Ovid’s laconic phrase -“Everything changes, Nothing is truly lost.” – has resonated through the centuries on many levels. At first glance, it appears to be an obvious statement, but it has kept on reverberating from one generation to another with tremendous depth and breadth of meaning.
The wine regions we admire today are different from the way they were 50 or 60 years ago, much less 200 or 300 years back. Do you know which was the most planted grape variety in Burgundy as recently as the 1800s? It was neither Chardonnay, nor Pinot Noir. How about the fact that there are now experimental vineyards of Grenache and Malbec in those hallowed Pinot Noir grounds? The same is true with practically any region of historical longevity. Everything changes. When working in and with nature - everything matters, and no grape or region has monopoly on nobility or greatness. Deciding that Niagara is about Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling - and as of just recently Cabernet Franc and Gamay - before our region has even reached its toddler stage, is choosing to see the world in black-and-white. It seems a bit hasty, a bit like giving an answer before you had time to figure out what is the right question to ask, or thinking about the point you want to make rather than hearing what someone – in our case, Nature – is saying.
The preordained guidelines of established regions of reference do not determine greatness. They belong to somewhere else, to someone else. Following these surface outlines will not lead to the discovery of our own core identity. Ironically, choosing to stick with the orthodoxies of other regions’ pasts is also the surest and shortest way to cheat oneself out of unknown pleasures and out of becoming a reference oneself. Nothing will be truly lost if we embrace the fact that our Here-and-Now is very different. If anything, we may stumble on the irreducible power of true essence. Here, albeit young, is wonderful. All it needs in order to grow are our eyes open wide, our honesty and decades of daring work.
This is where Lemberger came in for us. It prompted a change in our thinking and a deepening of our understanding of Niagara. It’s our third vintage – and fifth cuvée - of working with this grape and it is now crystal-clear: it is one of the most eloquent and vivid interpreters of this region. Just like Cabernet Franc stopped us in our tracks a decade ago, when most considered it a poor relative of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and rarely gave it a spotlight to shine – Lemberger immediately thrilled us with the energy and transparency it carried. It was a startling surprise and in short order, it became obvious it can express our environment with nuance, nonchalance and audacious beauty all its own. It is a medium through which the yearly changes, the identity of this place, and our human sensitivities to them all, can dance not only undiluted, but enlightened and enriched by a language of belonging.
The 2020 Primesautier is explosive, yet dark. It’s bloody, yet heady with perfume. It is pure, but there’s nothing chaste about it. There’s fierceness in it, yet it’s riddled with the delicacy and longing of the romantic poets. It produces a feeling of comfort and ease, but it’s arousing too - stirring one with visions of places you had never been to and sensations you’re yet to experience. It marries a devil’s burning with the purity of rosebuds and sweet violets. The Lemberger grape seems to possess a special talent for being both glamorous and raw – flowing with elegance and electrifying with ripples of pure, unbridled pleasure. It is Summer.
It is a funny thing when a wine for easy summer enjoyment also carries sets of contradictions in its core. It makes you wonder how and why this is happening, as it is usually a feature more often encountered in bottles with consecrated birthplaces and venerable upbringings. Considering the character of the 2020 Primesautier is supposed to be that of a charming and carefree creature lighting up our way into the season – and it is in many ways – where does the complex interplay of contrasting elements come from?
It is not an easy question to answer. In fact, the number of plausible responses approaches infinity. None of them are simple to prove - if at all provable - especially not at this young stage of our region. But here’s a theory: none of the hallowed wines of today have started as such. They are all results of centuries of people listening to mutable Nature, of keeping their eyes open and of flowing with the one and only constant there is – change. Even if all the textbook requirements that we ‘know’ make great wines are not present, there is something else here: it is the essence of what can make a great wine. Nothing of what we’ve learned from the glories of old is truly lost in the synergy with which these new, unexplored elements come together. This is the emergence of a promise for new greatness – not a look towards the past, but a hopeful gaze into the future.
Everything changes, Nothing is truly lost.