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Under the Cherry Moon

Early one July morning, Paul Pender monitored the progress of vineyard workers who were systematically cutting tiny bunches of Chardonnay grapes and dropping them on the ground. The unseasonably hot summer was threatening the health of the three-year-old vines. So a difficult and expensive decision was made. What would have been the first crop suitable for winemaking was sacrificed to develop the strength of the plant.

"Someone said to me recently, ‘You've got to be a giver, not a taker,'" says the young winemaker, who is embracing biodynamic farming practices at Tawse Winery in Vineland. Row upon row of fruitless Chardonnay vines stand as testament to that growing conviction. "The old vines are looking beautiful. They're green and healthy," he says, gesturing towards an older block of Chardonnay closer to the front of the Cherry Avenue winery in Vineland, Ont. "The young vines are stressed." Such are the vagaries of growing grapes during Niagara's driest summer in a half-century.

Pender and co-winemaker Brian Hamilton are working in tandem with consultant Pascal Marchand, a Montreal native who rose to global fame working at Domaine des Epeneaux and Domaine de la Vougerie in Burgundy, France. Today Marchand consults at wineries around the world, working with wineries like Tawse that specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production and are interested in farming using organic or biodynamic practices.

Biodynamics represents the highest and strictest adherence to organic farming - think of it as being vegan versus being vegetarian. Unlike conventional farming practices, no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are used in organic farming. Instead, vineyard practices follow the basic premise of going with the flow, working with the natural rhythm of the earth to minimize damage to ecosystems.

Pender recently returned from an intensive tour of organic and biodynamic properties in Burgundy. He says he's convinced it's the way towards making the best possible wines that can be made from Tawse's estate vineyards. "We want to bring it back to the vineyard," explains the graduate of the Niagara College viticulture technician program. "You need microbial life in the soil to break down all of the elements and the nutrients in the soil in order to make them accessible to the vines. If your soils aren't alive and you spray Round-Up for all of your weed control, you can make sugar to convert into alcohol, but you can't grow wines that express where they came from."

Another change at the boutique winery can be witnessed with today's LCBO Vintages release. A selection of wines is being featured as a Vintages On Tour offering, a spotlight on VQA wines produced in Ontario. Tawse is selling four wines through the program, including a white and red from its new "second label" called Echos. The Echos Bistro White on offer is a stunning 100 percent Chardonnay from the 2004 vintage ($22.20, 055087), while the Echos Bistro Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the warm 2005 vintage ($25.20, 055095).

Vintages also will carry the 2006 Riesling ($20.20, 055103) and the 2004 Cabernet Franc ($29.20, 055079). These are wines that are sold out at the winery. Check http://www.vintages.com/ for stocking information and http://www.tawsewinery.ca/ for more information about the winery.

Wine of the Week:
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Tawse Winery 2004 Echos Bistro White
Niagara Peninsula $22.20 (055087)
This was a stand out at a mass tasting of Ontario Chardonnays staged by Vines Magazine in April. The debut Echos white was created with barrels culled from the blends of Tawse's big ticket Robin's Block Chardonnay and Beamsville Bench Reserve Chardonnay. This tastes like anything but leftovers - it's likely the most interesting, enjoyable and balanced Chardonnay yet produced at Tawse. There's wonderful freshness and intensity here and an amazingly long finish. (LCBO Vintages)

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