This post is part of our ongoing series, Canadian Wine — specifically, Canadian wineries and the remarkable wines they produce. Today, Meaghan Carey takes us to the Niagara Region’s Hidden Bench Winery, a cool climate winery that produces wines with a sense of place and time.
In Ontario’s Niagara region, about an hour east of Toronto, tucked away on Locust Lane you will find the Hidden Bench Winery. As you approach the cottage-like winery, you can’t help but sense a relaxed country vibe. The winery is inviting and boasts a patio that you’ll want to lose an afternoon to.
Walking into the tasting room and wine shop, the charm of this relatively new winery is undeniable. However, don’t let all this charm deceive you — the team at Hidden Bench is seriously all about the wine, just not about the pomp and circumstance.
Founded in 2003, with the first vintage released in 2005, Hidden Bench has quickly established itself as a quality cool climate winery with a team dedicated to producing wines with a sense of place and time. Production is focused on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling, which fare well in the vineyard’s unique limestone and clay soils.
Hidden Bench crafts both single vineyard and estate blends of each of its core varietals (noted above) from three certified organic estate vineyards. The winery’s mission is to produce internationally recognized wines, made exclusively with estate grown fruit from the Beamsville Bench VQA Niagara sub-appellation, that are reflective of the terroir.
Owner and vigneron, Harald Thiel, carries the belief that Niagara wines —and broadly, Canadian wines — can and should compete with the best wines around the world, matching the belief of fellow Canadian vignerons, such as Norman Hardie and Francois Morissette, that now is the time in Canada to focus on making quality wines that will capture international attention and recognition.
To promote and reinvigorate the recognition of the quality of Chardonnay grown in Canada’s cool climates (specifically the Niagara region, although Nova Scotian wineries have joined the collective), Thiel was one of the founding organizing members of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c). The i4c Celebration is a weekend of learning that places Niagara’s Chardonnays alongside premium cool climate Chardonnays from around the world, including producers from Burgundy and Oregon.
There are many things that make Hidden Bench wines special and a delight to have in your glass, but it’s Thiel’s focus on terroir and how to make the best expression from his key estate vineyards that most captured my attention. It’s the idea of “somewhereness” and the ability of Hidden Bench’s wines to transport you to the vineyard that’s so captivating. A quality wine is one that reveals to you what was happening in the vineyard as the grapes were growing and how the grapes were handled once ripe.
Hidden Bench wines do not simply bring you to Niagara or even to Beamsville Bench; they will welcome you to the vineyards of Rosomel, Felseck and Locust Lane. And with their premier offerings Thiel will take you even further into specific blocks within each of these three vineyards.
The Locust Lane Vineyard is the home vineyard first purchased by Hidden Bench in 2003. The vineyard is approximately 33 acres, planted in 1998. Thiel and his team redeveloped the vineyard in 2004 to adopt a high density planting strategy. It’s primarily planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. The winery is also situated in this vineyard.
Rosomel Vineyard is situated 6 kilometres east of the Locust Lane Vineyard and was purchased in 2004 by Hidden Bench. This site produces the fruit for Hidden Bench’s Vieille Vignes Chardonnay and the Roman’s Block Riesling. The vineyard has approximately 26 acres under vine, which were planted over 30 years ago. The Felseck Vineyard is approximately 45 acres with 15 acres under vine. It was originally planted in 1992 and purchased by Hidden Bench in 2007.
To capture the essence of the vineyards and to create terroir-driven wines, the winemaking team at Hidden Bench has adopted a non-interventional winemaking philosophy. The team focuses on melding together quality farming practices and sustainable environmental values (e.g., Hidden Bench uses geothermal heating) with the selective application of new technology. This allows them to enhance the winemaking process while respecting a traditional non-interventional style.
It is impossible to pick a favourite from Hidden Bench’s portfolio of wines. For me the surprise favourite after tasting select wines was the Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2014. The Nuit Blanche is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (96%) and Semillon. The nose of this wine was gorgeously warm with spice, baked apple and herbal aromas. The wine has a luscious mouth feel with complex flavours and a gorgeous structure, which means with time it’s only going to get better. This wine was a true pleasure to taste, and for me perfectly captured my experience visiting Hidden Bench.
Hidden Bench wines are available at select LCBO and SAQ stores, as well in select Alberta wine shops. You can also purchase wines directly from the winery on their website.
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Canadian Wine: Niagara Region’s Hidden Bench Winery was written by Meaghan Carey. Meaghan shares her musings on life as she attempts to cook good food for family and friends from her small kitchen, on her blog Un Assaggio of Food, Wine and Marriage. Raised in Cape Breton, Meaghan returns home as much as possible and loves to welcome friends to this picturesque corner of Canada each summer. Connect with Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.