It’s a tale of two vineyards really, the Grand Cru of Neudorf and the upstart Queylus. Two inexorable blocks, where careers were forged and fortunes, cerebral or cash otherwise await. Diagrammatic Niagara lieu-dits inhabited both by the minds and plied hands of families, winemakers and vested interested Québécois investors in search of the finest terroir from which to extract memorable wine.
One thing I’m getting used to is the unconventional order at a Thomas Bachelder tasting. It’s almost Joycean, a sort of syllogistic stream of consciousness systematization and yet please, do not for a moment think there is a complete absence of premeditated cumulative ratiocination. There most certainly is a method to Bachelder‘s madness. The decision on what to open or thief from next is not so much an implementation of sequence as much as a reaction to how the previous decant tasted and of what concordance it shaped.
Domaine Queylus is a melting pot in Niagara from and for wine business royalty. The Neudorf family has long raised vines on their farm and now bottles an eponymous Pinot Noir called Big Farm. The French Canadian investors, les deux Gilles and partners have put their dollars into a Wine Country Ontario trust. Thomas Bachelder, the vigneron and poet who crosses and bridges the twain of provinces and wine, is the glue and the catalyst for the project.
Related – Synchronicity in three terrors
In mid-June, Dr. Jamie Goode and I were poised to judge at the 2015 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and so conspired to corner Thomas at the newly minted domaine. What happened next could not have been imagined. Thomas and winemaker Kelly Mason opened and thieved just about everything on site, out of bottle and from barrels in the cellar. It was a comprehensive visit for the ages and is the reason why it took me so long to commit it to these pages. Here it is.
Delicato of culatello comes to mind and curiously so for Pinot Noir, though truth be told, somewhere in the median between hind and first sight the Bachelder take for Queylus carves new territory for the Peninisula. The feel is both au naturel and cheer meets chic. In depths the full fruit may have cumbered, by strawberry crusted in dry clay and noticeable in pepper, grit and tannin. Equitable forces alight, from acidity that straightens the fruit in wisdom angling to the gustatory rear. Dance to this Pinot and heed its request, “if you don’t mind, would you please, get up off of your seat and repeat.” Drink 2016-2020. Tasted June 2015
The next grand level attained by painstaking blending into Pinot Noir promiscuity kindles in the flagship 2011 Pinot Noir. This despite its reservations to strut its stuff. This wine is like looking into a mirror of denial. The reflection will not give you what you want. It insists that you must wait and yet intuitively, in the air of aromatic and the blocks of structural extrapolation you just know that grand life hides behind the glass. The mirror will shatter, maybe not soon but eventually and the affirmation of quality will be written in the chards. This 2011 carries a distinct Neudorf smell, one only that particular vineyard breathes. Twenty Mile Bench elegance as a three syllabic word. Drink 2017-2023. Last tasted June 2015
From my earlier note of March 2014:
The Thomas Bachelder mentored, two-vineyard assemblage Grande Reserve Pinot Noir grinds more cracked pepper than any predecessor. Every barrel from the Lincoln Lakeshore (formerly Le Clos Jordanne’s, Neudorf Family La Petite Colline Vineyard) and the Twenty Mile Bench (Mountainview) appellations were scrutinized to determine the final blend. Bachelder sees black fruit in the early life yet despite the ebullient seasoning, the LGR’s genes are intrinsically feminine. Red cherry, tellus fertility and a mother’s strength hold the family of barrel children together. This is an ambitious and hard to read Pinot Noir. Judgement reserved for five years before the word classic will be used.
Richer and fuller to no one’s surprise, considering the vintage, with darkness clouding the fruit. This vintage seems to dig in deeper, to where crust, chalk, grain and density lay. A very earnest Pinot Noir in which elegance is investigated within the catchment of a hot year. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June 2015
The depths are plumbed to mine savour, a stratum of flavour and a purity of Pinot Noir fruit concentration. A mineral streaks through, twenty miles long, smouldering by charcoal, magnesium and yet is so pretty. That and a stecatta sweetness to bely what is and has been done so many times in the same paint by numbers way in Niagara. Finds its own accord and voice from both beauty and beast terroirs. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted June 2015
A remarkable congruence finds peace in which juicy hydration wraps and sloshes around a core of deeply resonant dry extract. Here the highest level of exceptionality is made possible by the thermohygrostatic control of both temperature and humidity. The achievement is not lost to find belief in Pinot Noir’s capability to unearth a sense of age in its youth. This ’12 has that impossibility factor from the outset. The waves of delicacy are like the gears of perfect machinery from somewhere in the early industrial age past. The red fruit aromas and flavours of strawberry will pass through the engine and slowly turn into compote, developing beauty with time and without any intrusions or additions. I wouldn’t call this Pinot Noir overly complex but it is so amazingly pure and will live long. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted June 2015
“These have been patiently aged in bottle for three weeks,” notes Thomas Bachelder as he pours the ’13 Pinots. The closed nose is not surprising, nor is the young adolescent anxiety, but the strawberry crush and brilliant acidity steals hearts. This is Pinot Noir of controlled tension, cool and just a bit sharp at the end. It will settle, gain control and perform with utter consistency. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted June 2015
Oh yes the vineyard speaks, like previous vintages but with clenched teeth and a hyperbole of natural yeast and soil funk. The most charcuterie salts and dehydrates from the middle sibling in 2013, with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. Then you will return, to this time that will be its past, when things were so different and the assessment a figment of later imagination. At least three years (and possibly five) will pass before things are set straight for this past to be revealed. The level of smarts and savvy riches are amplified in the Réserve 2013. It is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015
The top-tier Pinot Noir is quite fruit intense, but also sappy and uttered in soft, indecipherable if almost resolved words. That said the length traipses to somewhere distant, to a boundary no other Queylus Pinot Noir has yet made. As it is thought on, this wine climbs to that far away peak that can’t really be imagined. The wine lingers longer than the pen and like the sword, pierces with svelte pinpoint accuracy. The flavour profile is indescribable, neither fruit nor mineral dominant and not exactly earthbound either. The abstruse profile persists but can’t be named so like language, must go on and on. Time heeds no dissipation. The wine lingers forever. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted June 2015
“Now it’s a matter of a young vineyard in a young industry.”
In the Barrel Cellar
We begin in Pinot Noir Queylus west, “the less elegant side of the vineyard,” says Thomas. All fruit and grit and some tense innocence. In the centre aisle there are plans for the Reserve though if they are funky barrels they just might find their way into the Tradition. As we move from west to east through centre the dry extract and energy of Gardes Françaises increases, mated, duplicated and equivocated with that awesome, necessary and mobile Pinot Noir tension.
We are working across wooden houses, moving through the geographical slices of young vineyards, inoculated with wild yeasts and punched only out of dutiful exigency. In the east there are discernible differences, built by layers of fitness and a push-pull only finesse can exact. Tannic structure firms up and a deeper, richer sentimental grit performs on a stage of subterranean chalk and wooden grain.
Bachelder examines and determines with the intention to name each child as the tonnage in quantity, plot by plot, block by block and row by row increases, but also stabilizes. “We’ll know what we have then. Now it’s a matter of a young vineyard in a young industry.” In the far Queylus east (best) the hue persists and tension runs highest. Thoughts of consumption are most difficult here, most ambitious to wrap a brain around. These barrels are closed tight. Mise en masse, putting thoughts back into black.
In Neudorf West the light, free run juice is a sappy red flow pierced by limestone begat of a chalky bleed. “Most people punch down to get colour and weight,” shrugs Bachelder. “But where is the vineyard?” He goes on, “if we shorten our ferments we might be able to avoid malolactic for longer and do its own thing.”
In Neudorf centre the delicacy is emphasized while at the same time a fullness of flavour and also, mineral. Here there is mention of vineyard without the need to call it out. The representation is of a bigger picture, of a Niagara in venn circling around and of distant thoughts, to homelands, mentors and giants. The length in a taste here says Grand Reserve 2014. Good times.
Over to Neudorf est we go, drawing samples from two-year old Sirugue barrels, all dry extract and dehydrated cherry. Tar and an almost minor key of anise is the pique. Now add Queylus est to this and it loses some Neudorf nuance. What the…? Then add 10 per cent Neudorf new oak and boom! It becomes oxygenated. Pinot Noir is site. Don’t ever forget that. Merlot is blending and site.
The Bordeaux investigation
Queylus and not Neudorf fruit brings these bedfellows together, merging gravel and pepper with richness born of soil, not cake. The Alain Sutre varietal site selection in challenged and met, in the vintage. There are moments of cocoa and chocolate so the oak plays into the fray but petty and over the top are not on the agenda. The barrel fills in holes, never smacking upside the head. This early in the continuum the ’11 may not succeed like warmer ’10 and ’12 but with time the vintage variation pendulum will flip. Young, fine fruit builds from blocks and the future looks wide open. Subsequent cool vintages will impress to be sure, even be heartbreakers, “under them skies of blue.” Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015
A darker, warmer reduction, like fine, silky demi-glace rising and cascading as in a fountain of flavour. Possesses the drama of Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc excellence with an increase in pure cocoa butter, bike powered, stone ground chocolate and pure, decadent richness. The 2012 may lack a certain level of elegance that 2011 offered but wine must be made according to vintage. Thomas Bachelder and Kelly Mason have listened to the Queylus winds and followed ear worm orders. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted June 2015
In 2012 the varietal relationship is magnified, pursued with prejudice and made blatantly obvious. The Cabernet Franc does the heavy lifting, bringing out the lovely dust, fine aggregate and mulled berry aspects of the Merlot. Richness is Merlot deep. Length, depth and a serious zest for blended life emits from energy. This vitality begins in the clay soil and the pioneering vision of Mr. Alain Sutre. Thomas and Kelly have transmitted his identification for the Queylus site to be one of the great essential locales in the development of harmony and power for the Bordeaux in Niagara varietal treatise. This is the starting point for the plan. It’s also a wine that is a product of Pinot Noir winemakers and doubting Thomases. Because it goes ripe. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted June 2015
Domaine Queylus Merlot Grand Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
The wine had just been bottled so acted shocky, reductive and so massive it was nearly impossible to assess. Will reserve reviewing until another tasting.
From vines planted by soil guru Alain Sutre, two km’s from the lake, close to Green Lane. If you make a comparison to Bench sites, this is an understated, hyper elegant version of a Chardonnay. It’s an underdog, plain and simple. Sixteen months of élevage has raised a beautiful, bitter green dignity, pith nicety and polite terpenes. A child in many ways who’s offspring will only serve to honour the family name. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June and July 2015
Winemaker Thomas Bachelder combed the blocks of the lowland “villages” sites and in slow-forward cohorts with the most subtle barrels, came up with the cuvée for the Reserve ’13. The same percentage of new oak fed the fruit with love, time, juncture and encouragement. A creamy lustre careens into honey, giving retrospective cue to suckle and accumulating richness. What fortune to work with 2013 for the purpose of announcing a Queylus take on tiers of Chardonnay to the world. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted June and July 2015
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel