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Malcolm Jolley: Tasting Toussaints: Bachelder Wines’ new collection is an elegant tour through the Niagara wine region

Commentary

Thomas Bachelder doesn’t make a lot of wine, he makes a lot of wines. These days that means making small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from organic vineyard sites spread around the Niagara Peninsula from the south shore of Lake Ontario to nearly the top of the Niagara Escarpment for his label, Bachelder Wines. He and his wife and partner in wine, Mary Delaney, buy grapes from established growers, often working off of a top from another winemaker, or patiently waiting for a row or two to become available.

A native Montrealer, Bachelder is among Canada’s most respected winemakers. After deciding he’d rather make wine than write about it, he and Delaney moved from Quebec to Burgundy where he studied and started making wine. After France, he went to Oregon and then Niagara to make wine for the Clos Jordanne project in the mid-2000s. From there he worked in other wineries and made Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under the Bachelder label in what became his three terroirs: Burgundy, Oregon, and Niagara.

The focus today is firmly on Niagara, where he and Mary established the home cellar they call their “Bat Cave”. There, they elevate the wines they began to source from around the Peninsula. This week they braved the traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Way to bring a bunch of their wines around the Golden Horseshoe for a trade and media tasting in Toronto featuring the wines from their Toussaint release.

When I got the invitation, I wondered if Toussaints was a new label the Delaney-Bachelders had developed. Only when I downloaded the 42-page catalogueThere are very detailed notes for all of the 19 wines in the Toussaint release in the catalogue, which is lovingly written by the wine writer turned maker, and can be downloaded at the Bachelder website: https://bachelderniagara.com/ did I understand it cleverly meant “all saints”, and the wines were officially released on November 1st. We would be tasting 19 wines from nearly as many places, plus a bonus wine: Bachelder’s 2020 Les Villages Bench Pinot Noir, which is a blend.

The tasting was held at Chez Nous, a wine bar on Queen East that serves only Ontario wines, beers, ciders, and spirits. The venue choice was deliberate, and Bachelder explained its owner, Laura Carr, had worked in hospitality all over the world before coming back to Canada with a view to exclusively celebrating what was here—a familiar theme.

Bachelder began the tasting by explaining its purpose. He hoped, he told our group of about a dozen, that we would walk out of the tasting with at least a sense of the difference between the Niagara Peninsula’s two general terroirs: the higher bench lands“A bench or a ‘benchland’ is a long, narrow strip of relatively level land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it. Benches can be formed by many different geological processes, such as a river (as in a river’s flood plain, or an “abandoned” river bed), waves (if alongside an ocean), or the varying levels of erosion of different types of rock. https://bubblyprofessor.com/2013/07/04/geology-escarpment-and-bench/ up the Escarpment“An escarpment is basically an area of the Earth where the elevation changes suddenly. An escarpment is often found along the ocean shore. https://bubblyprofessor.com/2013/07/04/geology-escarpment-and-bench/ itself and the lower lands closer to the shore of Lake Ontario. Of course, because this is wine, for every rule there is at least one exception, so we might also see how an individual site might defy typicity by, for instance, being very close to the water, or placed on a hill that faced a certain direction.

We began by tasting the 2020 Les Villages Niagara Escarpment Bench Pinot Noir. This wine is a blend of many, though not all, of the Pinot sites Bachelder sources from. It’s not technically part of the Toussaint release and was put into bottle earlier than the single-site wines. The idea was to give us a baseline and calibrate our senses into an idea of what the 2020 Niagara Pinot made by Bachelder would taste like. Bachelder’s boutique small-batch wines are not cheap, and he admitted as much by saying he is loath to call Les Villages an “entry-level wine” with a price tag of $35 a bottle. In any event, the wine was vibrant, bright, and fresh with red fruit, calling for food.

And then the whirlwind: eight single-site 2020 Pino Noirs. The first three from “the lake” in the flat lands north of the Queen Elizabeth towards the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Then five from “the bench”, up into the big hill of the Escarpment.

“I try to do the same thing with everything,” explained Bachelder. To poke out the differences between each vineyard, or even parcel within the same vineyard, the winemaker keeps to a relatively low intervention regime. There is about 20 percent new oak ageing in every wine, though this may vary somewhat depending on how many barrels are made.

A loyal disciple of the Burgundian tradition of wood and wine, Bachelder explained that every barrel is its own unique vessel, so despite trying to create control over the winemaking with each lot, two barrels of wine sourced from the same place, treated the same, and sitting next to each other in his Bat Cave may vary considerably. There is always winemaking work to be done, he seemed to say.

With the eight single-site Pinots, Bachelder’s lesson rang true. The lake wines tended to be a little bit fresher and fruitier, and the bench ones maybe a bit more concentrated, or showed some slightly darker cherry notes. Though to be honest, the same words appear in both groups in my notes a lot, so there is a golden thread of red fruit and liveliness that runs through them all.

If the Pinots were a whirlwind, then the 11 Chardonnays that followed, tasted second in the Burgundian tradition, were a hurricane. First, four lakes: crisp and mineral, showing lots of stone fruit. The Patte Rouge, the last of the four, we learned, sadly, was a silent vineyard that no longer held vines after a series of misfortune attended to it in 2021-22, so that what was left was ripped up and it awaits another use.

Then, the seven bench Chardonnays, which showed less stone fruit and more citrus, or sometimes apple…except for the ones that didn’t, or just showed themselves and not much more. Like all things in wine, answers more often than not simply lead to new questions.

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney’s Niagara project is one of these ambitious and innovative endeavours, which in retrospect seems obvious. He is not just making sophisticated and elegant wines that maintain a racy vibrancy. He is mapping the terroir of the region in a precise way that no one has done on this scale. May he find more sites and make many more vintages for the benefit of us all.

Sean Speer: National security matters too—Why we must reshore our critical industries

Commentary

On November 22, 2022, as part of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Ontario Economic Summit, The Hub’s executive director Rudyard Griffiths moderated a “Munk-style” debate involving Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne, C.D. Howe Institute CEO Bill Robson, former Ontario Cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, and The Hub’s own editor-at-large Sean Speer. The debate’s resolution read: Be It Resolved: Ontario Needs Reshoring as Part of Its Growth Agenda. Pupatello and Speer argued in favour of the motion. Coyne and Robson argued against it. The Hub is honoured to publish the debaters’ opening statements.


Let me say what an honour it is to have someone as distinguished and public spirited as Sandra Pupatello as my debate partner. 

It’s also kind of cool to be debating Andrew Coyne and Bill Robson, who’ve both had formative influences on me through their thinking and writing over the years. That’s not a dig, by the way, at how much older they are. 

That I’m up against them is of course a bit intimidating—though Sandra and I have one thing going for us that they don’t: the better argument.

What are their arguments? I suspect that we’ll hear about Public Choice theory: the idea that the politicized allocation of resources in the economy causes capital to flow based on political preferences rather than market forces. There’s a reason after all the Nobel Prize-winning founder of Public Choice called it “politics without romance.”

They’ll also probably point to other Nobel Prize-winning economists like Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman who’ve written powerfully about the productive benefits of leaving the allocation of resources to the invisible hand of the market economy. The invisible hand of course being a reference to the founder of modern economics himself, Adam Smith.

But Smith wasn’t a dogmatist. While he understood the benefits of a self-regulating economy, he had important caveats. He once wrote for instance that “defence is of much more importance than opulence.” 

Herein lies the weakness of Andrew and Bill’s argument. They fail to reckon with a globalized economy in which China, home to 30 percent of global manufacturing output, is neither a reliable trading partner nor a responsible stakeholder. National security must ultimately trump our fidelity to markets. 

I think a big part of the problem is that they’ve succumbed to a post-Cold War nostalgia that said if we brought China into the world trading system, it would boost its economic growth and wealth creation and in turn put it on a path to something resembling democracy and ultimately a stake in defending the liberal international order. 

It was a reasonable experiment. More than twenty years ago I was only a teenager, but I probably would have supported China’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization on these grounds. 

Remember, though, the purpose of an experiment is to collect evidence, test our hypothesis, and adjust accordingly. The evidence is pretty clear: our underlying assumptions about China have been proven wrong. 

China isn’t a reliable trade partner. Instead, it’s used our asymmetric openness to copy our technologies, steal our ideas, and turn our supply chain dependency into a geopolitical weapon. Think of Canada’s own experience with vaccine development and production early in the pandemic. Is there any doubt that the Chinese government was using our vaccine partnership as a geopolitical weapon to punish us?  

It’s not a responsible stakeholder. There are too many examples. The unlawful detention of the two Michaels, recent news of its interference in our elections, and plenty of proof in the words of President Xi that the Chinese Communist Party subscribes to a zero-sum view about technology, geopolitics, and China’s relationship to the world. 

And it certainly hasn’t moved in the direction of democracy. Quite the opposite. Modern technology has enabled it to realize a form of totalitarianism that past autocratic regimes couldn’t have imagined. 

The upshot: we should abandon the failed experiment and reduce our supply chain dependence on China. We ought to have the goal of greater economic self-determination—specifically in areas that are critical to our national interest. 

Let me wrap up with some observations about reshoring. 

First, a reshoring strategy requires clear parameters to determine which productive capacities are indeed critical or strategic. I agree that it can’t become an excuse to substitute the preferences of politicians for markets in every part of the economy. 

There’s a strong case, for instance, for governments to use public policy to ensure vaccine production within our borders. But there isn’t a case to redomicile t-shirt production. A reshoring strategy must be able to distinguish between the two.  

Once we have made these judgements, then we need a set of policy tools—including R&D investments, tax preferences, regulatory forbearance, etc.—that can achieve reshoring while minimizing economic distortions. 

The ultimate goal must be to enable markets to function as freely as possible within a framework that recognizes that, in certain cases, national security must trump opulence. 

Thank you.