The wines of Hidden Bench
Terroir-focused wines from Niagara, Canada


There can hardly have been a more stressful day at Niagara winery Hidden Bench than the day I visited. The night before there had been a huge storm, which had knocked out power. And owners Harald and Annie Thiel were due to receive 200 guests at the winery for an event that was part of the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, with food from celebrated Toronto restaurant Splendido. Harald is a details sort of guy, so it was to his great credit that he was pretty cool about it, at least on the surface. Remarkably, the event went very smoothly, and Splendido did a great job without power!

The team: Steve Roche (vineyard manager), Marlize Beyers (winemaker) and Harald Thiel (owner)

Before this, though, I had a tasting with winemaker Marlize Beyers. She’s originally from South Africa, and on her CV she boasts time with Bruce Jack, and was winemaker at Flat Rock cellars in Niagara until 2005.

Harald bought the Locust Lane vineyard, where the winery is located, in 2003 after selling a very successful audiovisual business he ran with his brother, and the first wines appeared under the Hidden Bench label in 2005.

Hidden Bench have three farms: Locust Lane (the home block) and Felseck (purchased 2007), and Rosomel (purchased 2004), which is around 7 km from the winery. All are on the Beamsville Bench. The total vineyard area is now around 100 acres, and the last plantable land was planted in 2010. The 66 different blocks on these three vineyard sites are mostly vinified separately.

All the young fruit goes to the ‘Bistro’ label because it makes wines that are too fruity and primary. They wait until the wines become more complex, with vine age around 7 or 8, until they go into the main wines. Pinot is a big focus here, but there’s also Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as heritage plantings of Bordeaux varieties, and some Viognier and Gewurztraminer.

For Pinot Noir, Marlize explains that here you can’t always pick at optimum ripeness. It’s necessary to go in a bit early and do a safety pick for the big blocks, leaving some fruit for later. All the Pinots are fermented in large oak fermenters, and no whole clusters are used. A cold soak for a week or so precedes fermentation, and all movement of wine is by gravity. No inoculation is practised, and the ferments seem to go very smoothly. 15-25% new oak is used.

The approach is one of high quality, with a focus on vineyards. The sorting table rule is: ‘if you are not prepared to eat it, I can’t make wine from it.

The Chardonnay is whole cluster pressed. The style has shifted: Marlize’s predecessor liked big, concentrated wines, and in her fist vintage, 2010, she got dealt a big, concentrated vintage. Since 2011 she has tried to bring the style back a little.


Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Very stylish, smooth, ripe cherry fruit. Quite mouthfilling and rounded with some floral cherry notes. Supple, fresh palate combines richness, warmth and good tannic structure. Supple with good purity. 92/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fresh and supple with lovely cherry and plum fruit. Nice finesse and weight. There’s a freshness and elegance here with fine grained tannins and  nice texture. Almost a graphite-like character. Real finesse. 94/100

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2010 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Generous, ripe and smooth with some grainy tannins in the background. Mouthfilling with some spice, ripe cherries and plummy notes. A big Pinot but still fine. 92/100

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Very fresh with nice pear and apple nose. Fruity and fresh. The palate is fresh and lovely with white peach and a bit of spice. Ripe fruit the focus. 90/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Ripe and a bit rich with nice pear and peach notes. Dense and mouthfilling with rich texture and lovely weight. Bold, smooth and sweetly fruited. Big but nice. 92/100

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2010 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
A barrel selection, mostly from a block planted in 1976, plus some rows from Locust Lane. Very lush and sweetly fruited with bold, deep fruit. Warm pear and spice notes. 90/100

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
89% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Semillon, barrel fermented. Nice weight. Quite rich with a smooth texture and pear and quince notes. Rich but fresh on the finish. 90/100

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Striking limey nose with subtle herby notes. The palate is powerful and lemony with a bit of grip. Lovely fruit with a hint of sweetness, but finishes dry. 90/100

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Riesling 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
From a 1 acre block, just 850 litres made. Very fresh with lovely lemon and lime characters. Textured and dry but with some fruit sweetness and a bit of creaminess. Fine. 91/100

Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Roman’s Block Riesling 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
From 1977 plantings. Fresh with lovely precision. Bright citrus fruits. Quite dry and fine with some floral notes and lovely presence. 92/100


Pearl Morissette
Hidden Bench

Closson Chase
Huff Estates
Rosehall Run
Norman Hardie

Wines tasted 07/13  
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