Domaine Queylus Vineyards (Photo courtesy of Domaine Queylus by photographer Stephen Elphick)
One of the benefits of being a young wine region like Niagara is that viticultural choices aren’t made randomly by painful trial and error nor are they dictated by long-standing traditions of generations past. On the contrary, those setting up shop in the recent years have done their homework and sought out the expertise of industry professionals before even moving a stone. The work is hard, the wait is long and the invest is spectacular but the end result is wineries that are up and running with focus, vision and some solid wines. Domaine Queylus is one such winery. Founded in 2006 by a group of Burgundy-loving Quebecois investors, Queylus’ first commercial vintage was but six years ago, making it an infant of a winery. However, nothing seems to indicate their newbie status because in these few short years they have become a recognizable premium wine producer in Niagara and Canada. With seasoned (and travelling) winemaker Thomas Bachelder at the helm and Kelly Mason, assistant winemaker, taking charge of the day-to-day operations the talented team works with precision, dedication and artistic intuition to craft some spectacular wines.
I visited Queylus and sat down with Kelly for a tasting that kind of blew my mind. The quality, the depth, the aromas and the flavours made for some very memorable wines. As Kelly explained, Queylus’ focus is the expression of Niagara terroir through classic French varietals. A thorough analysis of the soil composition by industry expert Alain Sutre revealed some pretty impressive rocks and dirt on the estate. This allowed the team to plant the appropriate rootstocks and varietals and make the necessary adjustments to the land so the vines would feel right at home, producing quality berries. With fruit coming from two locations, the Queylus-owned vineyards of Lincoln Lakeshore in the Beamsville area (West) and the leased vineyards of Twenty Mile Bench in Jordan (East), which produces only Pinot Noir, there is distinct difference in soil type and climatic conditions. The first being clay, blue clay and silty soil in warmer temperatures and the latter more limestone and a bit cooler temperatures. A barrel tasting of Pinot Noir from the two sites revealed how wonderful this difference is. The beast, as Kelly calls the west, was much more rustic, structured and powerful while the east, or the beauty, had softness, sweetness, juicy fruit, finesse and elegance. When the two merge together, there is an exquisite balance of hard and soft, power and delicacy, push and pull, a certain sensuality and a continuity of two opposites.
To capture all these subtle nuances winemaking is kept simple: indigenous alcoholic fermentation taking place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels and wild malolactic fermentation and maturation in barrels. Simple yes, but processes that require meticulous care and militant surveillance, something that must surely keep Kelly up at night.
Although well-established, Queylus isn’t without its own growing pains and hiccups. Building the winery was a bit of a challenge in 2013, Kelly’s first vintage at Queylus, and the construction of the new current winery in St. Anns occurred within weeks of harvest. But, as something my sister would say, just think of the stories. Kelly has many, for sure.
Crafting single varietal wines and a handful of blends, their portfolio also includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and even Merlot. Lost in the countryside, the winery is located in St. Anns and open for tastings every day. But if you can’t make it, then check for their wines at the LCBO, the SAQ and various restaurants in Ontario and Quebec.
2014 Chardonnay Tradition
Lovely aromatic nose of peach, citrus, steely minerality and nuttiness. Palate has wonderful texture and weight, round and slightly spicy, subtle citrus and peach flavours.
2014 Chardonnay Reserve
Bouquet is much more intense with citrus, pear, vanilla, nuttiness and a little toasty. Dry and textured, medium to medium-plus body but with a certain elegance and freshness that works so well. Long creamy finish.
2013 Pinot Noir Tradition
Sweet scented, nose is that of red cherry, raspberry, black tea and some smoky wood. The palate is juicy, lots of bright red fruit mix with smoke and earthy tones. Medium bodied and smooth, structured tannins complement a fresh acidity.
2012 Pinot Noir Reserve
A blend of the best cuvees for both West and East vineyards, the nose is warmer and more intense with aromas of red berries, black cherries, soft sweet spice and earthy minerality. The palate starts off spicy, slowly revealing ripe and dark fruit. Lively acidity balances out firmer tannins. Compared to the Tradition it is more powerful, structured, complex and a longer earthy finish.
2012 Pinot Noir Grand Reserve
Great nose of blue berries, dark fruit, ripe red fruit, black tea and clean minerality. On the palate, there is elegance and delicacy yet rich, dark berries and ripe, stewed fruit reveals themselves. Tannins are noticeable, firm, but not distracting and fresh acidity. Ends with a deep mineral finish. Still needs time to develop but really excited to see this evolve.
2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve
An intense deep cherry color, the nose is equally intense. Aromas of black cherry, blackberry, spice and some green tangy peppers. The palate is fruit-driven, with less spice than what appeared on the nose. Medium bodied, smooth taninns and medium (-) acidity. Long dry finish.