Thursday, March 28, 2013

Flat Rock Cellars Rocks! (CA)

 
 
Flat Rock was a great winery!!!
How can you not like a vineyard that starts off with this gem of a statement? “We start in the vineyard with low yields, progressive viticulture practices and hand picking and sorting the grapes. We continue inside the winery with a sexy gravity-flow design and the latest in wine making equipment from around the world.” And according to them, “…it’s no fun for us if you aren’t enjoying yourself.” I like these guys already.
One of the first things you notice about Flat Rock is about how freaking cool the location is, and about how incredibly wonderful the winery building is. Of course the drive there is unique. You drive through a series of small, winding roads so much so that you are sure you are lost...and of course, that's when you come upon it.

 
The rocks that are the geological foundation of the winery and are found throughout the property are the roots of Flat Rock Cellars name. Flat Rock Cellar was founded in 1999 on a spectacular piece of the Niagara Escarpment known as the Jordan Bench.
 
The Flat Rock winery building is a quirky, glass encased, hexagonal wine showroom that‘s incredibly distinctive. While tasting wine at their tasting bar, you can look out over their gorgeous vineyards which include breathtaking views of the Peninsula and across Lake Ontario to Toronto. 
 
Flat Rock Cellars is solely owned and operated by its founder - Ed Madronich Sr. Born and raised in the area, the winery is the fulfillment of a dream shared by his father and son. In 1954, his father applied for a winery license, but was denied. More recently his son, also Ed Madronich, established his career in the wine business and shared the passion for wine. Combined, father and son have worked together to create Flat Rock Cellars.
 
Ed Madronich Jr. is President of Flat Rock Cellars. Ed credits a summer in France and exposure to a few choice bottles of wine for his passion. Since that first foray into the vines, he knew that he wanted to make great wines. Running Inniskillin for several years helped him to define his approach to wine: one that both reflects and challenges conventional wisdom.
The winemaker is Jay Johnston. A native of Quebec, he was a student in the Niagara College Viticulture & Winemaking program. While in school he picked up jobs in the cellars and vineyards of some of the most respected producers in the region. His passions were always cool-climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sparkling… he is also passionate about terroir and English football. Through a chance meeting with Ed in August 2012, Jay quickly realized that Flat Rock Cellars was the place to be and joined the team for Harvest 2012, taking the Winemaking reins at Flat Rock Cellars.   


 
Flat Rock Cellars’ vineyards are comprised of 80 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, with a small patch of Gewurztraminer for good measure. They chose these varietals as an integral part of our overall winemaking strategy, because they are best suited to cooler climate of the Niagara Peninsula and more specifically the Twenty Mile Bench.
At Flat Rock they work hard to ensure low yields in the vineyard. The vineyards at Flat Rock Cellars can produces a maximum of 15,000 cases – which was reached in 2008.
 
 
The first wines we tasted from the Vin*o *lo *gy line of wines Vin*o * lo*gy is an entry level line of wines, that are fresh and bright and inexpensive.
Vinology White 2011 is a light, fruity white, with lovely tropical notes. Very easy drinking, with nice acidity and a clean, dry finish. Soft and lovely.

Vinology Red 2011 is made from Pinot Noir and is a light colored easy drinking red wine, with lovely fruit up front and low tannins. Cherry and earthy tones give way to hints of white pepper. Great long lasting finish for a light red wine. Very drinkable. A good solid food wine great for entertaining.

2009 Chardonnay is a blend of their two clones of Chardonnay, 76 and 95. The four different sites and soil types in which we grow these vines give the wine great complexity. The winemaker’s notes read: “2009 has proven to be a great year…Big, bold aromas of citrus, chalk dust and sweet oak blasts out of the glass. The palate is no more subtle, with a lime-like acidity upping the intensity even further. As a compliment to the acidity, the wine also has great texture and creaminess from the yeast stirring during its time in barrel. The oak also imparts a hint of butterscotch to the wine and there is ample chalky minerality on display.” I concur with these notes. The wine was lovely, crisp, an lean. Apple, pear, and river stone come across on the nose and palate. There is a lovely creaminess at the end. A beautiful chardonnay. The oak was a lovely, light touch. Just enough to alter the wine, but not so much it overpowered it. Beautifully balanced.


The tasting room was airy and lovely and was beautifully appointed with displays of all the families of wines produced by Flat Rock. And of course the views were tremendous. But the major portion of the tasting was now coming up...because Flat Rock Cellars excels at Pinot Noir.


For Pinot Noir Flat Rock utilizes a 5-level gravity flow system, resulting in minimal handling and no harmful pumping to help maximize the quality. The grapes are hand picked. After sorting and pressing, the juice and skins are hand-plunged every six hours to extract maximum color and tannin without over-extracting bitter character. The wines are aged in 100% French oak barrels and go through malolactic fermentation in the spring.
 
 
2010 Pinot Noir According to the winemaker’s tasting notes, “The hot start to September had us picking Pinot Noir grapes over three weeks earlier than in 2009…Each sub-block was gently destemmed and then allowed to cold soak for 4-7 days to extract colour and aromatics from the skins. Following this, the majority of the batches underwent spontaneous fermentation, which lasted up to 10 days. The batches were kept separate again as they flowed to barrel where they were left undisturbed for 10 months. Blending took place in late July of 2011….”

This light to medium bodied red was filled with raspberry and plum. Nice hints of vanilla and spice. The fruit and acid was solid up front with low tannins on the back end.  A lovely, light styled Pinot Noir. Fabulous.

 
The 2010 Gravity Pinot Noir “spent between 3 and 6 days cold soaking to extract color, flavors and aromatics from the skins before fermentation with predominantly wild yeast.  During the course of fermentation the tanks were hand plunged four times a day to further the extraction of colour and flavour from the skins.  Post fermentation saw the wine gravity-flow transferred off the skins into 100% French oak barrels with 30% being first fill.   Aging then took place from October through to July, at which time the Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend.  No finings were added to this wine.”

Gravity had more heft to it that the previous wine. More cherry and dark cherry with bright raspberry and spices. The color was darker and the fruits were darker than the previous wine. This had much for fruit up front and much more earth. The flavors in general were bigger, bolder, more in your face. It was in fact a lovely wine. A nice medium bodied pinot Noir with color, extraction, and flavor. With all that is was also restrained. This is not a monster California cab. It was more refined in the Burgundian sense. But is was flavorful and confident in its statement.



2009 Reserve Pinot Noir was the third of the Pinot Noirs. According to the winemaker’s notes, “The 2009 season proved to be a great year for Pinot Noir and a great year for us to make our second Reserve Pinot Noir... Eight of the best barrels from this block were selected in July 2010 as being exceptional and they were blended and then returned to barrel. They spent a total of 14 months in barrel before being re-blended and allowed to age a further five months in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then racked, gently filtered and bottled in June of 2011.”
This Reserve was the third to go to bottle of our 2009 Pinot family of wines. Dark cherry, dark berries, beats and cola all come through as promised. Nice acidity up front keeps this medium bodied, dark red, slightly purple Pinot Noir from being over bearing. The darks fruits last a long, long time as the acidity keeps the fruit going. Nice tannins keep the wine honest and give is classic backbone, but don’t over power the fruit. A big, wonderful Pinot Noir. Elegant, deep, sensual. Big cherry and pepper. Fabulous!

 
Here are the Pinot Noir 2010, the Pinot Noir Gravity 2010, and the Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 to see the difference between them.
 
Overall, after my experience I was thrilled with the Pinot Noirs I had tasted at Flat Rock and instantly catapulted it to a whole new level of wines that I love. These were the North American Pinot Noirs that I have been searching for The fruit of the west coast, and the elegance of Burgundy! Fantastic trio of Pinot Noirs! Gorgeous!!!