Québec native and Niagara Peninsula resident Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in three countries. He may not be the only gypsy winemaker on this planet but he certainly ranks as the most focused. Over the past few years I have had many opportunities to taste and be privy to the diversity, overlapping and incrassation of his portfolio. By now I know so much and understand so little.
There is one thing I do know for sure. Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney form a formidable wine-producing juggernaut. Together they are the vine and the fence. The question is which one is the vine and which one is the fence. If asked they and their guests would likely all produce different answers.
Thomas and Mary invited a group of us to taste through the Bachelder 2012’s just after Christmas. Ever the great hosts, Thomas and Mary not only poured 16 wines, they also offered up a most excellent feast and left us (Rick VanSickle, Michael Pinkus, Evan Saviolidis and Elena Galey-Pride) amazed and satiated. Rick’s take on the tasting should be read here: Poetry in motion: Thomas Bachelder unveils his 2012 Pinots and Chardonnays from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.
In Oregon Bachelder made wines at Ponzi and Lemelson Vineyards. In Niagara he was best known for creating a world-renowned portfolio of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay through an artfully applied science at Le Clos Jordanne. Beyond Bachelder there is now the Thomas effect at Domaine Queylus. He’s like the Chicken Man, “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.”
In Ontario his Pinot Noir fruit mainly comes from the St. David’s Bench vineyard owned by the Lowrey family. The Chardonnays are drawn from the Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and the Saunders Vineyard closer to Lake Ontario. In Oregon, the sturdy contrariness of the vines show a marked preference for the sandstone and volcanic (Basaltic) strata, in Yamhill-Carlton and the Willamette, rhymes with dammit – thanks Mary … ;), Valley. In Burgundy the terroir in micro-plots diversify the stratagem even while some are considered lesser locales for growing great Burgundy. But one thing is clear. The lieu-dits that give of their fruit all qualify as appellative wonders of the Bachelder diaspora.
For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my two previous posts on the Bachelder project.
Related – Synchronicity in three terroirs
Order is an extreme obsession for Thomas Bachelder, in an organized, chaotic way. For this reason, the wines were tasted in the following progression, to make sense of the complexity and variegation in each country from the three distinct yet wholly antithetic bon (Burgundy-Oregon-Niagara) terroirs.
From old vines in the commune of Puligny-Montrachet, Bachelder’s Aligoté is a flinty, indiscreetly pinching and itinerant example. More complex than it needs to be, it can be accused of being a risk taker. If Chardonnay is considered in terms of finding excellence out of cool climates, this Aligoté is downright gelid. The wine doth go both ways, at once reductive and then terpenic. Lime citrus concentrates aromas and flavours within a very platinum, mineral frame. Speaks several languages that can be related to but only if you can pry through the cracks in the hard protective shell. Confounding really, yet a fascinating study. Bachelder could do for varietal Burgundy Aligoté in ways similar to Sylvaner in Alsace. Tasted December 2014
Primarily constructed from the fruit of Yamhill-Carlton vines, a third of which is Lazy River, an apropos moniker because by harvest time it hardly moves. The warm vintage adds a calm dimension to a Pinot Noir more Burgundian than the Bachelder’s Niagara and also more table friendly. Pure perfume and like life in layered, rosy hues, a vie en rose, from the land and the river’s subtle flows. The terra mobilis. The underlying dream in Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon movement is mineral, like salinity, not limestone but something ambiguous from the river’s pull and under the river. Elegance lived and relived. Here is a wine from a very available warm vintage, with a mess of fleshy fruit, yet Thomas does not obfuscate the terroir. In 2012 and needfully so, it is served from a light hand. Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec and coming to VINTAGES in Ontario, Spring 2015. Tasted December 2014
Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)
The fruit for Bachelder’s local environ comes from Wismer Park within the essential Niagara vineyard, on the Lowrey farm of the St. David’s Bench. By way of setting bearings straight, the Park is contiguous to the Foxcroft and Wingfield sections of the Lowrey Vineyard. A precocious and most positive net gain Pinot Noir most of which, as Thomas so adroitly points out, will be consumed before being allowed to hit its prime. Despite the generic labelling, this is not a mass-produced bottling by any stretch and was swallowed up by licences. It’s a hallmark expression of warmth, texture, vintage and the capability of Pinot Noir in this specific place. What Thomas has achieved, with effective persuasion, is a cloning from intimate belongings; earth, fruit, Lowrey. Tasted December 2014
Côtes De Nuits Villages Aux Montagnes 2012, Burgundy, France ($45, WineAlign)
Named for La Montagne, to recognize it for place because local rules forbid calling it what it really is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. So what was ‘La’ is now ‘Aux’ and with the change, in this vintage, comes something formidable, eliciting a response of aux la la. Let’s talk about this, with no mocking tone, just real thoughts. Anything but regional, this Bachelder is so very Villages, specifically lieu-dit, with its depth of earth and release of perfume. A piercing sort of Pinot Noir from a which a sauce could be fashioned out of its sheer intensity, to bathe meats. The concentration has a citrus feign, bright, in the back, along with a giving and Burgundy forgiving mineral funk. In this Burgundy, the mountain lurks, in spirit torque. Will unwind for up to 10 years. Available at the SAQ in Quebec. Tasted December 2014
A hard-working wine that reaches for fibres not available for weave in the Bachelder ‘basic’ Oregon Pinot, the Johnson digs into the salty waters beneath the earth. Draws up its hydration, the astonishing fidelity of minerals magnetized and then redacts the smokey, splintering spokes of wood. The juice in 2012 flows and follows the inconsistencies of the skin and the barrel like the river travels along the irregularities of the land. Rich, dusty, brooding and intuitive. The Johnson is bent on serious intent, like a sculptor’s dentil relief, with increased shadow, less mannerist in 2012, deeper, darker and of more solemnity. When the ’11 was at first hard to figure then soon after revealed its charms, this ’12 will take much longer to unravel. The brightness of Oregon Pinot Noir is perhaps its greatest attribute so here that light is not yet known. Wait three to five years to find out its truth. Tasted December 2014
A balanced and thoughtful wine, from five rows of mostly mysterious, and unknown clones. There simply is no other locale in Ontario that you can grow Pinot Noir any further away from lake and river and still unearth such depth. Though terroir-driven, this shares little with other geographical perimeter outliers, like Ravine and Coyote’s Run. Can only be Lowrey; folkish, demotic, St. David’s Bench vernacular. From my earlier, October 2014 note: “To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more.” Last tasted December 2014
Here grinds a wine that could want for some decant, a pause for thought while the imbibers assess their ways through Oregon, Niagara, Johnson and Lowrey. A pent-up perfume, when allowed to breath in and then out, results in a concentration of aromatic certainty. Tight and bracing, with cedar and bitumen, cherry and rose, this single-vineyard NSG hugged up on a northern slope is both adamantine Nuits and the pretty dame of Beaune. Straddles the arrondissement’s Burgundian twain, the Neaune, from iron to sublime. The imprint of yearning and distance. Tasted December 2014
Only two barrels (one and two year-old, zero per cent new oak) were procured of this 100 per cent Pinot Blanc. “I’m a barrel fermenting maniac,” admits Bachelder. He might also say “I’ve got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff and I want my life to smell like this.” Stone fruit is in resolution and integration, fully, completely. This quenches thirst, like chewing on raw fish. Why Pinot Blanc in Savigny Lès Beaune is the $64K question with an answer tragically not really known. Its taste is not just Pinot Blanc, it is the flavour of Savigny Lès Beaune. It is PB looking for a place to happen. The argument is logomachy, the reality is Savigny. What it delivers is a clean, hip Burgundian message and at the same time asks, “do you taste Chardonnay?” Yes? No, I taste Savigny Lès Beaune. Tasted December 2014
Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95, WineAlign)
From the best four of twenty barrels (and 15 – 18 per cent new oak). The salinity drawn is deeper still, like a bone from the skin of the sea. Rich tones, components, tannic texture, filibuster Chardonnay. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “More specifically a product of its ocean meets sous terre soil than Bachelder’s basic (term used loosely) Chardonnay, the Johnson nicks more richesse, around and around fullness. Not to mention the cerebral wisdom of two Scots and a Charlemagne. Johnson’s progressive and forward thinking maker works with inconspicuous wood and the science of introducing oxygen into wine in a controlled manner. He might say “for it is wisdom that we have for sale.” Like a white-winged dove, the 2012 will trod lightly towards a long walk to a very long life. It can be imagined aging to the edge of seventeen. The earthy feel, the salinity, not from tannin but from soil, “the music there, well, it was hauntingly familiar.” This is iridescent Oregon in a Bachelder voice. No doubt.” Last tasted December 2014
Primarily fruit sourced from Wismer-Foxcroft and Wismer-Wingfield plots, the oak treatment is 15 per cent new. Shows so much more warmth than Oregon. More honey and tropical notes than many peers as well. And still limestone crusted apple is the major finishing key in a Chardonnay that sings a familiar Niagara hymn. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Bottled just one month ago, contrary to the monk’s assertion, there is nothing shocky about her. Her fruit is downy soft, round without being fat because as Bachelder maintains, real as always, you “can’t have the minerality of that perfect 2011, I’m not going to bullshit you.” The 2012 is a wine unconscious in its own obviousness, ready for anything. Gregarious, golden, fresh fruit that was ready to roll out of its barrel and into the waiting glass long before its maker was prepared to open the valve. And of course there is a mineral finish. It can’t help but be.” Last tasted December 2014
From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Coming to VINTAGES, Spring 2015. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.” Last tasted December 2014
An appraisal of Wismer, much further up on the Bench as compared to Saunders, is always fraught with side by each guilt. The two coax and dissuade each other in every respect, from vintage to vintage and in flip-book oscillation. Once again, the reversal is complete in 2012. Wismer gives not just power and warmth, but layering. Its voice is an astonishing fidelity of native rock magnetized. Wismer finds a way to make grace necessary and to make necessity graceful. While Saunders made yeoman’s work of 11’s crazies with precision and poise, Wismer takes the glow of ’12 and turns it into cool sunshine. This Chardonnay of wealthy fruit, controlled oak, olivine and feldspar tannin will slowly wash up like driftwood on the gravelly beach of life. Give it a year or two to assimilate the components and drink it for 10 more. Tasted December 2014
From lower Puligny, this is rich, forward and expressive Chardonnay. While it may gangle out with a fierce, pierce of the tang, a change fills the air after much discussion about a barrel, how it is used and to what effect, both for its current and predictable future. Has that honeyed, lemon toasty unctuousness, a weave that is weighty and glazed. Some wood spice and a colourable, creamy curd of citrus. Oak compounds the sweetness and layering. Puligny runs through its wooden veins and pumps micro-oxygenated nutrients to the important, internal organs. The eventuality here is the alleviation of pressure and a retrofit of fruit to elegance. Strike another notch up and step forward for the Bachelder Burgundy sojourn. There is still so much to learn and even this will seem pedestrian compared to what will come but for now it’s just fine, thank you very much. Tasted December 2014
Marsannay Clos du Roy 2012, Burgundy, France ($39.25, WineAlign)
The ‘King’s Hill’ which is just half of the misnomer because how can a plot of such ability be considered so low on the Cru pole. Half of a new barrel went into the minuscule (two barrel) blend. Chardonnay like lace, from nothing less than an appellation prepared to offer up fine drink, in pastry and in textile. Tropical tree fruits hang in rows, connected by cream and the contending forces of smoke and bite. Always the end game of rock envelops the whole, like gabbroid nodules, permeating every fissure. And so, because a Bachelder Chardonnay must comply, as the earth invisibly prepares its vines for successes and failures, so history is the creeping intent. Tasted December 2014
Good to go!