Chardonnay: Tempest in a Teapot
Thomas Bachelder’s biggest fear was that each of his new Chardonnays, made from the 2009 vintage in Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara, would taste the same.
After all, he applied the same winemaking skills to each of his namesake wines: organically sourced grapes where possible, minimal intervention, the same deft touch with similar, mostly older, oak barrels for 16 months, and all, or mostly all, grapes fermented with wild yeasts.
“We applied the same thought, a Burgundian thought, in all three places,” Bachelder says as we taste through his three wines, at his dining room table in the place he now calls home along with his wife Mary Delaney and their young daughters in Fenwick, Ont.
Bachelder is better known in Niagara for his brilliant winemaking at Le Clos Jordanne, the Vincor-owned label that only makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He is known as a hard-working perfectionist when it comes to making wines at the highest end of the quality spectrum.
He left Le Clos to chase a dream — a dream to make cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in three of the regions where he had made them before.
Bachelder and his family rented cellar space in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy and, using similar winemaking strategies, produced a trio of Chardonnays from the 2009 vintage (three Pinot Noirs will follow).
All the wines are made with a “small-lot” mentality to “maximize subtlety and demands long aging for terroir expression, finesse and nuance,” Bachelder says.
Tasting the three wines, the typicity of the three regions shines through. All are fine examples of where they come from but they also represent what can happen when left in the hands of an accomplished winemaker such as Bachelder.
The wines are defined by the fruit, not the oak, with a mineral edge that shows more in Burgundy than in the New World regions. All three of the wines, priced at $35, were released in February to positive reviews, but not without a touch of controversy in Ontario. The Oregon Chardonnay was pulled off the shelves at some Vintages stores on the first day of the release due to the presence of harmless “wine diamonds” or tartrates that had crystallized in some bottles due to the minimal cold stabilization of the wines.
Tartrates are not in any way harmful but the LCBO was worried that some consumers would react to seeing the crystals and return the bottles, so therefore they were yanked.
Three days later, the affected bottles were returned to the shelves with a note explaining the wine may contain naturally occurring tartrate crystal sediment.
“This sediment is harmless and the wine may be decanted or filtered before serving,” the LCBO note said. From Bachelder’s point of view, it was a tiny bump in the road, a tempest in a teapot that affected very few bottles of wine, and, if anything, helped rather than hurt sales. “This is not the first time I have seen [the tartrates], nor do I expect it to be the last. I like to make textured, mineral Chardonnays with a ‘sense of place.’ I believe that over cold-stabilizing a wine is the antithesis of terroir expression in high-end wines.”