A continuation of Taste Camp North: Part One. TasteCamp North was a weekend-long wine blogger event in Niagara. We tasted many, many wines and learned about a young, growing, and exciting wine region.
Early Saturday morning, after a little snafu with a long Starbucks line (TasteCampers need their caffeine!), we boarded a bus (generously provided by Wine Country Ontario) and headed to Tawse Winery, situated on the Niagara Escarpment. A glass of rosé in hand, we took a walk through the vineyard with winemaker Paul Pender. Watching the winery’s black dog happily frolicking through the vineyard with gleeful abandon, I was charmed.
Paul spoke about terroir, which he believes is much more than just a marketing concept. Tawse practices organic and biodynamic farming, taking special care of their vines and their soil. They try to intervene as little as possible when dealing with their grapes. Interestingly, the process of getting the grapes into the winery is all done using gravity, eliminating the need for a pump and allowing for a more gentle treatment of the grapes. They use a very slow pressing process of 8-10 hours, which according to Paul gives a finer, cleaner juice and a more pure expression of terroir.
In the cellar, we did a comparative tasting of two samples of 2009 Chardonnay, one from the Quarry Road vineyard and the other from Robyn’s Block. Both wines were made the same way, so it was telling to see the role terroir played in the final wine, even with two sites that are relatively close together such as these. One sample had more of a mineral character, the other had more natural sweetness, and both were very pleasing. We also tried a nicely perfumed and refreshing 2010 Quarry Road Gewürztraminer, a certified biodynamic wine. Tawse is also making some really interesting Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Definitely a Niagara winery to watch out for, in my opinion.
Next it was on to Vineland Estates Winery, a beautiful property. There was a wedding going on when we arrived, so I guess I’m not the only one who finds it picturesque. Unfortunately the rain didn’t make any allowances for TasteCamp, and winemaker Brian Schmidt was touchingly dismayed when we had to abandon the planned walk through the vineyard and head inside. But he recovered admirably and gave an interesting talk.
Vineland is making some stellar Riesling, sourced from their St. Urban vineyard. Winery founder Hermann Weis, who perhaps not surprisingly came from Germany’s Mosel region, first planted Riesling in 1979. These days Brian Schmidt is a strong believer in aged Rieslings (a belief I fully support), and Vineland has a decent stock of aged Riesling for sale. It’s a refreshing approach – I wish more wineries kept aged wines up for sale. Brian even pulled out a 1989 Riesling for TasteCamp attendees to try. It was holding up really well, with a nice complexity, flavors of toffee and petrol, a bit of old cheese, and some slightly (pleasing) oxidative notes. A couple sips, and I was in love.
You hear a lot about Chardonnay in connection with Niagara, but personally I preferred the Rieslings, with Thirty Bench and Vineland leading the pack. I also really enjoyed Vineland’s Cabernet Franc, especially the 2005 Reserve with its flavors of red fruit, mocha and tobacco, and their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon icewine, with its notes of strawberry and rhubarb. If you’re ever in Niagara check out Vineland: it’s a lovely experience.