Saturday, May 04, 2013

Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2005 (CA)

If I owe anyone a review, if I am shamed in hell, it will be for taking so long to write about Henry of Pelham. I have to tell you, that if I ever walk into their tasting room, which I will do soon, I will not use my real name.
You see I have been drinking Henry of Pelham on-and-off since the late 1990s, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever written about them. They even invited me up about four or so years ago, to do an extensive tasting. And they were on my list of wineries to visit while I was recently in Ontario, but literally the clock ran out on me, and I missed them as my last stop. It wasn’t my fault, my family wanted to go home!
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery was established in 1988 with their first vintage. At that time they were one of a very few estate wineries dedicated to producing premium quality wines made from 100% Ontario grown grapes. They focus on Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. And of course, they make Baco Noir. Theirs is one of the most famous Baco Noirs in North America.
In 1984 the patriarch of the Speck family, along with his sons Matthew, Daniel and Paul, tore out the Concord and Niagara grapes at the family’s expense. After studying the heat scans and speaking with some of the other more progressive growers they planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Baco Noir.
According to Speck brothers, “The winemaker is an assistant to the fruit. He helps and nurtures the fruit as a teacher nurtures a student. Similar to a teacher, the winemaker tries to bring out the best characteristics that the fruit has to offer without forcing it….Our goal at Henry of Pelham is to do as little as possible in the production of our wines! From the vineyards through to bottling we are naturalists…”
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery was a founding member of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). The VQA is an “Appellation of Origin” system by which consumers can identify the wines of Ontario based on the origin of the grapes from which they are produced.
“Few families in Ontario can boast the fact that an existing tavern built 150 years ago is still in the family. One such tavern is the Henry Smith Tavern or Mountainview Inn located where three Townships, Louth, Pelham and Thorold, come together. Henry Smith owned and operated the tavern/inn from on or about the year 1842 to February 10, 1856 when he died,” wrote Shirley Kanen-Smith in her article The History of Henry Smith Tavern.
“Nicholas Smith petitioned for lands as a fifer in Butler’s Rangers, having joined that corps in 1778. In this petition, he states that he was married to the daughter of William May who also served in Butler’s Rangers and “that the family came into this place in the year 1785.” Nicholas Smith married Catherine May, the daughter of William May and Lena Jansen, on August 26, 1788, and by 1797 they had five children: Frederick, 8; John, 7; James, 5; Magdalen, 4; and William, 2. They eventually had fourteen children: seven boys and seven girls.”
“There is a copy of the last will and testament of Nicholas Smith, made during 1841, together with a codicil to the will written in 1842, wherein, amongst many other bequests, he leaves Lots 4 and 6, Concession 8 to his sons John Smith and James Smith and Lot 5, Concession 8 to his son Henry Smith. In the codicil he bequeaths Henry Smith an amount of money in return for which a piece of land from Henry’s lot was to be reserved. Nicholas Smith died March 18, 1843, and his will was proved April 10,1843.”
“It would appear Henry, knowing that he would inherit Lot 4, Concession 8 from his father, commenced the erection of a building which was to become the inn during 1842 as, engraved near the front door of the building, is ’1842.’ Henry must have commenced the operation of the Henry Smith Inn shortly after that as is evidenced by this item from the Niagara Chronicle: “List of licences issued in the Niagara District for the year 1845 by W. D. Miller, inspector of licences to the 1st of February, 1845 inclusive.” In this list appears “Henry Smith, Residence – Louth – Rate Paid – £4.”
This is famous inn is where Henry of Pelham gets its name from. The inn went through a number of permutations, some good and some bad. It was the site of many a festival and social gatherings for the town, although in later years it was cited for rowdiness and cock fighting.
But don’t let all this fool you. Henry of Pelham makes some wonderful wines. But don’t just take it from me. How about Jancis Robinson, who wrote in February 14, 2013, an article entitled, Exotic Grapes – A Love Story in Fine Wine Writing & Reviews:
 “Anyone who knows anything about our latest book Wine Grapes – a complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties including their origins and flavours will know that I am likely to be madly in love with unusual grapes. I was recently treated to a tasting of a collection of them in London by someone who is every bit as besotted by them as me. I’ll be writing about that person and the tasting on Saturday, but meanwhile please regard this collection of tasting notes as a little offering for St Valentine’s Day.
And here’s her review! “Henry of Pelham, Reserve Baco Noir 2010 Ontario 16 Drink 2011-2014 Bright crimson. Clean but neutral nose. Fresh acidity. Lots of broad friendly ripe fruit on the palate entry. A tad sweet but awfully easy to like. Open and early maturing. Just very slightly bitter on the finish, but very well made. Nothing obviously non vinifera about this. 13.5%”
Wine writer Steve Thurlowalso chimed in, scribbling, “Henry of Pelham’s Reserve Baco Noir is perhaps the ultimate expression of this unique variety. Years ago, the Speck brothers and winemaker Ron Giesbrecht recognized the potential of this hybrid grape and made it their signature wine. Bursting with wild black fruit, ripe plum, gamey and spicy aromas and flavours, it’s enjoyable now but will also reward 3-5 years in a cellar.”
So, my thoughts? Well my thoughts are that you should run to the store and buy some! We drank a 2005 Baco Noir Reserve. I loved this wine. Lights of bright sour cherry, and pretty acidity to balance out the fresh fruit. Soft tannins and hints of vanilla, fallen leaves, a light hint of tomato, and spice made this very attractive to me. A very lovely wine, and proof that wonderful and collectible Baco Noir is made on the east coast that wine writers and consumers should pursue!
Great job, Henry of Pelham!