Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jurgen Gothe: a connoisseur of wine, food and music

Photo: Jurgen Gothe

The death of Jurgen Gothe on April 9, 2015, is such a loss to all of us who experienced his generosity, his erudition and his wonderful personality.

Born in Berlin in 1944, he grew up on the Prairies. When he became bored in high school, he decided he could learn what he needed to know on his own. He dropped out of school and initially, supported himself by selling magazine subscriptions and working in a gas station in Carberry, Manitoba.

Few self-taught individuals have accomplished as much. Blessed with a voice of intimate richness, he started as a broadcaster in private radio. That led to the CBC in 1985 to name him host on Radio Two of a classical music program called DiscDrive. It was on the air nationally five days a week until 2008. Its cancellation was part of the CBC’s unfortunate decision to dump most of its classical music programming.

His refreshing approach, salted with quirky humour, made music accessible to a large audience. In his highly rated three-hour time slot, he programmed not just classical music (I recall him being a particular fan of Mozart) but also jazz and bluegrass and whatever else appealed to his eclectic taste.

I would think that Jurgen will have approved of the CBC’s recent decision to give tenor Ben Heppner a classical music program on Radio Two. Heppner has the same eclectic taste, wit and intellectual curiosity that distinguished DiscDrive over 23 years.

Jurgen and I took up wine writing about the same time, perhaps 35 years ago. We also met frequently at wine tastings and at wine judgings. He had a fine palate. Most recently, he was the wine columnist for the Georgia Straight from 1997 to 2014. His wine reviews were like his radio work: entertaining, accessible and generous.

In the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you that Jurgen reviewed most of my books. The reviews were always positive. While I like to think that is because the books were good, I think it is more that Jurgen just had a positive view on life. I never remember hearing a negative comment from him about anyone.

In 1994, I wrote the first edition of The Wineries of British Columbia. With some temerity, I asked Jurgen to write a foreword. It was one of the best essays in the book.

“Being a wine writer is, in this country at least, still somewhat suspect,” he wrote. “For one thing, there’s all that free wine. ‘Bet you get a lot of good stuff free, eh?’ people nudge-nudge at cocktail parties. The wine writer chokes on his chardonnay. Thanks to the byzantine rules and regs of our ten different-as-can-be provincial bodies of control, thanks to the still-lingering fear that wine may yet be the handiwork of the forces of darkness, the freebies are as scarce as affordable burgundy.

“Now and then we do get some plonk to sample: new versions of the wine equivalent to the K-car; offshore blended cabernet-muscats; generic varieties fashioned into low-alcohol, high-sugar fizzers with a fake French name.”

I am glad that Jurgen experienced the positive changes that were just beginning when that was written. Samples of good wine now arrive with such regularity that every wine writer conscripts friends and neighbours to finish the samples. I am sure Jurgen was no different.

As Jurgen observed then … and it remains true … we don’t write about wine expecting to get rich. “I know most of the wine writers, real and soi-disant, in the land. There isn’t a one of us who makes enough from the fruits of these labours to keep a beach cottage in hydro,” he wrote.

“It’s similar to what musicians tell you. You can’t make a living playing Bach. You can’t make a living writing about wine in Canada. Yet. Or so I like to think.

“For years I was the wine columnist for a hundred-and-something-year-old daily newspaper in these parts. I am too embarrassed to tell you in public what they paid me. But I did get one raise in ten years of never missing a Sunday: six bucks per column! As a sartorially challenged Canadian sports commentator says: you gotta love it!

“And really, there’s the rub. Like John Schreiner, I have been an enthusiast of and periodic apologist for British Columbia wines for what seems to be a lifetime; since long before it was fashionable – or even safe – to do so.

“I recall how upset the winemakers one Okanagan wine festival when we awarded no gold medals. (John Schreiner was one of the judges.) The point was, no wine deserved any that year; boosterism can only go so far. When gold standards were achieved the judges dispensed as much precious metal as they could get their hands on.”

And Jurgen continued for several hundred more words, showering a lot of kindness my way. I blush when I read that the book was “a signpost along the road of an industry still in the making. It’s a position paper telling us where we are at this point in time, what we are doing and who is active in that doing.”

The book led to two other editions and numerous other volumes on B.C. wines. The wines kept getting better and people actually wanted to read about them. I did not need more forewords from Jurgen to bolster the credibility of the books. As Jurgen wrote in 1994: “ We don’t have to apologize anymore.”

He continued in his essay: “There are still people who feel Canada in general and British Columbia in particular cannot produce fine wine. I call them people who have been out of town for a long time. Let them live with their opinions; that leaves all the more for you and me and John Schreiner.”

The foreword turned out to be a rave review.

And Jurgen ended the essay with typical wit. “And no, I didn’t get paid for this,” he wrote. “I’m a wine writer after all.”

He wrote at least three books of which I am aware. There was a 1990 volume called Good Gothe! The Enthusiasms of an Airwave Connoisseur. His 1995 book of recipes, Some Acquired Tastes: A Recipe Album was cited in an academic paper reviewing cookbooks by B.C. authors.

The most recent, I believe, was his 2005 volume of recipes, DiscCookery: The DiscDrive 20th Anniversary Cookbook published by Whitecap. The recipes are, as you would expect from Jurgen, practical and accessible. He even pairs them with wine and with music to listen to while cooking.

You can find them on Amazon and other used book sites.

Amazon says this about the 2005 cookbook: “DiscCookery even includes Gothe's legendary Dinner and Ride Home for Cinderella: a stew of beef, peaches, corn, and vegetables, cooked and served in a pumpkin.”

It has been a favourite around our house for years. Thank you for that, Jurgen, and for everything else.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The zucca melon farm that now is a key CedarCreek vineyard

 Photo: CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker

Even though the winery has been producing since 1986, CedarCreek Estate Winery still had several firsts in its spring release wines this year.

These include Platinum, or reserve quality, single vineyard reds from its Desert Ridge Vineyard, just north of Osoyoos. The property once was a renowned zucca melon farm.

Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek’s founder, decided in 2001 the Kelowna-based winery needed a vineyard well-suited to Bordeaux red varieties. He acquired six hectares that year and an adjoining 3.2 hectares the following year, calling it Desert Ridge Vineyard. Merlot vines from France were planted in 2002. The additional Bordeaux reds varieties --Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec – were planted in 2003.

“This vineyard site has a colourful history in agriculture,” Senator Fitzpatrick once told me. “As recently as 2001, peppers and tomatoes were grown here but in its previous glory days during the 1940s, it was a zucca melon farm.”

This forgotten vegetable, a giant bottle gourd, was a major crop in both the south Okanagan and the Similkameen Valleys for perhaps twenty years before being displaced by orchards and vineyards. The zucca melon belongs to the same vegetable family as cucumbers, squash and zucchini. The seeds, it is believed, came to North America from Sicily, brought by immigrants whose families had cultivated the zucca for years.

It arrived in southern British Columbia about 1938, to be embraced with a passion because the fruit grows as prodigiously as the zucchini but with a big difference: mature zuccas are giants averaging sixty to one hundred pounds each. Neutral in taste, the melon’s flesh is a chameleon assuming whatever flavour is added in the processing. During World War II, the zucca served as the base for simulated strawberry jams and other faux confections. The melon disappeared from cultivation so quickly after 1950 that the Grist Mill at Keremeos could find seeds only in California when it added zucca to its heritage garden in 1990.

Anyone tasting the single vineyard wines from Desert Ridge will be forever grateful that the senator found a higher use for this terroir.

“A single vineyard Meritage from Desert Ridge is a first for us,” CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker explained in a note with the wine samples. “After a decade of maturing in that stony soil that breaks so much of our equipment, our vines have reached the point where they show a character unique to Desert Ridge.”

Continuing, he wrote that the Platinum Merlot is also a single vineyard first. “We have about 150 rows of Merlot in that vineyard, and this wine comes from rows 45-90. There’s something special about these rows that we have tasted consistently each year, so in 2012 we decided to give them their very own label.”

And there is one more first among the current releases: the winery’s first Estate Meritage. The wine’s flavours have been turbocharged by adding 20% Malbec to the blend.

Here are notes on the wines from one of CedarCreek’s best spring releases.

CedarCreek Merlot Cabernet 2012 ($19.95 for 3,976 cases). This wine, which was aged 21 months in French oak, is a complex blend of 61% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec. The winery says the Malbec is a “not-so-little, little thing.” Another premium Okanagan winery refers to Malbec as a secret weapon because of its impact on aromas and flavours. CedarCreek draws attention to the hint of violets in the aroma. I also find chocolate, black cherry and vanilla. The wine delivers flavours of red fruit with a spiciness recalling good fruitcake.  The wine has long ripe tannins. 89.

CedarCreek Meritage 2012 ($21.69 for 1,425 cases). This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine, dark in colour, was aged 18 months in French oak. Once again, the winemaker has given a big role to Malbec in the blend. Aromas of black currant, vanilla and cherry jump from the glass, once again recalling good fruitcake. Firm in structure but with ripe tannins, the wine delivers flavours of  black currant, espresso, dark chocolate on the palate. 90.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay 2013 ($26.09 for 375 cases). The winery takes pains to showcase the mature single blocks in its vineyard that are producing superior grapes. This Chardonnay was fermented slowly (35 days!) with wild yeast. The preserve the pure fruit expression, the wine was fermented
and aged just 10 months in 500-litre oak puncheons. No malolactic fermentation was allowed. The wine begins with toasty aromas (from time in the lees) mingled with hints of tangerine and apple. Those carry through in the flavours. The wine is almost creamy in texture, with a hint of oak on the long finish. This is a lovely and complex Chardonnay. 91.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot 2012 ($34.79 for 550 cases). Aged 20 months in French oak, this is a bold and ripe Merlot. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, liquorice and spicy notes from very good oak. The wine is concentrated on the palate, with flavours of black cherry and black currant. It has ripe but firm tannins, with a structure to support another 10 years in the cellar. Decant the wine for drinking now. 92.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage 2012 ($39.09 for 525 cases). This is 54% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine aged 20 months in French oak. Dramatic aromas of red fruit, tobacco and cedar spring from the glass. Savoury and spicy flavours of red currant, cherry and mulberry seduce the palate. The tannins are ripe and long, with enough firmness to give the wine longevity. 92.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fort Berens releases Lillooet-only wines


 Photo: Fort Berens winery in Lillooet

The release of its 2014 vintage wines is a landmark for Fort Berens Estate Winery: all the wines are from its vineyard in Lillooet.
Fort Berens, of course, is the first and only winery (so far) in Lillooet.  The winery was opened in 2009 by two Dutch immigrants, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek. They established the brand with wines made from Okanagan grapes, and made for the most part in Okanagan wineries.
The 20-acre vineyard was planted in 2009, produced its first crop in 2011 and is now close to full production. Another 20 acres of vines are being, or will be, planted now that the terroir has proven itself. 

The wines are all made at Lillooet now. In the fall of 2013, Fort Berens opened a 9,500 square-foot winery that includes an elegant tasting room. It is safe to say this is the grandest structure in Lillooet. It is situated on the site of an 1850s Hudson’s Bay trading post from which the winery draws its name. 

The winery is marking the release of all-Lillooet grown wines with a six-week long contest. Contestants can enter between April 17 and May 31 at  or on the winery’s Facebook page. There will be weekly draws for winery prize package, leading to a grand prize valued at $1,000. The prize includes a winery dinner for four in the Fort Berens cellar with the winemaker. As well, the winner gets a year’s membership in the Fort Berens wine club. 

For those who can’t make the drive to Lillooet, the Fort Berens wines are widely available in wine shops and restaurants. 

One thing struck me when I read the specifications for these wines. The alcohol content of every wine is significantly more moderate (11% to 12.9%) than those of Okanagan wines. But the wines are not short of flavour. It seems that grapes ripen adequately during Lillooet’s blistering summers. 

Here are notes on the current releases.
Fort Berens Riesling 2014 ($15.99 for 1,145 cases). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and apples, leading to flavours of lime, apples and stone fruits, with a mineral backbone. The wine is exquisitely balanced so that it finishes dry. However, the 18 grams of residual sugar gives a lift both to the flavours and aroma and adds to a lingering finish. There is only 11% alcohol, so the wine is easy to drink. 90. 

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2014 ($15.99 for 1,016 cases). This wine begins with delicate aromas of citrus, apples and spice. The flavours are expressively fruity, with notes of pear and fresh apple. A good spine of minerality adds to the backbone of this dry wine.  Buy a few bottles and let some rest until summer when the flavours and aromas will be even more expressive. 89.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2014 ($17.99 for 966 cases). This wine was bottled a month ago and is not yet released. There is a very good wine here, beginning with subtle aromas of oak, vanilla, coconut and citrus. On the palate there are flavours of citrus and apple, along with a buttery note. The texture is rich, the wine having benefitted from 20% being fermented in barrel. Some 15% spent six months in French oak. The wine has good acidity that will enable this wine to age well, probably peaking in three years. 90. 

Fort Berens White Gold 2013 ($21.90 for 152 cases). This is the name Fort Berens gives to the best of its estate-grown Chardonnay. The wine was fermented and aged in French oak barrels. Only half the wine was allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. The finished blend shows the buttery notes of ML but still has abundant fruit flavours and acidity. The aroma is rich and buttery, with notes of orange peel. On the palate, there are flavours of baked apple, tangerine, nuts and spice. The texture is generous and satisfying, giving way to a long finish. 91.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir Rosé 2014 ($15.99 for 362 cases). The wine gets its lovely salmon pink hue from having had 48 hours skin contact. The wine has aromas of strawberries and raspberries, leading to flavours of raspberry and cranberry. There is an elusive note of earthiness on the crisp finish. The wine is dry. 87-88.

Fort Berens Late Harvest Riesling 2014 ($17.99 for 390 cases of 375 ml bottles). Here is a delight. Aromas of lime, lemon and apricot just roar from the glass, setting you for an explosion of tropical flavours. This wine, with just eight per cent alcohol, has 75.7 grams of residual sweetness but this is nicely balanced with the acidity needed to give the wine a finish that is clean and refreshing. With a year or two of bottle age, the delicate honey notes just hinted at now will develop nicely. 92.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Raised in concrete at Okanagan Crush Pad

 Photo: Concrete egg for fermenting and storing wine

Four years ago, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery was the first in British Columbia to install concrete eggs in its winery as fermentation and storage vessels.

Today, most wines from OCP proclaim on the label that they have been “raised in concrete.”  The winery is totally committed to using concrete. It now has 59,000 litres of concrete cooperage and no barrels – not even the used Opus One barrels employed to make 2012 Syrah.

“We used them for three or four years,” OCP winemaker Matt Dumayne says. “They can still keep going but I don’t need them all. I don’t particularly want them here anymore. Concrete has proved itself, that it can be just as texturally generous, if not more, and expressive of the site and the grape.”

A few other producers have begun to use concrete but none has made such a major commitment to these vessels. This might strike some as a risky departure from tradition. Concrete, however, is as traditional a wine container as you can find.

 “The concept of making wine in concrete is brand new for the last 2,000 years,” said Joe Rosenblatt of Sonoma Cast Stone, the company that made the first seven eggs that OCP bought. “It is an old method of making wine that people are rediscovering.”

It was rediscovered for OCP by Alberto Antonini, the consulting winemaker from Tuscany who has worked with OCP since 2011. He had used concrete previously with other clients and at his family winery in Italy.

“In my experience, concrete is very good if you want to ferment with wild yeast,” he told a news conference when OCP introduced its first egg in 2011. “Wild yeast can find a much nicer environment in concrete than in stainless steel. You have a more even fermentation.”

It took him a while to come to that view. “My father used to have a lot of concrete tanks,” Alberto said. “When I started working with him, I fought with him a lot because I wanted to remove them and replace them with stainless steel, which I did. My father passed away a few years ago but if he could listen to me now, he would say I told you so.”

His objection to concrete arose from unsanitary state of many old Italian wineries. This allowed concrete tanks to nurture spoilage bacteria. That is not an issue in a modern winery with good hygiene. Now, he can argue that concrete is the better environment.

“When you smell an empty concrete tank, you smell life,” he said. “You smell something which is important for making a premium wine. If you do the same with a stainless steel tank, you smell nothing. You smell death. To me, the making of premium wine is about life, it is not about death.”

New Zealand-born winemaker Matt Dumayne (below) who joined OCP two years ago, has a long winemaking résumé. But this is his first time in a winery equipped with concrete eggs and tanks.   

“If you had told me five years ago that I would be making red wine without barrels, but in concrete, I would have thought you were crazy,” he says now. “But the wines speak for themselves.”

Here are notes on current releases from OCP. The Narrative label succeeds the winery’s Bartier & Scholefield label, discontinued with the departure of Michael Bartier to run his own winery.

The prices are the tax-included prices prior to April 1.

Narrative White 2013 ($18.90). This is a blend primarily of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc. The wine is fresh and crisp with flavours of apples and stone fruit, enhanced by the spiciness of the Gewurz. 90.

Narrative Red 2013 ($19.90). This is primarily Gamay Noir with a dash of Syrah. It is a juicy, easy-drinking red with aromas and flavours of cherries. 88.
Lunar New Year White 2013 ($19.90). The wine made only 100 cases of this, a blend of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier. A wine with a fat Alsace texture, it has spicy aromas that jump from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of apples, stone fruit and spice. 88.

Lunar New Year Red 2012 ($21.90 for 100 cases). This is primarily Syrah with a touch of Gamay. It begins with aromas of red fruit and white pepper, leading to flavours of black cherry with a hint of chocolate on the finish. 89.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 ($22.90 for 131 cases). Canyonview is an eight-acre Summerland area from which OCP has been buying premium quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. This wine was fermented slowly in concrete with wild yeast. The wine has a bready aroma that comes from time on the lees. It has flavours of ripe apples and citrus. The wine is complex, with a dry finish. Having said that, I still like some oak on Chardonnay. 89.

Haywire Free Form 2013 ($35.90 for 77 cases). Here is an edgy wine and an example of so-called natural winemaking. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes were destemmed into stainless steel tanks. The wine fermented with native yeasts. In addition to two daily punch-downs during fermentation, the wine remained in contact with the skins for eight months before being pressed. The result is a white wine for red wine drinkers. The lemon colour has a touch of haze (this is an unfiltered wine). The wine presents with a huge texture and with flavours of pineapple, tangerine, even strawberry. It is bone dry. 90.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Wild Ferment 2012 ($29.90 for 200 cases). The estate vineyard is planted entirely with Pinot Gris. That has been left off the label to draw more attention to the terroir. This is an intense and fleshy wine with vivid honeyed and fruity aromas, leading to flavours of pear and apple. 92.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2013 ($22.90 for 971 cases). This is a refreshing wine, with aromas of citrus and pears repeated in the flavours. There is a fine spine of minerality. On the palate, the wine opens with good weight, a textural plus from the concrete. 90.

Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2013 ($24.90 for 136 cases). Fermentation and aging in concrete has added flesh to the texture of this dry rosé. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry and strawberry jam, leading to flavours  of cherry and cranberry. 90-91.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($39.90 for 515 cases). Dark in colour, this wine spent 18 months in concrete but had a few months in barrels beforehand. It begins with aromas of toasty oak and cherry, leading to bright flavours of red berries. 91.

Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 (Not yet released; 500 cases). This is a bright and vibrant wine with aromas of raspberries leading to flavours of raspberry and cherry. Thanks to its concrete aging, the fruit shines with remarkable purity. This is a delicate but pretty wine. 91.

Haywire Syrah 2012 ($24.90 for 312 cases). The grapes for this came from Saddle Ridge Vineyards on Black Sage Road, south of Oliver. The wine was aged on six-year-old barrels, which contributed to the textural feel without adding wood flavours. The wine has aromas of pepper and plum. On the palate, the spicy flavours recall Christmas fruitcake. 90.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hash-Tag This Mother F#cker

It is no secret that several bountiful harvests in the Okanagan and Similkameen have produced a lot of wine.

How do you move it if you are a medium-sized winery?

Church & State Wines hired Vancouver-based Brandever, the design firm run by Bernie Hadley-Beauregard. He has had many home runs since he created the name and the labels for Blasted Church Vineyards in 2002.

He has also created a lot of quirky names. One of those that never made it, thankfully, was Dangling Carrot. The owners of that winery preferred Backyard Vineyards.

Church & State’s new Lost Inhibitions labels are as edgy as they come, which seems to be just what winery owner Kim Pullen was looking for.

“Over the years, we’ve been known to speak our minds openly with consumers, peers and regulators in the wine industry,” Kim said in a statement released with the wines. “We felt it was time that we launched an equivalently mouthy wine that reflects our impassioned style and personality.”

The samples that came my way were a red called I’ve Never Felt More Classy and a white called Kiss Me Stupid.

John Pullen, Church & State’s marketing manager, says there are a number of edgy labels for these wines … perhaps as many as 100. Those bottles with the more racy labels will be found in private wine stores, probably because government stores would not be caught dead with some labels (such as the one in the headline for this blog post).

Provocative labels will sell a bottle once. Repeat sales depend on what is inside the bottle. Church & State has put good wines into these packages.

I suspect these will appeal a critical younger demographic of wine consumers. There are consumers out there who are bored with varietal wines for no good reason except that everybody else was drinking them. Remember the Anything but Chardonnay crowd? Or the lingering negativity toward Merlot after it was slagged in the movie, Sideways?

Perhaps you can pull those consumers in with good blends and far-out labels. We will know whether Brandever has hit another home run when we see patrons in the Cactus Club or Moxey’s enjoying Kiss Me Stupid.

If it really works, consumers will then search out the more staidly labelled wines from Church & State. Here’s a hint: for the next special celebration, get a bottle of Quintessential, a $55 Meritage blend that is one of the best red wines in Canada.

Here are my notes on the wines. Prices are approximate because the government’s new pricing regime is a bit hard to figure out.

Lost Inhibitions Kiss Me Stupid 2014 ($18). This is a blend of 35.18% Viognier, 19.7% Gewürztraminer, 16.83% Sauvignon Blanc, 16.36% Chardonnay, 7.3% Riesling, 3.05% Orange Muscat and 1.58% Roussanne. You know that a winemaker with the patience to make such detailed measurements might also have the patience to make a good blend. This wine begins with aromas of herbs, spices and pears. On the rich palate, there are flavours of ripe apple, pears and apricots. The wine is dry with a lingering finish. 90.

Lost Inhibitions I’ve Never Felt So Classy 2013 ($20 for 3,800 cases). This is 51.7% Merlot, 30.6% Cabernet Franc, 13.6% Malbec and 4.1% Petit Verdot. This is a delicious wine with flavours and aromas of cherry and blackberry, accentuated by hints of toasty oak and pepper. The soft tannins give this wine immediate approachability. 88.    

Sunday, April 5, 2015

50th Parallel ramps up production

 Photo: Winery logo superimposed on a Pinot Noir cluster

Since opening two years ago, 50th Parallel Estate has impressed many critics with its wines.

This Lake Country winery is based on a young vineyard. It did not have a lot of wine to release from the 2011 vintage, its first. The current releases, from 2013 and 2014, show that the winery is ramping up production quickly as the vines mature.

This can be illustrated with the flagship varietal, Pinot Noir. 50th Parallel released 100 cases from 2011, 1,286 cases from 2012 and 2,145 cases from 2013 (along with 195 magnums).

There is a comparable growth progression the other wines, with exception of Chardonnay. That variety was planted only after winemaker Grant Stanley joined the 50th Parallel partnership in 2013. The Chardonnay reviewed here is made with purchased grapes. I don’t know the grower but, judging from how excellent the wine is, I wonder if 50th Parallel might be tempted to keep those grapes in the mix after its own vines are producing.

The winery’s public facilities have grown incrementally with production, from a tasting room that was little more than a plank over two barrels to a large and elegant one opening soon.

Because the winery, near Carr’s Landing, might be perceived as being off the beaten path, the owners of 50th Parallel are developing it as a destination. The 10,000-square-foot winery opened last fall, with tasting facilities being augmented this summer.

The winery’s website includes photographs and details about this facility, which has been designed by a leading Canadian architect. Future plans include food services and event facilities with great views over Okanagan Lake.

The amenities will attract visitors and the wines will keep them coming back.

Here are notes on the current releases.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2014 ($18 for 1,708 cases).
This wine delivers explosions of tropical fruit in both the aroma and the palate. It begins with aromas of lychee, peach and spice, leading to flavours of lychee, honeydew, grapefruit and spice. The perceptible sweetness on the palate makes this a real crowd pleaser, especially as an aperitif. 89.

5oth Parallel Riesling 2014 ($18 for 577 cases).
This wine begins with an appealing aroma of citrus (lime, lemon zest) with a hint
of minerals. The flavours show pristine focus, with notes of lime, lemon, apple and minerals. An exquisite balance of acidity and residual sweetness creates a tangy and refreshing finish. Buy more than one: this wine is too delicious to stop with just one bottle. 91.

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2014 ($19 for 2,260 cases).
The wine begins with alluring aromas of pears, apples and nectarines. It is a luscious fruit bomb on the palate, with flavours of apple, citrus, gooseberry and pear. It has a lingering finish that does not want to quit. Some of the complexity and weight here comes from fermenting 20% of the wine in three-year-old French oak. The other 80% was fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. The wine is delicious now but the winery recommends cellaring it up to five years. 90.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2013 ($32 for 328 cases).
This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in premium French oak barrels. The wine begins with a buttery and spicy aroma of expensive oak (think of cinnamon and apple pie). That translates to a creamy palate, with flavours of hazelnut, marmalade, baked apple and a never-ending finish. This is an elegant and satisfying Chardonnay. 92.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir Rosé 2014 ($18 for 803 cases).
The salmon pink hue, dramatically displayed in a clear bottle with minimal labelling, comes from the 48 hours of cold soaking the juice on the skins after crushing. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and wild strawberry with a hint of Pink Lady apple. This light-bodied rosé has a crisp, dry and food-friendly finish. 88.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2013 ($32 for 2,145 cases and 195 magnums). The wine presents itself with a deep red hue. It has aromas of strawberry and blackberry with a suggested of toast. On the palate, it has flavours of strawberry, cherry, truffles and spice. Aged 12 months in French oak, the wine still has a slightly firm texture, but with hints the silkiness that will develop. This wine is built to cellar and is nowhere near its peak. The winery suggests cellaring up to 10 years. 92.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Siren’s Call sounds at the farmers market

Photo: BC Wine Studio's Mark Simpson

Access to farmers’ markets for British Columbia wineries was one of the better changes in the recent overhaul of the province’s liquor regulations.

Wineries began participating in those markets last fall, offering tastings and selling product. From the reports I have heard, this is generating valuable exposure and sales.

That is not to say it is always operating well. Farmers’ markets in Nanaimo and James Bay on Vancouver Island are not allowing wineries to participate. It seems that the other market participants worry that wine sales will be done at the expense of the sales of other produce. That is an arguable proposition.

Some markets also try segregating the wineries in an area separate from the other producers. Wineries would prefer to mix in with other producers, with visibility to all shoppers. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed into tasting rooms, if only because not many people are up to serious tastings early in the morning when the markets are busy.

Having said that, the access to farm markets is valuable breakthrough that is appreciated by wineries. It is important to position wine as a farm product – and likely one that contributes farm more to the economy that some of the other products in the markets.

Mark Simpson’s BC Wine Studio, which makes wine under the Siren’s Call brand (among other labels), is one of those wineries.

BC Wine Studio’s production facility is on Oliver Ranch Road, south of Okanagan Falls. While there are plans for a wine shop, it is not open yet.

Because Mark lives in Vancouver, he began showing his wines last year at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market. Its Hastings Park Farmers Market is run every Sunday at Hastings Park (the Pacific National Exhibition grounds). When the market re-opened for the season in March, Mark was there.

“I am pleased to announce that BC Wine Studio has have been invited to return to the Vancouver Farmer's Markets this spring and summer,” Mark announced in a recent email. “I had a great time last summer, met some great people and had really yummy food bought from my fellow vendors. My favourite food was the great vegetables from the Pemberton Valley.”

Here are notes on some of the wines you might find at Mark’s table.

Siren’s Call Viognier 2012 ($20). This is a ripe and luscious white with aromas of tropical fruits and with flavours of mango, apricot and ripe peach. The alcohol is 14.4% but the fruit flavours and texture are so lush that the alcohol is in balance. 89.

Siren’s Call Harmonious 2011 ($29). This is a blend of 39% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot and 4% Syrah. This is a medium-bodied wine with bright aromas of cherry and vanilla leading to spicy black cherry flavours. The silky tannins make this wine appealing and approachable. 89.

Siren’s Call Petit Verdot 2011 ($27). This wine is almost back in hue, which is characteristic of Petit Verdot. There is a dramatic aroma of plum, black cherry, chocolate and cedar, echoed in spicy flavours of black cherry, mulberry and plum. The wine is full on the palate and the finish lingers. 91.

Siren’s Call Malbec 2012 ($27). The grapes for this vintage come from Manmohan Gill’s vineyard near Osoyoos. I note that to observe that Gill will be opening his own winery, called Bordertown Vineyards, this spring. As this wine proves, he is a good grower and he sold his grapes to a good winemaker in 2012. This wine begins with a lovely aroma of plums and cherries, leading to spicy red fruit flavours including cherry and black currant. With decanting, the firm texture becomes rich and generous. 90.

Siren’s Call Pinot Noir 2012 ($22). This is a delicious wine with a full and silky texture. It begins with aromas of spicy cherry. This is echoed on the palate, along with a Burgundian earthiness on the finish. 90.

Siren’s Call Syrah 2012 ($25). This big and bold red begins with aromas of black cherry, oak and delicatessen spices. On the palate, there is more black cherry and plum with classic notes of white and black pepper. 90.