Q&A: Ontario winemaker Thomas Bachelder on his favourite wines, guitars and places to drink wine in Toronto

Q&A: Ontario winemaker Thomas Bachelder on his favourite wines, guitars and places to drink wine in Toronto

Thomas Bachelder loves guitars and wine equally, but has managed to make a career out of the latter. Born in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and now living in Niagara, Bachelder makes wine in three countries under his own Bachelder label as well as Domaine Queylus in Niagara (along with co-winemaker Kelly Mason) and Vina Echeverria in Chile. Bitten by the home winemaking bug as a young man, Bachelder became a wine journalist and magazine editor before studying in Burgundy, and the rest is history. His exquisite cabernet franc, which we included in last month’s Toronto Life Wine Club offering, makes the perfect winter warming wine with your holiday dinner party. We sat down with Bachelder to find out about his favourite wines and guitars, and some tips for serving guests.

Toronto Life Wine Club

How did you learn about winemaking?

My brother gave me a winemaking kit as a young adult and I got hooked. My mother tongue was English but I learned French so early, that it was a big part of my culture. I was buying bottles of French wine before I turned 18. I had a great thirst for French and Québecois culture. So there was no way I could not like wine.

Do they enjoy wine differently in Quebec?

The whole province is on fire for wine, and not just the big cities. People drink wines in rural Quebec on a Wednesday night that most people would only think about for a Saturday night. It’s an exciting time for wine in Canada and Toronto because our own wines are coming along so well too.

How many countries do you make wine in?

I have four clients in Ontario, but two haven’t yet launched. The wines aren’t bottled yet. The Bachelder “three terroir” wines are made in Oregon, Burgundy and Niagara. I’m making a wine called RST in Chile, and we’re launching the second vintage in Quebec. It’s all single-vineyard wines from the Rapel region. I didn’t want to make wine in the southern hemisphere, then I realized I’d be doing it at a time of the year when I wasn’t making wine elsewhere.

What’s special about Domaine Queylus?

At Queylus, we’re making very low-yield merlots and cabernet francs. It’s been a great joy of my life to get to know cabernet franc and understand that it does have a place in Niagara. In Pomerol in Bordeaux, a couple of drops of cabernet franc bring a floral rose petal note on the nose of merlot. And when you have a cabernet franc-dominant wine—as with the Queylus Reserve du Domaine—a little of that merlot fills it out.

Describe your 2016 Reserve du Domaine cab franc—what does it taste like?

It comes from our best parcel of cabernet franc, tuned in with 14 per cent merlot. We’re evolving a new style of cabernet franc in Niagara that has beautiful silkiness and beautiful ripe fruit. I think this vintage is going to live for a while, and it helps define what we can do in the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation.

What do you pair it with?

I love it with confit de canard. It’s just my favourite dish. Over four days visiting Quebec recently, I had three confits. I love Ryan Crawford’s version at Backhouse in Niagara. I love this wine with a good steak, too, or a chicken dish or slow-cooked leg of lamb.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto to drink wine?

Bar Sybanne — I love Ossington and the whole scene there. Also Sassafraz, George, La Banane. Oh, and Chez Nous in Leslieville. The owner Laura Carr is doing heroic work promoting an all-VQA wine list.

Winemakers tend to like guitars. Do you?

I have a Strat, but my favourite is an old Telecaster. But I play mostly gut string, one I bought in Spain. I have an old 1940s tiny classical guitar. I think it came from the Von Trapp house in Vermont. I found it in Montpellier antique store and it had come out of an estate sale in Stowe. I always have six guitars. I sell one, I buy one. But I regret selling my cherry-red Gibson ES-330 from the 1960s … I sold it to pay the rent when I was young.

In your opinion, is it important to decant?

When I’m hosting a dinner party and I’m serving a young wine, I resolve to decant it by noon. And then I forget to do it till around 5 or 6 p.m. But one thing you need to do: polish your glasses and light the candles before your guests arrive. It’s a way to say I love you. Decant your red wine so it’s ready and your guests will understand it on the first glass not on the last glass.

What wine do you put on your table for Christmas dinner?

A great chardonnay! I think increasingly in Quebec we have the expectation that there will be oysters and shellfish at Christmas and not just red meat. So there will for sure be a great single-vineyard, mineral Ontario chardonnay on our table. There will also be a great sancerre, maybe a chablis and maybe a muscadet. We will not finish that meal without a great, aged pinot. And some advice: If you have a great older pinot, serve it first but hold some of it back. Then serve a younger or nearly ready pinot. Then, once your guests’ appetites are whetted but they’re not drunk yet, bring back that great older pinot.