Ontario – Wandering the Wine Route: Vignoble Rancourt Winery

Oct 11, 2009

It was one of those cool autumn afternoons. Under an overcast sky, I wandered “lonely as a cloud” as Wordsworth once wrote. I had nowhere to go, no one to see and just wanted to get out, take a drive.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is always the perfect place to visit. It may not have the rolling hills of Jordan and Beamsville but the flatness of the landscape provides the perfect canvas for the sky to express its vastness. Some days, I am simply overwhelmed by the sublime configurations of our clouds, their mountainous sweep, the tranquil but melancholy allure of their presence on windy sunset evenings.

When it is threatening rain, and the breeze picks up, I feel I am lost in a beautiful dream.
After taking a scenic drive through Niagara-on-the-Lake, I took the East West Line back to St.Catharines. Just after Highway 55 I saw a sign for Vignoble Rancourt. I hadn’t heard of the winery before.

Just a few seconds down Concession 4, past a green, leaf-healthy vineyard I took a right into the long gravel drive of Vignoble Rancourt. At the end, a grey, modern two story structure, what you might call a blend between a barn and farmhouse, clean, unassuming.

I entered the tasting room, finding it peaceful, the dimmed lights lending a tranquil aura not unlike that of a monastery. There was a reverent hush. Mrs. Rancourt stood behind the tasting bar, welcoming me with her lovely French-Canadian accent.

I asked about the winery, how long it had been around. Only three years she informed me. She said the Rancourts had been in Canada for many generations and that her late-husband, Lionel Rancourt had started the winery.

While trying their only white, the Noble Blanc, a delicious blend of Riesling and Chardonnay, Mrs. Rancourt told me about the appellation. The winery is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation which runs from the Welland Canal to the Niagara River along the shorelines of Lake Ontario. The main influence on the vineyards here is the lake which moderates the temperature.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Niagara Peninsula’s largest wine region which also includes the sub-appellations of St.David’s Bench (under the Escarpment), the Niagara River (along the parkway), and Four Mile Creek (just south of the Niagara Lakeshore).

Some liken the wines of Niagara-on-the-Lake to that of Bordeaux in southwest France, further noting that the wines of Beamsville and Jordan are closer in style to that of Burgundy in eastern France.

For those just getting into wine, Bordeaux wines are blends, typically of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a bit of Malbec. These are the five main varieties. For white Bordeaux, Sémillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.

In Burgundy, the wines are always based on one grape. For the reds, Pinot Noir (unless you’re in the south of Burgundy which is Beaujolais and there the grape is Gamay) and for the whites, Chardonnay. There is some varietal Aligoté as well but not nearly as famous.

Tasting the reds of Vignoble Rancourt, I noted a predominant Bordeaux-influence.

Rancourt 2007 Noble Blanc
As I mentioned above, this is a Riesling and Chardonnay blend. There are many people who can’t stand Chardonnay and you can’t blame them. Chardonnay is that celebrity everyone hears about and gets sick of quickly (think Julia Roberts after Pretty Woman or recently, Paris Hilton). But this wine is fruity, fun with a backbone of mineral apple-melon finesse. For white wine drinkers, a must.

Rancourt 2006 Noble Rouge
I fell in love with this one instantly. A delicious, up front red with notes of strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. For some red wine, room temperature is alright but this blend deserves to be slightly chilled to bring out the mouth watering acidity. For white wine drinkers that don’t really like red but should give a red a try, another must.

Rancourt 2006 Merlot
This is a wine for those that like their reds with a little vanilla action. Far too easy to drink, this Merlot invites you into a softer world of toasty-chocolate and black fruit. It would pair perfectly with veal.

Rancourt 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and Rancourt 2006 Cabernet Franc
These are wines to pair with beef. The Cab Sauv has a nice black tea/black fruit edge with a zing of cinnamon cranberry while the Cab Franc is herbal black fruit.

Rancourt 2006 Meritage
I mentioned Bordeaux above. A Meritage is actually the North American version of a Bordeaux blend. These wines cannot be called ‘Bordeaux’ unless they are from the appellation in France. For awhile, back in the 1950s and ‘60s, a great deal of wineries in California and Australia were calling their wines Chablis or Burgundy when the grapes weren’t actually sourced from the French region. It was just to give them a bit more European flair.

European Union laws are far more strict these days, quality has to be maintained, fraud avoided. You can't call your wine a 'Bordeaux' in Canada or the U.S. But instead of calling it a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Malbec blend, which can be a mouthful, the wine producers in the New World simply call it a 'Meritage'. Meritage essentially translates Bordeaux-style for wine drinkers.

This Meritage is delicious and packed with medium-bodied berry fruit and fragrant baking spices.
Rancourt 2004 Meritage
There are wines I am drawn to, that I want to sit with, savour, almost meditate with. The 2004 Meritage is such a vintage. When I tasted it I was entranced. It made me think of a quote I once heard: Taste is the memory of another time. I don’t know who said it or if I misheard it, but believe me when I write that this wine took me to another place. I was lost in a leafy-barnyard bouquet of black olives, green peppers, cranberries and seductive cinnamon. It reminded me of the scene in the famous novel, In Search of Lost Time in which the narrator dips his Madeleine cake into his tea, takes a bite and suddenly remembers the street he was raised on and all the other places of his childhood. Drinking this wine, I was somewhere else – maybe back in time, I don’t know. Another life.

Lionel Rancourt made this Meritage before he passed on. You can tell he put his heart and soul into it. I didn’t get a chance to meet the winemaker but this wine is a testament to the fine art of winemaking. Limited supplies on this one.

The beaten path is not for everybody. There is an excellent book by editor in chief of Wired Magazine, Chris Anderson called The Long Tail. In the tome he explains that the more popular products, the hits in our markets are fleeting and eventually most consumers eventually want to explore the greater market for themselves.

The wines of Vignoble Rancourt are not showy or flashy like Australian or California wines (or the hits) we see bombarding the LCBO shelves. The winery isn’t huge, it’s modest and the wines available offer the consumer quality, giving us in Ontario a taste of the Old World, a world of Bordeaux in our own backyard.

Vignoble Rancourt Winery
1829 Concession 4
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
L0S 1J0
Tel 905-468-2882
Fax 905-468-9243
email lionel.rancourt@sympatico.ca
Hours of operation:
May – Oct., 10:00 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Oct. – April, 11:00 a.m. – 5 p.m

ANNOUNCEMENT: Happy b-Day, Johnny.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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