On a recent trip to the fantastic wine region of Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Château des Charmes. I explored the entire winery, with a detailed tour that included all aspects of production; from the vineyards to the cellar to the bottling facilities. I was impressed with their commitment to sustainable methods throughout, and their hands on approach to all processes of winemaking. Their affinity with Old World methods and grapes [for example using Méthode Traditionelle for their sparkling wine], was particularly thought provoking and had me questioning why other winemakers limit themselves to a few types of grapes. Hopefully their pioneering spirit will encourage the more recent additions to the region to branch out beyond their comfort zone. [I’m aware that Gary Pilliteri, of Pillitteri Winery with his roots in Sicily, is having success with Sicilian grapes, and using the Appassimento style of winemaking.]
Bottles undergoing riddling for Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wine.
The estate produces over 30 red and white wines, including sparklers, Rosé, Icewine and their flagship, single vineyard Bordeaux blend, ‘Equuleus’. I tasted two wines during the tour, followed by many more at their tasting room. I purchased quite a few bottles, so they will be showing up here subsequently in time. [I am returning to Niagara on the Lake soon and will be returning to Château des Charmes to restock and try their latest vintages!]
Estate: Paul Bosc, a fifth generation French winegrower who holds degrees in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France, founded Château des Charmes in 1978. Paul brought his young family to the Niagara on the Lake region of Canada in the 1960’s “with the idea that growing our own grapes was the best way to make fine wine”. Paul established himself as a pioneer in the region, from planting traditional French varietals to employing cutting edge techniques such as installing wind machines to protect the vines from the cold.
The estate consists of 280 acres of vineyards in four locations all within the Niagara-on-the-Lake region. Two of the vineyards are located in the sub-appellation of St. David’s Bench [the appellation was actually named after Paul’s vineyard there], and two are in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation. Today Paul Sr still has an active role in the vineyards, his son Paul Jr is President of the estate, and Paul Jr’s wife Michèle is the Director of Marketing. In addition to being recognized for their progressive, groundbreaking work with traditional French grapes and methods, their wines have garnered accolades for their balance, finesse and quality.
Philosophy: “We are custodians of the land.” Crafting wines that are “food friendly and age worthy. We hope you will call them delicious”.
A balanced approach to oak ageing is utilized, all of the French oak barrels are at a medium toast and used multiple times.
Winemaking: Committed from the very beginning to sustainable practices, the family is a charter member of Sustainable Winegrowing Ontario. Chemical treatments are never used, and sustainable methods such as hedge vine canopies, and under drainage are utilized. Naturally occurring yeasts are used for the majority of the wines. All by-products from the winemaking process [stems, skins, seeds] are returned to the vineyards as natural fertilizer. Their extensive cellars are geothermal and do not require any heating or cooling, especially impressive considering how cold Canadian winters can be. In years where the weather wasn’t the kindest to their warmer climate red wine grapes, they will declassify; “We would much rather you be delighted with a wine that over delivers at $19.95 than be disappointed with a $40.00 wine that wasn’t up to our quality standards”.
Château des Charmes Aligoté Niagara on the Lake VQA 2014
Tasting Notes: Vibrant green apple and tart pear are dusted with freshly grated lime zest. A streak of clean minerality abides thru the crisp finish. Light and refreshing, this is an engaging sip on its own or with light dishes.
Château des Charmes ‘Droit’ Gamay Noir St David’s Bench VQA 2012
‘Droit’ is actually an indigenous Canadian Gamay clone, born right in the Chateau des Charmes vineyard. For more information on this fascinating occurrence, click here.
Tasting Notes: Clear garnet in colour with sweet spices and black currant radiating with each swirl. Bright tart fruit, [think blackberry, red currant] highlight a mineral driven, earthy backbone. A dash of crushed pink peppercorn lengthens the clean, dry finish. A substantial Gamay with a food friendly acidity make this a lovely companion with a wide variety of dishes.
Lots of self control here to not open up any of the taps on the stainless steel tanks in the geothermal cellar.
Prices listed are in Canadian Dollars