Gourmet Travel - Chateau des Charmes, Niagara Ontario Wine Tour

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Tasting Niagara - Château des Charmes

by Wade Rowland - Part 2

Chåteau des Charmes
Chåteau des Charmes winery
Photo © Christine Collie
Our excursion began late on an autumn Saturday morning at Château des Charmes, just west of St. Catharines. A winery solidly in the French tradition, it is the fruit of nearly thirty years of dedicated effort by the Bosc family. Paul Bosc and wife Andrée washed up on Canadian shores with their son Paul-André in 1963 after losing the family vineyards in the Algerian revolution. Another son, Pierre-Jean, was born in Canada and after training in Dijon would become the family's sixth-generation winemaker.

It would be difficult to imagine a more massive commitment to new world winemaking than the Bosc estate, with its enormous new six-million dollar production/entertainment facility dominating the vineyards on one side of the road (Hwy. 81) and the family chateau (complete with stables for Egyptian-Arabian purebreds) sprawled on the other. These are clearly intended to anchor a Canadian wine-making dynasty. As patriarch Paul Bosc said when the new facility was opened amid much ceremony in 1994: "I hope it will be here in two hundred years, producing the best quality wines."

Bosc was among the first Ontario growers to introduce the vitis vinifera grape varieties native to Europe to the region in large quantities in the 1970s (along with Inniskillin Wines), to replace the notorious, super-hardy labrusca hybrids like Niagara and Concord that produced wines suitable only for engine coolant. For that, he deserves a medal, and he was given one‹the Order of Ontario‹in 1999.

More recently, son Pierre-Jean Bosc imported several U.S.-made wind machines for the family's St. David vineyard, and secured Canadian marketing rights. Two years later the brutal winter of 2002-3 tested the machines' ability to counter the impact of temperatures as low as ­26C and the results were there for all to see in the spring. While crops throughout the region were devastated, the St. David vines had suffered only minor damage. Today, the $35,000 machines are sprouting from vineyards throughout the province.

With the Chateau des Charmes estate's production currently peaking at a million bottles a year, dozens of international awards attest to the results produced by the Bosc's commitment to innovation. The wines we sampled were uniformly superior, from a brisk Pinot-Chardonnay brut to a spicy 1999 oaked Merlot and a rare Gamay Noir 'Droit' produced from a late-ripening mutant vine stock discovered and cultivated by Paul Bosc himself on his St. David vineyard.

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