Marco Piccoli is quietly making a name for himself within Niagara, Ontario’s wine scene. Having worked on a number of vintages over the past decade and a half in Italy, Germany and Argentina, Marco’s experience in both the northern and southern hemispheres has provided him with enviable knowledge and skills that he now brings to his work at Arterra Wines Canada.
Growing up in Northeastern Italy in one of the world’s most established wine regions, it is hardly surprising that Marco’s interest in winemaking started at an early age. After studying at universities in Italy and Germany, Marco was keen to learn more about new world winemaking and the unique terroir of the Niagara Peninsula seemed very intriguing to him. So he set his sights on pursuing a career as a winemaker in Canada.
He attended Brock University and studied under their Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute program (CCOVI) before being accepted to an internship at Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery. Soon after, Marco was offered the position of assistant winemaker at the then Constellation Brands production facility. While there, he heard about the winemaker opportunity at Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery and eagerly applied, joining the Jackson-Triggs team in September 2005.
The Arterra Fine Wines brand launched only recently with the 2015 vintage and began with a narrow focus on just premium chardonnay and pinot noir. The portfolio has since expanded to include a pinot gris and a merlot dominant red called “Epoca”.
Initially developed to fill the hole in the company’s portfolio that had been created by the absence of Le Clos Jordanne, it should be known that these particular wines are not meant to emulate the Le Clos wines, but rather be something completely different. These wines are created to give Marco an opportunity to be creative and perhaps a bit less traditional – maybe even controversial. He uses a partial appassimento method technique in his pinot noir and red blend wines as a means of bringing out a more concentrated, flavourful wine.
Appassimento is the process of making wines from partially dried/raisined grapes, conceived in northeast Italy whose climate is actually quite similar to Niagara. Marco insists that the technique is not meant to change the terroir-driven character of Niagara’s wines – and its pinot noirs in particular. “Niagara is a very special terroir,” he says. “What I am trying to do for pinot noir in particular is to not alter the natural aromas and flavours of Ontario fruit, but build texture.”
VineRoutes: At a time where single vineyard or single vineyard block wines are getting a lot of attention, why have you decided to produce the Arterra wines using grapes sourced from multiple vineyard sites?
Marco Piccoli: To give us better flexibility to sustainably produce a very unique wine (especially the pinot noir). Arterra is an expression of style and terroir and we constantly seek throughout our owned Vineyards the best expression of fruit (sourced from either the Lake or the Bench).
VR: Where do you think Ontario ranks among other regions and countries in terms of its ability to produce quality chardonnay and pinot noir wines?
Marco Piccoli: Among the best if we can say there is a “best region for…”. I don’t think there is “a best region”, but mainly a few wine regions in the world that can deliver the perfect environment to deliver a specific style of chardonnay or pinot noir, making them some of the most attractive among the entire world. I think winemaking is basically an expression of style that needs to be accepted for that, as an art sometimes it is difficult to define if it’s the best or the worst. Sure there are different grades of quality among these producers, however once you define “the style” you are unique by definition (because of the terroir, clones, vineyard management etc), and this puts you on the map. So that’s it. Ontario is on the map.
VR: What inspired your decision to apply the appassimento technique to your Arterra pinot noir?
Marco Piccoli: I’ve been making appassimento wines in Niagara since 2009 under the Jackson-Triggs label – mainly Bordeaux varieties. When we approached the idea of creating Arterra, one of the fundamentals we wanted to deliver was “unique”: so we approached one of the most traditional well established varietals in Niagara (pinot) and approached it from a new perspective (appassimento: both very traditional, but unique when “blended” together.
VR: What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve (be it with Arterra or yourself personally)?
Marco Piccoli: Ever since I came to Niagara in 2004, I’ve considered Sparkling wines to be the future of the region (beside the already acclaimed Icewine). It’s clear that this category has grown exponentially in Niagara since then, but I think there is still a good way to go (especially in the clones selections) to keep raising the bar. With Jackson-Triggs we did introduce a classic moscato sparkling that resembles very closely the ones I used to taste in Torino! So there is a good flexibility of styles that can be approached in a very high quality level (merlot, riesling sauvignon blanc), but one of my main focuses will stay with the Methode Traditional, maybe even a Blanc de Blanc.
VR: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out? Conversely, what do you find is most rewarding about your role as winemaker?
Marco Piccoli: the biggest challenge is always the “unknown” of the season, dictated by Mother Nature. The challenge of delivering a consistent quality level, at the same time respecting the variability of the season itself. But this is also the most rewarding thing.
Arterra 2018 Chardonnay
Grapes for this chardonnay were selected from premium sites in Niagara to create a smooth and quite elegant wine which showcases intense layers of citrus fruits, honey, wet river stone, white flowers, and subtle undertones of smoke on the nose and palate. The finish suggests flavours of butterscotch and white chocolate covered almonds. This is a very balanced and intricate chardonnay, round and full with a very plush texture. It’s on the higher spectrum of alcohol/volume (13.5%), so mid-term cellaring is welcomed. Pair this with rich comfort foods like fettuccini alfredo with chicken or a creamy risotto. ($29.95)
Arterra 2018 Pinot Noir
This appassimento style pinot underwent full malolactic fermentation and was aged in 25 percent new French oak for 12 months. Aromas of cherry-vanilla coke, some cedar chest and even smoke are generously lifted from the glass. The palate displays a vast concentration of ripened fruit, including plum, drying cherry, and a hint of strawberry liqueur. Tannins are soft and the weight on the mouthfeel is medium to full bodied. I’d suggest holding off on opening this for one to two years in order to let things settle a bit. Understandably, appassimento for pinot is a debatable style. Some welcome it, others do not. Wherever your stance lies, the price point suggests that this is an expression worthy enough to try, especially if you haven’t experienced this particular style of pinot before. ($29.95)
Arterra 2016 Epoca
Now this appassimento style merlot is something I can embrace whole heartedly. Twenty percent of the grapes were dried, which is just enough to both concentrate the fruit and allow what was an outstanding Ontario vintage to do its fair share of the talking. Intoxicating aromas of dark cherry, dried raisin, baking spice and vanilla set the tone immediately. Rich dark berry fruit on the palate is met with smoothened flavours of mocha, leather, spice and cigar smoke. It’s a plush, chewy and ageworthy wine that should cellar for six to eight years easily. Would pair well with an assortment of rich chocolates or cheeses, but who could resist lining this one up against a hearty oven-baked pasta dish or steak dinner? Very good QPR. ($34.95)
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