Inspiration can be a powerful force, and when acted upon, it can lead to amazing accomplishments. For the Westcott family, there is no truer belief.
Inspired by the cool climate chardonnays and pinot noirs coming from Malivoire, 13th Street, Flat Rock and Le Clos Jordanne, Grant Westcott and his wife Carolyn Hurst, decided they wanted in on the action.
To know the full story is to start, somewhat, at the beginning. Grant and his wife Carolyn had achieved highly successful careers before making the decision to start a new one in wine. Grant was in banking and Carolyn was in the field of tech. Both shared a passion for countryside living, so to speak. Grant being a cattle farmer at one time and Carolyn being a native of the Niagara region.
Initially the plan was to sell their home in Toronto, buy a farm in Niagara and just grow grapes and sell them to wineries. A reasonable retirement project. But as the plan began to unfold, they both realized that what they really wanted to do was produce their own wine under their own brand name. The Westcott property, located within the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation in the Niagara Escarpment, was purchased in 2006 and by 2012 they had their first vintage.
The endeavour would become a true family venture. Grant’s son Garret became their vineyard manager and daughter Victoria joined to lead the customer experience and manage most of the winery’s marketing efforts.
The Westcott Vineyards home farm is a 40-acre property that has been planted to 26 acres of vines (all of which are pinot noir and chardonnay). In fact, almost 75 percent of the property is planted to pinot. Vines here thrive due to the alluvium soils above the limestone and clay bedrock atop the escarpment, which helps to make the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation unique.
Having caught the winemaking bug with vigor, the Westcotts were in no place to settle with what they had. So, in November of 2018, they decided to expand their horizons by acquiring more land. The 43-acre Butler’s Grant vineyard property was purchased and is located within the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation.
One of the more prestigious properties within the bench sites, Butler’s Grant has a long heritage of viticulture dating back to 1804 when Col. John Butler was awarded a land grant by the British government for services rendered during the American Revolutionary War.
Today, this vineyard property is widely recognized by winemakers for the quality of the fruit and has been known to be a closely guarded insider secret for many years. Inniskillin once produced a Butler’s Grant chardonnay which was served to President Bill Clinton as well as the Pope and his entourage on visits to Canada.
Driven by the belief that a sense of place matters and that wine should be an expression of terroir, Wescott Vineyards implement a more low yield, low intervention style under winemaker Casey Kulczyk, who joined Westcott during the 2018 harvest as head winemaker.
My first sip of Westcott wine came during Easter dinner of 2018. It was their ‘Estate’ pinot noir from the 2014 vintage. I was impressed at how smooth and balanced it was and remember taking a second and third look at the bottle before googling Westcott. I was clearly intrigued. About a month later, I was visiting the place and trying more of their wine. I can remember thinking that this was going to be a winery to watch. Before the year was done, I’d be there again, this time for a fireside dinner and wine experience. I’ve been to Westcott twice more since, pretty much making it a regular stop on the rotation of must-visits.
My most recent visit to Westcott came just as wineries were in the beginning stages of re-opening in early June. Courtesy of Kulczyk, I was able to sit through a guided tasting of the entire portfolio of wines made using the home farm fruit, save for one wine (Butler’s Grant vineyard tastings will have to wait for a future visit). Below are my complete reviews of each of the wines tasted that day.
It’s never too late to get into the wine business. Want proof? Just look to the Westcott family. It’s safe to say that this so-called ‘retirement project’ has veered down a more ambitious path, a path that holds the promise of a very bright future, and believe me, we all should be truly grateful for that. Talk about inspiring.
Westcott Vineyards 2013 ‘Brilliant’ Sparkling
Made in the traditional method, Brilliant is a sparkling that can be included in the same conversation with many premium French Champagnes. This is remarkable. One of the best I’ve had from Canada and that is no overstatement. Two thirds pinot noir, one third chardonnay. 75 months of lees contact. Hand riddled and hand disgorged (perhaps the only winery in the country that does this?). There’s lovely tertiary flavours making their way through, including textured bready notes. Acids are still fresh, elegant and dainty. It’s supple and full on the palate. The Westcott’s apparently like to tease their customers by only releasing small batches of their Brilliant at a time. Every few months, it gets a release and before too long it’s gone. 8000 bottles made in total at one heck of a price point. ($39.99)
To try something new, Westcott made a ‘Brilliant’ rosé from the 2018 vintage. Just 120 cases were made, and it is already sold out.
Westcott Vineyards 2019 ‘Delphine’ Rosé
Made with 100 percent cabernet franc grapes from the 30 year-old vines at Butler’s Grant (and winemaker Casey Kulczyk assures it will remain that way), this darker coloured rosé was produced utilizing a six hour skin maceration, then fermented using select yeast before finally undergoing complete malolactic fermentation. The results are an aromatic and refreshingly fruity wine, with inviting notes of strawberry and raspberry. It’s highly drinkable, especially during hot summer weather. ($18.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2019 Pinot Noir Rosé
As is the case with their ‘Brilliant’ Sparkling, Westcott’s pinot noir rosé is among a small handful of standouts in its class year after year. Made from 100 percent estate grown fruit, using traditional yeast and wild ferment, this is a much paler coloured rosé than the complimentary ‘Delphine’ (four hour skin maceration). It’s fresh with subtle herbs, tart cherry and earth. There’s a mineral edge component that goes well with the crisp acids, and, did I read this right, just 1.5 grams of residual sugar? Nicely done, once again. ($23.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2019 ‘Temperance’ Red
The concept of Temperance is something that had to grow on me initially. I’m generally not a fan of gamay/pinot blends, as I feel it tends not to do justice to either grape varietal. However, what we have here seems to be something that stands apart from the drab and dull g/p blends I’ve tasted from various producers in the past. And Casey Kulczyk knows he’s onto something here. Made under wild and malolactic fermentation (notice a trend here?), this is 55 percent gamay fruit (sourced from a neighbouring Vinemount Ridge vineyard site) and 45 percent estate pinot noir. It’s minerally fresh with herbal and savoury notes, brambled fruit, earth, underbrush and cherries. Quite complex, and yes, to be taken seriously for what it is. ($19.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Estate’ Chardonnay
I’ll first start by noting that Westcott’s 2017 Estate Chardonnay will forever be remembered as one of the best valued chardonnays I’ve had (click here to read a review I wrote on it). Such an experience doesn’t happen very often. And so, I’m not certain that the 2018 vintage entirely lives up to the experience with its predecessor, but that’s not to say that this is an inferior wine. This was winemaker Casey Kulczyk’s first vintage with Westcott and his expression of chardonnay is one that uses far less intervention, the practice of wild ferment, full malolactic and just 20 percent new oak. The result is a lighter, more friendly texture – rounded and mouth coating, a bit less edgy. Acids are building but they don’t overwhelm. Notes of freshly picked apples compliment its slightly salty, mineral core. It’s sophisticated and it will undoubtedly please many, while others might not be so quick to let that 2017 slip from memory. ($29.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay
Made in the same style as the ‘Estate’ chard, the ‘Reserve’ is simply the best of the lot. It starts in the vineyards, with some select picking specifically with the reserve in mind while the balance is decided through repeated tasting trials throughout the aging process – what doesn’t make it into the reserve, goes into the estate. This is a bit tight still but softer on the palate. Shows a quality promise, and is a step up from the estate, no doubt, however right now it just needs time – about three years to fully come into its own and to begin expressing itself more fully. ($44.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2018 ‘Block 76’ Chardonnay
According to Casey Kulczyk, typically the fruit from this particular vineyard block (consisting of about one acre of vines) would have been used for the ‘Lillias’ bottling – Westcott’s unoaked chardonnay, which is produced each year as a more value-centric choice. But thankfully, it has been re-assigned as single vineyard status and we should all feel so lucky if we can get our hands on it. Just 90 cases were produced. This singular chard is proof that terroir makes all the difference. Despite Block 76 adjoining two other distinct chardonnay blocks within the farm, this particular one shows off its unique differences in a way that can’t be ignored. Despite its aromatics still being a bit closed, the palate gives off a healthy dose of minerality, salinity, pronounced pear and spice. It’s complex and well balanced and right now it’s their best chardonnay within the 2018 portfolio. ($44.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2016 ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir
From the very hot and dry vintage that was 2016, this pinot underwent full malolactic, wild ferment and 33 percent whole cluster. The oak treatment is 23 months in 100 percent French oak. The wine as a result is soft and juicy with subtle earth and cherry notes. Acids are well balanced and there’s barely a hint of tannin to be noticed. If you’re someone who takes note of sub-appellations and studies their unique differences, this is a great choice to represent the Vinemount Ridge. ($29.99)
Westcott Vineyards 2016 ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir
Stylistically, the approach to this ‘Reserve’ pinot is slightly different than the ‘Estate’ in that it’s 100 percent whole cluster, 21 day skin maceration and 15 percent of the French oak is new. It’s well-structured and complex, with noticeable tannins and well integrated acidity. Notes of mushroom, earth and underbrush are accented by black cherry and vanilla. Can cellar for another six years. Definitely a notch above and worth making the leap to, in case you’re wondering about differences from the estate version. Only 300 cases produced. ($44.99)