Have you ever had that moment when you hear something shocking, raise your brow to express such shock, and something more shocking is described, then more shocking after that - you suddenly run out of your eyebrow range of motion leaving you instead, wide-eyed and starring…well that happened. It was the moment I walked through a set of doors and spoke to an ever-so-passionate man whom ended up becoming my very dear friend; what I describe is the moment that I was first introduced to the wines of Two Sisters Vineyards. The next year of my life was spent in their winery, vineyard and tasting room immersing myself in their process while understanding why they are poised to make an impact on the Canadian wine scene.
Two Sisters Vineyards is nestled in the north-east corner of Niagara-on-the-Lake, residing within the Niagara River VQA. The VQA [Vintners Quality Alliance] is Canada’s version of the more widely known AOC system of France. While still young in its development, much like the Canadian wine industry itself, the VQA has carved out 3 Viticultural areas, 3 regional appellations, and 11 sub-appellations within Ontario. The Niagara River VQA is the most eastern of the sub-appellations and as its name suggests, stretches along the bank of the wide, deep, and fast moving Niagara River. What is unique to this area is that as the river flows it creates an air convection current that draws cool air off of the nearby vineyards protecting them from early and late frost troubles and moderating their temperature. Since this sub-appellation is a narrow stretch of land running north-south with Lake Ontario to its north, vineyards planted at the northern end of the appellation benefit from the proximity to the lake, and enjoy one of Ontario’s longest growing seasons. The soils of the Niagara River VQA are predominantly silt and clay which provide favourable conditions for the popular Bordeaux varietals heavily planted within the area, and the only varietals planted on the estate at Two Sisters Vineyards. To detail their plantings: 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 acres of Merlot, and 20 acres of Cabernet Franc with only estate fruit being used for the production of their red wines, hence their low annual production. As I just mentioned, Two Sisters Vineyards has 60 acres planted to 3 varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc; to take advantage of their unique terroir, they treat their vines especially minimalistic, which is a sight to see indeed. I personally spent the better part of the 2016 vintage at the estate, and while this was a benchmark year for wine in Niagara, it came with its own set of issues. Heat and Drought…two words not often mentioned in the cool climate that is Niagara-on-the-Lake. This year was different. Spring started cool and summer seemed to take its time, but once it arrived, the heat kept coming and the rain seized to join the party. What’s interesting about this was that the vines at Two Sisters Vineyards were not once irrigated, and I mean not a single drop of water other than the tiny bit of rain that fell through the increasingly dry growing season. There were a handful of wineries in the area that stuck to their guns and did not irrigate, but seeing the health and vigour of the vines at Two Sisters Vineyards was quite impressive. I recall a moment in the peak of the heat when a staff member questioned the Vineyard Manager about the fear of water stress on the vines; he quickly shot out of the room without saying a word and blasted back moments later with a clipping from one of the vines to display the perky tendrils and shouted, “Does that look like water stress to you!?”. The first sign of water stress is a droopy tendril and these were anything but. Certainly a big factor of Two Sisters Vineyards being able to dry farm is the clay rich soils that the vines are planted on giving them the ability to retain moisture for a longer period of time than some other vineyards in the area [many of which were watering vigorously]. Now the thing about dry farming is that it is not rare, in fact the vast majority of the old world does not even allow irrigation, so why am I going on and on about it? Well for me, it displayed the commitment that they have to creating the best wine possible year after year. It would have been easier to use a little bit of water, and it would have allowed for a higher yield come harvest time, but this is where I really started to see why the wines of Two Sisters Vineyards are so impressive - yield and quantity means absolutely nothing to them…it’s the quality that is the only goal, period. This philosophy is further displayed when witnessing their employment of green harvesting. This is done right after fruit set, and then again while the berries start veraison. At the time of harvest they will have removed 60% of the berries from the vines, and harvesting an average of under 2 tonnes per acre while dipping below a single tonne in some vintages, a number that is extremely low and puts them in the same category of some of the greatest vineyards in the world in terms of their yield. From start to finish the work that Two Sisters Vineyards does in the vineyard is fun to watch, and the results only further cement the notion that Ontario is a contender in the vast world of wine, and furthermore that the Niagara River is an appellation to look out for, improving year after year.
Once we move in to the winery of Two Sisters Vineyards, a few more brow raising facts are made evident. With the low yields and overall stunning quality of fruit coming from their estate vineyards, the grapes are treated like the delicate and precious berries that they are. Starting with three separate sorting stages that eliminate 99% of non-fruit debris [including stems], the grapes are then placed directly in to large stainless steel tanks that look a little…funny. This is where things get a little geeky and a lot interesting. These funny looking tanks are perhaps some of the most advanced fermentation vessels on the market today. They are called Mythos Fermenters and use what their creator has deemed “Il Metodo Devino” or “The Devine Method”. Created in Italy and used by only a handful of wineries around the world, these tanks have capabilities that almost no other fermentation vessel can match. Keeping the berries under pressure and maintaining an airtight seal, the tanks allow the winemaker total control over oxygen contact, temperature, and fermentation time. This allows for optimal extraction while maintaining a delicate structure and perfect balance that is otherwise quite difficult when employing more classical methods. What I personally found quite interesting is that the tanks only use natural pressure built up by the C02 created as a byproduct of fermentation, thus maintaining the wineries goal of being sustainable and ecological every step of the way. On top of all of that, the process of racking, pumping over, or punching down is not needed. The fermenters are equipped with a secondary tank atop their main vessel, that captures excess C02 that is released 12 times a day, and then reintroduced with a directional valve that stirs the must to create even skin contact and achieve proper maceration. Every single step of the process can also be managed by the winemaker, giving the extremely talented Adam Pierce total control and total responsibility over the wines final structure and profile. Something that I believe should be mentioned is the complete dedication that winemaker Adam Pierce displays both at the winery, and throughout every day life when it comes to the production and study of wine. During a visit to Edmonton, Adam and I stopped in at a large and very well stocked wine shop and spent hours combing through what seemed like every bottle while calling out our discoveries with excitement. This may seem somewhat irrelevant and perhaps expected or rather normal, however, it is not as common as most think. To see a winemaker so utterly obsessed with the wines of the world and one who eats, sleeps, and breathes the stuff day in and day out without ever seeming to lose the joy of discovering something new is simply refreshing. Knowing that Adam is at the helm of Two Sisters Vineyards is what solidified my confidence in the future of Two Sisters Vineyards as they do so many things so well, but Mr. Pierce is that X-Factor that gives me the feeling that they will be an industry leader for years to come.
2012 Estate Red
The 2012 Estate Red is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The fruit is sourced from the Niagara River estate vineyards, and the wine is aged in 225 litre french barrique for 24 months after going through a controlled maceration via Mythos fermenters. This wine is the entrance to the rest of the ultra premium wines offered by Two Sisters Vineyards, yet it does not have the character of an entry level wine at all. The nose is ripe and abundantly fruity with bramble berries and plum. An undertone of sweet spice compliments nicely and repeats itself on the palate which has a round and supple texture, displaying the beauty of the 2012 vintage. This is a wine that can put away for a year or two although there is no need for long cellaring with this beauty. Drink up!
2012 Eleventh Post
The Eleventh Post is both a beautiful wine and a lovely story. Angela and Melissa, proprietors and the Two Sisters of Two Sisters Vineyards, hold family in the highest regard, and that love for their family is hidden at the winery in many places. One of those places is on the label of their most popular wine, the Eleventh Post. On September 26th 2010, the two sisters were conducting their first harvest and brought their family with them to pitch in. The sisters wear many hats, and one of them is being dedicated mothers. Between the two of them there are 7 children, and on a post in their Merlot vineyard is the initials of each one of them, carved by hand the day they harvested their first precious crop of grapes. This post happens to be the “11th from the left, out by the pond”, an absolutely stunning location that has now become the label of their best selling wine. The wine itself is a Meritage, a blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Cabernet Franc. Once again, the 2012 vintage provided some of the best fruit the region has ever seen and the Eleventh Post benefited greatly. The nose is led with ripe plum and raspberry with a hint of dark cherry. The wine spent upwards of 30 months in mostly 2nd and 3rd fill french oak barrels, and aromas of cinnamon and cardamom compliment nicely and are well integrated. The palate is silky smooth and has a tart cherry acidity balancing the mouthfeel nicely. The finish seems to last forever and brings a hint of savoury roasted pepper that surely comes from the Cabernet Franc. This wine could be enjoyed now and would benefit from decanting, however I am curious how the complexity will unfold after a few years in the cellar.
2012 Cabernet Franc
Ohhhh the 2012 Cabernet Franc, how I adore you. I am not one to play favourites but if this was one of my dogs I may slip a few extra treats under the table. The 2012 Cabernet Franc from Two Sisters Vineyards is the wine that originally caught my attention back in April of 2016. I brought the wine to my nose and almost screamed “Roasted Red Pepper!!!” Now I have experienced the aroma of roasted red pepper on a wine more than once, and this is simply one of the many aromas this wine has to offer, however, the way in which Adam Pierce was able to balance the savoury and the delicate with this wine is a marvel. The nose leads with dark berries, blackberries moving on to black cherry and cassis, but then moves so effortlessly in to that wonderful roasted red pepper, cured Italian meat and then again on to lavender and rosemary. This wine is a sensory adventure while it rests in your glass. The palate does not fall short either. More dark cherry and blackberry then a mid-palate of savoury olive tapenade and finishing with liquorice and coffee beans yet staying pleasantly fruity the whole time. I could write a different tasting note every time I try this wine. I enjoy this wine now, but I certainly believe that laying it to rest in your cellar for some time would provide you with a grand reward some years down the road, perhaps around 2022 would be a nice year to give it another go. There is also a limited supply of this wine as the 2013 has now been released, don’t miss out!!!
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example of what a cool climate can achieve with the notoriously late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. With the assistance of a benchmark vintage and the aggressive green harvesting employed at Two Sisters Vineyards, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon brings powerful, ripe and enticing complexity, with a long future ahead. I am often times a bit nervous when tasting 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from cooler climates, as it can show that unpleasant underripe green character that can spoil an otherwise well made wine. This was not the case when I first tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon from Two Sisters Vineyards. The nose is led with a wonderful aromatic wild strawberry that is supported by ripe blackberries and dark plum. This wine is similar to the Cabernet Franc in its ability to evolve in the glass. There is an undertone of clove and cinnamon coming through but is perfectly integrated while allowing the subtle aromas of tobacco and cedar to show. The palate is full of red and black berries with a long and pleasant finish. Full bodied and silky tannins all balanced by a racy acidity that will help this wine develop for many years in the cellar. Another very limited wine that you certainly don't want to miss.