Winery Profile: Westcott Vineyards
A quest to make fine sparkling, pinot noir and chardonnay up on Vinemount Ridge
Text and photos by David Lawrason
The first thing that struck me upon arriving at the Westcott Vineyards in Niagara, was that the vineyards are on a south facing slope. In that instant, this improbable project made sense.
Up on the Vinemount Ridge appellation south of Jordan and atop the Niagara Escarpment, vines miss the moderating effects of Lake Ontario, but south-facing slopes with longer and stronger sun exposure enables the ripening of earlier varieties like pinot noir and chardonnay.
Creating an estate winery focused on these Burgundy varieties has been the goal of Carolyn and Grant Westcott since they began searching for land in Niagara in 2005. Carolyn grew up in nearby Font Hill.
“We looked originally on the Bench, recalls Grant, “but there was just nothing available”. The plot that caught their eye was a stone’s throw from vineyards belonging to the Staff family, and over a rise from a large vineyard planted for Le Clos Jordanne.
They were further encouraged by local authorities like former Brock University viticulturist Kevin Ker, PhD., also known as “Dr. Dirt”. And by local winemaker Thomas Bachelder who then introduced them to French viticulturist Alain Sutre, well-known consultant to several projects in Niagara and British Columbia.
In 2007 they began planting the 27-acre site, but it would be 2012 before any wine was made. Their location in the protected Niagara Escarpment region meant approvals for building a winery were delayed. “Our friends kept asking, ‘where’s the wine’? Grant laughs.
But the real challenges were still to come, in the cold winters of 2014 and 2015. “They were simply unreasonable winters” he said.
The Westcotts knew that their Vinemount Ridge site risked winter damage and they had prepared by placing wind turbines on the brow of their slope. However, they discovered in 2014 that the circulation from the fans did not reach a lower parcel bordering 17 Mile Creek near the winery, and that section was lost.
The following winter they “hilled up”, piling earth around the trunk and lower cane to insulate the vines in that section from the cold. They also realized they shouldn’t let fruit hang too late into the autumn, which weakens the vines for the upcoming winter. Still they lost 40% of their pinot noir in 2015.
Other aspects of the site, however, are ideal. It is essentially clay-loam soils with some areas having more limestone. The yields are low, which is ideal for quality chardonnay and pinot noir. As well, it is a windy site which reduces humidity and fungus pressure that can be severe in Niagara.
“We are not organic and will use synthetic sprays if we absolutely must,” says Carolyn, “but we are farming as naturally as we can”.
With production beginning to ramp up in 2012, and a new winery finally rising on the property, the Westcott’s went in search of a winemaker and found veteran Arthur Harder. “I am really enjoying the focus on sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot noir” Harder said, “and the fact that my winemaking here is more barrel focused”.
Indeed the barrel work is quite evident in the first commercially released 2013 chardonnays and pinot noirs where oak and oxidative notes crowd the fruit. The structure and depth are excellent, which is very promising for future vintages. And I was very impressed tasting 2015s from the barrel, although, again, quantities from this cold stricken vintage will be relatively small.
The wines are labelled and priced in two tiers. The less expensive, less wooded wines carry intriguing names like Violete, Lillius, Delphine and Temperance. Each refers to a strong-willed, independent minded woman from high society of the early 20th Century.
Violette, for example, is a sparkling wine named after Violette Selfridge, a pilot who flew a Gyspy Moth airplane around the world in 1928. Delphine is named for Delphine Dodge (of the motor company) a debutante who raced boats in the 1920s. Temperance is a wink at Carolyn’s great grandmother who was involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement that led to Prohibition of alcohol in the early part of the 20th Century.
The Westcott portfolio is centred on sparkling, chardonnay and pinot noir, all from estate vines. Here are our recommended wines. You can click on any of the wine names or bottle images to read full reviews from the WineAlign team:
Westcott 2015 Violette ($24.95) – This is a less aged, dry, mid-weight sparkler with crisp acidity and lifted pear, lemon fruit and firm, almost mineral finish.
Westcott 2013 Brilliant ($29.95) – Aged 14 months on lees this is a quite refined and elegant bubbly with more evolved earthy, dried fruit flavours.
Westcott 2013 Lillias (Unoaked) Chardonnay ($20.00) – A well balanced, dry, maturing and nicely structured chardonnay. The 2015 is available shortly.
Westcott 2014 Chardonnay Old Vine Lenko Vineyard ($32.95) – A firm, intense mineral driven chardonnay from the oldest chardonnay vines in Ontario. Outstanding length.
Westcott 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($26) – A maturing, quite full bodied, well textured chardonnay with lemon, pear, herbs and nutty oak.
Westcott 2013 Delphine Rosé ($15) – This pale orange rose is dry, firm and lively with vague sour cherry and earthy notes.
Wescott 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir ($46) – A barrel selection with medium weight, intense prominent cherry, spice flavours. Firm, very good to excellent length.
As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery.
Great wine, quality wine, is really a story of passionate people. Why? It’s simple. Great wine is crazy hard hand involved work that no machine can approach. It’s year round dedication to hand tending grapes and vines. Every vine and every bunch of grapes is checked, pruned, thinned, managed with every individual rotten grape pulled and every rough weather day teared and sweated. This is what quality in wine means to us, while passionate is really another word for nutty. We’re Grant and Carolyn Westcott and we’re passionate about making extraordinary wine.
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