It was December of 2016 when I last sat down to taste with Mackenzie Brisbois of Trail Estate Winery. With the first year anniversary of her inaugaral wine release having recently passed and the 2017 (Prince Edward) County in the City tasting coming up this Thursday, it seems as good a time as ever to revisit and publish my tasting notes on her multifarious ’15s. I had previously tasted a 2015 group of skin-contact riesling and sauvignon blanc in April 2016.
Related – No County for old wines
Brisbois’ concentration bordering on infatuation incites a summons to contest with the fruit reaped out of two Niagara vineyards, one farmed by Ed Hughes on the Lincoln Lakeshore and the other by Craig Wismer from his Wismer Vineyards Foxtrot Block on the Twenty Mile Bench. While time develops Trail Estate’s plantings in Prince Edward County and the fruit that will eventually come, these iconic Niagara Peninsula plots more than suffice and for what Trail Estate needs to say today. In fact I don’t envision Mack Brisbois moving on from these two sites any time soon, what with her triumvirate expressions focused on skin contact, wild ferments and barrel aging. It seems that riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, these vineyards and the Brisbois experimental style were all made for one another.
Which elicits my response to the question you are chomping at the bit to ask. Come on I know it’s what you are thinking. Why are these wines so expensive? Why pay $25-$35 for Niagara fruit bottled in Prince Edward County? Why pay a premium for speculative and probationary wines from a small up and coming estate not yet on the commercial radar? For any Ontario wine for that matter? These are all good, valid and ignorant questions.
First of all, these wines are made in minuscule quantities by a small group of passionate, risk-taking, acumen-exceptional people. The fruit is expensive, whether it travels three hours east from Niagara or not. Great winemakers to be have to hone their craft on something while they wait for their own gardens to grow. A rock star in waiting will earn stripes by purchasing fruit and turning water in wine. Most important to remember is the honesty of what’s inside their bottles, how in spite of their experimental nature they are so f-in clean, pure and drinkable. It’s also amazing to note that Brisbois is fully cognizant (and readily forthright) about the mistakes she made (and allowed others to make) in growing, fermenting and finishing these wines and how she would correct them going forward. These wines represent just the tip of her proverbial winemaking iceberg, of what’s to come when she gets really, really good at this. Not that she isn’t already but risks, mistakes and epiphanies will all combine and conspire to lead her and her labels to greatness. Are you reading me?
Here are the six wines tasted with Brisbois on that early winter’s day.
The sourcing is 100 per cent Niagara fruit that was previously allotted to the estate’s Vintner’s Weiss, here with six months extra wait time (in very old 500L barrels). Typically potpourri floral with lemon zest spritz in the air but also masculine musky. Not so strong like the passing herd of Ovibos moschatus but it’s there. The palate is all tight turns down tart alleys, fleshy and rippling. The textural breadth is key to keeping this Musqué from turning medicinal because a return to the aromatics finds expression in language often spoken by gewürztraminer or viognier. The talk of Muscat, or Musqué. There were 64 cases produced. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted December 2016
Mackenzie Brisbois spins some old world order on her riesling from Niagara’s Foxcroft Vineyard. It begins like every other in stainless steel but is then transferred to old 500L and 225L barrels, travels over the full malolactic threshold and is finally bottled unfiltered. This is not exactly a rogue approach but it is certainly throwback experimental. Is it an atypical, mad scientist outtake? Perhaps. But it is less unusual than her previous skin-contact series, invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl rieslings. In 2015 there is an amalgamated, pretty little funk, and lemon like you’ve not nosed before. At once expectedly oaky (in an old way) but now settling down, beautifully arid, preparing the nest for a life of comfort. The stoic nature of riesling is acclimatized with a meagre 1.5 g/L of RS and indiscernible sulphur. Was bottled in November. Timbered Trocken at its finest. A total of 125 cases produced. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted December 2016
A blend of vineyards, from Ed Hughes and (Wismer) Foxcroft, perhaps with some influence under the lingering auspices of the Norman Hardie school, here in the playful and progressive hands of Mack Brisbois. Mackenzie employs no sulphur at processing, allowing for chardonnay efficacious and liberally oxidized, settled, cold stabilized, non bentonite-affected, chilled and racked. Not lost is the ever-commented process of going at it with wild ferment, but also caution thrown to the wind via no temperature control (but yes on the Hughes fruit), with the final end game in search of and wanting a fruity Chablis side. Done up in half stainless plus 50 old 500L and two 225L barrels. The sulphur was added in October, the full malo achieved and then bottled in November. All of this technical mumbo-jumbo to say there is still quite a creamy, leesy, oaky feeling but like some others in Niagara (Robyn’s Block, Oliveira and Aberdeen) it totes great palate texture and a “fruitiness,” but it’s not fruity. It may not recreate the Chablis fruit to mineral purity but it is a righteous, proper and Niagara purity fashioned in PEC. There are 266 Cases. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted December 2016
This off-dry riesling was de-stemmed and steeped under 24 hours of skin contact, pressed and wikked by wild ferment. “Stopped on taste” notes winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois which turned out to be off-dry, at 19 g/L of RS. The skin contact confuses the perceived sugar levels “so if the mark was breached, so be it. I just realy liked where it was at.” Besides, the wine did it’s own thing, essentially, by and by and in presentation of itself. A very Mosel nose with no aromatic sweetness really and acidity to temper the sugar crawling across the palate. Carries a concrete feeling despite the stainless regimen and nary a tropical fruit or custardy cream moment intrudes. The orchard meets late August Niagara stone fruit is all that concerns. Darn delicious riesling. There were 120 cases made. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted December 2016
More than OK I must say about this baco noir of resolute and absolute crush ability. Whether against or not against her will I cannot say but Mackenzie Brisbois must be the first to commercialize the musky and foxy hybrid in such a way, with carbonic maceration plus yeasts for eight days and the sugar arrested at at 5 g/L. TE released this antithetical BN on on Nouveau day but there were only 30 cases made. It is without a doubt the prettiest of nouveau and of all the bacos ever. There is no fizz, no re-ferment and it is very drinkable. A stable, dark fruit vetted, better than many gamay, thirst-quenching drink. A South African Jurgen Gouws Intellego meets Jacques de Klerk Thirst by way of baco noir in Prince Edward County. Fun, juicy, easy. Well done. Drink 2016. Tasted December 2016
Trail Estate Cabernet Franc Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Barrel Sample)
Not bottled yet, this mason jar barrel sample is from a Wismer single-vineyard (Foxcroft). It will be pulled from (one new of six and the rest 13s and 14s) barrels this coming week but as of yet unsulphured it already has that slightly sulphured and coarse filtered feeling. Beautiful dark fruit has aromatically blossomed from being open a few days and this really speaks of of that rarely achieved Niagara cabernet franc imposiibility. Soil-clay funky, so pure and precise. Carries that feign of sweetness, low alcohol, depth but so not heavy and plenty of spice. There will be 100-120 cases. $30ish.
Good to go!