2014 Vintage Report

GROWING SEASON AND HARVEST

The overall growing season ended up with slightly below average heat units and slightly higher than average precipitation. The severely cold winter slowed the onset of spring, with cool temperatures causing some concern as normal heat accumulation did not commence until mid-May. The weather in the summer months remained somewhat cool with plenty of rainfall, which favoured healthy vine vigour that aided vines in their rejuvenation after the long winter. Fortunately, to close the season, the autumn months of September and October brought stretches of above average heat and below average rainfall. The warm, dry conditions allowed for all varieties to ripen completely. Overall, the wines of 2014 are, like 2013 and 2011, highly aromatic, bright and crisp. However, the wines of this vintage definitely possess greater weight, volume and complexity than their predecessors.

The winter of 2013-2014 was especially cold. Due to the extended period of extreme cold, stretching from January well into March, the Great Lakes in general saw 95% ice cover by the end of February. Lake Ontario, which is crucial for temperature moderation in our region, was itself about 65% ice-covered. Thankfully, the western part of the Lake where Niagara lies maintained open water throughout the winter, which prevented more severe crop reductions than we eventually experienced. With the Lake temperature close to 0ºC (32ºF) by winter’s end, cooler than normal temperatures persisted well into May. As a precaution given the possibility of winter injury, extra buds were left during pruning as insurance heading into bud break.

Contrary to our best estimates, however, winter damage was in fact far less than expected with our core varieties, i .e., Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Bud break and flowering occurred somewhat behind the norm in late May and late June respectively due to cool weather conditions. Despite this, enough heat units accumulated to keep vine growth steady. During July and August greater than average precipitation and slightly cooler than normal temperatures continued, resulting in considerable vine vigour, necessitating an aggressive canopy management programme including manual shoot and crop thinning. These techniques brought the vines into balance and helped to mitigate disease pressure as the vines approached veraison at the end of August. As a result, we were able to bring sound and healthy fruit into the final stages of ripening.

By September, hopes for complete ripening of all varieties were diminishing. Mother Nature, however, had other plans as the months of September and October, with perfect timing, garnered long, hot and dry days along with moderate evening temperatures. These conditions fast-tracked the ripening of all varieties, putting the growing season back on schedule.

By the third week of September, Chardonnay was ready to be picked for our sparkling wine. The still wine harvest commenced with Pinot Noir between September 30th and October 7th. During the sunny days of October, for the first time in many years we commenced the harvest of Chardonnay and Riesling more or less concurrently, finishing on October 23 and 25 respectively. The skies remained consistently clear into late October, with Cabernet Franc being picked between October 29th and November 4th, prior to the onset of the first frosts. The vintage closed with a chilly November and December, which preserved the Riesling that remained on the vine for picking of our late harvest wines. The harvest for our Riesling ‘Indian Summer’ and Riesling Icewine occurred between January 6th and 12th, 2015.

While the 2014 vintage started slowly, by the end it proved to be a one of great consistency across all of the grape varieties. In our view, 2014 was a definitive vintage for Niagara, showing that by working with the right cultivars, even extreme weather challenges can be overcome to produce wines of great merit. Unsurprisingly, the stars of the vintage appear to be Riesling and Pinot Noir, both of which are highly aromatic and packed with flavour. Meanwhile Chardonnay shows great precision and finesse, while Cabernet Franc is meatier and more structured than any comparably cool vintage in the last decade

RIESLING

Two thousand and fourteen has produced some of the most aromatically complex Rieslings in our winery’s history. In addition to typical notes of bright citrus, stone fruit and spice, they share a touch of exotic fruit that we have rarely seen over the decades. On the palate, the wines demonstrate tremendous definition and integration, and somewhat more weight than the 2013’s. Whether the style is dry or medium-dry, our family of Rieslings delivers the beautifully affirming mineral textures that these wines have come to be known for over the decades. Showing exceptional balance and complexity on release, they retain the overall structure to deliver 10 to 15 years of cellaring in the case of the top bottlings.

Bud break:    May 22-27            Yield:     4.0 tonnes/acre (69 hl/ha)
Flowering:     June 25-30          °Brix:     19
Veraison:       Aug. 30-Sept.       4 pH:     3.08
Harvest:         Oct. 15-25             T.A.:       10.4 g/L

CHARDONNAY

The gradual ripening conditions of this vintage provides the 2014 Chardonnays with an outstanding range of aromas that are true to their cool climate origins, as well as a rich, generous feel on the palate. As always, the Musqué clone is defined by signature aromas and flavours of orange zest/marmalade, typically viscous texture and balancing acidity. The barrel-aged Chardonnays demonstrate a plush mouth feel, while maintaining the stony texture that is their hallmark. The entry-level wines, along with the Chardonnay Musqué, will be best consumed within the first 3 to 5 years, while the Estate and CSV wines have the depth to develop for 6 to 8 years. Finally, the Chardonnay base wine for our Traditional Method Blanc de Blanc promises a fresh, medium-bodied sparkling wine that will support ageing on the lees for at least three years prior to disgorgement.

Bud break:    May 16-21            Yield:    4.0 tonnes/acre (69 hl/ha)
Flowering:    June 22-27          °Brix:      20.6
Veraison:      Aug. 24-29           pH:        3.32
Harvest:        Oct. 12-23            T.A.:      8.38 g/L

PINOT NOIR

The Pinot Noir wines from 2014 are marked by their saturated purple hues, aromatic intensity and vivacity in the mouth. Very fresh aromas of red cherry, cassis and blueberry are integrated with subtle tones of cedar and spice, the latter resulting from ageing in primarily older French oak for about a year. Despite the ripe, fruity character of the vintage, without exception on the palate these wines retain an appealing elegance, with silky, mineral textures and delicate earth tones complementing succulent flavours of plum and sour cherry. At all levels these wines are approachable in their youth due to their bright fruit character yet particularly at the Estate level possess a sturdy structure that should reward up to 8 years of cellaring.

Bud break:    May 20-25            Yield:     2.7 tonnes/acre (47 hl/ha)
Flowering:     June 26-July 1     °Brix:    21.0
Veraison:       Aug. 24-30            pH:       3.35
Harvest:         Oct. 1-6                  T.A.:     7.7 g/L

CABERNET FRANC

The Cabernet Franc-based wines from 2014 are deep ruby in colour, exhibiting abundant fruit and plenty of complexity at a young age across the collection. The wines are highly aromatic, exhibiting black fruit and spice up front with well-integrated undertones of smoke, leather and cedar. On the palate, flavours of black current, cassis and plum predominate, with firm and juicy tannins providing the structure to allow around 16 months of barrel ageing on average. While riper and more structured than 2013, these wines share the same finesse and delicacy of the preceding vintage. We continue our exploration of the appassimento method, naturally air-drying small batches of Cabernet Franc during the late autumn. The balance between phenolic and sugar ripeness of this vintage was ideal for this process, allowing our proprietary ‘La Penna’ bottling to maintain a level of freshness that perfectly balances the heft and concentration that appassimento delivers.

Bud break:     May 23-28             Yield:    3.0 tonnes/acre (52 hl/ha)
Flowering:     June 30-July 4      °Brix:    22.1
Veraison:       Aug. 30-Sept. 4      pH:       3.46
Harvest:         Oct. 15-25                T.A.:      5.1 g/L