Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blasted Church and the wine of Elaine Vickers

Photo: Winemaker Elaine Vickers

This fall, Blasted Church Vineyards retained consulting winemaker Pascal Madevon to work with its resident winemakers, Elaine Vickers and Evan Saunders, on super premium handcrafted red wine.

Perhaps handcrafted is not the right word. Some of the grapes were actually crushed by foot. I was even invited to join in the fun. When I learned how cold the recently-picked grapes were, I passed on the opportunity.

Given how well equipped today’s Okanagan wineries are, it might surprise some how much foot crushing still goes on. To begin with, the human foot is not only the oldest way of crushing grapes; it also is the gentlest. Secondly, sometimes the winery press is just too big for limited quantity of grapes needing to be crushed. I suspect that was why Pascal rounded up winery volunteers to freeze their toes.

The wine already has a name: Nectar of the Gods. Obviously, it will not be released for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, you might search out Nothing Sacred which, at $40 with a production of 100 cases, is currently the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. The winery began making it in 2007. When they skipped making it in 2012 and 2013, they heard from disappointed customers who had begun to collect verticals.

After Elaine Vickers was promoted to Blasted Church’s head winemaker in 2014, she made a fine Nothing Sacred from that vintage. It crowns the winery’s Revered Series, as Blasted Church calls its reserve tier. She would like to make subsequent releases of it, subject to the winery’s strict discipline about the Revered wines: it is only made in the best vintages.

The 2014 vintage was one of the best yet in the Okanagan. The red wines from 2014 are among Elaine’s favourites.
I did not hang around the winery long enough to find out whether Elaine also joined in  the grape stomp that particular afternoon. It might have seemed odd, given how well grounded she is in modern science.

Born in Ontario in 1976, she lived in Abbotsford during her high school years and then got a master’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Victoria. On graduation, she moved to a job at Vancouver General Hospital while pursuing another passion: playing Ultimate Frisbee.

“There is a professional league now,” she says. “There is no pay in Ultimate Frisbee but I was playing at the national level for a little bit.”

Her interest in winemaking began when she worked at a winemaking store while she was an undergraduate. After moving to Vancouver, she advanced her knowledge of wine by working weekends in a wine store and by taking Wine & Spirits Education Trust Courses. Some of her Frisbee teammates worked for wine agencies, further spurring her interest.

One of her high school classmates was Kelly Symonds, formerly the winemaker at Hillside Cellars and more recently at California Cult Classics in North Vancouver. “She let me job shadow her at California Cult Classics, so I could see if it was something I wanted to spend money on and go back to school,” Elaine says. “I decided I liked it. Then I got cut from Team Canada just before worlds [in Ultimate Frisbee]. I decided to go back to school.”

In 2009 she went to the wine school at the University of Adelaide. A year of study and practical winemaking in the student winery earned her a graduate diploma in oenology. She returned to Canada in 2010 and, after working the harvest at the Jackson-Triggs winery in Oliver, she moved to Blasted Church as a cellarhand under winemaker Richard Kanazawa.

When Richard left early in 2011, Elaine remembers that she “panicked because I was the only one here and I was not ready to be the winemaker.” That summer, however, the winery hired consultant Mark Wendenburg, the former veteran winemaker at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

“He just trained me up from cellarhand to assistant winemaker to winemaker, pretty much as fast as he could because he was busy with other clients as well,” she says. She took over the winemaker’s job in August, 2014.

From 2011 to 2013, Blasted Church production grew from 17,000 cases a year to around 25,000 cases. When Mark moved on to his other Okanagan clients, the winery added assistant winemaker Evan Saunders, a graduate of Brock University who had previously worked at Osoyoos Larose Winery.

Blasted Church today has a large portfolio, but not too large for Elaine. “Our size is a nice size,” she maintains. “We still have time to do a few small experiments.” Like Nectar of the Gods.

As a winemaker, she has her favourites. “I enjoy the whole process behind sparkling wines, although there’s a lot of work,” she says. “For white, I like making the wooded Chardonnay and, funnily enough, I like making Gewürztraminer. For the reds, Syrah is probably my favourite grape to work with.”

Here are notes on current releases from the winery.

Blasted Church OMG 2012 ($24.50 for 800 cases).  This traditional method sparkling wine is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Blanc.  The three years the wine spent on the lees before disgorging has given it slight toasty notes and a creamy texture. There are flavours of apple and pear with a pinch of hazelnut. The wine’s brisk acidity gives it clean and refreshing finish. 91.

Blasted Church Pinot Gris 2015 ($20.50 for 2,911 cases). This is 90% Pinot Gris but gets added complexity the 5% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier and 2% Gewürztraminer in the blend. The wine begins with a floral bouquet that leads to flavours of grapefruit and pineapple. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Blasted Church Godspeed 2014 ($18 for 900 cases). This blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer was made for sale primarily through wine departments at Save-On-Foods. The wine begins with herbal aromas leading to flavours of green apples and citrus. The finish is tangy and balanced to dryness. 90

Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse 2015 ($15 for 6,300 cases). This is one of Blasted Church’s most popular whites. It is a blend of 10 varietals: 22% Gewürztraminer, 21% Pinot Gris, 20% Viognier, 13% Optima, 8% Ehrenfelser, 5% Pinot Blanc, 4% Chardonnay and 4% Chardonnay Musqué, 2% Orange Muscat and 1% Riesling. This yields a juicy, fruity wine with dramatic aromas of spicy fruit and flavours of lychee, mango and grapefruit. 91.

Blasted Church Gewürztraminer 2014 ($17.90 for 1,720 cases). Full-bodied with a lingering finish, this wine has aromas and flavours of lychee and spice. The wine has the slightest hint of sweetness but it finishes dry. 90.

Blasted Church Swear To God 2015 ($30 for 127 cases). This wine was fermented and aged in barrels (66% French, of which 40% was new oak, and 34% American oak – three years or older). The wine displays aromas of vanilla, peach and pear leading to buttery flavours of fruit preserves. Only two of the five barrels used here went through malolactic fermentation, a decision which gave the wine a rich texture; the other three barrels preserved acidity and the flavours of peach. 90.

Blasted Church Bible Thumper 2015 ($30 for 100 cases). This is an oak-aged Viognier. The 2015 vintage gave the winery atypical but delightful aromas recalling Sauvignon Blanc. The wine has flavours of guava and grapefruit. The texture is rich and creamy. 91.

Blasted Church Big Bang Theory 2015 ($19 for 4,500 cases). This is an easy-drinking fruit-forward red. It is a blend of 50% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Pinot Noir, 9% Lemberger and 6% Syrah. The wine begins with aromas of red currant and cherry, leading to flavours of strawberry, cherry and cranberry. The tannins are soft and the texture is juicy. 88.

Blasted Church Merlot 2014 ($26 for 907 cases). Four per cent Syrah and 3% Malbec have been added to flesh out the blend and tweak the aroma. The wine has spiced dark fruit and blackberry on the nose. The palate echoes the spiced dark fruit; there is a hint of cedar on the finish. Long ripe tannins give the wine fullness of texture. 91.

Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2014 ($26 for 1,545 cases). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 8% Malbec. The wine has aromas of blackberry, plums and mint, with flavours of black currant mingled with pepper. The Cabernet gives this a hint of menthol on the finish. The tannins are firm but, with breathing, a rich texture emerges. 90.

Blasted Church Syrah 2014 ($27.50 for 1,880 cases). Three per cent Viognier is co-fermented with the Syrah, a technique that lifts the aroma and stabilizes the colour. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and pepper. The palate echoes the aromas, along with flavours of plum and cured meats. 91.

Blasted Church Cross To Bear 2014 ($40 for 11 cases). This is 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier. On of the wines in the Revered tier, it is made only in the best vintages – and 2014 was such a vintage. The wine begins with aromas of plums, black pepper and spicy cured meats, leading to flavours of plums and figs, with espresso and a touch of pepper on the finish. 92.

Blasted Church Holy Moly 2014 ($40 for 150 cases). This is 100% Petit Verdot with a colour that is typically (for the variety) black as night. The aroma mingles floral notes with blackberry and spicy dark fruit. The wine is concentrated in the mouth, with flavours of plums, figs and blackberry. The variety’s minerality adds a note of graphite on the finish. 94.

Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2014 ($45 for 101 cases). This is 40% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each parcel of fruit was fermented and aged separately in barrel, with the very best barrels selected for this blend. Total time in barrel was 20 months (80% French oak, 20% American; most of the barrels were new). The wine has a concentrated texture, suggesting an ability to age. It begins with aromas of raspberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of blackberry and black currant with a hint of spicy dark fruit. 94.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Serendipity releases first sparkling wine

Photo: Serendipity's Sparkling Truth

A big sparkling wine trend is sweeping through the British Columbia wine industry.

In recent weeks, I have blogged first time release of sparkling wine from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards, Meyer Family Vineyards and Orofino Vineyards. As well, I have posted effusive reviews of sparkling wines from Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, one of the most experienced producers of bubbly in the Okanagan.

I have also posted enthusiastic reviews of Maverick Winery’s Ella, a very fine sparkling wine; of Tantalus Blanc de Noirs 2013; and “I Do” from Intrigue Wines.

I have reviewed the Steller’s Jay Sparkling Gewürztraminer and the same winery’s Sparkling Shiraz. And I have been promised a bottle of the soon-to-released Daydreamer Sparkling Shiraz. I will post reviews shortly of two new sparkling wines from Evolve Cellars.

That is just scratching the surface. There is a burgeoning choice of sparkling wines from B.C. wineries. That is a very good thing, for we now get to try Champagne quality wines without always paying Champagne prices.

The proliferation of sparkling wines also tells me that consuming patterns have matured. We are no longer restricting these wines just to special occasions like New Year’s Eve or weddings and birthdays. Many of us have discovered that these are versatile food wines.

I recently washed down a meal of pierogies with a few glasses of bubble. I suppose you could open a bottle of vodka with your pierogies, given the Polish roots of the cuisine, but you risk inebriation.
And there is no better aperitif. I am reminded of the classic line from Harry McWatters, the founder of Sumac Ridge, the winery that launched Steller’s Jay. “Sparkling wine,” he once told me, “is what I drink while I am deciding what wine to have with dinner.”

The usual objection to opening a bottle of bubbly is the mistaken notion it has to be consumed within the hour. In fact, most good kitchen stores will have a device that snaps onto the top after the cork or screw cap is removed. Such a device keeps the remaining bubbles in the bottle and the wine can be left in the refrigerator for a day or two.

The latest producer to release a bubbly is Serendipity Winery of Naramata. As an aside, it is surprising how few of the Naramata Bench’s wineries actually produce sparkling wine.

No matter the technique, there is no easy way to make sparkling wine other than carbonating it. And carbonated wine is just an inferior bubbly, best used to launch boats or celebrate sports championships.

The Serendipity wine, called Sparkling Truth, is made in the traditional way, starting with Chardonnay grapes. The wine has its secondary fermentation – the one that produces the bubbles – in the actual bottles. In this case, the winery made 2,107 bottles and riddled them all (likely by hand) over 21 days. Riddling is the process of rocking each bottle gently until the yeast lees are deposited in the neck against a crown cap.

The pressure in the bottle expels these when the cap is removed during final bottling. Each bottle is topped up and then sealed with the familiar mushroom cork.

A word of caution: there seems to be a lot of pressure in each bottle of Serendipity Sparkling Truth. When I removed the wire cage that holds the cork, it shot from the bottle on its own with loud explosion. This was surprising, since the bottle had been in the refrigerator for several days and was not shaken on the way to the kitchen. Fortunately, my face was not above the bottle. I learned that bit of caution years ago. The wine, however, tasted fine.

Here is a note on the wine.

Serendipity Sparkling Truth 2014 ($50). This is a fresh and floral wine with a big, almost creamy, mouthful of fruit – apples and green plums. The pressure in the bottle makes for a lively display of bubbles in the glass. This is an elegant wine. 91.

Quails' Gate revives nouveau wine

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

Winemaker Nikki Callaway at the Quails’ Gate Estate Winery has revived the tradition of “nouveau” wine in the Okanagan.

On the third Thursday in November, the winery released a 2016 vintage Gamay Noir under the name, Cailleteau, which means baby quail. This mirrors the historic practice in Beaujolais where nouveau wines made with Gamay are rushed to market on that date.

The tradition likely arose from the desire of vintners to celebrate the end of the harvest. Nouveau wines are uncomplicated, easy to drink reds that are guzzled down with rustic artisanal meals.

To my knowledge, no Okanagan winery has made a nouveau-style wine since the late 1990s.

The first one of which I have a record was Calona Wines Okanagan Vin Nouveau 1983, made with Maréchel Foch grapes. There likely was no Gamay grown in the Okanagan while Foch as abundant. Calona made 250 cases and the wine, ready to drink six weeks after harvest, was sold for $5 a bottle.

Fred Quance, the president of Calona at the time, said in a news release: “With the introduction of 1983 Okanagan Vin Nouveau, Calona joins the ranks of international wineries which participate each year in this mid-November celebration of the harvest.”

As it happened, a Beaujolais Nouveau frenzy had developed. Here is how Wikipedia summarized the history: “A few members of the UIVB [a wine industry organization]  saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighbouring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.”

In British Columbia, the fleet-footed Anthony von Mandl – the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery – jumped on the trend in the early 1980s. The Mark Anthony Group, his wine marketing agency, began importing Beaujolais Nouveau in 1981. That year, agency personnel rushed some of the wine from France by air to tastings in Toronto and Vancouver. In 1982, it sponsored a race by 25 restaurant employees in Vancouver to rush the wine to their restaurants on release. By 1983, Mark Anthony was importing Beaujolais Nouveau from five producers.

Mission Hill itself began making an Okanagan Valley Vin Nouveau, also with Foch grapes, in 1987 and perhaps earlier. The news release from the winery in my files on the 1987 wine (which sold for $5.70) also says that “nouveau wines from Mission Hill Vineyards have previously been awarded at the prestigious International Eastern Wine Competition in New York.”

Eventually, the nouveau frenzy burned itself out. The Liquor Distribution Branch had difficulty selling wines which, because they were shipped by air, were overpriced for the quality. And Okanagan wineries stopped make Foch Nouveau after most of the Foch vines were pulled out in 1988.

Kudos to Nikki for reviving the tradition – and with Gamay Noir.

Here is a note on that wine and other recent, or future releases from Quails’ Gate.

Quails’ Gate Cailleteau Gamay Nouveau 2016 ($19.50 for 250 cases). This is 100% Gamay Noir in the easy-drinking nouveau style. It is a fresh and lively wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The texture is silky. 90.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2015 ($17 for 5,300 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime. On the palate, there are citrus flavours framed by mineral notes. Reflecting the hot 2015 vintage, the acidity is somewhat soft, but not so soft that it will impede the wine’s ability to age. Petrol aromas and flavours will development in a few years. 90

Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2015 ($40 for 476 six-bottle cases). Barrel-fermented and aged for 11 months, this wine has appealing toasty notes of hazelnut mingled with the citrus aromas. That leads to flavours of citrus and brioche with a suggestion of saltiness, likely reflecting the terroir of this particular Chardonnay block. 92.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($35). This is a lush and seductive Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of peaches and citrus and a hint of vanilla on the long finish. 92.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2014 ($21.99 for 5,090 cases). Aged 18 months in barrel, this begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry and vanilla. It is full-bodied with a core of sweet berry flavours but a long, dry finish. The tannins have enough grip to enable to wine to age well. Impatient consumers should decant it for current drinking. 90.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2014 ($19.31 for 3,750 cases). This wine is made with fruit from 36-year-old vines planted in the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. The terroir is not nearly as suitable for Foch as that of the estate vineyard and the wine, while good, lacks the intensity of the Foch Reserve. It has aromas and flavours of cherry, along with black coffee and leather. 88.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2014 ($37.64 for 1,550 six-bottle cases). This is the 20th vintage, and one of the best, of this cult wine, made with fruit for 50-year-old vines in the estate vineyard. The wine is big and rich, beginning with aromas of fig, plum and chocolate and continuing with flavours of black cherry, plum and chocolate. A hint of oak winds it way through the flavours. The ripe tannins give the wine a svelte texture. 92.

Quails’ Gate Clone 828 Pinot Noir 2014 ($56.62 for 300 six-bottle cases). Legend has it came to the Okanagan in a suitcase of cuttings from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. That is unlikely because Quails’ Gate planted this clone only in 2006. Whatever the truth, this is a very pretty wine. It has floral aromas along with aromas of strawberries and cherries that are echoed on the palate. The silken texture adds to the impressive elegance of the wine. The winery releases a Clone 828 only when it is exceptional; the last one was made in 2010. In most years, the clone makes its contribution as a blend in other premium Pinots. 92-93.

Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($53 for 490 six-bottle cases). A blend of clones 115, 117 and 667, this wine is made intentionally in what the winery calls an “old world” style. It begins with aromas of plum, cherry and so-called forest floor notes. The structure is concentrated. The flavours are savoury and spicy, with notes of cherries and dark fruit. The wine is available only at the Quails’ Gate wine shop. 93.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($45 for 1,948 cases). This is the flagship Pinot Noir, aged for 10 months in premium French oak barrels (50% new). It begins with aromas of cherries and plums leading to flavours of spice, plum and dark fruit. The seductive flavours are framed a concentrated texture. 94.

Quails’ Gate Boswell Syrah 2013 ($52.19 for 860 six-bottle cases). The wine begins with aromas of pepper and ripe berries, leading to concentrated meaty and dark fruit flavours. The finish lingers. 94.

Quails’ Gate Boswell Syrah 2014 ($52.19 for 1,140 six-bottle cases). This wine begins with spicy aromas of red fruit. It is full-bodied with a luscious texture and layers of dark cherry and spice cake flavours. 94.

Quails’ Gate The Connemara 2014  ($55.65 for 200 cases). This is 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. This blend is at once elegant and powerful. It begins with red berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants and figs with hints of licorice and chocolate.  The 18 months of aging in French oak have polished the long, ripe tannins. 93.

Quails’ Gate 
Fortified Vintage Foch 2014 ($18.17 for 410 cases of 375 ml bottles). Suitably dark for a Port-style wine, this begins with aromas of spiced plums and dark Christmas fruits. The flavours are a luscious mix of spiced fruit, licorice and chocolate that linger on the finish. 91.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Meyer releases its first sparkling wine

Photo: JAK Meyer with his winery's first sparkling wine

Meyer Family Vineyards exemplifies how the British Columbia wine industry has gone from insignificance to global respect in a very short time.

Meyer began making only premium Chardonnay wines, coming to market in early 2008 with just 600 cases from a 1.6 hectare Naramata vineyard. It did not take owners JAK Meyer and Janice Stevens very long to realize the winery needed to be larger. By the end of 2008, they had purchased a larger second vineyard near Okanagan Falls.

There was a block of Pinot Noir in that vineyard. By happy coincidence, Chris Carson, JAK’s Canadian-born but New Zealand-trained winemaker, has a passion for both Pinot Noir and for Chardonnay.

Growth since then has been dramatic. “We are up to almost 8,000 cases this vintage,” JAK said in an interview in October, 2016.

The winery has launched new products. Just released is Meyer’s first bottle-fermented sparking wine. The production, at 550 cases, is as large as Meyer’s entire first release in 2008.

Meyer now makes enough wine that it has begun exporting to seven foreign markets including Britain, where Meyer Pinot Noir can be found in 169 Marks & Spencer stores.

“I took it on myself to try to export,” JAK says. Marks & Spencer had been buying wine from an Ontario producer until several brutal winters savaged harvests from Niagara vineyards. Two years ago, the British retailer put out a call for wine through the British Columbia Wine Institute. Meyer was one of four Okanagan wineries willing to supply Marks & Spencer.

Meyer’s original shipment was 600 cases and there has been a repeat order. JAK believes there is a longer-term demand for about 400 cases a year. The wine is a version of the best-selling Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir, a 2,500-case brand made with fruit from contract growers as well as from its own vineyards. The wine sold in Britain has been tweaked slightly to meet Marks & Spencer’s requirements. “There is a Marks & Spencer winemaker,” JAK says. “We send barrel samples from those four vineyards. They choose the percentages for the blend.”

The export sales appeal to JAK for two reasons. First, there is money to be made in overseas markets.

“I get what I think is a fair export price,” JAK says. “At the end of the day, it is not that far off what I would get – excluding direct sales to consumers – in BC. It is more than I would get in Alberta, way more than what I would get in Ontario or Quebec. So it is a valuable and profitable market.”

Secondly, the business has raised the Meyer profile. “The amount of press I have received because of our export business is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” JAK believes. “I have been in the Irish Times, the London Times, Decanter Magazine; had a half a page article in the Globe & Mail. Our wines are selling and competing internationally, and are in some of the best restaurants.”

Meyer is among a small number of Okanagan wineries that have chosen to specialize just in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There still is a small block of Gewürztraminer on the winery’s McLean Creek Vineyard near Okanagan Falls. The variety was there, along with Merlot, when JAK bought the property. Nearly all of the Merlot and most of the Gewürztraminer has been, or soon will be, replaced with either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

JAK also is considering planting more Pinot Noir on a neighbouring parcel. In the meantime, he has been able to double the harvest at the Meyer vineyards with fences and cattle guards to keep deer away from the vines during 2016.

Here are notes on wines currently released or due to be released before spring.

Meyer Traditional Method Extra Brut NV ($40 for 550 cases). This is 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. The wine has had a total of four years aging in tank and bottle before its release. It has the slight bready note of classic Champagne. It also has brightly focussed fruit showing notes of lemon and granny smith apple. It is clean and fresh on the palate with crisp finish. The bubbles are fine and persistent. 92.

Meyer Stevens Block Chardonnay 2015 ($28). This wine is from a small block of Chardonnay on the winery’s Old Main Road Vineyard near Naramata. The wine is unoaked and made in the style of Chablis. It has aromas and flavours of tropical fruits; peach mingles with lime on the palate. The wine is exquisitely fresh. 91.

Meyer McLean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($33). This wine has aged in French oak barrels but, since only 18% were new, the oak influence shows just a slight hint of toast in the aroma, along with citrus. On the palate, buttery flavours mingle with hints of orange and apple. 92.

Meyer Tribute Series Chardonnay 2015 ($33). This wine, made with Naramata grapes, is the latest in the series of wines paying tribute to a worthy person or cause. The 2015 supports the Hawksworth Young Chefs Scholarship. The wine begins with a delicate gold hue and aromas of lemon. It is rich on the palate, with lemon and tropical fruits framed by well integrated oak. 92.

Meyer Micro-Cuvée Chardonnay 2015 ($65). This powerful wine is due for release next March. It was aged 11 months in French oak barrels (50% new). Brioche in the aroma and flavour mingles with lively citrus flavours. This elegant wine will age superbly. 95.

Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2015 ($25). This wine was aged in older oak barrels which softened the wine without adding much oak flavour. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The juicy texture adds to the wine’s immediate appeal. 90.

Meyer Old Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($50). This wine is made from a small Pinot Noir block in the McLean Creek vineyard that was planted in 1994. The clone is unknown but the wine is exceptional. It begins with aromas of black cherry and plum with hints of forest floor. This is echoed on the palate, where the finish is spicy and savoury. Only 205 cases were made. 93.

Meyer Micro-Cuvée Pinot Noir 2014 ($65). This wine is made by choosing the best block and best clones from the McLean Creek Vineyard and then selecting the best barrels to produce 110 cases. It will be released next March. This aged 11 months in French oak (50% new). The wine has aromas of cherry and vanilla. On the palate, the flavours of plum and cherry are subtly integrated with toasty oak. The finish has savoury notes of forest floor. 95.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Orofino Vineyards is to add bubbly

Photo: Orofino's Virginia and John Weber

The many fans of Orofino Vineyards will be delighted to learn that this Similkameen winery plans to release a bottle-fermented sparkling wine.

The release date has yet to be determined. I heard about it in October during a winery  tasting with the owners, John and Virginia Weber. The wine, based on Riesling, was made in the 2013 vintage and was still resting on the lees this fall. It is likely there will be a release during 2017.

I also learned that John has increased his commitment to concrete tanks and to fermenting with wild yeast. These techniques help showcase the terroir of the Similkameen vineyards behind Orofino’s wines.

“We started using them in 2014,” John says, referring to the tanks made for him by an Okanagan manufacturer. “I got a couple of them. In 2015, we added two more. This year, I am adding two more again. They contain about 1,000 liters each.”

The tanks are used for aging the wines. John still ferments his reds in open-top fermenters.

“A couple of years ago, we spent some time in Beaujolais and the Rhone,” John says. “Concrete is all over the place. They just don’t talk about it. It is not a marketing tool. It is just how they make wine.”

He believes that “there is something to it. We are doing Syrah in concrete. I have a tank of Riesling this year. We have done Pinot Gris in concrete. And there is a vein throughout. It is a textural thing.” The 2015 Syrah, already sold out, is notable for its juicy texture after aging just five months in concrete.

John now ferments most of his wine with wild yeast – or indigenous yeast, a term preferred by some of his peers who have also stopped using cultured yeast. In previous vintages, many Okanagan and Similkameen winemakers thought that wild yeast was risky. Most have gained confidence that the yeasts on the grapes or floating around the winery will do the job just fine. Wild yeast ferments may proceed more slowly and occasionally stop before all of the sugar is consumed. Both issues can be managed.

“All our Pinot Noir is wild-fermented,” John says. “All our Syrah and some of the Cabernet Franc is wild-fermented. The reds have been far easier to ferment to dryness than this Riesling.”

The reason for this, he speculates, is that reds are fermented on skins with a resident yeast population. Whites are pressed off the skins before fermentation, separating them from some of the natural yeast on the skins.

“They also go dry,” he says of the whites, although fermentation is slower. “I am not saying this is a problem. It is a slow process because you have to baby it.”

The Orofino wines, almost without exception, now carry the designation of the vineyard that produced the grapes. This adds an element of interest to collectors. If, for example, you buy all the Rieslings released from a vintage, you have a vertical. The wines can be compared and appreciated for what each vineyard delivers.

Or you can buy the same single vineyard each vintage and develop a vertical that way. I might suggest buying and cellaring the winery’s Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon, for several reasons.

The grapes are from a two-and-a-half-acre rocky vineyard wedged against a mountain where the vines get a lot of sun. John thinks it may be the best Cabernet Sauvignon site in Canada. The rest of the site is still planted to apple trees.

Last year, the orchard and the vineyard were both sold to an orchardist. He plans to refresh the apple varieties and, to John’s surprise, suggested the Cabernet vines might also be replaced with fruit trees. The Webers quickly concluded an arrangement to farm the vineyard at least for the next two vineyards, and hopefully beyond that.

So, jump on the Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon as long as it is available.

Here are notes on the wines.  

Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($22). This dry wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime with a backbone of minerals. The racy acidity gives the wine a bright and refreshing finish. Notes of petrol have begun to develop, telegraphing the complexity that will emerge with moderate aging. Here is a hint: the Webers are now drinking the 2006 vintage! 91.

Orofino Scout Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($22). Fermented in stainless steel, this wine has aromas and flavours of green apples and stone fruit with notes of lime. An imperceptible amount of residual sugar balances the acidity. The wine has a lingering dry finish. 91.

Orofino Old Vines Wild Ferment Riesling 2015 ($29). The fruit for this wine is from vine planted in 1989. The wine was fermented and aged in barrels – presumably neutral barrels which left little oak influence in the wine other than its texture. Again, there is some residual sugar that balances the racy acidity. There are flavours of lemon, peach and ripe apple. 90.

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015 ($29). This wine was aged in concrete, giving it a rich and juicy texture. It begins with aromas of black cherry and spiced fruit cake which are echoed on the palate. There is a touch of white pepper on the finish. The wine is sold out. 91.

Orofino Scout Vineyard Syrah 2014 ($29). Aged 20 months in oak, this wine has just been released. It begins with aromas of black cherry and vanilla leading to flavours of plum, fig and black olives. A pinch of pepper punctuates the finish. 92.

Orofino Passion Pit Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($29). This is reminiscent of a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon with the hint of mint on the nose, along with cassis and vanilla. On the concentrated palate, there are flavours of black currant, dark chocolate and black coffee. Twenty months aging in oak barrels contributed to the elegance of the texture. 93.

Orofino Beleza 2013 ($34 for 600 cases). This blend is Cabernet Sauvignon 35%, Merlot 35%, Petit Verdot 20% and Cabernet Franc 10%. Each varietal was aged separately in oak for 20 months before the finished wine was blended. This is Orofino’s flagship red. The aromas of black currant jam, blueberries, spice and vanilla explode from the glass. That dramatic introduction leads to flavours of black currants, blackberry and blueberry. The long ripe tannins still have a little grip, suggesting that the wine will age well. 94.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fort Berens adds Red Gold to its portfolio

Photo: Megan DeVilliers and Danny Hattingh in the Fort Berens cellar

Lillooet-based Fort Berens Estate Winery has added a super-premium Meritage blend called Red Gold to its portfolio.

The first release is from the 2014 vintage. Production was limited to 109 cases, at $45 a bottle, and 48 magnums with original art on the label, at $399.

By the time you read this, Red Gold will be almost certainly be sold out. Production was limited in order to maintain the quality of the winery’s 2014 Meritage, a bread and butter Bordeaux blend with a volume of 1,170 cases.

“The risk as a winery is that you start taking your best barrels out of your blend, you can degrade your Meritage blend,” says Rolf de Bruin, one of the proprietors of Fort Berens. “We did not want to do that. We did a lot of blending trials in order to be sure the Meritage was going to be exceptional because we were using some very good fruit.”
The 2014 vintage was so solid that, even with five “best” barrels set aside for Red Gold, the winery had no difficulty making a first-rate Meritage.
In fact, 2014 was a landmark year for Fort Berens for other reasons as well. That vintage was the first made entirely in the new, well-equipped Lillooet winery and by a new and ambitious young winemaker named Danny Hattingh. And it was Danny who urged making a super-premium red when he saw the quality of the 2014 wines.
The winery already has a premium Chardonnay called White Gold. It was launched in the 2010 vintage when two barrels of Chardonnay were of exceptional quality.
“We had the idea there must also be a Red Gold,” Rolf says, “but we thought the Red Gold would be a Pinot Noir. We have five clones of Pinot Noir. But we were not actively working towards a Red Gold at all until when it came up in the 2014 vintage.” In other words, until Danny proposed the idea.
Danny and his partner, viticulturist Megan DeVilliers, came to Canada 10 years ago from South Africa.
Danny received his enology degree at the renowned Elsenburg Institute in Capetown. He met Megan at university where she was studying law. She began helping him on his practicums and that triggered her to switch to viticulture and pomology.

They first came to Canada as vacationing students to visit Danny’s stepfather, a doctor in Dawson Creek. Attracted to Canada, they returned in late 2007 and checked out wineries across the country.  They send résumés to numerous wineries, especially in British Columbia, and were snapped up by Saturna Island Vineyards in the summer of 2008. After turning the winery around, they left in 2010 to travel.

Returned in 2012 from their travels, the couple headed for the Okanagan. Megan took a variety of viticultural assignments while Danny became the winemaker for two Summerland wineries, Saxon Winery and Sage Hills Winery.

They moved to Fort Berens in 2014.  “We are both ready for this next adventure and to begin exploring Lillooet,” Megan said at the time. “Geologically, this area is very different from other areas where we have worked, yet the climate is very similar. We are excited to work in this new area and to see what we can create in this unique geographical pocket.”

Danny was given a comparatively free hand in the Fort Berens cellar. He began a series of winemaking trials that fall in order to understand the various terroirs from the winery buys grapes. Fort Berens supplements the production of its 20-acre Lillooet vineyard with grapes from Okanagan and Similkameen vineyards.
One of his more interesting trials that fall was air-drying some of the estate vineyard’s Cabernet Franc grapes (in a nearby hop-drying shed). After six weeks, evaporation reduced the weight 30% while concentrating sugar, flavour and acidity. The grapes were then barrel fermented (there was just one barrel). This technique of making ripasso-style wine is traditional in the production of Amarone and Valpolicella wines in Italy. Only a few B.C. wineries have made wine with partially air-dried grapes.
 In 2015 the ripasso-style Cabernet Franc was one of five barrels blended to produce Red Gold. The blend also includes a barrel each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the estate vineyard, a barrel of Merlot from Blind Creek vineyard in the Similkameen and a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon from a grower in Osoyoos, Roger Pires.
 “In 2015, we made a Red Gold again, about 20% ripasso-style Cabernet Franc in the blend,” Rolf says. “Stylistically, I love that the 2014 Red Gold is not overpowering or overbearingly big. It still has elegance and delicacy. That is always the style we have been looking for. With my European background, the wines need to be restrained in their expression.”

A significant premium had to be charged for the 48 magnums because of the packaging.  The winery commissioned label art from a Lillooet artist named William Matthews, choosing an image of a sunrise over the Fraser River Valley. While the basic design of the labels is similar, the artist added an individual touch to each canvass.

Yes, canvass is correct. The over-size labels, numbered and signed by the artist, are painted on canvass and can be removed from the bottles for framing.

“Good art and good wine require contemplation,” Rolf says philosophically. “The art on the label slows things down before you pop open the cork. The art needs a bit of time for someone to properly evaluate. Doing something like that on a bottle also creates a bit of a platform for when the cork is actually pulled and the wine is poured. There is this multi-sensory evaluation that starts with the art and then goes beyond. That moment of contemplation is something we all need. Nor every day, but once in a while, it is good to slow down and reflect and contemplate. What better way to do that but with art and wine.”

A week after the Red Gold release, all but 13 of the magnums had been sold. Rolf has yet to decided whether some of the 2015 will also be bottled in magnums.

“It is so much work,” he sighs. “Ultimately it is a very expensive project. A sizeable chunk of the $399 goes to the artist. But there is a market for it. I thought people would just buy one magnum. I have seen people buying six or 10. They use it for gifts and other things that I did not anticipate.”

Here are notes on Red Gold and the other recent releases from Fort Berens.

Fort Berens Red Gold 2014 ($44.90).   The wine begins with generous aromas of cassis and black cherry, which lead to flavours of black cherry, blackberry, figs and olives. The wine is full-bodied but the long ripe tannins give it a silky texture. It is exquisitely elegant. 93.

Fort Berens Meritage 2014 ($23.99 for 1.170 cases). The blend is 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It begins with aromas of vanilla, cherry and red currant and has flavours of cherry mingled with hints of chocolate. It is juicy and lush with soft, ripe tannins. 91.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24.99 for 1,045 cases). The wine is made primarily with estate-grown grapes with a modest amount of Okanagan fruit in the blend. The wine is bright and bramble, with aromas of cherries and blackberries. Those fruits are echoed on the palate, mingled with cola flavours. 88.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2014 ($25.99 for 672 cases). This wine is made with five clones of Pinot Noir, all grown in the winery’s Lillooet vineyard. The aromas are fruity with a hint of spice and forest floor. The palate is lively with flavours of raspberry and cherry. The texture is silky and ethereal. 88.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adolf Kruger remembered


Photo: Wild Goose founder Adolf Kruger

In another sad week in British Columbia’s wine country, Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery announced the death on November 20, 2016, of its founder, Adolf Kruger.
He was one of the most influential pioneers of the British Columbia wine industry, which now has more than 300 wineries. Wild Goose was just the 18th winery when it was licensed in 1990. A government official said he would be lucky to sell 2,000 bottles a year. Wild Goose now makes and sells about 11,000 cases a year. The winery has won more Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Wine than any other Okanagan winery.
Adolf has been honoured by the industry with, among other accolades, the Founder’s Award in 2006. A modest man (with no reason to be modest), Adolf was literally speechless when the award was presented.
I got to know him during numerous interviews and tastings at the winery. In latter years, that always involved a lunch with Adolf and his two sons in the kitchen of the family home. As his wife, Susanna, laid out cold cuts and freshly-baked buns, the Kruger men matched each other with highly entertaining wine industry commentary.
The lunches ended after Susanna, who had as sharp a wit as her men, died in 2014. Those who came to know Susanna and Adolf experienced a very special couple. I expect the winery will be jammed on the afternoon of December 3 for an open house to remember Adolf.

Here is a long except from my 1994 book, The Wineries of British Columbia. The profile includes much detail on Adolf and his family. Hagen Kruger is now the winemaker, as is son, Nik. Roland handles wine sales.

Adolf Kruger was born in 1931 in Kehrberg, a German village southwest of Berlin; his wife, Susanna, is from a German-speaking enclave in Rumania. A compact but muscular man, Adolf was raised on a farm far distant from wine country. "It was strictly potatoes, asparagus and rye," he says.

In 1949 the entire Kruger family fled the communist regime of East Germany and spent a year as refugees in West Germany. Adolf and a brother came to Canada to work on a wheat farm near Winnipeg for the 1951 harvest. Once the harvest was completed, they headed for the city. It was here that Adolf completed the high school he had missed in Germany and, after spending two years in university, became an electrical designer. Susanna had emigrated to Winnipeg independently in 1951, where she worked as a seamstress and met Adolf.

In his spare time, Adolf began designing yachts, a passion that led the Krugers to move to Vancouver in 1964. He designed boats for others and eventually built his own twenty-four-foot sailboat, later sold because Susanna proved to be, in Adolf's phrase, "a whiteknuckle sailor." In Vancouver Adolf worked for Wright Engineers Ltd. an engineering consulting firm, in a drafting design job that involved several exotic overseas assignments, including more than a year in Syria and Iran on a pipeline construction project. When the engineering firm reduced staff during the 1982 business recession, Kruger was loaned to another consulting firm. Apprehensive about this temporary arrangement, he began looking for a career change.

He found it that fall while visiting a friend, grape grower Nick Brodersen, who has a vineyard near Kaleden. In February 1983 Adolf bought his own property south of Okanagan Falls. "It was a terrible place, nothing but sagebrush and cut-down trees and an old gravel pit," he says. "Even though it was a terrible piece of land, the price was right." As he feared, his engineering design job was eliminated in January 1984. By March the Krugers were pounding in the posts to support the vines they began planting that spring.

Wild Goose has been a family business from the start because Adolf invited his sons, Hagen and Roland, to join him as partners. Hagen, born in 1960, had become a draughtsman (and still works in that trade), while Roland, born in 1964, worked as an electronics technician until he joined his father full-time at the winery. One result of the partnership is that the Wild Goose wine shop is always manned by some member of the family, usually either Susanna or Hagen's wife, Kerry. "People really enjoy going into farm wineries and being able to talk to the owners," Roland believes.

One day after closing the purchase, Adolf Kruger went to take a closer look at the barren tract on which he was hanging his future. Noticing a path, he followed it to a small clearing, completely surprising a large flock of geese feeding there. "They literally exploded, frantically trying to get out of this clearing," Kruger recalls. He ducked and shielded his head against panicking, low-flying geese. "It struck me as an omen," says Kruger, an avid and experienced fowl hunter. He decided: "If I ever get a vineyard here, I'll call it Wild Goose." He thinks that the name gets across the message that he makes Canadian wines. Adolf Kruger is a patient and pleasant man, but he bristles when someone suggests he is making wines on a German model.
When the Krugers canvassed the wineries on what to plant, they were routinely told to plant hybrids. "A lot of people were mentioning Foch and Chelois," Roland recalls. "But being originally from Europe, he had ideas of putting in European varieties."
Adolf knew which grapes make the best wines, for he had been a keen amateur vintner in Vancouver, one of the most serious of the winemakers in his hobby circle. They were all using vinifera grapes from California Kruger's favourite reds were made by blending equal quantities of Zinfandel and Alicante — and he decided his ten-acre vineyard would be planted entirely to vinifera. With white wines then in vogue, he planted only white varieties, Gewürztraminer and Johannisberg Riesling, and, not then planning his own winery, contracted the grapes to Mission Hill winery. The Krugers believed that their soil, with its rocks, clay and sand on a southern exposure, was particularly good for Riesling.
The natural progression from grape growing is to winemaking, Roland observes. The idea had been planted during a family vacation to Washington's Yakima Valley, which is dotted with small family-owned wineries. Something else also nudged the Krugers: the rising concern among the growers that the coming free trade era would cripple commercial wineries in British Columbia, who would then try to survive by offering low prices for grapes.

"The last thing we wanted," Roland says, "was to be stuck with ten acres of grapes and to be offered $200 to $500 a ton. So we independently began lobbying the government, writing letters, talking to individuals, and this went on for two or three years." Eventually, they learned that two other small growers were doing the same thing. It was not until a 1988 meeting in Penticton with government bureaucrats that the Krugers actually met Günther Lang and Vera Klokocka, who had also been pestering the politicians for licences.

One of the government officials, fed up with being pressured, asked the three growers just what they wanted. Backed by his colleagues, Adolf Kruger spent half an hour sketching out what became the parameters for farmgate wineries. 

Shortly thereafter, Premier Bill Vander Zalm took a personal interest and, as Roland says, "it wasn't too long after that that we had the guidelines for small wineries." Adolf Kruger prefers to give the credit to a presentation made to Vander Zalm by two other growers, Terry Wells and Alan Brock. He is convinced that if Vander Zalm had not gone to bat personally for the farmgate winery concept, it might never have emerged from the bureaucracy.

With his memory for anecdotes, Roland recalls vividly the date when the Krugers received the coveted licence: June 11, 1990. It was a nasty, cold day, pelting with rain — and a customer showed up at the door to buy wine. "He came in and loved the wines," Roland recalls. So did subsequent customers. "We are a bit stunned by our success — it exceeded our expectations," Adolf says.

However, that understates how tough it was at first. There was a concern among consumers and restaurateurs that the quality of farmgate wines would seldom be better than that of homemade wines, especially since several estate wineries earlier had come to market initially with disappointing products. 

The Krugers, like the other farm wineries, had to hand-sell wines, persuading buyers one at a time. With no wines listed in the liquor stores, the personable and easy-going Roland Kruger took to the road, selling restaurants and convincing private stores to carry Wild Goose wines. "In the Vancouver area, I set up a network of beer and wine stores to handle our products," he says. "It was a selling job . . . but now they help us push our products."

The various impractical regulations imposed on farmgate wineries have not made his job any easier. For example, farmgate wineries are not supposed to warehouse their wines off the winery premise itself and they must be paid immediately for the wines they deliver.

The Krugers have invested carefully and modestly in equipment, buying it — Roland calls it scrounging — around British Columbia, from the Pacific Northwest and from Germany. The winery's horizontal basket press was designed and built by Adolf. Recently, the Krugers have begun to invest in American and French oak barrels for aging their reds, Adolf being a particular fan of big reds. "I don't care for oaked whites," he says. "I like a rather fresh or fruity white wine. But I do prefer to age reds in oak." In 1994, when the winery was enlarged and a spacious tasting room added, Wild Goose released its first Pinot noir and made its first Merlot.

"Our goal in the first couple of years was to produce clean wines, wines with no faults," Roland says modestly.