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Passing the Torch (October 1, 2010)

Sébastien Jacquey has large boots to fill, both literally and figuratively.

Jacquey is about to take over from Thomas Bachelder at Le Clos Jordanne winery on the Niagara Peninsula. For the last seven years, Bachelder has been the winery's vineyard manager and winemaker. He arrived at LCJ shortly after it launched as a co-venture between Vincor and the French house of Boisset, and has played a pivotal role in cultivating both the winery's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and its reputation.

A French expatriate who hails from the Nevers region of Burgundy, Jacquey may just be the perfect person to take over the job. After all, the Boisset family has a long, illustrious history of producing wine in Burgundy, and Bachelder was hired in no small part because of his affinity for time-honoured Burgundian practices.

Bachelder has a natural talent for making wine, honed over 10 years of professional experience in Canada, the United States and France, along with educational credentials that include a Bachelor of Arts degree from Montreal's Concordia University, and a professional Agricultural Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology from the CFPPA (Centre de Formation Professionelle pour Adultes) in Beaune, Burgundy.

Born in Montreal, Bachelder was introduced to winemaking in 1985, when he received a "Beaujolais-style" home winemaking kit for Christmas. Already a big Bordeaux fan, he had a vision that friends characterize as "religious" in nature after experiencing the transcendental qualities of Pinot Noir. Although he was passionate about making wine at home, it was his honeymoon trip to Burgundy in 1989 that inspired him to become a full-time winemaker.

His career began in 1992, when he started working as a winemaking assistant for two prestigious domaines in Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses. Upon graduation in 1993, Bachelder was encouraged by his schoolmate, Luisa Ponzi, to move to the United States and work alongside her father, Dick Ponzi, in Oregon as an assistant winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards.

While in Oregon, Bachelder came to the attention of the owners of the historic Château Génot-Boulanger in Meursault in Burgundy, who helped him realize his dream by hiring him him as their chief winemaker.

After seeing Château Génot-Boulanger through a critical transformation, he returned to the Willamette Valley as Lemelson Vineyards' chief winemaker for the innovative new winery's first vintage in 1999. Guided by the principles of gravity flow and organic sustainability, along with the time-honoured practices he learned while in Burgundy, Bachelder created some of Oregon's most outstanding Pinot Noirs during his four vintages with Lemelson.

Intrigued by the "old-world" flavours of Niagara wines and Canada's prospering wine industry, he return to his home country, accepting the new position of vineyard manager and winemaker at LCJ in 2003. His decision, he says, had little to do with national pride. "I knew, tasting Canadian wines blind whilst living in Oregon, that wines like (the great Burgundian Pinots) could eventually be produced here," he says. "And great Chardonnays too. Long before arriving, I knew we could go more for the Puligny model than the California or Aussie one. That is what I am proudest of: that even while being acclimatized to the fabulously lush and concentrated Oregon Pinots, I saw Niagara's and specifically the Bench's potential before coming. But then I've had an advantage, knowing Karl Kaiser, and the Boscs for years. They and others were the first to see the potential. In short, I didn't come home out of some sense of national pride. I came because the potential flavours here excited me. But I am full of national pride now, of course."

When he first arrived at LCJ and, he wasn't impressed with the fledgling winery. "There were little sticks in the ground," he recalls. "There was no winery. I made the first vintage in one-tonne plastic bins in the Jackson-Triggs loading dock. I walked into the vineyard alone in the late, cool wet spring of 2003, took a big breath and said: 'Thomas, have you bitten off more than you can chew?'

"But the Clos was so beautiful, so special and (co-owner) Jean-Charles Boisset was whispering in my ear, 'This site will be great.' So I just put my head down and never wavered in my ideals."

During the winery's first three years, Bachelder worked with long-time comrade Pascal Marchand, the régisseur for Boisset's Domaine de la Vougeraie and Executive Overseer for the Clos Jordanne project. Dedicated to the production of world-class wines through a blend of traditional Burgundian practices and innovative New World methods, Bachelder was charged with managing LCJ's exacting viticultural practices and making its super and ultra-premium Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. As he gets ready for the next phase of his career, he'll hand these responsibilities over to Jacquey, his longtime protégé.

Jacquey has worked under Bachelder's direction for the last three years, so his transition to the winery's helm should be relatively seamless. Making matters easier will be the fact that Bachelder won't be far away. He plans to remain involved with the winery in a consulting role.

Jacquey studied wine technology in France, graduating as an Engineer of Oenology and Viticulture in 2007. He has worked with the legendary Loire producer Pascal Jolivet in Sancerre and trained in red wine production at Baron Philippe de Rothschild in Pauillac, Bordeaux. In 2004, he was hired as a winemaker at Cave Coopérative d'Aleria in Corsica, and the following year made wine at Domaine Comte Senard in Aloxe-Corton and subsequently at Domaine Thomas-Moillard in Nuits-Saint-Georges. His experience in Burgundy will no doubt be put to good use at Le Clos Jordanne, whose perspective on wines is the closest in Ontario to the Burgundian model.

"I am very excited about the new opportunities that have been presented to me and also happy that Thomas will be by my side as I take the next steps in my winemaking career," he says. "The wines are being handed over to me with a pedigree that I will work tirelessly to uphold."




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