Friday, April 11, 2014

Tinhorn Creek names new winemaker

Photo: Andrew Windsor

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards president Sandra Oldfield is transferring the role of head winemaker to Andrew Windsor, 35, an Ontario-born vintner with a master’s degree in enology from Adelaide University in Australia.

Sandra has been the head winemaker at Tinhorn Creek for 20 years. In recent years, she has taken on an increasingly heavy management role. That triggered the decision to launch a six-country search for a new winemaker that ended with hiring a Canadian.

“I have a day job, running Tinhorn,” Sandra (left) explained in an interview. “It turns out that is a pretty big job. I can’t make wine on the side. For me, it was not a really difficult step to take. It is not like I am going anywhere.” 

Andrew Windsor has been recruited from Andrew Peller Ltd. in Ontario where he has been involved in making wines from the VQA portfolio during the past three vintages.

“We have hired him to be a winemaker and to bring in new and creative ideas to the cellar in the same way that Andrew Moon did things to revitalize our vineyards,” Sandra says. 

Moon (right) is the Australian viticulturist that Tinhorn Creek hired in 2008. He has had a profound impact on how the winery manages its vineyards, resulting in a quite apparent rise in the quality of Tinhorn Creek’s wines.

Korol Kuklo, the assistant winemaker at Tinhorn Creek for almost 15 years, will continue in that role.  “She is great with managing people and she is great with managing cellar operations,” Sandra says. “That need does not go away when you bring on a new winemaker. The new person needs to have a cellar manager that knows what they are doing.”

This will be Andrew’s second winemaking job in British Columbia. He was hired in July 2010 as winemaker for EauVivre Winery and Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. He left in March 2011, after 10 months, to work at a large Pernod Ricard winery in New Zealand.

“He switched to a bigger winery than us,” EauVivre owner Dale Wright says. “We were too small for him.”

However, that gave Andrew a taste for winemaking in British Columbia that has brought him back. “He made red wine out here in the Similkameen, so he knows  what the possibilities are here,” Sandra says. “When he was interviewing with us, [he said] on three or four separate occasions that he really does want to make the best wine in Canada. He has targeted that this is the place where he can do that, on the Golden Mile Bench and on Black Sage Bench.”

Andrew initially studied environmental science at the University of Guelph but got a taste for winemaking in 2005 at The Ice House Winery at Niagara-on-the-Lake. He completed his winemaking degree at the University of Adelaide in 2006.

In 2008, he joined the winemaking staff at Mollydooker Wines, a McLaren Vale winery that had been started in 2005 and has since made a reputation for its big red wines. He left there to join EauVivre and then, in the spring of 2011, returned to the southern hemisphere for the 2011 vintage at huge Pernod Ricard operation in New Zealand.

When that job was completed, he moved to France and spent six months, and another 2011 vintage, at Cave de Tain, a producer of Hermitage. On returning to Canada, he joined Peller in mid 2012.

France taught me that wine is not just a science but an art form, a culture and an expression of a place,” Andrew said in a new release from Tinhorn Creek. “Wine has the ability to take you to a place in the world without leaving your home.”

“Once he was back in Canada, he really did want to be back in B.C.,” Sandra says. “He is going to be bringing a lot new to us. He is here to do what Andrew Moon did – bring a skill set from different locations and apply it here.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kootenays wines worth discovering

 Baillie-Grohman winemaker Dan Barker

There are now three wineries in or near Creston, the Kootenay city previously known just for the Columbia brewery and general agriculture.

With a population of 5,300 (2011 census), Creston has been growing out of the down-at-the heels personality it had as recently as a decade ago. There is, for example, a well appointed new Ramada Inn to accommodate visitors far better than the old motels favoured by tree planters.

Perhaps the wineries have played a role in this revival, as tourists passing through on the way to the Okanagan discovered it was worth their while to stop and taste Creston’s well made wines.

I have recently been able to taste wines from two of the three.

Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery is the only one of the three which distributes its wine outside the Kootenays. To acquire the wines of Skimmerhorn Winery or Wynnwood Cellars, it is necessary to visit Creston. If you do, Skimmerhorn has a good summer-season restaurant.

Skimmerhorn, which opened in 2006, was the first Creston winery. Owners Al and Marleen Hoag (who have the winery for sale now) found a clever way to overcome the lack of winemakers in Creston. They went to New Zealand and found Mark Rattray, a veteran winemaker who agreed to do vintages in British Columbia when wineries in the southern hemisphere are not busy.

Bob Johnson (right) and Petra Flaa opened Baillie-Grohman in 2010 across the street from Skimmerhorn. They recruited a New Zealand winemaker named Dan Barker, the owner of well-regarded Moana Park Winery in Hawkes Bay. He was New Zealand’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2003 and has picked up more than 250 awards since then.

Both he and Mark got their Creston winery clients ably launched.

Wynnwood Cellars began selling wines in 2012. The partners here are Michael Wigen (left) and Dave Basaraba. The Wigen family has been in the Creston area since 1892 and Michael now is an executive in the family business, Wynndel Box & Lumber Company. Dave is from Walla Walla in Washington but has lived in the Creston area since 1987. He broached the idea of growing grapes to Michael. The partners, after starting the vineyard in 2007, opened the winery north of Creston beside Highway 3A. 

“This route we are on, the Kootenay Lake Route, is one of Car and Driver’s 10 best roads,” Mike says. “From the ferry down to Creston, it is 53 miles of corners; only six passing zones. The Ferrari Club, the Porsche Club, all the bike clubs go through here all the time.”

Chances are those drivers welcome a glass of wine in Creston at the end of such an exhilarating drive.

Here are notes on some of the wines.

Baillie-Grohman Récolte Blanc 2013 ($17). The name means harvest white. It is a tasty aromatic blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Schönburger. It begins with floral and tropical aromas and delivers flavours of green apple, melon and citrus. The racy acidity makes for a crisp and tangy lemony finish. This would be especially refreshing as an aperitif.  88.

Baillie-Grohman Gewürztraminer 2013 ($19). Sometimes, wines from this varietal will surprise you by developing over two or three days after the bottle has been opened. This had an appealing spicy aroma and flavour, along with vivid grapefruit tastes, on first being opened. Over the next several days, the bottle came out of the fridge for another glass. Each one was fuller on the palate, with more herbs and grapefruit. I wish I had had a magnum. 89.

Baillie-Grohman Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This is a juicy expression of the variety, with aromas of tropical fruits and flavours of peaches, apples and grapefruit. 90.

Baillie-Grohman Blanc de Noirs Rosé 2013 ($19). Here is a summertime charmer if I ever tasted one. It begins with dramatic aromas of cherries and strawberries, with a juicy palate that delivers a fruit bowl of flavour. The wine is well balanced, with just enough residual sugar lift all that exuberant fruit. 90.

Baillie-Grohman Pinot Noir 2011 ($25). This medium-bodied wine might fairly be described as feminine, with easy appeal. There are notes of strawberry in the aroma and spicy cherry flavours. The texture is silky. 88.

Baillie-Grohman Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($25). The grapes for this blend are from a vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. The wine’s soft, ripe tannins make it very drinkable in its youth. There is a core of black cherry and vanilla on the palate with black currant and spice on the finish. 89.

Wynnwood Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($21.95). This is a crisp and tangy wine, with aromas and flavours of lime and lemon, a fine spine of minerals and racy acidity on the finish. 87.

Wynnwood Cellars Chardonnay 2011 ($22.95). Nothing on the back label indicates whether this wine is unoaked or barrel aged. The generous texture suggests either time in neutral barrels or good lees work. Yet the wine still manages to be fruit forward in a restrained way, with aromas and flavours of apple and citrus. 88.

Wynnwood Cellars Pinot Noir 2011 ($23.95). The winery has four clones of Pinot Noir in its main vineyard – clones 114, 115, 667 and 777 – which displays a commendable commitment to the varietal. While the aroma displays the funkiness that nerds call barnyard, there are good black cherry flavours. The tannins are firm and I would recommend aging this wine a few more years. 87.

Wynnwood Cellars Merlot 2012 ($24.95). This is a lively and youthful red, with aromas of raspberry and cherry. On the palate, it is juicy with flavours of cherry and black currants framed with a touch of oak. Creston is not the usual terroir for Merlot. Wynnwood Cellars succeeds because it tents the vines in spring to give then a jump on the season. 88

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rustico boxes in Calamity Jane

 Photo: Rustico's Bruce Fuller

Can you imagine a three litre box of wine sporting the VQA symbol?

Well, you have to imagine it because the rules of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance forbid the use of the VQA symbol on boxed wines. However, I would not be surprised to see that rule changed, given that several wineries now are selling boxed wines containing wines that would be VQA if released in bottles.

Rustico Farm and Cellars has three boxed wines under its new Ambush brand while Mt. Boucherie Family Estate Winery has just released two. Pentâge Winery in Penticton has been selling Pinot Gris in a three litre box for about five years.

Of course, the major commercial wineries have boxed wine –three, four and 16 litre – on the market for years. Generally, these contain wines imported in bulk from somewhere else in the world. VQA wines can be made only from grapes grown in British Columbia or Ontario.

The perception is that boxed wines are not very good. That may or may not be the truth. That is the reason why the VQA symbol is not allowed on boxes. The wine industry does not want to dilute the VQA image.

For many consumers, this is merely an academic discussion. They just see boxed wines as super affordable. There are numerous four-litre box wines in the BC Liquor Distribution Branch stores selling for $32.99. That works out to $6.19 a bottle.

Cooper Moon Cabernet Sauvignon from Calona is a typical example of a three-litre box. It is priced at $30.99,  the equivalent of $7.75 a bottle.

The price rises if the box contains British Columbia wine rather than leftovers from California. Even so, the B.C. boxes also deliver good value. Mt. Boucherie asks $38.50 for a box of Chardonnay ($9.63 a bottle) and $42.50 for a box of Merlot ($10.63 a bottle). Pentâge asks $66.50 ($16.62) for a box of what is premium Pinot Gris.

Aside from value, box wines offer the convenience of having wine on tap. You can pour yourself just a glass or two whenever you feel like it. The shelf life of these wines is long enough for you to tipple your way through four bottles before the wine starts to oxidize.

Rustico’s Bruce Fuller, who runs his tasting room with considerable flare, has come up with a clever way of defusing the perception that box wines are plonk. He has miniature barrels in Rustico’s wine shop,  each designed to hide a box wine. Only the spigot protrudes, allowing wines to be served to guests. Only after they have tasted the wine, and usually enjoyed it, are guests allowed to peak into the open back of the barrels to discover the wines came from a box, not a barrel.

Every camper also knows how much more convenient the little boxes are on camping trips compared with heavier and more fragile glass. One of Bruce’s customers last summer was in an Osoyoos campground and counted 17 boxes of Ambush on tables around the site.

Bruce believes he is tapping into a trend. “I researched boxed wines before we did anything,” he says. “In France, over 30% of wine sales are now in boxes. What does that tell you? In California, you have Mondavi and others in boxes.”

You might note the names Bruce gives to each Rustico wine, often inspired by the Okanagan’s history of mining and ranching.

“Do you know who Calamity Jane was?” Bruce asks. “She was a woman who was known as a straight shooter. She was a big time alcoholic. She hung out with Wild Bill Hickok. She rode in the pony express. Sometimes she was a whore working in a saloon. Half of what you read about her is mythology and the other half is truth. She is buried in Deadwood, South Dakota.” Bruce, who has visited her grave, had more than enough material for good “back label” copy.

Here are notes on Rustico’s three litre box wines and on its other current releases.

Ambush Calamity Jane Dry Riesling ($42.95). This is a crisp and refreshing Riesling, with citrus aromas and flavours. The finish lingers. 87.

Ambush Whippersnapper White ($39.95). This is 50/50 blend of Sémillon and Chardonnay. It has layers of lime and grapefruit in the aroma and on the palate, with the fleshy texture that Sémillon brings to the party. 88.

Ambush The Posse Red ($44.95). This is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine presents an almost jammy ripe plum and cherry profile that is pulled together effectively by the pepper and spice on the finish. 87.

Rustico Isabella’s Poke Pinot Gris 2012 ($17.95). The wine begins with appealing herbal aromas, leading to pear and citrus flavours, with a crisp tang of lime on the refreshing finish. 88.

Rustico Farmer’s Daughter Dry Gewürztraminer 2012 ($17.95). The wine begins with the aromas of rose petals and spice, leading to delicate flavours of lychee and grapefruit. The dry finish makes this a fine food wine. 88.

Rustico Sashay Sémillon 2012 ($17.95). Somewhat austere in the dryness of the finish, this wine has notes of lemon and grapefruit on the palate. 86.

Rustico Silver Garter Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 ($17.95). This focused and fruit-forward wine has flavours of apples with a mineral backbone. The finish is crisp and fresh. 87.

Rustico Golden Garter Oaked Chardonnay 2012 ($29.95). The oak is very well integrated in this buttery and rich wine, with flavours of tangerine and with a hint of clove on the finish. 89-90.

Rustico Saloon Sally Dry Cabernet Franc Rosé 2011 ($16.90). This is a remarkable fresh wine for a three-year-old rosé. It still shows off the varietal’s red berry and strawberry flavours and aromas. The texture is juicy but the finish is crisp. 89.

Rustico Doc’s Buggy Pinot Noir 2008 ($24.95). Barrel-aged nine months, this wine has notes of strawberry and cherry on the palate, with a touch of spice on the dry finish. 87.

Rustico Mother Lode Merlot 2007 ($24.95).  Every wine has a story. The reference here is to a mother lode of gold that a prospector named One-Armed Reid was looking for. He would have been happy with this tasty red, a medium-bodied wine with a core of blackberry and cassis, although the hint of espresso on the finish would taste way better than the coffee that he brewed in his kettle. 88.

Rustico Last Chance 2008 ($19.95). One-Armed Reid, according to Bruce’s narrative, staked the first claim at Fairview. This wine is a blend of Chancellor (30%), Merlot (35%) and Zinfandel (25%) and a touch of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. This is a last chance to taste Chancellor because those vines have been replaced. This is a dark, brambly red with a rustic earthiness on the finish. 88.

Rustico Threesome 2008 ($35.95). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This has the classic Bordeaux blend notes of cedar and cigar box on the nose, following with flavours of black currant and blackberry. 90.

Rustico  Bonanza Old Vines Zinfandel 2008 ($34.95). The full-bodied wine may well be unfiltered because it throws a bit of sediment, which is not a problem if you decant the wine. It begins with aromas of oak, vanilla and red berries. On the palate, there are classic varietal flavours, including raspberry, blackberry and black cherry. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. There is also a peppery hint on the finish. 90.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A vertical of Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin

 Photo: Mathieu Mercier of Osoyoos Larose

One of the most significant ownership changes in the Okanagan wine industry occurred quietly last November when Constellation Brands sold its 50% interest in the Osoyoos Larose winery to Bordeaux vintner Groupe Taillan.

That gives the French group 100% ownership of the winery, which had been launched in 1998 as a French/Canadian joint venture between Groupe Taillan and Vincor International. The latter company was taken over by Constellation in 2006.

The consolidation sets in train the eventual building of an Osoyoos Larose winery on its 80-acre vineyard west of Osoyoos Lake. The winery currently operates in a separate area of the sprawling Jackson-Triggs winery north of Oliver. The winemaking staff works independently from the Jackson-Triggs staff (aside from a shared public address system). Osoyoos Larose has never had a public tasting room.

Even as a joint venture, this has always been a thoroughly French winery. The intention of Donald Triggs, then the chief executive of Vincor, was to bring valuable French viticultural and winemaking knowhow to the Okanagan. The Bordeaux partners chose the vineyard site, sourced the vines in France, designed the planting method and recruited Pascal Madevon, a veteran French winemaker.

Pascal managed Osoyoos Larose from its first vintage in 2001 until he left in 2013 to join Culmina, the new winery that the Triggs family opened last year in the Okanagan. Groupe Taillan promptly sent another winemaker, Mathieu Mercier, who also has solid French and international experience.

Mathieu was born in 1988 in Cognac to a family of cognac producers. He has degrees in viticulture and enology from two of Bordeaux’s leading universities.

While going through university, he also did hands-on industry practicums. “I spent some time in Chile where I worked for Don Melchor, the premium winery of Concha y Toro,” Mathieu says. “Then I worked in Bordeaux for André Lurton at Château La Louvière and Château de Rochemorin.  Then I moved to California where I worked in 2010 for Swanson Winery in Napa. It was such a good experience that I went back in 2012 for six months, making wine for Cain Vineyard and Winery [in St. Helena].”

He returned to Bordeaux and worked at several of the estates owned by Groupe Taillan. (The most famous of the group’s properties is Château Gruaud-Larose, a distinguished Saint-Julien winery with a second growth classification.) Early last year, he jumped at the opportunity to move to Osoyoos Larose in the Okanagan.

“Taillan owns a lot of property in Bordeaux,” he says. These range from producers of medium-priced wines to “a very expensive one like Gruaud-Larose. When we did some tastings to compare Osoyoos Larose with some of the best Grand Cru in Bordeaux, it was obvious that we could compare it. Osoyoos Larose belongs among the famous good wines in the world. The quality of the terroir for Osoyoos Larose is unbelievable.”


Osoyoos Larose makes just two red wines: Le Grand Vin and, in the Bordeaux tradition, a lower-priced second wine, Pétales d’Osoyoos. In part, the wine is a home for the barrels judged to be less ageable, with lower tannin, that what is blended for Le Grand Vin. It is made in a different style so that the wine is fruitier and more accessible when young than Le Grand Vin. Pétales is by no means a lesser wine.


Le Grand Vin is a classically Bordeaux-styled red, deliberately structured to be cellared at least to its 10th birthday, if not longer. It is one of the premiere collector wines from the Okanagan. Unlike most other Okanagan icon reds, the production is large enough that any serious collector can find it and buy it.


The current release of Le Grand Vin is from the 2009 vintage. The current Pétales is from 2010.


Recently, a small group of us assembled to taste a vertical of every vintage of Le Grand Vin. We learned several things. Even though there is inevitable vintage variation, it never obscures the consistent style and personality of this wine. You always know you have Le Grand Vin in the glass.


Secondly, the wine develops magnificently as it ages, peaking somewhere between six and eight years and then holding at that level for another six to eight years. Le Grand Vin sells for $45. As Mathieu discovered, it can hold its own against many pedigreed Bordeaux reds.


Here are notes from the vertical tasting. The Pétales d’Osoyoos was tasted separately.

Le Grand Vin 2001: Total production 2,200 12-bottle cases. This is 66% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. I had this wine two years ago from a magnum, which it still showed good fruit. The standard bottle ages faster and this vintage is fading. The flavours are drying out and the tannins, while not hard, seem somewhat dusty. However, my do not resuscitate judgment  was a bit premature. A third of a bottle remained in a carafe until the following day. The wine revived to show glimmers of fruit and reasonably full texture. We had no trouble finishing the wine at dinner.

Le Grand Vin 2002: Production 6,775 six-bottle cases. This is 57% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The colour is darker and the texture still has some flesh. The cassis aromas and flavours mingle with hints of cigar box. While the wine will not get better, it is still very satisfying.

Le Grand Vin 2003: Production 19,700 six-bottle cases. This is 75% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This wine began with a glorious of cassis and red fruit and delivered rich flavours and a full weight to the palate. At its peak now, this is an impressive wine. This vintage and the 2007 were the favourite wines of the tasting.

Le Grand Vin 2004: Production 18,500 six-bottle cases. This is 68% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. Bottle age has given this wine an alluring cassis perfume. There is concentrated fruit on the palate – blackberries and black currant – with a touch of chocolate and espresso coffee on the finish.

Le Grand Vin 2005: Production 20,950 six-bottle cases. This is 67% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. This is an elegant wine with silky tannins. It seems to have less power than either the preceding or succeeding vintages, but the wine is more polished and rather pretty.

Le Grand Vin 2006: Production 20,250 six-bottle cases. This is 69% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. This wine has a dense, chewy texture with ripe tannins supporting earthy notes of black currant and coffee. Some tasters thought there was a hint of bitterness – probably something that will disappear entirely with another year or two of age.

Le Grand Vin 2007: Production 15,000 six-bottle cases. This is 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. In this vintage, the winery moved to aging the wine for 20 months, up from 16 months, in new and one-year-old barrels.  Once again, the tannins are silky and the texture is juicy. There are notes of cassis and mocha in the aroma and on the palate. The wine’s elegant balance impressed all of the tasters.

Le Grand Vin 2008: Production 18,000 six-bottle cases. This is 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine has just begun its development to a glorious future, with a bold and ripe texture and flavours that include blackberry, black currant and pepper.

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. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak, with 60% of the barrels being new, 40% being one year old. Dark in colour and concentrated in texture, this wine still shows its youthful tannins. Decanting helps reveal aromas of sage, blueberry and cedar with lush layers of plum and black currant. 94+

Pétales d’Osoyoos 2010 ($25 for 10,100 six-bottle cases). This is 58% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. The wine was also aged 20 months but in one and two-year-old French oak. It saw no new oak. The wine has generous aromas and flavours of black currant, blueberry sage and even a hint of chocolate. The tannins are relatively soft, giving this wine an early drinkability while waiting for Le Grand Vin to be ready. The winery advising drinking it within three years of its release. 91.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Buzet’s winery is a progressive co-operative

Photo: Buzet's Delphine Leuillet

Among the many French wineries at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, chances are that the least known was Les Vignerons de Buzet.

Some of its wines are listed on Quebec and Ontario. Through local agents, the winery is making an effort to get into markets in western Canada.

There are at least a couple of reasons why it deserves to succeed. First, it is one of the most progressive co-operative wineries I have ever encountered. Secondly, it has a red wine with no added sulphur that will be a godsend to those who attribute headaches to sulphur in red wine.

The Buzet appellation is in southwestern France in the general region of such better known appellations as Cahors, Madiran and Armagnac. The appellation is only 2,000 hectares in size, about equal in size to the Oliver/Osoyoos vineyards in the Okanagan.

About 95% of the Buzet production goes to Les Vignerons de Buzet, the co-operative that was organized in 1953. “We are like a monopoly of the Buzet appellation,” says Delphine Leuillet, the Buzet export manager who represented the winery at the festival.

The growers began working toward appellation status shortly after forming the co-operative and won the AOC status (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 1973.

Since the appellation is south of Bordeaux, it is hardly surprising that the vineyards grow similar varieties. Merlot comprises about half of the red plantings; Cabernet Franc accounts for 26%, Cabernet Sauvignon for 22% and Malbec for much of the rest. The white varieties are primarily Sémillon (70%) and Sauvignon Blanc (30%).

The wines, however, often command much lower prices because the appellation is far less well known. “We have the Bordeaux quality at very attractive prices,” Delphine suggests. The Buzet co-operative produces between 12 million and 14 million bottles a year. The home market consumes 60% of those wines.

Buzet is worth supporting because of the winery’s growing commitment to sustainable viticulture. During the past five years, the growers have reduced significantly the use of chemicals to ward off diseases in the vineyards. No treatments are applied any longer as a matter of routine. Increasingly, natural and alternative methods are applied. In 2012, for example, they stopped using anti-botrytis chemical sprays, adopting instead vineyard practices that enable the growers to avoid botrytis (rot) in the first place.

Like a growing number of growers around the world, those of Buzet now make a conscious effort to foster biodiversity in the vineyards. Sometimes, that is a simple as letting grass grow between the vines to promote diverse flora and fauna in the vineyards. There are ongoing efforts to repopulate the vineyards with protected species, including birds. Of course, these keep the insect pests in balance, again reducing the need to spray chemicals.

In the winery, Buzet also has shown innovation. The wine with no added sulphur is an example. “This is a concept wine,” Delphine said while pouring it during a trade tasting at the wine festival. It contains a mere seven milligrams per litre of sulphur, which was a natural by-product of fermentation.

In conventional winemaking, sulphur is usually added to preserve wines from premature oxidation. The sulphur might range anywhere from 30 mg, when it would not be perceptible, to 100 mg where an experienced taster might get a whiff. Reducing the sulphur content is a general trend in winemaking, made possible by the cleanliness of modern winemaking. Buzet has removed a lot of sulphur from its other wines and claims to be somewhere between a third and a quarter of the industry average.

Sans, as Buzet’s no added sulphur wine is called, is a delicious, easy drinking red.

Here are notes the four other wines that Delphine also had at the festival.

Red Badge Merlot Cabernet 2010 (estimated $14.95). This wine, already a general listing in Ontario, is a soft fruity red with flavours of cherry and black berry. 88.

Le Lys Dry White 2012 (estimated $16.99). The name means lily. It is a blend of 60% Sémillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc. It is a crisp and refreshing white, with appealing fruity aromas and flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. 89.

Baron D’Ardeuil Dry White 2012 (estimated $21.99). This is a 50/50 blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc aged eight months in oak. There is citrus in the aromas and on the palate, with a satisfying weight on the palate and crisp finish. 90.

Baron D’Ardeuil Red 2010 (estimated $21.99). This is a red Bordeaux blend from old vines, aged half in new oak and half in more neutral oak. There are notes of vanilla and red fruits on the nose, following with flavours of black berry and black currant and a touch of liquorice on the finish. 89.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ten years of Rollingdale wines

Photo: Rollingdale's Steve Dale shows off back vintages 

Last September, realtors from RE/MAX Kelowna teamed up with Rollingdale Winery proprietors Steve and Kirsty Dale to host a reception at the winery for a delegation of Chinese investors.

At the time, the realtors had listed Rollingdale for $4.8 million. If ever there was a group of potential buyers of this or any other Okanagan winery, this group would have seemed to be it.

Zall Development Group, one of the five companies in the delegation, is said to have assets of C$4.9 billion. And that company is a minnow compared with the Dalian Wanda Group, with reported assets of C$64.8 billion.

This group was squired around the Okanagan by the British Columbia Ministry of International Trade which was facilitating introductions for potential investors in the British Columbia wine industry. To the best of my knowledge, no more Okanagan wineries have been acquired yet by Chinese buyers (aside from Lang Vineyards and First Estate Winery, both under Chinese ownership for several years).

If RE/MAX had clinched a deal last fall, there might not have been the remarkable wine tasting hosted this week in Vancouver by the Dales. They brought 52 wines spanning all the winery’s vintages, starting with 2004. The attendees were primarily restaurateurs and trade buyers.

Aside from Icewine, the older wines likely are no longer available. The Dales would have dipped into their stock of library wines. But even if one can’t buy the older wines, one had to be impressed by the longevity. The tasting settled the questions about whether BC wines can age: the Merlot “Rosebud” 2004 still shows lively sweet fruit flavours. The 2004 Chardonnay, while past its prime, still appealed with flavours of honey and marmalade.

You might think the realtors’ listing price a bit aggressive when you venture down Rollingdale’s unpaved driveway and find that the winery is in a large metal-clad industrial building. Of course, it is serviceable, with good winemaking equipment inside, just beyond the tasting counter. The friendly informality has its appeal. No doubt, the Chinese business people had a great time, even if no one wrote a cheque.

One feature should have impressed them: since 2007, Rollingdale has been a certified organic producer.  Steve and Kirsty have a long history in organic agriculture. “I prefer to consume products that are as clean as they can be,” he has said. “I like to taste the untouched terroir of a vineyard clearly in the wine.”

The Dales – she is his high school sweetheart - have had an interesting journey to this point. He was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1971 and earned a degree in English literature at Carleton University in Ottawa. Kirsty studied communications at Queen’s University.

Surprisingly, given that background, they then moved to British Columbia to open a gardening shop in Port Moody, where they specializing in making organic preparations and giving organic advice to local gardeners and greenhouses. After three years, they were invited to join a horticultural consulting partnership in Switzerland. They spent four years doing projects around Europe, acquiring a taste for wine along the way.

Steve then sold his interest to his partners and, after a year in Spain, decided to return to Canada and open a winery. In the fall of 2003, he enrolled in the winery assistant course at Okanagan University College. His first practicum involved pruning a vineyard by the Hainle winery. By lunchtime, his employers had learned that Steve wanted a vineyard of his own and he discovered that they wanted to get out of their lease. “Within a day, I had taken over the lease on that vineyard,” he says. “It was just like that.”

The Rollingdale winery now occupies that vineyard because the Dales, after leasing for a year, bought the property.  The vineyard, then just a little over two hectares (five acres) was divided almost equally between Maréchal Foch and Pinot Gris, with a few rows of Pinot Blanc. He has since added other varieties, including Chardonnay.

His initial instinct had been to get rid of the Foch, a French hybrid then still sharing the negative reputations that attached to all the hybrids (perhaps unfairly). Steve changed his mind late in 2005 when he left some Foch grapes hang for a few litres of icewine, almost certainly the first time that variety has been used in this way. Steve was so impressed with the result, which he called Portage, that his very limited production of 32 bottles was priced at $840 a bottle. It is currently in the winery’s website at $199.90. Both it and the 2006 Portage were among the wines at this week’s tasting and showed very well.

Rollingdale has made Icewine something of its specialty since opening and has done very well. In a desert wine show in Spain in 2008, the winery’s 2006 Pinot Gris “Sweet Tooth Series” Icewine achieved a perfect score of 100. It is on the winery’s web site at $399.90.

The big Bordeaux and Burgundy reds in the winery’s portfolio have always been made with grapes purchased from South Okanagan vineyards (organic where possible).

In a nod to Bordeaux, Rollingdale has released several vintages of “La Gauche” Cabernet Sauvignon and “Le Droite” Merlot. The 2007 and 2008s are showing very well. Currently, the winery’s web site offers the 2011 vintage at $39.90 a bottle. I scored the 2011 “Le Droite” Merlot at 90 plus points – and the wine is still developing its potential.

While it is no longer listed for sale on the web site, the winery’s 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve is still quite impressive, showing why it has taken home a string of awards, including silver at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards.

This was quite a tasting. I wonder whether offshore owners would have hosted it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Serendipity by chance and with hard work

Photo: Serendipity's Judy Kingston and Katie O'Kell

Judy Kingston, the owner of Serendipity Winery in Naramata, is someone to whom, at various times in her life, fate has been unkind and then kind.

Several years ago, a major automobile accident ended her 25-year career as one of Canada’s pioneering practitioners of computer law.

After recovering, she took a short vacation to the Okanagan in late 2006 while considering what to do next. Her other passion, aside from law, is cooking but a career standing in a kitchen had to be ruled out. She cannot spend long periods on her feet, a legacy of the car accident.

She was driving from Osoyoos to Kelowna when a map-reading error took her to Naramata where she chanced to drive by an orchard for sale.

“I just stopped the car,” she recounts. “Sometimes things happen to you; that is what serendipity is all about. I was totally open for anything in my life at this point. This inner voice said, ‘this is it’. This is as close to cooking as I can get, because I will be making wine.”

She made an offer for the property before catching her flight to Toronto. “By the time I arrived in Toronto, I was the proud owner of an apple cherry orchard,” she recalled at one of her recent Vancouver wine tastings.

It was, perhaps, not quite that casual. She is a lawyer, after all. In a 2009 interview, she told me that the offer was conditional, giving her time to retain a consultant for assurance that the property could be turned into a vineyard. The condition was dropped within a month because the consultant’s answer was positive.

Judy threw herself into wine growing with fierce determination. While the orchard was being replaced with eight acres of vines, she took the viticulture courses at Okanagan College. “When I first started, I had to go to farming school to learn how to farm,” she says. “No one in my family were farmers.”

Soon, she was the talk of Naramata Road for her diligence in the vineyard, all of which is visible from the road.

Perhaps nothing caused more talk than how she dealt with the cutworms. Each spring, these insects emerge at night to suck the life from the buds on the vines. Growers generally apply sprays to kill the cutworms. Judy was determined to avoid sprays so as not to destroy beneficial insects which are predators against other pests later in the growing season. So she strapped on a miner’s lamp and went into the vineyard each night to squish the worms.

“Later, when I got some credibility because my farm looked nice and my wines were nice, [I heard] that people were telling stories about this crazy female Toronto lawyer who was out at night, crawling on her hands and knees with a light,” she laughs now.

The unusual technique worked. She has a balanced and sustainable vineyard without the need for chemical sprays.

When her determination to be totally hands-on was becoming too big a load, fate, or serendipity, came to Judy’s aid. Her daughter, Katie O’Kell, a biology graduate who had been accepted into law school, came to help Judy while waiting for law school to begin. Subsequently, Katie became as intrigued with wine growing as her mother. She has decided against law school and in favour of the University of California’s winemaking courses.

It is not that Judy has lacked in capable winemakers. Jason Parkes, now a busy consulting winemaker in the Okanagan, made the Serendipity wines from the initial vintage in 2009 through 2012. Last fall, veteran winemaker Richard Kanazawa moved into the Serendipity cellar, making Judy’s wines as well as those for his own Kanazawa label.

Selling wine was another skill that Judy has had to master. “I have never sold anything in my life because I’ve been a lawyer,” she explained. “I never had to.”

She has obviously become good at the cold call. Last year, she took part in a Naramata Bench Wineries Association tasting event in Calgary, looking to extend her market.

On a chance – serendipity again – she telephoned the Calgary Stampede and the telephone was picked up by the food and beverage manager who agreed to taste her wines. He liked them so well that several ended up on the wine lists at Stampede restaurants.

Even better, Judy was asked to be the Stampede’s winemaker in residence. That involved several public tastings and opportunity to do some staff wine training. She had a ball and, evidently, so did the Stampede. At least two Serendipity wines have been ordered for this summer’s Stampede and Judy will bring her infectious personality back for another season as winemaker in residence.

The wines she showed to her Vancouver audiences recently included both current and upcoming releases. Here are my notes.

Serendipity White Lie 2011 ($18). This is called White Lie because the blend may change from year to year. This vintage is Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. It has an appealing herbal nose, flavours of lime and grapefruit and a crisp, tangy finish. 90.

Serendipity Viognier 2012 ($20). This is a bowl of tropical fruit – notes of pineapple, guava, apricot and lime, with a spine of minerals and acidity. 90.

Serendipity Viognier 2013 (tank sample). This wine is very expressive, with aromas of pineapple and lime that carry through to the palate. Again, there is a good backbone of minerals and bright acidity with a lingering finish. 90.

Serendipity Rosé 2012 ($18). This is a fine dry rosé, beginning with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb. Those continue to the palate, along with raspberry. 90.

Serendipity Red Handed 2010 ($18). This is a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties along with Pinot Noir and Syrah. There is probably not much Pinot Noir because, as is the case with all Serendipity reds, this is a fairly big red. There are aromas of vanilla and flavours of black cherry, vanilla and chocolate. 88.

Serendipity Devil’s Advocate 2010 ($25). This was one of the wines featured at the 2013 Calgary Stampede. In competition, it has also brought home four silver and three bronze medals. It is a blend of Bordeaux varieties with 30% Syrah. There are appealing cassis aromas. On the palate, the wine delivers black currant, black cherry and blueberry with a touch of espresso on the finish. 90.

Serendipity Reserve Serenata 2010 ($40). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend anchored by Merlot and including the other four major Bordeaux reds. The aromas of cassis and blueberry charge forth from the glass. The wine delivers on that promise, with flavours of black cherry, blackberry supported by long ripe tannins. There is a touch of espresso on the finish. 92.

Serendipity Syrah 2010 (barrel sample). This wine is destined primarily for the Stampede. I can’t imagine a better wine with a good steak, medium rare. It begins with peppery and earthy aromas. On the palate, it is muscular, with flavours of dark plum and deli meats, finishing with a lovely dash of pepper. 92.