Closson Chase Curated 6-Pack

By John Szabo, MS

This feature was commissioned by Closson Chase Vineyards.

It must have been sometime in 1999 when first heard about ambitious plans for a winery at the corner of Closson and Chase Roads in Prince Edward County. It was also the first time I had heard of PEC, a region that was not yet even on the Ontario wine map. The information came from Deborah Paskus, a viticulturalist and winemaker working in Niagara. With visible excitement she described the desperately rocky, limestone-based soils, the decidedly cool climate, the uncanny similarities to Burgundy, the  enormous, untapped potential.

You can enjoy a special WineAlign curated 6-pack of Closson Chase wines. More information below.

These were the very early days of PEC winegrowing, with almost no track record to justify the excitement. Until the 1990s, Prince Edward County was a little-known back country growing fruits and vegetables. Yet Paskus managed to convince eventual investors that wine was the future. As legend has it, it was a bottle of an experimental 1998 Niagara chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench called Cuvée Temkin-Paskus, a collaborative effort between Paskus and then wine writer Stephen Temkin, that sealed the deal. That wine shouted the potential for Ontario, and the plan was no less ambitious than to make chardonnay and pinot noir in Prince Edward County that would rival Burgundy.

After two years spent analyzing County soils, Paskus settled on a plot of land at the intersection of Closson and Chase Roads in Hillier Township. It was the site of an old dairy farm owned by early Prince Edward County settlers, the Clossons. About five kilometres from moderating Lake Ontario — not too close, not too far — with a gentle six-degree southern slope and excellent drainage through stony calcareous soils. It seemed ideal. The first vines were planted by hand in 1999, an exploratory single acre in what is now called the South Clos, on the south side of Closson Road around the old barn. The learning curve was steep: frigid winters, hungry wildlife and all manner of agricultural challenges in this untested region had to be contended with in the early days until strategies were learned. The first commercial estate vintage wouldn’t be until 2004, when a total production of 10 cases was released.

But Paskus and co. persevered. In 2006, what would come to be known as the Churchside vineyard on the north side of Closson Road, opposite the renovated dairy barn, was planted with chardonnay and pinot noir. This time it was done by machine, a process that was completed in under a week compared to the seven years it took to fully plant out the south Clos Vineyard by hand. A year later, an abandoned wooden church built circa 1840 in Hillier was acquired by Closson Chase and moved to its current location, north of Closson Road next to the vineyard, and remodeled to house vineyard workers. The colourful church roof was later re-done in the style of the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy and is now one of the area’s most visible landmarks.

Churchside Vineyard and Church

A gravity-fed winery and barrel cellar was completed in 2007 featuring sustainable technology, an important step in controlling production. And finally in 2016, five acres of pinot gris were planted at a new nearby vineyard site called the ridge to complement the production of pinot noir and chardonnay.

I had mostly been impressed by what I had tasted from Closson Chase in the early days, though the quality of the wines came into clear focus for the first time in 2011, when I poured a Closson Chase chardonnay for a group of wine professionals in Manhattan at a Canadian wine event dubbed the Seriously Cool Chardonnay tasting. There was genuine excitement in the audience that day, similar to the sparkle in Deborah’s eyes in the days before a single grape had been harvested.

Closson Chase’s current winemaker, Keith Tyers, has raised the bar on quality even higher. Tyers had moved to Toronto from Kingston to gain restaurant experience and a diploma from the Canadian Sommelier Guild before joining Closson Chase in 2003 as a vineyard hand. He moved quickly up to the position of assistant winemaker under Paskus, and took over as head winemaker from the 2015 vintage.

Keith Tyers, winemaker

Tyers has come to understand the nuances of County fruit, the subtle, transparent nature of its chardonnay and pinot noir. Growing grapes at the very edge of viability leads to light, low alcohol, acid rich, but also deceptively densely-flavoured wines from pitifully low yields. The wines need a very delicate guiding hand in the winery to ease that fruit into the bottle with a minimum of external inputs — the beauty is in the transparency of the fruit itself. Building on Paskus’s style, Tyers has gained the confidence to step back: wild fermentations in mostly old barrels, with minimal handling before bottling with a judicious amount freshness and clarity-preserving sulfur. “My hope is that when someone opens a bottle of Closson Chase wine, they enjoy the uniqueness of the wine and my interpretation of our place,” says Tyers. “I want to capture what Mother Nature grows in a bottle.”

It has been a great pleasure to watch the vineyards and winegrowing mature. The Closson Chase Vineyard bottlings of pinot noir and chardonnay blend the two main sites, Churchside and South Clos, to create a representative expression of the estate and the Closson Chase style. We selected the excellent Closson Chase Vineyards Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 for the curated Closson Chase case, a plump and generous wine, relative to the usual County idiom, thanks to an unusually warm growing season.

The individual voices of both the Churchside and South Clos vineyards have also found their own tune and rhythm over the last 15 and 23 years respectively, expressed in the single vineyard bottlings. There’s still much to learn, of course, and debates will continue about which is better suited to chardonnay, which to pinot noir. I find the Churchside vineyard to yield a more savoury, earthy pinot noir with darker fruit profile and more woodsy, swarthy spice than the South Clos pinot. While the South Clos Chardonnay, on the other hand, for me shows the most detail and precision, also depth, in the Closson Chase chardonnay range, incontestably one of PEC’s top sites for the variety.

But, as I said, my tune may change. We invite you to taste them for yourselves in this case, in which we have included both Churchside and South Clos pinot noirs and chardonnays.

And lastly, for a special occasion, we invite you to enjoy what will be the last vintage of a special barrel selection of pinot noir called the Grande Cuvée. For this wine, Tyers selected the top barrels in the cellar, which, in 2019, turned out to be 60 percent South Clos fruit and 40 percent Churchside, with 40 percent new wood. It’s a supreme example of what the County can do with this finicky variety. From the 2020 vintage on, however, Tyers has decided not to pull out the best barrels for a separate blend, but rather raise the quality of the individual vineyard bottlings by keeping everything in — a decision I support.

The fun in this specially curated case is in exploring the nuances that a perfect match of soils, climate, variety and production methods can generate. A wine lover can’t ask for much more.

Here are the wines in the case:

The case costs $299 which includes free delivery in Ontario.

Closson Chase Vineyards Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, VQA Prince Edward County (92 points)

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2020, VQA Prince Edward County (95 points)

Closson Chase Churchside Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County (93 points)

Closson Chase South Clos Pinot Noir 2020, VQA Prince Edward County (95 points)

Closson Chase Churchside Pinot Noir 2020, VQA Prince Edward County (93 points)

Closson Chase Grande Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019, VQA Prince Edward County (93 points)

This feature was commissioned by Closson Chase Vineyards. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines — good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.