The Evolution of Stratus
On November 23 Stratus Vineyards of Niagara releases its 2010 Stratus White and 2010 Stratus Red at VINTAGES. To promote the new vintage – which I personally believe is the best to date for both the Stratus White and Stratus Red – winemaker JL Groux recently gathered media for a vertical tasting of his premier blends, going back six years.
I readily attended because in my mind the Stratus blends are the bellwether for Ontario blends in general, and what can be achieved here when intelligent, quality-focused winemaking is applied. JL Groux, who arrived in Niagara as the winemaker for Hillebrand in 1989 has more experience under his belt than anyone in the province, especially working with the red Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.
Even more interesting than tasting the wines themselves was hearing JL’s 20-20 hindsight replay of his decisions for each vintage, adapting to weather conditions, vineyard maturity and in many ways his own subtle shifts in thinking about what the wines should be.
The original concept was to make the best possible terroir/place driven estate wine using whatever grapes were grown there. The wide variety of planted varieties at Stratus gave him a wide palette of colours to choose from. But of course not every variety will perform at its best each year, and with over ten vintages under his belt he seems to be more focused on the grapes that are the most consistent performers.
Whether conscious or not, both the 2010s are closer to a Bordeaux model than anything yet produced – both in terms of grape component and taste of the wines. It should be remembered that JL grew up in France’s Loire Valley, and studied winemaking at the University of Bordeaux, so it is natural that he might gravitate this way. Stratus Red 2010 is all Bordeaux varieties, void of grapes like syrah or gamay that appeared in previous years. Stratus White 2010 has dropped gewurz from the blend for the first time and reduced the chardonnay component, while putting semillon and sauvignon (the white Bordeaux varieties) front and centre at a combined 63%.
And I think he will stay this course. Twice during the tasting he talked of “the necessity to be consistent when dealing with the international marketplace”. Thinking beyond our borders and playing in the big sandbox is new thinking from Stratus – speaking perhaps to his personal desire to be internationally known, and the economic necessity of moving beyond the Ontario market. Given what’s in the bottle this should be no problem. Please check out my reviews for Stratus White 2010 and Stratus Red 2010.