Saturday, November 22, 2014

Remembering Ted Brouwer


Photo: Ted Brouwer with Inkameep Vineyards in the background

Ted Brouwer, one of the pioneers of Okanagan viticulture, died in Oliver on November 21.

In memory, I reproduce here two essays from my 1996 book (out of print),  British Columbia Wine Companion. One was a biographical sketch of Ted and the other was a long piece on struggles of getting Inkameep Vineyards established on a bench of land north of Oliver.

Today, the vineyard is one of the most important in the south Okanagan. Its legendary U2 block of Cabernet Sauvignon delivers grapes that, at $4,000 a ton, are perhaps the most expensive in the Okanagan. The quality of the fruit justifies the price.

Without Ted Brouwer’s perseverance during the vineyard’s first two decades, wineries today might not be benefitting from the site’s well-grown grapes.

The biographical sketch refers to Ted’s desire to grow grapes on the apple orchard to which he had moved after leaving Inkameep. Subsequently, he did plant a vineyard with Syrah, among other varieties. Several years ago, he almost died when his tractor rolled over on him. His life was never dull.

A rotund and cheery optimist with infinite patience with bureaucracy, Brouwer steered Inkameep Vineyards Ltd. through its tumultuous early years, learning grapegrowing as he went until he was completely seduced by viticulture. After he left the vineyard in 1986, he bought a small apple orchard nearby on a property with no vines. "I still would like some grapes," he said wistfully in a 1995 interview.

Brouwer was born in 1925 in Heemstede, a small town about twenty-five km west of Amsterdam in Holland, the son of a food wholesaler. In 1946 Brouwer enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Army's medical corps and was posted to Indonesia, then still a Dutch colony. In his free time there, he enrolled in courses in tropical agriculture. On returning to Holland in 1950, he went to work for his father's firm but continued his agricultural studies until, with a group of other ex-army friends, he came to Canada in 1955. After a summer on a grain farm near Medicine Hat, Brouwer moved to Vancouver and spent two years working as a poultry technician at the University of British Columbia. That led to his working on several large turkey ranches until the fall of 1967 when he enrolled in a two-year agriculture course at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek.

In the summer of 1967 he had responded to an advertisement for a vineyard manager at Monashee Vineyards. The job did not materialize because owner Ed Wahl decided to run the vineyard himself; but the offer piqued Brouwer's interest in grapegrowing. When he heard that a job was opening at Inkameep, he was able to spend the summer of 1968 there before returning to the college, completing his studies with a term paper on grapegrowing. In the spring of 1969 he took over as the vineyard manager, staying there until February 1986 when he clashed with a newly-elected chief of the Inkameep band and was fired. The resulting suit for wrongful dismissal was settled out of court with Brouwer getting a cash settlement to compensate for the abrogation of his contract.

Inkameep Vineyards:  At 215 acres in size in 1995 and one of the Okanagan's largest commercial vineyards, Inkameep was judged an "apparent failure" after its first decade. It survived, now selling more than one million dollars worth of quality wine grapes each year. Today, Sam Baptiste, the vineyard's ambitious general manager, envisions several thousand more acres planted to grapes in the Osoyoos Indian Band's reserve, which stretches from Oliver to Osoyoos along the eastern slopes of the Okanagan Valley here.

In 1966 Andrés Wines, then five years old and wanting an assured source of grapes, sought, but was refused, a long-term vineyard lease on Osoyoos Band land. The following year, however, the Band re-considered the opportunity, in concert with the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and one Agnes MacDonald, who proposed she would supply vinifera vines from Germany to the project. (MacDonald withdrew from the venture before planting began.) With Ukrainian-born Balthaser Bachmann as vineyard manager (he had been running the Andrés vineyard at Cawston), a development plan was drawn up. The Band invested $60,000 and Indian Affairs  $428,000. Andrés was to provide technical advice through Bachmann. A man nearing seventy at the time, he was described in a letter by an Indian Affairs official as  "an older man with set ideas and minimum patience [who] has not worked on a Reserve before and has difficulty realizing that the people he is advising have not the background in grapegrowing that he has."[1] Bachmann declined the job as foreman, preferring to be an advisor, and Jim Stelkia, a Band member, was chosen as foreman, with Ted Brouwer, who was still finishing a community college agriculture course, joining Inkameep initially as project manager. Andrés' founder, Andrew Peller, acknowledged that Brouwer "had no experience with vineyards" but was "a smart man [who] learned the best methods from all over the world. He certainly knew how to work."[2] Brouwer believed that all agriculture has common principles. "I find apple growing more difficult than growing grapes," he said. "There is a way of adapting yourself. You have to take an interest in how things progress. You grew up along with the grape." An almost scientific record-keeper, Brouwer filled 104 diaries of data during his eighteen years with Inkameep. Unfortunately, enthusiasm was no substitute for experience, as the events of 1968 showed. Because an irrigation system was not installed until late summer, the newly planted sixty-three acres of vines had to be watered by hand, causing a  $20,000 labor cost overrun. "The failure to install a satisfactory irrigation system until mid-August resulted in a twenty per cent [vine] loss through drought,"  according to a project review of the vineyard done in 1977 for Indian and Northern Affairs and signed by Fred Walchli, then its regional director in British Columbia.[3] Frost in December knocked off another twenty per cent.

That inauspicious start set the tone. "The new year [1969] began with no money for wages, and consequent labor problems," the Walchli review continued, alluding to the perennial difficulty in getting the bureaucrats to release Inkameep's operating funds as they were needed. Brouwer, who took over as the full-time manager this year, described the vineyard's initial years as "a struggle that was unbelievable." He attributed some of the problems to the way Indian Affairs disbursed funds. "We got actually piecemeal financing and you got piecemeal results," he said later. On occasion he got personal bank loans to meet the payroll, being reimbursed later when the money arrived from Ottawa. In 1969, he could not hire enough planters until the summer school break; this was much too late to plant and many new vines, with no chance to become dormant for winter, were damaged by an early October frost. By February 1970 the vineyard project had burned through $267,000 of its capital yet, with eighty-three-and-a-half acres planted, was well behind schedule. However, Inkameep harvested its first thirty-five ton crop that fall, marking the event with an official opening where Joseph Peller was made an honorary chief, shared a peace pipe and picked up the bill for the event. Plantings remained stalled in 1971 but the existing vines produced 153 tons of grapes which were sold for $26,900, covering about half the vineyard's wage bill. In September 1971, the vineyard incorporated so that it could borrow additional funds from a federal government program. Brouwer recalled: "The bank at that time said, 'Hey Brouwer, an organization of this size should have sufficient funds available to carry out an operation of this size.'"

"The company planted 49,000 vines in 1972," Walchli reported. "However, the pattern of the previous years was repeated; funds were received too late to ensure that adequate labor was on hand." Once again, vines were planted later in the spring than they should have been and many, not fully dormant in the fall, were damaged by cold weather. Then on January 4, 1973, a week of cold weather after a long spell of mild weather caused what Walchli described as "almost wholesale destruction of the new plantings, as well as severe stunting to many of the older plants, particularly those planted in 1969."  No vines were planted in 1973 while the damage was assessed. It was bad: the 1973 harvest was only sixty per cent of the 252 tons produced in 1972. Uncertain how severely vine productivity had been hurt, Brouwer ordered a very light pruning to preserve a large number of buds -- with the result that 1974's crop was almost double that of 1972. The vineyard then compensated by pruning the overcropped vines aggressively and the 1975 harvest dropped to 235 tons. This was, however, the first Inkameep vintage taken off with a new mechanical harvester, acquired because of the perennial labor shortage. The best news for 1975 was that Andrés sponsored an experimental planting of vinifera vines -- johannisberg riesling, ehrenfelser and scheurebe --  purchased from the Geisenheim Institute in Germany. This marked a turning point for Inkameep which had been planted initially to Okanagan riesling, foch, de chaunac and other hybrid varieties.

Planting was suspended after the 1973 freeze, in part because the major wineries now decided they did not want the white varieties scheduled for Inkameep. The vineyard, with land ready for cultivation, sought to generate cash with corn in 1974 and with vegetables in 1975. Once again misfortune dogged the project. The vegetable crops soaked up the labor pool, preventing Inkameep from doing any significant planting. In the late summer, much of the bounteous tomato crop rotted in the field due to a shortage of labor.  Sixty acres of corn planted in 1976 were ploughed under after a cold spring and unusually wet summer. The grape harvest that year also was poor. Walchli's report, which was done just after that harvest, called the vineyard an "apparent failure." He did not blame Brouwer, having recognized that "the position of the vineyard manager is unenviable" because of the energy Brouwer expended on dealing with the real culprits, the departmental bureaucrats, who had impeded developing Inkameep to the 200-acre vineyard planned at the outset. "While staggering investments were made in capital improvements," Walchli wrote, "little concern was given to planting the vines, upon which the ultimate success of the project would depend.... The circumstances reflect the deep-rooted belief that Indian-operated projects will ultimately fail."

Despite that devastating report, the promise of new funds from Ottawa enabled Brouwer to carry on, this time with a significant planting of white vinifera vines imported from Geisenheim, in early 1977. "There were 83,000 plants and Andrés underwrote the whole thing," Brouwer recalled. The backing by a major winery enabled Brouwer to do the usual juggling of his finances (Ottawa disbursements being late as usual), stalling suppliers such as Air Canada -- which flew in the vine cuttings -- as much as six months. Inkameep managed to plant another ninety acres that spring, bringing its size to about 250 acres. Production was 465 tons in 1977 and 735 tons in 1978; and Inkameep had operating profits. The vineyard's profile improved further when Andrés in 1977 released Inkameep Red and Inkameep White, two of the Okanagan's earliest vineyard-designated wines. Then the notorious 1978-'79 winter killed 15,000 of the Geisenheim vines and damaged the vineyard's mature vines so badly that grape production plunged to 107 tons in 1979 and did not recover to the 1978 level until 1982.

Amid the rebounding optimism of 1980, Simons Resource Consultants of Vancouver was hired to produce a major feasibility report on what was called Wolf Creek Farms Vineyards. The concept was to develop a new 500 acre vineyard (eighty per cent in white varieties) on the Osoyoos Reserve, with Andrés and T.G. Bright each to  purchase the production of 200 acres and the remainder to be marketed to other wineries. Four locations were studied, including two near the current vineyard, with the preferred site being a bench on the east side of Osoyoos Lake. "A new vineyard will certainly lend more feeling of pride to the Osoyoos band and utilize prime land for which there does not appear to be other plans," Simons commented in its 1984 report.[4] Had it gone ahead, about $6 million would have been invested over five years, with all of the planting done in the first two years. This audacious plan was stillborn; by this time, the wineries were struggling with a surplus of red wines and wanted growers to pull out vines.

Brouwer meanwhile had begun encouraging an estate winery based on Inkameep's production. Indian Affairs, perhaps understandably given the financial struggles of the vineyard, wanted nothing to do with the idea -- but the T.G. Bright & Co. winery from Niagara Falls did. After failing to acquire the Mission Hill winery in 1978, Brights seized the opportunity to develop a winery north of Oliver, not far from the vineyard, in a $1.9 million building financed by Inkameep Vineyards Ltd. with a loan on commercial terms from the federal government. The winery, now operating under the Vincor name, was opened in 1981. "Without my suggestion and the gut feeling that we could do something with a winery, Vincor would not be there," Brouwer asserted later. Sam Baptiste was chief of the band when the winery agreement was negotiated. "It almost didn't happen," he recalled. Some of his fellow chiefs were opposed, telling him at a meetings of chiefs: "Sam, the biggest problem on every reserve is alcoholism -- and you're putting in a winery!" His first reaction was to call off the talks with Brights but he changed his mind after the meeting. "I thought about it and I decided it was none of their business." 

Ironically, the Geisenheim vines imported in 1977 set back the planting of the vineyard. The federal plant health authorities discovered viruses among the vines, stopped Inkameep from importing more Geisenheim vines to replace the losses and quarantined the entire vineyard for several years, which prevented Inkameep from sending vine cuttings out to nurseries for propagation. "We had brought those plants in on the assumption that those plants were free of any contaminated viruses," Brouwer recalled. It should have been a safe assumption, Geisenheim being one of Germany's leading grape breeding stations.  In any event, vines do not produce enough wood to yield cuttings for new vines until their third year. Forced to rely on its own resources, the vineyard did not fully replace the losses of 1979 until 1986. 

In 1983, however, the vineyard began to show its potential by producing 1,000 tons for the first time. Cold weather then reduced the 1984 vintage to 750 tons and selective pruning was a factor in 1985 production dropping to 625 tons. This was a factor in the confrontation between Brouwer and the Osoyoos band which led to Brouwer's abrupt departure in February 1986 (and a subsequent out-of-court settlement in Brouwer's favor). His successor, Kenn Visser, inherited a vineyard on the turn: it produced 1,100  tons that fall and turned a tidy profit.

The Missouri-born Visser, who had lived in the Okanagan since 1980 and who was a manager at Covert Farms before being hired for Inkameep, soon found himself considering strategies to help Inkameep survive the free trade agreement Canada and the United States signed in 1988. Along with most other growers, Inkameep got rid of unwanted grape varieties (foch, de chaunac and Okanagan riesling),  pulling out 107 of the 255 acres then in production. That still left Inkameep B.C.'s largest producing vineyard; and while it had contracts for its remaining grapes through the 1994 vintage, Visser and the Osoyoos Band  probed the winery option again with the production of Nordique Blanc, a white wine aimed initially at export sales. The market trials in New York and Chicago gained significant media attention for Inkameep but ultimately the label was licensed to Summerhill Estate Winery and the vineyard continued to sell its grapes, negotiating new three-year contracts for them in 1995.
 
Baptiste has presided over replanting Inkameep with vinifera. The new vines have included thirty acres of chardonnay along with plantings of merlot and pinot noir and scheduled plantings of cabernet franc  and sauvignon blanc. In 1995 the vineyard still retained twenty-six acres (of 215 planted) in two workhorse red hybrids, chancellor and baco noir, that may ultimately give way to red vinifera. He also has had some struggles with the weather but they have been a far cry from Ted Brouwer's experiences. In part, this reflects the knowledge that has been gained in vinifera growing. Newly-planted chardonnay were caught by freezing temperatures in early 1991 but this time most  of the vines survived. "I'd never grown chardonnay before and I found out how hardy it is." Baptiste also has adopted conservative techniques. "Every time there is a bad freeze, I take the ones that survive and I take cuttings," he says, arguing that these are stronger plants. "I also hill my young plants [ploughing a protective blanket of earth against the base of the vines each fall] until they are three years old."  He has great confidence in Inkameep's ability to grown quality grapes. "There's going to be a surplus of grapes in a few years," Baptiste predicted in a 1995 interview, "but there will never be a surplus of premium grapes."
  



[1] A.B. Ash, regional agricultal supervisor for Indian Affairs, in a letter April 26, 1968 to Jim Stelkia of the Osoyoos Band; in Brouwer personal files.
[2] Quoted in The Winemaker, Peller's autobiography.
[3] Inkameep Vineyards Ltd. Project Review, January 1977, prepared by F.J. Walchli, Regional Director General, British Columbia, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Copy in personal files of Ted Brouwer.
[4] Inkameep Vineyards: Analysis and Forecast, copy in personal files of Ted Brouwer.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bella Wines harmonizes with a bubbly quartet




In 2011, Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose launched Bella Wines, the first winery in British Columbia dedicated exclusively to sparkling wine.

The business plan has been to make the wines, at least until now, in someone else’s winery. That husbands their resources: better to spend the money on grapes, winemaking and marketing, getting the brand established before sinking the big bucks in a standalone winery.

They are evolving in that direction. This year, they settled on their own vineyard on the Naramata Bench.

Given their caution, it was a surprise this fall when they released, at the same time, four single-vineyard Chardonnay sparkling wines.

Only a modest volume was produced from each vineyard. I will think their banker might have advised them to blend a single sparkling Chardonnay. It would have made life simpler for Bella and, perhaps, made it easier to market the wine.

But it would have denied us the chance of tasting terroir. Each of these wines has its own personality. It is a great deal of fun to taste them side by side.

As the photo shows, the winery has minimized the cost of packaging four wines by using similar clear bottles and similar labels. Even so, each wine required its own label run, with the vineyard identified in fine print at the label border. The four back labels, while similar in design, have different content. And the wines have been released both in 750 ml and 375 ml bottles. The large bottles are $24 each and the half bottles are $15 each.

If you consult the Bella website, you will find that the winery is prepared to ship six packs for a minimal shipping charge of $10. Twelve-packs are shipped free anywhere in British Columbia.

Jay explained the rationale for the four vineyard quartet in a recent newsletter to Bella’s customers:

Why would a winery release an unprecedented four single vineyard sparkling chardonnays?  How are you supposed to taste the differences when the wines are all made with the same grape, in the exact same method?

I look at it like this: each vineyard is like a household and every household is different, even if everyone lives on the same street.  In each house the kids (grapes) are brought up relatively the same way, but as they grow they develop their own personalities.  Their experiences (weather and soil conditions) shape them into what they are today.  Each year (vintage) we are capturing a period based on what each household went through.  Now those kids have moved out (gone to the winery) and this is where it gets exciting (geeky winemaker) where I can gently coach each wine along to emphasize its personality.

By the tone of this story you can tell that I want to hear what each wine has to say.  Some people say you are tasting the difference of the "Terroir" but I believe we are experiencing an expression of the vineyard.  I do believe each vineyard has a voice and whether that vineyard is farmed organically or not, or whether it does or does not water, it still influences the personality of that vineyard.  That is why we call our line up of Sparkling wines "Vineyard Expressions".

What does this mean to you?  When you try the wines side by side you discover that each wine has a different personality and like people you connect better with some than you do with others.  This is the reason for my transparency in winemaking because as your palate becomes more educated (consume more) you will have certain preferences that you enjoy more than others and those preferences can be related to where the grapes come from.

This long winded explanation still comes down to simplest gut deciding factor - Do I like it?  I am confident enough to guarantee that one of the four sparkling chardonnays will become your favourite.

These are the four wines.

Bella Oliver-Westside Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (120 cases of 750 ml bottles and 95 cases of 375 ml bottles).  The grapes are from Secrest Mountain Vineyards, a high elevation vineyard northwest of Oliver. The winery calls this “our confident and bright little one.” I preferred this slightly above the others. It is a crisp and elegant sparkling with citrus and ripe apple flavours back with minerality. 90.

Bella Oliver-Eastside Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (50 cases of 750 ml and 10 cases of 375 ml). The grapes are from the Cerqueira Vineyard on Black Sage Road, southeast of Oliver. This wine has a creamy texture and seemed more exuberantly bubbly that the others. There are notes of yeast, citrus on the palate, along with hints of peach. The winery calls this “ambitious, young and edgy.” 88.

Bella Kamloops Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (55 cases of 750 ml and 20 cases of 350 ml).  The grapes are from the Harper’s Trail vineyard east of Kamloops. The winery calls this “intelligent, focused and unique.” It certainly is that. This is the toastiest wine on the nose and the palate, with marked minerality in the flavour and finish. I would like to see get more than the standard (for Bella) 11 months aging on the lees to see whether the Krug personality might develop. 87-89.


Bella Keremeos Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (90 cases of 750 ml and 25 cases of 375 ml). These grapes are from Robin Ridge Winery’s vineyard. The winery calls this “an old soul who is very friendly,” a descriptor that I confess eludes me. The wine has a pleasing creamy texture with toasty yeast and crisp apple on the palate.  The crispness reflects the fact that this wine has the brightest acidity of this quartet. 88-90. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tinhorn Creek releases its 2Bench Red 2011








In September, Laughing Stock Vineyards hosted a vertical tasting of every vintage of Portfolio from 2003 to 2012.

A more detailed discussion of that tasting is still being worked on. However, one conclusion is worth keeping in mind as we begin to see the release of 2011 reds from other wineries in British Columbia.

As everyone knows, 2010 and 2011 were cool vintages. So was 2004. Yet those were three of the tastiest wines in the Laughing Stock range.

The lesson is that well-made reds from cool vintages will benefit from bottle age but will show as well as wines from warm and generous years like 2012. The latter vintage shows an in-your-face opulence and is probably the wine to drink while waiting on the 2011s.

The wines from cooler vintages are likely to have brighter fruit and more acidity that warm vintage wines. The acidity means the wines will be tight and lean when young. But they don’t necessarily stay that way with appropriate bottle age.

These reflections are generated by a bottle of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards recent release of its Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2011. This is arguably the winery’s flagship red.

Tinhorn Creek began making this blend in 2007, calling it 2Bench Red because fruit is sourced both from the winery’s Black Sage Road vineyard and from its Golden Mile vineyard. “Only upwards of 10% of that wine will come from the Golden Mile Bench,” Tinhorn Creek president Sandra Oldfield says. “But those components from the Golden Mile Bench, the Malbec and the Petit Verdot, are pretty unique on this side.”

Prior to that vintage, all of Tinhorn Creek’s reds were single varietal wines. In 2007, the owners decided they understood their vineyards well enough to do what the Bordelaise do: select good blocks of fruit and put together an age-worthy blend.

While the early blends were anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery has responded to the conditions in each vintage – blending more Merlot or more Cabernet Franc if that yielded the better blend. Early vintages were aged in French and American oak. More recent vintages have all been aged in French oak only.

“We age the wine three years before we release it,” Sandra says. “We don't release any of this wine before its third birthday.”

That is why we are just now seeing the 2011 vintage. But that is prudent, especially since 2011 was comparatively cool. This wine would have been very tight a year ago.

It is still tight enough. However, I double-decanted the wine and I finished the bottle on the second day. The object was to accelerate the aging. That is not to discourage you from drinking it now but only to encourage you to cellar it.                    This wine has a lot of upside if you lay it down for another three to five years.

That was the lesson learned from the Portfolio vertical. That winery’s 2004 was tight and lean on release. With bottle age, it has fleshed out and, at 10 years, is appealingly vibrant and fresh. Tinhorn Creek’s 2Bench red should enjoy a similar evolution.

Here is my note.


Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2011 ($29.99 for 1,446 cases). The blend is 39% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. It begins with aromas of cherry, cassis and plum. There is an elegant core of sweet fruit on the palate, including cassis, raspberry and plum, with a touch of tobacco and cola on the finish. The texture evolved from lean to medium-bodied with decanting, portending how this will develop in your cellar. 91.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Church & State Quintessential 2011 wins icon tasting






Photo: The BC iconic red wines for 2014

The results of the seventh annual B.C. Iconic Red Wines tasting saw last year’s winners trade places.

This year, the top wine was Church & State Quintessential 2011 with Poplar Grove The Legacy 2009 in second place.

At the 2013 tasting, the winner was Poplar Grove’s 2007 The Legacy with Church & State Quintessential 2009 in second place.

Talk about consistency!

The tasting was conceived and is sponsored by SIP Wines, the Richmond VQA wine store operated by Simon and Sandy Wosk. The idea of a competition among the best of British Columbia’s Bordeaux style reds emerged from a brainstorming between the Works and the late John Levine, an extraordinary wine lover.

The iconic reds are wines priced at $35 and up. The highest-priced red in this year’s tasting sells for $70.

These are world class wines and should command aggressive prices. It costs money to grow premium grapes and turn them into premium wines.

For most consumers, these would be special occasion wines. They are the kind of wines bought by collectors with wine cellars. Most of the vintages tasted here are comparatively young; all of them will be even better with four or five years of bottle age.

For this tasting, the wines were all double decanted and allowed to breath for several hours, effectively softening the tannins to make the wines more approachable now. The wines were served blind and in a random order. The 70 or so tasters scored each wine and voted for their favourites at the end of the evening.

The list below begins with the six top wines as chosen by the tasters. The remaining wines are listed alphabetically because SIP’s backroom boys did not crunch the numbers for all. Judging from my own scores, you would be happy with any of these wines on your table. Limited quantities of most of these wines can be purchased at the SIP.

I have included winery tasting notes where available and added my own where required.

Church and State Quintessential 2011 ($55). Merlot 70%, Cabernet Franc 15%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%, Malbec 5%, Petit Verdot 5%.  This is a wine with a track record: in the spring, it won gold and was judged the best Canadian red at the International Wine Challenge in London. Here are notes from www.GismondiOnWine.com:   “It’s been a while since I’ve tasted Quintessential in fact the last time was the 2005 vintage when it was put together by Napa Valley legend Bill Dyer. Clearly he made a lasting impression with his blend. The 2011 is very hedonistic in style and well, more California than Okanagan at this point. There is a ripeness you don’t often see in BC Bordeaux blends; this red has all five grapes: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. All grown on the Black Sage Bench. The nose is more South Okanagan, fragrant, savoury, dried herbs mixed with ripe cassis. The attack is skinny and warm with more dark fruits, tobacco, cedar and a hint of dried tomatoes. This needs another three years to put some fat on to balance off the fruit and spice. Not expected to be release until 2015 but you can grab some now off the website.”

Poplar Grove The Legacy 2009 ($50). This is 56% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec.  The alcohol is 15.3%. The winery’s notes: “Deep crimson red in colour. Distinct aromas of plum, leather, and cedar mingle in the glass. The first sip delivers cassis, plum, and vanilla flavours infused with orange zest on the palate. Mature integration of fine tannins and balanced acidity create depth of flavour in the mid palate with a long exploratory finish. A glorious expression of the 2009 vintage that will age gracefully for over a decade. Drink 2014 - 2030.”

Hester Creek The Judge 2011 ($45). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Production 800 cases. Winery’s notes: “This big, ripe wine offers smoky aromas of fig, plum and leather followed by generous flavours of coffee, chocolate and blackberry in the mid-palate, all finishing with long, silky tannins.”

Black Hills Nota Bene 2012: ($55 for 3,200 cases). The blend for 2012 is 57% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. In every previous vintage but the first, the blend contained around 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a familial consistency in the wine. The wine has sage and herbal notes on the aroma and the finish. The fruit flavours include black cherry, plum, coffee and chocolate. The texture is rich and ripe, with long tannins. The winery says this was “more masculine” than previous vintages – even after dialling back the Cabernet, which speaks well of the quality of the Merlot. This will age as well as any Nota Bene, which is seven to 10 years. 

Clos Du Soleil Signature 2012 ($44.90) This is Cabernet Sauvignon (48%), Merlot (42%), Cabernet Franc (9%), Petit Verdot.  Winery notes: “Signature is Clos du Soleil’s flagship Bordeaux-style blend, produced by hand and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.  The 2012 vintage is a stellar example of this iconic wine. The nose opens with aromas of cassis, blueberry and dark cherry, on a background of spice and mixed herbs. On the palate the wine is full, long and elegant.  Bright fruit flavours of cherry and black and red currant flow seamlessly into a long finish with notes of tobacco and black pepper.  Enjoyable in its youth, the fine tannins and beautiful balance of this wine ensure its ability to age for a decade.”

Church and State Quintessential 2009 ($54.90 for 750 cases).  Winery notes: “Dense and dark in colour, with ultra-black cherry and cassis aromas complexed by notes of coffee, baker's chocolate, pencil shavings and graphite aromas. On the palate, there is dark concentrated black cherry fruit and gorgeous tannin structure producing great richness and length, but with impeccable balance. The wine coats and totally fills your mouth, and a staggering array of complex flavours continue to linger in your mouth long after swallowing. Drink now through 2020, possibly aging longer, depending on your preferences and individual assessment of the wine over the years.”

The remaining 11 wines are listed alphabetically.

Cassini Cellars The Godfather 2010: ($70.) This is a blend of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 17% Syrah. Aged in oak for 23 months. Production 120 cases. The winery’s notes: “Nice integration of oak and dark fruit flavours like cherry, black currant and plums gives this wine a rich and complex taste with silky tannins to round out the wine to enjoy now or put down for years to come. Drink now to 2020.”

Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2011: ($35). This is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The winery’s notes: “Our reserve series now includes the Odyssey Meritage. This full bodied wine is composed of the four traditional varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, all grown in the South Okanagan Valley. Aged in new French oak barrels, the result is flavours reminiscent of blackberry jam with a hint of vanilla.”

Hillside Mosaic 2009 ($40 for 499 cases).  Merlot 55%, Cabernet Sauvignon 22%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Malbec 9%, Petit Verdot 5%.  My notes: "This is Hillside’s flagship Bordeaux blend. It is a point of pride that every vintage of Mosaic since 2006 has been made entirely of Naramata Bench fruit. The wines arguably are more vibrant and brighter that Bordeaux blends from the south Okanagan. This is a firm, age-worthy red with flavours of black currant, coffee, chocolate and liquorice."

Lake Breeze Tempest 2010 ($45). The winery’s notes: “The sum is greater than its parts in this classic Bordeaux blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec. Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich. Following on the heels of the 2008 Tempest, which won “Red Wine of the Year” at the All Canadian Wine Championships, this wine will continue to improve over the next several years.”

La Stella Fortissimo 2012: ($35 for 857 cases). The blend is 39% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Sangiovese. The winery’s notes:
“The 2012 Fortissimo sees the highest percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend ever! This was necessary as means to maintain a below 15% alcohol in the final wine as well as better balance of acid/tannins/fruit. 2012 Fortissimo is as outstanding and forward as we thought it would be; all the components are married seamlessly together. The large format puncheons and Hungarian/Slavonian oak are evident in the subtle way the oak presents itself. Deep ruby in the glass, the 2012 Fortissimo is packed with bright, luscious fruit of a perfect ripeness, harvest-ready cherries and raspberries, more anise than liquorice and a wink of a spicy zing, supported by smooth tannins and balanced out nicely by a backbone of acidity.” 

Mission Hill Compendium 2010: ($60). This is 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 21% Cabernet Franc.  The winery’s notes: “The grapes were selected from designated blocks within our estates in Osoyoos and Oliver; they were hand harvested and hand sorted and then gravity filled to small French oak fermenters. After 3 weeks extended maceration the free run wine and a small portion of lightly basket pressed wine was aged separately in French oak barrels for 13 months. It is a dark, dense and brooding giant of a wine, featuring a complex mix of black currants, blueberry, liquorice, mint and dark chocolate. The palate is rich and full-bodied with muscular tannins and well-focused flavours.

Mission Hill Quatrain 2010: ($60). This is 40% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, with fermentation and extended maceration in small French Oak Fermenters. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 15 months. The winery’s notes: “The 2010 Quatrain is an elegant wine, boasting red berry, black cherry, eucalyptus and cedary spice aromas and flavours. Syrah adds a juicy-fleshy texture to this uncommon blend, lending a seamless profile of ripe fruit, dark chocolate and spice to the gutsy structure of the three dominating Bordeaux varietals. ”

NK'Mip Mer'r'iym 2010: ($50). A blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. The winery’s notes: “The wines were fermented in separate lots and pressed into a combination of French and American oak barrels. We began with 28 potential lots from various vineyard blocks within the three vineyards and a total of 350 barrels – all to make a 20 barrel blend. After hours of trials and tasting we determined the percentages of each varietal in the blend. In the end we hope we got it right. It is a wine that is not necessarily about power but more of balance and harmony – about elegance and length – important qualities in any marriage.”

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2009 ($45 for a production of 16,000 six-bottle cases). This is 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Winery notes: “This rich full-bodied wine features a deep intense ruby colour, and deliciously persistent aromas of ripe red raspberry, dark chocolate with toasty caramel and vanilla notes. Opulent flavours of blackberry fruit, spice and pepper grace the palate with a well-rounded tannin structure and fruit-driven lingering finish.”

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2010 ($45). Winery notes are not yet available. My tasting notes speak of aromas of black currant, ripe raspberry, sage and graphite. On the firm palate, there are flavours black currants, dark chocolate and espresso.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2012 ($55).  This is 31% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Verdot. The winery notes: “This wine is rich and seductive with dark chocolate, coffee and black cherry combined with vanilla, showcasing the predominant varieties in the blend. More mocha and rich tones of black cherry, tobacco and cassis. A long, well balanced and polished finish.”






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quails' Gate releases some pleasant surprises






Photo (courtesy Quails' Gate): Harvest at Quails' Gate

Why am I even reviewing the latest releases from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery?

You don’t need my guidance. When was the last time you tasted a Quails’ Gate wine that disappointed you? These are wines you can order by the case without tasting them, secure in the knowledge that the only surprises will be positive.

So let’s talk about the surprises in the latest releases. One is a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the winery’s West Kelowna vineyard which, as we all know, is too far north for this varietal. Wait until you tuck into this wine.

Another is the $40 price tag on the Old Vines Foch Reserve. The wine is worth it, certainly. It is just that Maréchal Foch once was the butt of derision: one Okanagan vintner famously said that the varietal was not imported from France but rather deported from there.

Richard Stewart, the scion of the family that owns Quails’ Gate, planted Foch in 1956 (as did many others). Much of the Okanagan’s Foch was pulled out in 1988 because the variety was judged mediocre. The problem was that almost every grower was over-cropping what was already a naturally vigorous varietal. The resulting reds were thin and acidic.

Quails’ Gate single-handedly salvaged the reputation of Foch in 1994 when the winery began making Old Vines Reserve. In recent vintages, Sperling Vineyards, which has Foch vines almost as old, has released a Foch Reserve at $32, further underlining that this is good varietal is well grown.

Another surprise is the volume of Pinot Noir being made at Quails’ Gate. The Stewarts planted this varietal as early as 1975, although the majority of the vines are about 20 years old. The Mount Boucherie terroir seems to deliver top-flight Pinot Noirs consistently.

The winery also makes a lot of Chardonnay. That varietal, along with Pinot Noir, are particular focuses at Quails’ Gate.

Here are notes on current releases.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013 ($19.99 for 8,960 cases). Half of this wine was barrel-fermented but the other half was fermented in tank. This technique delivers the best of both worlds: aromas and flavours of melon, apples and citrus that mingle with toasty, butter notes from the oak. The bright, fresh acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($40 for 2,230 six-pack cases). The winery believes this is one of Okanagan’s best Chardonnays. I am inclined to agree. Barrel-fermented and aged six months on the lees, it is packed with flavours of citrus and cloves with buttery caramel reflecting the new French oak and the full malolactic fermentation. The acidity is still fresh. There is just the slightest residual sugar here to flesh out the texture. 92.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2012 ($24.99 for 3,177 cases). This ripe and robust wine – 14.5% alcohol – includes five per cent each of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry, blackberry and cassis. The dollop of sweet fruit on the mid-palate is framed by firm, but not hard, tannins. The texture is full and the wine is delicious. 90-91.

 Quails’ Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($26.99 for 1,100 cases). Try telling the owners of Quails’ Gate that you cannot grow good Cabernet Sauvignon in the north Okanagan – and then taste this wine, made with grapes grown on the slopes of the winery’s Boucherie Mountain vineyards! To be sure, 2012 was an excellent vintage. This wine, which has nine per cent Merlot in the blend, is one of the standouts. The appeal of the wine begins with aromas of ripe berries lifted by notes of vanilla and mocha. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis and blackberry with a hint of minerality on the finish. The texture is generous and the finish lingers. The winery believes this will cellar well for up to 10 years. 91.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2012 ($40 for 1,200 cases). I believe I have tasted every vintage of Foch Reserve. This is perhaps the most refined example of a variety few think of as refined. The wine begins with aromas of sweet, jammy fruit, accentuated by the sweetness of the new American oak in which it has been aged. There are flavours of plum, cherry, cola and spice. Generous in texture, it has an exotic gaminess on the finish. This would be my choice for venison. 91.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.99 for 7,000 cases).  Intense, vibrant and sophisticated are descriptors for this wine. It begins with smoky aromas of raspberry and blackberry and delivers flavours of cherry and blackberry. Still youthfully firm, this wine has just begun to develop the varietal’s classic silky texture. There is a note of spice on the finish. 90.


Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2012 ($25 for 394 cases of 375 ml). This is a Port-style wine that starts with very ripe Maréchal Foch grapes. During fermentation, the wine is fortified to 18% alcohol, leaving it with 96 grams of residual sugar per litre (nine on the sweetness scale). It also has been aged 18 months in oak barrels. The aromas – plums, currants and spices – recall a very good fruitcake. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, with an appealing sweetness that lingers on the finish. Think of a medium-bodied, elegant Ruby Port. 90.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Le Vieux Pin and La Stella's exclusive releases





Photo (courtesy Enotecca): Winemaker Severine Pinte

Wine collectors know that joining a winery’s wine club is the best route to the front of the line for special wines.

Le Vieux Pin and La Stella, the sister Okanagan wineries operated by Enotecca Wineries and Resorts, both produce such wines, often in such limited quantities that – even at aggressive pricing – the wines come and go in a blink of the eye.

Neither winery attached fees to its wine clubs. The Piccolo Club at La Stella and the Petit Club at Le Vieux Pin offer members two six-bottle shipments a year, typically at a cost of $150 to $200 per wine shipment, plus shipping charges.

Both wineries also have clubs simply called The Wine Society which offer members two 12-bottle shipments each year at an annual cost of around $1,000 for the wines. Shipping is free.

There are other benefits for members, including discounts on the wines, free tastings at the wineries and pre-release offers of limited production wines.

Winery wine clubs now have become a standard way of doing business for most British Columbia wineries. It is a win/win situation. The wineries lock in some customers and you lock in your favourite wines.

Here are notes on currant and upcoming releases from these wineries. Both wineries are fortunate to have the same talented French-trained winemaker, Severine Pinte.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2013 ($35 for 690 cases). This is a blend of 50% Viognier, 41% Marsanne and 9% Roussanne. The wine begins with aromas of herbs and stone fruit, leading to flavours of apple, grapefruit and stone fruit. The wine has good weight on the palate, with bright acidity and with a dry, lingering finish. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2012 ($45 for 393 cases). The 13.8% alcohol of this wine is the first clue to its elegance. It begins with spicy and gamey aromas along with vanilla and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of spicy black cherry with a hint of minerals and sage on the finish. The wine, which is aged 19 months in barrel, is full on the palate. 92.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2012 ($29 for 616 cases). This Syrah was co-fermented with a few percent of Viognier, a classic technique that fixes the colour and adds a lightly floral note to the aroma. This wine is softer and juicier than its big brother, with flavours of cherry and blackberry. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak (19% new). 90.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Cabernet Franc 2011 ($145 for 55 cases). The price indicates that the winery pulled out all the stops to make this wine. The vines were limited to a yield of 1.4 tons an acre, resulting in amazing ripeness for a cool year. The alcohol here is 14.5%. The wine spent 26 months in some of the best new French oak the winery could buy. The intense aromas of this wine explode from the glass. There are notes of cherry, leather, spice and cigar on the nose, leading to intense flavours of black berry, black cherry, leather and tobacco. The individual with whom I tasted spoke of this wine having “sauvage” qualities, referring to its exotic, almost wild character. 93-95.

La Stella Fortissimo 2012 ($35 for 836 cases). The model for this wine, which includes six per cent Sangiovese in the blend, is a super-Tuscan blend. This is a big ripe wine, consisting as well of 39% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sangiovese adds the dusty tannins one finds in Tuscan reds (aging the wine 19 months in mostly Slavonian oak also plays a role). The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and cherry. The wine is scheduled for release in the spring of 2015. The winery recommends aging it eight to 15 years. 92.

La Stella La Sophia 2011 ($85 for 42 cases). This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 26-year-old vines at the U2 block at Inkameep Vineyards. This is a legendary block from which numerous outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon wines have been made by various producers. These mature vines produced fruit, even in a cooler year, which yielded 14.7% alcohol and ripe flavours. The wine has aromas of cassis and vanilla. The texture is almost dense, with flavours of black currants, prune, minerals, spice and tobacco. This is clearly a wine for cellaring or, if you want to open it now, for aggressive decanting. 95.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Maverick Estate Winery: golden or not?





 Photo: Winemaker Bertus Albertyn

The new Golden Mile sub-appellation has such tight boundaries that it excludes some of the best producers on what was historically considered the Golden Mile.

The only published map of the sub-appellation that I can find is a bit hard to read. However,  Maverick Estate Winery is beyond the southern limit of the Golden Mile Bench.

As I read the final report on the sub-appellations, wineries within the historical Golden Mile (as opposed to the bench defined by soil characteristics) might still be allowed to use a variation of Golden Mile on their labels.

Maverick, which was established in 2009 by winemaker Bertus Albertyn, his father Dr. Schalk De Witt, and their spouses, should be one such winery. Its wines are bound to reflect well on the reputation of Golden Mile.

A doctor from South Africa, Schalk was practicing in Edmonton when he bought he bought two parcels for future vineyards in 2006 and 2009. The latter block, seven and a half acres beside highway 97, was an organic farm that was soon planted to vines. Planting is scheduled to begin in 2015 on the other block, 48 acres of raw land next to the Osoyoos Larose vineyard.

Schalk had great good fortune when one of his daughters, Elzaan, (also a doctor), married Bertus, the winemaker with the training to manage vineyards and make superb wines.

When Bertus, born in 1978 in South Africa, finished his enology degree at Stellenbosch University, he started his career at a large wine cooperative before joining family-owned Avondale in 1994 as winemaker.  He came to the Okanagan early in 2009 when Elzaan began to practice in Osoyoos. He was Burrowing Owl Winery’s winemaker until mid-2013, when he left to concentrate on Maverick.

Maverick began selling wines in 2013. This summer, it opened an elegant tasting room on the property beside the highway.

The winery has quickly established itself as a rising star among the new Okanagan wineries. Here are notes on current releases.

Maverick Chardonnay 2013 ($26.90 for 100 cases). The winemaker uses the term “restrained power” to describe this wine. My first impression is how exquisitely pure and pristine the fruit aromas and flavours are. There is a note of peach and tangerine in the aroma, leading for flavours of tangerine, peach and mango. The wine is very subtly oaked (just five months in new French oak. The wine is elegant and refreshing with a lingering finish. 91.

Maverick Rubicon 2012 ($25 for 360 cases). This is a blend of 65% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a very effective blend: the Cabernet Franc brings vibrant brambly flavours and aromas while the Syrah adds gamey plum and pepper. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds the structure. The wine, which was aged in a 3,500 litre oak vat, is drinking well now but will age. The winery recommends drinking it over the next three to seven years – if you can keep your fingers away from it. 91.

Maverick Pinot Noir 2013 ($29 for 250 cases). Here is a robust, assertive Pinot Noir, beginning with aromas of toasty oak, dark berries and vanilla. The wine tastes of black cherries and spice. The texture is elegantly silky, with a rich and long-lasting finish. 91.

Maverick Sofia 2012 ($30 for 285 cases of 500 ml bottles). The back label of this VQA wine describes Sofia (named for the winemaker’s daughter) as a Port. I am not sure how this slipped through the regulators because Canada, under an international agreement, is not permitted to use Europe’s wine names on its VQA wines. In fact, the label was rejected but due apparently to a printer's error, it ended up on the bottle. The winery is asking for a one-time exception. That said, I doubt that Portugal will be up in arms over Maverick’s 285 cases.

To make this wine, the grapes – ripened to 28 Brix – were handpicked into 30 pound trays and were cooled to 10°C overnight. In the tradition of Port, the grapes went into a large bin and were crushed by foot. The must was fermented several weeks on the skins, with alcohol distilled from the winery’s own grapes used to fortify the wine and stop fermentation. The must was then pressed and the wine was aged 18 months in French oak. The brandy spirit used to fortify the wine also was aged in oak for 12 months.


This is a terrific wine but, made with Syrah, also an atypical Port. The aromas began to fill the room as soon as the cork was pulled. In the glass, there are aromas of spice, white pepper, and Christmas fruitcake that are echoed in the flavours. The savoury flavours include plum, liquorice, chocolate and candied peel. The texture is rich. The wine carries its 19% alcohol very well, with a finish that goes on and on. 92.