Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tawse Vineyards - Exquisite! (CA)


If you are traveling on the Niagara-on-the Lake/Ontario wine region, there is no way someone doesn’t mention Tawse. Tawse Winery was Canada’s winery of the year by Canadian Wine Access Magazine 2010, 2011 and 2012. Winemaker Paul Pender was named Winemaker of the Year in 2011 at the Ontario Wine Awards.     

The goal at Tawse is to unite traditional winemaking techniques with state-of-the-art technology to create exceptional wines. Their fruit is harvested from old-growth, low-yield vines and gently handled using natural gravity flow and geothermic energy. They are rigorous in applying organic and biodynamic methods to every aspect of their wine production and Ecocert and Demeter seals now appear on all Tawse vintages made from our biodynamic vineyards.
The tasting room is beautiful. Modern. Sleek. Impressive.

Moray Tawse and his wife Joanne are wine fanatics. In 2001 Moray purchased his first 6 acres of vineyards in the winemaking region of Niagara, today he owns more than 200. He opened his showcase winery in 2005. They made 200 cases in 2001. Today they make more than 30,000 cases.  The original intents was to focus narrowly on Burgundy varieties, with high density plantings of organically farmed chardonnay and pinot noir. 


Winemaker, Paul Pender, joined the Tawse team in 2005 and took on the role as head winemaker in 2006.  Paul is a firm believer in 'terroir' and that great wine starts in the vineyard.  Paul has seen Tawse through the process of Ecocert Organic and Demeter biodynamic certification, and in 2011 was named Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards.

Pascal Marchand also joined the Tawse team six years ago as consulting winemaker. Marchand is a Montreal native who lived in France for 20 years. Now an international wine consultant,  Marchand gained worldwide acclaim during his tenure at Domaine des Epeneaux in Pommard, Burgundy.

It is clear that the intent was to create incredible wines at Tawse. This kind of firepower and commitment were the kind of depth in talent any business or team longs for.

Tawse uses organic and biodynamic farming techniques to ensure the health of our vines and the vitality of our soils.  Much of their fruit is sourced from old growth, low yield vines and are hand-picked and hand-sorted. The first sorting is done right in the field. Their reds are de-stemmed before pressing and our whites are gently whole cluster pressed to avoid the bitter characteristics from the stems, skins and seeds. They use a six level gravity flow processing system based on the natural slope and contours of their property. The theory at tawse is that using gravity (as opposed to pumps) allows the wine to move gently from pressing to bottling with minimum manipulation. Their wine is aged in three cellars buried 6 to 8 feet below the surface.

Tawse has a modern geo-thermal energy system which has reduced their use of traditional forms of energy by 80%. They also have a Wetland Biofilter that facilitates the complete re-use of all our sanitary and winery process water.

One of our favorite things was that the tasting notes were all on an iPad. Very impressive. Very cool. I have to admit, I was very worried at the beginning of the tasting. Tawse gets such incredible hype, that it's hard to see any business, movie, any endeavor whatsoever live up to the kind of hype Tawse has become accustomed to. On the other hand, Tawse downloads a lot of information per label. Vineyard and regional information, winemaking notes, winemaker's notes, reviews. It's impressive. And again, I was a little concerned. Too much perhaps?
As a wine editor and as a blogger, you can get weighed down by the overload of information. Sometimes it's valuable and helpful (especially with great wines) and sometimes its just someone in the marketing department trying to earn their keep. I must say, in the instance of Tawse, it's much more part of the winery DNA than marketing detritus. I have attempted to download some of the information.  I believe their best effort certainly deserves mine.

2011 Tawse Gamay Noir is grown on Niagara Peninsula using vertical shoot positioning and is harvested by hand. According to the winemaker’s notes, “Gamay is usually the lightest of reds, but this one is a wonderful surprise! …Excellent concentration and depth. The nose provides the first indication, with wonderful notes of bright red fruits, a subtle candied character, and hints of mushroom. The palate is bursting with cherry and raspberry, yet very nicely balanced against the acidity and soft tannins. And a soft, yet prevalent finish, lingers.”

I didn’t get the mushroom, but the bright strawberry and bright cherry both came through, with a solid dollop of plum. An absolutely scrumptious wine. Absolutely one of the best east coast Gamay Noirs…no matter where.

Canadian wine writer Vic Harradine wrote, “Exotic spice, black pepper and über-fragrant, ripe, red fruit herald a juicy, well-structured river of delectable, ripe mulberry and spice-laden, briary berry streaking across the palate adorned with complexity and charm. It’s medium weight and balanced with good mouth feel and a juicy, tangy aftertaste warm with piquant spice, wisps of supple tannin, fruit-laden and absolutely charming. It’s a very special, top-drawer Gamay.” I agree.
I absolutely loved, loved, loved this Gamay!


Next, we tasted three Pinot Noirs and two Cabernet Francs.

All three Pinot Noirs were excellent.  Exceptional even. Very Burgundian in a Clos de Tart sort of way, with great, great fruit up front, and classic, beautiful structure behind. I liked the lightest (Quarry Road) and the darkest (Grower's Blend) best.

Tawse2009 Pinot Noir Quarry Road Vineyard Vinemount Ridge

According to VQA Ontario, “Vinemount Ridge lies just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. This appellation covers two prominent geological features - the Fonthill Kame to the east and the Vinemount Moraine on its western edge. The youngest moraine in the Niagara Peninsula, the Vinemount Moraine is a long narrow ridge of material that was deposited by the glacier that occupied the Lake Ontario basin approximately 13,000 years ago. Erosion from the several streams that cross this appellation has produced a gentle undulating landscape with many shallow east- and south-facing slopes, unique within the Niagara Peninsula. These slopes provide sun exposure and early spring warming to its deep clay soils and early budburst for the vines.”

Pender’s comments read, “This is the first Pinot Noir we have made from the Quarry Road Vineyard. 2009 was the first fruit, although the wine defies the youthfulness of the vineyard. The wine is very 'old world' in character. The nose is a bit shy showing a distinct earthiness, with floral notes. Hints of dried cherry are in the background. On the palate, the wine displays good balance and complexity. Mineral notes are very expressive of its limestone terroir. Mushroom, violets and dark cherries round out the tasting experience. Long pleasant finish!”

 “2009 was a standout year for Pinot Noir in Niagara and the cooler Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation has resulted in a wine that is fresh yet juicy and flavourful. The Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir has bright cherry, cherry pit and floral aromas and flavours, is medium bodied with supple tannins and a slight tartness on the medium long finish. Very good value and can go head to head with many higher priced Burgundies.” -  Janet Dorozinsky,

“This biodynamically farmed estate vineyard yielded a pinot of excellent purity and vibrancy in 2009. This is not about fat, flesh or weight, but rather balance and linearity: the flavours travel across the palate from start to finish without losing focus, in fact gaining momentum from the delicate entry to the penetrating finish. The pinot perfume lingers gently but persistently. Despite its apparent lightness of being, I suspect this will age rather gracefully considering the harmony in place. Lovely all in all. Tasted August 2012.” - 91/100, John Szabo MS,

The wine from this vineyard was the lightest of the three Pinot Noirs. It was bright cherry, with great acidity. The fruit lasted a long time, and the acidity was lovely, and the tannins were soft.  A very nice wine.

Tawse2009 Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue Vineyard Twenty Mile Bench

This was the next wine. It was a little darker and the fruit was a little deeper than the previous wine. According to the VQA Ontario, Twenty Bench, “The Twenty Mile Bench stretches east to west from Fifteen Mile Creek to west of Cherry Avenue. Bisected by Twenty Mile Creek, it has a complex topography with a distinctive double bench formation west of Twenty Mile Creek, and short, varied slopes that roll to the brow of the escarpment. The sheltered north-facing slopes and the air circulation from Lake Ontario provide for year round temperature moderation, setting up an ideal growing season for quality grapes….With its relatively high elevation, and double bench formation, Twenty Mile Bench provides enjoys long periods of sun exposure during the summer and fall. Lake breezes pushing up against the Escarpment, circulate the warm air and extend warm daytime temperatures into the evening, encouraging and even and continuous ripening process.”

Winemaker’s Comments read, “The Cherry Avenue vineyard is our flagship pinot vineyard. As these vines age, the wines continue to increase in complexity. The 2009 vintage shows a beautifully layered nose of cherries, berries, mushrooms and dried flowers. Outstanding balance on the palate includes great flavour, perfect acidity and a lingering finish. Cherry Ave Pinot Noir is a must for every fan of Tawse wines.”

“Still a long way from maturity, the Cherry Ave. pinot shows considerable substance and flesh, backed by pronounced tannic structure (by pinot standards), firm and gritty texture, with notable but not excessive wood influence. Flavours cover the expected range of fresh red berry, damp earth, woodsy mushrooms and resinous herbs. Very good to excellent length. Leave in the cellar for 2-3 years longer for better integration, though this certainly has the depth to deliver.” -  John Szabo MS. Tasted August 2012.

The nose and the fruit was a ripe cherry with hints of raspberry. Nice vanilla notes. Soft tannins. Slightly chewy. Begging for a roasted chicken or a pork chop. A lovely, lovely wine.

Tawse2009 Pinot Noir Grower’s Vineyard Niagara Peninsula

The last wine was the darkest and deepest of the three Pinot Noirs. This wine had medium to dark cherries, with dark raspberry.

“The Niagara Peninsula has the largest planted area of all viticultural areas in Canada. Situated at approximately N43° latitude this prime and diverse appellation is characterized by rich, fertile soils and unique microclimates, which provide ideal conditions for producing wine grapes with more complexity and intense flavour than in many warmer climates. The classic cool-climate varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc flourish here, and the region now boasts over 32 thriving varietals across 13,600 acres.”

Pender’s comments read, “The 2010 vintage was hot and long, resulting in great ripeness in the vineyard. This translated into concentration, depth and complexity in the wine. The Growers Blend is a combination of multiple vineyards, and is a wonderful reflection of the vineyard. The nose is a potent blend of ripe fruit, blooming flowers, and earthy notes. The palate is filled with black raspberry and ripe cherry, violets, tomato leaf and brown mushroom. These flavors linger for a long delicious finish.”

“Carefully fashioned by 2011 Ontario Winemaker of the Year, Paul Pender—lifted and lively aromas of cedar, pipe tobacco, forest floor and red berry fruit abound. Juicy, complex flavours of sour cherry and currant mingle with herbs, spice and toasty notes on the medium-bodied, nicely textured wash over the palate. Dry, balanced and mouth-watering on the aftertaste, it finishes in a juicy blaze with racy red berry fruit and wisps of truffles. Good to go now and paired well with smoked, grilled duck breasts or slow-roasted pork.”  - Vic Harradine,

This wine was among my favorites. This was a chewy Pinot Noir. Burgundy through and through. Nice, deep fruit, with solid acid, slightly more tannins than the two previous wines. A big, impressive, substantial Pinot Noir.

Tawse 2009 Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard Creek Shores

According to the VQA Ontario, “Creek Shores is rich in waterways, and with Lake Ontario to the north, Twelve Mile Creek to the east, Twenty Mile Creek and Jordan Harbour to the west, is almost surrounded by water. Temperatures are well moderated with gradual spring warming and bud break. Delta shaped, this appellation is characterized with long, gentle slopes facing in all directions and an abundance of small creeks draining into Lake Ontario. Most vineyards are located on the rich fertile lowlands above the active floodplain, where the former riverbeds of the Fifteen Mile, Sixteen Mile and Twenty Mile Creeks widen, and where they receive maximum exposure to sunlight.”

The winemakers notes read, “Matured in French oak barriques. The 2009 Van Bers Vineyard Cab Franc offers opulent fruit, displaying black cherry, blackberry, and cassis on the nose. The fruit is layered over a rich bouquet of tobacco, cedar and barrel notes. On the palate the evident tannins are enveloped in ripe black cherry, cassis and white pepper, framed with soft oak. This Cabernet Franc finishes with a superb balance of acid, tannins, spice and dark fruit, with a hint of bitter dark chocolate on the lingering finish.”

“The Van Bers vineyard is at the foot of the escarpment and as such contains fairly deep and rich soils.  This is surprisingly ripe for a 2009 cabernet franc, with virtually no green character of note, though the palate displays the tight acid profile of this cool vintage.  There's inviting juiciness on the palate, but the density and richness is moderate and the finish is marked by some resinous wood character - this sees 24 months in wood, of which almost a third is new.  With aeration, the pleasant floral notes of the variety emerge.  I'd tuck this in the cellar for another year or two for better integration.” -  John Szabo MS. Tasted January 2013.  
Both of Tawse's Cabernet Francs were very Burgundian in style. These were nice, bright wines. I don't mean they lacked color or depth or flavor. But these were flavorful wines not in the California mold. They were great fruit, great acidity, and nice tannins. The acidity helps keep the fruit brighter in my opinion, even when you are getting dark fruit. Dark cherry and pepper definitely came through on this wine. A hint of vanilla. A hint of cassis. Very, very pretty.

Tawse 2009 Cabernet Franc Lincoln Laundry Vineyard Lake Shore

According to the VQA Ontario, “The Lincoln Lakeshore runs along the Lake Ontario shore from Winona Road to Jordan Harbour and Twenty Mile Creek, and is backed by the foot of the escarpment bench on its south boundary. Characterized by numerous seasonal streams and long gentle slopes that grade northward from the Lake Iroquois Bluff, the appellation is greatly influenced by the Lake Ontario. Breezes from over the deep lake waters cool the sun-drenched vineyards in the summer, and warm them in the cooler seasons, resulting in a longer growing season and moderated conditions for steady, even ripening. The Lincoln Lakeshore has an especially long and temperate growing season and mild winter climate owing to the full exposure to the moderating effect of Lake Ontario.“

Winemakers Comments include, “The Laundry Vineyard site has light soils, and consequently yields wine with a somewhat lighter character. 2010 was a year of very flavorful fruit, and this wine is a reflection of the excellent vintage. A nose of ripe dark fruit and white pepper gives way to a palate of black cherries, black currants, and fresh cracked peppercorns. This is a supple yet expressive wine, with a beautiful finish.”

“Lovely, floral, fragrant aromatic and juicy - this is lovely, pure and silky in the classic old world cabernet franc style.  Acids are saliva inducing and fresh; fruit is vibrant and lively.  Very good length.  I appreciate the purity and delicacy of this wine. Lovely. pretty, elegant.  My preferred cabernet fanc from the range at Tawse, even if not the most powerful and concentrated, at least for the moment.”  - John Szabo MS.  Tasted January 2013.
This wine was beautiful. Again, very Burgundian in its inspiration. Nice acidity helped bouy up some dark fruits of dark berries, dark cherry, a zing of cassis. A lovely, lovely wine. Fantastic.

Wish I could tell you the limo was mine, but it was not. The reason I included this picture, which admittedly is awful, s that is shoes the proximity of the lake. And on a clear day, you can see Toronto. This Lake Effect helps Tawse and other vineyards in the region grow Pinot Noir in what my otherwise be a hostile region.
And I want to admit freely, that I was dead set on not buying into the hype at Tawse. But I have to tell you drank the Cool Aid (in this case Gamay, Pinot, Cab Franc) and came out with a smile on my face. I am a convert.  I went in Saul of Tarsus, and Came out Paul the Apostle. I was blinded by the lightening bolt that is Tawse, and now I believe.
The wines were exquisite. Fantastic. Well balanced. Gorgeous. What else can I say? The Gamay Noir and Pinot Noirs were among my favorite wines in the region. Hands down. The Cabernet Francs were both very good as well. Very good. But the Noirs (all four) were in fact, works of art! Exquisite.
I have a bunch of it in my cellar, and I am already thinking how I can get more. Is there a special enough moment to drink them? Exquisite, just keeps coming back to mind. Exquisite.