A date with Norman Hardie

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A chance to taste top-notch pinot noir and chardonnay from Prince Edward County, Ontario

Tom Firth – Wine Access

Claiming that a winemaker is offbeat, has a big personality and/or refuses to play by the rules are common marketing tactics in the world of wine.
For the most part, I care about the wines and less about the winery ‘personality.’ But it is easier to say nice things about likeable winemakers who are genuinely interested in making great wines.
When the Alberta importer Vendemmia International Wines for Norman Hardie told me that I “have to meet him” and that I have “never met anyone quite like him,” I actually felt a sense of trepidation. This importer isn’t known for blowing smoke or nonsense.
The dinner with Norman Hardie was held at the Cookbook Co. Cooks in Calgary, right by one of the best wine shops around — Metrovino. The wines were paired with a five-course seasonal menu and the format was a little different than what I am used to, dinner was part of a cooking class or chef’s demonstration.
Showing up early, as I normally like to do, I had a chance to connect with the Alberta Norman Hardie importer and Norman Hardie himself. I have to say that Hardie was almost disappointingly normal — until he started talking about making wine. He is definitely a no B.S. kind of guy when it comes to his wine.
Norman Hardie has worked in some of the coolest places to produce cool climate, Burgundy-style wine, and he wanted to create high-end, top-quality pinot noir and chardonnay in Canada.
While snooping around Niagara, Hardie was prompted to check out Prince Edward Country and found almost the exact same soil profile of calcareous soils and clay as some of the top sites in Burgundy. This is where he started Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard.
Hardie makes his wine with about 60% county fruit and 40% Niagara fruit, which helps to spread out the vintages (Niagara fruit ripens about 2 weeks earlier) and to produce artisanal wines. Speaking of his handcrafted wines, “…if you don’t push the limits, you can’t make great wine.”
It is worth noting that all of his wines are sealed in screwcap, so that they can be opened and consumed the way the winemaker intended. Plus, Hardie wasn’t shy about telling us that he has had too many corked bottles in his life.

At dinner, we tried four different Norman Hardie wines:

Norman Hardie 2008 Prince Edward County Chardonnay

Leesy and toasty, with almond, biscuit, a hint of toasted marshmallow and clean, ripe fruit. Pretty restrained on the palate until the lees notes come through, with good chardonnay character and a long finish that shows a touch of smoke. Perhaps a touch too lees heavy for my taste, but really, really good. Score: 90

Norman Hardie 2008 Niagara Peninsula Chardonnay

Quite golden in the glass and finished with 40% new oak, the nose is rich, almost smoky and dirty, with seashell, popcorn, matchstick, spice, toast and mineral abundance. Creamy in the mouth, with solid earth notes, burnt toast and almonds. Very big, impeccably balanced and ending on a delicate floral note. Score: 90+

Norman Hardie 2008 Prince Edward County Pinot Noir

Bright red though slightly cloudy, the nose shows ripe cherry and a hint of menthol, with fresh vegetable leaf and clean, high-toned berry fruits. Palate shows compost and liquorice root, with big acids and bright cherry and cranberry flavours. Well made and very quaffable right through the finish. Score: 89
Norman Hardie 2008 Niagara Peninsula Pinot Noir
Very light in colour, almost a strawberry red. The nose shows bright primary fruit, spice, a touch of sour cherry and carrot cake, backed up by fresh compost notes. Palate is all big, bold acids and cherry-dominated fruits. A touch of cocoa powder rounds out the palate, bringing out added complexity. Score: 90

These wines are typically under 12% alcohol and a pleasure to drink — I am pleased as punch that they are now available in Alberta. Try them and see for yourself why Prince Edward County is being touted at the next best thing in Canadian wine.