November in Niagara

An email chain began a few weeks ago amongst a number of my friends.  In many ways this chain was no different than most. We were trying to gather ideas for a group get together and settle on a date.  Then things changed for me when we decided on a casual Saturday of wine tastings in Niagara.  Naturally I was in and due to the subject matter I also volunteered to be a co planner of the event.  Luckily for me I know better then most the hospitality of Niagara wineries and the people who work them.  I banked on that and as usual I was not the least bit disappointed.

So what does a wine writer do to plan a wine day for his friends? I took to Twitter.  I sent a message out, seeking responses, that I was looking for wineries to attend.  I also used Twitter as a resource to discover anything unique happening at any of the wineries when my group was going.  After several Twitter conversations our itinerary looked something like this.
10:30-11:30 – portfolio tasting at Fielding Estates Winery.
11:30 – ???? – portfolio tasting at Vineland Estates Winery
???? – ???? – lunch at The Jordan House (i.e. wine break)
???? – ???? – Di Profio, Malivoire, or Green Lane Winery

You’ll notice the deliberate use of question marks above.  As I mentioned this day was a casual one, so your better off not to be rushed.  Plus if you’re fortunate enough to go to Vineland Estates and taste wines with winemaker Brian Schmidt you will want question marks in your itinerary because you’ll only do yourself a disservice by rushing out early.  Either way I do recommend some leniency in your planning as you can never be totally sure of the gems you might discover at a winery.

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So we set off for Fielding.  Unfortunately the “grape king” Mr. Curtis Fielding himself was not there, but nonetheless we arrived at 10:30 for our tasting. The first thing I noticed at Fielding was that you could try anything. If the bottle was open great, if not they would open it for you.  To the point where I was the first in the day to sample the Brut and they didn’t hesitate to open it.  I appreciated that.  As well as that I sampled a run of 2011’s including the unoaked Chardonnay, the estate bottled Pinot Gris, and the lot 17 Riesling.  I also sampled some 2010 reds including the popular Fireside and the Red Conception.  Overall I found the wines a touch young and sour, but the high acidity leads me to believe these wines could age a bit and very well might improve.  As such I bought a bottle of the lot 17 Riesling, the consensus winner amongst our group.  Beyond the wines however I can tell you one thing for sure, visit Fielding in the summer.  Not only are there whites better than their reds (i.e. summer) but they make high acid, refreshing whites (i.e. summer).  Plus they have a spectacular view across lake Ontario of the Toronto skyline, with a handful of Muskoka chairs (i.e. summer) lined up on the balcony to take in the view.  A winery cottage if you were ever seeking one.

Then it was off to Vineland Estates. Here I was fortunate because they employ possibly the most active winemaker on Twitter @benchwineguy.  I have connected with Brian Schmidt via Twitter many times before as well as with @vinelandestates (which I discovered is run by a very well educated sommelier who works their tasting bar).  We tasted many of their LCBO wines at the bar in the extremely impressive and extremely grand tasting room.  However, what was even better was we got a sneak peek into their upcoming 2012’s tasting both the Riesling (estimated release, spring 2012) and their Cabernet Sauvignon (estimated release, fall 2012) right from the tank.  What a great experience! Let me try to set the stage for you.  The cellar at Vineland houses tanks upon tanks just of Riesling alone.  Each tank is harvested approximately 5 days apart.  You’d think there would be no way these wines could differ.  Well I can tell you they do and quite noticeably so, not just to my palate but to everyone in my group who was in attendance.  The wines were dead dry with heavy citrus notes in the earliest harvested tanks, then got a touch sweeter with more stone fruit (peach mostly) showing as we went through them.  Now let me close the stage for you. The winemaker then blends all these tanks to create the uniform and balanced Riesling that we know and love.  Talk about talent.  The cab sauv’s we tried out of the tank were raw and pure, so I would be intrigued to try them again upon release next year.  Nonetheless look out for the 2012’s coming from Niagara.  Though production is down a touch, the grapes are ripe and concentrated.  So long as prices stay true, we could be in for a few gems from the 2012 vintage. The Vineland Estates tasting demonstrated this in its infancy and now I am anxious to see it play out.

So ended the somewhat structured part of the day.  We took lunch at a great pub called The Jordan House in Jordan Ontario.  A bit for a wine break and a bit because the winery restaurants tend to be quite pricey.  Over lunch I went back to Twitter to seek out afternoon winery stops.  Turns out Jordan Station is literally down the street from a new winery called Di Profio who responded and invited us for the afternoon, so we obliged.  What a great decision that was. Owned by the sweetest retired couple, Di Profio is just a tiny winery but producing outstanding wines that manage to contain a rare element these days… human touch.  Their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was literally hand picked from a harvest that was ravaged by wildlife.  The crop was too small to put through the rigours of machine winemaking, so winemaker Fred essentially handmade this wine.  In a world dominated by corporations and conglomerates, the wine world is no exception.  For most wineries a reduced crop and the inability to machine process the wine, would jack up prices astronomically.  Yet somehow even with all that and in a vintage recognized by many to be the best in the history of Niagara, this 2010 cab sauv still retails for a mere $20.  I was thrilled.  I bought 3 bottles and I am tempted to go back and buy more.

Three wineries and another outstanding day in Niagara.  Though I traveled socially I felt it necessary to share my day with you all.  Not only did I learn about the future of 2012 wines from Niagara, but I discovered some new hidden gems.  Somehow that latter part happens every single time I visit Niagara.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

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