Monday, May 19, 2008

Report from - Terroir, Prince Edward County ... May 17, 2008

There are two big events in the County these days. One is Taste!, which usually occurs in October (this year it has been moved to September 27 so as not to conflict with Thanksgiving) – where (it seems like) all the restaurants come out, pair themselves with a winery, cidery or brewery and tickle your tastebuds with culinary treats. The other is called Terroir … a festival that emphasizes the wineries, food takes a backseat (although still used as a fun pairing partner here). Terroir celebrates the soil in which these grapes are grown and shows what this young wine region is truly capable of. Noticeably absent from this year’s Terroir celebration was the Grange, Rosehall Run, and Long Dog, but everybody else is here from the big names and well-established (Norman Hardie, Huff and Carmela) to the little guys just starting out (Bergeron, Harwood and Sugarbush) – each with a few wines to pour and a story to tell. This festival really shows how far the County has come and also how far it has to go … for every outstanding wine there is something mediocre, and for every “wow” there’s an “oh”. “We’re a young industry, we’re still trying to get our bearing,” one winemaker told me. “We still have to see what works and what doesn’t in the vineyard. We know we can do good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but we’re all experimenting – this wine region is not for the feint of heart.” I would say that is true for both grower/winemaker and consumer. When it comes to Prince Edward County I’ll take the good with the bad, because it all equals exciting times in wine country.

Let’s start our look at the Wow’s of Terroir with a winery that’s also a cidery. The County Cider Company & Estate Winery makes an amazing peach cider, but that’s not what they were here to plug. Today it was all about The Fool on the Hill, their new upper echelon line of wines, a Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, made by winemaker Jenifer Dean from 100% county fruit. Of these two wines the 2007 Pinot Gris is the standout with its light peach juice colour, from the 14-hours of skin contact. Great nose of poached pears, mandarin orange and peach iced tea; the palate proved just as enticing, with apples, lemon and a beautiful pear mid-section … wonderfully refreshing.

A pregnant (due in 4 weeks) Catherine Langlois of Sandbanks Winery, showed real dedication to her art and her winery – laughing and smiling her way through some obvious discomfort. She was thrilled with her second bottling of 2006 Baco Noir ($14.95) which showed real character and charm with wild black cherries, vanilla and a lasting black cherry finish. But this big red couldn’t compete with, what I believe to be, her best Riesling to date: the 2007 Riesling ($15.95) – she has made 3 Rieslings so far. The nose is lusciously loaded with peaches, apples, floral and melon … it’s fresh and lively – while in the mouth honeydew reigns supreme with lemon-flower on the back palate – delicious.

A new winery called Bergeron Estate Winery, owned, operated and wines made by Dave Bergeron, is located “on the shores of Adolphus Reach, just east of Glenora Ferry on Loyalist Parkway.” Coming from the east they are the gateway to Prince Edward County, along with 3 other wineries that will be opening in the area soon. Bergeron’s 2006 Pinot Noir sold out in less than a month and his Gamay is well on its way to doing the same. My next trip to the County will include a stop over at Bergeron’s because I just have to see where these wonderful wines are being made. Dave makes a label distinction between County fruit wines (white label) and outside fruit wines – Niagara, etc – (black label). The white labeled 2006 Vidal ($15) is fruity, melony and mac apple-y, light and refreshing in the mouth with more melon and white-peach. The black label 2006 Chardonnay ($18.00) is made with a deft hand and knowledge of what the consumer is looking for. The wooding is light (6 months for 30% of the wine – in French oak) – the vanilla and butter from the wood come through on the front palate, while the middle-to-end is all fruit. But the piece-de-résistance has got to be the 2006 Gamay (100% County – white label) lightly oaked, with only 20% of the wine aged in new French oak for a “limited time”, the nose is faint with blackfruit and a touch of vanilla – but it’s on the palate where all the fun and finesse happens: strawberry, raspberry, touch of black cherry and a little white pepper at the end … it got better and better with each sip. A Gamay for chilling or room temp drinking, either way it’ll be delicious going down.

My friend, Norman Hardie, informs me that he only had 100 cases left of his best Chardonnay of 2006 (in my opinion) – the 2006 Chardonnay sans Barriques ($25.00) – simplicity is the key to this wine, and it has never tasted so good. Grapefruit and melon on the nose which follows onto the palate adding a bit of peach and some great mineral notes. This wine really shows the beauty of the fruit without the barrel running interference between the tank and the bottle. I’m told there’s a Riesling on the way that should rival the 2005 Riesling (now sold out) that I raved about a few years back. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

Another new winery, Sugarbush Vineyards, shows great promise for the future with their 2007 Riesling and 2007 Gewurztraminer made from all County fruit grown in their own vineyard. The Riesling was all melon and peach on the nose with a round mouth that brought forth white peach flavours. The Gewurztraminer is textbook, floral, melon and spicy on the very pretty nose; tastes were soft on the rose petal with a lemon rind finish. Both wines are a one on the sugar code and both retail for $15.80.

Bella Vigne brings out their 2007 Leon Millot/Foch in a very fresh and lively version. Originally, I was told it was unoaked, but later learned, from winemaker Pat Del-Gatto, that half of it saw 5 months of medium toast French oak, while the other half was “slow fermented”. Pat has done another wonderful job with this blend (a 50/50 mix of each grape) – black cherry in the mouth and a touch of pepper on the finish, while on the mid-palate you’ll also find a little cranberry tartness.

Finally, in my Wine and Cheese Show review you may have read a little about Harwood Estates; well I got a sneak peak of their soon to be released 2007 St. Laurent ($18.95) from winemaker John Fricker. This is an easy sipping red with Pinot-ish flavours. That’s because the wine was aged 3 months in used Pinot Noir barrels (the Pinot came out, the St. Laurent went in); so lots of regular and sour cherry flavours, red berries and especially raspberry … quite lovely.

If you are asking where my notes on Huff are, you’ll have to wait, an “In the Cellar” article is coming in one of the July issues of the OntarioWineReview newsletter, but for now I’ll tide you over with these two reviews: 2007 Rosé and the 2007 Riesling Off-Dry.

Just like when I was a kid writing letters to grandma and grandpa, I am using the old standby P.P.S. here, as I bring you a final final comment (or plug if you will). Chocolate fans listen up. Although not a part of Terroir, I stumbled upon a chocolate shop in Wellington thanks to my chance encounter with Rob Peck of Sugarbush Vineyards. He directed me to Copper Kettle Chocolate Company, where within 5 minutes I plunked down $20 on an array of flavoured chocolate barks, and sampled about $10 worth of other scrumptious goodies. Chocoholics beware, this place may be your downfall … but what a tasty plummet to the dark side it was.

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