Three’s company for this Québec expat
Thomas Bachelder and his wife, Mary Delaney, have come a long way from selling three barrels of wine made in their Québec home.
Now the couple produces and markets wine from three different countries. With the start of the Bachelder Project in 2009, the man behind the name set off with the daunting task of making wine in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.
He was well-prepared. Bachelder says he never intended to leave Québec, but knew his winemaking future depended on moving to an area where Vitis vinifera vines could thrive.
First, he worked in France, where he got his formal viticulture and oenology education at CFPPA (Centre de Formation Professionelle pour Adultes) in Beaune, Burgundy, and his hands-on training as a winemaking assistant at various domaines.
Then it was off to Oregon to hone his cool-climate skills at Ponzi Vineyards before briefly working at Château Génot-Boulanger in Meursault. Eventually, the pull to America was too great and the family moved back to Oregon while he perfected his hand with chardonnay and pinot noir at Lemelson Vineyards as its founding winemaker.
“Nobody else had looked at the terroir before me. It was a just-planted project,” Bachelder says of the experience. “When you arrive at a New World project with Burgundian training, you look at it in terms of what the terroirs taste like. I really tried to do everything the same in the vineyard and see where the sweet spots were.”
When the opportunity arose to work back in Canada, Bachelder snapped it up, taking the reins at Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara. It was with the jointly owned Vincor International and Boisset property that his 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay took the top spot for chardonnay in the “Judgment of Montreal” blind tasting for a prominent magazine. The win only secured Bachelder’s firm belief in the power of chardonnay.
Eventually, it was time to move on. “Basically, I had a lot of grey hair and not one vine,” he laughs. Bachelder left Le Clos with only his last paycheque, but also the reputation that allowed for his dream job to begin.
The Bachelder Project grew from wanting to stay connected with the friends he and Delaney had met during their travels and the desire to integrate the chapters of their lives.
“We wanted to honour where we lived,” says Delaney, who runs the sales and marketing for the project. “We left our heart in all three places.”
Bachelder secured grapes and cellars in all three spots and with flights booked and trusted collaborators in place, the first 2009 vintage of chardonnay was released this spring.
So far, Bachelder and Delaney have been lucky with the timing of harvests, so there’s little overlap. They have figured out travel plans with their two daughters in tow and they manage every step of the process, from making the wine to aging it, bottling it and selling it.
Bachelder is particularly thrilled to be part of the force that’s breaking the concept of a winery needing infrastructure to produce quality wines. He says he’s proud to call himself a “micro-negociant.”
“The time has come where people are not so strict about buying only from a domaine winery. Size doesn’t determine quality,” he says, noting that, just like a renter with an apartment, he considers his virtual winery a home.
That home just got a little more crowded this year, with the addition of pinot noir to the portfolio. Bachelder knows it is going to make things a little more complicated in terms of timing and commitment, because the grape is so finicky. “But you do what you have to do,” he says, shrugging.
“Now that we’ve got the mechanics down, we just have to continue to get our priorities right,” says Delaney.
For the partners, that means daily two-kilometre walks to reconnect and stay healthy. And they also plan to continue to champion chardonnay as Niagara’s go-to grape. Bachelder is one of the founding organizers of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C), born in the couple’s backyard in 2009, when they held a meeting with 30 producers from all over the province.
Today, he serves as vice-chairman. “People in Niagara are afraid to really be serious about our chardonnays. With I4C, we’re trying to do that,” he says.
This outright love of these grapes is what fuels his passion, both for I4C and the Bachelder Project.
“I don’t want to be a flying winemaker if I think of it in the sense of carbon credits and polluting the world and being in too many places and not smelling the roses. I’d hate our project,” he says. “We didn’t run down the road for opportunity and money. We just followed our noses around pinot and chardonnay.”
Six Degrees Connection:
Thomas Bachelder and Clovis Taittinger both spend a ton of time travelling in the name of wine, and both have wineries that specialize in chardonnay and pinot noir.
Read all the Six Degrees of Separation profiles here.