Exploring Cool Climate Wines: The Journey of Norman Hardie

Exploring Cool Climate Wines: The Journey of Norman Hardie.

Norman Hardie stands out as a luminary within Ontario, Canada for the winemaking scene. Since unveiling his inaugural vintage, he has garnered a stellar global reputation, with critics lauding his wines among the finest. Our fascination was also piqued by his Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2017 during a recent review. So, we couldn’t pass up the chance to meet Norman in person, to gain his insights firsthand and taste his line-up. 

In this article, we aim to delve into his narrative while sharing the pleasure of tasting 10 of his exquisite wines alongside the man himself.

Behind the Bottle: Discovering the winemaker, Norman Hardie

We met him on a gorgeous sunny day at one of Amsterdam’s prestigious hotel schools. Before his presentation, we raised our glasses on a blind tasting of a 2001 vintage Savennières. That was a lovely icebreaking.

Norman Hardie’s life has been marked by an unwavering passion that has seized many opportunities. In his twenties, he immersed himself in the restaurant industry, kickstarting his career at two Michelin-starred establishments and landing the role of head sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel. Even in his early days as an apprentice, Norman was renowned for his unparalleled work ethic. Norman was apparently the hardest worker in the restaurant. His love for Burgundy wines blossomed during this time, fueled by learning with the chef.

Given the chance to take a year off, Norman pursued his passion wholeheartedly, delving into running an independent restaurant and participating in grape harvests across different continents, from Oregon to South Africa. 

Despite the allure of a high-paying, comfortable job at the Four Seasons, Norman chose to return to the life of an apprentice, driven by pursuing his passion for winemaking. His journey took him through three years in Burgundy, one in Oregon, four in South Africa, and two years between Central Otago, New Zealand, and Santa Barbara, California. His dedication remained unwavering, traversing the globe in pursuit of his love for Burgundy wine, always on the lookout for regions with clay and limestone soils in cool climates.

Upon returning to Canada to visit his family, fate intervened once more when Norman had the opportunity to taste a Canadian wine from the Niagara mountainside—a wine that resonated deeply with his Burgundian sensibilities. Thus, began his quest to find a suitable location in the area, collaborating with researchers at the university. While Niagara already boasted grape farms, the untapped potential of Prince Edward County captured Norman’s attention. The soil composition mirrored that of Burgundy, prompting him to acquire two farms in 2001 and 2003, laying the foundation for his winery.

Norman Hardie came over to Europe Presenting his Wines.

Unveiling Prince Edward County’s Charm

Let’s delve deeper into the region. Located approximately two hours from Toronto on the northern shores of Lake Ontario, Prince Edward County sits nestled in the northernmost reaches of the Ontario region. The vast Great Lakes, including the massive deep Lake Ontario, define the region’s mesoclimate. Being surrounded by water, Prince Edward County enjoys the advantage of lake breezes during the summer months, which help moderate temperatures, typically between 26º and 29º Celsius, ideal conditions for grape cultivation. However, it must contend with harsh winters, with temperatures occasionally plummeting to minus 30º Celsius. At this extreme temperature, grapevines can perish, prompting the practice of burying them during winter to shield them from the bitter cold. The soil here is clay and limestone, similar to Burgundy, which is terroir Norman was looking for, yet the clay needs more meticulous care as the soils tend to be compacted in the cold winter. The work is not easy here. 

Wine Regions of Ontario. Ref: Vineyards.com

However, Norman’s dedication to perusing high-quality Burgundy-style wines successfully creates healthy grapes based on a mixture of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable viticulture, even in these challenging conditions. Healthier grapes also contribute to better winemaking options, such as reduced sulfur use, which keeps wine pure and fresh without masking the aromas.

Ontario Growth Cycle. Ref: Wine Country Ontario.

Norman’s Winemaking Philosophy

Norman’s favorite style and the winemaking techniques he employs to achieve it are crystal clear. Not only is Norman an exceptional winemaker, but he’s also an excellent educator for the younger generation, as he shared some of his insights during his lecture with technical knowledge.

Take, for example, his Chardonnay—a wine known for its elegant style, earning acclaim from critics. One of the methods we can recognize the difference in style is lees contact, where the dead yeast used for fermentation remains in contact with the wine after that. This technique imparts additional flavors, texture, and freshness (thanks to the oxygen-protective effect), but numerous options are associated. Norman prefers a subtle approach to enhance depth and complexity. He uses Bâtonnage (stirring wine) to contact wine with young fresh lees during fermentation for early integration but opts not to stir or move the lees in the latter stage to avoid becoming monotonous. The result? An exceptionally refined Chardonnay boasts depth and complexity integrated into an elegant style.

Inviting you for a Tasting Journey

Norman Hardie crafts wines from cool-climate grapes. Let’s explore each wine and delve into both his and our commentary.

The Norman Hardie Line-up for this Masterclass.

Norman Hardie ‘Calcaire’ | 2020 | Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Melon

Calcaire pays tribute to the calcareous limestone, embodying the essence of terroir at its finest. With Riesling as the predominant variety (70%), all grapes undergo fermentation in a tank for seamless integration. 

This wine is crafted without malolactic fermentation, preserving its refreshing green apple notes, and boasting a modest alcohol content of 11.5%. On the nose, lively granny smith apple, citrus, fresh mint, passion fruits, wet stones, flint, and white flowers. Additional texture from lees aging yet refreshing aftertaste, overall. 

We award this Calcaire a 90-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris ‘Tornado’ Rosé | 2021 | Pinot Gris

This rosé Pinot Gris came about as an unexpected result of a tornado alert during the winemaking process. The grapes had to remain on the skins for half a day, which led to a stunning color and intensely aromatic juice.

Highly aromatic with grapefruits, lemon zest, and floral with all spices on the nose. On the palate, flavors are mirrored aromas, with additional spiciness and a comfortable bitterness aftertaste. 

We award this Tornado a 91-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie Gewürztraminer | 2021 | Gewürztraminer

Timing of harvest is crucial in achieving Norman’s desired style. This Gewürztraminer is harvested to produce a bone-dry wine with 11.5% alcohol content, showcasing lovely varietal traits of rose petals, lychee, and a touch of mint. It boasts a refreshing, light body with hints of spiciness and minerality on the palate. Stylistically, it resembles wines crafted from high-altitude vineyards in Alto-Adige, Italy. 

We award this Gewürztraminer a 91-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie Cuvée Orange | 2022 | Gewürztraminer

Orange wine is produced by treating white grapes similarly to red grapes. This involves extended skin contact for 28 days to extract tannins, color, and fragrant aromas. It exhibits aromatic notes of rose petals, pink grapefruit, blossoms, juicy apricots, lychee, and honey on the nose. The tannins are smooth, providing a beautiful texture with a dry and clean finish. 

We award this Cuvée Orange a 90-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie ‘John Bil Cuvée’ | 2021 | Chardonnay, Riesling

These grapes come from younger vines, aged between 10 to 15 years old. They undergo aging on lees for 12 months in barrels, followed by another 12 months in stainless steel. With the grapes being healthy, very little sulfur is used. These wines embody the Chablis style. 

They offer a reductive and refreshing experience, with aromas of citrus, seashell, wet stone, and a subtle hint of spice on the nose. On the palate, they boast a creamy texture and high acidity, leaving an elegant impression. 

We awarded this John Bil Cuvée a 91-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered | 2020 | Chardonnay

This wine is a blend sourced from three vineyards. It spends at least 18 months in barrels, followed by an additional six months on fine lees. Before bottling, there are just a couple of rounds of bâtonnage (lees stirring) to impart a subtle hint of flavor. 

It presents a generous fruitiness, showcasing notes of citrus, stone fruit, acacia, toast, and a touch of vanilla on the nose. The ripe fruit flavors are balanced beautifully by vibrant acidity. Its creamy texture is the result of malolactic fermentation and oak aging, striking a perfect balance. The finish is long and complex, embodying a classic style. 

We award this County Chardonnay a 93-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie ‘Cuvée des Amis’ Unfined & Unfiltered’ | 2020 | Chardonnay

This Chardonnay comes from a single vineyard, where the soil is predominantly limestone rather than clay. The production method mirrors that of County Chardonnay, with subtle differences. 

It is a more refined and precise expression, offering distinct wet stone and flinty notes alongside fresh, pure citrus and stone fruit aromas. The wine boasts vibrant acidity with a subtle creamy texture and hints of brioche flavor; all wrapped up in an elegant package. The finish is long and saline, adding to its allure. 

We award this Cuvée des Amis a 94-point DWA score.

Norman’s Fine Selection of White Wines.

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir | 2017 | Pinot Noir

The grapes for this wine are sourced from two vineyards of the Niagara Peninsula, known for their clay and limestone soils. The 2017 vintage was notably cool, resulting in higher acidity and a lighter, fresher style. With just 11.5% alcohol content, it underwent minimal whole-bunch fermentation (less than 10%) and was aged in oak barrels.

Currently, the wine is still developing, displaying delicate aromas of delightful red crunchy fruits such as red cherry, currant, strawberry, and cranberry, along with hints of mint and spices. Its light body, elevated acidity, and refined tannins showcase finesse. 

We award this Pinot Noir a 91-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered | 2021 | Pinot Noir

The grapes for this wine are sourced from the County, where the soils contain less limestone, making it an ideal environment for Pinot Noir. 2021 experienced warmer temperatures. The winemaking process is similar to Niagara’s but with a slightly higher percentage of whole-bunch fermentation. 11.5% alcohol content.

In its early stages, the wine exudes fresh, pure, and crunchy flavors of raspberry and cranberry, bursting with vibrancy. It possesses a light to medium-minus body, complemented by refreshing high acidity and ripe tannins. 

We award this County Pinot Noir a 92-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie Cabernet Franc | 2020 | Cabernet Franc

The grapes for this wine hail from Niagara, benefiting from the exceptional weather of the 2020 vintage, which brought ample sunshine. It’s crafted using whole cluster fermentation.

You’ll find fewer methoxypyrazine aromas (green bell pepper or asparagus) in this wine, replaced by refreshing notes of red currant, red berry, mint, and wet stone. It boasts a medium-plus body, with high acidity that keeps your mouth watering, and ripe yet chalky tannins add to its character. 

We award this Cabernet Franc a 92-point DWA score.

Norman Hardie and our Kazumi.

Refining Elegance: Norman Hardie’s Cool Climate Masterclass

Norman’s wines exhibit a mineral core, revealing depth and precision within their delicate style. Throughout his life, Norman Hardie has pursued a Burgundian style, and his achievement in crafting an elegant, low-alcohol cool climate style stands out as a success in line with this global trend. With climate change, this cool climate approach is garnering more attention than ever before. It’s worth keeping a close watch on Norman Hardie’s wines.

This event was covered by our own Kazumi Uejo. We would like to thank Norman Hardie for the great lecture and tasting, and Isabelle Chou for granting us this opportunity.

Norman Hardie’s wines are imported in in Belgium and the Netherlands by Vinetiq and available through associated retailers and restaurants.