Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
We often discuss a vineyard year in terms of the wonderful wines that result. I’ve certainly heard many superlatives thrown around in describing just that from Niagara’s 2007 Vintage. For a change, I’d like to give a different account of 2007, one of extreme vineyard challenges and of personal highs and lows. This is the story of Jean’s Block.
I was blessed on February 24th of 2007 to marry my soulmate. Our honeymoon would have to wait, however, as my hard working new spouse still had some schooling to take care of. Having just moved back from the easy-goin’ east coast, I was about to embark on my first summer at the helm of our yet to be named winery. There wasn’t really any wine yet, just nerves and self-doubt. Were we making the right decision? Am I really a winemaker? There was only one way to find out.
My mother-in-law, Jean Tkaczyk, was always a fan of Riesling. She’d made it clear to me over the years at many lively family dinners that I’d better make her a Riesling one day! I’d always promise her that I would, but there was that small hurdle of not having any Riesling grapes in our vineyard. It was never a variety that our winery clients had desired, so it had never been planted. I fondly remember a trip that Jean, Tanya and I made to Vineland Estates one summer to taste their renowned Rieslings. I quickly became a convert. On that day I was convinced that our new winery needed this variety in its portfolio.
My parents and I decided to plant 14 rows of Clone 49 Riesling on the easternmost part of our farm adjacent to Four Mile Creek. It is a well-drained block, with good airflow and a mixed soil composition of sand and clay-loam. I was well aware that the ultimate challenge with Riesling is keeping the rot at bay, and these parameters would surely help in our efforts. Clone 49 originated in Alsace and is widely considered to be better suited for Niagara-on-the-Lake and St.Davids Bench terroir. It’s known for producing wines featuring floral and tropical fruit notes.
My father spent the spring of ’07 doggedly preparing his field for the coming vines. It was an exciting time. We were off to a hot, dry start to the growing season with all varieties well ahead of schedule. One problem: where were the April showers? They never came. For that reason I’ll always remember 2007 as a challenging drought year more than anything else. We actually had to purchase irrigation equipment! This was unimaginable on a farm that had been bathed with adequate rainfall for five generations. There had been dry years in the past but nothing like this. Maddeningly, it would rain in Queenston and Virgil, but not in St. Davids. It was a bleak prognosis for our soon to be planted Riesling. Young vines need lots of water, and there simply wasn’t enough available in the soil. As the time to plant drew near, however, this was the furthest thing from our minds.
Heartbreak. We lost Jean to cancer that summer. I’ll never be able to understand such things. She will always be remembered with love and her zest for life is still resonant in her children. Her Riesling vines were planted in sorrow.
When I work in Jean’s Block today, three years later, I’m struck by it’s beauty. Not only did it survive the drought of 2007, it thrived. It is without a doubt the prettiest spot on our farm. I’m reminded of Jean every time I look up to see a majestic hawk or encounter a curious cardinal sitting on the top wire. She loved nature and took every opportunity to get her hands dirty in the garden. I’ll never take these earthly pleasures for granted again. My worries magically disappear in Jean’s Block.
The first crack at making wine from this vineyard came in 2009. We harvested about 500kg of fruit on October 25th. The cool ferment was carried out solely in stainless steel with W15 yeast. The wine was left slightly off-dry (14 g/L), but has plenty of acidity to balance the sweetness. We bottled 36 cases on August 30th, 2010.
Bottles #2 through 437 are now available to you. Bottle #1 was put away for someone special. I hope she likes it.