If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Tawse winery in Vineland and more specifically, the cool serenity of their barrel rooms, then you still have some wine living to do.
Last month I was invited to work through the barrels once again with Pender, Norman Hardie, Redstone winemaker Rene Van Ede and the visiting Gautier Roussille of Tonnellerie de Mercurey. Hardie is instrumental in bringing the cooperage’s barrels to Ontario and Tawse employs them with coadjuvant good fortune. Pender gathered this group together to assess the sundry effects on his developing 2013’s, by tasting the wines out of particular barrels, from specific oak forests and with different levels of toast. Twenty-one or so passes of the thief later, the picture had been drawn. Every barrel tells a story.
Tawse makes use of wood from more than one cooperage so the comparisons of various barrels housing identical blocks of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir is a study in algebraic proportion. The reveal in such company is the real deal. What is abstruse to most lay palates is piously obvious to these major leaguers. When the going gets wooden, the wooden turn pro.
Stealing sips from a wine’s temporary wood house makes allowances to peer behind the scenes. The possibility exists to note the accentuating fruit effect of Eric Fourthon’s Okanagan-manufactured, 100% French oak from mineral forests ‘Céres’ barrels. There is the wine-tightening advance by another barrel from the Forêt de la Bertrange. To that antithesis there is the diametrically opposed impart of Tonnellerie de Mercurey’s CLL toasted oak. The precocious corollary of Billion’s Vosges or the curating texture of Jupilles. It’s all too fascinating. At the end of the day it’s about matching barrel to fruit, to fashioning better barrels, to make the best, most consistent wines, year after year.
When it comes to Chardonnay and choosing the forest from the trees, both Norm and Paul agree. Early picking and the right use of barrel leads to higher malolactic fermentation. Tastes from the Quarry Road Vineyard taught the most about barrel usage. The Quarry site was purchased by owner Moray Tawse from the holdings of Vineland Estates. “Best deal he ever made,” says Pender. All the early year’s bitterness is now mineral. “This is the County in Niagara,” he says.
Here are very brief notes on 21 wines, quickly run through out of barrel, many of which were tasted twice. Once on January 10th and again on April 23rd. A 21-oak salute to the work of Master Coopers, Norm Hardie, Rene Van Ede and Paul Pender.
Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Neutral) Three year-old vines, density, tang, tropical melon in aroma and flavour.
Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) This is very pretty, the most gem-like, the most like Burgundy. Will go to stainless on the lees in September for six more months before going into bottle. The purest expression from the best vineyard.
Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (CLL toast) The wood tightens this wine up considerably, mainly on the finish. High citrus notes and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish.
Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) Reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oak feel.
Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (One year-old, CLL toast) From the oldest (32 years) vines, the richest site, working best in tandem with new oak, here showing very primary, fermenting notes. A most restrained Robyn, reigned in.
Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 20123 Mercurey (New) Same old vines, increased tang and girth into which the barrel disappears. Sappy toast on the back end, quite young in its evolution. Rich, thick and the most density. Aromatically lime. Will function expertly as a foil to the Fourthon barrel in the final blend.
Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Mineral) Exclamatory fruit and this stage, this is the wine (barrel) to drink.
Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (One year-old) From the oldest (1959) vineyard in Canada. Can handle the most oak. This is creamy, full and reminiscent of Robyn in 2008 and before. Anything but a lean style. Ain’t nothin’ but a house party. “Dig that crazy soul.”
Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Céres (Bertrange, new) Oak tightens up the wine, which has a tendency to be large, or blowsy. “I don’t like Chardonnay at two tons per acre,” notes Pender. “It’s too fat.”
Lenko Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (New) More sappiness and the tightest yet. Showing the most oak but three to four months should settle its issues.
Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Mercurey (Large CLL toast) The fat one, the tenor, with high lemon and lime notes. There is orange zest, lots of fruit and mineral, like licking a steel pipe. A citrus-bitter finish, the most yet, likely due to the very low (1/2 ton) per acre yield.
Huff (South Bay, Prince Edward County) Chardonnay 2013, Ceres (Mineral) Turns woody on County fruit. There’s a separation in this one and very ripe lemons and limes. “I almost think I should have picked this earlier.”
Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Mercurey (Old barrel) Reductive, mineral, weighty, intense, firm, taut tannic structure.
Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Céres (Bertrange) More richness but still firm and quite tannic. More painted layers, cherries, toasty, the wood a bit green.
Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Jupilles, medium toast) Has the most elegance yet the toast is still very apparent but there is more sweetness, in how the fruit reacts with the tannins. Here is that curation of texture.
Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, Billion (Toasted head barrel) Brings out the black cherry nose but the tannin is green and drying. “It will rally, ” says Van Ede.
Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium toast) From only three year-old vines on a site Pender likens to “reclaiming the swamps,” or “the Golan Heights project.” The site is next door to John Howard and the wine is already showing colour, freshness and drive.
Pinot Noir Tintern 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) A bit reductive, more tannin, more sappy wood.
Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Old barrel) High limestone content means harder tannins. This is edgy and mean. Would work better with a lighter toast.
Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Vosges, medium plus toast) Tarry, edgy, walking on the blade. The middle palate has more fill. “There’s a roughness in that vineyard,” explains Pender.
Pinot Noir Quarry Road 2013, Billion (Toasted head) Less edgy, rounder, fleshier, fresher. The gaps here are filled in.
Good to go!