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A-list Artisans: Harald Thiel’s pursuit on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench

September 22, 2023
“We really care about our environment, our people, our terroir and our wines!” – Harald Thiel, Vigneron

Nestled within the heart of the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, there exists a winery that whispers secrets of terroir in every bottle. Hidden Bench Estate Winery, under the meticulous stewardship of vigneron Harald Thiel, is a testament to the marriage between nature’s bounty and sustainable winemaking.

Harald Thiel, a name that resonates with reverence among Ontario’s winegrowing community, embarked on a journey to capture the essence of this unique terroir two decades ago. It was a journey that would contribute towards redefining the landscape of Canadian wine and establish a firm reputation for excellence both domestically and internationally.

Read Also: A-list Artisans: Derek Barnett – Ontario’s original cult winemaker

The estate, initially acquired in 2003 by Thiel and his partners, was a blank canvas awaiting the strokes of their vision. That vision started, and continues to be: sustainability, terroir, technology and passion. It’s a mantra that has fed into this boutique winery’s forward-thinking use of environmentally sustainable practices as well as the superb quality of its wines.

From the vine to the bottle

Thiel’s unwavering commitment to showcasing the Niagara Escarpment’s distinctive terroir led to the planting of three distinct vineyards on the estate – Rosomel, Felseck, and Locust Lane. Each vineyard bears its own unique characteristics, owing to variations in soil composition, exposure to sunlight, and the interplay of microclimates.

“From day one our goal at Hidden Bench has been to produce terroir driven wines that stand shoulder to shoulder with the best wines from other premium wine regions and that over-deliver on the price/quality scale,” says Thiel.

“We also wanted to be respectful of the environment and craft our wines with sustainable/organic practices at the forefront of our ethos and passion for and commitment to excellence. As winegrowers we were and are committed to attention to detail from the vineyard to the bottle.”

Hidden Bench

From left to right: Hidden Bench winemaker Alex Baines, Harald Thiel, and vineyard manager Joel Williams.

Nurturing the vineyards to create wines that are true reflections of their terroir requires an approach that is both a blend of science and intuition. Thiel believes in letting the vines speak for themselves, an ideal that has led to the certification of all three vineyards as organic, with biodynamic practices.

“We believe that Ontario consumers are beginning to understand and embrace the consistent ultra-premium quality of our wines and the excellent value proposition that they represent…”

The meticulous attention to detail extends to every aspect of viticulture and winemaking. Hand-harvesting, gentle pressing, and native yeast fermentation are the hallmarks of Hidden Bench’s winemaking process, led by winemaker Alex Baines and vineyard manager Joel Williams. It’s an alchemical transformation that results in wines that exude complexity and elegance.

Of course, there’s always a hefty cost associated with producing premium-level wines, which translates to rising prices at the bottle shop, but ask Thiel if he thinks that increasing costs are a concern of his and he’ll shrug it off.

“We believe that Ontario consumers are beginning to understand and embrace the consistent ultra-premium quality of our wines and the excellent value proposition that they represent compared to similar quality wines from Burgundy, Oregon or other premium cooler climate wine regions or producers,” says Thiel. And he’s right, but there’s still plenty of doubters and naysayers that haven’t fully embraced that notion.

“There are many challenges currently facing the Ontario VQA wine industry but one of the most significant is the negative halo effect of substandard wines in the marketplace which taint the consumers’ image of Ontario being a premium wine producing region,” adds Thiel.

Hidden Bench

Hidden Bench Estate Winery is located in Beamsville, Ontario.

There certainly are a number of strategies and educational campaigns being brought forward to help the industry establish itself more with buyers. Sustainability, consumer engagement – including more intimate and exclusive tasting experiences – and quality assurance are just a few key indicators that people are paying closer attention to, and Thiel has understood this since day one.

“My mother’s words to me are still the best career advice I’ve received and can give to others; ‘Commitment, passion and attention to detail in what you do will differentiate you from the rest and assist you on the road to success, no matter what you do.’”

The winery is perhaps best known for its commitment to chardonnay and pinot noir, varieties that find their truest expressions in Niagara’s rich and textural limestone soils. The chardonnays, with their graceful balance of fruit and acidity, carry the signature of the estate’s soils; the pinot noirs, on the other hand, are a study in the nuanced interplay between soil and climate, producing wines that are vibrant and harmonious.

Harald Thiel

Tasting with Harald Thiel is always a fun, educating experience.

As I sat with Thiel, fully engaged in discussion, savouring my tasting experience, it’s great to hear how he reflects on the journey that has brought him to this point. He speaks with a passion that is infectious, sharing his dreams of further exploration for the brand and the perpetual pursuit of excellence. “We really care about our environment, our people, our terroir and our wines!” he says emphatically. “…(But) like all entrepreneurs, I am concerned about the transition of the winery and creating a financially successful and stable platform to permit the winery to continue its success and growth going forward.”

For now, Harald Thiel’s journey is far from over and he’s certainly not one to rest on laurels. He’s showing that he can continually push the boundaries of what Niagara can offer through his winery’s work. Hidden Bench is no longer hidden; it is an open invitation to explore a sense of place, one glass at a time.

Each vintage tells a story, and the below wines capture the essence of Hidden Bench’s impressive portfolio:

Zero DosageHidden Bench 2017 ‘Natur’ Sparkling

The 2017 Natur opens with effervescent allure. Delicate notes of green apple, lemon zest and toasted almond dance on the nose. The palate reveals a lively and tongue-coating mousse, accompanied by flavours of crisp pear, apple, peach, brioche and a refreshing mineral undertone. It’s a sparkling that embodies elegance, with a lengthy, zesty finish. ($47)





Roman's Block RieslingHidden Bench 2018 ‘Roman’s Block’ Riesling

A true gem in the Hidden Bench portfolio, this riesling, from within the estate’s Rosomel Vineyard, exudes purity and finesse. Aromas of white peach, honeysuckle and a hint of minerality set the stage for a flavourful, soft-textured taste that’s balanced with vibrant acidity and about 11 grams of residual sugar (RS). Flavours of ripe apricot and lemon-lime, culminating in a finish that lingers with a touch of beeswax. ($34)




Chardonnay BetonHidden Bench 2021 Chardonnay ‘Beton’

The judicious use of concrete aging and extended lees contact imparts a unique texture and depth to this inaugural expression of this unoaked chardonnay. The nose is aromatic, with notes of fresh apple, lemon curd and flint. The palate is fresh, lively and bright, where vibrant acidity harmonizes with flavours of ripe pear, citrus and a touch of saline. A very focused wine. ($27.95)




ChardonnayHidden Bench 2021 ‘Estate’ Chardonnay

Not only are Hidden Bench’s ‘Estate’ level wines a testament to the winery’s commitment to terroir expression, they’re also the winery’s indication of excellent value, presenting consumers with a high quality-to-price ratio. This chardonnay is a solid value find that embodies sophistication and balance. Notes of fresh apple, pear and butterscotch waft from the glass. On the palate, a steely mineral texture combines nicely with zesty acidity, presenting flavours of apple, pear, baking spice and a kiss of toasty oak. ($31.95)




Felseck ChardonnayHidden Bench 2020 ‘Felseck Vineyard’ Chardonnay

I can remember tasting my first ever ‘Felseck’ chardonnay. It was the 2015 vintage and it left a memorable impression. The 2017 was just as phenomenal an experience, and the 2018 – well that took Platinum at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Needless to say, Hidden Bench is sitting on a goldmine with its Felseck Vineyard, crafting consistent single vineyard expressions that prove testament to the winery’s dedication to capturing the essence of the land and its expression through the vineyard. This 2020 vintage leads with intense and concentrated aromas of ripe yellow fruit and hints of caramel. Rich stone fruit flavours and classic elements of river rock minerality, flinty struck match and salinity grace the palate’s silky, lush texture. It’s repeatedly one of Canada’s best, most collector-worthy chardonnays. ($48)


Harald ThielHidden Bench 2020 ‘Tête de Cuvée’ Chardonnay

Using just the best 10 barrels, including low-yielding old Rosomel vines, this is meant to be the pinnacle of Hidden Bench’s chardonnay portfolio. There’s exceptional depth and complexity here. Aromas of toasted almonds, lemon curd and flint set the stage. The palate unfolds with layers of orchard fruit, crème brûlée and vibrant acidity, all caressing the tongue and leading to an incredibly long and harmonious finish. ($52)




Felseck Pinot NoirHidden Bench 2020 ‘Felseck Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

A standout in the pinot noir portfolio, this is a very classic expression, with extended elevage in both stainless steel and oak barrels. Aromas of dark cherry, subtle earth and spice intertwine. The palate is rich and velvety, with flavours of blackberry, plum and a hint of forest floor. Depth and sophistication is wonderfully felt through its long, flavourful finish. ($48)




Locust LaneHidden Bench 2019 ‘Locust Lane Vineyard’ Pinot Noir

The interesting experience of tasting single vineyard wines side-by-side is that one gains the opportunity to really taste the differences terroir makes from one vineyard site to another. The Locust Lane site imparts its differences by way of its soil composition, which is mostly clay. The Felseck Vineyard is mostly limestone soil with a little clay. What we get here is a very lifted, aromatic pinot, with captivating aromas of violet, rose petal, drying herbs and ripening cherry. On the palate, firm tannins envelop flavours of dark berries, black tea and a touch of spice. An ideal candidate for some serious cellaring time (think 7-9 years). ($49)



PTGHidden Bench 2021 PTG

Hidden Bench’s PTG is a delightful blend of pinot noir (66%) and gamay noir (33%) that’s aged in both concrete and oak. It pours a beautiful ruby colour and expresses itself nicely with its aromas of fresh strawberries, red licorice and earth. The palate is vibrant and juicy, with a savouriness to its flavours of raspberry, cranberry and a subtle spice kick. A wine that exemplifies the potential synergy these two grape varieties can express when blended together. ($32)




Terroir CacheHidden Bench 2019 Terroir Cache

Terroir Cache is the winery’s cellar-worthy, Bordeaux style offering, consisting of 100% certified organic estate grown fruit from all three of its home vineyards (Felseck, Rosomel, Locust Lane). The makeup is 50% merlot, 34% cabernet franc and 16% malbec. It’s a wonderful (right bank styled) expression, with blackberry, cassis and cedarwood wafting from the glass. The palate reveals structure, with layers of dark fruit, graphite and well-integrated spices. Tannins are firm and persistent but softening. Put this one away for the next 8-10 years. ($44.95)



– Carmelo Giardina is the principal editor for VineRoutes


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