Our fourth planned stop of the March tour was to see Brian Schmidt at Vineland Estates. As a member of the Vineland Connections wine club, I had noticed that the February “shipment” was actually an invite to come into the winery and try a bunch of vintage releases on one of 2 weekends in February. You then selected your “shipment”. Being in Ottawa, popping in for the weekend was rather difficult so when I knew we were headed down, Brian and I exchanged too many messages (my fault, had my days all mixed up) and settled on a meeting day and time. Having seen hints of what was in the “library” last May at Tastecamp, I was eager to see what wines they were making available and had already pinned this as a highlight of the trip (it turned out there were a lot of highlights).
We love talking to Brian as not only is he full of energy and optimism, but I always come away knowing more than when I arrived. And Brian’s fan club expands throughout the the wine industry in Ontario – just that morning when we had met with Jeff Innes at Palatine, he had gone on at length about Brian’s skills and his ability to pull off great wine under any circumstances, wondering why he had never been named winemaker of the year. Brian greeted us in the showroom and surprised us with his opening statement when he informed us we weren’t going to be trying his aged Rieslings, but something different. You see, Brian knows already that I love the old Rieslings upon which time has imparted unusual characteristics…he was going to stretch my usual ways!
Glasses in hand, Brian whisked us off to the production area. My mouth watering already, I could see we were going to sample some of the new wines that were still in the tank. Here’s what we tasted:
2011 Chardonnay Musqué: Chardonnay Musqué is a clone of grape and the term Musqué itself means both perfumed (“musky”) and Muscat-like, and indicates that the variety or clone is highly aromatic. This is a fresh, fruit driven wine with tangerine and pear notes, and a bit of a floral nose reminiscent of spring fruit blossoms. Mid-palate, the wine is smooth and a bit creamy, almost as if it were lightly oaked (it wasn’t). There’s moderate amounts of refreshing acidity and minerality, making this a great summer patio wine. May release.
2011 Unoaked Chardonnay: I love the story of Brian serving the 2010 version of this at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration last year – while most wineries showed up with their high end reserve Chardonnays, Brian slipped in his $12.95 general list beauty…to rave reviews! Brian explains that he started with 2500 cases, went up to 4600 cases in 2010, and has now nearly doubled that to 8000 cases for 2011 because the wine is flying through LCBO and their own retail outlets. The 2011 continues with a similar nose and palate to the 2010 – fruit centered with sweet apples and citrus on the nose, tart apple and a grapefruit tartness on the palate. The acidity and minerality of the wines from the bench area always impress me and this one is no different with a bright finish that leaves the palate cleansed and ready for another sip. Another summer beauty and hopefully the $12.95 price from 2010 carries through to 2011.
Brian then popped the plugs off a couple of barrels. In a way reminiscent of the fantastic Riesling experience we had 1.5 yrs ago, we then sample Chardonnay’s done in 4 different styles, and finally a blend of the 4.
2010 Chardonnay (Bo-Teek Vineyard, New Oak): This one spent 7 months in new oak and shows the toasty, sweet spice notes on the nose. There’s still refreshing apple and citrus fruit on the palate although this one is showing some tannins in action from the new oak. Finish is medium-long and smooth fruit and tannins.
2010 Chardonnay (Bo-Teek Vineyard, Old Oak): The used oak imparts so much less of the characteristics of the barrel – almost like night and day. The fruit shines through on this one although it picks up enough oak to smooth out any rough edges in the wine. The finish is more fruit-dominant with decent acidity but nothing sharp or jarring. I prefer light oak treatments on my Chardonnay so I really enjoy this one.
2010 Chardonnay (Oliviera Vineyard, New Oak): A different vineyard, with the same new oak treatment demonstrates the difference terroir can make on a wine. This one is fleshier, with more body than the Boutique Vineyard. With a strong toast on this barrel, the oak is quite dominant (almost like a California Chardonnay) and pushes the fruit slightly to the background behind the caramel notes. Mouthfeel is full, round, and smooth, with a long oak finish.
2010 Chardonnay (Oliviera Vineyards, Old Oak): Like with the Boutique vineyard, this one shows remarkable change from the new oak to the used oak. The fruit is much more emergent, and the buttery caramel notes almost disappear, leaving their traces in the smooth mouthfeel. The body of this one rides solely on that fleshiness of the fruit rather than the oak treatment. The acidity is brighter and more refreshing, the finish shorter and more apple biased.
Blend of all 4: Wow! Is that enough of a description? With a crude blending, Brian manages to capture elements of each of the individual wines. The blend is fruit driven, smooth and creamy, with nice acidity and tannins. All components seem in perfect balance, with each sharing the spotlight as the wine passes from your nose to palate to finish. This is a Chardonnay I would stock up on!
Brian then mixed things up with a couple of red barrel samples:
2011 Cabernet Franc (Bo-Teek Vineyards): Many people don’t realize how difficult it was to harvest the reds in 2011, with the seemingly almost constant rain in the fall it was a challenge to get the fruit in between when it was ripe and when rot would set in. Yet this wine offers no hints at that challenge. With nary a trace of vegetal notes, one knows the fruit was fully ripe when harvested. And there’s no hint of wateriness which can occur when grapes become saturated. Brian noted that this is the juice that usually makes it way into the Elevation Series Cabernet. The nose of raspberries and light vanilla only hint at the juicy, fruit-filled wine beneath – raspberries, cassis, and sweet spice fill the mouth. Smooth vanilla tannins finish this one off.
2010 Cabernet Franc: Many people already know that Kevin O’Leary (of Dragon’s Den fame) is a big wine connoisseur. Fewer know that he is working with Vineland Estates to blend his a wine in his name (Brian said he was great to work with on the wine). Kevin’s wine would be 85% of this Cabernet Franc (blended with 15% Merlot). This Cab Franc was even juicier and more full bodied than the 2011, and all I could think of was fresh picked raspberries and vanilla custard as my nose met the wine. It was like the 2011 with 20% more of everything except the oak/vanilla notes which seemed lighter in the midst of the bolder fruit. Watch for Kevin’s wine…I have a feeling it’s going to be a hit!
Brian then takes us back to the tasting area where he has a box with a few wines in it. He takes great care to hide the bottles from us as he opens them and then pours us a sample of the first one, keeping the label hidden. We later see the labels and the wine. This is what we enjoyed:
1990 St Urban Chardonnay: The liquid is a deep, golden hue, not unlike honey. The nose is similar to those really old Rieslings, but still very different with more complexity. From a fairly cool year this one exhibits Apricot, and honeyed notes above the apple. As it warms in my hand I notice a nutty element like almonds. There’s no petrol/diesel to this one but I do detect secondary aromas of raisin-like fruit, spices, and a hint of oxidation (Sherry). He then showed us the bottle – Chardonnay! From 1990!
1998 St Urban Chardonnay: Brian notes that this one was from a hot, dry year, and it needs to be enjoyed soon. With raisins, marzipan – this wine exhibits quite a thick, sweet and smooth mouth. It really does have some (white) port-like characteristics to it and some nice mineral notes that carry through the finish that seems to go on and on. What makes this even more special is that this vineyard is now gone, having been replanted.
1998 Bench Chardonnay: The same hot year, but a different vineyard gves a nose of honey and beeswax, and a slight herbaceousness like a tomatillo. Very smooth again, it repeats some of the St Urban characteristics but a little more apple remains on this one. Again, a long lingering finish makes it hard to believe it is aged Chardonnay.
1999 St Urban Chardonnay: With this one coming from another cool year, Brian figures this one has 5 more years of life. There are stunning spice notes and the fruit is still dominant. A nicely balanced wine, the fruit, acidity, and tannins all seem to have mellowed lock-step, resulting in a beautiful, golden liquid that just amazes.
1995 Chardonnay: This one reminded me of the 1990 St. Urban Chardonnay with very similar honey almond notes. The caramel apple notes are a little more dominant, and the finish has a slight kick of acidity to it still. Brian figures 3 more years in this classic.
1998 Semi-Dry Riesling: I do love my aged Rieslings, and this one does not disappoint. The 1998 has petrol notes with a slight hint of pool vinyl (something I love in aged Rieslings) in a deep golden liquid. With sweet spice and honey notes, there are nutty characteristics riding the background of this wine. The acidity is remarkably refreshing and the wine is still slightly zippy – no cloying of heaviness at all.
1997 Gewurztraminer: A much deeper gold than the Riesling, this one has light medicinal notes and spice on the nose. The palate is a racy affair, with luxurious sweet spices, honey and almond components. The finish lingers for quite some time. It is hard to believe that this was once all tropical fruit and floral, and harder yet to believe that it remains such an interesting and enjoyable wine after 15 years.
So in the end, we picked the aged Chardonnays for our February “shipment”, singling out the 1990 St Urban, 1995, and 1998 St Urban for a special event back home. As the 1998 Semi-Dry Reisling is in the showroom, we add too many bottles of that one and we are finally off, forever changed (once again) by Brian and his library of aged wines! Any of these aged wines would make a fine finish to a meal, sipped the way you would a lovely port. We are lucky to have wineries like Vineland that had the foresight to hold some of these wines for so long!