Canadian Pinot Noir, a seminar

Pinot Noir has found a home in Canada’s wine regions. Last July, Treve Ring and I led a seminar on Canadian Pinot Noir to a mixed group of trade and consumers at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon. We were joined by three Canadian winemakers/proprietors, each representing their own winemaking province and showing one of their selected wines. In addition, each brought along another wine from one of their local wineries, to show diversity.

In the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Pinot Noir does well above the Okanagan Falls, in the top half of the region where it’s a bit cooler. In the south, it’s often too warm. Pinot Noir is the third most planted variety in the province, at approximately 1100 acres. That makes up around 10% of all plantings in BC. Christine Coletta of Haywire Winery / Okanagan Crush Pad was here to represent BC, and the wine she chose comes from a small property in Summerland that’s transitioning to organics. Organics is catching on in the region, and there are now more than 1300 hectares farmed by the region’s largest winery group, Mission Hill Family Estate, that are all transitioning to organics. ‘This sends a message to others that it is possible.’ Coletta has the largest collection of concrete tanks in North America, and the Crush Pad is virtually a barrel-free zone.

In Niagara, Pinot Noir does well on the limestone, clay and silt soils of the benches of the Niagara Escarpment. It’s quite warm and humid here during the growing season (30 C with 80% humidity isn’t rare), and with its susceptibility to mildew, Pinot Noir can struggle if the viticulture isn’t careful. Six percent of Ontario production is single varietal Pinot Noir (2018). Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Estate Winery was there to present his wine. His property, on the Beamsville Bench, has 7-8% of dolomitic limestone, and he’s planted seven clones of Pinot, which he’s farmed organically since 2012.

One surprise has been how well Pinot Noir has taken off in Nova Scotia. This small easterly region used to be mainly about cold-hardy, early ripening hybrids, but in recent years a band of producers have done well with vinifera. In 2017, there were 9 acres of Pinot Noir planted, mostly in Annapolis and Gaspereau Valleys. With us on the panel at the IPNC was winemaker Josh Horton, of Lightfoot and Wolfville. They farm biodynamically, and make impressive sparkling and still wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. ‘Fifteen years ago, everyone told us that it was too cold, and you can’t plant vinifera,’ says Horton, who grew up in the region. ‘We didn’t listen, and we’ve helped change the way a bit.’ They have to crop low, at 1.5-2 tons/acre, in order to ripen Pinot Noir here. ‘The viticulture has to be just ripe,’ he says. Harvest is at the end of October, and on the day of the presentation, July 24, 2020, they are just finishing flowering. In contrast, in Ontario’s wine regions, the clusters of grapes are just going through bunch closure at that time. Josh says that he hand sorts, only uses the best clusters, and uses wild yeasts. Whole cluster depends on the vintage: for example, in 2016, a warm year, they did 20%.

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Pinot Noir 2016 Nova Scotia, Canada
This was a warm vintage. Soils are glacial till and sandy loam with some shale. Aromatic, with lovely fine red cherries on the nose and some sappiness. Nice crunch on the palate with a bit of grip and some undergrowth notes. Supple and sweetly fruited, this is really elegant. 93/100 (JG)

Blomidon Pinot Noir 2017 Nova Scotia, Canada
This spends 10 days on skins and is aged in older oak. Lovely concentration here: has raspberry and cherry fruit with lovely sweetness and good structure and acidity. Nice concentration and freshness with purity and some grip. 93/100 (JG)

Very small amounts of this estate pinot noir was made, all entirely sourced from their Woodside Road Vineyard, and with time in French oak. Supple and smooth, with shining cranberry acidity, woodsy forest berries and peppery nutmeg and cinnamon spicing. The body is medium, as are the lightly sticky tannins, supported but never overwhelmed by the aforementioned wood. 88/100 (TR)

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Unfined and unfiltered. Very elegant and supple with fine cherry and plum fruit. Has a hint of raspberry. Nice sour cherry edge to the red fruits. Supple and fine with red cherries dominant. This has really fine structure. 94/100 (JG)

Malivoire Small Lot Pinot Noir 2016 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fine grained and quite elegant with fine, smooth-textured cherry and plum fruit, with a touch of subtle earthiness. Nice sweetly fruited wine with good structure. 93/100 (JG)

Haywire Waters & Banks Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Destemmed then fermented in concrete. 115 and 667 clones. Sweet cherries and herbs here with smooth plummy fruit and a touch of undergrowth. Some development. This is smooth and mellow with a sense of harmony. 92/100 (JG)

Waters & Banks vineyard is a steep sloping Summerland vineyard comprised of limestone and granite. This pinot noir, clones 115 and 667, was wild yeast and whole bunch fermented and spent four weeks on skins before resting in concrete eggs for 11 months. Strawberry liquorice, dusky raspberry, sapid cherry veined with fine acidity and finishing with a earthy, woodsy, smokey kiss. Tannins are nubile, near negligible. The warmth of 2015 is felt here on the mid, though the concrete and swell of acidity help to buoy. 89/100 (TR)

Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Focused with sweet raspberries and red cherries, as well as some plummy fruit. There’s a bit of richness here with good concentration of smooth ripe fruit. This has polish and poise: it’s quite stylish. 94/100 (JG)

Soft, warm and welcoming, with kirsch, plum, cola, perfumed musk all bracketed with a corset of baking spices. There’s a seasoning of savoury pencil shavings and a chute of silken, cedar-scented tannins that pull this along a generous palate to the finish. Unlike the cooler 2014, this reflects the warmth of the 2015 vintage, the hottest on record for the Okanagan. Still quite serious, but more primed for drinking now. 90/100 (TR)

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