Saturday, March 16, 2013

Southbook Vineyards - Breathtaking (CA)



 

Southbrook Vineyards is easily one of the coolest wineries you will ever visit. In some instances, like say, Opus One, it is as absolutely unique as any I have ever seen. Firstly, there is a large, long blue wall that cuts across the vineyard property like the giant blade of a knife. The front of it says Southbrook Vineyards in simple, san-seraph type. The wall then extends almost 1,000 feet, or roughly a quarter mile. It’s as much a bill board as a statement. It states unequivocally, ‘we are like no one else.’

In the middle of this wall is the large face of the tasting pavillion and offices. It’s all glass. In fact, the entire tasting is almost surrounded by glass, and the ability to see through to the vineyards is visible from almost everywhere in the building. Much like Philip Johnson’s Glass House, everything seems visible from inside out as much as outside looking in. In winter is has a very sort of strange affect. The barren landscape, usually lush and green in summer, is cold and white, and adds to the sense of clean, sparseness of the tasting room design and feel.

Established in the 1860s at the head of the Don River by the Patterson family, Don Head Farms was purchased by William and Iska Redelmeier (current owner Bill Redelmeier's grandfather) in 1941. At its peak, Don Head Farms maintained the largest herd of Jersey cattle in Canada on hundreds of acres of fertile land north of Toronto.

 
 


 

By 1980s the property is re-named Southbrook Farms. Bill and partner/co-owner, Marilyn, evolved the family business from a roadside stand in the 1980s to a thriving farm market. The market’s commitment to supporting Ontario producers foreshadowed the locavore movement yet to come.

An appreciation of gourmet foods and wines lead the Redelmeiers to create a boutique winery and unique special event location, housed in the farm’s century-old barns. In 1991, having sourced some of the Niagara region’s finest grape varietals, Southbrook produced the first 2,000 cases of wine. They were ably assisted by the craftsmanship of Derek Barnett (who is now the winemaker at Lailey Vineyard….but more on them later….LOVED their wines!).

The winery thrived. Annual production climbed to 5,000 cases using VQA grapes from growers in the Niagara Peninsula. The combination of farm market, winery and event location became a big success, regularly attracting 125,000 visitors per year, including pck-your-own operations and school pumpkin tours.

In 2007, an Ontario versus Bordeaux contest was held, judged by 12 respected wine writers. “A Niagara red few people have heard of edged out an illustrious lineup of Bordeaux, including Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 ($349) and Châteaux Margaux 2001 ($339), two trophy labels venerated the world over by people with apparently more money than time to do comparison shopping.” So writes Beppi Crosariol in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 24, 2007. The little-known red he mentions is Southbrook’s 2002 Triomphus Cabernet Merlot (later re-christened Poetica). The wine has since sold out, with only a few library bottles being shared from time to time at Poetica tastings.



 
 

Southbrook has always sourced grapes from Niagara-on-the-Lake, so Bill was excited about operating his own vineyard there. Brought on as a winemaking consultant in 2005, Ann Sperling introduced Bill and Marilyn to an excellent opportunity. A 74-acre parcel in the warm Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake is on the market, complete with 36 acres of ideally planted, well-selected varieties and top-notch clones. The couple realized its potential, and decided on the new location to build the winery of their dreams. They convince Ann Sperling to sign on as full-time Director of Winemaking and Viticulture.

Expansion of the vineyard is planned and planting commenced. The design of a winery with associated facilities and a hospitality building were entrusted to Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto. The Redelmeiers commenced creation of a fully biodynamic, organic and environmentally responsible winemaking operation.



 
By 2006 Ann was ready to make wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the architects’ attentioned turn to the construction of the hospitality pavilion. The wine shop move was undertaken in the fall of 2007, while the family’s Richmond Hill presence lives on in the form of the Pumpkin Patch and Country Store. An adjoining 75-acre parcel was purchased to provide an area for pasture and for future vineyard expansion. The new enterprise was re-named Southbrook Vineyards to reflect the Redelmeier’s new role as vineyard stewards. The opening celebration of the Hospitality Pavilion took place on the Summer Solstice of 2008.

 
Ann Sperling is Director of Winemaking and Viticulture. Ann was integral to Southbrook's transition from winemaker to winegrower, having introduced Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the property in Niagara-on-the-Lake that has become our new home. Her commitment to managing Southbrook’s vineyard organically and biodynamically is met with equal dedication by our Vineyard Manager Scott Jones, our Winemaker Brian Hamilton and our Assistant Winemaker Regan Kapach.

Considered a leading force in the Canadian movement towards organic and biodynamic fine winemaking, Ann has over two decades of experience in winegrowing, winemaking and consulting for successful winery startups.

Ann prefers to think of herself as a “Winegrower,” instead of a winemaker. This vineyard-centric ideology is passionately applied to every facet of Southbrook’s winemaking philosophy, including its organic and biodynamic grape-growing practices, and gentle handling in the winery.
 
Ann’s roots are deeply embedded in the terroir of winegrowing. Raised on a family vineyard in Kelowna, BC, Ann began early on recognizing, developing and appreciating the fine balance within the characteristics of the fruit and its effects on wine. She completed her Food Sciences degree at UBC and has continued her path of learning and exploration since she entered the wine industry full-time in 1984.

Ann’s talents were recognized in the early nineties when her 1992 Merlot Okanagan Valley won the Gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in the UK and Platinum at the Okanagan Wine Festival.  Ann played pivotal roles in the start-ups of both B.C.'s CedarCreek winery and Niagara's Malivoire Wine Company. In 2004, Ann was awarded with Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards.







 

 

On to the tasting….first thing to say is that without question, all the wines were Certified Organic and Biodynamic. That’s the kind of commitment these folks are making. Impressive.

The first was the Southbrook 2010 Whimsy! Chardonnay Lot 20 VQA  Apple and pear dominate the nose and palate of the crisp, clean, elegant, and delicate Chardonnay. Mineral and lime come across as promised. A touch of citrus at the end. A gorgeous long fresh finish. Nice zippy acidity. Wonderful.
 
91 points - "Rich caramelized butterscotch nose from the oak aging, with layers of delicious full-bodied flavour on the palate. Aromas of fleshy, ripe peach. Long finish. Drink 2012-2015". - Natalie Maclean, NatalieMaclean.com
**** - "Winemaker Ann Sperling calls this organic and biodynamic white a New World style of Chardonnay. It certainly has the fruit-forward character that this description generally refers to — though maybe it's time to dispense with the Euro-centric New-Old World dichotomy, now that winemakers are making wine in both styles everywhere. Here you'll find an excellent synthesis of fruit and acid, with plush ripeness and a slightly edgy juiciness to the texture".  - Rod Phillips, Vines Magazine



Next was Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Franc. The winemakers notes stated: Grapes were hand harvested from the estate vineyard with a combination of both cluster and berry selection. 50% crushing following destemming with fermentation in oak vat with a total maceration time of 4 weeks prior to gentle pressing, settling and barrel aging for 12 months. At this point barrel selection provided the final blend. No fining, sterile filtation prior to bottling.

The wine was a deep red wine with tinges of purple.  The nose was dark, dark stewed berries with hints of black currant, rose petals and a tinge of tobacco as promised. A hint of caramel? Blackberries and dark raspberries come through on the palate. This is a very complex dry red, with big fruit, nice acidity and very solid tannins. This is a complex, elegant red, with nice long-lasting fruit. Nice bonus? No fining agent was used, so it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

90 points - "Chocolate-mocha with blackberry. Full-bodied with a good grip. This organic wine has just 6 mg/L of free sulphur. Pair with grilled meats. Drink to 2015". - Natalie Maclean, The Windsor Star
 
"This serious, organically grown Cabernet Franc has a cool, deep and ripe nose of raspberry, some earthy damp charcoal scent plus chocolate fudge. Its medium weight, very smooth, fairly dense and lively with fine edged tannin. There is good acidity and energy, with some minerality. And the length is excellent. Put in the cellar, best 2014 to 2018". - David Lawrason, WineryToHome.com
"I also had a taste of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2010 (released in August). It is gorgeous, even now, with ripe cassis, spice and plump juicy fruits through the finish. Another fine example of the Cab Francs produced in the warm 2010 vintage". - Rick Vansickle, Vintages Magazine

Next was Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Franc. This wine is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot. Like the 2010 lots of dark fruits, but here the seem more concentrated. Dark fruits, cherries predominant, but dark raspberry and cassis also seem to come into play This is a little earthier wine, with hints of fallen leaves, dried figs, dates, and other spices. It’s a bigger, deeper wine with a lot of flavor. Impressive!



Southbrook 2009 Whimsy! 'Renewed Vows' Cabernet Franc VQA is a 7 barrel blend of 89% Cabernet Franc and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, barrel aged for 13 months in 100% French cooperage (42% new oak, 29% one year, & 29% neutral barrels).  The grapes were handpicked, cluster sorted then destemmed and berry selected prior to 50% crushing. Indigenous fermentation took place in oak vat for a total maceration time of 4 weeks prior to gentle pressing, settling and racking to barrel for 13 months aging.  Barrels were selected, blended with no fining and only course filtration prior to bottling.

The wine had an incredible aromatic nose that was bursting with dark cherry and strawberry compote as promised. Ecalyptus and a smokey also came through. Dark stewed berries came across on the palate with hints of red currant. The tannins were substantial but not over powering and the fruit staye with you a very, very long time.

**** - "The vows refer to the 20th anniversary of Southbrook’s getting its winery licence, and an endorsement of Cabernet Franc – which Ann Sperling says is not her favourite variety. But she’s made a seriously good Cab Franc, with impressive structure and supple tannins. It’s dry, dry, dry, with a nice seam of acid keeping it fresh". - Rod Phillips




Next was Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Franc. The winemakers notes stated: Grapes were hand harvested from the estate vineyard with a combination of both cluster and berry selection. 50% crushing following destemming with fermentation in oak vat with a total maceration time of 4 weeks prior to gentle pressing, settling and barrel aging for 12 months. At this point barrel selection provided the final blend. No fining, sterile filtation prior to bottling.

The wine was a deep red wine with tinges of purple.  The nose was dark, dark stewed berries with hints of black currant, rose petals and a tinge of tobacco as promised. A hint of caramel? Blackberries and dark raspberries come through on the palate. This is a very complex dry red, with big fruit, nice acidity and very solid tannins. This is a complex, elegant red, with nice long-lasting fruit. Nice bonus? No fining agent was used, so it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

90 points - "Chocolate-mocha with blackberry. Full-bodied with a good grip. This organic wine has just 6 mg/L of free sulphur. Pair with grilled meats. Drink to 2015". - Natalie Maclean, The Windsor Star







Overall, this was an incredible experience. The wines were fantastic! The space was unreal in is beauty and design. And to cap it off, not only are the wines delicious...but they are organic and biodynamic. A wonderful time!