Late may, Beamsville (Niagara).
After our visit at Vineland Estates we had a short lunch at George's Vineland Restaurant (good-value hamburger dish). I surprised the cook/owner there by shooting pictures of my great Hamburger/fries plate which was also the first of the trip. We then headed to Peninsula in the outskirts of Beamsville, Ontario.
Jean Pierre Colas, the winemaker at Peninsula, takes care of us along with a writer and photographer who prepare a story. He walks us to the vat house, a sleek, immaculate high-ceiling room with multiple stainless-steel vats set up with gravity in mind. You can walk on top of them through steel stairs and gangway and reach a vantage point on the vats, with glimpse on a control room on the side with computers.
Jean Pierre Colas is a frenchman. He began to work here in june 2000, at the very start of the winery. His previous job was winemaker at Domaine Laroche in Chablis, Burgundy, where he vinified between 90 and 99, including his famous Chablis Laroche Grand Cru "Les Clos" 1996 which was named the "White of the Year" by the Wine spectator in 1998.
He came here since the very first days and overlooked the installation of Europe-imported machinery. The vats (by Tecinox, France), for example, were tailored to his wishes and needs. 12 vats in two rows, plus 8 different ones in the back. These vats are temp-controlled, multi-story vats: 100 hectoliter capacity on top (for reds) and 50 hectoliter on bottom (for whites), with an air isolation between the two levels. Lots of piping to allow closed-lid work on the juice and have the right, optimum filling for each capacity. The whole conception was designed to allow easy access and command from the ground. All the grapes are destemmed and the reds ferment with the skins.
The whole story began under the impulse of Norman Beal , a former oil commodity trader who invested heavily to create the winery and its restaurant. Norman Beal found out Colas through intermediaries and made him an offer. Colas had worked in several New World wineries (including in Chile) and accepted the challenge. Everything was made from scratch, the facility of course with its state-of-the-art equipment, and even the vineyard which was nonexistent in 1999 and which was planted in the place of former orchard fields.
Total surface is 17-18 hectares of the following varietals: Viognier, Chardonnay (7 acres), Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot (12 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (12 acres), Cabernet Franc (5,5 acres), Syrah (2 acres), the latter varieties to make the Meritage (north-american concept-name meaning Bordeaux blend). They buy additional grapes from contracted growers for the whites, grown with Peninsula's viticulture rules.
Every other row is plowed. They also sow special, alternated weeds in the vineyard for a better competion. 12-15 people work in the vineyard/winery part, plus a few others at the tasting/retail room (direct sale is important for canadian wineries). Students also work here, we saw several of them at the bottling unit and also in the vineyard, doing some work on the vines. Canada laws make it easy for wineries to hire students who want to work to pay for their studies. Two of them were busy cutting in the vineyard when we walked in the rows. One of them was listening to music, I asked what it was, he said this was The best Rock Radio station in the Niagara region, on 97.7. It is quite good, you can listen to it online (click on the top of their page)...
There's an efficient draining system which drains all the rain water to a reservoir, and although the previous days had been very rainy, the ground was nearly dry when we walked in the vineyard after our visit. That's why this tractor on the right could plow. On the bottom picture, you can see the reservoir and Lake Ontario in the background.
Today's yearly output at peninsula is 12-20 000 cases depending of the millesime. They goal for the future is about 35 000 cases maximum. They keep yields at 50-60 hectoliter/hectare, with the right pruning, de-budding, and green harvest. Actually, with the frost in spring and the heat in summer, they haven't a problem like grape volume being too big. Jean Pierre Colas even says that there could even be a need for a little irrigation.
He shows us the cask cellar under the chai. No air-con here. Temperature from 12°C to 17°C depending of the season. The vathouse over our heads makes some sort of buffer insulation for the cellar. The humidity is good, and this is important in a cask cellar. Lots of casks. On the side, Chardonnay 2004, here Fumé Blanc 2005 (Sauvignon Blanc), then elevage 2004, labelled Cabernet Franc at LCBO. All the wines have their malolactic fermentation done, except Sauvignon Blanc. Here's a link to the wines range. Colas seems to know how to make the right elevage with the right oak. He says that the quality of the oak depends of the soil where the forest grows and of the tree density per hectare. He uses french oak (with some european oak) like "chêne Rouvre" (also known as sessile) and "Chêne Pédonculé".
We'll taste just a wine before leaving, that's a little short but we'll try to taste more the next time :
__ Beal Vineyards Reserve Inox Chardonnay 2005. Smooth, rich mouth with fruity/floral aromas on the nose. Nice. About 20 canadian dollars.
Peninsula wines are mostly sold in Ontario (90%) plus a little in Alberta and some export in North-Western US
Thanks Jean Pierre for the visit.