Visiting Niagara, Canada (1) Henry of Pelham

The modern history of Henry of Pelham dates back to 1982, when Paul Speck Sr and his wife Bobbi bought some contiguous parcels of land in what is now the Short Hills Bench area of the Niagara Escarpment. This was early days for Vitis vinifera in Niagara, and in 1984 they began planting Riesling and Chardonnay, with the help of their young sons Paul, Daniel and Matthew. The first vintage was 1988, and they were founder members of the VQA.

Henry of Pelham is named after Henry Smith, who was the son of Nicholas Smith. Part Iroquois, Nicholas sided with the crown and came north during the revolution in 1776. At the end of the war couldn’t go home. Henry was one of 14 children, and some of these – including Henry – were granted land under the King’s grant. So Henry called himself Henry of Pelham after a British prime minister, and built a toll gate and inn on the site of the current winery. The great, great, great grandfather of the current generation of Specks, he planed vineyards here in the 1850s, and his wife Catherine took over after he died.

The Specks now farm 300 acres of vineyards and also buy some grapes, so this is quite a sizeable operation. They farm sustainably, but not organically. Soils are heavy clay, and retain water, so they can dry farm. There’s a thin top soil, then lots of clay: the correct description would probably be lacustrine silty clay with clay loam on the top.

I visited with Paul and Daniel Speck, and new winemaker Lawrence Buhler. These are good, well priced wines, and sparkling is a particular strength here.

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut NV Niagara, Canada
Crisp, fruity and pithy with citrus and a hint of red cherry. Has lovely focus and brightness. Very stylish. 89/100

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc de Blanc 2013 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Five years on the lees. Crisp and fruity with nice purity to the citrus and pear fruit. Lovely balance here with subtle toastiness. Shows nice precision. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut NV Niagara, Canada
30 months on lees. Fruity, linear and zippy with nice precision. Has some cherry and plum with a lovely linear drive and great balance. Very clean and pure. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
‘Pinot from this area has a distinct minerality and a delicate character,’ says Lawrence Buhler, wineamker. ‘It has freshness and the tannins tend to be soft and elegant.’ He’s right: this is quite fine with supple red cherry and berry fruit. It’s rounded and fruity and quite compact with lovely fruit. 91/100

Henry of Pelham Estate Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Short Hills Bench
This has some sort of rot character to it.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2017 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Barrel-fermented, 50% new oak (and a bit of this is American). Nice pure fruit here with pear and white peach, supported by some spicy, slightly creamy oak character. Harmonious and appealing with nice depth. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2018 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fermented at low temperature, and when 20 g/l residual sugar was reached a portion was sent to 3500 litre foudre to round the mouthfeel out (this was fermented dry, whereas the tank component was stopped with 15-18 g/l sugar). Fresh and lively with bright, pure citrus fruit, a hint of melon and tangerine, and a twist of sweetness. This has lovely juiciness and purity with clean fruit. Has an ease about it. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Three of Hearts Rosé 2018 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Has a creamy edge to the attractive citrus fruit with some red cherry hints. Nice dry style with some texture and freshness. 88/100

Henry of Pelham Estate Gamay 2017 Niagara, Canada
Sweetly fruited with a rounded character to the cherry and plum notes. This has lovely harmony. Softly fruity. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017 Ontario, Canada
This is rich and juicy with lovely sweet berry fruits, with a slight hint of roast meat and some spice. Lovely fruit here. Black cherry and plum, with some blackberry too. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2016 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fresh, supple and pure with nice structure under the black cherry and berry fruits. Has a slightly chalky edge. Fresh and beautifully balanced with lovely fruit. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Riesling Ice Wine 2017 Niagara Peninsula
Crop heavier than for normal wine, so the grapes have lots of acid and not an awful lot of sugar. This is a site where winter comes early, so they can pick in November. This is good for Riesling which is quite thin skinned. Lovely rich style with pure citrus fruit, a bit of apricot and melon, and nice acidity. Viscous and intense, but very pure with a nice floral edge. 93/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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