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Bachelder Chardonnay: One Montreal Winemaker, Three Countries

by Lesley Trites

If one winemaker used the same grape variety and the same methods to make wine in Niagara, Oregon, and Burgundy, would you taste the difference between the three terroirs?

Thomas Bachelder wanted to know, so in a bold experiment, he sourced grapes (organic whenever possible) and rented cellar space in Niagara, Oregon, and Burgundy, three regions he chose based on past connections to each place.

Born in Montreal to a family of farmers from the Eastern Townships, Bachelder made his first wine in the basement of his Plateau apartment. He’s come a long way since then. Having proven his ability to make exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in 2010 he left his position as the winemaker at Niagara’s Le Clos Jordanne to focus on his own venture. The question driving his unique ‘Trois Terroirs’ project arose from his background as a wine journalist.

Thomas Bachelder, Mary Delaney, and their daughters

There are personal reasons for the choice of regions as well: the project allows Bachelder and his family to keep up with friends from their former lives in all three regions. “It’s had a fantastic effect on our lives,” he said. The project also gave Bachelder and his wife Mary Delaney, a wine salesperson, the opportunity to work together as business partners for the first time. Their two daughters, aged 12 and 15, also help out from time to time, making it a family project.

The desire to make wine in all three regions also gave the family a way to establish roots in all three places. “Quebec is our favourite place in the world,” he said. “But if you want to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at a world class level, you have to leave.”

While renting (instead of buying) properties helped to keep their initial costs down, the experiment wasn’t without its risks. “We were very lucky to get three similar growing seasons in our first year,”  Bachelder explained. He is very happy with the results, and is curious to see whether his will challenge prejudices about how wine from each of those regions normally tastes. The first release, the 2009 Chardonnay, is now available at the SAQ ($34.00 for Burgundy and Oregon, $33.75 for Niagara), and the first Pinot Noir will be released next year.

Thomas Bachelder working in the vineyardwork

When tasted side-by-side, the Chardonnays have a similar style: all three wines have a great acidity and vibrancy that leaves your tongue tingling. But there are distinct differences as well, and I definitely felt I could taste the three terroirs. The charm of the Niagara Chardonnay is more in the forefront, expressed with exotic fruits and a fleshy texture, while the Burgundy Chardonnay is more subtle, lean, and elegant, with stronger citrus fruit flavours. The Oregon Chardonnay falls somewhere in the middle, with a distinctive salty finish.

Bachelder set out to make all three wines in a French style, and none show a great deal of oak, despite having been aged in oak barrels. The Oregon Chardonnay in particular may challenge perceptions of what an Oregon Chardonnay usually tastes like. Bachelder is quick to point out the difference between barrel fermentation and “oaking” a wine. “Long aging in wood means less wood and more terroir,” he explained.

One day, Bachelder and Delaney hope to buy vineyards in one of the three regions. For now, they’re just getting started, and it’s still a labour of love.