Ontario Wine Report – May 2015
Prince Edward County
by David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
In the wake of two major Prince Edward County tastings in recent weeks (County in the City in Toronto and WineAlign’s trip to Terroir in Picton) I offer thoughts, opinions and reviews on the “state of the County”. Having followed the County from the days in the late 90s when vineyards were first being planted – and before wine was made – I have a perspective that is historical, sentimental and critical (as wine critics are supposed to have). It’s a tough balancing act, but in the end I am writing about what’s in the bottle for those who are buying it. This year at Terroir I encountered everything from great highs to significant lows, but overall the playing field is evening out, prices are moderating a bit, and the palette of wine styles and varieties is broadening and becoming more colourful.
The official Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association touring map for 2015 lists 34 wineries. But not everyone joins associations, so there are at least three others to my knowledge that are not on the official touring map. There are four new wineries this year (within the past 12 months or so) – Broken Stone, Darius, Trail and Traynor. I see real potential in three, and I have not yet tasted Darius.
Traynor Family Vineyard has a great locale at the junction of Loyalist Parkway and Danforth Road just south of Hillier. Mike Traynor has been “in the game” in Ontario wine for over a decade. He began and trained at the former Willow Heights in Niagara, then moved out to make wine at the ambitious but short-lived Oak Heights in the Northumberland Hills northeast of Cobourg. He purchased his current acreage in Hillier in 2008 and opened late last year. A Niagara-bred sauvignon blanc was a hit at Terroir, but I also really liked a deft un-oaked chardonnay. Pinot Gris was good too, altho’ a bit sweet thanks to a stuck ferment. Good potential here; he will be joining the club with County fruit soon enough.
Broken Stone occupies an excellent site on Closson Road between Old Third and Closson Chase. Tim and Micheline Kuepfer have been planting their dream for over five years while holding down day jobs and residence in the GTA. They are focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir and the first releases show classic County lightness and minerality. No formal reviews yet after a quick encounter at Terroir.
Trail Estate has opened on Benway Road in the Hillier area, just south of Hinterland and Grange. It is owned by the Sproll family, with winemaker Dan Tweyman at the helm. Their own vineyards are very young, so everything so far is from Niagara fruit. Very modern, bright, squeaky clean winemaking here – liked their gewürztraminer. I will be watching them grow and move into County fruit with interest.
The Charmat Sparkling Trend
The bubbly gold rush is on. With Huff, Hinterland and Grange having proven there is great potential with traditional, more expensive ‘champenois’ method sparklers, the next wave is to produce bubbly that is simpler and less expensive. Everyone is jumping in. And County fruit – with its snappy acidity and aromatic fragrance – is the perfect ingredient for these simpler wines. Hinterland (the County’s sparkling wine specialist) is the incubator of the trend. From their barn at Closson Road and Benway they are equally (proudly) marketing sparklers from the traditional, charmat and ‘ancestral’ methods. The latter is bubbly produced by one fermentation with trapped CO2. And they have sub-contracted most of the sparkling charmat method wine production in the County. At the Terroir tasting on a hot May afternoon, the charmats proved popular including Lighthall Progression and a rose called the Fence, By Chadsey’s Cairns PTO, Huff’s Janine and Rosehall Run Pixie.
The Rise of Riesling
(by Sara d’Amato)
If you have been to the County, you will have heard the analogy of the climate and soil types to that of Burgundy. Given the similarities, it is not surprising that premium vinifera growing is largely focused on chardonnay and pinot noir. However, riesling is beginning to make a play on the scene. The County’s crumbly limestone bedrock suits the varietal quite nicely but its need for slow ripening can be a challenge in a short growing season. In years past, most of the riesling produced was from small plantings of younger vines and thus was often blended with Niagara fruit – a region with an excellent track record with the grape.
My observations this time around on our recent trip to Terroir was that 100% County riesling is less of a rarity and more of a burgeoning new wine style. What had me curious was a misleading advert in the Toronto Star this past week from pec.on.ca claiming that Prince Edward County was home to more than 10,000 acres of riesling. Certainly, a comma was misplaced as that number is about 10 times less. Norman Hardie was kind enough to offer a tank sample of his very first 100% County riesling harvested in 2014 which I found quite riveting. However, as I mentioned, this is less of a rarity now as I discovered that several other producers were on the same wavelength. Examples certainly worth exploring include Chadsey’s Cairn (ahead in the riesling game), Half-Moon Bay and Sugarbush among others. These versions are light, lively and elegant – traits common to the County’s cooler climate
Other New and/or Singular Wines & Grape Varieties
It’s solidly established that pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and cabernet franc are the core County varietals, but every year Terroir turns out to be a testing ground for other ideas.
The late Richard Karlo of Karlo Estates was famous as a quester after new wines, with his faith in the new Minnesota hybrid called Frontenac gris being well known. He also made a quite successful Sangiovese 2013, with a gentle nod to Tuscany in its mid-weight, currant and herbal style. WineAlign will be dedicating the 2015 National Wine Awards to Richard Karlo.
Del-Gatto Winery out past Waupoos on the Cressy Peninsula is also doing work with more obscure hybrids like leon millot and geisenheim (which Waupoos has also made) and they have combined it nicely with seyval blanc and chardonnay in a snappy blend called Dragonfly. Heidi Del-gatto also revealed they have made 12 cases of pinotage (South Africa’s famous crossing of cinsault and pinot noir) but it was not being poured at Terroir.
New Traynor Family has created Alta Red, a blend Saint Laurent and Marquette, the latter being another new Minnesota hybrid gaining converts in the coolest parts of the province.
I also took the opportunity re-visit By Chadsey Cairns 2013 Chenin Blanc, a classic Loire Valley white grape that could be more widely planted in the County.
The Annoying On-Going VQA Conundrum
Last year, for the first time, the Terroir Festival gained ‘farmers market’ status allowing wineries to sell bottles from their stands. The program continued this year. The hitch however is that farmers’ markets can only sell VQA wines, and there are many non-VQA wines being made in the County.
There are several reasons that a wine may not be submitted to or pass the VQA process, and all are somewhat controversial in their own right. But the most controversial for the County and other emerging regions in eastern and northern Ontario is that some wines are ineligible because they contain varieties not on the VQA list of authorized grapes. The list was created in the late 80s to screen out many “inferior’ varieties or those deemed unsuitable for Ontario’s climate; but we have learned a lot since then and many new cool climate varieties have emerged that can work in the province. VQA says it is reviewing the list, but it is taking a very long time.
So in the meantime, at Terroir there was a roped-off area in which the wineries with non-VQA wines were not allowed to sell direct. (And that’s just one of the financial penalties paid by non VQA wines). VQA was originally designed as a quality control and appellation guarantee mechanism, but it is become attached to all kinds of financial and distribution incentives or dis-incentives. In my view VQA should be a pure appellation system, and unhitched from financial consideration.
Twelve Highly Recommended County Wines
Based largely on tastings for the media at County in the City, here are twelve of the most highly recommended 100% PEC wines and yes many are from the most well established and experienced producers. Click to read my reviews and those by John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel.
VP of Wine
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
The National Wine Awards of Canada
The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.
The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.
Canadian Wineries on WineAlign
It’s easy to explore Canadian wines & wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries. You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.
You can also click on the winery name on any wine page (or as in David’s Links above) to be taken directly to the winery’s profile page where you can see more wines and reviews. Just remember to set your filters to “All Sources” and “Show wines with zero inventory” as winery wines are not linked to retail inventory.