Category Archives: Canada
Rollingdale Winery Pinot Noir Icewine
Canada (British Columbia)
The setting is Greenland. Deep in a fiord, an edge of glacial ice ahead.
The subject turns to icewine. Its amber hues as rich as the landscape.
The colour comes from pinot noir, an unusual choice of grape for an icewine. It normally doesn’t take to the sub-zero temperatures required for ice wine production. But Rollingdale Winery has found a way, and with rewarding results. Not the least of the wine’s attractions is that wonderful copper colour, achieved by short skin contact prior to fermentation. In 2010 the Organic Wine Review named this Pinot Noir Icewine 2007 as runner-up for its Organic Wine of the Year. And Rollingdale as winner of its Organic Winery of the Year.
A fine achievement for a winery that has existed for less than ten years. Owners Steve and Kathy Dale were born in Ontario, and for a time were consultants for a Swiss-based company whose focus was organic horticulture. The couple worked at the conversion of a number of wineries to organic production. In 2003 they felt the urge to move back to Canada, and headed to British Columbia. Steve enrolled in a viticulture course in Penticton, before buying a small Okanagan vineyard in West Kelowna, and expanding it into Rollingdale. By 2007 Rollingdale became one of only two wineries in BC to be certified organic.
It is very much a family run, near garage-type operation. A quonset hut serves as its storage/production facility, and also as its tasting room. There are just over two hectares under vine, with an annual production of about 2,000 cases. Winemaker Joe Slykerman produces both red and white. In the meantime the winery has developed a strong reputation for its dessert wines. Rollingdale is drawn to using grape varietals not commonly associated with dessert wines — for example, the French hybrid ‘marechal foch’ in a dark and inky dessert wine called Potage. And in Rollingdale’s stellar icewines — pinot gris, pinot blanc, and, the grape of the slim bottle that ended up with me in Greenland, pinot noir.
Rollingdale Winery Pinot Noir Icewine 2007
The bright amber shine through the bottle is a definite attraction. It gives rise in the glass to aromas of a cold compote of apricots and apples. In the mouth a viscous blend of aged, port-tinged caramel, a fine acidity cutting through the fruit, exciting the palate and lingering on and on. I very much like a well-made, not-too-sweet dessert wine and this one is very much a winner! $$
Frogpond Farm Cabernet Franc Icewine
Sailing away from Greenland’s icecap, deep in the Evighedsfjord…
an organic icewine beings to reveal itself…
and in the waters of Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, it rises to the occasion…
seeking someone to sample it.
Frogpond Farm Cabernet Franc Icewine 2008
In the ice bowl the dessert wine glows a red-pink. Up from the ice come aromas of apple and wild strawberry, a nifty balance of red berry compote. On the palate the strawberry continues, blended with a stew of other field berries. It is a dapper touch, nothing too sweet, a surfacing acidity to keep everything in check. Overall, a very pleasant experience, well worth the trip to retrieve this 200-ml bottle. $$
It’s a bit of a homecoming. Apparently fossil remains of a 350-million year old relative of the modern frog was first uncovered in Greenland. Perhaps it led to the varieties of frogs (green, leopard, and pickerel) that have taken up residence at Canada’s Frogpond Farm, near Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario.
The vineyard owners, Jens Gemmrich and Heike Koch are travellers, too. They emigrated to Canada from near Stuttgart in Germany fifteen years ago, with the express purpose of producing wine, founding what would turn out to be Ontario’s first (and as yet only fully-certified) organic winery. Starting with 4 hectares, the farm has expanded to 12. It produces a variety of reds and whites, and two varieties of icewine.
Icewine proves to be a particular challenge to organic growers, given the extended period the treasured few grapes remain on the vines, i.e., to the time of the first frost. As with all Frogpond grapes, these are handpicked. That may well be in the middle of the night, for it is important to collect the grapes at just the right point in time.
Jens Gemmrich came to Canada with a solid background in viticulture. His family had worked vineyards and made wine for generations. He and Heike developed into keen proponents of the organic approach to winemaking, committed to producing the best wines they can, within a healthy, pesticide-free environment for their growing family. “This my backyard,” Heike has said. “Why would I want to spray it with chemicals?” The couple’s commitment extends beyond the vineyards. As an example, Frogpond Farm is totally powered by green (wind and water generated) electricity.
The couple’s approach has not been particularly quick to catch on in the region. Yet, Frogpond Farm, with its near idyllic surroundings, remains a true focus for wine drinkers and wine tourists who want to take the green route to their wine experience and sample very good wines in the process.
And now I understand why the bottle looked so at home in Greenland.
Southbrook Vineyards Icewine
Here I am in my country’s capital, with a bottle of what may well be the world’s first biodynamic icewine. I’m standing on my favourite spot in the city, under Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider Maman, looking across Sussex Drive to Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. It’s snowing this evening in Ottawa, one of the world’s coldest capital cities. Quite beautiful. And standing not far from me in the snow, with the faint outline of the National Gallery behind it, is a bottle of the aforementioned wine, made, appropriately enough, from frozen grapes.
The wine originates a few hundred kilometres from here. Southbrook has had a history of farm production north of Toronto dating back several decades and as a boutique winery since 1991. In 2005 owners Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier moved wine operations to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the heartland of Ontario winemaking, with the purchase of a parcel of 30 hectares (15 under vine). Southbrook Vineyards was born. In 2008 a stunning new winery pavilion was opened. It is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Today the winery stands as the first in Canada to be certified biodynamic by the international body Demeter.
Bill Redelmeier says they underwent certification in part “to show other interested, perhaps skeptical, vineyards and farmers that it’s possible to make the switch, even in a cool climate like Canada’s.”
In charge of viticulture at Southbrook is Ann Sperling (in the foreground, pictured with the Redelmeiers). Deeply rooted in British Columbia’s wine country, where she produced award-winning merlot, she brings to Southbrook a deep commitment to organic and biodynamic winegrowing. (Together with husband Peter Gamble, she also operates Sperling Vineyards in B.C. and, in Canada’s off -season, seven hectares of 1920’s malbec in Argentina.) “There is one thing we know for sure,” Sperling says, “amazing, vibrant wines come from grapes that are raised biodynamically.”
Southbrook makes several award-winning wines, but the focus today is the newly released vidal icewine. Icewine (or in German, Eiswein) is produced from healthy grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vines into winter. The small amount of liquid extracted from the frozen grapes produces a sweet, acidic, yet refreshing, dessert wine. Canada is the world’s largest producer of icewine (one of the many benefits of our subzero winters), and it is icewine for which we are best known on the world wine stage, although other wines are catching up fast.
Vidal blanc grapes (like the country’s inhabitants) have tough skins, well suited for the winter weather. Although the Niagara region of Ontario doesn’t experience the deep freezer temperatures of Quebec or the Prairie Provinces, early each new year it does reach the sustained -8 C degrees needed for the harvest of these grapes into ice wines.
Time to discard the mittens and uncork the 200ml bottle and see what lies within.
Southbrook Vineyards Icewine Vidal 2009
It is pleasantly light and delicate, bearing none of the thick, overly sweet attributes of some dessert wines. For a wine so concentrated, it brings a freshness to the nose, a spring in its step to the palate. A touch of peaches and apricots and a light, creamy mix of other fruit, but all nicely restrained and balanced, as is the acidity. A lovely burnt orange wave on the finish. As with the best of dessert wines, it lingers without overwhelming. It makes room for a little more. $
Tantalus Vineyards Riesling
Canada (British Columbia)
I have a fondness for wooden masks. The one on the left is from Bali. The one pictured on the wine bottle is from the Canadian province of British Columbia.
The cultural passions of Tantalus owners Eric Savics and Eria Thomas led to labels adorned with the work of First Nations artist Dempsey Bob. His masks are also set into the the wall of bottles behind the Tantalus tasting bar. Indeed works of well-known BC artists are to be found throughout the new ultramodern winery building, making it a showcase for visual art as well as wine. The two blend very well.
The building was the first in BC’s wine-rich Okanagan Valley to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The winery’s 19 hectares are organic and the approach beyond the vineyards is ‘non-interventionist’, allowing ‘each wine to convey the fine quality and unique character of this historic site.’
Historic, in this North American context, means back to 1927. The property was then called Pioneer Vineyards and production was of the table grape variety. Three years later, in what was the first grape contract in Canadian history, Pioneer began shipping grapes to Victoria Wineries for BC’s first grape wine production. These were not memorable wines.
The 1978 owners began planting riesling and it is these vines that today provide the grapes for the Tantalus Old Vines bottling. By 2004, with the present owners, a new style emerged, natural in its approach to winemaking, outward-looking in its limited production. Tantalus concentrates solely on riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. David Paterson, Vancouver-born but New Zealand bred, came onboard, as did Jacqueline Kemp, also from New Zealand. Between them their winemaking experience included stints in Oregon, Burgundy and Australia.
The duo has very quickly made a mark, especially with riesling, the Tantalus bottling considered by many the best in the Okanagan Valley. Fans include the much-quoted UK wine critic Jancis Robinson, who has called the Tantalus 2008 Riesling ‘awfully good’ and ‘truly outstanding.’ A rather encouraging pair of descriptors.
So let’s see what the latest Tantalus riesling has in store.
Tantalus Vineyards Riesling 2009
To the eye, muted gold. Pleasantly bold in both aroma and taste. Apple, pineapple, appetizingly rich. Altogether flavourful — citrus etched by honey, but without the loss of its mineral backbone. Holding strong with an engaging acidity. It is a riesling ready for a world-wide audience. Unmask it and enjoy. $
Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace
I’ve never seen crocuses in such profusion as they are this spring. Such perfect bursts of colour. Summer is definitely just over the horizon. And isn’t that something to drink to!
Since starting this wine adventure I have been wanting to celebrate a wine from my home and native land. Sometimes it takes leaving a country to truly appreciate what is to be found on one’s doorstep. What we have in Canada more than anything is space — space and time to get things right, unencumbered by the weight of history. Our tradition of wine-making is a short one. When new, wonderfully well-made wines step into the sunlight we stand up and take notice.
Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace 2006
What to expect of Canadian chardonnay? Likely not something this good. This wine could be poured as confidently in the finer vineyards of Burgundy as in its true home, the Jordan Bench of the Niagara Escarpment. It is first rate all the way — from the golden glow lighting the glass, to the aromas of spiced white fruit, to the lacings of mineral and caramel on the palate. Fine concentration, the oak expertly integrated. Dry, yet edging just a slight degree or two toward something sweeter. Lovely, lasting finish. All accomplished during a challenging vintage that saw rather too much rain during the harvest period. Makes me want to sing the national anthem. $$
Maybe not belt it out. Le Clos Jordanne started in 1999 as a joint venture between New World/Old World partners, both huge wine conglomerates in their respective countries — Vincor Canada and Boisset of France. Its first release was in 2004. Vincor has since been bought out by the U.S.-based Constellation Brands. (And yes, it is the world’s largest wine company.) Thankfully, Le Clos Jordanne seems to have been left to do its own thing. Even so, the Canadian pedigree is a bit diluted, at least on the ownership side.
The winemaker, Thomas Bachelder, however, is Montreal-born and bred. He returned home after stints in Burgundy and Oregon to put his talents to use at Le Clos Jordanne. He set out to learn the character of each of the four vineyards that comprise the estate, working organically and with a view to letting the terroir express itself, a terroir Jean Charles Boisset had recognized as exceptional the moment he saw it. And how smart were the owners to recruit Bachelder. The man definitely has his wine wits about him, and anyone eager to dismiss Canadian chardonnay and pinot noir should sample his handiwork before uttering a word. The chardonnay is world class. My bet is that the pinot is as well.
I am skeptical of blind wine tasting showdowns, but the wine world seems to relish them. In last year’s so-called “Judgement of Montréal” the 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay topped 13 other chardonnays from around the world, including several prestigious offerings from Burgundy.
Will wine drinkers shrug it off as a backwoods sleight-of-hand? Many no doubt have a question mark… ?/100. Perhaps those of us who have tried Le Clos Jordanne should stock up now while the American wine ratings princes have yet to cross the border.
It would seem to me that the wider wine world generally fails to take Canadian wine-making seriously, except of course for icewine. It thinks Canada is all ice and snow.
But what’s that on the tight little crocuses that were wide awake in brilliant sunshine a few days ago…a little of the white stuff in mid-April? Oh, but we like to surprise. In weather and in the quality of our wine.