This is the 4th post in a series on the upcoming Terroir event in Prince Edward County (Details here). The complete series so far looks like this:
Battista mans the tasting bar at Hubbs Creek as Michelle, Debbie and I get to taste!
If you haven’t met Battista (John) Calvieri of Hubbs Creek Vineyard, you are missing out on a wonderful experience. He’s warm, down to earth, and exudes an amazing passion for the wine he is producing. My friend Michelle Dewar said it best with her Facebook post after our first meeting:
And why do we love going to Prince Edward County to buy wine directly from the makers? Well, there is nothing quite like driving into a vineyard and having the winemaker, weathered in his mud caked jeans and wide brimmed hat, come out to enthusiastically greet you at your car. He is eager to tell you everything from how he winters his vines to his business philosophy. He is so amiable and passionate that you know you will have to make a purchase even if his wine is awful because you could never hurt his feelings. But then you do a tasting. And, oh my goodness, the wine is as delightful as he is. Every bottle we drink will carry that experience forward. Love it.
I visit more wineries and experience way more great wine than I have time to write about, but I was still surprised wen I realized that I had never written about Battista or Hubbs Creek. This, despite it being one of my “must stop” winery recommendations for everyone since I discovered the place last May. As Michelle says, it was the combination of warmth, passion, and fantastic wines that just makes for such an amazing place to visit.
Simple but effective quonset hut is home to Hubbs Creek
When I ask Battista about this transition from grape growing to winemaking, his answer is clear: “Grape growing is the most important component in winemaking”. He adds “Root stock selection and vigour control produce the right size of fruit…winemaking is just an extension as one flows into the other”.
With first vines planted in 2001, Battista and brothers Joe and Nick didn’t have access to a lot of resources available at the time (although Battista gives full marks to Geoff Heinricks for a lot of the advice they did receive). They had some hard learnings along the way. When pressed for an example, Battista tells me of buying an underpowered tractor. It wasn’t until they lost a lot of vines from winter kill that they realized this small tractor didn’t have enough power to hill up the vines properly.
Battista has always wanted to make wine, but with a couple of rough years when the vines matured (2004/2005), things were delayed. In years 2006-2008, they sold grapes to Norm Hardie, an arrangement that worked well for both parties. In 2007 Battista reserved some grapes for himself and made a Pinot Noir which he entered in the Pickering Wine Guild’s amateur competetion. The wine beat out all others for Gold, even though he was competing against other amateur winemakers using grapes from California. He knew he was on to something.
Battista explains the wine Deb is sampling as I write notes
In 2009 he saved between 1 & 2 tons for his first vintage, operating as a virtual out of Hinterland’s facilities (using their license). The wine was a hit and in 2010 they got their own winery license and put up the Quonset hut that is their winery today. Battista admits that the Quonset hut isn’t the most attractive building, but it is very functional and inexpensive, a quality appreciated by family-run wineries. Battista thinks that opening and operating a winery should be affordable and open to anyone that has that passion.
There had to be surprises in the move from grape gower to winemaker, and Battista is quick to point out two key things he hadn’t expected. The first thing he mentions is that he didn’t realize how much he would love the smell of the winery when fermentation is under way – he is “…still surprised how sweet it is!”. His second surprise? When someone visits the winery and tastes one of his wines and really enjoys it – “…eyes wide open enjoys it!”. He mentions my first visit to the winery last year as an example of this. We talk about how wine is art, and how wine and food are very similar and evoke such visceral responses in people when done well.
I mention that Battista exudes such a passion for what he does. His responds that there isn’t a lot of money in grape growing or winemaking, and no one should get into it if they don’t share that passion for it. A farmer at heart, he loves the entire process – from flower to fruit set to harvest, and takes me back to my friend Michelle’s quote at the top of this post. We talk briefly about this cold winter and he tells me that although there will undoubtedly be some damage to the vines, he’s seen some lively lime green on the one cane he has dug up. He mentions 2013 as a rough year, with production down 40% or so due to the wet weather in the spring that resulted in poor berry set.
Battista draws a sample of his 2012 Pinot Noir.
I ask if he thinks there is anything special about his terroir. Battista says the County is so young and unexplored (in terms of winemaking) that it is hard to tell. He credits the Hillier clay loam being great for Burgundian wines, and notes that he has about 3 feet of this on top of the limestone, which might be unique. He again mentions Heinricks and the high density planting, location and rootstock – creating the perfect competitive environment that drives the roots deeper, unearthing more of the famous County minerality.
So what’s next? Battista tells me that his first Chardonnay should produce this year, adding ~200 cases to the 300 they produced last year (~100 cases of Pinot Gris, ~200 cases of Pinot Noir). He’s also planting another 1100 vines this year – again all Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, explaining “look at Europe…farmers concentrate on certain varieties that do well in their climate”. Having tasted several of Battista’s wines in my visit last May, I can only say that this thinking has served Hubbs Creek very well indeed.
All photos in this article provided by my good friend Andrew Weber, who just happens to be married to Michelle who I quoted above. We travel to wine country together when our schedules mesh.