Photo: Winemaker Elaine Vickers
This fall, Blasted Church
retained consulting winemaker Pascal Madevon to
work with its resident winemakers, Elaine Vickers and Evan Saunders, on super
premium handcrafted red wine.
Perhaps handcrafted is not the right word. Some of the
grapes were actually crushed by foot. I was even invited to join in the fun.
When I learned how cold the recently-picked grapes were, I passed on the
Given how well equipped today’s Okanagan wineries are, it
might surprise some how much foot crushing still goes on. To begin with, the
human foot is not only the oldest way of crushing grapes; it also is the
gentlest. Secondly, sometimes the winery press is just too big for limited
quantity of grapes needing to be crushed. I suspect that was why Pascal rounded
up winery volunteers to freeze their toes.
The wine already has a name: Nectar of the Gods. Obviously,
it will not be released for a couple of years.
Meanwhile, you might search out Nothing Sacred which, at $40
with a production of 100 cases, is currently the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. The
winery began making it in 2007. When they skipped making it in 2012 and 2013,
they heard from disappointed customers who had begun to collect verticals.
After Elaine Vickers was promoted to Blasted Church
head winemaker in 2014, she made a fine Nothing Sacred from that vintage. It
crowns the winery’s Revered Series, as Blasted Church
calls its reserve tier. She would like to make subsequent releases of it,
subject to the winery’s strict discipline about the Revered wines: it is only
made in the best vintages.
The 2014 vintage was one of the best yet in the Okanagan.
The red wines from 2014 are among Elaine’s favourites.
I did not hang around the winery long enough to find out
whether Elaine also joined in the grape
stomp that particular afternoon. It might have seemed odd, given how well
grounded she is in modern science.
Born in Ontario
she lived in Abbotsford during her high school years and then got a master’s
degree in molecular biology at the University
graduation, she moved to a job at Vancouver
while pursuing another passion: playing Ultimate Frisbee.
“There is a professional league now,” she says. “There is no
pay in Ultimate Frisbee but I was playing at the national level for a little
Her interest in winemaking began when she worked at a
winemaking store while she was an undergraduate. After moving to Vancouver, she advanced
her knowledge of wine by working weekends in a wine store and by taking Wine
& Spirits Education Trust Courses. Some of her Frisbee teammates worked for
wine agencies, further spurring her interest.
One of her high school classmates was Kelly Symonds,
formerly the winemaker at Hillside Cellars and more recently at California Cult
Classics in North Vancouver.
“She let me job shadow her at California Cult Classics, so I could see if it
was something I wanted to spend money on and go back to school,” Elaine says.
“I decided I liked it. Then I got cut from Team Canada just before worlds [in
Ultimate Frisbee]. I decided to go back to school.”
In 2009 she went to the wine school at the University of Adelaide
A year of study and practical winemaking in the student winery earned her a graduate
diploma in oenology. She returned to Canada
in 2010 and, after working the harvest at the Jackson-Triggs winery in Oliver,
she moved to Blasted
as a cellarhand
under winemaker Richard Kanazawa.
When Richard left early in 2011, Elaine remembers that she
“panicked because I was the only one here and I was not ready to be the
winemaker.” That summer, however, the winery hired consultant Mark Wendenburg,
the former veteran winemaker at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.
“He just trained me up from cellarhand to assistant
winemaker to winemaker, pretty much as fast as he could because he was busy
with other clients as well,” she says. She took over the winemaker’s job in
From 2011 to 2013, Blasted Church
production grew from 17,000 cases a year to around 25,000 cases. When Mark
moved on to his other Okanagan clients, the winery added assistant winemaker
Evan Saunders, a graduate of Brock
previously worked at Osoyoos Larose Winery.
Blasted Church today has a large portfolio, but not too
large for Elaine. “Our size is a nice size,” she maintains. “We still have time
to do a few small experiments.” Like Nectar of the Gods.
As a winemaker, she has her favourites. “I enjoy the whole
process behind sparkling wines, although there’s a lot of work,” she says. “For
white, I like making the wooded Chardonnay and, funnily enough, I like making
Gewürztraminer. For the reds, Syrah is probably my favourite grape to work
Here are notes on current releases from the winery.
Blasted Church OMG
2012 ($24.50 for 800 cases). This
traditional method sparkling wine is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay
and 12% Pinot Blanc. The three years the
wine spent on the lees before disgorging has given it slight toasty notes and a
creamy texture. There are flavours of apple and pear with a pinch of hazelnut.
The wine’s brisk acidity gives it clean and refreshing finish. 91.
Blasted Church Pinot
Gris 2015 ($20.50 for 2,911 cases). This is 90% Pinot Gris but gets added
complexity the 5% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier and 2% Gewürztraminer in the blend.
The wine begins with a floral bouquet that leads to flavours of grapefruit and
pineapple. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Godspeed 2014 ($18 for 900 cases). This blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc
and Gewürztraminer was made for sale primarily through wine departments at
Save-On-Foods. The wine begins with herbal aromas leading to flavours of green
apples and citrus. The finish is tangy and balanced to dryness. 90
Hatfield’s Fuse 2015
($15 for 6,300 cases). This is one of Blasted Church
’s most popular whites. It is a
blend of 10 varietals: 22% Gewürztraminer, 21% Pinot Gris, 20% Viognier, 13%
Optima, 8% Ehrenfelser, 5% Pinot Blanc, 4% Chardonnay and 4% Chardonnay Musqué,
2% Orange Muscat and 1% Riesling. This yields a juicy, fruity wine with
dramatic aromas of spicy fruit and flavours of lychee, mango and grapefruit.
Blasted Church Gewürztraminer
2014 ($17.90 for 1,720 cases). Full-bodied with a lingering finish, this
wine has aromas and flavours of lychee and spice. The wine has the slightest
hint of sweetness but it finishes dry. 90.
Blasted Church Swear
To God 2015 ($30 for 127 cases). This wine was fermented and aged in
barrels (66% French, of which 40% was new oak, and 34% American oak – three
years or older). The wine displays aromas of vanilla, peach and pear leading to
buttery flavours of fruit preserves. Only two of the five barrels used here
went through malolactic fermentation, a decision which gave the wine a rich
texture; the other three barrels preserved acidity and the flavours of peach.
Blasted Church Bible
Thumper 2015 ($30 for 100 cases). This is an oak-aged Viognier. The 2015
vintage gave the winery atypical but delightful aromas recalling Sauvignon
Blanc. The wine has flavours of guava and grapefruit. The texture is rich and
Blasted Church Big
Bang Theory 2015 ($19 for 4,500 cases). This is an easy-drinking
fruit-forward red. It is a blend of 50% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 10% Pinot Noir, 9% Lemberger and 6% Syrah. The wine begins with
aromas of red currant and cherry, leading to flavours of strawberry, cherry and
cranberry. The tannins are soft and the texture is juicy. 88.
Blasted Church Merlot
2014 ($26 for 907 cases). Four per cent Syrah and 3% Malbec have been added
to flesh out the blend and tweak the aroma. The wine has spiced dark fruit and
blackberry on the nose. The palate echoes the spiced dark fruit; there is a
hint of cedar on the finish. Long ripe tannins give the wine fullness of
Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2014 ($26 for 1,545 cases). This is 50% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 8% Malbec. The wine has aromas of blackberry, plums
and mint, with flavours of black currant mingled with pepper. The Cabernet
gives this a hint of menthol on the finish. The tannins are firm but, with
breathing, a rich texture emerges. 90.
Blasted Church Syrah
2014 ($27.50 for 1,880 cases). Three per cent Viognier is co-fermented with
the Syrah, a technique that lifts the aroma and stabilizes the colour. The wine
begins with aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and pepper. The palate echoes the
aromas, along with flavours of plum and cured meats. 91.
Blasted Church Cross
To Bear 2014 ($40 for 11 cases). This is 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier. On of
the wines in the Revered tier, it is made only in the best vintages – and 2014
was such a vintage. The wine begins with aromas of plums, black pepper and spicy
cured meats, leading to flavours of plums and figs, with espresso and a touch
of pepper on the finish. 92.
Blasted Church Holy
Moly 2014 ($40 for 150 cases). This is 100% Petit Verdot with a colour that
is typically (for the variety) black as night. The aroma mingles floral notes
with blackberry and spicy dark fruit. The wine is concentrated in the mouth,
with flavours of plums, figs and blackberry. The variety’s minerality adds a
note of graphite on the finish. 94.
Nothing Sacred 2014
($45 for 101 cases). This is 40% Merlot, 20% Petit
Verdot, 20% Malbec and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each parcel of fruit was
fermented and aged separately in barrel, with the very best barrels selected
for this blend. Total time in barrel was 20 months (80% French oak, 20%
American; most of the barrels were new). The wine has a concentrated texture,
suggesting an ability to age. It begins with aromas of raspberry and
blackberry, leading to flavours of blackberry and black currant with a hint of
spicy dark fruit. 94.