The winemaking at Ravine Vineyard is not so much deferential as much as it is a stylistic best described as post modern proletariat. Marty Werner’s modern enrichment often acts like subtraction, as opposed to traditional winemaking which effects the obvious, just and because less is more. His work reflects what once was (in turn of the century Niagara Peninsula) and upon what function emerged out of form, but also what could have been, from successes squeezed out of warm (2005, 2007, 2010) and from mistakes in challenging (2006, 2008, 2009) vintages. The current releases of 2014 and 2015 are wines of augmentation in the form of intensification in the structure rather than for weight or texture. Werner’s plebeian, blue-collar post-modernism is setting a new standard in Niagara. If his work (along with assistant winemaker Ben Minaker) can be viewed as sycophantic than all the better for the copycats and the apostles to hang on and around.
After a wild and multi-faceted chardonnay (plus) weekend down on the farms of Niagara’s flats, shores and across its escarpment benches, it is always the pleasure of pleasures to convene at Ravine Vineyard for a few oysters, a plate of great grub and more chardonnay. It is a time to breath and say another goodbye to the greatest collective consciousness of wine folk on the planet. Then Peter Gamble approaches. “We’re having a little impromptu tasting down in the cellar.” Marty and Ben lead a small group through these wines. We are captivated and motivated by their new work and their mini-vertical presentation. Ian D’Agata, John Szabo M.S., Michael Vaughan, Tony Aspler, Stephen Campbell, Magdalena Kaiser and I. Here are my notes.
In 2015 winemaker Marty Werner offers up 100 per cent barrel fermented sauvignon blanc aged in 10 per cent new (or just one barrel). The fruit comes from Concession Road 2 between lines 8 and 9, on heavy clay and only four year-old vines. The recovering vineyard is a microcosm for the overall Niagara recovery and the vintage allotted 250 cases when it normally produces upwards of 350. The 2015 ripeness stylistic is up front fruit from young vines. “A pick when you want to, not when you have to vintage” notes assistant winemaker Ben Minaker. Metallic peach and fennel pollen emit and you must appreciate a wine of such tartness on the back end, as opposed to sour patch up front. Stylish is the yeast (one third wild) understatement of the day. Says Werner, “we leave the fruit a bit dirtier coming out of the press,” so it gains some funky complexity, but no malo though. The acidity counteracts in the mid to high sevens. Lush antiquarianism is the end result. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016.
Some cheesy pungency notes the entry. Some edge of ripeness too. Tropical notes, full, fleshy, enervating and dangerously, precariously close to seed, oxidative even. But it teases and walks a blade’s edge. Lacks grassy middle ground (and again, that is a strength) but varietally speaking it may just be the most sauvignon blanc of any in the flight. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016
From a vintage of purportless rainfall, this is expressly (24 hour) skin-soaked pinot gris in candid desire of flavour more than and in second thought to hue. Subsequently sent to barrel for a wild ferment. Picked ripe (so 13.5 per cent alcohol), perhaps a result of, if not necessary from a vintage where mid-october pinot gris fruit was the exception and a last minute decision to bring in this fruit led to an earned foray for such a wine. Seven year-old fruit from (Marty’s parents farm on White Road) really floats a divergent varietal boat with six months of barrel time (25 per cent new). Frankly speaking, it carries such an air of benevolence so you would never know how alternative it really is. If there is a precursor or a reference point I stand at attention to be enlightened. Marty (winemaker Werner) and Ben (assistant winemaker Minaker) establish a new verity for pinot gris. There will be followers. This 2015 needed air, splashing and sloshing and it responded in kind. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted July 2016
Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019. Ravine’s Rosé spent the most minimal time on skins, from a posterior fruit position left out in the elements long and aided by leaf removal to break down the pyrazine. These were the second last grapes to pick (because the acidity is high in slightly overcropped fruit), on Slingerland Farm between lines five and six halfway up from Ravine to Highway 55. Though seemingly dry, the 6.0 g/L of RS is used “to bring it into balance for the consumer,” notes Marty Werner. This has some strawberry funk, as if it were macerated in a clay-calcaire bath, like balm as if steeped, cooled and poured over ice. It may be imagined as a saline, faintly honeyed berry granita with just the right amount of gelid texture alongside cool and savoury charcuterie. Simply put, what cabernet franc must be in warm niagara country. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016
Lonna’a Block alights straight out from the retail shop to the west side of the driveway (and is named for Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister). The site was planted in 2004 and here, 10 years on, its warm St. Davids’ Bench fruit is simply welling, hermetically sealed and antithetically intense. The block has come to this, in production of cabernet franc with side-splitting, tongue tripping acidity to work lightning crack geometry into the wood-derived chocolate and the ferric-tannic tension. The fissures are filled but there is the right kind of cabernet franc fragmentation. The liquid metal mineral and deep blackberry ooze is smooth and polished. The fruit was “picked early,” or if you will, in Grouxian, Gambleized and risk, Werner reward exercised terms, mid-November. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted July 2016
From the same (2004 planted) rows and stylistic as 2014 here cabernet franc desired the requiem of an extra year in bottle to solicit understanding, with a 2013 dried fruit component here and now. The resolve already inherent is indicative from a challenging growing season, in a year from which Peter Gamble chided “I guess you guys (Marty and Ben) really earned your stripes.” Some of these grapes were left on the vine until December 15th. That is not a stretch. This will live into the next decade and though it will surely walk into the barn with the balsamic, the soy and the nibs, it will carry its acidity and its 180-day, growing season development. A cabernet franc of most excellent desiccation, with thanks to thick skins and then variety’s variegated character. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted July 2016
From the block dedicated to Ravine owner Norma Jean Harber’s sister, planted in 2004. Though hailing from a recent, post-2010 reach for the sugar stars vintage, there is freshness and vitality mixed with a Napa cabernet from elevation sensibility (think Laurel Glen and Korbin Kameron). This has presence. Real stage presence, gracing the battleground encompassing an intensification of the things that people normally associate with the varietal – fruit, acidity and extract. A cabernet franc granted and given early promise that has crossed a certain varietally correct threshold to travel weightlessly into its current accomplished state. It knows who it is and where it’s going. It will live long. Five to seven, perhaps even 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July 2016
Good to go!