I grew up at the western end of the Niagara Peninsula, the most important wine-growing region in Canada. One of the first wines my father poured at the dinner table had the workhorse name of Ruby Rouge. Nothing memorable, but it got me interested in wine.
Each summer, I visit my family, usually spending time on the north shore of Lake Erie. It’s about an hour from the vineyards. This year, I decided to visit one or two, so I contacted Pascal Marchand, the Burgundy vintner. In his former position with Boisset, Marchand developed the vineyards at Le Clos Jordanne, Boisset’s project with Vincor, now under the Constellation Brands umbrella. Since 2006, Marchand has been consulting with another Niagara estate, Tawse Winery in Vineland.
Both Tawse (established in 2001, currently 80 acres) and Le Clos Jordanne (established in 2000, currently 115 acres) are two of the newer properties in the region. Both specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, though Tawse grows some of the oldest Riesling in the area and also makes a Bordeaux-style red. Both estates have their sights set on quality.
Organic farming, careful selection of clones and rootstocks, hand harvesting, low yields and strict selections of grapes in the vineyard and winery, natural yeast fermentations, slow maturation and bottling unfined and unfiltered when possible are the methods used to achieve the best expression of fruit from the escarpment sites.
Tawse also has a beautiful six-level, gravity-fed facility powered by geothermal energy. All the waste water is recycled, and under Marchand’s guidance some biodynamic preparations are being used.
At Tawse, I tasted through a range of 2006s from barrel with Marchand, assistant winemaker Brian Hamilton and owner Moray Tawse. The estate Pinot Noir is from young vines planted in 2002 (additional vines were planted in 2005). Grapes purchased from two growers will make up the final blend. All brought different components to the party—the Laundry vineyard was light and earthy, the estate firmer and cherry-flavored, while the Hughes component was silky with juicy berry notes.
We tasted a few Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon barrels that will make up the “meritage” blend before moving on to the Chardonnay. The Quarry Road Vineyard, from above the escarpment, offered plenty of citrus and mineral notes, with an older barrel showing more butterscotch and pineapple accents. The Robyn’s Block Chardonnay, from a 3.5-acre block of 25-year old vines around the winery exhibited more depth, concentration and length, with citrus and leesy, bread dough flavors.
We were joined by Thomas Bachelder, vineyard manager and winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne, for a few bottles of current and older releases from Tawse. The 2003 and 2004 Chardonnay Robyn’s Block were a contrast in style. The ’03 was ripe, viscous and buttery, with tropical fruit flavors; the ’04 was more discreet and fresh, showing citrus and hazelnut notes. There was a waxy, petrol-scented Riesling Carly’s Block 2002 and a Bordeaux-inspired Cabernet Franc Niagara Peninsula 2002, full of intense black cherry, blackcurrant, tobacco and smoke flavors.
Though only a few miles east on the escarpment, Le Clos Jordanne’s vineyards deliver a distinctly different expression of Pinot Noir. For me, Tawse was more like Côte de Beaune and Le Clos Jordanne, Côte de Nuits. The 2006 lots from barrel of its La Petite, Claystone Terrace and Le Clos Jordanne sites display differences from lots within each vineyard. The La Petite was the most feminine, with vibrant red fruit. The others showed more substance, structure and density, with a combination of red and black fruits and fine length.
Le Clos Jordanne’s vines are older. Claystone Terrace and Le Clos Jordanne were planted in 2000 and 2001. La Petite was planted in 2002. The Talon Ridge blocks from the top of the escarpment were planted in 2000, 2001 and 2002. All have a mix of Dijon clones. In the best years, Bachelder makes a wine called Le Grand Clos from the best lots of Le Clos Jordanne vineyard. In the 2005, the cherry flavor marries with woodsy and earthy notes, backed by a supple texture. There’s density and a long aftertaste.
Despite the nuances from vineyard to vineyard and within vineyards, Moray Tawse identifies a “red clay” flavor that unifies the Niagara terroir. I was impressed with these young Pinots and look forward to tasting future vintages as the vines mature.
Two 2005 Chardonnays—Le Clos Jordanne and Le Grand Clos—showed floral, peach and citrus notes, with the Le Grand Clos bottling the more elegant and structured of the two.
This kind of commitment to excellence comes at a price. Le Grand Clos 2004s are US$52 and $56 respectively for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the 2005s will be released in November 2007). The Tawse Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2003 is $50. The Pinot Noir 2005 is sold out.
These are ambitious wineries with a vision of world class wines from Niagara Peninsula. Though the region still grows Labrusca and hybrids, Niagara today is a world apart from its Ruby Rouge roots.
Tim Walton — Waterloo, Ont — August 14, 2007 4:38pm ET
Scott Mitchell — Toronto, Ontario — August 14, 2007 10:09pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 15, 2007 9:18am ET
David Lobe — Toronto, — August 15, 2007 11:49am ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — August 15, 2007 2:13pm ET
Nik Rasula — Calgary, Alberta — August 15, 2007 7:38pm ET
James B Morgan Jr — Cleveland, Ohio — August 15, 2007 7:48pm ET
Don Mooney — Langley, B.C. — August 16, 2007 3:38am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 16, 2007 9:50am ET
Scott Mitchell — Toronto, Ontario — August 16, 2007 1:01pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 16, 2007 2:15pm ET
Craig Chunta — Alberta — August 16, 2007 6:54pm ET
Nik Rasula — Calgary, Alberta — August 16, 2007 8:42pm ET
Scott Mitchell — Toronto, Ontario — August 16, 2007 10:06pm ET
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Bruce Sanderson — New York — August 17, 2007 9:45am ET
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Eric Weiner — Ottawa, ON, Canada — August 21, 2007 2:02pm ET
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — August 27, 2007 4:40pm ET
Mike — Niagara — August 29, 2007 9:16pm ET
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