(Not Really) Previously Unexplored Wineries – Flat Rock Cellars

31 Oct

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First thing I’m going to do? Change the title of this series from “Previously Unexplored Wineries” to “Sometimes Previously Unexplored and Sometimes Regularly Explored Wineries”? “Wineries ‘n More”? Not quite? “Wineries-o-Rama”? I know, it needs work. I’ll get my crack marketing team to blue sky it, socialize the concept, and prepare a few story boards for our consideration.

The reason I need to change the name of the series is that today I’m going to talk about a winery that I have visited and ‘explored’ on several occasions – Flat Rock Cellars.

Flat Rock Cellars was started in 1999. However, the owning/managing family Mandronich have been involved in viticulture for quite a bit longer. Flat Rock’s vibe is eco-sensitive, fun, small-batchy, quirky. They are clearly tied to the land – their spot on the bench – and take care to ….take care. Although they don’t have biodynamic or organic certification, you can relax. They employ a low-impact approach to their business, from geo-thermal heating to gravity-flow processing. They have Estate, Reserve, and single vineyard wines. Although there’s a gewurtztraminer line and the syrah below, Flat Rock is primarily pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling – grapes that do well in cool climes. So, if you’re first and foremost a Bordeaux varietal guy or gal, take a pass. Flat Rock came to my attention and stayed there, in part, due to my love for Nadja. We’ll talk about her later.

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The Perch

On an early fall day, we arrived somewhat sated after a lunch at On The Twenty (scallops, for me) in Jordan Village. If you’ve never, you need to…..dine at On the Twenty, that is. It’s a special treat. But, Flat Rock beckoned and we answered the call. Well, answered the call after we (we as in – not me) shopped a bit in Jordan. Flat Rock’s reception building (pictured above) is a hexagonal perch on the side of the escarpment looking out over the valley below and on to Lake Ontario and, as their website points out, a vista extending to the bright lights of Toronto on a clear evening. It really is a great place to sit and sip. I’ve been there several times and it was always quite busy. This time we lucked out as there were only we two until some interlopers arrived. Ted greeted us and we immediately found out that we knew some of the same people in #lndnont. You see Ted lived in London and used to be in the entertainment business – the technical side. Those that grew up watching Polka Dot Door will be excited to learn that Ted toured with the Polka Dot Door touring company; working as part of the legendary Jones’ crew. I’m betting a solid member of IATSE. For those from regions that don’t get TVOntario (most of the world), Polka Dot Door was a children’s staple when I was plugging my boys into television to educate them (read: babysit). Star of the show? Polk-a-Roo – an actor dressed up as an unrecognizable animal who could only say, “Polk-a-Roo, Polk-a-Roo.” I know, I can’t figure out how it stayed on the air either. Anyway, Ted was our very capable guide through the wines of Flat Rock. The tasting room is a large, very open room with glass on all sides. It has a bit of an industrial feel – wood and steel – open displays of their wines. So, if you just want to walk around and discover on your own, it’s easy. After we got the, “Oh yeah, we know him too.” And, “London still sleepy?” out of the way, we waded into the wines.

The wines:

If you’ve been reading me for a while or received my emails before I went high tech with a website, I’m Breton you’ll remember that I’ve recommended Nadja before. Did you catch the erudite literary reference? No? Too nadjasurreal for you? Hmm, that didn’t catch either? Nadja is the name of the vineyard that’s immediately south and slightly above the reception building at Flat Rock. It is planted to riesling, I think exclusively. Every year, the Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling seems to get a bit better – vine age? We tasted the 2012 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 #19.95 (availability extremely limited – 2013 now available through winery). These wines are always dry, clean, and seamless. This vintage brought some peaches with the usual citrus. Not so much on the nose but in the mouth and on the swallow – battling a good dose of juicy acidity. A lovely wine and maybe the best vintage of this I’ve had. Although it could just be that it’s the last vintage that I’ve tasted. My bet is that it’s gracefully cellarable for ten years.

We know that The Director loves her oaked chardonnay and Flat Rock makes a few iterations. The 2010 Chardonnay #681247 $16.95 was the oaked chardonnay that they were pushing. I mean Ted was pushing – to demonstrate their judicious use of oak. This is the same wine as their Good Karma Chardonnay (with Good Karma, Flat Rock donates a portion of proceeds to the Ontario Association of Food Banks). Well, the wine had typical chardonnay aromas of apples, some citrus. The buttery apple pie tendency with oaked chardonnays was cut a bit on the finish with some bite. Well balanced effort for this price – not overly ripe or buttery. I’d say this is a bargain for those that like an oaked chardonnay but want it food friendly as well. And the bonus? It’s a ‘local’.

 

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View from the reception building balcony

Flat Rock has a rusty shed on their property. So rather than seeing it as an eye sore or actually fixing it up, they decided to name a line after it. That’s what I need to do with my garage. Create a trademark with it. Then I wouldn’t have to clean it. I’m thinking ‘Duffswines Cluttered Garage Pages’? Anyway, as far as I can tell, this is the premium line for Flat Rock chardonnay. The 2011 Rusty Shed Chardonnay $20.25 (this vintage not available at the LCBO but the 2012 #1552 is in very limited supplies) is a more sophisticated take on oaked Niagara chardonnay. Not that the one above is clumsy (the 2010 entry level one above was the one we bought a few of, actually). It’s just that this seems a little more integrated and settled – minerality more evident too. Oak treatment subtle and complementary – not showing off on its own. If you’re oak more front and centre – select the regular bottling. More subtle and integrated oak – this is the chardonnay you’ll want.

Rogue_LogoMy familiarity with Flat Rock starts with Nadja and ends with pinot noir. However, they had a syrah that I hadn’t ever had and I just needed a tiny sip to realize that syrah doesn’t need to be shiraz in Ontario. The 2011 Rogue Syrah $35.20 (only available at cellar door or on-line) leans much closer to Saint Joseph than Barossa. If you like the latter, you’ll miss that shiraz jammy fruit with this syrah. This is leaner. It carries some herby stuff and darkness on the nose and was quite closed in the mouth. Tannins evident. Now, I’m not sounding too positive but quite the contrary, I liked this a lot. It seems to need some time in bottle or with a decant, I’m thinking that the dark fruit and herbs (coffee?) that made their presence felt on the nose will start to emerge. Distinct european feel. A powerful wine. My preference would be for this to sit for a while longer. Matching to an herbed pork roast, is what I’m planning.

frpinotFlat Rock Pinot Noir is available at the LCBO as part of their Vintages Essentials program. It’s always around waiting on any occasion to twist a cap. Oh yeah, all Flat Rock still wines are sealed with Stelvin screw tops. The vintage we tried was the 2012 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir #1545 $19.95. This cherry red wine smelled of red fruits, tasted like red cherries and carried some grip and a little spice on the finish. This puts in a regular appearance in our house and cottage as a sipper or with some pinot-matching food – chicken, fish, hummus, Kernels (that mix of cheese and caramel, in particular). It’s an accessible pinot at a fair price. Interestingly, I saw a bottle of this very wine in the Bottles store in Providence, R.I. last January. Nice to see some Ontario wines getting out and about.

Flat Rock has several pinot noirs from specific blocks within vineyards – Pond Block, Summit Block, Bruce Block. I tried the 2011 Flat Rock Bruce Block Pinot Noir $29.95. If I had a sophisticated palate, I’d wax eloquently about the subtleties of terroir and how each wine is impacted. Although that isn’t likely to happen, I’d swear that this one has been crafted with Clone 115 – evident in the darker colour. OK, I read that on-line. This wine was not ready-for-primetime yet IMHO. Great red fruit on the nose with some earthy notes – pushed with some coolness out of the glass. Coolness, as in – no heat from elevated alcohol. This wine has ABV of only 12.3%, which is a nice change from some other North American pinots that push 14%. But much of that aroma didn’t replay in the mouth. It had gentle but substantial tannins that, I think, would balance out over time getting out of the way for the fruit and earthiness. Hard to say.

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Tasting Room

That’s all we tasted on site (it was our third winery, with one still to go). But, over this past summer, I have enjoyed 2013 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé #39974 $16.95. This pink is deep and strawberry good. At first sip, you might think that it’s a bit off-dry, particularly if like me, Tavel is your thing. But don’t rush to conclusions and have a second glass – I think that it’s not so much off-dry as it is fruitful. Patio? Too late in the year? How about in front of the fireplace with those shrimp things you’ve been planning to make.

I’ve also enjoyed the Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir #001560 $29.95 but haven’t had the 2012. The 2012 vintage hits the stores on November 8th. In the past, a solid pinot that presents as ready to drink and is typically, for me, a bit earthier, deeper and more complex than the ‘regular’ bottling or my experience with the Bruce Block.

Other wines in their line include: Crowned and Riddled – two sparklers; Red Twisted and Twisted White – two blends; an unoaked chardonnay; a late harvest and a regular off-dry Gewurtztraminer; a regular bottling riesling; and, a Rogue pinot noir. Have not tasted any of them.

Flat Rock has a Wine Club –  Club On The Rock – which provides access to limited wines, library wines, and early access to general release wines. It also holds some events at the winery. One of the events is Ed’s Tour – where you get a tour and private tasting with the winemaker, Ed Madronich (requires a minimum of 4 peeps – anyone want to go with me?). You can join or buy wine on-line at http://www.flatrockcellars.com . Head to the website for some videos on Flat Rock which I couldn’t play as I was told I had “blocked plug-ins” which sounds quite dire. Do I need to see a doctor?

I know that I always tell you to get to a winery near you. But, this time you need to consider that winter approaches and festive occasions demand good wine and a story about a winery visit. Well, I made up that second part but wouldn’t a winery story be a good conversation piece during one of those awkward annual moments with that insufferable wine geek Uncle Bill?

Go visit Flat Rock and tell Ted that I sent you. Samples, Ed?

Other wineries in the Previously Unexplored Wineries Series

Kacaba, Megalomaniac, Pondview, Colaneri, Sue-Ann Staff, Westcott

Next Winery – Southbrook

Images courtesy of http://www.flatrockcellars.com

3 Responses to “(Not Really) Previously Unexplored Wineries – Flat Rock Cellars”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. People Get Ready – The Red Daily Slosh | Duff's Wines - November 5, 2014

    […] My last post was about winery hopping in Niagara and I mentioned that we ate at On The Twenty in Jordan. I had a glass of local cab franc with my scallops (OK, it was two glasses but they were smallish). I know that cab franc and scallops doesn’t sound like a great match. My philosophy? Drink a wine you like with food you like and it will match up just fine. But, you would be right if you thought that the cab franc would be a bit too too for the scallops. That cab franc? 2012 Cave Spring Dolomite Cabernet Franc #391995 $19.95. The great thing? The Cave Spring tasting room and retail is connected to the restaurant. Of course I needed a bottle to provide a little remembrance of our great meal. This wine is an excellent example of Niagara escarpmentish cabernet franc. Medium-bodied and presenting more shrubby characteristics than fruit ones. Herbs, spices, a streak of acidity, and enough tannin to support it all against any meaty food. Actually, this wine needs food to show its stuff. Doesn’t have to be big food – scallops? Pass on the scallops and try a spicy chicken dish or something fattier. […]

  2. Three Rieslings – The White Daily Slosh(es) | Duff's Wines - March 18, 2015

    […] The 2013 Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 $19.95 has pretty well been recommended here for each of the past three vintages and I usually make some reference to the surrealist Andre Breton but it is lost on my audience. The Nadja style is one of bone dry, taut minerality and high acidity. This year is no exception. Lip smacking and good now with food that has some pop or later after the fruit (apples, pears) is allowed to open out and show itself – requires some time in the cellar, perhaps. In fact, this label usually does quite well with a few years at least. My ‘go to’ Niagara Riesling. You can read about my visit to Flat Rock Cellars here. […]

  3. Wine As a Depilatory – The Rainbow Daily Slosh | Duff's Wines - June 11, 2015

    […] visited Flat Rock Cellars last September and I wrote about them here. They are, for my money, one of the most consistent producers of reasonably priced wines from […]

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