In December of last year Jeff Hundertmark came to Ottawa to speak at my graduation dinner and brought with him a few bottles of his 2007 Solstice red wine, so when I knew we were going to Niagara I wanted to stop by Marynissen Estates to pick up a few bottles for myself. Jeff is the winemaker at Maynissen Estates. Luckily for us, he was in the boutique the morning we stopped by, and even better he then took time from his day to show us around.
Marynissen Estates is one of the older vineyards in the region. John Marynissen was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon vines here and we wandered over to the row of rugged, old roots that have been growing since 1978 while Jeff talked about the ripening stages of Chardonnay versus Cabernet Sauvignon. He pointed out different rows of grapes and talked about the winery’s philosophy of non-intervention farming. This means that they basically do as little as possible to the vines in order to let them express their natural state through healthy fruit. Jeff experiments with plantings to see what will do best in the vineyard; they currently have a small amount of Malbec that they will use for blending. He also experiments with blends. That 2007 Solstice that we tasted in December is an interesting mix of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. And he dapples in Old World style; not everything is filtered. It comes down to expressing what has been happening in the vineyard in the best possible way.
Standing in a field of flourishing grape vines and talking to Jeff was I thought, about as good as it could get, and then he sat us down and let us taste an array of wines.
These were definitely some of my favourite wines tasted on the trip. The reds in particular are absolutely my favourite; they are outstandingly rich and full with a nice depth that was out of the ordinary.
I realized, while talking to Jeff, that he sounded much like friends I have who are artists, and that winemaking is not dissimilar to making a piece of art: spending months, sometimes years on a creation; staying flexible and in touch with the audience, and the materials, and the internal forces that allow for creativity; trusting instincts and finding a personal voice; eventually having to let go and trust you have done the best possible job, and allow the world to then be the judge. Our conversation was peppered with all of these concepts. Jeff is an artist and his canvas is the grapevine. A few weeks earlier he was pairing ice cream with wine, how creative is that?
2007 Barrell Aged Chardonnay: baked apple, coconut, and butterscotch, with some lemon on the palate and a lovely toasty, creamy finish.
2008 Summer Solstice: this is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay; floral with some ripe peach and pineapple, some minerality, and a little zing of lime zest; very refreshing.
2007 Gamay: rather full-bodied for a Gamay with blackberries, stewed strawberry, tobacco and a tannic bite; it follows through with a fruity, spicy finish.
2006 Syrah: floral with a vibrant red cherry and tobacco; smooth and slightly peppery on the finish.
2007 Syrah: deep fruit and complex aromas of tobacco, spice, mint; round and full on the palate and a long black cherry finish.
2007 Lot 31 Cabernet Sauvignon: initial aromas of earth, red fruit, and spice give way to a delicate floral nose; nicely balanced, with ripe tannins. This was a real treat for us. Lot 31 happens to be where those old vines from 1978 grow.
2007 Lot 66 Cabernet Sauvignon: this wine, along with the Lot 31 Cab are tribute wines made in memory of John Marynissen who passed away in 2009; deep red fruit, liquorice, cedar and cassis with a definite tannic structure and a full mouthfeel.
2007 Cabernet Franc: molasses, tar, date and chocolate with some cherry and a nice tannic backbone.