle with violets, milk chocolate and spicy cedar nuances. Bright acidity leads into a full-bodied, dense and chewy palate structure, that thankfully broadens on the mid-palate becoming quite opulent and velvetty. Tannins are bold, though fine grained and cedar/ spice notes from the oak are present, but harmonious.

Where to buy: SAQ (70.25$)

Château Montus “La Tyre” Madiran

This is the top, parcellar selection wine from Château Montus, sourced from a specific 11 hectare vineyard plot of red clay, with sandy sub-soils. We tasted 4 vintages of this superb wine (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010). It is similar in aromatics to the regular Montus, with far greater complexity (more pronounced florality, herbal notes, graphite). While incredibly dense and firmly structured, there is an elegance here, matched with a fine balance of acid, tannin and concentrated fruit that suggests excellent long-term ageing potential. The 2009 and 2010 cuvées were particular favourites for me (scoring 95 and 96pts. LW consecutively). They require cellaring however, for the prominent toasty oak flavours to integrate.

Where to buy: None of the vintages sampled are currently available at the SAQ or LCBO. Enquire with the agent: markanthonywineandspirits.ca/

 

Producers Reviews

PRODUCER PROFILE – DOMAINE QUEYLUS

Domaine Queylus Niagara Wine
Photo credits: Domaine Queylus

If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you will know that I come from a family of unabashed wine snobs. Our saving grace, and the reasons we still have any friends willing to imbibe with us, is our ability to revise our initial judgement calls.

Through out my childhood, my parents hosted an annual mulled wine party, and their well-mannered guests always came bearing gifts. I still remember my father snickering at bottles of Niagara wine received in the 1990s. They went into the “cooking wine” stock without a backward glance.

I was therefore duly shocked when, on a visit home from Burgundy 10 years later, he served me a Château des Charmes Chardonnay, declaring it ‘not half bad’.  And he was right.

It wasn’t until 2009 however that I made my first visit to the vineyards of Niagara. The company I was then working for in Gigondas had just merged with the large Burgundian négociant firm: Boisset, and my new colleagues insisted that I visit their Ontario estate: Le Clos Jordanne.

I will admit that I went into the visit with low expectations. Our appointment was for early afternoon, and we had tasted some pretty green, over oaked wines over the course of the morning. Pulling up outside a glorified shed made of corrugated iron did little to assuage my doubts. However, just 2 or 3 barrels in to our tasting, my opinion was radically altered. Here was elegant, expressive, balanced Pinot Noir that could ably hold its own on the world stage.

And I was far from the only enthusiast.

A group of friends and wine lovers from Québec were also following the successes of the Clos Jordanne, and its talented, Québecois winemaker Thomas Bachelder, with interest. So much so that they decided to pool their resources and purchase a 10-hectare orchard in 2006 at a site near Beamsville in the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation.

Armed with the knowledge that the choices made when preparing to plant a vineyard will dictate the quality produced for years to come, this band of brothers pulled out all the stops. Internationally renowned vineyard consultant Alain Sutre was called in to perform detailed soil analyses; to determine what to plant and where.

Though the project was intially set to be dedicated to Pinot Noir, the variable soils called for greater diversification. A pocket of heavy blue clay, similar to that found in Pomerol, was planted to Merlot. A cooler site, near the lake, was given over to Chardonnay.

Thomas Bachelder left the Clos Jordanne, and joined the Queylus team early on, as consultant, head winemaker and estate manager. He brought with him a wealth of experience and an uncompromising ambition to craft balanced, elegant wines in tribute to his years in Burgundy, though with a clear sense of Niagara terroir.

Today, the estate consists of 16 hectares spread across three appellations: the intial plot at Lincoln Lakeshore near Beamsville, Twenty Mile Bench near Jordan, and Vinemount Ridge in St Ann’s.

Over a sumptuous lunch at the always fantastic La Chronique restaurant in Montréal, I had the opportunity to taste the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Pinot Noirs from each of the three tiers of Domaine Queylus’ range. Much like in Burgundy, Queylus has segmented their wines into a Villages level (called “Tradition”), and Premier Cru level (“Réserve”) and a Grand Cru bottling (“Grande Réserve”).

My notes as follows:

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out)

   

Pinot Noir Tradition 2013 – 89pts. PW

Fragrant red berrry and cranberry notes on the nose, underscored by hints of white pepper. Lovely balance of crisp acidity, medium body and tangy, just ripe fruit flavours. Silky tannins. Easy drinking and fresh.

Where to buy: LCBO (29.95$), SAQ (31.00$)

Pinot Noir Tradition 2014 – 88pts. PW

Moderately intense red cherry, red berry and eucalyptus notes on the nose. Firmer and fuller bodied than the 2013, with a tightly knit structure and somewhat chewy tannins. Subtle cedar, spice notes linger on the finish.

Where to buy: coming summer 2017

Pinot Noir Réserve 2011 – 93pts. LW

I particularly like this vintage for its lightness of body, purity of fruit and freshness. Local growers might not agree however, given the challenges the poor growing season weather presented, and the heavy sorting that quality-minded estates like Queylus were obliged to undertake.

The nose is initially quite subdued, but shows lovely complexity upon aeration, with pretty raspberry, red cherry, floral, spice and tea leaf notes. Silky on the palate, with vibrant acidity and bright fruit flavours. The finish is long and layered, with well integrated oak and lovely fruit.

Where to buy: stocks running low, enquire in stores

Pinot Noir Réserve 2013 – 94pts. LW

Intriguing aromas of red cherry, red berry, musc and potpourri abound on the nose. The palate is crip, full bodied and firm, with an attractive velvetty texture and concentrated red berry flavours. Moderately chewy, yet ripe tannins frame the finish. Spicy, toasted oak lends further complexity on the long finish. Good, mid-term cellaring potential.

Where to buy: SAQ (47.25$), LCBO (coming soon)

Pinot Noir Grande Réserve 2011 – 93pts. LW

Elegant notes of violets, red cherries, dark fruits and a hint of white pepper define the nose. This fresh, medium bodied cuvée is moderately firm, with fine grained tannins and highly concentrated fruit flavours, with underlying savoury nuances. Vibrant, lifted finish. Ready to drink.

Where to buy: 1st vintage for the Grande Réserve tier; likely out of stock. Enquire with domaine.

Pinot Noir Grande Réserve 2012 – 94pts. LW

A riper, richer vintage than the 2011 or 2013, this 2012 Grande Réserve features sweet spice, stewed strawberry, ripe red cherries and subtle earthy notes on the nose. Full bodied and fleshy on the palate, with intense candied red fruit and oaked flavours (cedar/ spice). Quite tannic and taut on the finish, this vintage needs time in cellar to unwind.

Where to buy: SAQ (62.50$), LCBO (60.00$)

Pinot Noir Grande Réserve 2013 – 95pts. LW

A beautifully balanced, lovely wine all around. Just ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas are enhanced by chalky minerality and subtle tomato leaf nuances. Bright acidity lifts the firm structure and fine grained texture. Wonderfully vibrant, juicy fruit flavours play across the mid-palate and linger long on the layered finish. Great oak integration. Superior ageing potential. Bravo!

Where to buy: SAQ (set for an August 2017 release), LCBO (coming soon)

Cabernet Franc/ Merlot Réserve 2012 – 90pts. PW

Classic Cabernet Franc aromatics of bell pepper and just ripe raspberries feature on the nose, with deeper, riper cassis notes developping upon aeration. Fresh, full bodied and moderately fleshy across the mid-palate. Needs some time for the oak flavours to fully integrate. Highly drinkable.

Where to buy: SAQ (37.00$)

Producers Reviews Wines

Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot: Extreme Winemaking in the Jura

Benedicte Stephane Tissot Jura Wine Chardonnay Savagnin Blanc
Photo credit: Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot

I saw a great cartoon in France once, of a man sitting behind a desk burdened down by files, looking exasperated, with a dream bubble showing him happily working in the vineyards. The second image depicts him exhausted in the cellar, with tanks overflowing, dreaming of a quiet, orderly office life.

The idyllic notion of owning a vineyard – lovingly tending the vines by hand and crafting vibrant, terroir-driven wines in a neat little cellar – is the wistful reverie of many a wine lover. The reality is, of course, not nearly as romantic.

The work is back breaking (just spend one day harvesting the low lying grapes in Burgundy and you will know what I mean). There are countless pests and diseases that threaten the health of the plant on a daily basis. This is not to mention the uncontrollable variable of weather.

Wine-related social media posts are currently flooded with images of vineyards in Champagne and Chablis ablaze with smudge pots (oil-burning mini fires), in desperate attempts to ward off frost damage. In just one night, or a couple of minutes where hail is concerned, crops can be utterly devastated.

Wineries working on a small to moderate scale, without the luxury of large vineyard teams or fancy equipment to respond rapidly to such threats, are at particular risk. This is especially true for those based in marginal climates where rot, hail and frost are prevalent. Getting a palatable wine in bottle each year in these conditions represents nothing short of a feat of courage and skill.

Enter Bénédicte and Stéphane Tissot. Based in the tiny Jura appellation, The Tissots own some 35 hectares of vineyards, manned by a team of 15 hardy souls. The Jura region is made up of just 2000 hectares of vineyards, on a narrow strip running 60km north to south in eastern France. The climate is similar to the Côte d’Or (Burgundy), with damp, cool winters and warm, mainly dry summers. The vines are planted at an average altitude of 300 metres.

Domaine Tissot have not only made the bold choice of farming according to biodynamic principles, they are also adherents to the low interventionist movement (aka natural winemaking), fermenting with natural yeasts and limiting sulphur dioxide additions. The Tissot estate is that rare breed of winery that enjoys a cult-like following amongst the hipster sommelier set, but is equally well regarded by more traditional wine gatekeepers.

I met Stéphane Tissot on a grey, chilly day. I’ll admit that I went into the tasting feeling as uncertain as the weather. Would the wines be that breed of murky, sour natural wines that I have difficulty embracing? Or would they embody the standard to which (I feel) this wine category should be aiming?

While I can’t claim to have unabashedly loved all of the wines, I was impressed. There was a common theme of complexity, elegance and freshness running through the dozen or so cuvées we sampled. The savoury, earthy quality that makes Jura whites so intriguing was amply displayed. The reds, though beautifully textured and wonderfully vibrant, were less to my taste. The pretty fruit and floral tones felt a bit muted to me; overshadowed by volatile or bretty aromatics.

My top three white wine picks from the tasting include the following: (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out)

Photo credit: www.saq.com

Domaine Tissot Les Graviers 2014 – 92pts. PW

100% Chardonnay from the Arbois appellation. Stony, limestone scree top soils, over clay sub-soils. Les Graviers is a blend of 7 vineyards planted between 1952 and 2002.

Moderately intense nose featuring chalky minerality and toasty aromas underscored by lemon and green apple. Brisk acidity is ably balanced by the faintly creamy, layered texture and well-integrated oak. Very precise, with concentrated citrus, earthy/savoury nuances and grilled, nutty flavours. A subtle bitterness on the finish adds interest without masking the fruit.

Where to buy: SAQ (38.25$)

Domaine Tissot Les Bruyères 2014 – 90pts. PW

100% Chardonnay from the Arbois appellation. Limestone-rich soils. 40 – 80 year old vines.

Somewhat muted, rustic white*, with savoury notes, honey, floral tones and subtle minerality developing upon aeration. Cleaner on the palate, with crisp acidity, medium body, concentrated orchard fruit and earthy flavours. While fermented and aged in (mainly used) French oak, the imprint is very subtle and harmonious. Long, layered finish with subtle hoppy sourness.

* I recommend decanting a couple of hours before serving to allow these reductive notes to blow off.

Where to buy: SAQ (46.50$)

Domaine Tissot Vin Jaune 2007 – 94pts. LW

Vin Jaune is a unique, oxidative wine style made only in the Jura; aged for over 6 years in untopped barrels (initially under a veil of yeast, much like in Sherry). The grape used is the local Savagnin Blanc (a crisp, firm white). It is an acquired taste, but nothing beats it with an aged Comté cheese!

Lovely old gold colour. Wonderfully complex aromatics featuring earthy, savoury notes, raw honey, baker’s yeast and ripe apple. The palate remains incredibly vibrant, with crisp acidity, a firm structure, yet smooth, integrated structure. Rich nutty, savoury flavours linger on the long, layered finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (75.00$)

Producers Reviews

PRODUCER PROFILE – LUDIVINE GRIVEAU, DOMAINE DES HOSPICES DE BEAUNE

Ludivine Griveau Jacky Blisson

The snow was coming down fast and furious but I trudged onwards, tightening the hood of my parka around my frozen cheeks. Had it been another day, I might have slunk back to the comforting warmth of my office. But today was different. I was headed for a tasting and lunch with Ludivine Griveau, the new managing director of the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune.

Luckily for me, the weather kept the majority of my less intrepid colleaugues away, allowing me a far cosier encounter than I had anticipated. Over a scrumptious magret de canard and a line up of beautifully precise Burgundies, we settled in for a nice, long chat.

The Hospices de Beaune (often referred to as the Hôtel Dieu) was founded in 1443 as a charitable hospital and refuge following the Hundred Years’ war. The good works of the almshouse attracted many generous benefactors who, over more than five centuries, have bequeathed substantial land holdings. Today, the estate consists of 60 hectares of mainly premier and grand cru vineyards dotted through out the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.

The Hospices de Beaune was founded in 1443 as a charitable hospital and refuge.

In 1859 the tradition of a yearly wine auction was established, to sell the wines of the Hospices and raise money for the hospital. Since the construction of a new, modern hospital in the early 1970s, the Hôtel Dieu has become a museum, but the winemaking activities and charitable deeds of the Hospices de Beaune continue.

The wine trade elite gather from around the globe in Beaune every 3rd Sunday of November to attend the auction, and bid on barrels of storied appellations like Clos de la Roche and Corton Charlemagne. In the days leading up to the main event, the Hospices cellars are opened for public, barrel tastings to allow clients to select the cuvées they wish to purchase. No other Burgundian estate is so closely or widely scutinized, making the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune something of a standard bearer for the quality of the region.

No other Burgundian estate is so closely or widely scutinized, making the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune something of a standard bearer for the quality of the region.

The office of managing director of the Hospices involves overseeing the vineyards and winemaking for the estate. Given the international attention, this is a daunting task for even the most experienced vigneron. In 2014, long time director Roland Masse announced his retirement, and the search for a worthy successor was launched. The process took nine months, with over fifty candidates vetted, before a victor was named: Ludivine Griveau.

Not since co-founder Guigone de Salins ran the Hôtel Dieu in the 1400s (after the death of her husband, Nicolas Rolin) has there been a woman at the helm of the Hospices de Beaune. And certainly not in the role of head winemaker! Historically, women weren’t even allowed in the wineries during the fermentation period for fear that their “monthly visitor” would turn the wine sour. Thankfully those days are gone, and the number of celebrated female winemakers in Burgundy is growing steadily. However, old habits die hard and I definitely felt a lingering sense of machoism during my years in Beaune.

Not since Guigone de Salins ran the Hôtel Dieu in the 1400s has there been a woman at the helm of the Hospices de Beaune.

I therefore applauded the choice of the Hospices board of directors, and went into my meeting with Ludivine predisposed to champion her appointment. It quickly became clear however, that she doesn’t need the backing of female solidarity to legitimize her role. Engaging, articulate and incredibly passionate, Ludivine brings with her a solid foundation of education and experience. She spent 4 years working as a viticulturist for the famed Domaine Jacques Prieur, before heading up the winemaking team at Maison Corton-André for 10 years.

Over this period, she worked in almost every appellation where the Hospices owns vines. The varied terroir of each parcel hold no secrets for her, giving her an incredible advantage in running the Hospices estate. Today, she manages a team of 23 staff, who each tend to just over 2 hectares of vines. She also travels the world to promote the domaine’s wines and the charitable aim of the estate.

When asked what her objective for the estate is, 5 to 10 years down the road, she didn’t hesitate. ‘Perfection!’. Such a bold claim demanded further explanation, so she quickly expanded on her theme. The wines of the Hospices, once purchased in barrel mid-November, are transferred to selected wineries and négociant houses for the rest of their barrel maturation and bottling. The final wines will of course vary depending on the cellar master’s methods. The Domaine des Hospices’ role is to provide optimally ripe, healthy grapes that are vinified in such a way as to elicit wines of surpassing elegance and finesse. This is her aim.

The Domaine des Hospices’ role is to provide optimally ripe, healthy grapes … of surpassing elegance and finesse. This is her aim.

As any self-respecting French vigneron will tell you: ‘Les meilleurs vins sont fait dans les vignes’ (the best wines are made in the vineyards), meaning that it is the quality of the ripened grape that defines how good the wine will be.  All 60 hectares of the Hospices estate are farmed sustainably; a method generally called lutte raisonnée. Ludivine has injected a seemingly subtle, but important difference with her team; a practice she calls ‘lutte réfléchie’. Instead of simply tempering the use of non organic inputs, she insists that they really stop and think about each potential treatment and what possible alternatives could be employed.

It is this exacting attention to detail that sets her apart. She gives a wry chuckle and admits that she drives her team crazy sometimes with her exhaustive decision making process. This attitude does not falter in the winery. ‘Pinot Noir is an incredibly delicate grape, that requires careful attention and a soft touch in the cellar’ she asserts. She started her first harvest season by explaining the concept of gentle punch downs to her staff; the idea being to limit extraction to just the right tannic balance.

hospices wines

Over the course of our meal, we shared a steely, mineral-edged St. Romain blanc (cuvée Menault) 2014 and a silky, elegant Monthélie rouge 1er cru “les Duressesses” (cuvée Lebelin) 2011 both masterfully aged by J. Drouhin. The pièce de résistance followed, by way of a ripe, powerful, richly textured Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru (cuvée Madeleine Collignon) 2009. These wines ably represented the standard of quality for which the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is renowned.

It will be a little while yet before the Hospices wines crafted by Ludivine are released. I await my first tasting with anticipation! Perhaps the fact that she began during the highly acclaimed Burgundy vintage of 2015 is an omen of good things to come…

Producers Reviews Wines

Producer Profile – Ferraton Père et Fils

Saint Joseph - Ferraton
Photo credit: Ferraton Père & Fils (Saint Joseph vineyards)

The French have a wonderful word for describing certain wines: digeste. I have never been able to find an adequate counterpart in English. The literal translation is digestable which, one would hope, most wines are.

Basically, the term refers to wines that are elegant, balanced and fresh, with low to medium alcohol. In my experience, these are the kind of wines that make you thirsty for another sip and, when consumed in moderation, won’t leave you fuzzy headed the next morning. They are pretty much the exact opposite of the big, oaky fruit bombs that coat your tongue, and finish warm and boozy.

Cool climate Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc are the most frequently cited digeste reds. And what of Syrah? Cue the raised eyebrows. If you think Syrah (aka Shiraz) is the poster child for massive, jammy reds, you have clearly not tasted enough Northern Rhône.

In the Northern hemisphere, the vast majority of wine growing regions lie within the 30th and 50th degree of latitude. The 45th parallel runs directly through the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, making the Northern Rhône among the more northerly, cooler vineyards of Europe.

If you think Syrah (aka Shiraz) is the poster child for massive, jammy reds, you have clearly not tasted enough Northern Rhône.

Syrah here is mainly crisp and lively, with tart red fruit, medium body and earthy, peppery flavours. The famed hill of Hermitage and roasted slopes of Côte Rôtie offer denser, more powerful reds yet, even here, beautifully fresh acidity and tangy fruit flavours provide exceptional balance and, yes, digestibility.

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to attend a tasting of Ferraton Père & Fils wines. Before we delve into the reviews, I’ll give you a little background on the estate.

Ferraton Père & Fils was established seventy-odd years ago. Jean Orens Ferraton started out with just one tiny plot of land; less than half a hectare of Hermitage. The estate was passed down, as the name suggests, from father to son for several generations. As time passed, the estate grew, acquiring well situated parcels of Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage and St Joseph.

Concern for the health and sustainability of their vineyards led the Ferraton family to embrace biodynamic farming techniques in the nineteen nineties. With an eye to expansion, the Ferratons took on a likeminded investor: the Maison Chapoutier.

The quality is consistently high, even in lesser vintages. This, to me, is a sure sign of a strong estate.

Sadly, Samuel Ferraton suffered a bad motorcycle accident in the early two thousands which left him unable to carry on the family business. In two thousand and six, Ferraton was officially purchased by Maison Chapoutier, with the aim of maintaining and even furthering the high quality for which the Ferraton name stood.

Fast forward 10 years, and Chapoutier’s promise seems kept. The estate’s vineyard holdings continues to be managed according to strict biodynamic principles. The négociant wines (made from purchased grapes or wine) are essentially sourced from sustainable or organic farms. The quality is consistently high, even in lesser vintages. This, to me, is a sure sign of a strong estate.

Until recently, the tendency in the Northern Rhône was to create just one blend per appellation. Many producers still espouse this philosophy, claiming that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. However, a growing band of outliers are starting to bottle individual vineyard plots separately, to showcase the particular features of the terroir. This Burgundian approach is dear to the heart of Ferraton’s team.

“Our parcel selections allow us to showcase the superior qualities of our vineyard sites” says Ferraton’s Sales Director Patrick Rigoulet. “They play a critical role in defining what makes our wines unique”.  

Our parcel selections…play a critical role in defining what makes our wines unique

Ferraton Père & Fils has been a favourite of SAQ and LCBO buyers for years now, with a variety of the following wines on offer currently.

What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out:

Ferraton Père et Fils Côtes du Rhône red “Samorëns” 2014 – 88pts. VW

Moderately intense aromas of ripe black fruits, violets and subtle spice feature on the nose. The palate is medium bodied, with a fairly firm structure and lots of juicy black fruit. Ripe, chewy tannins give way to a hint of sour cherry that lifts the finish. This is a serious style of Côtes du Rhône, to be paired with food. Drink within 3 years.

Where to Buy: LCBO (15.95$) – as of January 2017

Pierre Henri Morel Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun White 2014 – 89pts. VW

Pierre Henri Morel is one of Ferraton’s négociant labels. Fragrant, moderately complex nose featuring honey, macerated apricots, poached pear, and hints of cinnamon. Lovely balance on the palate; the rich, rounded mouthfeel is nicely lifted by fresh acidity. This dry, medium bodied white ends with a vibrant kick of ripe lemon and just a touch of bitterness. Drink now.

Where to Buy: LCBO (18.95$)

Ferraton Père & Fils Saint Joseph “La Source” White 2014 – 92pts. PW

This 100% Marsanne offers a lot of finesse. Elegant aromas of white flowers, lemon curd, marzipan and subtle minerality feature on the nose. A fresh, lively attack gives way to a moderately rich, rounded mid-palate with great depth of flavour. The finish is long; layered with honeyed fruit, lemon and lingering minerality.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent Mosaiq 

Ferraton Père & Fils Crozes Hermitage “La Matinière” Red 2014 – 89pts. PW

Attractive, somewhat restrained nose of tart red fruits, with perfumed floral hints and earthy undertones. The palate offers crisp acidity, a full bodied, densely structured style and concentrated, just ripe red fruit flavours. The tannins are still quite firm, though are ripe and finegrained.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.95$)

Ferraton Père & Fils Saint Joseph “La Source” 2014 – 92pts. PW

This is a very well crafted Saint Joseph. Elegant, layered aromas of violet, ripe red berries, red currant, white pepper and spice feature on the nose. The fresh acidity is nicely balanced by the full body and concentrated red fruit flavours. Despite a certain firmness of structure, the texture is quite silky, finishing with ripe, finegrained tannins. The oak is quite subtle, adding more structure than aroma. The finish is long and nuanced. Drinking well now, but will certainly improve with 3 – 5 years’ cellaring and should hold well for another couple of years.

Where to Buy: SAQ (31.50$) – 2012 vintage

Ferraton Père & Fils “Les Miaux” Hermitage 2009 – 92pts LW

2009 was a warm vintage in the Northern Rhône. This is evident on the heady, fragrant nose featuring crushed red berry and cherry aromas, overlaid with toasty, spiced notes. Hints of leather and tobacco emerge upon aeration. The palate is big and bold, with fresh acidity, a muscular structure and lovely depth of fruit and dark chocolate flavours. The oak is subtle and well integrated, and the finish is long and layered.

Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (90.00$)

Ferraton Père & Fils “Les Miaux” Hermitage 2010 – 93pts. LW

The 2010 Les Miaux from Ferraton is a highly complex, beautifully balanced expression of Hermitage. While it lacks the full throttle fruit and power of 2009, it amply makes up in finesse and precision. Ripe red fruit, exotic spice, candied orange peel and hints of leather feature on the nose and in mouth. The palate is full bodied, with lovely fresh acidity and great concentration. The finish is very long, with subtle oaked nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (90.00$)

Ferraton Père & Fils “Le Méal” Ermitage 2013 – 95pts. LW

Intense, highly complex nose featuring tobacco, red currant, cherry, earthy notes and attractive minerality. A fresh, lively attack gives way to a full bodied, firmly structured, yet velvetty textured mid-palate. The depth and concentration of flavour is impressive, as is the long, layered finish. This powerful red needs 3 – 5 years additional cellaring for the grippy tannins to soften. It should continue to improve for many years to come.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent Mosaiq