Tawse: An OG of Canadian wine
No matter what the industry, there exist the “OGs”. These are the people who set the tone, make waves, and blaze trails for others to follow suit. I’ve spent the bulk of my career working on the west coast, yet Tawse was always on my radar as one of our marquee producers. Ask any sommelier in the industry of top wineries from Canada, and Tawse will be on the list.
Upon moving to Toronto, I had an opportunity to do a winery tour of Niagara with friends. On the itinerary was Tawse.
At the time, I was unaware they had been farming organically and biodynamically well before it was trendy. Winemaker Paul Pender took us through a flight of wines, humbly sharing the unfiltered series, which sees zero additions or sulphur of any kind. He wasn’t sure if the wines would stand up to cellaring, so we implored him to pull a few back vintages to see for ourselves. He opened a bottle of 2015 Chardonnay from the unfiltered series and the group collectively grinned ear to ear with the utter vibrancy and acidity that danced on our palates.
It was that tasting that affirmed my decision to feature the “Unfiltered” series from Tawse in Crushable, and each vintage I have tried thereafter has confirmed it was the right one.
This is a conversation I have transcribed from video with Paul over lunch in Toronto a few months ago.
LM: Tell me about the unfiltered series.
PP: This is us trying to be “shiny and new”. At Tawse, we’ve been farming organically and biodynamically for 15 years. Our wines have always been low intervention and low sulphur. However, as we become more entrenched within the “establishment”, we’ve been perceived as more “mainstream” than maybe we actually are. We decided to make a line of small volume, no intervention, single vineyard wines that see no filtration, no fining and no sulphur. Very often we bottle straight from cask, where we have an old spigot from Burgundy we hammer direct into barrel and bottle straight from cask. This keeps the wine very fresh as nothing happens to the wine as it’s going direct to bottle.
LM: Stylistically, for someone who hasn’t had a wine like this, what would you tell them they could expect?
PP: The unfiltered series is rounder and richer. Something sulphur does to a wine – and not that it’s a negative as I happen to like it – it’s a framework around the wine, it tightens it up and makes it angular and lean. If you like a more linear, mineral style of wine, lean more towards sulphur, if not, if you like a fatter, richer wine, lean towards no sulphur. And, without sulphur, you always run the risk of the wine going a little weird. Drunk fresh, it’s richer, given a year or two, it might be a little nuttier or oxidized.
LM: What’s your take on malolactic fermentation?
PP: Well, firstly, all red wines go through it. But, white wine, sometimes we stop it – in chardonnay for example – to give you more of a mineral driven wine. If it goes through malo, you get the conversion of malic to lactic, which is softer so the wine gets richer and rounder. Some of the byproducts of that bacterial conversion are things like butteriness, milkiness, cheesiness, not always something you want in a wine. I don’t particularly like that in my chardonnay, I’m more about linear and mineral. I feel there’s a bit of split among winemakers and their approach to it.
If you don’t go through malo, you have to filter and sulphur, otherwise you will have activity in bottle. It’s an evolution in the stability of the wine.
Some vintages we do want it to happen, like when we have a really high acid year. The amount of acid in the wine would not be pleasant upon consuming. The acid becomes softer and rounder once it goes through malo, and is more pleasing on the palate. I personally don’t think one style is better than the other.
LM: You’ve mentioned the notion of “trend chasing” in wine. Can you elaborate?
PP: I would say a few years ago, Ontario wines were something everybody in the restaurant community was interested in. People were starting to understand that drinking local was as important as eating local. There is still a lot of support in the city but – I think that more and more there is an emphasis on getting something that is new, unique and shiny and maybe not really understanding the gems that we have in our own backyard.
LM: How have you combatted that?
PP: I’m still figuring it out. Everyday we are trying to understand how we can share the love and share the story that we can make great wine in Ontario. We have incredible terroir and vineyards, talented winemakers and viticulturists.
It’s hard to always be the “cool kid on the block”. As you get older, you get more entrenched in being part of the establishment. Maybe we’re not as exciting anymore for everybody. It’s important to understand that things ebb and flow but more so getting out there, telling the story and talking about how great Ontario wines are, how great they are with food, how accessible they are, and that they tell a story of place and time.
LM: Why do you think there is a snobbery among general consumers when it comes to Ontario wine?
PP: I think that the great thing about this city is that it’s one of the most multi cultural cities in the world – it’s truly amazing. You can walk down any street in Toronto and consume food from 10 different countries. You can also buy wine from all over the world, too. The LCBO is a blessing and curse, they buy from everywhere in the world, in a metropolitan society of people who come from all over the world and want access to these wines. We’re not a regional type of province – we embrace wines from everywhere - and as we should. But, I think we have to acknowledge where we’re from and try to also sell the message that we should drink Ontario.
If you'd like to try the unfiltered series from Tawse - that has now been discontinued and no longer available - your last chance to try it is through Crushable. Extremely limited quantities are available - and the best part - it's in magnum only. Sign up to the the email list here to have access to the pack: https://www.crushable.club/