More, More, More

Bachelder's 2021 Toussaints release

More, More, More

November 1 sees the largest assortment of single vineyards yet from Thomas Bachelder, but don’t get the wrong impression. Bachelder’s free-spirited operation — he works out of a cellar commonly referred to as the Bat Cave, doesn’t own vineyards, makes wine in rented space at a friendly winery — isn’t expanding into the big leagues production-wise.

This year’s slate of wines is larger than last year’s tidy selection. But none of the single vineyard releases from the 2019 vintage are more than 175 cases. (Some lots are only 50 cases.) Bachelder’s Les Villages chardonnay and pinot noir from each vintage hover around 300 cases. Bachelder’s set-up is small but mighty, considering these wines consistently count amongst the best in the country.

“It’s not a volume play,” Bachelder explains. “But it is an effort to allow people to be able to taste Bachelder wines if they don’t have the money or the inclination to explore the single vineyards.”

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this year’s Toussaint release as it introduces new sites into the portfolio — Cuesta for chardonnay and pinot, Grimsby Hillside for chardonnay, and Hanck for pinot — contributing different personalities to the established sites (Lowrey, Wismer Parke, Wismer Foxcroft, Saunders) produced by Bachelder from the start. They join recent additions, Bai Xu and Willms, which allow the winemaker to increase his portfolio of single vineyard wines and fashion more complex and rich blends, such as Les Villages, chalkboard chardonnay and the Parfum pinot. 

“We’re not going to sell these wines in a way that most people will taste them all. You know, who’s going to open them all in one night? Somebody who has a dinner party maybe?” Bachelder says. “The main thing is to make a bunch of single vineyards, make a rocking Village and get on with it, just like they do in Burgundy.”

What a different a few years makes. Not long ago, Thomas and Mary were agonizing over the need to sell their relatively expensive, small batch wines online. Would people reach for their wallets without tasting the wines? They needn’t have worried. Their sterling reputation and the scarcity of these fine wines inspires brisk sales. 

Bachelder launched his own micro négociant label with the 2009 vintage, working with purchased grapes in three countries. Wines made in Oregon and Burgundy have fallen by the wayside as Niagara has become the sole focus.

A masterful winemaker, Bachelder understands the use of barrel aging and judicious blending to create complete and distinctive wines that show the personality of the vineyard. Precision and focus are common descriptors used for the pinots. Richness and restraint are hallmarks of the chardonnays.

You cannot go wrong with any of these releases, the quality is ingrained across the board, but if you buy nothing else, make it the Hanck Pinot Noir 2019. This strikes me as the most complete and engaging wine of the release, with plenty of potential to mature gracefully if desired. Likewise, Wismer-Foxcroft Nord Chardonnay 2019 once again offers the most character of the chardonnays right out of the gate. Still the best of all worlds.

Unedited notes for the November release are collected here, in the order that they were tasted remotely over Zoom with Bachelder. Notes on the two magnums to be released December 5 will follow.

portraits courtesy Elena Galey-Pride,

Saunders “Warren Saunder 100” Pinot Noir 2019
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $47.95

Younger vines, planted in 2011 and 2015. Organic vineyard. Small berries, “smaller than Quebec blueberries” according to Bachelder. 50 cases.

Interesting and enjoyable pinot, with nice structure thanks to chalky tannins. The concentration of fruit is there, but could use more complexity to be in the outstanding category. Love the freshness, structure and depth. Age-worthy over the mid-term. Drink 2022-2026.

Wismer-Parke Pinot Noir 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula 

SCORE: 94 PRICE: $47.95

Wismer-Parke sits 5.4 km from Lake Ontario, at an altitude of 110 metres, and features reddish magnesium and dolomitic-limestone clay soils with a solid silt component. Planted in 1999 (115 and 667 Pinot Noir clones on 3309 rootstalk) to the south of Highway 8 on the Bench, on a well-drained slope on the east side of Victoria Street in Vineland. 150 cases.

A sumptuous and fragrant pinot, with bright fruit and spice notes. Savoury but much less savage than the Wild West bottling, (more graceful and approachable), mineral accents underneath some positive fruit character. Bound to develop gracefully, but easy to appreciate straightaway. Drink now-2030.

Wismer-Parke “Wild West End” Pinot Noir 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 94 PRICE: $60

A mystery clone. The far edge of the vineyard. 75 cases.

Structure, stuffing and savage character. This displays the powerful iron and bloody notes common to Parke, so much so it’s not a style I personally enjoy. Hard not to admire the structure, intensity and length though. Fans of bold, flavourful pinot should love this. Drink 2022-2032.

Hanck Pinot Noir 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 95 PRICE: $47.95

The debut release. Pretty much adjacent to Wismer Parke, located 10 metres to the north, this impressive vineyard makes an incredible first impression in 2019. 175 cases.

The most exciting wine of the tasting. So expressive, so enjoyable, so immediate. Stunningly complete. Lovely blend of sweetness of fruit, with fresh acidity. Citrus freshness on the finish gives this a different timbre than everything else in the line-up. A pretty pinot, but with substance. Delicious. Excited to see this develop. Drink now to 2030+.

Cuesta Pinot Noir 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 93 PRICE: $44.95

The debut release. Named for the ownership group that purchased Stoney Ridge from founders Jim Warren and Murray Puddicombe, Cuesta was created to be a premium site but never clicked commercially. 75 cases.

Quite different. Distinctive in this lineup. Bright and vibrant tart red fruit. Spicy. Compact and sinew, firmer tannin, density of fruit. Opens in the glass, character is slow to reveal itself. Real energy. The sleeper in this release. Drink now to 2029.

Lowrey Old Vines Pinot Noir 2019
St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 93 PRICE: $47.95

Located five km from the Niagara River, and under its considerable influence, the Lowrey vineyard has complex soil variability and limestone content (due to both its glacial heritage, and the fact that the river used to run through the property eons ago). Getting enough heat is never an issue here in St. David’s, which is some 13 km from Lake Ontario and is locally considered a bit of a “suntrap.” 87 cases.

Fragrant and spicy in that classic Lowrey fashion, but with more fruit thanks to the vintage. Floral and youthful. Tense. Zesty. Needs time (once again, in that classic Lowrey fashion). Drink 2023-2033.

Lowrey “Old Eastern Block” Pinot Noir 2019
St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 95 PRICE: $65

Eastern part of the vineyard planted in 1984 and 1988. 87 cases.

Generous. Uplifting. Really benefits from the vintage, as the heady fragrance (fruity entwined with stony/floral notes) is matched by vibrant fruit. Intense nose and palate. Fresh, but not as firm as Lowrey can be, more charm. Precision. Focus. Drink 2022-2033.

Willms “Vignes de 1983” Chardonnay 2019
Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $47.95

Willms Vineyard, which provided the grapes for the original Sandstone label that was part of the founding partnership for 13th Street Winery, is located between two bodies of water, some six km from Lake Ontario, and about four km from the Niagara River. Soils are combination of silt, loamy-clay, gravel, limestone and sand. 100 cases.

Richest and ripest of the lineup (although there’s competition in this vintage), powerful and focused, yellow apple/pear, honeyed/buttery, creamy and leesy accents. Immediate. Drink now to 2024.

Bai Xu “Vignes de 1981” Chardonnay 2019
Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 93 PRICE: $44.95

The debut release. Some of the oldest vinifera plantings in the region, located 6 km from Lake Ontario, roughly 4 km from the Niagara River. Clone 95 chardonnay, planted 1981. 75 cases.

Concentrated and complex like Willms, but more vibrancy and poise. Attractive stone fruit, pear/yellow apple notes. Texture is inviting, engaging. This is one to watch. Drink now-2025.

Cuesta “Far-East, Man!” Chardonnay 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 93 PRICE: $44.95

The debut release. Cuesta chardonnay was a standout in the cellar at Stoney Ridge.  50 cases.

Richer fruit and creamy on the palate. Citrus veering to yellow apple/stone fruit. Wonderful texture / concentrated yet bright. Exciting, long and complex. Drink now to 2026.

Wismer-Foxcroft “Nord” Chardonnay 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 95 PRICE: $47.95

Located 5.4 km from the lake, at an altitude of 110 metres, the Wismer-Foxcroft vineyard is a steep site with stony-silty and limestone soils, and beautiful view of Lake Ontario. The Foxcroft ‘Nord’ parcel is located on the west side of Victoria Street in Vineland. 150 cases.

Everything clicks here. Weight, density, and subtlety. Amazingly complex, sculpted, and intense. Bright, concentrated, solid, balanced — this lights up the senses. Drink now-2029.

Wismer-Wingfield “Ouest” Chardonnay 2019
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 95 PRICE: $47.95

Located 6.8 km from Lake Ontario, at an altitude of 160 metres, the Wingfield parcel sits on well-drained slope on the east side of Victoria Street in Vineland. The vineyard is the highest elevation and furthest from the lake of the parcels Bachelder works with — 50 metres in altitude and 1,000 metres further from the Lake than other Wismer parcels. Grapes are harvested 10 days to two weeks after the other Chardonnay vineyards. 150 cases.

Expressive and concentrated, rich and refined, ripe and rewarding. Lively and long. Concentrated fruit triumphs over the mineral/reductive edge that makes Foxcroft sing. This is fuller and deeper in nature. Great structure. Drink now-2030.

Saunders “Warren Saunders 100” Chardonnay 2019
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 93 PRICE: $47.95

Typically labelled as Saunders-Haut, this is labelled to honour the 100th birthday of owner Warren Saunders. Just 3,9km from the lake, but on the Bench at Mountainview road, Saunders is organically-grown on clay, silt, sand & limestone. 75 cases.

Richness is always a drawing card to Saunders chardonnay, but the smooth, broad and textured mid-palate benefits from underlying mineral vibrancy. Expressive. Lovely. Drink now-2029.

Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019
Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $44.95

The debut release. Located in the extreme edge of Niagara wine country, Grimsby Narrows is taking shape as a potential sub-appellation. More wines like this will add momentum to the cause. 100 cases.

Surprising. Rich, ripe and broad, with brightness underneath. Lively, with nice length. Textured with finesse and some spice. Attractive style. Drink now to 2025.

Related Articles