A Virtual Visit with Kevin Panagapka of 2027 Cellars

Kevin Panagapka runs another virtual winery called “2027 Cellars“. I follow Kevin on Twitter and he had let out that he was releasing three new wines in February (2011 Riesling, 2010 Pinot Noir, and 2010 Chardonnay). As he has very small lot production, they tend to disappear quickly so I engaged him to see if we could meet up during our time in the area and we made plans to meet at the winery.

A lot of people ask what’s in the name? Well Kevin and his wife own a small Vineyard in the Niagara region. All vineyards register with the Grape Growers of Ontario, and when Kevin registered the number given was #2027. Like another virtual winery I just wrote about (Steve Byfield), Kevin gets space and equipment from another operating winery, in this case Featherstone Estate Winery.

Kevin gave us a bit of his history, with stints at various Niagara wineries including Creekside, he then made his way to New Zealand where he completed a harvest in Hawkes Bay. Returning to the region in 2007, he decided to open the virtual winery. Originally he decided to focus on only two varietals (Riesling and Pinot Noir), and made only 100 cases in his first year and has fluctuated between 400 and 600 cases since then. I was lucky enough to nab some of his ’08 and ’09 Rieslings when they hit LCBO and still have one of each of the ’08 Falls Vineyard and ’09 Featherstone Vineyard.

Kevin took us into the winery and first showed us his long-term investment, a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir sparkling wine that will be another 2-3 years before release (you can just see the cages on the left in the picture below). I say investment, as you have to realize that he’s tying up his money in the form of fruit, bottles, and space (not to mention labour) for several years…a risky business indeed!

Kevin in the "cellar" at Featherstone Estate Winery.

Here’s what we sampled from the barrel:

2011 Queenston Road Pinot Noir: Kevin decided to go for a more masculine approach with his 2010 and 2011 Pinot Noirs, whereas he feels the earlier (’08 & ’09) Pinots were a little more feminine. As he states it, he’s put more “grip” into this one. With extended maceration and stronger use of oak, it’s a little less subtle than the ’09 that I have tried (and loved) previously. The nose is strong cherry and spice, with stronger hints of the oaking, albeit this wine is not finished. The wine is naturally quite tannic still but leaves no doubt of where he is headed with the wine. Kevin draws a sample from a second barrel and the fruit is more dominant, and the oak lighter, although the fruit itself provides decent tannic structure. Even though both samples are not quite ready, they show very decent structure and balanced fruit, acidity and tannins.

The 2011 Pinot

Kevin spends a lot of time looking for the fruit he uses – one of the benefits of focusing on only a few, small production lots. He explains that good Pinot fruit runs $2600 a ton (vs $1600 a ton for Riesling), so he’s investing more in his wines now than when he first started with the Riesling alone. He’s happy that all of his barrels are now “used” as he explains his preference for judicious use of oak. Not happy to take just anyone’s barrels “You never know what they’ve done with it.”, he’s been slowly building his inventory and caring for it as any business owner would with their own capital invested.

We then head into the Featherstone tasting room to try some of the finished wines that he just released. I spot a couple remaining bottles of his 2009 Pinot Noir on the shelf and realize no matter what we taste, I’m adding to my collection of ’09 Pinots.

2011 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling ($25): 2027 Cellars rose to fame with Kevin’s single vineyard Rieslings and this one continues in that tradition, with a small 160 case production. With loads of peaches and nectarines on the nose, the palate adds lemon lime and an impressive minerality that reminds me again why I love Rieslings from this area. Given that Kevin produced no Riesling in 2010, I’ve lost my vertical but it doesn’t matter – this is great juice once again and I am happy he has returned with Riesling. Kevin will have a 2011 Falls Vineyard Riesling in an LCBO Vintages only release this year ($20 apparently) so watch for that one!

2010 19th Street Chardonnay, 2011 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling

2010 Pinot Noir ($35): Like the 2011, Kevin has gone more “manly” with the 2010. Very fruit forward with cherry and spice on the nose, the oak is mellow and takes a backseat to the fruit. There is a long cherry and spiced vanilla finish on the wine. Given the power in this, it is no wonder that Kevin recommends that this can cellar for 5-8 years. Again only 160 cases.

2010 19th Street Chardonnay ($30): Done beautifully in the Burgundian style, barrel-fermentation (30% new) and all wild ferments has resulted in a fine expression of this varietal. This super smooth Chardonnay takes the dominant apple & pear and adds some tropical fruit akin to Pineapple on the nose. The oak is present but not overpowering or buttery, and reminds me again how great Chardonnay can be with delicate use of oak. Sadly, with only 75 cases made, this wine is sold out already! I’m kicking myself I didn’t buy more than we did.

Kevin truly cares about the wines he is producing, and it shows. Whether he’s spending time sourcing the great fruit that he uses, the barrels he purchases, or through his use of artisanal methods (wild ferments, unfined & unfiltered wines), you can taste that passion in the glass.

With the 2011 release, Kevin has also introduced new, “cleaner” labelling. Here’s a contrast of old and new so you know what to look for:

Old Label on Left, New Look on Right

You can find his wine in fine restaurants, in the tasting room at Featherstone, online, or very occasionally in Vintages – watch for that Riesling release this summer!

Update: Niagara expert Rick Van Sickle has a write up including the new releases from 2027 Cellars here: http://winesinniagara.com/2012/03/a-gorgeous-sparkler-from-niagaras-cave-spring-and-new-2027-wine-releases/

This entry was posted in Artisan, Experience, Tasting, Winery and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.