Just two visits today. But they were good ones. First, Thomas Bachelder, for the second time on this trip, and that’s no bad thing.
Thomas is a talented dude, and great to geek out with. We visited his cellar, right next to Fielding and Hidden Bench. It’s not a big or glamorous facility, but great things are made here. Thomas showed me some of his excellent Oregon and Burgundy wines, but the emphasis was on what he’s making from Niagara.
‘I’m the most proud of Niagara,’ he says of his wines. ‘It has limestone; I’m Canadian; but mostly because it could be a serious contender to Burgundy if we had more Pinot and Chardonnay planted.’ He acknowledges that when he’s drinking, he finds Burgundy best, but Niagara can come close.
We tasted widely. Highlights include the Lowrey Pinot Noir 2012, which is from a vineyard in St David’s Bench that was the first to be planted with Pinot Noir in the region, back in 1983. And here was the stunning vertical of Wismer Chardonnays from 2010, 2011 and 2012. All of these are from a portion of the vineyard called Wingfield. In 2013 he made two Wismers: 1 from the Wingfield Block and 2 from the Foxcroft Block, and we tried both Wismer 1 and 2 from this vintage. 1 has a slight edge.
Then we tried a lot of barrels. This was super-interesting: tasting barrels with Thomas is a great educational experience.
The second visit was to Riesling specialist, Cave Spring Cellars. They have been pioneers of this variety in Niagara. Established by the Pennachetti family in 1973, the Cave Spring Vineyard in the Beamsville Bench, nestled under the escarpment cliffs, had some of the region’s first Riesling, planted in 1978.
I met with winemaker and partner in the business Angelo Pavan to look around the vineyards. This is a site that gently slopes and allows the cold air to drain away like water, but despite the favoured location, there was still quite a bit of winter damage. Interestingly, some varieties were almost untouched – Gamay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc – while others were hammered – in particular, Sauvignon Blanc.
Then we joined with Len Pennachetti and assistant winemaker Gabe Demarco to taste the range. The Rieslings are all really good, ranging from the inexpensive but delicious Dry Riesling 2013 to the small production CSV, which is still affordable at $30, representing excellent value. I really liked the Adam Steps Riesling, which shows lovely balance and good complexity.
‘Riesling is definitely growing,’ says Angelo, talking of the progress of this variety in Niagara. ‘The area is so suited to Riesling. There are so few places on the planet you can do it. It works well in all vintages and comes through the winters.’
As well as Riesling, they also make attractive Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, but it’s the Riesling that is the star. It accounts for around 35 000 cases of the 60 000 case production at Cave Springs.
Niagara means business!