"We don't own anything, not even this room... well, except the barrels," Thomas Bachelder says from his Beamsville winery, which is really a garage rented from the proprietors of an excavation company.
We sit on overturned 5-gallon buckets around a makeshift long table, excited for the array of vineyards, regions and countries we'll soon taste, wine all made by the man in front of us. For the Thomas Bachelder label, he buys fruit harvested from top vineyards on the Niagara Escarpment (Wismer, including Foxcroft, and Saunders), and he's the winemaker for the new winery Queylus. His expertise in the vineyards and cellars of Niagara is obvious: he's the guy whose winemaking made Le Clos Jordanne famous. Thomas can talk with tireless energy, often tangentially so—he's excited to share his knowledge and get others excited. Unlike the flying winemakers who pick a region in the opposite hemisphere to allow for offset harvests, he operates in three regions that are close to the same latitude: Oregon, Niagara, and Burgundy.
The Thomas Bachelder wines stick to the Burgundian varieties (alongside Pinot and Chardonnay in France, he makes a stunning Aligoté as well as a Pinot Blanc from Savigny-lès-Beaune). I was particularly fond of the wines he makes in France and their value (his 2009 Bourgogne Blanc, 2012 St. Veran and 2013 Aligoté are all under $30). My favourite was a vibrant 2012 Marsannay ‘Clos du Roy’ that's around $40. He hopes to eventually source fruit from the more prestigious vineyards of the Côte de Beaune, but recognizes that even for someone who is hardly an outsider, these relationships take years to establish.
In Ontario, he makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with an emphasis on single vineyard and site-specific bottlings. It's the Burgundian crusade of distilling a sense of place from great sites that he brings to Niagara. It's a focus on those varieties I've seldom seen matched in Canada, however Meyer Family Vineyards of Okanagan Falls does come to mind. Meyer's Chardonnays were the first from BC that really stopped me in my tracks. I admire the dedication to two grapes that are enigmatic enough to demand your attention for a lifetime.
Bachelder’s wines tend to show a reserved, high acid and minerally style. The standout for me, and now among my favourite Chardonnays from Canada, is the 2011 Wismer Vineyard; it has a tension and balance that is rare. Later, he poured us two barrel samples of wines aging under the same conditions from separate parcels in the Foxcroft Vineyard, the rows of which we walked through earlier in the day. The vineyard has the kind of silty soil that gums up your shoes, and despite the absence of any visible stones, it has high limestone content in a fine, ground form. One glass was from a spot slightly higher on the escarpment with a little more slope and the other was from a flat spot closer to the lake. Despite what all of us would have guessed, the wine from the flat spot was unanimously favoured. Thomas explained that it will take us years to discover the nuances of our best vineyards, something the French have been honing in on for generations.