Another Stop at Vineland Estates

Brian Schmidt is one of the nicest folks we have met in the Ontario wine industry, and the key reason we can’t drive past Vineland Estates without stopping in to see him. Having to come down to Toronto to drop our daughter at the airport gave us the idea to swing down to Niagara for a day visit before heading home. Our first stop was Vineland. It was a gorgeous day as most of the summer has been (which is of concern as Brian explained the costs to hand water the newly planted vines). We headed out to see Rick Van Sickle’s Grape X, a Riesling vine that he has been tracking since first bud (see details here).

Indeed the vineyards in the region are running 18-25 days ahead of schedule this year depending on who we talked to. I snapped a few shots of the healthy Riesling vines here at Vineland:

Rick Van Sickle’s “Grape X”

“Grape X” Vine

Healthy Vines Showing Lots of Growth for 1st Week of July

Brian then invited us down into the cellar – a “cool” place in more ways than one where we sampled some of his new releases (and an old one). We talked about wine, food, kids, life, and of course wine again during our seemingly too-short visit.  Here’s what we tasted:

Elevation/St Urban Riesling – Delicious!

2011 Riesling Elevation (St. Urban): Combining the St. Urban and Elevation series into a single release was a measure ti simplify the product line a bit. An LCBO Essentials at $19.95, this is again a stellar example of the great Riesling the bench (and Biran) can produce. The nose is loads of fruit with lemon-lime, peaches and nectarines. There is a hint of flint (minerality) on the nose that alludes to the evident minerality once you taste it. This wine absolutely rocks your palate with juicy honeyed peaches followed by crisp acidity. Buy lots and drink now through the next 10 years if you think you can leave it alone.

2011 Oh Really Rosé: An all Gamay Rosé, this bright summer sipper has a huge nose of ripe strawberries and raspberries. The palate hits with an explosion of sweet strawberry but then rhubard and grapefruit notes dry the palate and whisk away the sweetness. With juicy acidity this wine will pair well with lots of (what’s left of) summer foods but I’m hanging onto a bottle for Thanksgiving turkey as well. General list, the 2011 should be in LCBO store now.

Winemaker Brian Schmidt drawing a barrel sample

2011 Cabernet Franc Reserve (Barrel Sample): Brian started us with this as he thought it was pretty special. He explained that he uses really old barrels as he wants the vineyard to speak the loudest so he’s trying for a light touch in the oak department. As for the wine? Incredible! With a liquer-like nose this wine exhibited beautiful blueberry, black raspberry, and blackberry notes. There was a light violet/floral note going on in the background that almost reminded me of some Malbecs from Argentina. The palate was hit with the same lush dark fruit, and a decent tannic structure that kept the fruit from becoming jammy. Cannot wait to see this one in the bottle! UPDATE: I confused my notes on the new fermenter that keeps the cap (skins & pulp) submerged in juice, eliminating the need for pump-overs (where the juice underneath the cap is pumped on top of the cap) or punch-downs (where the caps are plunged underneath the surface of the juice). Brian ordered one (it just arrived this week( and it will be used for 2012 Cab Franc, and was not used on the 2011 as I had previously reported.

2010 Elevation Cabernet

2010 Cabernet Elevation: A fall release at $25, this wine actually has 35% Cab Sauv and 2% Merlot in the Cab Franc mix (Bo-Teek Vineyard). It was delicious with dark berries dominating the nose and palate, mixed in with light spice and vanilla notes from the judicious use of oak.

2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve:
Brian explained that his experience with Cab Franc is that sometimes when it is super hot and dry like 2010, the vines actually shut down which can cause some lack of maturity in the grapes, almost as if a cooler vintage. With this one bottling in July and a release also this fall, we were privileged to sample this one from the tank. At this point all I could detect on the nose was Blueberry jam – it was quite dominant. On the palate, the blueberry evolved to show some cassis and some light menthol notes. Again the tannins seemed to hold this together so it did not come across as jammy on the palate at all. It was showing some very light vegetal notes not present in the 2011 Cab Franc Reserve (this was the point Brian was trying to make…and although 2011 wasn’t a “hot” year by Niagara standards, he viewed it as a fantastic year for Cab Franc).

Further to the discussion on Cab Franc (as I am aging a few bottles), Brian suggested the following:
– The ’05 is drinking better than the ’07 now, but one can hold the ’05 for a while still
– Drink the ’07 sooner than the ’05

2002 Cab Franc (General List!)

2002 Cabernet Franc (General List): The last treat from the cellar was this beauty from 2002. Brian explained it was $12.95 at the time. Rich, stewed fruit (prunes, raisins, plums) notes stand out with a hint of green pepper or herbal notes in the background. The fruit is full but not sweet, and the wine is still slightly tannic. The finish is tart blueberry and black cherry. Its the kind of wine that makes you want to throw some general list Cab Franc in the cellar for 10 years!

2011 Unoaked Chardonnay: Back in the tasting room, Brian offered us a quick sip of the 2011 Unoaked to cleanse our palates. Brian made me a big fan of this readily available summer sipper last year and we tend to keep some around for patio entertaining in spite of Deb’s current fascination with oaked Chardonnays. This wine is crisp green apple and lemon-lime – nose, palate, and finish. Up there with Sauv Blanc as one of the most refreshing summer whites in Ontario.

2011 Pinot Meunier: There’s not a lot of Pinot Meunier single varietal wines being made in Ontario (most of that produced goes into sparkling wine programs), but I like this relative of Pinot Noir al alone. Brian and I discussed hat the only other winery I know producing a single varietal is Keint-He in PEC. Brian’s production over the last three years has gone from 500 cases -> 800 cases -> 3000 cases so it obviously isn’t just me who likes this food-friendly wine! With cherry and raspberry on the nose, the palate is a juicy, light cherry that finishes somewhat tart and acidic (the perfect palate cleanser).

Kevin O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay: “Mr. Wonderful” has some wonderful wine with his name on it!

Kevin O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay: Off dry at 4g/L of residual sugar, this wine had to be different from Brian’s general list Unoaked Chardonnay tasted above. Brian gave this one a lot of lees contact and a lot of stirring (battonage) to ensure that the wine picked up a different flavour profile. He was quite successful. So while this wine is crisp fruit like the green apple and lemon-lime of the other, it adds such a buttery component from the lees contact that it in no way compares with the other. That added smoothness makes this a wine that I would pull out in the fall and through the winter months. Available now in the LCBO.

We then loaded up on some purchases (the Vineland tasting room is a great place to buy back vintages for those of you who would like to try some aged Riesling, Chardonnay, etc.) and were off, having learned something new again. Now if only I could find those Cab Francs in the cellar!

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