“You have to have a fear of God and a fear of mother nature.” These are the words of winemaker Bruno Francois of The Old Third Vineyard on the Closson Road in Prince Edward County. His compact yet profound stretch of The Ridge has the most slope, perhaps more than any vineyard in PEC, situated around a bend in the road at the 3rd Concession. The Old Third.
Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County
Bruno takes me for a walk through the vineyard. He points out the south, southeast slope unique to this part of the ridge. He talks about soil, the Hillier Clay Loam and its 450 million year old friable Ordovician limestone bed. He picks up and kicks around fragments of limestone gravel and fossils, glacial till, granite, sandstone, quartz and marble. The vineyard is a veritable ice age mineral playground. Mostly he plucks and tastes berries. Cabernet Franc. He crushes a cluster as a test. No skin contact but its hue is penetrating, ardent, vivid. The acidity rages. It will be picked in one week’s time.
We get down to business in the restored 1860’s cathedral barn over Sparkling wine and a Pinot Noir vertical. This is my second tasting with Bruno. In July he drove like a madman out to Niagara to pour his wines for Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, Sommelier Xavier Rousset, Master Sommelier John Szabo, Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser and I. We were at White Oaks Resort in St. Catharines in Old Third anticipation during the i4C Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.
In Ontario, Chardonnay may be the go to for most Sparkling makers, but Blanc de Blancs be cursed, Bruno’s à la Volée, along with Jonas Newman’s (mixed varietal) Les Étoiles, tell us that Pinot Noir and the County are made for each other. After tasting à la Volée 2011, Matt Kramer said it was the best Sparkling wine ever made in North America. I have not tasted enough North American bubbles to go into heavy hyperbole but I can say this. Bruno Francois takes nothing for granted, has great skill as a winemaker and his best work is yet to come. Here are my thoughts on his wines.
“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023. Tasted twice, July and October 2015
Rarely do the bitters of high density Pinot Noir plantings infiltrate with such courage layered by the richness of heavy clay and fractured, querulous limestone. Depending on how frequent your Pinot Noir tasting opportunities are you may be swayed with prejudice in one direction or the other because the astringency is a very real, authentic, hyperbole of Pinosity. Could this be more intoxicating? From four of five acres of Old Third Pinot Noir, billowing out liquorice, garrigue, tar, roses and the neverland yield of tonic. Though 100 per cent de-stemmed, adding them to “purify” colour would be a mistake. Others could do wonders with this type of correction leading to intensity. Grows chalky with time though adolescence is a hard nut to crack. Picking began on September 8th and the ripe, primary tannins suggest four years minimum to resolution. The nails in its heart will carry it across the girth of middle age. The seven-year mark will demarcate high water, as per the Old Third valour. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July and October 2015
In exhibition of its post-punk, nearly new wave, boyish fruit charm. Identifies as Pinot Noir from vines planted in 2005, fruit that saw oak worked in the same way it would do, forward to 2013. Tannins are utterly, wholly resolved in present elegance from a summer swelter in matchable cohorts to young fruit. Ten bears sweetness to a light richness and a lithe energy. Also a vin nature respect, with respect to ’13 that hides its very nature. In ’10 a yeast meets fruit barefaced parity is at this critical mass juncture, five-year stage, an aged picture of parent-child appurtenant appearance. Just a minor missive of hash lumbers on the mid-palate. Finally there is aridity and faux salinity without citrus acidity. Not so much Cabaret Voltaire as much as Woodhead Monroe. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
A taste and quickly it feels like an I’m not worthy moment, of respect, in thanks from the wise scribe David Lawrason and with admiration for the winemaker (Bruno Francois) who one and then four months later the other, pull this out of the magic hat. At seven it draws from and commits to memory for him, creates an epiphany for me and suggests the vines, on that slope, were always special. Memories like vampire weekends, epiphanies on County Pinot Noir and vines that were meant to be right from the start. The 2008 has barely moved. Unbelievers? “The world is a cold, cold place to be. Want a little warmth but who’s going to save a little warmth for me?”
Bruno Francois, Jens Korberg and their Old Third Pinot Noir, that’s who. From 4th leaf fruit, so yes, very young but of vines precociously grown to be of age. Single (not so very big) vineyard still supplying today’s Pinot Noir. This taste offers proof of inherent structure and ability to age. It reinforces the notion of the seven-year Prince Edward County Pinot Noir itch. The wood on this wine has threaded silk into leather, now comfortably worn in like bucket seats in a Thunderbird Convertible ’63. A puff of mushroom and little to no appointed astringency indicates the four or five year window that yet remains. A wine to justify staying up late and catching up during the day. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June and October 2015
The Old Third Pinot Noir 2015 (Barrel Sample)
Bruno remits a dreamy, murky decant into full sized stems on the tasting bar, a hazy demure from the year’s first September pick. Like all the Old Third wines (save for the odd Sparkler which uses a biodynamic Champagne yeast), the stage is set for the freshest aspects of Pinot Noir ripeness. Presently carbonic, fresh, natural, funky and primary. From a 23 brix count, sans Mr. Chapital and with some lingering sugar from a cap yet to drop. This to tell you its cloudy. Wild yeast gives texture ahead of the imminent gate passage with zero risk of a warm vintage stuck ferment. Around the bend is a finish with a specific gravity and colour not yet seen. The sugar and yeast compound currently confuses the soothsaying but look past and see a deepening and utter balance. Southeast aspect, Hillier Clay loam, fractured limestone, brought up by tilling. The 11th leaf. All tolled, to 2015, a new charge.
Older County Wines
In June of 2015 the crew at WineAlign convened in Niagara Falls to judge the best Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. Each night during the week of NWAC15 we broke bread with Ontario winemakers and tasted their wines.
Related – To Trius, by air
During that week we were hosted by Nicolette Novak, Mike Boland and winemaker Ross Wise and treated to an extraordinary meal by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Wine Company. Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run and Norman Hardie joined us and poured their wines.
During the preamble before dinner we gathered in the plenary idyllic evening Beamsville light, munched on olives and sundry bites while David Lawrason uncorked something like 20 older Prince Edward County bottles from his personal stash. Thank you David, if I did not already say it properly and with enough grateful inflection. The delve into history was mind-bending and if you know Godello, the significance waxes with each passing moon.
It was primarily Pinot Noir that graced the Good Earth table, set in front of the pizza oven in the halcyon vineyard environs. A stray varietal here and there interrupted the Pinot flow with contrasting recreation and to watch a gaggle of geeks contort faces with significant gazes was as much fun as tasting the whereabouts of the wines in relation to PEC and Ontario history. I made notes on 15 wines.
An important look back at not so past tense County Pinot Noir. A rich crush of red fruit, piercing in its limestone veneer and stretched, across large slabs of stone, reaching fissure harbouring mineral. This Beloved is “full of incidents and schemes… and sympathetic pharmacies.” Rooted, rustic, running so deep and lingering in flavour. The fruit sweet, the roots bitter, the memory luscious. Red electric honey. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted June 2015 @
A combination of vintage and one extra year’s time conspire to elevate the ’08 to a realm habituated by the callasthetic. Perception dreams up the magnetic, le beau ideal, from red fruit and energy, to defeat the volatile and the hungry. A tart, juicy, highly expressive Pinot Noir bred from a limestone ooze more scintillant than polish. Yet another 2008 County Pinot Noir to hit the seven year mark with an exactitude of response. In the County, well made Pinot planted in the right location will travel a septenary path. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June 2015
Unfiltered Pinot Noir chosen from the best barrels. This ’09 is such a pretty dog, drinking through unseasonably warm temperatures with the top down. All about the pulchritude, prepossessing and with blanketing comfort by barrel. Though persistent in its sylvan, inelastic, smoky constitution, the Top Dog is a sight, smell and sweet suggestion to behold. Will drink and drive this way for a few more years. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June 2015 @
Despite the tougher, cooler vintage, this ’08 is so much prettier than its ’09 successor, in part due to the extra year of settling. There is a sweetness about it and the limestone bleed is less hematic, decreasing in medicinal-honey, silky soft in texture and exfoliating that aforementioned seven-year PEC Pinot Noir wisdom. That in itself is the leading candidate for yet another 2008 to show best in 2015. It’s uncanny really, all these seven-year wines acting in synch as a partisan, best in show troop. Though volatile (aren’t they all) the Top Dog shines well within reason and exudes such enervating, renewable and reusable energy. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted June 2015
A lithe County 12.1 per cent alcohol, clear as a gaze across Wellington Bay on a clear day and like the Top Dog, a cold-soaked and cool fermented Pinot Noir. Also repeats the LD stratagem of 28 months spent in French bilion oak barrels. The Otto shows its wood like a placard with censored fruit, funky etchings and the same terse firmness that expresses the eastern PEC limestone ester of its grounding. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted June 2015
Mercurial to quite a vivid degree with a silky palate. Another entertaining and intriguing window from which to peer into the variable Pinot Noir attempts of Prince Edward County past. Drink 2015. Tasted June 2015
Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (225748, $21.95, WineAlign)
Influential exhibition for the ’09 double R Pinot Noir, in a sea of peers ranging from 2007 to 2009. Examples displaying more density, power, heavy petting and hue may hover and solicit love, but it is this Rosehall Vineyard that steals the drink me and enjoy show. It is simply less rigid and though some strikes have gone against it in a “tough on you kid” way, it has persevered to hit one out of the park. This is right where it needs to be. Pure, fluid, effortless and smooth. “Such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution.” Great swing. A splendid splinter. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2015
Tight, bracing, cured by its own development and topped with a grating of fine chocolate. Crack acidity adds an estimable, ornate layer. The surcease is held at bay in a 10 year old Cabernet Franc made at a time when it was by no means in varietal fashion. Not just spinning remarkably well but standing on a podium to receive its varietal emeritus professorship. The cool, savoury middle and relevant woody notes carry this through. Wonderful historical gaze, luck or not Dan Sullivan. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted June 2015
A blend of 60 per cent Niagara and 40 per cent County fruit. Separate ferments were treated to vinifications for 12 months in French oak barrels, blended and put back to oak for a further six months. The L from nine is in beautiful tender demand. Though a firmness persists the future is viewed through this short window of the past. Lucent and lustrous County submits to matted and shadowy Niagara. The play is a one way ticket in 2009 so enjoy this soon and sooner. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted June 2015 @
From the artist formerly known as, here a peer into the past of The Grange of Prince Edward, a Pinot Noir that ingratiates not because it resembles, imitates or intimates anything, or any derived character from some endemic tradition, but because it has developed. Evolved from light and astringent into something other; something that resembles earthy, vegetal tar spread like confiture on a limestone slab of toast. Pleasure is not the operative but learning is. At $16.95 that would have been a small price to pay to wait seven years and see what’s up. I can promise that the 2022 Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir will be better for the education. Drink now. Tasted June 2015 @
Most of the 2007 County Pinot Noir I’ve tasted have fallen by the longevity wayside by the age of eight and many of those even before that mark. There was considerable heat in ’07 and the young PEC Pinot industry was not yet equipped to make proper élevage plans for the future. This CCV has lost its lustre, run amok of fruit and is now relegated to the acidity heap of methane exhalation. A current score is kind of meaningless and keep in mind this must be imagined having breathed out bright cherry fruit earlier in life. Drink 2015. Tasted June 2015 @
Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)
Firm, tannic and drying. Early in life there would have been sun on fruit but now, of a yawning, a void come into being, as chaos. Drink 2015. Tasted June 2015
Keint He St. Laurent 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)
Very pretty. Think about the prearrangement, talk about the passion. St. Laurent planted in PEC, forwarded eight years in pro tempore for Pinot Noir or whatever other varieties have already left the building. Are you kidding me? Like adult candy. Firm but soft and sweet to the touch. Like tart raspberries and demystified currants. Amazing. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted June 2015 @
A wine made by Geoff Heinricks from a time when everyone wanted and expected to make great Pinot Noir. A retrospective in 2015 shows that few actually succeeded but this, this is something other. A sweet, lithe and focused piece of history. The smoky hue and character rouses in vaporous waves. Getting high off this Pinot Noir seems not entirely out of the question. From stone roses to fully solarized, the browning is but a natural evolution, amazing, with dillling to dialled in raspberry moments. Little Creek sings “I could astound you if I wanted, I wouldn’t even have to try.” A moment of County found by the viticulture founder of the County. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015.
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel