To kick off the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) in Niagara, Ontario, I visited Paul Speck of Henry of Pelham Winery on the Short Hills Bench in St. Catharines.
The Henry of Pelham winery has been owned by the Speck family since 1988.
While tasting the wines, we explored this concept of cool climate viticulture. Ontario’s weather can be somewhat unpredictable from year-to-year, which is why our local wines tend to have a lot of vintage variance.
Beginning with some of my favourite Niagara bubbles, the 2011 Cuvee Catharine Carte Blanche had me salivating right off the bat.
With a note of salinity, bright acidity and green apple with a touch of pastry on the finish, this perfectly balanced wine showcases the Chardonnay grape brilliantly.
Paul noted that “upon entering the wine industry, there wasn’t a lot going on here and the reputation wasn’t exactly one worth bragging about”, but despite this, Paul says his family wanted to be a part of the growing wine region in Ontario because it was a small, family-focused industry fuelled on passion.
From this passion came the wine route, the VQA and now a thriving cool climate wine region producing some of the world’s best.
Henry of Pelham currently has 275 acres of land under vine with a new 25 acres recently planted. Paul says “we monitor closely the balance between how much we buy and how much we grow – while it may not be realistic to be 100% estate grown, quality and consistency remains a top priority.”
The Classic level wines are produced from a combination of estate and purchased fruit, while the Estate is always 100% estate grown and the Speck Family Reserve is entirely from the old family vineyards on site.
The 2014 Estate Chardonnay was the perfect way to jump into the weekend of Chard. These grapes are hand-picked with 60% of the juice then being fermented in French and American oak with 15 months’ age.
The mid palate weight brings a real elegance to this wine. Oak is not the main component, but rather a complement to the cool climate acidity and minerality prevailing through on this wine.
Paul stressed how thankful he is that we as a region are now recognizing the importance of elegance, terroir, acidity and finesse; all supplied directly from our climate and soil.
Paul stresses that wine should not be produced from a recipe, but rather from a vision and intention. “We need to recognize that all of the components needed to produce this vision will always be changing in a cool climate region like Niagara.”
Still relevant to cool climate, tasting the 2010 Estate Pinot noir alongside the very limited special release of 2007 Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir really helped stress how well cool climate wines can age.
The 2010 was delicious with fresh cherry, vanilla and a touch of asphalt and bitter red fruit, but it is clear that this wine will continue to improve with cellar age.
The 2007 was a real treat. So much so, I had to buy a bottle for home. This incredibly balanced wine showcased how the acidity and tannins will open and mellow over time.
This firm, but round wine still had me salivating over the acidity and fresh cherry fruit showcased especially on the finish. This wine will continue to drink at its peak over the next year.
I also had the pleasure of tasting a lineup of Rieslings, Cab/Merlot blends and Baco Noirs. All of which deserve just as much recognition for another post. The Henry of Pelham portfolio, much like many of the Ontario wineries, is diverse in showcasing this unique and beloved cool climate.
Paul and his brothers Matthew and Daniel, planted the original vineyards and began the business development of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery with their father in 1984.
In 1989, Paul became President of Henry of Pelham and set it on course to become one of the leading national growers and producers of fine wines from Niagara.
Paul is a founding director/author of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) and continues to play an active role in promoting and developing the premium wine industry in Canada, as current Vice Chair of the VQA, former Chairman of the Wine Council of Ontario, and as a former director of the Canadian Vintners Association.
Paul received his BA from St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland in Classical Western Philosophy (with a minor in Mathematics). He lives in St. Catharines with his wife Melissa and two children, Sarah and Christopher.
About Melissa Pulvermacher
Melissa is a Sommelier, Wine Blogger and founder of The Vino Enthusiasts Wine Club. Melissa is educated through The Wine and Spirit Education Trust and is passionate about all things food and wine.