On an impromptu trip out to Niagara a couple of Sundays ago, we were driving around and saw signs for Balls Falls Conservation Area. We decided to head there to have a look. While exploring the area, we found ourselves passing Calamus Estate Winery and saw that the tasting room was still open. I can never resist an open tasting room so we stopped to check it out. I’m very glad we did! Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me, and I am one of the very few people in the world whose cell phone does not take photos, so this post has no visuals to support it.
The word “calamus” is latin for arrow. This became the name of the winery when fragments of rock used by the First Nations were found on the property when the vineyards were being planted. These rock fragments were used to make stone tools and arrowheads.
The first 14 acres were purchased by Derek Saunders and Pat Latin in 1999 and they planted their first vines in 2000. In 2002, they purchased a second farm and a 19th century barn which is now the home of the winery. The year 2007 saw a renovation of the barn to include a tasting room and event facility. In 2008, Calamus produced 5000 cases of wine.
Arthur Harder, a native of Vineland in the Niagara region, is the head winemaker with Steve Byfield as the assistant winemaker. Incidentally, Steve is founder and winemaker of Nyarai Cellars which has also been winning many awards for its excellent Sauvignon Blanc. Go to Nyarai Cellars – A Virtual Winery to find out more.
All Calamus wine, with the exception of the Icewine, is bottled under screwcap “to preserve the quality, freshness and longevity of the wine”, according to the winery’s website at www.calamuswines.com. Derek told me he would like to bottle the Icewine under screwcap as well, but he has yet to find a bottle the right size that would accommodate them.
Derek poured a number of wines for us and I have to say that I was very impressed with all of them. And what great prices too!!
2008 Gewurztraminer ($15): Typical Gewurz aromas of lychee fruit, apricot, and spice dominate the nose. The wine is slightly off-dry with a pleasant honeyed peach flavour on the long finish. Very delicious!
2008 Pinot Gris ($15): Lots of fruit aromas – peach, grapefruit, and apricot. Just off-dry and minerally on the palate with racy acidity and a refreshing finish. The extra sugar helps balance the acid. One of the best Pinot Gris I have tried -very delicious!
2007 Riesling ($16): Aromas of grapefruit, peach, and mineral dominate with a delicate floral note. Ripe fruit flavours, a smooth texture and refreshing acidity on the palate.
2007 Barrel Aged Chardonnay ($17): aged 18 months in French oak barrels. Intense aromas of caramel apples, butterscotch, vanilla, and citrus. A very smooth, creamy texture with mineral, butterscotch, lime citrus, and a tangy acidity. This wine is a great value at only $17!
2007 Calamus Red ($16): 45% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot – aged for 10 to 12 months in mostly American oak. Lots of ripe, dark fruit and a touch of spice. Juicy fruit flavours on the palate, including sweet black cherry, with a hint of cedar, and supple tannins.
2006 Cabernet Franc ($14): aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak. Very floral aromas of lavender and violets, ripe dark berry fruit, black licorice, allspice, and dark chocolate. Very fruit forward on the palate with an almost tart acidity, soft tannins and good length. This was probably my favourite wine of the tasting, and what a value at a mere $14!
2007 Meritage ($30): 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot – aged 18 months in French oak. Only 300 cases of this terrific wine were made. Chocolate, blackberry, black licorice, and spice on the nose. Dark and spicy on the palate with firm tannins and a long finish. Very age worthy.
2007 Cabernet Franc ($18): Very different from the 2006 vintage of the same wine. This one is quite closed right now (probably due to the concentration of the grapes grown in the summer of 2007), but with the potential to be wonderful with age. Concentrated dark fruit, spice, and a touch of roasted bell pepper. Firm tannins need some time to soften. Age another 2 years and it should open up beautifully.
It seems to me that Calamus Estate Winery is very underrated and one of those hidden gems that not many people are aware of. I was extremely impressed not just by the friendliness of Derek and Pat, but of the high quality of the wine at such terrific prices. This is definitely a winery to check out.