By Melanie Lloyd
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jan-Daniel Etter of Vignoble Clos du Vully located in Navan.
Jan-Daniel is passionate about winemaking, full of life, and articulate. As I was interviewing him, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful guest he would make on any television or radio show. Listening to him talk about his wine to the other patrons was like listening to an artist speak about their artwork.
Here is my Q&A with Jan Daniel, followed by my impressions of some of the bottles sampled.
Question: How did you discover you wanted to be a Winemaker?
Jan-Daniel: My background is in farming. I grew up on a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario. After my studies, I worked a couple of years on my family’s farm and discovered I wasn’t passionate enough about dairy farming to make a career out of it. I knew, however, that I wanted to stay in the farming business one way or the other.
It happens that we have grape growers on my mother’s side of the family in Switzerland. I was invited by my cousin to harvest for the first time in 2005. I gladly accepted his offer and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was great family spirit and everyone was helping out.
In 2007, my cousin invited me to be an assistant winemaker. He’s a oenologist who studied at Changins, a reputable oenology school in Switzerland. Under his tutorage, I started learning the winemaking side of things. I continued returning to Switzerland every fall until 2011.
Back at home, in the spring of 2008, I planted my first 240 plants of Frontenac Rouge. We decided that if the plants survived the winter, we would go full-scale into plantation of vine plants. Every single vine survived that first winter.
In 2009, we planted 1200 plants of Frontenac Rouge, Marquette, and Frontenac Gris. Then, in 2012, four years after planting my first grapes, I had my first harvest big enough to start the vinification process.
Question: What are some key differences between growing grapes and making wine in Navan when compared to Vully?
Jan-Daniel: In Vully, they grow exclusively Vitis Vineferra grapes, the traditional European grape variety. In our case, we decided that we are better suited to use hybrid grapes which are a cross between Vitis Vineferra grapes from Europe and native, indigenous grape species from North America.
These grapes are much more resistant to the cold and will survive anywhere from -30 to -40 degrees Celsius. They are more resistant to diseases, mainly Powdery Mildew, Botrytis, and Downy Mildew. Hybrid grapes are a lot less work which means less investment in equipment and manpower, and a better chance of having a regular crop every year.
At the same time, being in Ontario, we have access to premium quality grapes from Niagara which are considered local as long as it’s within the province of Ontario.
In our opinion, we have the best of both worlds. First, we have the unique flavours coming from the hybrid grapes and the reliability of harvest year after year. Then, we have the power and quality of product coming from the Niagara grapes.
Question: What are some of the unique challenges you face with the cold climate? How do you overcome these challenges?
Jan-Daniel: Our biggest challenge here is the frost, mainly the late spring frost, and the fall frost to a lesser extent. To prevent this, we chose to plant our grapes in elevated sites. Usually, the cold will drop to the low lands and to lower linear areas. Being higher up protects us.
We also use high cordon pruning. Typically, the majority of winemakers grow grapes in vertical shoot positioning where they have grapes growing three feet over the ground and then shoots growing upwards.
In our case, we have the main trunk at about 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall, and then the branches go downwards so that fruit is at the top and the vegetation goes down. The reason we do this is to be higher up in elevation. The higher we are, the farther we are from the frost.
Another reason we use this method is because the sap takes longer to reach the end of the trunk so budding will be delayed by a couple of days. Sometimes those few days make the difference between loosing your buds and being able to survive a cold episode.
Question: What wine makes you most proud?
Jan-Daniel: I am most proud of our Fortified White called Cuvée Éliane, named after my mother. It’s the only wine we make that is produced from 100% homegrown estate grapes. Produced from 70% Frontenac Blanc and 30% Frontenac Gris, it is made in a style of a White Port and is candy in a bottle. It’s aged 6 month in oak barrels, followed by 6 months in stainless steel tanks. On the nose, we have honey and beeswax, and on the palate, we have honey, pineapple, and a long pear finish. This wine pairs very well with strong blue cheese.
Question: What is your bestseller?
Jan-Daniel: Cuvée Caroline is our best seller because it’s so versatile and fruit forward. Made from two-thirds Petite Pearl and one-third Cabernet Franc, it has a beautiful smoky nose. The nose comes in part from the recoopered barrels, and in part from the grapes.
Here are my personal notes on a few of the Clos du Vully bottles sampled. Pictured above is the full range of wines available at Clos du Vully, minus the Viognier, which is currently sold out.
ETTER CUVÉE ANALIE 2016
Named after Jan-Daniel’s niece, this bright, pale yellow wine is made from 32% Chardonnay, 30% Vidal, 30% Frontenac Blanc, and 8% Riesling. On the nose, there are aromas of red apple and oak, as well as herbal notes, honey, petrol, and hints of almond.
On the palate, we find tart lemon, apple, and pineapple flavours, and a slightly nutty finish. It is medium bodied with beautiful acidity.
Wine-Food Pairing: This wine would pair well with baked white fish in a cream sauce.
ETTER FRONTENAC BLANC 2016
Made from 90% estate grown Frontenac Blanc and Frontenac Gris, as well as 10% Riesling, this wine is visually stunning with its bright pale yellow colour.
On the nose, we have pear, honey, lemon zest, and clementine, with a hint of almond. On the palate, we have lemon, pineapple, and honey flavours with just a touch of clementine. There is beautiful harmony between the concentrated flavours and the wonderfully tart acidity.
Wine-Food Pairing: I paired this wine with bacon-wrapped scallops. This wine works well with buttery seafood but is also great on its own.
ETTER CUVÉE CAROLINE 2014
This best-seller looks beautiful with its ruby reflections.
On the nose, we have a mix of dark and red berries, predominantly blackcurrant, blueberry, and raspberry, followed by violet, and hints of cinnamon, vanilla, and smoke.
On the palate, it is medium bodied with dark berry flavours and a slightly bitter espresso finish.
Wine-Food Pairing: I paired this wine with barbecued pork chops in a raspberry sauce that included fresh raspberries, aged balsamic vinegar, a touch of Cuvée Caroline, and a few dashes of cinnamon.
The food was a perfect match. The sauce highlighted the beautiful aromas and flavours of this wine. Both the wine and the food were delicate enough to bring out the best from each other without one overtaking the other.
ETTER MARQUETTE 2014
Made from 75% estate grown Marquette, and a blend of 25% Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Shiraz, this Red has aromas of black plum, violet, and sour cherry, as well as hints of wet cedar, red licorice, smoke, and roasted cocoa beans.
On the palate, there is tart black plum and sour cherry flavours with a smoky finish. It is medium bodied with wonderful acidity and is truly a lovely wine. This is one of my personal favourites from Etter.
Wine-Food Pairing: I paired this wine with barbecued steak. The smoky profile of both the wine and the steak complemented each other.
ETTER CUVÉE ÉLIANE
I’m on the same page as Jan-Daniel regarding this wine’s tasting notes. I couldn’t help but sampling it myself after hearing such positive feedback. Visually, it is bright and syrupy, with a rich golden yellow colour.
On the nose, there are baked apple and pear aromas, followed by pineapple, honey, and hints of petrol.
On the palate, the apple, pear, pineapple, and honey flavours follow the nose. There is also lemon, clementine, and hazelnut at the finish. The tartness balances the sweetness of this wine perfectly. This is a nice wine to enjoy after dinner.
Wine-Food Pairing: I tried this wine with Jan-Daniel’s recommendation of blue cheese and it was absolutely delicious! The bold flavours of the wine hold up nicely to the powerful flavours of the cheese.