Summary: Château des Charmes is an important Canadian winery and a tourist attraction located in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The winery produces 100 percent estate wines from 280 acres. Five percent of the annual production is icewines. Paul Bosc, president, founder and winemaker is credited with planting the first commercial vineyard dedicated to vitis vinifera grapes. His importance to the wine industry in Canada has been noted as he was invested with The Order of Canada in 2005, Canada's highest civilian honour. The winery celebrated its 30th year in May 2008.
Château des Charmes was our first visit to a Canadian winery. Not long after passing over the Queenston Lewiston Bridge through customs, we arrived in an area called St. David's Bench where a climate allows fruit to grow prolifically. Although the area is a cool weather climate for grapes, summers can be hot. Climate change is slowly beginning to be noticed in the area. The winery says "the 2007 vintage is being tourted as one the best Niagara has ever seen,"as a result of the summer being the driest in 53 years. Niagara has been producing wine for over 100 years.
Soon we arrived at Château des Charmes where large wind machines dot the vineyards. Although most of the vines are on short cordons, Paul Bosc continues to experiment with different trellising systems to discover the best types but the predominant one used is the low cordon. A palatial winery and tasting room sits back from the road. In front is a large fountain, landscaped with boxwood and rose bushes. Above the entrance is large, grand sign, proudly announcing the name of the winery. Large vineyards are located on three sides of the winery with wind machines dotting the areas. Once inside there is a central area with a large curved staircase. No wonder this is a highly sought facility for weddings.
Château des Charmes is a family-run winery producing 75,000 cases of wine each year. All wine produced by the winery is from the 280 acres of vineyards. A combination of history, building and a discovery in the vineyard make this winery a must visit winery.
Paul Bosc and his family own and are an “active working family” at the winery. Paul can trace his roots back to the Alsace region of France. Graduating from the University of Burgundy at Dijon, Paul came to Canada in the 1960’s. After learning that grapes were growing in the Niagara area, he moved to the area in the mid 1960’s where he worked for another winery. Paul knew that the area’s climate was similar to the Burgundy region in France where he studied although the temperatures did become cooler.
Paul founded Château des Charmes in 1978 and has had a big influence on the wineries in Niagara. He was one of the first to dedicate a commercial vineyard to vinifera grapes in the area. He also believed that to produce the finest wine you must first tart with the best grapes. This is why today Château des Charmes uses only grapes they have grown themselves. Wind machines are now used throughout Canada after Paul introduced the concept to Canadian wineries. Today the winery has 14 varieties of grapes. Each year Château des Charmes has two harvests. The first harvest is the traditional harvest and takes place between September and the beginning of November. The second harvest is the icewine harvest. The requirements for a true icewine, requires that the temperature goes to 17 degrees F or -8 degrees Celsius. Paul waits until the temperature is two degrees colder. Today the largest market for icewine is the Asian market.
We tasted several wines with Roger. He began the tasting by placing two glasses of water in front of us. This was only the second winery we have been to where this has occurred. Although visitors can always ask for water at a tasting counter, this was a nice touch at Château des Charmes and added to the tasting experience. It also recognized the importance of drinking enough water while tasting and drinking wine. The Sauvignon Blanc 2006 was fruit forward, crisp and refreshing. Although a dry wine, the fruit brought out a sense of sweetness. The Aligoté 2006 was 100 percent Aligoté, a grape from Burgundy. With a fruit nose and apples on the nose and taste, it had a smooth almost buttery finish. Riesling 2006 had a fruit nose and taste with a crisp finish. When paired with blue cheese (we were experimenting), the wine’s acid cut the salt and taste of the cheese.
Gamay Noir Droit VQA 2006 was a wine made from a unique clone of Gamay Noir grape Paul Bosc discovered in one of his vineyards. The grape was a spontaneous mutation in the vineyard. Paul noticed the vine and took cuttings to propgate it. Château des Charmes owns the international plant breeders rights to grow and produce wine called Gamay Noir 'Droit'. Gamay Noir Droit grape is a "Made in Canada" vinifera. This wine was a dark, red translucent color with a dark fruit and pepper nose. There was a dry red fruit flavor with obvious pepper. Pinot Noir 2005 VQA had a strawberry nose, red fruit taste and was very crisp. The Equuleus 2005 was a blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 25 percent Cabernet Franc. The name was from a constellation of a horse that appears during harvest. The result was a bit of oak on the nose, red fruit taste and crisp tannins on the finish.
Château des Charmes is definitely a winery you will want to visit.
Château des Charmes
1025 York Road
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
GPS N 43° 15.625' W 079° 12.609'
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