Thomas Bachelder is a quote sprinkler. Like this: “It’s not because you can’t tell something blind that it doesn’t exist.” On Monday, February 10th, the Quebec native courted and mesmerized a room of 50 Ontario Wine Society members, guests and wine writers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty Club. If there is another winemaker’s brain that can dish out dissertations with gifted, hypnotic babble like Bachelder, I’ve yet to hear it. All so unbelievable and believable at the same time. Whatever the former Le Clos Jordanne and Lemelson winemaker is selling, I’m buying.
I would crawl up any staircase, rearrange busy schedules and mobilize the troops to taste the wines of Thomas Bachelder. So, when the call came from OWS President Ken Burford to join Bachelder and partner Mary Delaney for another tasting of the Bachelder Project, mobilize I did.
For a brief history on the Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara terroirist, check out my November 2013 tasting report, with thanks again to Tony Aspler.
The nine-deep tasting focused on the 2011 vintage, with one (2010) exception. While it was not a perfect storm of the entire (15 wine) Bachelder portfolio, it was a pretty damn good attempt. It’s hard to believe that a Canadian citizen who happens to make wine in three countries is forbidden to hoard enough of his own wines to conduct tastings at his leisure. Canadian cross-border restrictions meant Bachelder had to deliver his Oregons to a New York post office box and then carry them across at Fort Erie. Imagine the scenario. Customs officer: “What are the wines for?” Bachelder: “I am the winemaker and they are for a tasting in Toronto and for my cellar.” Beyond absurd. The rest were sourced from SAQ and LCBO stores scattered about the two provinces.
The serendipity and synchronicity of the three winemaking regions has meant the stars have aligned in Bachelder’s favour. These tastings simply write themselves. The year 2010 was warm in Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara, classic in 2011 and in 2012 warm again. The 2013 vintage looks to be another trifecta classic. “If the wines are all of a similar weight, you can really see each country’s terroir for what it is.”
“Burgundy is my favourite place to make wine,” admits the flying vintner. ”I’m not ashamed to say that (in a room full of Ontario Wine Society members) it’s exciting to be tasting wines from other places.”
On Pinot Noir: “If you push too hard and try to make that darker Pinot, you lose elegance. You can’t try to make a hot vintage an elegant one. You have to live with it.”
On Niagara: “Are we still prejudiced against Ontario wines? If you are standing in a store with Oregon, Niagara and Burgundy in front of you and $50 in your pocket, what are you going to choose? No one ever passes a $50 Burgundy my way because I look like a nice guy.”
On barrel aging: “It’s not about the oak flavour, it’s about the texture. That’s aging Chardonnay in oak. What’s happening in the barrel is a reduction sauce, a demi-glace, sucking the moisture out of the wine. Humidity leaves the wine and the alcohol stays. It’s a permeability stage, in the fight against residual sugar and low acids, which are poison to balance.”
On his choice of grapes: “The great thing about making Pinot and Chardonnay is they take 16 months so you have to leave them alone, go away and let them be.”
On Stelvin (screwcap) vs cork, he avoids the question and says it’s the bottle with the thick neck he wants, the one that pours with ceremony.
1,500 cases is just about the maximum Bachelder intends to make in each of the three regions. On expansion: “There’s only so much you can do in a person’s cellar without them saying what the hell are you doing here.” These refreshed tasting notes are transcribed in the prescribed order poured by Bachelder and though I’m still not sure of the method behind the line-up’s madness, call me crazy if I wasn’t transfixed.
From three blocks, Wismer, Saunders and Wismer-Foxcroft. Has gained fleshy weight and waxy polish in three short months, despite the tightness of the vintage. Juicier now, with zest akin to Clementine. Should this upward trend continue, cool down often and always with this exemplary Niagara Chardonnay. From my earlier November 2013 note: “Lean and mean Niagaran, in a hue and a style that brings Burgundy to mind. Comblanchien layers of limestone salinity, like a villages from Côte de Beaune. Tang, pine forest, Warheads sour candy and just a hint of the barrel but you know it’s there. A simple, Chuck Berry three chord arrangement. “I was anxious to tell her the way I feel,” even if I had no particular place to go.” 90
On a night like this Bachelder’s recently gravelly Oregon Pinot ’11 seems to have shed its tough outer layer. Signals the evolutionary advance with a Parliament Cordell Boogie Mosson space bass note, which then blows quickly away. The wine exudes spirited cherries, Barbarescish tar and duly scented rose. Thomas notes that Burgundy should be the reference point though it does not specifically emulate Chambolle-Musigny. Built of a specific Oregon mindset but with a broad inter-connectivity to Bachelder’s other terroirs, especially considering the 2011 vintage kismet between the mothership convention of Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy. Thomas describes this Pinot as, “just shy of perfect ripeness, but not green, which is a perfect indicator of terroir.” She is perhaps advancing quickly. Is she too beautiful.? From my earlier September 2013 note: “Bleeds Willamette terroir. Punctiliously phenolic from marine sediment and seemingly obvious early-ripening. Provocative in ruby, sugar-sour cranberry meets redolent raspberry. Chalky, tannic and serious. It’s tough on me right now. Come on Thomas, would ya please lighten up? I don’t want to have to wait to drink the first case.” 90
A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black. From my earlier November 2013 note: “Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.” 90
Legerdemain from what must be posited as a parcel capable of proliferating the richest and most structured Niagara Pinot Noir. Remarkable purity out of this magic vineyard, lissome tannins and an unmistakeable blooming rose note here now, fragrant like never before. Yet unknown but very known vineyard, especially if you have also made the acquaintance of Five Rows and Leaning Post. Peerless local Valentine’s Pinot. From my earlier October 2013 note: ”Springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.” 94
Devastating underestimation on my part when first sampled back in November. How could I have been so blind to the depth, density and irresistible pastry chef layering. The Bachelder Chardonnay may be the stuff of demi-glace but the Pinot is so much more a thing of chemistry. A wall of sound, of no moving parts, with no separation and if an astringency was ever there, it has since departed. Since November, this has improved more than any other wine in the room. From my earlier November 2013 note: “Here there wafts an increased “blister in the sun,” more terroir from a tight vintage full of pumped over tannins. An accented aromatic membrane envelops this Johnson, of orange zest and studded rind, in violet tendency, with more flesh. Even if she speaks in Frainc-Comtou dialect when she walks through the door, she walks out distinctly Oregonian singing as a Violent Femme. Pure and clean up front, she builds, then leaves a trail of tangy fruit behind. Tangled web of Pinot. 93
Yet another three months later re-taste to show Bachelder’s Oregon terroir may be the most difficult to assess in its infancy. This short slumber has changed everything. Oregon distinction, smell it, commit it to memory and you’ll never forget it. “Picture yourself staring at a loved one in a restaurant,” says Thomas. “Would you be able to pick this out as Chardonnay?” Some ciderish activity, from sedimentary and volcanic soils that used to mingle with ocean waters, give this a sea salt and fossilized lava stillness. More buttery (dare I say, popcorn) goodness than the rest. And restrained tang. And length. Wow. From my earlier November 2013 note: While Burgundian in hopes and dreams, this is very much a $29 Oregon white. No mask, no hidden altruism, simply the right Chardonnay for the right price. Bone dry, orchard driven, high acid, void of harmful terpenes. There is a salinity and piquancy not influenced by PH, perhaps by the ocean, by sandstone, but regardless it’s unique to place, unlike Niagara, Prince Edward County, or for that matter Burgundy.” 91
Saunders is quiet right now, in cool waiting and in display of the most elegance I’ve encountered from any Bachelder Chard, at anytime, anywhere. Background spice, backing vocals are in the isolated spotlight. This I am keying on as much as any note, in any wine here tonight. Not giving it up as easy as before. Extra swirl time required. Will re-visit in the summer. Right, Thomas? From my earlier July and November 2013 notes: “From Beamsville, right beside 30 bench, has a texture, a depth and a mouth feel in ’11 that bounds and leaps towards the ethereal. A dancing stag, displaying, performing a mating ritual dance. Melons, ripe and fleshy are in this Saunders. “What’s carrying this wine is site, site and site.” A great clay slice of the Beamsville Bench. From my earlier note: ”Takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.” 93
Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with its a touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?” 91
Bathed in medicinal permeate, a white rose mingling with marigold floral tone. Waves the hot flag of the vintage draped like a humid blanket over the wholly palatable, imbued netherweave, mineral tang. Still the omnipresent Bachelder acidity tempers the heat. It’s not oxygen on the nose, it’s more carbonic, oleaginous too, with a solar aromatic, malolactic presentation that gives this Chardonnay soft, stable, holistic age. Qualities unique to Puligny and Mâconnais. 90
Good to go!