Featherstone Estate Winery Emerges From Difficult Years

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – The years of 2013 and 2014 weren’t particularly good years for wine in Ontario, yet some wineries proceeded as if this was simply just another year. Perhaps the consumer without a memory bank or wine appreciation skills might be an easy sell. In Niagara, Featherstone Estate Winery is a top quality producer, so it is with great interest that I give a try of some of their 2013s and 14s.

There is no doubt in my mind that this great producer was hampered by less than great years.

Although I am no fan of Ontario Rieslings, due to their obsessive affinity to grapefruit and lime, Featherstone’s Black Sheep Riesling has always been a comfort zone for me. It’s been a bit out of the Niagara norm.

The 2014 Black Sheep Riesling is platinum in colour. Rich aromas of pear, quince, and pineapple. Great minerality and no lime or grapefruit.

On the palate, a rather dilute streak of pineapple and pear with a short finish.

The finish is somewhat tropical as opposed to sour, but it lacks some power and individuality. But, thank goodness it’s not tart, nor is it Germanic and sweet/acidic. Short and non-descript finish.

Conclusion is that 2014 was not particularly kind to Featherstone 2014 Riesling but, then again, 2014 was not kind to most Ontario wines with its nasty winter.

All said and done, a fair to middling wine in a bad year. (Featherstone Estate Winery, 2014 Black Sheep Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula, 750 mL, 9.5%, $16.95, Square Media Group Rating 87/100.) Just one point less than their 2011 version. Not bad for a bad year. 2,178 cases were produced. Fermented in stainless steel tanks.

As far as the scientifics go, a whopping 19.5 grams of sugar per litre, camouflaged like an American sniper in Iraq. So entirely well hidden, with just the right amount of acidity. Well done in such a shitty year. Some winemaker knows his stuff here.

cache_200-190_13CabernetFrancThe 2013 Featherstone Cabernet Franc was also bottled in a not great year. Light purple in colour, with aromas of black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, and raspberry jello. Somewhat of a charmer.

Light and delicate on the palate, but still framed in by a discernible black cherry which transcends into a nice medium finish.

It struggles for richness on the finish, which is a no brainer for better vintage Cabernet Franc. Another possibly great wine punished by Mother Nature. (Featherstone Estate Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula, 750 mL, 12.5%, $17.95, Square Media Group Rating 87/100). I rated the 2010 a 93. Yes, 2013 was not a great year, either. 874 cases produced. Listed as a Vintages Essential #64618. Will be released shortly in the winery.

I suppose we should continue with this somewhat painful exercise with the 2014 Featherstone Rosé. Not to rub it in, but the 2011 version I ranked a 94, but this puppy grovels at an 86.

Lots of sweet strawberry and watermelon.

Cherry Popsicle and cactus pear on the palate. There is a bizarre creaminess and acidity on the palate which slowly transforms itself into a black cherry and candy cane finish. Foodie wine for sure. With a good fried green tomatoes on the side with shrimp and grits just right. Even better with a Low Country Carolina boil (shrimp, corn on the cob chunks, shrimp, potatoes, and sausage). (Featherstone Rosé 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, 750 mL, 12.6%, $14.95, Square Media Group Rating 86/100). See in Vintages releases in both July and September.

Now, an Ontario Merlot is no lush and plush Rutherford Valley Merlot from California. No Vegas booze, but rather a lean and mean machine. On the nose, the Featherstone 2013 Red Tail Merlot has vestiges of cedar planks, boysenberry, and black cherry so tightly disciplined. A bit of smoky cigar notes from the high roller’s table. The wood has taken over.

The wine is sharp, clean, and smoky on the palate. No effusiveness on this Merlot. It’s like a nunnery graduate as it is tight, cloistered, and secretive.

Although no doubts as to the deep black cherry core with an explosive clean blast of black cherry. This Merlot is so uptight I suggest some Xanax to relax it a bit or, if you like, something more natural. Perhaps at least a few more years the cellar.

Given that 2013 wasn’t a great year drink now or wait for better times. (Featherstone Estate Winery 2013 Red Tail Merlot, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, 750 mL, 12.5%, $19.95, Square Media Group Rating 85/100). This may serve as a reminder that cellaring superior vintages for a few years can tide you over facing less than stellar vintages. A scant 583 cases produced. French oak ageing. Hell ya. I am not trumpeting this wine, but given the year, it’s a solid and honest attempt.

Ontario is increasingly recognized as a top global Chardonnay producer. While French and American oak barrels are used for ageing or fermentation Canadian oak is a relative newcomer and the Featherstone 2013 Canadian oak Chardonnay serves as an interesting test case.

Some spicy cinnamon hits the nose quickly. Lift the stone of the oak and there us a degree of suppressed, lime, pear, and apple.

Wood indeed on the palate, but neither French nor American. A unique somewhere in the middle of Canuck oak that I think needs a few more vintages to settle down. More anise tainted wood on the palate with a certain unique and distinct creaminess.

A mysterious heaviness haunts this wine. The oak is terribly unique to this palate, giving Chardonnay an entirely different face. The acidity is somehow transformed into a block of almond infused wood. A hard read but delightfully puzzling.

This is a Chardonnay that defies my taste bud boundaries. You might say it’s mixed up and trying to find its way, but I admire the path it is trying to take. Tame the oak just a bit more and we have a Canadian superstar. (Featherstone 2013 Canadian Oak Chardonnay, Featherstone Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, 750 mL, 12.5%, $21.95, Square Media Group Rating 87/100). The wine was both fermented and aged in Canadian oak. A mere 334 cases were produced. You can pick it up at the winery this fall and at the LCBO in a Vintages release in December.

Seems like a good match for turkey sans cranberry sauce. I would be tempted to suggest holding on to this for up to three years to see what the Canadian oak does to the wine. Give the Canadian oak barrels a few years to calm down and goodness knows what they are capable of producing.

A monstrous wine in the making?

Blended wines possess an advantage as they are not imprisoned by a singular grape that may not be having a great year. The vintner can fiddle around and adjust the blend to favour the better grapes. Not all grapes fare equally in the same climatic conditions.

Featherstone Four Feathers is a blend of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

It’s a very white golden colour which suggests a high component of Riesling. It has pronounced aromas of lime, pear, and fresh cement. Hidden in this is a seductive sweetness.

The Gewürztraminer is desperately trying to assert itself, but is held in check by the Riesling. While the pear is the mark of the Chardonnay, and the lime of the Riesling, the Sauvignon Blanc appears to be dominated by the other three grapes as its acidity and topicality are dwarfed.

I can’t say any grape wins in the blend, which might lead to two conclusions.

One of which is that this is a perfect blend, or that it simply lacks any character as the blending has completely neutralized the grapes.

In this case neutrality wins. However its light colour strongly suggests a high blend of Riesling. (Featherstone Four Feathers 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Featherstone Vineyard, 750 mL, 12%, $14.95, Square Media Rating 83/100).67% Riesling, 14% Gewürztraminer, 16% Chardonnay, and 3% Sauvignon Blanc. 396 cases produced. Will be released in a Vintage’s release in August 2015 and at the winery in September 2015.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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