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Canada & Virginia: Quietly Achieving Greatness

Some great wine regions are where you might least expect them. Try Canada and Virginia on for size...er...taste.

Canada (Country Appellation)

Canada and Virginia: Quietly Achieving Greatness

by Dan Berger
July 25, 2008

Talk about unlikely places to find excellent wine: In the vast pantheon that is world-class wine, a handful of regions may be found in which the quality far exceeds our image of the them. Two such regions – Virginia and Canada - are reaching if not already achieving greatness in some wines which have yet to be revealed to the masses.

DropCap Call it the tyranny of the glossies or simple failure on the part of wine lovers to be vocal enough, but a number of emerging wine regions in North America are being ignored, and unless they are recognized before the housing recession ends, thus making condo-demands on what is now vineyard land, we may be looking at a transitory story that will be told only in retrospect.

Are we looking at entire regions that show the same potential as Umpqua Valley, or Anderson Valley, or Walla Walla? Not really, but a story comes to mind that relates here. Some years ago, when Serge Hochar was named the ‘Wine Man of the Year’ by Decanter Magazine, which displayed bullet holes splayed across its cover, there was a subtle, unspoken implication that his winery, Chateau Musar, was the precursor to the development of a great new wine region.

Chateau Musar is located in war-torn Lebanon. And the story spoke of the greatness of the property’s wines despite a daily diet of bombs, artillery shells, and assorted other armaments. The clear implication (even if the writer and editors of the magazine didn’t think of it during production of the article) was that “if Serge could do this in the Bekaa Valley, then the Bekaa Valley is potentially a great spot to grow wine of excellence.”

Hint, Hint: there are probably dozens of places on the earth where great wine could be made.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Hochar’s wines are and have always been rather erratic (a few of them are downright poor). The article’s implication, that the region might produce excellent wines, leads to the correct generalization that there are probably dozens of places on the earth where great wine could be made. Hochar’s persistence and dedication to his art should be recognized and rewarded, to be sure. Those of his wines that do display greatness prove more than just his own perseverance. They prove that the general beneficence of his terroir allows a visionary to succeed.

That few others have followed in the Bekaa Valley is not a fault of the terroir but a function of the fact that there are few Lebanese who are as committed to wine as is Hochar.

So are there other places in the world where great wine could be produced? Certainly. Are there places in Africa that could grow superb Sauvignon Blanc? Certainly. Is there at least one place in Russia or even Holland in which Pinot Noir can be grown that would rival those of Burgundy? Of course it’s possible. The fact that it hasn’t (yet) been done is due to the economic factors that suggest that even a successful wine from such a region might not sell.

 wyncroft pinot noir 04Yet when I tasted a Pinot Noir from central Michigan a few years ago, I was stunned. I could have figured that such singular sites and visionaries do exist, and the mere fact that the wine was made in infinitesimal amounts has nothing to do with the fact that it was superb. I learned that the amount of Pinot Noir in this particular locale was limited to what the gentleman had planted: a few hundred vines.

Visionary Jim Lester made the wine in southwestern Michigan, in Berrien County, at his Wyncroft Winery. This Pinot Noir, with a retail price of $45, is one of the more startling wines you will find in this unlikely location.

Best Kept Secrets: World Class Wines from Yonder

You’d think that a wine of such stellar character and distinctive terroir aroma and taste would be perfect fodder for one of the glossies. But the fact that Lester has very little of the wine year to year, that he sells it to in-the-know wine lovers, and has virtually nothing to sell to glossy readers may have influenced the editors to bypass Berrien County.

Either that or they are simply ignorant of Wyncroft. And other similar one-off success stories that portend greatness for a region once the followers realize what’s what.

It is true that few other Michigan Pinot Noirs I have tasted offer much excitement, not even to the standard I would recommend if nothing else were available. Is Pinot Noir potentially an exciting grape in Michigan? Perhaps, though not very soon. Yet even so, if such a wine can be made in Michigan, isn’t that some sort of news?

Thus far in our narrative, such stories like those of Serge Hochar and Jim Lester don’t lead us, yet, to places we can generalize about that imminently will deliver great wines of strong terroir character at the hands of more than singular heroes.

Yes, Virginia, There are Great Wines in Virginia…and Canada

So when I tasted the wines of Jim Law at Linden Vineyards on a trip to Virginia a couple of years ago, I was so pleasantly
 Linden Vineyards
Nestled in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Linden Vineyards offers a stunning backdrop of autumn colors and sensational wines.
shocked about their greatness that I was ready to write another one-off story about them. Not only were the wines sensational, but among the best were whites and reds from Bordeaux varieties! And yet there was an echo of an episode of about four years earlier, when I tasted the wines of Bob Ferguson at Kettle Valley Winery in British Columbia, where I expected Riesling to be great and found a magnificent Syrah! And then not long ago there was a Riesling from wine maker Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau Vineyards in the Nova Scotia region of Atlantic Canada that has a  gaspereau-riesling-07personality you can’t get from winery tricks. The soil clearly is perfect for this grape and Haverstock has the skill to get out of the way and allow nature’s gift to creep into the bottle.

It reminded me of a moment in the early 1990s when I was in Vancouver and tasted some of the white wines of the Gehringer Brothers that clearly were precursors of some of the greatness later to be seen from other producers in the Okanagan Valley.

There are a

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Reader Comments... [3]

Daniel Speck , co-owner
Henry of Pelham Family Estate, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Excellent article, Dan.
While still a small wine region by world standards, the Niagara Peninsula rivals other premium small regions like Oregon in terms of vineyard plantings, to say nothing of the quiet but discernable quality revolution that has happened over the last 30 years. Still, Niagara has become the iconic new world home to sweet wines with its famed icewine, in the same manner that New Zealand has with Sauvignon Blanc. A small niche, yes, but sparkling wines are the regions next big push and something to look for in the future. Perhaps the sparklers are what will grab the glossies attention in the future if it isn't our amazing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling or Cabernet-Merlot blends?

Rhoda Stewart , Wine Writer; Author "A Zinfandel Odyssey"
Freelance, Napa, CA
Regarding Canadian wines, I concur wholeheartedly with Berger's premise. These wonderful wines deserve your support and respect! Especially, I would like to recommend Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery is an artisanal winery dedicated to producing ultra premium wines solely from vineyards situated within the Beamsville Bench VQA sub-appellation in the Niagara region of Ontario. Some friends and I visited Hidden Bench last spring, and tasted all the wines on the list. I was particularly blown away by the superb quality of its three Chardonnays ($35, $40, and $50). I bought a bottle of the $40 offering, and served it at my home in Napa to some friends who thought it one of the best Chardonnays they'd ever drunk. I would liked to have brought back a couple of cases of Hidden Bench wines, but the NAFTA so-called free trade makes that a difficult proposition. The charming French-Canadian winemaker, Jean-Martin Bouchard, was trained in Australia, Alsace, Germany, and elsewhere before settling into Hidden Bench, where his wines are gaining some renown in the region and Toronto.

Being an "ex-pat" Canadian with family and friends in Toronto, I visit the Niagara region frequently, and am always on the lookout for new wineries and new developments in the established ones. Hidden Bench, whose motto is "Terroir, Technology, Sustainability, Passion," was recommended by a wine-loving friend with The Toronto Star, and is definitely one of most exciting of the newcomers to the region, and ranks high among my newest major finds. The hospitality room and tasting bar are designed with natural wood and an openness that makes you want to linger, enjoying views over the quiet vineyards. No major roadways nearby… just quiet pastoral beauty and superb wines, both red and white. Don't miss this one when you are next in that region!

Carlton Gonsalves
Princeton, NJ
I just finished drinking a bottle of a wine I bought at the Forks in Winnipeg, while on business last year in the late Fall. The wine is a 2005 Marechal Foch from Jost (pronounced- joost) Wineyards. We has some filet mignon with it and the wine was excellent! Never had this varietal before, but was blown away how well it drank and paired with the meal.

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