Once you’ve set eyes on Chateau Des Charmes you will never forget its grande driveway, inviting vines, impressive Chateau and friendly staff.
Founded by fifth-generation winegrower Paul Bosc in 1978, Chateau Des Charmes was the first commercial winery dedicated to vitis vinifera grape varieties common to Europe and not believed to thrive in Ontario. Paul was quick to set a new standard for cultivating “rare” grapes and his hard-work and dedication to forwarding wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He is, to say the least, a revolutionary wine-maker – Vive La Vitis Vinifera!
“For the past four decades, Paul Bosc has contributed to the evolution of Canada’s wine industry, particularly in the Niagara Region …displaying his abilities as an innovator with passion and flair. Throughout his career, this artisan has distinguished himself as a dynamic mentor who shares his knowledge freely with others.” ~ The Order of Canada Investment Ceremony, November 18th 2005 Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Canada
Today, Chateau Des Charmes has 280 acres on four (4) vineyards within Niagara-on-the-Lake borders. Herbicides aren’t used in any of the vineyards nor do they irrigate the vineyards; the Bosc family strives to use environmentally sound practices at every opportunity.
St. David’s Bench Vineyard: Consists of 85 acres surrounding the present-day Chateau. On this property you will find the experimental vineyard with 3 different kinds of planting techniques – a row to act as a control, then what’s called lyre – which allows for extra air flow and finally a high density planting. I love the innovation! The varieties you will find on this property are Aligoté, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Savagnin, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The wines from this vineyard are marked by a Blue Ribbon on the bottle.
Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard: Consists of 60 acres across the road from the Chateau and is home to Sr. Paul and Madame Andree Bosc and their Arabian horse farm. The varietals you’ll find in this vineyard are Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling and the vines are uniquely southern-facing. The wines from this vineyard are marked by a Red Ribbon on the bottle.
Creek Road Vineyard: Consists of 60 acres and the first vines were planted in 1978. These vines surround the original winery – now the warehouse – and varieties on this property include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vidal – the basis for the Estate Bottles. The wines from Creek Road and Seven & Seven (below) are marked by a Green Ribbon on the bottle.
Seven & Seven Vineyard: Consists of 50 acres and is celebrating its 30th anniversary of its earliest plantings in 2013. You will find Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc as well as root stocks in this vineyard which serves as the root of the Estate Wines.
THE BOSC FAMILY
The importance of family to this winery is made apparent even before you step inside. As you walk from the parking lot to the front door you are welcomed by the smiling faces of the Bosc family. Paul Bosc and his wife Andrée (lovingly called Madame) and their son Paul-André along with his wife Michéle are the four pillars by which Chateau Des Charmes thrives on. Each bringing their own unique skills to the winery, it was a pleasure to meet Michele during my visit.
But, the family doesn’t end there; at Chateau Des Charmes every staff member is considered part of the extended family.
Considering ‘Family is at the heart of everything [they] do’, the family strives to ensure that each person invested in the winery has a meaningful and enriching experience as part of the team. How refreshing!
ALWAYS A WARM WELCOME
When you step through the front doors of the winery there is always someone there to greet you with a smile and point you towards whatever you are looking for. Such a simple gesture but Chateau Des Charmes is the only winery I’ve encountered in my travels that does this. It always makes me feel valued and important and gets rid of any pretense and snobbery that some wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are known for. Certainly you will not find any of that here.
It was nice to be welcomed, on the day of my visit, by Michéle Bosc and she introduced me to Lindsay who would be leading me through the tasting and a tour of the grounds. The fun started upstairs in one of the private rooms used for corporate events and groups. The bar is spacious, the furniture comfortable and the fireplace warm and inviting. It would be a great place for a wedding or baby shower too.
Here is the lineup of what we tasted with a ✪ indicating my favourites:
Brut Sparkling Wine – Naturally Fermented ✪
2009 Riesling – Green Ribbon
2011 Aligoté – Blue Ribbon ✪
2010 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ – Blue Ribbon ✪
2010 Cabernet Franc – Blue Ribbon
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – Blue Ribbon
2010 Equuleus – Red Ribbon ✪
2009 Savagnin – Blue Ribbon ✪
SCHOOLED ON SPARKLING, ALIGOTE & SAVAGNIN
True to the methods in France, this Pinot Noir sparkling Brut is left to ferment naturally in the bottle for 2 years. During that time the bottles are turned regularly and then, when ready for the shelves, the bottles are popped to release the sediment before being corked and ready to drink. But stay back when the bottle is popped – turns out each holds 6 atmospheres of pressure! Lindsay was a great teacher and was sure to also let me know that the smaller the bubbles you see in a sparkling wine, the finer the quality and the bubbles in this Brut were almost unseen!
Unique to Chateau Des Charmes it was wonderful to try Aligoté for the first time; it is quite a rare single varietal wine. Bursting with freshness and green apple this wine now joins the list of my favourite whites in the Niagara Region.
The Savagin icewine that we tried has all the sweet nothings that I love about icewine without any of the syrupy texture. It is a rare vinifera grape for Niagara yet Chateau des Charmes has had 10 rows planted since 1993. This icewine is lemony and tropical – it reminds me of a limonata palate cleanser I had during my trip to Italy in 2006.
EQUULEUS: A FLAGSHIP WINE
Of all the wines that I had the pleasure of trying on this day, I was especially excited to try the 2010 Equuleus – the Chateau Des Charmes flagship wine. Made from Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard grapes – Cab Franc (25%), Cab Sauvignon (50%) and Merlot (25%) – this blend is complex and rare as it isn’t made every year.
Aged for one year in French Tronçais and Allier oak barrels, this wine is named for Paul Senior’s love of Egyptian Arabian horses. Equuleus is also known as the “Little Horse” constellation – one of the 88 modern constellations still in existence. Interestingly enough, this constellation appears in the night sky here in Niagara only during September which also happens to be harvest time for wineries. How romantic! If that isn’t reason to uncork this wine during an anniversary I don’t know what is!
JOURNEYING TO THE CELLAR
The Chateau Des Charmes cellar is large (to say the least) yet still maintains the character and charm of some of the smaller wineries I enjoy. I especially love the colour in that’s leeched through many of the french-oak barrels in the cellar that hold their reds. Their steel tanks are large and of them there are plenty! Tended by the hands of hardworking and dedicated people this is the birthplace of some of the latest and greatest blends and varietals in Niagara.
‘BOSCING’ IN HISTORY AND TRADITION
It is no easy task to produce 70,000 cases each year and still commit to sustainable practices like hand-picking, opting out of herbicides and maintaining a lagoon. But – this is what Chateau Des Charmes has done year after year and will continue to do so for years to come.
The Bosc family has truly accomplished what other wineries only dream about – to basc in their long-rooted history and tradition while embracing change and innovation for the future.