Brian Preston – The Travelling Sommelier
Dr. Warren Hollis and his wife Dr. Elaine Chagnon operate the Perth Family Health Centre. Along with healthy living and chiropractic care, they have another dream which is beginning to come true. For full details see another article in this issue by my colleague Sally Smith.
What I want to focus on are their plans for growing their own vines and serving their own wines to guests at public events that they will host on their beautiful secluded Lombardy property, Otter Creek Estate Winery. The log beams from a deconstructed barn building are in the field adjacent to the main vineyard. This will be the main event building once it is erected.
Warren had the soil tested in several plot areas on the property and found that it is largely 4 feet of sandy loam on a clay base. Eleven years ago he planted his first two main grape varietals: Marquette and Frontenac. Marquette is a complex light red American hybrid created in 1989 at the University of Minnesota from eight parent grape varieties! You could call it the grandchild of Pinot Noir. It was named in 2005 after Pere Marquette, a seventeenth century Jesuit missionary and explorer, and it was first released in 2006. It is aptly named because of the winter hardiness of the grape and its ability to survive winters down to 35 below Celsius for short periods of time. Typically, Marquette wines have cherry and blackberry flavours with complex notes of pepper and spice. They have high acidity and noticeable tannins which must be softened by malolactic fermentation which Warren does in stainless steel tanks after the grapes are harvested, and then bladder-pressed for the free-run juice. Yeast is added to start the primary fermentation and he calibrates the time in tank to go to secondary or malolactic fermentation stage. This is where the art of the winemaker comes in. For example, he is currently looking at an Aussie yeast that is great at reducing acid levels which he is trying to set at about 3.6 Ph. He has also completed courses in winemaking with Viticulture & Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), and he attends seminars and conferences to hone his craft, e.g. Eastern Winery Exposition, and Winemaker Magazine Conferences, to name a couple.
Because Minnesota clone grape varietals are relatively new, cool climate winemakers are experimenting on where they grow best and how to treat them in the field and during the winemaking phase to get the best wines possible out of the grapes. These varietals are growing in popularity in the northern United States and Quebec too. Dr. Hollis planted a test plot of Petite Pearl, a new red grape variety that makes a smooth semi-dry rosé wine with bright notes of red currant and raspberry. It’s a richly-flavored dark rosé, and it is lower in acidity. He also planted some Swenson Red, a firm, meaty red with a unique fruity flavor and strawberry notes. In white, he is trying La Crosse which produces fruity white wines similar to Riesling or for use as a base for blended wines. Warren plants using double stalks on a trellis system in case one fails or is winter killed. Canopy control during growing season is important to ensure that enough sun gets to the grapes and produces high enough sugar levels.
Frontenac is also a complex red Minnesota clone able to withstand our winters and it was created in 1996. It doesn’t have the foxy nose and flavour of native North American grapes (vitis riparia) common in wines from Niagara Peninsula before the 1960s along with several French Hybrids like Marechal Foch and Vidal. Minnesota clones are resistant to many diseases but are susceptible to phylloxera (leaf curl infestation). The grapes are small to medium growing in loose bunches, mid ripening which is good with our short summers, and they can achieve high levels of sugar and fruit acidity which is necessary for converting sugar to alcohol and balancing this with the right acidity level. Like Marquette, it must undergo malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Frontenac wine is deeply red coloured with cherry and blackcurrant or plum flavours, even chocolate as it ages. It can be made as a red table wine or into a sweeter port-like style wine. Warren blends blends the Marquette and Frontenac to make his own red blend. I tried the 2006 and it was an opaque deep purple colour with a nose of deep forest earth and dark, rich, ripe plum. On the palate it was a replay of ripe, dark berry and plum that was very smooth with medium body that coated the tongue with balanced acidity that was refreshing. It was the best I have had of these two varietals which I have tasted before in Quebec and New England states.
Warren also grows Frontenac Gris, a grey-berried mutation yielding aromas of peach, apricot and citrus together with refreshing acidity. Warren makes Rose with this one. It too was from the 2006 vintage and it has a deep red blush colour and a cherry nose with some viscosity to hold the flavours and your interest as the complex palate of red berries unfold: raspberry, sweet strawberry and a lasting finish. It was unique and surprisingly good; a great match with BBQ pork loin basted in red chili/honey glaze.
When the event centre is up and running these wines will be a great match for the foods served and I wish them well as the plans come to fruition in our beautiful area!