History may one day remember them as the group of twelve, or perhaps, “The Ontario School.” They are the 12 wineries who have banded together to ensconce a strange but beautiful word on the tongue, in the dictionary and out in the world. Somewhereness.
They are purveyors of the land from which their grapes grow and ferment into wine. Facilitators of terroir, working a canvas forged by millions of years of geological and climatic evolution. Their assembly is based on both exigency and on Moira; destiny, share, fate.
Like that other famous group, “collectively they agree.” Ontario’s cool-climate wine regions need to qualify and certify a distinctive winemaking style. In juxtaposition to old world, European tradition, the intensity of Somewhereness needs to reflect an increasingly Ontario-centric partiality.
These are the members. 13th Street, Bachelder, Cave Spring, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Hinterland, Malivoire, Charles Baker, Norman Hardie, Southbrook, Stratus and Tawse. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator used the term and now it defines an enterprise. “As a group of 12 wineries growing small lots of site-specific vines in Ontario’s ancient glacial soils, we’ve invoked Somewhereness as a word enabling us to articulate in one collective voice.”
How do you get to Somewhereness? As related to wine that is like asking, Who am I? Why do we exist? What is the meaning of life? The Somewhereness movement, the notion, comes to light through this statement. “Somewhereness is revealed in the mysterious time capsules we know as bottles of wine. As ethereal gifts of a carefully tended location and a moment in time, each is imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place,
its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”
In 2013 I wrote about Somewhereness over the Canadian wine rainbow. “Above all else, the rainbow’s fulcrum is the “somewhereness” of Canada’s wine regions. Terroir is the great catch word for wine. A vine’s home determines its potential, its structure, its sense of place. Micro-climates, soil, geology, altitude, slope and vegetation all contribute to the make-up of a wine forged from that specific parcel, lot or locale.”
In Come together, over wine I continued the discussion. “Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.”
At the end of last year my column 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013 reviewed what Canadian winemakers do best. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”
On Wednesday April 9th, Somewhereness brought the band to St. James Cathedral for a full-on tasting that is rapidly being recognized as a must not miss Ontario event. Here are notes on some of the wines I sampled.
Here you have an honest, 100 per cent stainless steel treated Pinot Gris from an estate vineyard located adjacent the market on Fourth Avenue in the Creek Shores appellation. So very dry and really fine fruit, crisp, neoteric, rising and falling in waves of tempered acidity. Made in a comfortable, country-twanged, folk-rock style, like a Cowboy Junkie. Juicy, mouth-watering work and very easy to fall for. An angel mine, this 13th Street, “and I know that your skin is as warm and as real as that smile in your eyes.” This effort by Jean-Pierre Colas is as good as it gets, a tally for Creek Shores and its kinship with the variety.
A six-month lay in French oak for 60 per cent of the Gamay fruit sourced exclusively from Malivoire’s Beamsville Bench estate vineyard is just what the go doctor ordered. Only Malivoire’s Gamay smells specifically like this; of tart and savoury capers, of small, earthy gemstones, of peppery currants, of meaty braising Bouille. A striking wine from a fortuitous Gamay vintage and great value that puts me in mind of how special the Courtney will be. Though the soils may differ, proximity wise they are close cousins.
Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.”
Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent), part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal.
The most versatile fizz in the Hinterland portfolio, what winemaker Jonas Newman refers to as his “chameleon.” As aromatically floral as this Charmat method bubbles (secondary fermentation in tank) ever gets, the ’13 brings out the garden under the mist of a sprinkler, late on a summer evening. It’s not so much about fruit as it is about texture, pollen and wet rocks. Try it at Barque.
This binary vineyard symbiosis will be bottled as the Niagara Pinot. Just filtered a few days ago it strides out with the utmost confidence in swagger, with a purity of fruit is spite of Thomas’ shock, awe and reductive apology. A bright sway of terroir gives rapture to a peaking raspberry bush imagined forward into a cooled pie. A renewed elegance abides with an absence of humidity and with a fully ameliorated knowing that a fleshing will happen. Really fine.
Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.
If roses were stones they would produce an aroma that only 13th Street’s Sandstone Gamay would recall. Some previous vintages have pushed the boundary to sky-high excess and a subterranean ferrous burrowing but in 2012 the perfume is both grounded and ethereal. The sandy tuff rock is so in that glass, like the smell of a rugged beach, mist and salinity spraying and rising off the rocks. The ’12 now knows “I don’t have to sell my soul.” Wholly singular Gamay and with hopes it will always be this going forward. Where as before it said “I want to be adored,” it now confirms “you adore me.”
A lean Laundry with as much finesse as winemaker Paul Pender has ever shown in his poignant Cabernet Franc realm. When a vintage deals you calm and scale you sit back and relax. The Lincoln Lakeshore advancing in years vines bring yet unseen front end red berry, licorice and red currant softness in 2011. There is elegance but also a refusal to yield its back-end bite. A level of enveloping grain and chalk is unique to this bottle and should be seen as a very good effort with the possibility ahead for movement and a gaining of flesh. A graceful, gently pressed Laundry.
A 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon whose barrel aging specs are integral to discussing its unfolding. This Whimsy is a seven barrel (172 case) lot of which 86 per cent was aged for 13 months in (71 per cent) French oak. Plain and simple, a wood-heavy decision that has provided allied excellence five years after that demanding vintage. The agglomeration is one of steroidal currants, rocket red berries and an assiduous savoury edge. Just now are the beginnings of a caramel oozing from out of the centre of a dark chocolate house. Really quite an amazing, rich cake example from the vintage. Showing so right and so strong now, in its territory and wheelhouse.
Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.
Tasted at Somewhereness 2014 as part of a vertical retrospective going back to 2007. The Vinemount Ridge’s now famous Picone Vineyard is set within a 10-acre estate on the Niagara Escarpment. Planted to the Weis 21 clone, the Riesling grown here digs in for complexity from sectional moieties of clay and sandy soil atop a unique base of limestone bedrock. Charles Baker began working with these grapes in 2005 and it is this 2008 where the learning curve took a turn for the Riesling stratosphere. The ’06 found luck in the stars but this vintage lays the framework and foundation for a master plan. At this stage in the ’08 evolution there is a prodigious and viscous honeyed textured. Ripening tree fruit juices run like maple sap in spring and the run off is beginning to think syrup. A cutting ridge of acidity arrests the sugaring, allowing citrus and flinty rock to recall the wine’s first, fresh steps. Baker’s Riesling time travels in circles with no real beginning and no real end. From my earlier, September 2012 note: ““Whoo-ahhh” Mojito, green apple skin scent of a Riesling. Seductive to sip, a bodacious body of influence, then back-end bite. A wolf pack in sheep’s clothing.”
No other Niagara red and for sure no alternative Peninsula Bordeaux blend exists in such a vacuum of dichotomous behaviour. Act one is an out-and-out boastful, opulent show of Rococo. Act two a gnawing and gnashing by beasts. The pitch and pull of the Terroir Caché 2010 optates and culls the extraordinary through the practice of extended délestage, what Hidden Bench notes as “a traditional method of gently draining the wine and returning it to tank with its skins during fermentation.” The ’10 is about as huge as it gets, highly ferric and tannic. Still chemically reactive, you can almost imagine its once small molecules fitfully growing into long chains. Berries of the darkest night and he who should not be named black fruit are confounded by minerals forcing the juice into a cold sweat. Will require a minimum of 10 years to soften its all-powerful grip. From my earlier March 2013 note: “has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine”
Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.
The Locust Lane Vineyard, originally planted in 1998, was Hidden Bench’s first acquisition, in 2003. It has a unique perpendicular cross-slope effect, undulating in all four directions, gathering sun hours in its own special way. The vineyard produces the richest and warmest Pinot Noir with fruit flavours more akin to ripe plum and black cherry than almost anywhere on the Beamsville Bench, certainly as any from the Hidden Bench stable. While the ’11 is not the biggest beast nor the Bordeaux bully of the Terroir Caché, it is surprisingly tannic and strong. It’s anything but hot, though it attacks with fervor. Big berry fruit, macerated strawberry, rich pie notes and spice. A great Locust vintage.
Good to go!