[Photo: Wines in Niagara]
Winemaker Thomas Bachelder's love for his native Montreal is rivalled only by his passion for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. After rising to prominence at celebrated Niagara winery Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder started his own project with business partner (and wife) Mary Delaney. Full of ambition, they simultaneously set out to make wine in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.
Bachelder was recently in Montreal for Somewhereness, an Ontario wine event at the SAT, where he made time for a chat with Eater Montreal's resident wine writer, Lesley Trites.
How did you first start making wine?
At Christmas in the late 80s, my brother gave me a kit that was called Beaujolais. Then I went up to the Jean-Talon market and started buying grapes from California. After a few years, I started buying grapes from Niagara, because I wanted to get grapes more locally.
When I really started getting into it, I bought a couple of used barrels, and I started to do everything by gravity in my Jeanne-Mance apartment. Mary would sell all the wine every year. We had a wine club where you paid to help us to make wine (so it was legal, because you can't sell bottles of wine). We bottled it and made a different label every year, with a picture of Parc Lafontaine or the mountain. It was a real Quebecois enterprise.
I was just smitten with wine. I could go to sleep every night reading about it. When we went away to wine school in France, it was with one ambition: to come back and plant grapes in Quebec. The sadness of it all was that although I came back with the intention of being in Dunham or Frelighsburg, I also wanted to make Pinot and Chardonnay, and I couldn't really do it here the way I wanted to.
I never wanted to leave—I had to leave if I wanted to do world-class Pinot and Chardonnay. Pinot just doesn't make it here; it's too tender in the winter, even if you bury it. And so I went away to make wine.
What were your favourite Montreal restaurants back in those days?
All those great BYOBs on the Plateau. (In fact, we're going there tonight, to Le Quartier Général.) There was this great openness in Montreal. We had this whole thing going: making our own wine, and going to BYOBs with groups of friends. When we came back from wine school in France, we found out that the SAQ was circulating copies of our best BYOB guide that we had written in English. We expanded that into the 50 best BYOBs in Montreal in French and English.
These days, where do you like to eat and drink when you're in town?
Now, it's coloured by the fact that we tend to go to restaurants where we want our wine to be or to thank restaurants for carrying our wine. So today, I'm talking to Joe Beef and just wishing I had the money to go tonight.
I love Chez L'Épicier in Old Montreal, Liverpool House, Garde Manger, and little places like La Buvette chez Simone, Pullman, and La Salle À Manger. I don't have a lot of money, but I love the fish place right opposite the park (Le Filet), and a lot of the places up in Little Italy. Now Montreal is so expanded, you can find stuff in Verdun that's good. And Old Montreal, of course. I was sad to see DNA go. And for a long time I've loved La Chronique on Laurier.
What a city! The most powerful thing you could say about Montreal, I think, is that Montreal's more sophisticated than Manhattan. Sophistication isn't about having just a Daniel Boulud. It's that the average man and woman eats well. The average Quebecker drinks better wine than the average New Yorker.
Which Montreal specialties do you miss when you're away?
I lived here for so long—of course I still love smoked meat and stuff like that. I love Lester's on Bernard. I love the whole Bernard and Laurier strip, even Van Horne. I love Le Paris Beurre for their confit de canard. And now, I'm learning more as a wine producer. I'm learning about Laval and Rosemère and Blainville and Saint-Hubert— all these places off the island that are going crazy with great restaurants. New York isn't doing that.
Little Italy figured large in my life, and still does. I do not come to Montreal without going to the Jean-Talon market. And if I'm in the western end of the city, I always go to Atwater market.
What do you drink at home?
The problem with me is I drink a lot of Burgundy, because I want to stay focused on it. And with other wines I really love, like the great Barolos and Nebbiolos (cheaper priced Nebbiolos from the Langhe), if I'm going to put 30 or 40 dollars on a wine, I'm just about to grab a Barolo and then I buy a Burgundy. That's my problem. And I appreciate the great Bordeaux, but really, they just sit in my cellar.
We are Francophiles, and that's why our style of wine reflects that. If Mary and I are cooking together, it has to be a good Sancerre or especially a Chablis. We just love that flintiness of Chablis for bringing on the appetite. And then, a red Burgundy. From many different villages, though!
When you go to Burgundy, and you live there for a while, you realize that it's not Burgundy versus Bordeaux, or Burgundy versus Argentina. There is so much variety in Pinot Noir; you don't even think that you're always drinking the same thing. Never. You think about the appellation; you don't think that you're still drinking the same old Pinot Noir. In all its variation, I would probably only drink that.
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