In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.
Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.
For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald Thiel, Angelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas Bachelder, Francois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.
Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.
For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.
The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.
Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:
Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:
Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:
The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:
Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.
Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at Stratus, Pillitteri, Hidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.
In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.
Wines were tasted at the following venues:
Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)
Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)
Southbrook Vineyards (SV)
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room (RMR)
Ravine Vineyard (RV)
Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.” 90 (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine
Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.” 90 (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine
Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous. 90 (VRIC) @liffordwine
Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile. 91 (RMR) @MarimarTorres
Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times. 91 (TH, VRIR, SV) @Tawse_Winery @Paul_Pender
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning. 91 (VRIC, RV) @WOSACanada
Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come. 92 (TH) @Pearl Morissette
Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance. 92 (VRIC, VRI)
Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak. 92 (CCOVI) @Bachelder_wines
Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy. Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay. 92 (RMR) @normhardie
Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.” 93 (RMR)
Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening. Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011? 93 (CCOVI)
Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding. 94 (RMR)
Good to go!