Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vignoble Carone Wines – An Iconoclast Makes the Best Red Wines in the Quebec Region

So, we were running late to the first tasting of Taste Camp 2013, scheduled to happen at Vignoble Carone Wines in Quebec, Canada. When we crossed the border on the way toward Montreal, the sign read Speed Limit Maximum 100. I took off like a shot! But it was a mistake. It’s kilometers. Pop, a Canadian policeman pulled me over. Ticket! And the one thing you know immediately the US and Canada have in common – speed traps! $300 Canadian. F%&#!!!!
Vignoble Carone Wines is a limited-production, premium estate winery located along the St. Lawrence River in the Lanaudière valley, Quebec’s fastest developing wine growing region. Carone currently offers its wines under four product brands – VENICE, DOUBLE BARREL, BIN 33 and CLASSICO – and the Company expects to expand on its wine offerings in the future.

A mini-van full of bloggers and writers, we pulled up, and sure enough half our party were late, even one of the hosts had not yet arrived. Double F%&#!!!!

Carone is unique. In a region known for bright acidic whites, great sparkling, cider and ice wines, Carone specializes in red wines. In that way you already know that Anthony Carone is an individual with an incredibly hard head. Here is a man with vision, passion, and a will to try to control nature. Making almost solely red wine in Quebec is not just a challenge…it’s insane. The Quebec wine region lacks the warm air lake affect that the Ontario region benefits from the great lakes. Canes need to be buried to survive the severe cold Quebecois winters. There are late frosts. Humid summers add disease pressures. It’s man vs. nature. And that’s just to get them to grow. Forget ripening and winemaking.
Anthony showed us his vineyards and his equipment was readily on display. The winery is constantly looking to push the limits of Quebec viticulture and is convinced that it is possible to produce quality red wine in Quebec, despite the harsh climate. They have planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese and even Nebbiolo (!) with the firm conviction that the future of Quebec winemaking goes through quality wine made from vinifera grapes and that red wine will shine. Just to show how tenuous an exercise this can be, he explained that just recently in 2013, the region had suffered a devastating frost, very much like some parts of upstate New York and New England. Much of his crop had been damaged. He was not sure how much crop would survive the recent pinch from mother nature. Anthony is very hands on with his vines. Progressive, obsessive compulsive.

“We obsess over quality in order to create some of Quebec’s most powerful and precocious wines,” says Anthony.  However, Vignoble Carone Wines is recognized as the first Quebec winery to receive international medals for its red wines and is on the wine lists of the Province’s top restaurants. “Passion and style are the driving force in handcrafting premium wines of distinction at Carone,” continues Anthony.  Carone wines have been served to the British royalty, and have received outstanding reviews by leading wine experts in Canada and elsewhere. 

It’d be nice to describe the wines, but to know more about Anthony Carone and his level passion is like to tell someone about Mondavi wines without mentioning Robert Mondavi or to speak of Mouton without speaking of Baron Philippe. Anthony and Carone Wines are one in the same.

Anthony Carone was born August 1, 1965, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to Italian immigrant parents. According to Wikipedia, “Anthony was introduced to winemaking at a young age. He started making wine at the age of 5 and in his late 20s Anthony began studying winemaking with the Amateur Winemakers of Ontario (AWO) in the mid-1990s. In the end of the 1990s Anthony, alongside his parents, began converting land they owned from fruits and vegetables to a vineyard. Based on his successful grape growing and winemaking, in 2000, Anthony was asked by LittleFatWino, Larry Paterson to present data on various cold climate grape varieties to a group of Ontario winemakers. While planting a vineyard Anthony continued to make wine. In 2003, Anthony won his first winemaking medal at the Ontario club level and proceeded to win regional, provincial and national medals for winemaking at the amateur level. In 2005, Anthony became the first Quebec resident ever to have won a medal at the AWO provincial level - it was a medal for a Pinot Noir red wine.”

Anthony is as gregarious as he is admittedly maniacal. He is a good looking man, compact but athletic, with black hair and dark eyes, his personality is magnetic. He jumps from a self-deprecating remark to a boastful one about his wine.  When he laughs, his eyes twinkle. There is mischief in them.

Wikipedia continues, “After having made a name for himself amongst the Ontario winemaking community, Anthony looked closer to home and with two other avid amateur winemakers, he founded the Association des Vinificateurs Amateur du Québec (AVAQ - Amateur winemakers of Quebec) chapter of the Amateur Winemakers of Canada where he remains the Vice-President. In 2005, Anthony's dream of owning a winery became a reality as Vignoble Carone Wines received its winemaking permit. Today Anthony is known best as the first winemaker to have won international medals for 100% Quebec grown red wines. Most recently, his Venice Pinot Noir won a silver medal at the InterVin International Wine Competition - a first for Quebec made red wines.”

Vignoble Carone Wines – An Iconoclast Makes the Best Red Wines in the Quebec Region
Anthony is outspoken on wine matters in Quebec and Canada.

“The Quebec wine industry cannot and will not grow beyond its current capacity unless drastic change cycles occur. My vision has always been, to be so blunt, burn the industry to the ground, reshape it, and then solidify it with an exceptional value metric and a common synergy that compliments the rest of the Canadian (ROC) wine industry,” writes Anthony in his blog.

“Many, especially some of the old players, are reluctant to change, fearing the worse if they should dramatically veer off their current status-quo course even the slightest degree. These are the wineries that have caused the most damage in my opinion. Since 2005, the QC wine industry has suffered from a fragmented strategic direction (if any), no consistent messaging, poor product positioning, grave mis-representation of the industry by a select few and both my family and I have endured personal attacks both publicly and privately."

Unlike most local wine makers, Anthony is not critical of the SAQ (which is the government controlled liquor board) “The regulations imposed by the SAQ not only put QC wineries on par with international producers (i.e. same profit margin) but the SAQ does not uphold sales quotas or minimal promotional spends that are enforced on other producers, including those from the rest of Canada. Additionally, the MAPAQ subsidizes QC winery sales via the SAQ, therefore increasing the profit margin for local producers already! Stop complaining QC producers you are already ahead of every other wine producing region when selling via the SAQ!”
He wants to get rid of hybrids. “Where hybrids have served our QC industry in its infancy, it can no longer sustain our ever growing and thirsty industry. Hybrids are like Gerber’s baby food. It was fine for a while, but now the consumer wants and expects more.”
He also desires changes in the current alcohol laws. “Laws in existence are extremely out-dated and are impeding growth. What is being done on this front? Absolutely nothing! The Quebec wine industry should be consistent with the rest of Canada. The CANADIAN wine industry consists of two very vertical markets – blended wines and Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA). Guess what? Quebec plays in neither of those markets. What a joke!”

He’s not a patient nor shy man. But he is intense about his craft.

The winery and vineyards are in Lanoraie. He is helped by his beautiful young wife, Sarah Hoodspith who is the Director at Zenergy Communications and the co-owner and Director of Vignoble Carone Wines. In 2008, Hoodspith was awarded, alongside Anthony Carone, the Ordre National du Mérite Agricole, Bronze Chevalier award. Hoodspith has spoken publicly about using social media as a business tool.

Together, this trio (Carone, Hoodspith, and their oenologist) has made Carone a small but dynamic powerhouse. The wines are great, and the packaging and messaging are modern and sexy.

So, with that in mind, we were herded into the Carone tasting room. Lovely, modern. With a small,  attractive courtyard.

The first wine we had was Rosso Classico 2011. Rosso Classico 2011 is a medium-bodied wine made of a field-blend of four different grape varieties. This was an estate blend of Frontenac, Landot Noir, Landal Noir, Cabernet Severnyi all grown in sandy loan, and hand-picked, end of September. The wine was aged for a short period in new American oak. The 2011 vintage was a medium-bodied wine, with a nose of mixed bright and ripe raspberries, and blackberries, with hints of spice and vanilla. On the palate, stewed mixed berries, bright and dark, ame through, with hints of black pepper on the finish. This was a lovely wine to start off with. This was, overall, my favorite. Anthony told s that this was his restaurant red. And one could easily see why. Very affordable and a great food wine, that would compliment food, not over power it.  I loved this wine!!!

The next was the bigger, showier Double Barrel. According to Carone, “Our Double Barrel wine is the ultimate expression of our passion, out-of-the box thinking, and obsession for grape-to-glass perfection. Dedicated to pushing the limits on all viti-vinicultural fronts, we decided to have fun and challenge our capabilities.”
Double Barrel is a blend of 92 % Cabernet Severnyi, and 8 % Sangiovese both grown in sandy loam. The grapes are hand-picked as late as possible. While Anthony makes the wine, the oenologist is Matteo Meglioli. The grapes are sorted by hand, destemmed, crushed gently, cold soak for 24 hours, fermentation at controlled temperatures and prolonged maceration on the skins. They use Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast isolated from the Montalcino region of Tuscany, Italy.

The winemaking takes over. Using a trick from the distilling industry, the wine is aged in two different oaks, but in successive turns. The wine is first aged twelve months in new American oak barrels and then for four months in new French oak barrels. That’s sixteen months in oak.  At 14.5% this is a big wine.
The wine is dark and impressive. Big, dark fruit comes forward. Dark cherry and raspberries and plums and a slight hint of cassis. There some exotic spices in there as ell as a hint of Orange Pekoe and vanilla. Well balanced acidity and tannins make this a lovely, lovely wine.

Venice Cabernet Severnyi 2011 was next. Venice is a line of wines from Carone. It is almost like a separate label. This blend is 90% Cabernet Severnyi and 10% Frontenac, all hand-picked at the end of September, and hand sorted.  The oenologist is Matteo Meglioli and the winemaker is Anthony Carone.
Now, I have to say, my first question was, “What in the hell is Cabernet Severnyi? According to Wikipedia, :Severny is the name of a Russian red-grape varietal. Severny results from the interspecifc crossing between Seianetze Malengra and Vitis amurensis. The hybrid has been obtained in the Institute for wineyard researches in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. The varietal has been imported to Finger Lakes AVA, just south of Lake Ontario, in the United States. Because of the genes present in Vitis amurensis, the varietal is very resistant to frost. Further hybridizations have involved the Severny varietal, as with the Saperavi Severnyi (with Georgian varietal Saperavi) or Cabernet Severny obtentions. It is an important component for the discovery of new varietals that can be grown under cold climates.”

So this wine is a combination of a Russian hybrid and a Minnesota hybrid. The wine is confusing at first. I was expecting something more like Cabernet Suavignon or Cabernet Franc. Instead it was a lovely, light-to-medium bodied red, with ripe and light berries, cherry and plum. It was obvious that the Frontenac’s bright fruit flavors of blueberry and plum and it’s bright acidity, had made a tremendous impact on the blend from the previous wine. With notes of spice and vanilla, it was a lovely, lovely wine.
The wine has been an absolute success in the marketplace. It was selected to be served to Chef Philippe Parc, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman, France) in pastry-making, during a recognition dinner in April of 2012. Before that, it was selected to be served during an homage dinner for internationally renowned chef Ferran Adrià’s during his visit to Montreal’s Institute d’hotellerie et tourisme du Québec (ITHQ) in November of 2011, and it was also served at the royal visit of Prince William and Princess Catherine in Montreal in July of that same year. It has won numerous awards in Canada, the U.S. and abroad.

Venice Pinot Noir 2010 was next.  This wine is 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Landot Noir, all hand-picked at the end of September. The same winemaking team as above.  Lovely cherry and plum come through right up front on the nose, with lovely floral overtones. Cherry and plum come through across the palate with notes of leather, black liquorice and smokiness as promised. An elegant wine. Not your normal Pinot Noir, in that, the mall amount of Landot Noir does through the profile on its ear, but the wine in and of itself was very, very good.

The last wine I tried was the Bin 33 Red. According to Carone, “The Bin 33 brand of wines are modern styled wine that is unrestrained, bold and unconventional. They were created by approaching winemaking from a different This is contrary to the traditional and current stream of thought, that winemaking should follow a recipe.”  
The 100% Frontenac wine was grown in the same sandy loam and made by the same wine team. The grapes were picked mid-October. This was a big, spicy, strawberry fruit nose with hints of vanilla. Nice acidity and soft tannins made this an approachable, easy drinking red.

After all was said and done, I had to say, despite my run in with local law enforcement, Carone wines had been worth the effort….maybe not the ticket, though.

As I tasted across Quebec in a few short days, with our group with several grand tastings thrown in, while we tasted some other nice reds along the way, I came to appreciate Anthony’s wines more and more. I came to appreciate that Anthony really had found a way to beat back nature, and to put the effort in to make wonderful, drinkable reds that could compete, not just in Quebec, but in any region. And he had. And of course, no one does it alone. They had!

Congrats to everyone at Vignoble Carone Wines!!!