Beamsville, Ontario (Niagara), late may.
Ken had the good idea (and the insightfulness) to put Fielding on our visit list. Fielding is a small size estate with, after barely a year of existence, already quite bright reviews and a place among the best of the Niagara region.
The winery was created by Ken and Marg Fielding. Ken Fielding's main business until then was oddly related to Subway sandwiches franchises (Kenfield Enterprises Ltd, based in Minden, Ontario). This abrupt turnaround from fast food to slow wine, as someone on a wine forum evoqued, was driven by passion for well-done wines.
The first winemaker there was polish-born Andrzej Lipinski
, who after settling in Canada in 1989 and working several manual jobs, landed at Vineland Estates in 1994 and found his way in the wine world. In a decade he earned a reputation for making exceptional Chardonnays and focused on the quality of the grapes and the health of the vineyard for the meticulously cared small cuvée wines of the estate. Ray Cornell is the new winemaker in charge of the vinification now. He was formerly winemaker at Hernder Estates, where he was known for his wide range of cuvées wines, especially whites.
The winery, with its vineyards around it, is backed to the woods of the Niagara escarpment. Beautiful modern architecture with metal, glass and thick wood. Walking to the tasting room, you enter through a thick wood door framed with glass windows and once inside, you enjoy a direct view on the two main things at the origin of the wine : the vineyard below and the vathouse on the side (from a vantage point also).
Curtis Fielding, son of Ken and Marg and general manager, receives us for a tour of the facility [see pic on left with the vathouse, and the tasting room at the other end]. The winery is having its one-year anniversary. The vineyards are located part on the bench, part on flatland. His family bought the place, dug the drain system and planted the vineyards. The soil is a heavy and dark clay loam They have 40 acres on flatland (not all of it planted) and 20 acres on the slope near the winery (that they planted). Curtis worked previously at Vineland Estates where he stayed 3 years. Curtis' future wife Heidi (they get married in 10 days!) worked at Jackson Triggs, a big winery.
The region, in spite of the temperate effect of Lake Ontario, had some frost not long ago, and the 30 000 Can. Dollars warming fans were necessary to prevent some occasional losses.
They sell their wines exclusively to individuals (at the winery), to restaurants of the region, and through internet. He says they could sell the wines at Vintages, the fine wines department of the LCBO retail monopoly in Ontario, but the sales go so well here that they don't need to. Also, LCBO wants bigger quantity of wines and here at Fielding, some of their cuvées make up only 200 cases, so that's too little. Plus, I learned from several winery owners that the reason why many canadian wineries prefer to sell directly exclusively is because the costs related to selling through LCBO for example are way too high. Here is an extract from the Ontario Wine Review Newsletter about the cost for wineries to sell through LCBO :
"However, according to one winery owner, there is no “exact amount” but it is costly. It’s a varying percentage scale, which adds costs somewhere in the range of 5 to 20 thousand dollars to the winery for “promotion and advertising”. The important thing for the public to remember is that in the end it’s a two-thirds one-third split, on each bottle. “If we sell it we keep two-thirds; if the LCBO sells it, we get one-third.” In addition to the taxes and mark-up go into the LCBO coffers. “But it’s the commitment for the promotion and advertising that kills us, because that’s on top of everything else.” "
He says that the attention to the work in the vineyard is central to their philosophy. Lots of cropping, for example. The secret of their success is making wines from small plots that they work all by themselves. They have 3 full-times employees plus temporary workers for different tasks. They have also a varying staff at the retail/tasting room, which can make up to 12 people in summer.
The sleek vathouse was assembled by an italian company and has double- and triple-stack vats, the upper for reds, going to the press by gravity. On this first year, they made 8000 cases, with a goal in the future of 15 000 cases, which fits well for a family estate. They want to keep it small, otherwise they would be obliged to work with LCBO...
The high-ceiling vathouse has a great design and architecture, with lots of light, natural ventilation through the roof windows, and fans. The big wooden beams bring a soft touch in the modern design. They open the roof windows at fermentation because of the CO2. There's also an alarm bell in case the system detects CO2. The vats were made by Criveller, a Niagara Falls company.
They have a state-of-the-art temperature control system for the vats connected to a computer system. They can even check the data through the internet and proceed to any changes, also through an internet connection.
At one point, he shows us the cute vertical press which is used for ice wines [picture upper right]. It can work very softly on the grapes. Rustic press, working at 3000 PSA. Like the horizontal press [pic below], it is made by Enoveneta, an italian company.
Curtis Fielding shows us the cask cellar, which is temperature- and humidity-regulated. Nice room filled with about 120 casks. 90% french oak. He offers us to taste wines still in the casks:
__1 Fielding Syrah 2005. Their 2004 wines were sold quite overnight. This wine here will stay 2 years in casks altogether. Fruit aromas.
__2 Cabernet Franc 2004. Great nose and mouth. I feel the tannins but the wine shines through. peppery. No micro-ox here. He says he does not want to hurry the wine. This one also will have a 2-year barrel stay. Speaking of which varieties grow best in the region, there is Riesling of course. Weather is sometimes challenging for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (sometimes not hot enough), they even had to harvest under the snow once...We go to the tasting room now.
__3 Fielding Pinot Gris 2005. 12 hours on skin contact, that's why the slightly rosy color. 12,5°. Refined, straight nose. Richness in the mouth with exotic fruits flavors.
__4 Fielding Riesling Reserve 2005. 27-year old vines (some of the oldest in the Niagara region). 10,6°. Very aromatic nose. Typical riesling. Sucrosity in the mouth with citrus flavors and minerality.