Terroir In a Glass of Wine
If you have been to a wine tasting, the discussion at some point has probably lead to terroir. This is a French term that basically means “a sense of place.” When used in relation to wine, terroir is a combination of factors, such as the soil and the climate of the area where the grapes are grown, which impart unique characteristics that can be tasted in the wine.
Ontario is a cool climate wine region. The wines made here are often more aromatic, lighter in body, and higher in acidity than their warm climate equivalents. The soil in each of Ontario’s three major wine growing regions is complex. Glacial clay, silt, and limestone contribute to the terroir of Ontario wines. Sometimes just small variances in the wine’s acidity, alcohol level or minerality have a big influence on the taste and quality.
Recently a group of 12 Ontario winemakers gathered at Stratford Chefs School for an event called Somewhereness. In the group’s promotional material “somewhereness” is explained as a term used “to describe the blend of terroir, climate, vine and vintner that let a wine stand apart. … It speaks of small plots, sustainable practices, responsible stewardship and the way our approach to winemaking contributes to the elusive characteristics that flow through to your soul with every sip of our wine.”
The tasting at the Chefs School offered one-on-one conversations with the Somewhereness producers.
Shiraz Mottiar, winemaker at Malivoire Wine in Niagara, was pouring several wines. He offered specifics on the Malivoire 2015 Small Lot Pinot Noir ($29.95 retail from the winery). The grapes were sourced from two vineyards in the Beamsville Bench. The Moira vineyard has vines that are over twenty years old, and they contribute to the fresh fruit acidity. The Mottiar vineyard, Shiraz’s own vineyard, is at a higher elevation and imparts both acidity and minerality. The Malivoire Small Lot Pinot Noir offers fresh, vibrant red berry fruits, clove and earthy spices, and mushroom and mineral nuances. Lively, fresh with a smooth finish. Well-priced for a quality wine like this.
Malivoire’s 2016 Small Lot Chardonnay ($19.95 retail from the winery) was made from Moira vineyard grapes. The wine was allowed to go through partial malolactic fermentation and then aged 50% in stainless steel, with the remainder aged in French barrels, for nine months. The buttery notes and the hint of vanilla oak balance the green apple and the lemon citrus notes.
Harald Thiel, owner of Hidden Bench Estate Winery, was pouring six terroir-driven wines at the event. “Our wines are unfiltered, which I believe adds to their ageability” he said. “We are trying to make wines that are not only good Ontario wines but also are wines that can take their place on the world stage.” The 2015 Estate Chardonnay ($29.95 retail from the winery) showcases the Beamsville Bench terroir. The grapes in this wine are sourced from the Locust Lane, Felseck and Rosomel vineyards. Locust Lane and Felseck have a west/east slope as well as a south/north slope, providing excellent air, drainage and solar exposure. A strikingly complex chardonnay with lemon citrus, pear, melon and white flowers, driven by a mineral backbone one might expect from old world burgundies.
“Somewhereness” is also about sustainable practices and responsible stewardship of the land that is dedicated to growing grapes. These winemakers also identify as caretakers of the earth where their vines grow. Nowhere is this more evident than at Stratus Vineyards. Located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the winery was the first to earn LEED Canada Certification by producing wines in an environmentally-responsible manner.
“The wine we grow is dependent on the health of the land on which it is grown,” reads the Stratus Environmental Mission Statement. “We farm our vineyard and guide our winemaking as though our children’s future depends on it.”
At the event, Stratus poured the 2014 Stratus Red ($48 available at the winery only), a fine example of terroir, as it presents a different taste profile than the 2013 vintage currently available at the LCBO ($38.75, vintages #131037). A ripe, full bodied blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. Juicy red berry fruits, grippy tannins and complex secondary oak flavours having spent 584 days in 34% new French oak barrels.
Terroir reflects a vineyard’s location and captures a sense of place, soil, climate, and seasons. It impacts vintage variations and the winemaker’s production decisions. Events like Somewhereness showcase the unique terroir of Ontario vineyards, and confirm that our wines have evolved to be comparable with other well-known world-class wines.