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Message in a Bottle

Thomas Bachelder was a teenager living in Montreal when he heard how upstart wineries from California had bested the efforts of the bluest of blue-chip producers from France in a head-to-head tasting. That 1976 competition, since dubbed the Judgment of Paris and turned into the subject of the film, Bottle Shock, had a profound effect on Bachelder despite the fact he wasn't yet legally able to purchase alcohol.

    Bachelder, who is now winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in Jordan, Ont., recalls how he visited Steven Spurrier's Academie du Vin, the wine shop that staged the competition, on his first trip to Paris, France in 1981.

    "It was the first wine destination I visited in my life," says Bachelder, whose international travels would take him to Burgundy, Bordeaux and Italy and cement his passion for wine.

    As fate would have it, Bachelder was back in his native Quebec when he heard news last weekend about another revolutionary wine tasting. This time, it was his own upstart Chardonnay triumphing over a selection of the best bottles from Burgundy and California in tasting conducted in Montreal by Cellier magazine editor-in-chief Marc Chapleau.

    The tasting panel included top Quebec wine writers and sommelier, such as Jacques Benoit, of La Presse, Bill Zacharkiw, of the Gazette and Gilles Magny, an advisor to the Quebec liquor board.

    Clos Jordanne 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay was the top-scoring white out of a group of 14 heavy-hitters including Hubert Lamy 2005 Clos du Meix, Joseph Drouhin 2006 Clos des Mouches and Château Montelena 2006. The tasting organizer submitted it into the competition without the knowledge of Bachelder or anyone else related to Le Clos Jordanne.

    Château Mouton-Rothschild 2004 was the top wine of the 16 reds tasted.

    "To have things play out this way is a lot of fun," says Bachelder, who is quick to turn his victory into a win for the entire Ontario wine industry.

    "Any number of good wines could have been in our place: Southbrook, Hidden Bench, Flat Rock, Tawse, Lailey, Inniskillin... It just so happened that it was our wine submitted by the organizer into the tasting."

    Bachelder, who was also named Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards gala in Niagara-on-the-Lake this past weekend, hopes that the media exposure for Canadian wine helps to propel the industry to new heights. He especially wants producers to get together and spread the word about the consistent star quality of Ontario Chardonnay.

    "We've passed a credibility barrier," he says. "The question now is, are things (in Ontario) going to explode the way they did for California in 1976 or are we going to watch this opportunity fade away."

Wine of the Week:
Le Clos Jordanne 2006 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula $40
    Claystone Terrace wines have emerged as Clos Jordanne's heavyweights. There are abundant, mouthfilling flavours on the palate that are kept in balance by bright citrussy acidity. The follow-up to the 2005 vintage that was favoured by Quebec wine writers, this splurge-worthy Chardonnay is equally impressive.

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