Thomas Bachelder was born in Quebec’s Eastern Townships on his family’s fruit farm. Growing up in French culture, wine naturally insinuated its way into his blood. He’s worked as a wine journalist, furthering his passion for the grape and inspiring his wine studies in Burgundy, which led to his passion (or, rather, obsession) with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He made what is arguably Ontario’s top expression of Pinot Noir as the winemaker for the now defunct Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara, Ontario. He now lives in Niagara, and makes wine in three global wine regions — Oregon, Burgundy and Niagara — under his own Bachelder label. He also consults for some soon-to-launch brands, and makes wine for Domaine Queylus in Niagara and Vina Echeverria in Chile. While he loves all of the world’s wines, its Burgundy’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that stir his imagination. And his passion. We asked him to explain why these wines have such a hold on him — and his palate.
What drew you to wine? And why French wine in particular?
My mother tongue was English but I learned French so early, that it was a big part of my culture. And because I was inundated early with French Quebecois and French France, I had a love of French wine from the beginning. I grew up with St. Emilion and Beaujolais — basic stuff at the liquor commission [SAQ] — but boy did that grow! Before I was 18 I was buying French wine and bringing it home. I had a great thirst for French culture and, later, Quebec culture. There was no way I could not like wine. Wine led back to my family’s farm in the Eastern Townships [east of Montreal]. I made wine — five litres of Beaujolais from a concentrate — and later, buying grapes at Jean Talon Market [in Montreal] and selling wine illegally to my friends.
So what led you to France to pursue wine studies?
I was editor at Wine Tidings (now Quench) and I left to go to wine school in Beaune, where I got my diploma in viticulture and oenologie. Why the Bachelder line was formed — with the three terroirs — was because when I left wine school in France I thought I would only work in Burgundy. And other Canadians would come and visit and we’d never be lonely. But I had worked twice in Oregon and twice in France. And originally, before I ever got the call to come to Niagara and work for Le Clos Jordanne, I thought there was only one Pinot job in the country and Karl Kaiser had it. Well, that changed.
These are obviously styles of wine that you love, but did you predict an expanding market for cool climate wines?
I couldn’t forsee all that, but the only good and strong decision I made coming out of wine school was to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I thought, I’m just going to get the skills and hopefully the market will come. And it did, that career decision came true. I mean, it’s still hard to do only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but that’s what led to “the three terroirs.” These were the places that I had lived and I had the connections that you need to get grapes. We had to work in places where we had the street cred to get access to good vineyards.
What’s your favourite wine to drink? (And I’m sure it’s Burgundy.)
The purest expression of wine on the planet that I’ve had is Musigny. And I hate that it’s a Grand Cru. I wish there were other expressions. But when you’re drinking Premier Cru Vosne Romanée or Chambolle-Musigny or Volnay — and I love all Burgundies — and you sit there and slowly drink the whole bottle in one night, you will learn something about wine. I could have said the same thing about white Burgundy but you only gave me one.
Do you ever catch yourself showing off about wine?
I’m too far into it to show off. I don’t even know. It’s part of my blood. But I try to be inclusive.
You travel a lot. What’s the first thing you do after you land, to get yourself settled?
Find a great café! One time I was going to Beaune to bottle our wines and I took my daughter who was 16 at the time. We took the Eurostar from London and when we arrived I went to a café and I said to the waiter, I would like a Badoit (sparkling water), a café crème (café au lait) and a pression (a beer). And he looked at me and said, why? And I said, I am in France, monsieur!
Do you know any good wine jokes?
A dog walks into a hip wine bar and says…. I don’t have a punchline yet.