Friday, October 17, 2014

A trio from Therapy Vineyards



Photo: Therapy winemaker Steve Latchford


A trio of wines has just been released by Naramata’s Therapy Vineyards includes, as usual, winemaker Steve Latchford’s excellent winemaking notes.

There is detail here not often revealed by other winemakers. I don’t think it is that most winemakers want to keep secrets, but merely that consumers and wine reviewers would not understand some of the technical details.

Example: the Pinot Noir was fermented with “R2, Alpha and Indigenous yeast strains” and the malolactic fermentation was started with “SB3 Instant”.

Among winemakers, those details are important. The various properties of different yeast strains can have a profound impact on the aroma and the flavour of the wine. The choices are incredibly complex. Just google Scott Laboratories and look through the near infinite list of yeasts.

I take a lot of comfort, however, from the fact that Steve provides this esoteric information. It tells me he has a good handle on what he is doing in the winery.

Let me reproduce the biography of him from the Therapy web site:

Steven Latchford was born in Ontario’s Prince Edward County in 1982, His work ethic was developed early on by working in the dairy industry  and moving onto graphic arts and design.  The wine industry allows Steve to still use his agriculture background by growing grapes and his artistic side by crafting unique wine blends.

He started in the wine industry at the tender age of 18 when he enrolled at Niagara College Teaching Winery. Unable to legally drink at the time Steve patiently waited to finish his sensory classes when he was 19.

Graduating in 2004 from the program Steve had already found winemaking, viticulture and sales employment from Vincor International in 2001 at Jackson Triggs. He also helped produce the first vintage of Le Clos Jordanne  organic wines with Thomas Bachelor which were made at Jackson Triggs and worked along side Gerald Klose in Vincor’s sprawling vineyards for 2 summers helping foster the grape growing. Allowing him to watch the process from vineyard to winery to bottle.

Working closely under Tom Seaver  and Kristine Casey at Jackson Triggs Steve was able to build a foundation of winemaking knowledge and find his passion for oenology. Marco Piccoli took over as head winemaker at Jackson Triggs  in 2005 and helped shepherd  Steve’s creativity in Icewine  and sparkling production.  Steve and Marco are still close friends and stay in contact regularly.

After leaving Niagara and Vincor in the summer of 2007 Steve was looking for a new challenge and found himself in the Okanagan Valley. Tasting his way through almost every winery in the valley, Steve ended up finding a home in August 2007 at Naramata’s Holman Lang group of wineries. He spent 14 months working closely with Bernhard Schirrmeister before being recruited to work at Therapy Vineyards.

Since starting at Therapy Vineyards in 2009 Steve has been able to create wines that stayed true to Therapy’s original wine style as well as fostering in new labels including Bi-Polar Icewine, Fizzio-Therapy sparkling and a very highly successful Artist Series Riesling.

Still being under 35 years of age has allowed Steve some different insight into the winemaking process and allows himself plenty of room for playing with blends, fermenting trials and production techniques. Steve looks forward to furthering Therapy’s brand into the future and producing many more highly awarded wines.

Here are notes on the trio of releases.

Therapy Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013 ($19.99 for 217 cases). Cool fermentation retained superbly aromatic aromas in this wine, including green apple and lime, leading to flavours of citrus and pear. The wine has good weight on the palate, with lingering fruit flavours on the persistent finish. There is a crisp mineral note on the finish. It is drinking well now but I agree with the winemaker’s suggestion that this might be aged a few years. There is a good argument that we drink our Pinot Gris wines too young. 89-90.

Therapy  Vineyards Freudian Sip 2013 ($17.99 for 1,100 cases). This is a blend of 43% Pinot Gris, 28% Riesling, 15% Sauvignon Blanc and 14% Kerner. The winemaking processes, including several hours of skin contact with a special enzyme, were all designed to capture the aromatics which these four varietals have in abundance. The wine begins with aromas of peach, melon and citrus, leading to flavours of green apple and lime. Good acidity balances the residual sweetness here. The wine has a long but zesty finish. 90.


Therapy Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 ($22.99 for 300 cases). This wine was made with grapes from three different Naramata vineyards, fermented separately and blended later. The fruit was given a five-day cold soak to extract colour and flavour and then fermented for two to three weeks. The wine was aged in a combination of new and used French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, vanilla and cloves. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and raspberry mingled with toasty oak and chocolate. Spicy on the finish, the wine has good concentration with a texture hinting at a future silkiness with more bottle age. 89.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Class of 2014: Hugging Tree Winery





Photo: The Makepeace family (left to right) Walter, Cristine, Brad and Jennifer




The Similkameen Valley’s winery population has grown by one, with the opening last month of Hugging Tree Winery.

A family-owned and operated winery, Hugging Tree is located on the east side of Highway 3. The tasting room is modest but comfortable. The family members who take turns behind the tasting bar create a friendly atmosphere.

One need not limit the conversation to wine. Cristine Makepeace, one of the proprietors, is an enthusiastic organic gardener. She also makes excellent peach jam from the farm’s peaches and sells the jams in the wine shop.

Here is the text of the Hugging Tree profile from the recent edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Walter and Cristine Makepeace moved 13 times during their careers with the RCMP. In 2005, just before Walter retired from the force, they settled down in the south Similkameen Valley, buying a highway-side organic apple and peach orchard near Cawston where they could finally put down roots for themselves and for their three children. Nine years later, the property has blossomed into a family-operated estate winery that includes daughter Jennifer and sons Brad and Wes.

Walter, who was born in Vancouver in 1953, joined the RCMP in 1975. His wife Cristine, whom he had met in high school in Surrey, joined the force soon after. At the time of their retirement, Walter was the staff sergeant in charge of the South Okanagan and Cristine, who joined the RCMP in 1990 (and who had previously run the Keremeos detachment), retired in 2013 as a sergeant posted at the Vancouver headquarters.

Their interest in wine burgeoned after they were posted to Oliver in 1993. Walter says “the bug” was put in his ear by Randy Toor, one of the owners of Desert Hills Estate Winery and then an auxiliary RCMP constable. “He was just getting into grape growing and he said, ‘Walt, you should buy a vineyard’,” Walter remembers. A volunteer spot at a winery during a wine festival motivated him even further. “I worked the till one of the days,” Walter says. “There was a line-up. Everybody was standing there with credit cards and money in their hands and they all had smiles on their faces. I said, ‘I have got to become a part of this’.”

Their search for a vineyard ended when George Hanson, the owner of Seven Stones Winery, directed them to a 24-hectare (60-acre) property located almost across the highway from Seven Stones. Half of the property was orchard; the other half was raw land. (A pair of entangled willow trees on the lawn inspired the winery’s name.) Walter planted grapes on the second half in 2007 and 2008 and now has an eight-hectare (20-acre) vineyard, all of it in Bordeaux reds except for a modest block of Viognier. Syrah planted unsuccessfully on another four hectares (10 acres) was removed, making room for a white varietal in future, as well as for a winery cellar.

Walter contracted Serendipity Winery to make the wines in 2011 (50 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon) and in 2012 (1,400 cases). Both Walter and Brad, his son, have taken viticulture and winemaking courses at Okanagan College. Brad is the emerging winemaker, a career choice flowing from the family’s roots decision. Brad was a professional snowboarder, rock musician and bartender in Whistler until he decided to move to the farm. “I wanted to support my dad’s dreams,” Brad says. “And when I spent time here, I got addicted to the lifestyle and the valley and the beauty.”

Hugging Tree Winery
1002 Highway 3
Cawston BC
T 250.499.2201

To expand on that, Hugging Tree’s consulting wine maker is Richard Kanazawa who, until recently, was the winemaker at Serendipity. Richard has his own label, Kanazawa Wines, now based on a Naramata vineyard.

Because Hugging Tree will not have a press of its own until next season, the 2014 crush will be done by Richard and Brad at Synchromesh Wines in Okanagan Falls.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Hugging Tree Viognier 2013 ($17 for about 275 cases). A delicious wine, it has aromas of tropical fruits that jump from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, green apple and apricot. Bright acidity gives this wine a tangy, refreshing finish. 90.

Hugging Tree Rosé 2013 ($18 for about 330 cases). This made with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon juice. The wine has aromas of strawberry and candy apple, leading to strawberry flavours and a crisp, dry finish. 90.

Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2012 ($21 for about 500 cases). The name is an obscure astrological reference with special meaning to the Makepeace family. The rest of us need only enjoy the wine which begins with a touch of vanilla, oak and black currant on the nose. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants and blueberries. The ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 89.

Hugging Tree Telltale 2012 ($25 for about 600 cases). This is 48% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc. This is a well-made Meritage from a strong vintage. It begins with aromas of blackberry and cassis. On the generous palate, there are flavours of black current, blackberry, raspberry, with a touch of vanilla and chocolate. With a firm (but not hard) texture, this wine is three to four years away from peaking. 90-92.


Hugging Tree Vista 2012 ($35 for 75 cases). This is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Syrah. It is a wine with considerable intensity. It begins with aromas of pomegranate and black cherry mingled with the meaty notes of rare steak. On the palate, there are flavours of pomegranate, black cherry and black currant. The texture is firm and the wine should be cellared for a few years. 90 - 91.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Class of 2014: SOAHC Estate Wines






Photo: SOAHC's Kim McLaughlin and Jamie Fochuk, with the next generation. Courtesy SOAHC Estate Wines

SOAHC is the first winery in British Columbia to be biodynamic from its inception.

Proprietor Jamie Fochuk, in developing the vineyard at Fruitvale (southeast of Trail), tapped the expertise of two French consultants: Philippe Armenier, a biodynamic farming consultant, and Alain Sutre, a Bordeaux winemaking consultant. The mineral spine in the winery’s debut releases, as well as the winemaking, reflects that expertise.

Here is the profile of the winery from my recently published John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Let’s clear up the name first: it is nothing more than “chaos” spelled backwards. Proprietor Jamie Fochuk explains that it is an allusion to the biodynamic viticultural practices in his vineyard.

Born in Edmonton in 1973, Jamie grew up in a farming family. After a post high school stint on the ski hills at Lake Louise, he decided to get “a real job,” and moved to Ontario wine country (his father was living in St. Catherines). When a basic viticulture course at the University of Guelph revealed an aptitude for grape growing, Jamie found a job in 1996 with Klaus Reif, a leading Niagara vintner.

Eventually, Jamie was torn between a desire to continue studies at Brock University, where he was doing well, or moving to the Okanagan. The practical-minded Klaus advised that “you will learn more behind a press than at school” and recommended him to Harry McWatters. Jamie immersed himself in viticulture at a succession of Okanagan wineries including Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards, Stag’s Hollow Winery and Black Hills Estate Winery.

He began his search for suitable vineyard land with several years of climate study. A property near Fairview Cellars was appealing but too expensive. Then his research led him to the Columbia Valley southeast of Trail. The Columbia Gardens Vineyard had opened here in 2001, giving credibility to growing grapes in the valley. In 2006, Jamie and his partner, Kim McLaughlin, bought a nearby hillside property with excellent climate and soil properties. Detailed soil analysis revealed, as Jamie expected, no negative impact from the Trail refinery. “I know that giant molecules of heavy metals can’t float in the air,” he says. “We are a long way away. The one question would be the Columbia River, but our water comes off the mountains.”

After clearing the trees and making biodynamic amendments to the soil, Jamie in 2010 planted Chardonnay and Riesling on the vineyard’s 2.7 hectare (6.7 acre) lower terrace. He followed that by planting Pinot Noir, Gamay and Siegerrebe on the 4.85 hectare (12 acre) middle terrace. A three hectare upper terrace remains to be planted. In his planting decisions, he has taken advice from Alain Sutre, the Bordeaux consultant who works with leading Okanagan wineries.

With no farm building yet converted to a winery, Jamie began making his wines at the Synchromesh Winery in Okanagan Falls, producing about 30 cases in 2012 and 400 cases in 2013. When a winery opens here, Jamie says the tasting room likely will resemble the original Black Hills wine shop – a plank across two barrels.

SOAHC Estate Winery
392 Columbia Gardens Road
Fruitvale BC V1R 4W6
T 250.367.7594

Here are notes on the two wines just released.

SOAHC Riesling 2013 ($23.50). Here is a tingling Riesling with laser focussed acidity and 9.5% alcohol. The wine starts with aromas of lemon and herbs and delivers flavours of lime, green apples and herbs with a backbone of minerals. This wine really should be cellared for another two to three years to let the acidity settle down and to allow the nascent complexity emerge. 88.



SOAHC Chardonnay 2013 ($26.50). This wine begins with good aromas of citrus and green apples subtly supported by French oak. On the palate, the wine has the brightness of Chablis, with flavours of grapefruit and apple wrapped around a spine of minerals. 89.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Poplar Grove/Monster Vineyards strategy for quality






Photo: Poplar Grove's Tony Holler

Founded in 1993, Poplar Grove was still a boutique winery in 2007 when Tony Holler acquired majority ownership from founder Ian Sutherland.

Born in Summerland, Tony had already succeeded as a doctor and pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He had bigger ambitions in the wine industry and more resources to invest than his partner.

“I wasn’t that interested in having a tiny boutique winery,” Tony told me in an interview a few years ago. “I wanted to really develop a winery that was a sustainable business. What I mean by sustainable is that this business could become a family business that might go through generations of our family. In order to do that, you have to have a certain size.”

Since then, two new wineries have been built: the Poplar Grove winery still retains the boutique size and image while the nearby Monster Vineyards winery has the capacity to produce and cellar most of the wines for both labels. The capacity is 25,000 cases. With the space available at the Monster facility, the premium Poplar Grove reds now have the luxury of two years, or so, in barrel and another two years in bottle before being released. That is one reason for the noticeable rise in the complexity and quality of those reds in recent years.

The other reason, and a more fundamental one, is that Poplar Grove gets almost all of its grapes from vineyards owned by Barbara Holler, Tony’s wife.

 “When we looked at what we needed to make high end wines, one of the things that Ian Sutherland brought up was that he was buying a lot of fruit,” Tony says of his winery planning with Ian in 2007. “That was really going to be an issue. If we were going to develop a 25,000-case winery, and we are buying all the fruit, I don’t believe we can get the quality that is needed. So my wife, Barb, and I decided we have to become an estate winery. We have to control all our own fruit; we need to plant our own vineyards. That was why we ended up buying the roughly 100 acres, half here on the Naramata Bench and half on the Osoyoos East Bench.”

The Monster label, which was created several years ago, enables winemakers Stefan Arnason and Nadine Allander to keep a clear distinction in style and quality between Poplar Grove’s premium wines and Monster’s fruit-forward, easy-drinking wines.

“You can dilute those top brands by having wines that I would say are not at that level,” Tony says. “We decided [Monster] will be fun wines that people can enjoy on a patio in the afternoon.”

Monster has certainly won enough awards to prove that these are also very well made wines. The latest releases have the double appeal of being tasty and affordable.

Here are notes.

Monster Vineyards White Knuckle 2013 ($17.90). This is a blend of 50% Riesling, 24% Chardonnay, 21% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of peaches, apples and citrus. On the palate there are gobs of tropical fruit, with flavours of lychee, tangerine, and apricot. The texture is juicy, with bright acidity nicely balanced with a trace of sweetness. I am not sure why it is called White Knuckle because there is nothing scary at all about quaffing it happily. 88.

 Monster Vineyards Skinny Dip 2013 ($19.90). This is 90% Chardonnay, 10% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of ripe apple and ripe pears, with a hint of honey and lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of apples and grapefruit. The texture is generous but the finish is dry; and that results from superb winemaking. The technical note shows the wine has 10.5 grams of residual sugar. One might expect a sweet finish but the bright acidity leaves the wine crisp and refreshing. 89.

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2013 ($21.90). This is a bright and fresh Chardonnay, beginning with aromas of apples and honeydew melon. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and nectarine with a subtle toasty hint of French oak. The subtlety came from the winemaking decision to put 14% of this wine in new French barriques, and just for three months. The rest aged in stainless steel; malolactic fermentation was discouraged so that the lively fruit flavours could be preserved. The texture is ever so lightly creamy. This is quite an appealing wine. 90.

Poplar Grove Viognier 2013 ($24.90). This wine is available only in the winery’s tasting room and to those fortunate enough to have joined the wine club. It begins with lovely aromas of orange blossoms and fresh apricots. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and peach with a touch of ripe pineapple. The texture is rich with the classic spine of minerality this variety displays. The fruit flavours are exceptionally pure and intense, with a refreshing brightness reflecting good acidity. 91.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs 2013 ($24.90). There are five varietals in this rosé which was made by the saignée method (bleeding juice from freshly crushed red varieties). This wine is 41% Merlot, 27% Syrah, 25% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a lovely pink watermelon hue (in the style of a Provence rosé).  It begins with aromas of raspberry and strawberry, leading to flavours of raspberry and cherry. The wine’s residual sugar gives the flavour a hint of mid-palate sweetness while the bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 90.
   

Monster Vineyards Monster Cabs 2012 ($19.90). This is 37% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 4% Malbec. This is a juicy wine with a wallop of fruit on the palate. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and spice. The long ripe tannins give this wine immediate drinking appeal but there is enough backbone to hold the wine for several years in the cellar. 89.

Monster Vineyards Merlot 2012 ($19.90). This is 92% Merlot with 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black currant, blueberry and cocoa. The palate is generous with flavours of cherry, plum, blueberry and sage. This wine overdelivers for the price. 90.

Monster Vineyards Red Eyed 2012 ($19.90). This is 83% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 6% Syrah and 2% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A minor quibble: the term, Meritage, should not be on the bottle because Syrah is not part of a Meritage blend, even if it almost certainly improves the wine. The wine begins with aromas of dark plum, black cherry and vanilla, with the perfumed note of Malbec. On the palate, the wine has abundant flavours of black cherry and black currant with a hint of cedar and sage on the finish.  90.

Poplar Grove Merlot 2010 ($29.90). How do you make a great wine in a cool vintage? In 2010, Poplar Grove reduced the yield of its total production from a potential to 210 tons to just 80 tons to assure good ripeness. It worked. This Merlot has 14.8% alcohol. There is also 10% Malbec in the blend. It begins with powerful aromas of black currant and vanilla, leading to flavours of black currant, black cherry, cola and chocolate. The ripe tannins give this a concentrated texture. The wine is drinking well now but will age well. 91.


Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2011 ($34.90 for 450 cases). This wine is 85% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Merlot. This is arguably the signature varietal for Poplar Grove. This wine, whose polished texture comes from 21 months barrel aging and 18 months bottle aging, begins with spicy aromas of raspberry and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black and red currant, with hints of black cherry, chocolate and vanilla. An ageable wine, it benefits from decanting if you must drink it now. 92.


Poplar Grove Syrah 2011 ($34.90). There is 4% Viognier in this wine, co-fermented with the Syrah. The wine begins with bold, meaty aromas of deli counter spice, plum and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of spicy black cherry, plum and prune, with lack pepper on the finish. The texture is generous. 91.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Culmina releases its first 2012 wines.




Photo: Gates at Culmina Family Estate Winery

Culmina Family Estate Winery enjoyed two advantages in the 2012 vintage that it did not have in 2011, its first vintage.

The first: 2012 was the riper vintage in the Okanagan. The second: the wines were made in a new and well-equipped winery whereas the 2011 vintage was made in a garage. The debut wines were very good but it is no surprise that the 2012s are better.

Culmina is the winery opened on the Golden Mile Bench by Donald and Elaine Triggs (right) and their daughter, Sara. Development of the 56-acre vineyard began in 2007, a year after Vincor International – where Don was the CEO – was taken over by Constellation Brands.

Retirement did not appeal to him when there was an opportunity, he believed, to start a new winery that might raise the bar for winegrowing in the South Okanagan.

“We are trying to achieve the very best we can from our terroirs and our vineyards,” he says. “We wanted to find a site that could consistently ripen Bordeaux varietals. We knew we needed degree days between 1,550 and 1,580. We looked at five sites from Naramata right down to the Osoyoos border before we picked the site that we are on now.”  The major benches at the Culmina vineyards average about 1,600 degree says while the highest bench, where the winery has Chardonnay, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, is cooler, with Burgundian degree days.

The Triggs family has spared no expense on a vineyard that is expected to deliver superior grapes.

“We are not farming one large vineyard of 56 acres,” Don says. “We are micro-farming 44 individual blocks. We selected the size of the block [to achieve] uniformity of the soil. Our French consultant matched the rootstocks to each specific block, so we can ripen the vines perfectly on each block. We are farming blocks that average 1.2 acres – the largest would be three acres, the smallest is half an acre. Some of the blocks are smaller than the back yard of your house.”

Irrigation is tailored to the blocks. “We are using a very sophisticated vineyard monitoring system, the first in BC, which allows us to monitor soil moisture at five different levels down in the ground,” Don says. “Our vineyard has 108 valves managing 56 acres; so we have a valve for every half acre. It allows us to water each block precisely according to its needs.”

The family’s willingness to spend what it takes for superior results lies behind the name of the Chardonnay: Dilemma.

When Don bought the property, there were Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines that the previous owner had planted in 1993 and 1994. That presented a dilemma: should they keep the old vines, since old vines are supposed to give better quality grapes; or should they replace the varietals with better clones on better rootstock?

“We had the tough decision of ripping out 26 acres of 18 year old vines,” Don says. “We had Cabernet and Merlot from the old vineyard that we compared to those varietals in the new vineyard – new high density plantings of 2,044 vines to the acre. The new plantings of Cabernet and Merlot were just so superior to the old vines that I knew I had to rip them out.”

The Chardonnay vines performed better, producing the grapes for both the 2011 Dilemma and the 2012 Dilemma. But those 20-year-old plantings also will be replaced when the new plantings come into production. However, it is likely that the Dilemma brand will continue for Culmina’s Chardonnay.

Hypothesis also seems to be establishing itself as the proprietary brand for Culmina’s Bordeaux blend.

In February, Culmina released three wines from 2013 as well: a Riesling called Decora; a Grüner Veltliner called Unicus; and a rosé called Saignée. These wines have previously been reviewed and are now sold out, or nearly sold out.

Here are notes on the newly released team of 2012 wines.


Culmina Dilemma 2012 ($28). Some 85% of this spent a year in new French oak barrels; 15% was raised in stainless steel. Burgundian elegance is the model here. The wine begins with toasty aromas of lemon and apple, delivering rich flavours of tangerine subtly touched with notes of the new French oak in which the wine was fermented and aged for 12 months. About 15% was fermented in stainless and only 60% went through malolactic fermentation. As a result, the flavours are crisp and fresh. Delicious now, the wine also will develop more complexity with several more years of aging. 91.



Culmina Hypothesis 2012 ($44). This is 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc. It was aged 16 months in French oak (70% new). The blend here is a significant departure from 2011, which was 40% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012 presents a fuller, juicier arrays of flavours and textures. It has aromas and flavours of spicy black currant, along with red plum and toasted oak. The 16 months this wine spent in French oak (70% new) has polished the ripe tannins. The finish is elegant and persistent. The winery estimates the aging potential is five to 10 years. 92-94.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Langley's Chaberton Estate Winery rebrands - slightly





Photo: Chaberton winemaker Barbara Hall

A harvest of spectacular quality is underway in the largest and oldest Fraser Valley vineyard – the 40 plus acres behind Chaberton Estate Winery south of Langley.

The vineyard was planted in 1982 by Claude and Inge Violet. They planted only early-ripening white varietals like Siegerrebe, Madeleine Angevine  and Madeleine Sylvaner, all suited to this cool terroir. The winery’s red varietals have always come from sun-bathed vineyards in the south Okanagan.

The Violets emigrated from France in 1979. When they opened the winery in 1991, they named it Domaine de Chaberton for the farm that Claude (who had been a wine grower and wine merchant) had owned in France.

The winery was purchased in 2004 by Vancouver lawyer Eugene Kwan and Hong Kong businessman Anthony Cheng. With the wines released within the past year, they quietly dropped “Domaine de” from the labels.

Retaining Chaberton indicates that the owners value continuity in a brand that sells about 40,000 cases a year. They also have maintained the bistro started by the Violets. This is one of the most popular and best country restaurants in the Fraser Valley.

However, Eugene and Anthony have also made some key changes, including the hiring in 2011 of Barbara Hall, a rising star among Okanagan winemakers. Dr. Elias Phiniotis, the consulting winemaker here since 1990, continues to offer some consulting services but Barbara was promoted to chief winemaker in 2013.

Born in Ontario, she acquired her passion for wine as a sommelier in Whistler. “I would go home after serving wine at Araxi’s,” she recalls “and I would research the wines that I had just sold: where they were from, areas where they were grown, everything that I could get to know about them.”

To learn winemaking, she moved to the Okanagan in 2002. She enrolled in studies at Okanagan University College, subsequently transferring to the University of British Columba for a degree in biochemistry. She supported her studies with a succession of jobs in the wine industry. That including vineyard work at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, sorting table work during the crush at Mission Hill and retail work at Discover Wines, a VQA store in Kelowna.

In 2006, she went back to Quails’ Gate where Grant Stanley, the winemaker then, put her to work in the laboratory. He also assigned her to participate in a research project on wild yeast strains in Pinot Noir fermentation. The work, which helped her graduate, has been continued by several Okanagan winemakers and by academics at UBC Okanagan.

“One of the reasons I went to university to become a winemaker is I saw what kind of a winemaker I wanted to be and I knew that would require a science degree,” Barbara says. “With biochemistry, I understand a plant’s needs to survive and produce seeds; I see a fermenting yeast’s needs to stay alive. We are putting them under conditions they are not used to. I see things metabolically rather than just chemically sometimes.”

After graduating in 2009, she worked the crush that year at Red Rooster Winery, took time off to go to Chile and came back to the Okanagan. While working at Volcanic Hills, she learned that a winemaking job was open at Chaberton.

“When I came for my interview, I first went to the wine shop to try the wine,” Barbara says. “I did not want to work at a place where I didn’t like the wines. I tasted some of the wines. At that time, they had the 2006 Canoe Cove Shiraz on the shelf. I recognized there was an international palate behind the wine. It stood out.”

Her interview with Anthony Cheng led to a six-month contract that evolved to a permanent post. Shortly after, Anthony involved her in a blending project for a premium red modelled on Cheval Blanc, his favourite Bordeaux red. Those limited wines, all from the 2008, have since been released under the AC label.

“2008 was a fantastic year,” Barbara says. “We will work toward making AC wines from newer vintages. For wines like that, you have to organize your barrel program and source the fruit for it. That is just part of the journey. It is good that something like that has started to emerge after eight years” [under the new owners].

Chaberton is not the most modern of wineries but Barbara, after 10 years of “crawling around vineyards,” has never been happier.

“I think you have to have a sense of pride in what you do,” she says. “It was really important when I got here and I saw that sense of pride of everyone that was working here; and a sense of family among everyone working here.”

Here are notes on her wines.

Chaberton Siegerrebe Reserve 2013 ($17.95). This may be the first time I have seen this varietal released as a “reserve” – which speaks volumes for the care that winemaker Barbara Hall gives to the estate-grown grapes. This wine shows the typical floral and spicy aroma of the variety. The wine delivers intense flavours of Muscat raisins, grapefruit and apricot. The slightly off-dry finish gives the wine a rich texture. 90.

Chaberton Dry Bacchus Reserve 2013 ($17.25). Made from Fraser Valley grapes, this is 95% Bacchus with 5% Sémillon to add complexity. The wine has appealing aromas of rose petals, green apples and spice. It is crisply dry on the palate, with intense flavours of grapefruit and apple. 91.

Chaberton Gewürztraminer Reserve 2012 ($17.95). This is 88% Gewürztraminer, 12% Pinot Blanc. The wine has rich aromas of spice and orange peel, leading to a rich palate, with flavours of tangerine, peach and apricot. The slightly off-dry finish adds a honeyed note. 90.  

Chaberton Valley Chardonnay 2012 ($14.95). This is 90% Chardonnay, 10% Viognier. It begins with aromas of pear and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and tangerine. 88.

Chaberton Valley White 2013 ($14.95). This is 50% Madeleine Sylvaner and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine begins with citrus aromas, leading to flavours of lime, honeydew melon and pineapple. The finish is crisply refreshing. This light-bodied white was great with summer salads. 89.

Chaberton Valley Pink 2013 ($14.95). This off-dry wine is 95% Zweigelt and 5% Viognier. Dark in hue, it has aromas that recall bubble gum and strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry, strawberry and cherry candy. 87.

Chaberton  Valley Cab 2010 ($15.95). This is 84% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. The spicy blackberry aromas reflect the Cabernet Franc in this blend. The aromas carry through on the palate, with black cherry, brambly and minty flavours, a hint of tobacco and pepper on the finish. This is astonishingly good value. 90.

Chaberton Valley Gamay 2012 ($17.95). There is five percent Merlot added to this Gamay. The wine is full-bodied for a Gamay, with jammy cherry and strawberry flavours and a spicy finish. Give this wine a few minutes on opening – it has a screw cap closure – for the whiff of sulphur to dissipate. 87.

Chaberton Reserve Meritage 2011 ($25.95). This is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot. The wine saw 12 months in French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of black currants, cherries, vanilla and cedar. On the palate, the wine has flavours of spicy red berries. The tannins are ripe but the firm texture suggests cellaring this another year or two. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2011 ($25.95). The wine, which was aged 12 months in French and American oak and which has had the benefit of additional bottle age, has an elegantly silken texture. It begins with aromas of cherries and red liquorice, leading to flavours of cherry and lingonberry with a hint of spice on the finish. 89.

Chaberton Reserve Syrah 2011 ($31). Dark in colour, the wine begins with meaty aromas incorporating red berries and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry crisply wrapped up with notes of black pepper and vanilla on the finish. The texture is medium to full-bodied, with a a long finish. 90.

Chaberton AC 50 2008 ($47.50 for 163 cases but sold out).  The AC series of wines – named for winery owner Andrew Cheng, who assists in blending – all are based on Merlot. This is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with aromas of spice, black cherry and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, vanilla, espresso coffee and dark chocolate.  Prolonged barrel aging has contributed to a firm and ageable tannin structure. 91.

Chaberton AC 70 2008 ($47.50 for 139 cases). This is 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and cassis, leading to flavours of black currant and vanilla with a touch of sage on the finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon has lent a firm, ageworthy texture to the wine. 90.


Chaberton AC 100 2008 ($47.50 for 282 cases). This elegant, full-bodied wine is an excellent expression of Okanagan Merlot. It begins with aromas of black currant and vanilla, leading to flavours of black currant, black cherry and dark chocolate. The ripe tannins give this wine a generous weight and a long finish. 91. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gold Hill adds a Meritage



 Photo: Gold Hill Winery: you can't miss it


There is a house style emerging a Gold Hill, a winery that opened in 2011 not far north of Osoyoos.

The style is unapologetically big and ripe, with flavours that fill the mouth and have such a long finish that you need a stop watch to time it.

It is a style that can be achieved in the south Okanagan, especially in warm vintages like 2012, 2013 and 2014. Gurbachan and Sant Gill, the winery owners, have become adept at growing grapes since 1991, a few years after arriving in the Okanagan from India. They now own 65 acres of vineyard, most of it in the south Okanagan.

Gold Hill was launched in the 2009 vintage. That was another hot season and there was no shortage of ripe grapes for Phil Soo, the consulting winemaker. The Cabernet Franc from that vintage won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence, helping to establish Gold Hill’s profile.

Of course, the gold-hued winery beside the highway also helps the profile with those wine tourists who turn in.

The current releases include the winery’s first Meritage. Aged 16 months in French oak, this wine aims to be Gold Hill’s entry into the ranks of producers of icon reds.

Those are the wines that consumers buy not just for Saturday’s barbecue but to lay down, and to accumulate several vintages with an eye to vertical tastings in the future. Wines like that signal a growing confidence consumers have in the rising quality of British Columbia wines.

The wines don’t have the longevity (yet) of collectible and expensive Bordeaux reds. However, the reasonably priced British Columbia red icons will age, on average, 10 years. The Gold Hill Meritage is a little softer and I would sample the bottles by their fifth year to see how they are developing. It is always better to drink a wine too young and too old.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Gold Hill Chardonnay 2013 ($20.90). This is a refreshing, unoaked Chardonnay, with appealing aromas of green apples and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of apples and white peach. This delicious wine has a crisp finish. 90.

Gold Hill Viognier 2013 ($21.90). This is a big ripe Viognier with a rich texture and honeyed aromas and flavours of apricot and guava. The alcohol is a warming 14.9% but it is balanced by the abundant fruit on the palate. 90.

Gold Hill Rosé 2013 ($18.90). This dark-hued rosé is mostly Cabernet Franc, with a dash of Pinot Gris. The jewel-box colour comes from fermenting on the skins for two days, a technique that also turbocharged the cherry aromas and the cherry and black currant flavours. A touch of pepper on the finish wraps up this full-bodied rosé. I wonder if the wine is not too full-bodied for a rosé. Why ferment on the skins for two days? Did the winemaker forget to rack off earlier?  87.

Gold Hill Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($19.90) This has big ripe stewed black cherry and vanilla aromas. The wine is juicy on the palate with fig, cherry and blueberry flavours. 87

Gold Hill Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.90). The wine begins with aromas of cherry, raspberry and a touch of oak. On the palate, the flavours begin with spicy cherry; there is even a hint of white pepper. The texture is silky. 89.

Gold Hill  Cabernet Franc 2012 ($26.90). The wine begins with appealing aromas of toasty oak, blackberry and black currant. That leads to flavours of black cherry with a hint of ripe raspberry and pepper on the finish. The tannins are ripe and the finish is satisfying and persistent. 92.

Gold Hill Merlot 2012 ($24.90). Here is another boldly ripe wine (15%) but with long, silky tannins. It begins with aromas of cherry and blackberry. There are flavours of black cherry and vanilla with a hint of tobacco and chocolate on the finish. 90.

Gold Hill Syrah 2012 ($26.90). Dark in colour, this wine begins with classic deli meat aromas, along with spicy black cherry and plum. On the palate, there is a satisfying gob of cherry and plum enlivened by black pepper on the earthy finish. This is a deliciously ripe Okanagan Syrah, with a very long finish. 92.

Gold Hill Meritage Family Reserve 2012 ($34.90). This is 33.3% Merlot, 22.2% Malbec, 22.2% Cabernet Franc and 22.2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine begins with perfumed aromas of cassis and blueberry (that’s the Malbec asserting itself). The wine needs to be decanted to let the berry flavours and the texture develop. 90.