Is there such thing as a good or bad vintage? A good vigneron – one who concentrates on good grape growing – will most often put out a good bottle of wine. But there can be no denying that some vintages are meant to be drunk more immediately, while others may require extra time in a cellar to reach their optimum.
The mystery of what a particular vintage will taste like is what makes wine such a beautiful and intriguing subject matter. Especially when comparing quality pinot noir and chardonnay – two varietals that can translate a year’s unique weather effects with blueprint precision.
In the case of Ontario’s 2017 and 2018 vintages for pinot noir and chardonnay wines, there is arguably little doubt that one of these vintages stood out more than the other. Helping to provide context for this vintage variation study are the Le Clos Jordanne pinot noir and chardonnay from both the above-mentioned vintages.
Initially one of Ontario’s best success stories, Le Clos Jordanne was all but dead just a few short years ago. After two short crops in a row, due to the very cold winters in 2014 and 2015, the decision had been made to do away with the brand in early 2016. And so, the 2012 vintage was sadly to be its last – without much in the way of proper closure for its fans and loyal customers. But as it so happens in this current age of reboots, one of the most coveted brands in Ontario was bound to make a comeback, and that plan would come to fruition in 2019 with their 2017 vintage release.
As was the case with previous vintages of these wines, the vineyards used are hand-selected for their similarities in both their climate and the clay and limestone-rich soil to Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. They were originally planted with ultra-premium rootstock imported directly from Burgundy, with the resulting wines truly raising the bar on quality for the Canadian wine industry.
Canadian winemaker Thomas Bachelder spearheaded the original project, building on the cool-climate, low-intervention, terroir-revealing winemaking techniques he had developed during years spent making wine in Burgundy and Oregon. Bachelder left Le Clos Jordanne in 2010 and continued to produce world-class examples of cool-climate wines in Oregon, Burgundy and Niagara, under his own label, Bachelder.
With the news of the re-launch in 2019, it was also announced that Bachelder was returning as the label’s winemaker. His immense knowledge of this particular vineyard, his passion for the region and his unique, terroir-focused style made him the only option for the brand’s proper return.
“Canada has just as distinct terroirs as Burgundy,” says Bachelder during a recent discussion. “The Vineland and Jordan corridor is a very special place – a sweet spot – for growing pinot noir and chardonnay.”
Continues Bachelder: “These particular vines and this region have always held a special place in my heart. After many years, to be invited back to continue the legacy of Le Clos Jordanne and bring the prominence of this vineyard back into the Canadian spotlight is very exciting.”
According to VQA Ontario, 2017 was labelled as a good vintage. But for those in the know when it comes to pinot noir and chardonnay, 2017 was an exceptional vintage. The heavy rainfall and cooler weather patterns affected the growing cycle early on during the spring months, with slowed development, but then caught up very quickly in the late summer as the drier weather extended right through into the fall season. With ripening moving rapidly, producers enjoyed a full crop.
According to Bachelder, “2017 happened to be a phenomenal year for winemaking in Niagara.” When Le Clos Jordanne announced that it would return with the 2017 vintage, wine insiders were thrilled, knowing full well that 2017 was being hailed as a banner year for pinot noir and chardonnay – two varietals that tend to prefer moderate, consistent temperatures with no major heat spikes. “Expect this inaugural vintage for the rebirth of Le Clos Jordanne to be something truly special,” claimed Bachelder during a pre-release presentation.
Le Clos Jordanne 2017 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Chardonnay
In what will surely be remembered as one of the very best (if not the best) vintages of the decade for chardonnay in Ontario, we’re being treated with what can only be best described as vintage Thomas Bachelder. One sip and immediately you realize why this wine was destined to make its way back. Such poise with distinguished flavour profile, including apples, peach cobbler, lemon zest and a mid-palate minerality perhaps never experienced to this degree in previous releases. There’s even an irresistible saltiness that lingers on the palate that’s just so refreshing, adding to its beautiful complexity. Bachelder suggests that this is the type of vintage that will allow this wine to cellar beautifully through 2025 and even well beyond. ($44.95)
Le Clos Jordanne 2017 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Pinot Noir
Currently displaying notes of rich berry fruit with some noticeable oak vanillin integration, this is a wine that has so much potential for those who are patient. (After all, we’ve waited this long for the brand to make a comeback, what’s another few years of waiting?) It’s quite tight at the moment, so if you do open now, decant this before drinking and witness its unfolding. You’ll notice that it’s quite focused and layered, hinting at things to come with added complexities sure to hit peak performance come 2024. There’s only so many times that this can be repeated, but 2017 will go down as a great vintage for Ontario pinot noir. ($44.95)
Weather conditions for Ontario wine regions in 2018 were extremely variable through all four seasons. The year started off with cold temperatures and just when you thought spring had arrived early, winter reappeared in April, bringing cold weather, snow and ice. Spring finally arrived for good in May and the weather was warm and windy across Ontario. The warm trend continued through the summer with some extreme heat through June and July and heatwaves at the end of August.
A reduction in yield for 2018 can be attributed to two main factors: long dry spells which resulted in small berry size at veraison; and the necessary dropping of fruit, particularly for those varieties that started to breakdown prematurely, due to humidity, at a time when the grapes had already softened. To some extent, chardonnay felt much of the impact.
In reference to the low yields: “2018 was a short year,” says Bachelder during a virtual discussion on the 2018 release. However, Bachelder was quick to note that “warmer years allow the wine to have more approachability and deliciousness.”
Le Clos Jordanne 2018 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Chardonnay
Much akin to the 2017 vintage with its complex flavour profile of lemon, peach cobbler, apple pie and spiced vanilla, one might even suggest that these flavours are much more pronounced this time around. Bachelder says that “the ’18 chard is silkier and richer than the ’17. It finishes lighter and even has a touch of honey.” The wine is definitely rounder, perhaps even a bit meaner, with its layers already beginning to unfold. Thomas Bachelder knows these chardonnay vines so well, and therefore can be completely trusted with his expression of the vintage. I believe he’s made the best of a warmer year that required strict attention. Yields were lower as vines were thinned to provide intensely flavoured fruit. And so, the finished product tells the story of 2018 well. Whereas the ’17 vintage can rest comfortably for several more years, this 2018 is perhaps a bit more impatient, more temperamental, one to enjoy sooner. ($44.95)
Le Clos Jordanne 2018 ‘Le Grand Clos’ Pinot Noir
There’s a certain energy that can be tasted in this 2018 edition of Le Clos Jordanne’s pinot noir. And much like the 2017 vintage, this one still needs time to completely sort itself out. “The ’18 pinot is voluptuous, with slightly grainy tannins,” says Bachelder. Palate flavours are rich and soothing, with rhubarb, cran-cherry and black currant notes. It’s spicy and minerally and backs itself up nicely with firm acids. It might not need as long as the 2017 to be fully appreciated but give this at least a few more years before forming any final verdicts. Likely to hit its sweet spot in 2023. ($44.95)
Below is part of a 2019 discussion with Thomas Bachelder on the return of Le Clos Jordanne – for the complete story and interview, please click here:
VineRoutes: What is it about the specific terroir of the Le Clos Jordanne property that has you (and so many others) completely mesmerized? Why is this such a special place to make wine?
Thomas Bachelder: Le Clos Jordanne arguably holds one of the top-sites in Canada for pinot noir and chardonnay. If you’re not familiar with the Jordan Bench, it’s a beautiful micro-climate in the Niagara peninsula that, due to its proximity to the lake and the Niagara escarpment, has a surprisingly temperate climate – which is ideal for the cultivation of grapes. The soil, rich with limestone, adds a wonderful minerality. It’s like a little paradise in an otherwise very cold part of the country. Le Clos Jordanne’s vineyards are situated perfectly to take advantage of this unique, natural phenomenon and its distinct terroir produce wines with a sense of place, finesse and elegance.
VR: Is there any particular difference in winemaking style (or approach) that separates Le Clos Jordanne wines from the others that you produce or does the difference entirely have to do with terroir?
TB: I’ve always set out to let the terroir and the region reveal itself through each of my wines, with the goal of having them become true reflections of the places where the vines were grown. Le Clos Jordanne wines are beautiful, complex representations of the terroir of the Jordan Bench, and all the winemaking techniques we use are reflective of that.
VR: In your opinion, is the wine just as good today as it was 10 years ago or has this gotten better with age?
TB: The interesting thing about winemaking is that as the vines mature, and the roots grow deeper into all those layers of soil and rock, the wines become more complex and compelling – really taking on the profile of the terroir. 2017 happened to be a phenomenal year for winemaking in Niagara, so you can expect this inaugural vintage for the rebirth of Le Clos Jordanne to be something truly special.