Notes from Tawse Cellar

Notes from Tawse Cellar

I spent a couple of hours on Friday at Tawse Family Estate in Niagara, tasting from barrels of 2006 whites and reds just beginning to form into wines. At this stage, any winery’s barrel cellar is a giant hatchery, each barrel an individual offspring from different grape varieties, vineyard microclimates, clones or rootstocks. And each of these rests in a different oak incubator—French, American, Hungarian, even Canadian—from different forests, and coopers (barrel makers). The level of organization required is remarkable: following each barrel and noting its characteristics; making blending decisions based on flavour profiles; volumes required of a certain label; how much the grapes cost and for how much the wine might sell. I gained renewed respect for the winemakers and their teams, and what they are going through at this time of year. It is a frenetic, creative time, where teams either pull together or the wheels fall off.

It’s all the more interesting here because the 2006 represents a new-start vintage for Moray Tawse, a Toronto financier with an abiding passion for fine wine in general, and Burgundy in particular. Tawse only opened this showpiece facility to the public last year but has released wines from as far back as 2001. There are many eyes on this “high-end” project. A previous winemaker has departed, allowing for a stylistic re-tooling that is perhaps a bit more commercially mainstream although still based on the concept of low yields, complexity, individuality of certain vineyards and power befitting higher prices. It is the first full vintage under the stewardship of roving winemaking consultant Pascal Marchand, an ex-Montrealer, who lives and makes wine in Burgundy, France, but also makes pinot noir in California, Chile and Australia. Being an ex-member of the team that launched the Vincor-Boisset joint venture called Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara, he is also familiar with Ontario wine and its cool, challenging, humid climate. The day-to-day winemaking is managed by assistants Paul Pender and Brian Hamilton, energetic and highly enthused recent grads from oenology programs in Niagara.

And for the first time with the bountiful 2006 vintage there will be enough wine to provide more commercial options. There was ennui throughout Niagara after a glorious summer turned into a sopping, six-week autumn that caused widespread “breaking down and rotting” of the ripe fruit. It panicked many into harvesting whether ready or not, and flooding wineries with many batches all harvested at once. It was not an easy vintage. But here the results seem promising, with good ripeness in the wines, set in a mid-weight, balanced style.

Although the 2006 wines, and most of the 2005s, are not yet “finished” (let alone commercially available), we provide some quick notes—without ratings—from the cellar. (Others, however, are rated.) For availability and ordering visit, and search out winery manager Brad Gowland.

Tawse 2006 Chardonnay Musque Tank Sample

New for Tawse in 2006 from an aromatic clone of chardonnay. Lifted, floral and grapy with a touch of licorice, set in light, delicate frame. Good acid and alcohol balance.

Tawse 2006 Riesling Tank Sample

Riesling is a mainstay wine here, mostly from old vines part of the original property purchase. Tender, off-dry, and again very well balanced, with minerality on the finish.

Tawse 2006 Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard Barrel Sample

Cab franc is something of a specialty here (the 2002 won top honours for category at Canadian Wine Awards). This 2006 is promising; very juicy, complex and nicely ripe.

Tawse 2006 Merlot Barrel Sample

A single barrel from estate vines showed surprising ripeness, complexity and depth. Will likely be blended into a “meritage” but interesting to note the success of this wine.

Tawse 2005 Riesling Carly’s Block ***1/2, $25

A bit closed behind some sulphur when I tasted a sample that had been recently bottled, but this is powerful, dry, classic Alsatian-style riesling. Best mid-2007 to 2010.

Tawse 2005 Pinot Noir ****, $35

Also from the Laundry Vineyard, this is bottled but will not be released until May. Ripe, racy raspberry-red currant fruit with good balance, suppleness and excellent length.

Tawse 2004 Beamsville Bench Chardonnay ****, $22/375 ml

A big, complex, powerful chardonnay with rounded texture. Interesting peat smoke, baked apple, butter and a herbal note mindful of fresh dill. (750 mls releasing soon.)

Tawse 2004 Echos Chardonnay ***1/2, $19

New lower-priced label launching soon—largely for restaurant trade. Not the finesse and depth of more expensive chards but nicely balanced and integrated vanilla, apple-pineapple fruit and a herbal/fresh dill note that seems to be a house signature.

Tawse 2004 Cabernet Franc ***1/2, $16/375 ml

Mid-weight, juicy, charming, slightly soft cab franc with ripe raspberry-strawberry jam fruitiness. Not as green as many Ontario examples. Fine to enjoy now with a loose, hottish feel. May age out by 2010. 750s releasing soon at $30 range. Slighter slimmer, more complex, herbal 2003 is still available.

Tawse 2003 Robins Block Estate Chardonnay ****1/2, $48

Monster chardonnay with powerful complex butter, herbs, pineapple, cashew. Rich. Svelte texture, excellent length. Not everyone’s style but impressive. Maturing.