Pinot Matters (September 11, 2008)
A honeymoon can set you off on a life you never imagined. I'm not talking about marriage here, but in a way I am. For Montrealer Thomas Bachelder it was a honeymoon in Burgundy in 1989 that ignited his passion for cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made him want to be a winemaker. (Long-time readers of Tidings will remember Bachelder's engaging columns in the early-1990s.)
Undoubtedly, the best thing that has happened to the Ontario wine industry in the new millennium is Thomas Bachelder's arrival as steward of the vineyards and cellar at Vincor's Le Clos Jordanne. This journey followed a winemaking career that began in his beloved Burgundy, moved to Oregon (at Ponzi) and then to Meursault (Château Génot-Boulanger) before returning to Oregon (Lemelson) and subsequently to the Niagara Peninsula.
Since his return to Canada six years ago, Bachelder has crafted the most exciting locally grown Pinot Noirs I have tasted. Using the Burgundian model in which he was trained, he has fashioned three levels of quality for the Le Clos Jordanne label a "village" wine (Village Reserve from the young Talon Ridge Vineyard), three single-vineyard wines that correspond to Burgundian Premier Cru level (Petite Vineyard, Claystone Terrace and Le Clos Jordanne) and a Grand Cru wine selected from a favoured block of the home vineyard (Le Grand Clos). What is remarkable about these wines in the four vintages I have tasted is the individual sense of "place" that each wine delivers. The soil speaks through these wines on the nose and on the palate in refined and elegant accents that are unmistakably their own.
Thomas Bachelder calls it "terroir winemaking." Letting the vineyards and blocks within vineyards express themselves. This is how he does it. "Natural yeasts and malolactic fermentations long, unhurried gentle ferments. Don't punch down too much and don't 'flip' the vats, use them once, not twice, and don't get in the way with too much new wood. But do use Burgundian wood: tighter grain equals less interference from vanilla and butterscotch flavours. In fact, get out of the way of the wines. Let them do their thing, but watch them closely throughout, and then select carefully afterwards. Ferment everything separately, and keep it that way in barrels. Look for the single-vineyard parcels within the vineyards. Listen to what the soil is saying. Sounds ridiculous and effete? Even wine beginners can see the differences during barrel tasting at Le Clos Jordanne when they are pointed out."
And not only is Thomas Bachelder working his magic on Pinot Noir, but his Chardonnays from these and other vineyard holdings have the same Burgundian inspiration. Yet they have something that Burgundy does not have a true sense of Niagara Peninsula terroir.
Bachelder's performance is beginning to influence other winemakers in Ontario. Norman Hardie, who has an equal amount of overseas winemaking experience mainly in South Africa and New Zealand is making delicious Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the fruit of his eponymous estate in Prince Edward County. Add to this the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs of Coyote's Run (Black Paw and Red Paw) made by David Sheppard (who worked with Karl Kaiser at Inniskillin), South African winemaker Marlize Beyers, who crafts Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir, and Jean-Martin Bouchard, a Montrealer, who made wine in Australia, Alsace and Germany before returning to Canada, first at Sumac Ridge in BC and now at Hidden Bench in Niagara. He's making great Pinot Noir as well and so too is Shiraz Mottiar at Malivoire, having been trained in Pinot Noir at Coldstream Hills in Australia's Yarra Valley.
This critical mass of talented young winemakers will consolidate Ontario's potential as a region where you can grow world class Pinot Noir and, what's more, priced significantly lower than its Burgundian yardstick.