“I’m determined to understand this place even more. I want to showcase this site, and the wines that are grown here, to the world!” – Keith Tyers
Until the 1990s Prince Edward County was best known as an important fruit and vegetable-growing region. The Closson Chase winery was just a bold idea when a dedicated and savvy group of wine enthusiasts and professionals, led by celebrated winemaker Deborah Paskus, rediscovered the region.
After two years spent analyzing the County’s soils, a plot of land at the intersection of Closson and Chase Roads in Hillier Township was determined to be the right spot. Paskus fell in love with an old dairy farm owned by early Prince Edward County settlers, the Clossons. The site, approximately five kilometres inshore from Lake Ontario has a perfect six-degree southern slope, good drainage and gravelly calcareous soil on a limestone base; ideal for cool climate chardonnay, the ideal location for her dream vineyard.
Built to craft world-class wines, Paskus and her group of partners planted the first vines in 1999. From then on, Closson Chase has been labeled as a quality-driven winery that helped spearhead the birth of the Prince Edward County wine industry, using centuries-old European traditions and sustainable, innovative techniques to create its wines using only the finest chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris grapes. An early advocate for sustainable practices, Closson Chase crafts fine wines that reflect each individual vintage, capturing the distinct qualities imparted by the soil and climatic variations of the year.
When Paskus retired in 2015, Keith Tyers took the lead as head winemaker of Closson Chase, moving the winery in a new and exciting direction, but still maintaining a strong focus on producing some of the country’s finest expressions of chardonnay – a mantra that the winery was initially built on. The chardonnay made here is so good, in fact, that comparisons to Burgundy are often iterated when referencing the County, and Closson Chase is a major reason why those comparisons are drawn.
Tyers’ impact has arguably been centred on the winery’s push into the ultra premium pinot noir space – still very much a work in progress when Paskus was in charge, but a varietal that the winery is now becoming more recognized for with each passing vintage.
“When I took over, I focused on pinot noir, and I feel like I have an okay grasp on it and will continue to make improvements,” says Tyers rather humbly. (His pinot is without a doubt some of the best, terroir expressive examples made in Ontario today.) “However, I find myself revisiting chardonnay and its many expressions we get from here. “Through these, along with the pinot gris we grow here, I’m excited to delve into finding additional ways that convey our place.”
Firmly believing that the crucial work is done in the vineyard to produce exceptional wine, Keith has carried on the traditions of high-density planting, careful canopy management, low yields, maintaining the vines through all stages of growth. “I think I’m blessed,” says Tyers. “I inherited older vines on a fantastic site that tell the story of each varietal in a unique way.”
Handing the winemaker role over to Tyers came not only by way of hard work and dedication to the craft of making premium terroir wines, it also came as a result of his loyalty to Paskus and the winery that began taking shape nearly two decades ago. With his knowledge as a sommelier and a thirst to learn more, Tyers’ introduction to the world of making wine came in 2004 when he was brought on to work as a vineyard labourer. That eventually led to him becoming the assistant winemaker under Paskus.
A step away from Closson Chase in 2009 allowed Tyers to gain more knowledge. He embraced the opportunity to work alongside Ron Sparanzini at Oak Heights, while helping others grow grapes in Prince Edward County. With a desire to work with his friends in a place he calls home, Tyers returned to Closson Chase in 2012, three years before he would be named head winemaker.
Working in the vines in those early years has led to an insight of place, soils and climates that make up the three vineyards at the Closson Chase estate. That has allowed the wines that are created to reflect the terroir from where the grapes are grown. The mission of delivering this unique place from grapevine to glass is the driving force behind all the wines Tyers crafts.
“I’m determined to understand this place even more,” says Tyers. “I want to showcase this site, and the wines that are grown here, to the world!”
It is Tyers’ philosophy that careful cultivation of the land, vines and fruit will create the purest expression of place. “I want to keep pushing and deliver wines that tell the story of our terrior. And I believe that as the vines evolve from vintage to vintage and my appreciation of the place grows, I hope to define it more, or at least have a better understanding of it.”
“I think I’m blessed. I inherited older vines on a fantastic site that tell the story of each varietal in a unique way.”
Based on how things have gone since taking charge, there’s no doubt he’s got an understanding of his environment. The wines do speak for themselves, but these are undoubtedly Keith Tyers’ wines now.
“I’m just a guy who loves wine,” adds Tyers. “I enjoy watching the vines grow with the anticipation that I can make the wines that tell a story. This is a place I believe in, call home and consider a great place to grow and showcase pinot noir and chardonnay.”
Closson Chase 2020 ‘Ridge Vineyard’ Pinot Gris
Less than 160 cases were made of this inaugural vintage of pinot gris. Not to be confused with their equally stunning KJ Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris – which is sourced from Niagara each year – the Ridge Vineyard is all Prince Edward County and according to winemaker Keith Tyers, it “has the potential to deliver rich fruit, almost marmalade like, with honeyed tones and that chalky finish that defines Prince Edward County.” Floral aromas, along with stone fruit, citrus and wet stone immediately foreshadow this wine’s complexity. Crisp and very focused, the palate flavours are refreshing, highlighting that trademark County acidity and limestone, all the way through the finish. ($29)
Closson Chase 2020 ‘The Loyalist’ Chardonnay
One of the winery’s entry level chardonnays, this one, from the highly touted 2020 vintage, is a standout for its stone fruit, floral and citrus aromas. The mouthfeel is crisp, showing ripened orchard fruits and limestone minerality. Simple, but not basic. An ideal pairing for most white meat and seafood-based meals. ($26)
Closson Chase 2018 ‘South Clos’ Chardonnay
Graduate to the next level with this single vineyard chardonnay that’s full of terroir-expressive quality. Aromas of flint, smoke and spice open in the glass. The wine then opens further to reveal lemon rind, floral notes, and a hint of melon. The mouth is mineral driven and stoney, with that limestone acidity acting as a real backbone. There’s a silky texture, despite that bracing acidity, that leads to a complex and rather lengthy finish. Chardonnay has the ability to tell the story of where it comes from, and this particular example is testament to that belief. ($42)
Closson Chase 2017 ‘Grande Cuvée’ Chardonnay
The team at Closson Chase clearly wants chardonnay enthusiasts to take note of this particular ‘Cuvée’. The best barrels are selected and honed in on, resulting in a more structured and balanced wine that promises a cellaring potential of 7-10 years. Pineapple, baked apple and melon notes burst on the nose. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find wildflower, peach, spice and buttered bread notes. The palate mirrors the fruit and spice on the nose and presents such a luscious texture with impeccable acidic balance. The wine is no doubt a showstopper (one of the best Canada has ever produced?). Sure to cause a buzz throughout the region, Closson Chase is making a bold statement with this. ($95)
Closson Chase 2018 ‘Churchside’ Pinot Noir
This 2018 edition of the Churchside pinot noir expresses the warmth of the vintage with a softer profile of dark fruit flavours, beetroot, mushroom and earthy notes. It’s not nearly as funky and barnyard-esque as previous vintages of this wine were noted for. There’s an excellent spicy and mineral core here, not to mention it’s very balanced and smooth, leaving the palate feeling fresh and clean. Cellar it for up to five years. I’d say it has to be one of the better single vineyard offerings in the province for the price. Just 380 cases produced. ($42)
Closson Chase 2017 ‘Grande Cuvée’ Pinot Noir
According to Kieth Tyers: “Pinot is finicky, and the County allows it to deliver ripe fruit aromas and flavours while showcasing those beautiful earth tones, all on a tight, low alcohol frame.” This Grande Cuvée is a blockbuster of a pinot noir. Designed to complement the Grande Cuvée chardonnay, and from the stunning vintage that was 2017, this is a wine that takes Ontario’s (already) distinguished capabilities of crafting magnificent pinot to another level. It opens with a mineral freshness before expanding voluptuously with richened red fruits, spiced plum, Christmas pudding and dried cherry lending support. No sour edges at all. Subtle earth notes round out the extremely lengthy experience. It’s a complex wine that deserves your full attention. Cellar potential is easily 10 years. I wasn’t joking around when I said that this takes Ontario-made pinot to a new level of sophistication. It’s pricey, but very well done nonetheless. ($90)