Tastecamp Day 3: US Niagara, Carmelo’s, Arrowhead & Freedom Run

Carmellos Grand Tasting

Many of us started this damp Sunday with getting lost on the very short trip to Lewiston. Once we finally arrived at Carmelo’s Restaurant, we were greeted by several local wineries set up in the bar part of the restaurant. Below were some of the attendees and wines:

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards: Most of the reds poured were very nice examples, but the 2009 Pinot Noir and 2008 Estate Syrah both stood out for me.
Chateau Niagara Winery: While I didn’t like the nose of the 2009 Riesling, it had a nice citrus mouth and finish.
Freedom Run Winery: Really liked the Estate Cabernet (65% Cab Franc, 35% Cab Sauv). Light nose, with dominant fruit with a long smooth finish and tannins to hold the fruit in check. They also had a fruit forward Pinot Noir from 07 that, while lacking the characteristic Pinot nose, was a very enjoyable wine. Debbie really enjoyed the TBA Riesling.
Leonard Oakes Estate Winery: The 2010 Estate Riesling had bright acidity & crisp minerals which tamed the initial sweetness on the palate. The 2009 Estate Riesling had much more lemon/grapefruit and the finish was tart citrus, again balancing the slight sweetness. Both very nice wines! The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir barrel sample had a great combination of fruit and spice, with a light funkiness on the nose that was not off-putting.
Schulze Vineyards & Winery:2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve had both green and black pepper on the nose. Fruit was nicely balanced with the tannins.
Victorianbourg Estate Winery: 2008 Estate Meritage (60% Merlot, 40% Cab Franc) had a great vanilla nose and nice mix of both varietals on the palate.

There were a few other wineries represented, including a fruit winery, but my palate was already getting exhausted at this point. For me, this was the first time I tasted some wines that didn’t resonate with me, especially the fruit wines which I found way too sweet. We had a great brunch menu served at Carmelo’s including char, and egg/bacon/potatoe scramble with lots of goodies which really hit the spot after a round of tasting.

Carmelos Brunch

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards

Afterwards, we headed out for a short 20 min drive to Arrowhead Spring Vineyards. Owners Duncan and Robin Ross had set up a tent outside and had prepped for an outdoor event (too bad the weather wasn’t cooperating). In spite of the proximity, they seemed to have significantly further bud growth at this time than what we had seen on the Canadian side. We huddled around the propane heater as Robin explained

Robin Ross

some of the history of the vineyard and how they came to be a winery. Like the Canadian side of Niagara, their land used to be lakebed eons ago and the underneath the soil is dolomitic limestone (they often find shells and fossils in the soil). Robin explained how the original vineyard had the posts driven by hand and the layout of the vines (all dug by hand). Later expansion was done with laser-guided automatic system which gave them straighter rows, although it was hard to see the difference.

While Robin was talking we sampled their 2009 Pinot Gris which had a bright citrus nose, and a dry, crisp palate with hints of banana lingering afterwards. At this time the heater gave out and we headed for the production room to continue our tasting.

In the production room (garage under the tasting room) we then tried 2 variants of their 2010 Syrah. The first was barrel-fermented and I found it much lighter, brighter, and more of a fruit aspect than the tank (plastic) fermented which had much deeper colours and chalky tannins on the finish. The 2010 Pinot Noir barrle sample had the deepest purple colour you could imagine and did not resemble Pinots from the other Niagara. It will spend 12-18 months in oak before it is released. Next up was the 2008 Cab Franc which has been aged in New York state oak (Duncan mentioned it had spent the last year outside). It had light green pepper (vegetal) notes after the fruit.

When asked about enzymes and fining, Duncan explained that he uses ColourPro for colour extraction (which might explain the purplish colour to the Pinot) and bentonite for fining the whites only. All the reds are un-filtered and un-fined. He will use oak chips during fermentation in the Cab Franc to reduce the bell pepper nose that can be prominent.

Next we tried the ’08 Cab Sauv. This had really nicely balanced fruit and integrated tannins – very lovely drinking now or could hold for another year or two. Last, we sampled the ’09 Meritage. A blend of Cab Sauv (44%), Cab Franc (18%), and Merlot (38%), this was the smoothest wine of the reds. There are still strong, drying tannins present but dominant fruit means that this should age well for years to come. It was a nice blend with both chocolate and vanilla notes following the fruit. We finished with a Vidal icewine that spent 9 months sur lie and then aged for 6 months in Hungarian oak barrel – it added a really nice dimension to what can be a syrupy icewine.

For a small operation, they have amassed quite an array of varietals on offer. Arrowhead is making some very nice wines and I think they are one to watch over time.

Freedom Run

We repeated a mini-tasting session at Freedom run with Leonard Oakes & Schulze Wines set up with a more extensive offer than they could fit in at Carmellos. Winemaker Jonathan Oakes and Wendy “Wine Wench” Wilson from Leonard Oakes explained that they are still experimenting with a bunch of varietals now, with 18 varietals planted on their 15 acres. About 50% are vinifera, the other half hybrids. With sandy soil and the furthest east of the wineries, they are slightly cooler. Leonard Oakes also demonstrated their cider capabilities with one comprised of 12 varieties of apple.

Leonard Oakes

Schulze Wines has more gravel in their vineyards and converted from Concorde grapes to vinifera, with some of the earliest vines (Siegfried) being planted in 1980. The Siegfried Riesling was very interesting with pineapple and sweet fruit aromatics much more present than traditional citrus.

Last but not least, Bryan Calandrelli filled in for Freedom Runs Cellarmaster and walked us through several flights of wines including the new 2010 whites, and barrel samples (6 different) of 2010 Pinot Noir.

Bryan Gives History of Freedom Run

Although originally a small vineyard of 10 acres (all planted, about 4 acres of Pinot), Freedom Run purchased an additional 45 acre Pinot vineyard last year giving them a lot of fruit. Almost all reds will spend 3 years in the barrel. Bryan claimed no enzymes were used but these 2010 barrel samples were of unbelievable colour and depth – much heavier and full bodied than out traditional Pinots and more like those form California. Bryan explained that the US public prefers this style over the lighter European (and Ontario) style. This winery is poised to become a major player – the size of the vineyards and the investments in the infrastructure make them the largest operation we saw.

Freedom Run

And if the busy (wet Sunday afternoon) tasting room is any indication, they are well on their way.

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