John Szabo's i4C Buyers' Guide

Preview of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C)

by John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel and David Lawrason

Following David’s round up of cool wines from around the world last week, this week we feature a preview of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. “I4C” is the annual immersion into the world’s most planted white grape, held each third weekend of July in Niagara. There’s a reason so much acreage is devoted to chardonnay: it’s a genetically superior variety that makes excellent wine. As one of my favourite i4C tag lines had it, “518,900 acres can’t be wrong” (my updated world figures). From bubbles to full-bodied and even Icewine, Chardonnay is Canada’s most consistent, polydynamic, flagship variety (sorry, riesling). In the buyer’s guide we give you a short list of first-rate Ontario chardonnays represented at i4C and the order in which to drink them, as well as a short list of the foreigners I’ll be chatting and tasting with over the weekend. Whether you’re looking for orientation at the celebration or wishing to participate from the comfort of your deck, dock or dinner table, we’ve got it sorted like a perfect bunch on a vibrating table.


Elsewhere, read my brief report on one of Austria’s least known wine regions, the Thermenregion. Protected by a chain of hills and the Vienna woods just south of the capital, the Thermenregion, named for the numerous thermal hot springs in the area, is one of the warmer corners of this cool country. The Cistercian monks from Burgundy recognized the similarities to their homeland in the 12th century and imported some grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris) from back home. But its exotic local specialties rotgipler, zierfandler and sankt laurent that headline today.

i4C 2019: the 9th Edition, July 19th to 21st

2019 marks the ninth edition of i4C, a favourite yearly event of mine. Ticket sales have been swift, and weekend packages and the signature Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner are already sold out. But tickets are still available for Friday night’s excellent “Flights of Chardonnay” grand tasting at the Niagara district airport (like no airport lounge you’ve ever been in), as well as the highly entertaining Sunday morning hair-of-the-dog Brunch at Ravine Vineyards, including oysters, live music and some seriously competitive table tennis.

Students of the vine, trade professionals and serious drinkers shouldn’t miss Friday’s “School of Cool”, a full day of three masterclass sessions on pointy subjects like the impact of lees (dead yeast cells) on chardonnay, climate change, and twisted consumer perceptions, as well as a keynote by Master of Wine Julia Harding. And throughout the weekend another dozen decidedly more liquid events are taking place at various wineries across the region, many with spots still available. See the full schedule and buy your tickets.


As usual participating wineries are split equally between Ontario and the rest of the world, about 60 wineries in total. Canadian wineries outside of Ontario are listed under international wineries (and might as well be from another country considering Canada’s retarded liquor laws).

On my short list of foreigners to track down over the weekend are Dewetshof Estate and their surprisingly lean, single-site, limestone-driven chardonnays from Robertson, and Paul Cluver’s genuinely cool Elgin outpost inland from False Bay, both in South Africa. Australia is represented by the Yarra Valley’s excellent Coldstream Hills, as well as Penfolds, whose top end chardonnay, Yattarna, comes mostly from chilly Tasmania, while superlative Bin 17A Reserve and Bin 311 are made from Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba fruit, respectively. These are Aussie revelations.

I4C wouldn’t be complete without Bourgogne, and I’ll you’ll find me tasting the stony offerings from Domaine Laroche in Chablis (to wash down the oysters, naturally), as well as Nicholas Potel’s impressive négociant range under the Maison Roche de Bellene label.

Among Canadian-foreigners, don’t miss Quails’ Gate’s tightly wound chardonnays from Kelowna towards the cooler, northern end of Lake Okanagan at nearly 50º latitude, and Nova Scotia’s most celebrated sparkling from Benjamin Bridge, a bottle of which pretty much made my Canada Day.

Closer to home, I’m very much looking forward to tasting recently revived Clos Jordanne. A project inspired originally by Inniskillin co-founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser and their joint venture with Burgundian producer Jaffelin in 1993 called Alliance, Le Clos Jordanne launched to wide critical acclaim with the 2004 vintage. Then owned by Canadian company Vincor, in partnership with Burgundy-based Boisset, and under the guidance of winemakers Pascal Marchand (Boisset) and Canadian Thomas Bachelder (Vincor), Le Clos focused exclusively on chardonnay and pinot noir from a collection of some of the best vineyards on the Niagara Escarpment near the town of Jordan. There was even a plan at one point for a Frank Gehry-designed winery.

Yet the project was shelved in 2016, when US-based Constellation Brands, who had bought out Vincor several years earlier, sold their Canadian Wine business to the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan for a billion dollars (1.03 billion). New management started to add up the numbers. They didn’t add up. 2012 was to be the last vintage of Le Clos. It was a sad day for Canadian wine.

But just this past June, the former Canadian operations of Constellation, renamed Arterra Wines Canada, announced that they were dusting off the Le Clos Jordanne brand. Thomas Bachelder was the natural choice to revive it. “As a Canadian company, it is so important for us to rebirth Le Clos Jordanne wines, and to bring the well-deserved prominence of this vineyard back into the Canadian spotlight,” said Jay Wright, president and CEO of Arterra. “Our goal is to re-introduce wines expressive of this very special place – and there is no better person to bring this vision to life than Thomas Bachelder, with his unparalleled passion for this region and this vineyard.”

Fruit is sourced from the original vineyards, namely Claystone Terrace, Talon Ridge, and Le Clos Jordanne itself. “It’s great to start with a classic year [2017] and with some older vines,” says Bachelder, who has been anticipating the revival of Le Clos since he and Arterra shook hands in the spring of 2017 (and kept a good secret). The 2017 chardonnay will feature at i4C.

As for other top picks from Ontario, see the buyer’s Guide below.

i4C Buyer’s Guide Act One – Lightweight Cool Ontario Chardonnay

Trius Showcase Blanc De Blancs ($55.20)(i4C and winery)
John Szabo – Start your i4C off with this lean and crunchy, traditional method sparkling on the more elegant, refined side, from Niagara sparkling specialists Trius. Despite four years on the lees, this pure chardonnay is surprisingly fresh, light and lively. I appreciate the succulent acids, and the linear, svelte palate.  …

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That’s all for this report. I hope to see you around the next bottle (of chardonnay at i4C!).

John Szabo, MS