When I asked winemaker Dave Breeden to tell me about Sheldrake Point Vineyards 2009 “BLK 3” Pinot Noir ($30 at release, now sold out) — the first vintage of a new vineyard-designated pinot — he didn’t have much he could tell me. “I can’t claim any credit at all for that wine — it’s entirely a project of Bob Madill, both in the vineyard and winery,” he said in an email.

Madill is of course the winery’s general manager, and he describes the BLK3 project as his “way of returning to my early days in the Ontario wine industry.” He was curious what might happen with a small block of pinot noir if he paid extra attention to it and treating the vines and the wine in a “timely and appropriate fashion.” BLK 3 is only three rows of pinot noir, but it’s in a good place closer to the lake.

“(Our vineyard manager) Dave Wiemann has been doing the spraying work for me when called for,” Madill told me, adding “Both Daves have helped out when I am away travelling. In addition, I get to try out some of the practices and advice from my friends in Burgundy — copious and mostly having to do with the vineyard.”

The wine is very much hands off — but would never be labeled ‘natural’ — whatever that means. Madill likes Assmanhausen yeast, even if he calls it “stinky and a bit of a bad actor” because finds its typical results compelling. So, he used it. Why no natural fermenation?

“We have tried bits of ‘natural’ fermentation from time to time,” he told me “I am just uncertain of what the dominant yeast strain(s) might be in our winery.”

In 2009, he did not inoculate for malo-lactic fermentation, however. The wine was just racked into barrel. All of the transfers were done using only gravity — “forklifts are so handy” he says. “The notion is simply to bring the results of the growing season into the bottle. None of the foregoing necessarily produces a ‘great’ wine. It will however, likely be interesting and very specific and variable as the season is variable.”

And I think he’s right. This isn’t a ‘great wine’ but it tells the tale of those three rows in 2009. With layered aromas of sweet red cherry, sandalwood, loamy earth, and faint savory spice, it’s unmistakably pinot noir — but you can tell that it was a cooler year.

Soft, supple tannins and gentle acidity frame a medium-light bodied palate that offers cherry and pomegranate fruit flavors accented by a savory, earthy edge. The finish is medium-long and there is a distinct sweet herb note at the end.

The 2009 is sold out, but I look forward to trying the 2010 and 2011 and beyond. These are the kinds of wines that geeks of my ilk dig.

Producer: Sheldrake Point Vineyards
AVA: Finger Lakes
pH: 3.51
TA: 5.4 g/L
ABV: 12.7%
Production: 50 cases
Price: $30*

(3 out of 5, Very good/Recommended)