I attend many tastings but none are better than the ones accompanied by the growers, the negociant and the vintner. To a maker, the adage is repeated again and again. Wine is made in the vineyard. Here is part two in the series on land, vineyard and terroir.
Assuming the essential information about Flat Rock Cellars proprietor Ed Madronich is on a need to know basis, know this. Madronich is entirely sure about what matters to him, his vineyard and how he approaches the science of making wine. He and winemaker Jay Johnston have embarked upon a new Pinot Noir project. The Block Series investigates the magic of Pinot Noir through a series of a vineyard’s three blocks and plots. Flat Rock’s is a study in soil, slope and altitude.
Notes Johnston: “We can’t learn or get better about our Pinot unless we enter into this type of experimentation.” Adds Madronich, “just don’t screw it up.” They don’t call him Unfiltered Ed for nothing. On Pinot Noir? “When I think about it, I think Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and Niagara.” On winemaking? “Jay may be hands on in the vineyard but we are strictly hands off (in the winery).” On closures? Only screwcaps. “The alternative closures are the only way to ensure the wine we make is the wine you’ll drink. Simple as that.” On taking risks in Flat Rock’s locale as compared to Beamsville? “He’s always had a crop,” says Madronich about a fellow Bench grower. “I’ve always made a better wine,” confirms the unfiltered one.
Soil. Flat Rock’s vineyard set on the Twenty Mile Bench is built of deep clay and till, limestone and shale. The Micro-block Pinot Noir share a commonality from that composition but each plot is possessive its own variation on the rock to soil ratio.
Slope and altitude. Flat Rock lays claim to the biggest elevation change (60 metres from top to bottom) of any vineyard in Niagara. Located approximately (as a function of proximity) 7 – 7.5 km from the lake, propitious air flow dries out the vineyard and mediates humidity. Yields are lower and vines are more vigorous on this part of the Bench, with more rocks dotting the earth. “A super vineyard, great for ripening,” notes Madronich. It’s all about the elevation.
Flat Rock’s Pinot Noir blocks would normally produce 100 or more barrels. Launched with the 2011 harvest, the Block Series encapsulated a selection of 12 barrels, four each from what Ed and Jay considered the “best expressions” of the grand cru determined blocks. Neutral oak was employed to guarantee a fresh, direct and unhindered capture of Flat Rock’s top Pinot fruit. Will this experiment persist vintage after vintage, regardless of cold winters and/or warm summers? Notes Johnston, “we can mine for gold, from block to block, but not necessarily in every year. We’re not trying to razzle dazzle with alchemy in the winery.”
Flat Rock Cellars The Block Series Pinot Noir 2011 tasting
From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste. 91 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.” 92 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.” 89 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
Two more Pinot Noir
ESTATE 2011 (1545, VINTAGES Essential, $19.95)
A blend of all 13 blocks, made in a rounder and more accessible style, but still consistent with the Blocks and Gravity. Hand-picked, gravity fed, naturally and in a search for fruit truth. Bottled early (August of 2012), the earth, cherries and plant phenol are all here. Blessed with 20/20 Bench vision, in price and location. Really pure expression and unsevered length from beginning to end. 88 Tasted Oct. 23, 2013
GRAVITY 2011 (1560, $29.95, Coming to VINTAGES Nov 23rd.)
From a blend of eight different blocks, 25 barrels were held back for the Gravity. Less made in ’11 due to the Block Series initiative. Magnified pierce, plum, freshness, flow and complexity, a completely gathered Pinot feeling Gravity’s pull. “Reason had harnessed the tame.” A fable of reconstructed Pinot Noir, the Gravity is Flat Rock’s most complete expression. From my earlier note: Top wines shine at taste Ontario 2013, “may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.” 92 Tasted Oct. 10 and 23, 2013
Good to go!