Niagara: Flat Rock

Nice to revisit Flat Rock, which has one of the prettiest cellar door views in Niagara. On this stunningly clear day we could see over Lake Ontario to Toronto.

Owner Ed Madronich hosted us, together with relatively new winemaker David Sheppard, who was hired when Jay Johnston left for Hidden Bench. Dave finished up the 2016 wines and is responsible for the 2017s. He has plenty of experience: he’s been making wine in Niagara for 35 years, moving to the region to work with Inniskillin after working in Germany and Burgundy. He was then winemaker at Coyote’s Run for 14 years.

Ed and Dave

Ed first met Dave when Ed was director of marketing at Inniskillin, and he purchased Flat Rock when his dad sold an apple farm. 2003 was first vintage (20 tons), but 2004 was the first main one (100 tons). The vineyards are located on Twenty Mile Bench in one property of 80 acres (35 hectares), and all the wines are from the estate except for Twisted.

Flat Rock have three emphases: Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Indeed, they were one of the first really to commit to Pinot Noir. ‘The challenge with Pinot in Niagara is the grape marketing board, which sets the price for grapes,’ says Ed. ‘Most wineries historically purchased grapes from growers. The grower is given a set price for a ton of grapes.’ He explained that if the price of Pinot was set at $2000 a ton, this incentivizes the grower to get high yields, because they are not getting paid more for higher quality. ‘If you crop higher you get very poor Pinot: it makes light coloured bad wines. No one knew Pinot could be great because people weren’t farming it well.’ He adds that with Pinot Noir, quality doesn’t just diminish with higher yields: it falls off a cliff.

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016
Fresh with an iodine and blood edge to the sweet cherry and plum fruit. Sappy, fruity and nicely savoury. Great value at CA$20 a bottle. Fleshy and attractive but with a nice savoury edge. 90/100

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2014
Complex with a savoury, mineral, ferrous edge to the sweet cherry and berry fruits. Has nice structure with some lovely grip sitting nicely under the fruit. A stony, mineral expression of Pinot. 93/100

Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2011
100% Chardonnay. Barrel-fermented, then spends 6 years on lees. 11 g/l dosage. Crown-capped. Fresh and focused with lovely taut citrus fruit. Linear and expressive with subtle toasty notes. Lots of presence here. 90/100

Flat Rock Cellars Unplugged Chardonnay 2017
Unoaked, partial malolactic. Fresh and lively with rich pear and white peach fruit, with a citrussy edge. Vibrant and fruit-driven with lovely fruit expression. Some pineapple on the finish. 88/100

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2016
Supple and nicely weighted with delicate peach and pear fruit. Has a nice weight: open and expressive with fine toast and bread notes as well as sweet fruit. Very easy and accessible, with a hint of seriousness. A rich style. 89/100

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2015
12.5% alcohol. Complex and nicely weighted with sweet pear and pineapple fruit, coupled with subtle oak. Spicy framing with nice sweetness to the fruit. Lovely freshness here. Easy but with some complexity. 91/100

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2006
Bold and rich, but still with some freshness: there’s toast, hazelnut, spice and honey, alongside focused citrus and peach fruit. Mature but with lots of life in it still. Sweetly fruited and richly toasty, but with freshness. 90/100

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2017
Bright and linear with keen citrus fruit. So juicy and focused with tangerine, lemons and some fine herby hints. Dry, pure and intense: needs time to develop. High acidity. 91/100

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016
Perfumed, open and lemony on the nose. Some elderflower. Lovely weight on the palate with the acidity countered by some sweetness. Supple and expressive with lovely pure fruit. 91/100

Flat Rock Cellars Twisted Riesling 2016
A white blend made of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay. Now has some bought-in fruit. Off-dry and rounded. Soft and sweetly fruited with a soft texture, with some grape and lychee fruit as well as a bit of citrus. Very attractive and detailed, with some softness. 88/100

And some notes from July 2017

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2007 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
This is a drier style of Riesling made from a higher portion of the vineyard where the dolomitic limestone is close to the surface. Complex and a bit waxy with some nuts and lanolin. Lively with a bit of pithiness and nice evolution with a lovely mineral character and great acidity. Lovely complexity with an amazing finish. 93/100

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2004 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
There’s a subtle creaminess here. Some mineral character under the citrus fruit, and lovely lemony delicacy. Has sweet fruit with good textured and delicacy, showing refined acidity. 93/100

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Very linear and pure with delicacy and precision. Lovely fine, pure lemony fruit. Lots of potential here. 92/100

Flat Rock Estate Riesling 2006 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
This is 19 g/l sugar and pH 3.24. It has lovely weight. Off dry with a seamless purity and hints of honey and lemon. Quite mineral with lovely citrus fruit. 92/100

Flat Rock Estate Riesling 2008 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
37 g/litre sugar, pH 2.8. Amazing acidity here: lemony and intense with a fine spiciness. There’s some sugar here but it tastes just off dry because of the acid. So intense and pure, and quite lovely. 93/100

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