Friday, October 20, 2017

Bordertown: a winery built on hustle and good wine

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill

Mohan Gill, the owner of Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery, seems to have the drive to expand his business in his bones.

When I first interviewed him in 2015, the recital of his life and career so far was suffused with energy and ambition. After telling me about his vineyards and the winery he was just opening, he added: “I have an orchard. When I have free time, I will also launch cider. The cider business is going well, too.”

The cidery was opened this summer!

The Bordertown winery and cidery is immediately north of Osoyoos. You cannot miss the grand highway-side buildings, including a tasting room with an entrance framed by stone-sheathed pillars. The winery was so fast out of the gate with quality wines that it won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence last year for its flagship red, a meritage blend called Living Desert Red.

The more recent releases show that the wine was not just beginner’s luck. These are well-grown wines.

Born in India in 1976, Mohan came to the Okanagan with his parents in 1993.  “I went to Oliver Secondary School,” he recounts. “Then I started working.”

He bought his first orchard (with an older brother) in 1996. He began delivering his own fruit to Vancouver buyers in 1999 with his pickup truck. He turned over fruit delivery to another agency in 2007 but he still packs cherries, peaches and apples under his own brand. His customers include several major retailers.

Mohan dipped his toe into viticulture by planting two acres of grapes in 2005. A quick study, he was comfortable enough with grape growing that he expanded to 20 acres in 2007. He has continued to increase his vineyard holdings. He now grows 38 acres of grapes at two Osoyoos vineyards and another 50 acres in a Peachland vineyard.

One of the winemakers buying his fruit encouraged Mohan to expand into wine production. He did not need much encouragement. He recruited consulting winemaker  Jason Parkes and Bordertown began making its first vintages in 2013.

The winery, now producing more than 10,000 cases a year, has just begun its fifth vintage with consulting winemaker Daniel Bontorin, (right) who took over the cellar several years ago, making the wines.  

“On this property, I am growing five different varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Viognier and Pinot Gris,” Mohan says, referring to the vineyard near the winery. He also has Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris and a block of Grüner Veltliner. The Peachland vineyard, a cooler terroir, is planted primarily in white varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.  He also grows Pinot Noir there.

The result is an extensive portfolio of wines. Here are notes on current releases.

Bordertown Pinot Gris 2016 ($N/A for 1,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and peach. The palate delivers stone fruit flavours, along with ripe pear and blood orange. The texture is generous and the finish is crisp. The flavours, with a refreshing hint of citrus, linger on the palate. 90.

Bordertown Living Desert White 2016 ($18 for 1,135 cases). This is a blend of 63% Pinot Gris, 27% Riesling and 10% Muscat. It begins with aromas of apple, pear and peach. On the palate, the flavours echo the aromas, with hints of tropical fruit. The refreshing finish is balanced well, with the acidity offsetting the residual sweetness that gives richness to the texture. 90.

Bordertown Muscat 2016 ($22 for 378 cases). This wine begins with delicate aromas of rose petals and spice. After that delicacy, the intensity of the flavours takes one by surprise. There are notes of nectarine and cider apples. The dry finish is punctuated with a light ginger spice. 91.

Bordertown Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($25 for 379 cases). The wine begins with aromas that blend citrus and herbal notes. On the palate, there are flavours of melon, pineapple and white peach. There is a hint of herbs and white pepper on the crisp, refreshing finish of this dry white. 91.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc Rosé 2016 ($23 for 378 cases). This dry rosé presents in the glass with pink hue that verges on orange. In fact, the wine will appeal to the growing number of orange wine fans even if this is fermented on the skins. It has aromas of watermelon and strawberry, leading to flavours of ripe apple and watermelon. 90.

Bordertown Merlot 2014 ($N/A for 434 cases). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, blueberry and plum, leading to vibrant bright berry flavours – blackberry and black currant. The wine is rich on the finish, with notes of black coffee and dark chocolate mingling with juicy berries. 90.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc 2015 ($24 for 1,800 cases). This bold, ripe red makes a great statement for Cabernet Franc from the South Okanagan. It begins with intense brambly, black cherry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, fig, mint and tobacco with a note of oak. Ripe but firm tannins assure that this wine will continue to improve in the cellar for five to eight years. 94.

Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($N/A  for 211 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of black currants, plums, figs, sweet tobacco and chocolate, all framed with well-handled oak. This harmonious medium-bodied wine lingers on the finish. 91.

Bordertown Syrah 2015 $30 for 122 cases). This wine presents in the glass with a deep midnight purple hue that is quite dramatic.  The aromas of plums and figs are equally dramatic. On the palate, this is a rich and generous wine with sweet berry flavours mingled with licorice, cedar and pepper. The finish is exceptionally long. 93.

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2014 ($25 for 980 cases). This is a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 to 18 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherry, vanilla and mocha. On the palate, it delivers intense red berry flavours mingled with dark chocolate. On the lingering finish, there is a delightful mix of savoury sweet fruit and herbs. 92.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

JoieFarm mastered the 2015 vintagew

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble

Several years ago, Naramata’s JoieFarm Winery adopted the term “En Famille” to designate its reserve wines.

The phrases recognize that good growers – and JoieFarm has a number under contract – are part of the wine growing family and should get recognition.

Heidi Noble, the owner and winemaker at JoieFarm, explains this in a note about the current releases. “The reserve program at Joie allows us to explore the history of the aromatic Germanic varietals of BC as individual, single estate vineyard expressions of these grapes,” she writes. She is also exploring ‘the potential of Burgundian varietals to excel in the cool-climate, lake-moderate desert of the Okanagan Valley.”

The reserve wines are, of necessity, carefully crafted small lot wines. Perhaps the best place to taste these wines is in JoieFarm’s new tasting room, which opened this spring.

“Over the past two years,” Heidi writes, “we have seen a dramatic increase in our Reserve “En Famille” wines. The tasting room gives us the opportunity to tell people about the growers, the vineyards and the special techniques with which these wines are made.”

The current releases are all from the 2015 vintage. Heidi writes that “2015 was hot and the earliest vintage on record in the Okanagan Valley. Considered a ‘winemaker’s vintage’, many critical choices were required along with the resolve and focus of our cellar team.”

The very early budbreak followed by weeks of hot, dry weather led to heavy crops that ripened early. At JoieFarm (and at other producers), extra crop was left on the vines to slow down the pace of ripening. At harvest, JoieFarm’s team did multiple picks, ‘making sure we were picking for acidity at lower brix while leaving enough hanging for more phenolic development and flavour.” That, Heidi adds, is “hard to achieve in an early vintage.”
She continued: “This created more ferments to manage and blend, but allowed us to make naturally balanced wines in both alcohol and natural acidity, which is the hallmark of JoieFarm’s winemaking. We earned our stripes in 2015.”

Here are notes on the wines.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Gewürztraminer 2015 ($28.90 for 441 cases). The model for this wine was an Alsace Grand Cru; and the wine is very well executed. It begins with intense aromas of lychee and spice, leading equally intense flavours of lychee and quince set against an unctuous texture. The wine is exquisitely balanced with 10 grams of residual sugar against 5.4 grams of acid. The 13.5% alcohol enhances the richness of the wine. 92.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($29.90 for 229 cases). The winery describes this as a careful barrel selection “from our most prized blocks at our Joie-run vineyard sites on the Skaha Bluff and the Naramata Bench. The wine was fermented in French oak primarily with indigenous yeast. The wine begins with aromas of citrus that  lead to a concentrated medley of fruit flavours - melon, white peach, citrus - around a spine of minerality. With imperceptible oak, this fruit forward Chardonnay is crisp and the finish lingers. 93.

JoieFarm En Famille Riesling 2015 ($27.90 for 430 cases). The style for this tangy and complex wine is the German Spätlese style. The trick is to use grapes from old vines (average age of 34 months) and to finish the wine with racy acidity (7.9 grams) balanced with good natural sugar (20 grams). That gives wonderful tension on the palate. The intense aromas and flavours of lime and lemon jump onto the palate and linger on the long finish. 92.

JoieFarm  Gamay 2015 ($25.90 for  324 cases).  The wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with toasty notes (the wine was aged 10 months on the fine lees in French oak). On the palate, the savoury cherry flavours are both rich and juicy, with a long finish. 90.

JoieFarm  PTG 2015 ($25.90 for 752 cases). This is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Gamay. The full-bodied wine was aged 10 months in a variety of French oak vessels (10% new). The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and toasted oak which are echoed on the palate. There is a note of spice on the lingering finish. 91.

JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2015 ($25.90 for 914 cases). This is a blend of three clones from three different vineyards. That is not for volume but for complexity, which also applies to how the wine is made. It is aged 10 months in a mix of large casks, puncheons and barriques. “This mix is intentionally larger format to provide a larger wine to wood ratio as not to overwhelm the delicate fruit profile of this Pinot Noir,” the winery notes explain. It begins with aromas of raspberry and cherry. Those aromas are echoed on the palate, mingled with spice and toasted oak. The wine is full-bodied. 91.

JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir 2015 ($39.90 for 437 cases). The wine blends nine clones from two vineyards. The wine was aged eight months in medium toast French oak barrels (20% new, 30% second fill, 50% neutral). Dark in colour and concentrated in texture, this is a powerful, almost brooding, Pinot Noir that will age well. Aromas of plum and cherry mingle with so-called forest floor spice. On the palate, the raspberry and cherry flavours are intense, giving way to notes of chocolate on the lingering finish. 93.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Black Sage Vineyards and Sumac Ridge wines

Photo: Winemaker Jason James

Historically, the Black Sage Vineyard wines were part of the portfolio of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

In 2012, Constellation Brands– which then owned Sumac Ridge – decided to carve out Black Sage Vineyard as a brand on its own, occupying higher price points.  Subsequently, Constellation sold its Canadian wineries to the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. The Canadian group now operates as Arterra Wines Canada.

The winemaker for both Sumac Ridge and Black Sage is Jason James. The current releases from the two brands showcase both the 2016 and the 2015 vintage. The latter, according to Black Sage publicists, was “one of the finest vintages in the last 100 years.” It certainly was a strong year for red wines.

First, some history that lies behind separating the brands. The Black Sage vineyard, originally about 115 acres, was planted in 1993 and 1994 by Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters. It was then the single largest block of Bordeaux varietals planted in Canada. That was seen as risky until the grapes enabled the winery to make award-winning wines. Those wines were generally released with the vineyard name on the label, selling at a premium compared to the other wines in the extensive Sumac Ridge portfolio.

The rationale for carving out the Black Sage brand was laid out by Constellation in 2012.  “Black Sage Vineyard and wines it creates have always been special,” the company explains. “People always remembered the Black Sage Vineyard wines AFTER they tasted them. Consumer research told us that customers were confused by Sumac Ridge’s multiple tiers and many products. Black Sage Vineyard wines were deemed a lesser quality mostly due to the complexity of the portfolio. We believe that Black Sage Vineyard wines are some of the best out there.”

Arterra continues to believe in the logic of unbundling brands.

As the price points indicate, the brands are positioned for different consumers, or for those who use price to determine what they drink on Tuesday nights and what they drink for Sunday dinner. The spread between the two brands is roughly $10 a bottle. But neither brand is expensive.

While the quality of both is good, the difference is noticeable on the palate. The Black Sage Vineyards wines are more intense, reflecting better-grown fruit from that legendary vineyard.

The Black Sage reds are all from the hot 2015 vintage. That accountants for the richness of the wine - that and the fact that the fruit is from mature vines.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Sumac Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13.99). The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas. On the palate, the zesty, grassy flavours include lime and lemon. The acidity is nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer 2016 ($14.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and lychee, leading to a palate of tropical fruit, including lychee and apricot, with a touch of ginger spice. The 10 grams of residual sugar make this a sure-fire crowd pleaser. I would have preferred it drier. 87.

Sumac Ridge Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The aromas of black cherry and cassis leap from the glass. On the palate, the wine is soft and juicy, with flavours of black currant, blueberry and black cherry that linger on the finish. 89.

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The flavours of blackberry and plum are framed by too much oak. Perhaps this was recently bottled and the oak has not yet integrated. 87.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($25.99). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and black currant jam. It is a bold wine, with soft ripe tannins. The savoury flavours include black cherry and blackberry. It is an excellent example of how good Okanagan Cabernet can be in a hot vintage. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2015 ($25.99). This wine, with a concentrated texture, begins with aromas of black current and blueberry which are echoed on the palate. This is an accessible Merlot with enough boldness and structure to cellar for several years. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25.99). The tiniest hint of smoke from the 2015 forest fires actually adds character to this lively with, with its brambly aromas and flavour. The wine, which has four per cent Merlot, was aged 15 months in barrels (70% French, 30% American). On the finish, there are toasty notes of blackberries and cherry. (For the record, the winery says ‘the vineyards along the Black Sage Bench were not affected” by smoke.) 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2015 ($28.99). This is a richly satisfying red, Dark on colour, it has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, white pepper and spice, with a touch of dark chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long and supple. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 ($25.99). This is a ripe and generous wine, with aromas and flavours of blackberry, raspberry and a medley of dark fruits. 90.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

50th Parallel will make sparkling wine

Photo: Curtis Krousel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krousel

Fans of 50th Parallel Estate Winery will cheer the news recently announced by this Lake Country winery.

The winery said: “Winemaker Matthew Fortuna is working with our vineyard team to harvest and press the first of the Pinot Noir grapes of 2017 for what will also be the first sparkling wine vintage ever produced at 50th Parallel, our 2017 Blanc De Noir! This cuvée will be produced in the traditional 'Methode Champenoise' using our premium estate Pinot Noir from our oldest vineyard, Block 1. The wine will be made in premium French oak, and will contain Dijon clones 115 and 777. This limited small release of 300 cases will debut in 2019 in our Restaurant with a small allocation reserved for wine club member purchase.

 That announcement alludes to other developments at 50th Parallel this year.

·       *  Matt Fortuna has taken over as winemaker, succeeding his long-time mentor, Grant Stanley (still a consultant to 50th Parallel).

·        * The restaurant is expected to open next year in the $5 million expansion being completed at the winery.

“The expansion includes an event space which can seat up to 200 people for banquets and weddings,” says Curtis Krouzel, who opened this winery in 2013 with his wife, Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel. “We are building the infrastructure that we need to support all of the destination tourism we are trying to attract here. We have a second to none facility. Now the idea is to bring people here the experience it.”

With a production of 16,000 cases planned this year fr0m a maturing vineyard, 50th Parallel would certainly benefit from wine tourism.

“We are trying to convince a few more of our neighbours to develop wineries,” Curtis says. “It would be great to have a few more of these orchardists have wineries, because they have beautiful properties and terroirs.”

To be sure, winery expansion is happening in Lake Country. O’Rourke Family Vineyards opened The Chase Winery this summer and will open its major winery just down the road from 50th Parallel in a couple of years. As well, a yet to be revealed winery is being developed for an unnamed owner by consultants James Cluer MW and Marcus Ansems MW.  

“It is so close to Kelowna,” Curtis points out. “You can be here in half an hour. We are away but we are not. Sparkling Hill Resort and Predator Ridge are developing so quickly. A lot of energy is coming. The road is all paved now. We now have tourists coming for the scenic wine route.

“Sheri-Lee and I started this with nothing, with friends and family investors,” Curtis continues. “Then we built our limited partnership in 2011. We realized we were developing a 60-acre property, not a 20-acre property. We have about 12 people in total, people we have gotten to know over the years. Some of them started with us in 2009, 2010.”

Curtis and Sheri-Lee are wine enthusiasts from Alberta. They spent 10 years searching for a vineyard property before discovering, as Curtis says, “this beautiful piece of property that seemed to be sitting predominantly idle.”  Jordan & Ste. Michelle Winery had grown grapes in the 1970s but the vines were pulled out in 1988.

The property is a sun-bathed slope stretching down to the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake. It is a bucolic 30-minute drive north from Gray Monk Estate Winery. Or as Curtis like to say, it is half an hour from Kelowna (or from Vernon).

“It was 61 acres [24.7 hectares],” Curtis says. “It was about three times the size of the project I intended but I had always wanted to do something fairly world class. So we set out on this mission to create a winery focussed on Pinot Noir.” Sixty-eight percent of the 16.6 hectares (41 acres) planted since 2009 is dedicated to Pinot Noir. The remainder is Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay

Born in 1975, Curtis grew up in Edmonton, earned a degree in engineering design technology and soon established his own company, designing plants for the oil and gas industry. With parents from the former Czechoslovakia and grandparents active in the Austrian wine industry, Curtis developed a passion for wine at the family table.  

Matt Fortuna (right) was born in 1981 in Niagara Falls. “Growing up in a wine region, I was exposed to wine,” he says. “I was working in one of the hotels in Niagara on the Lake. Pretty early on, I was exposed to good wine and I was exposed to a lot of Niagara wines.”

The turning point in his career came after he tasted a Pinot Noir from Oregon. “It was unlike anything I had tasted before, or smelled before,” he recalls. “It was beautiful, it was complex.  It was aromatic. That turned me on to the idea of Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs as something unique, and I tried to get myself here.”

He volunteered to do a vintage at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in 2007 and stayed for five years. At the time, Grant Stanley was the winemaker there.

“That is where I learned the ropes,” Matt says. “For the first three years I was side by side with Gary, the cellar master there. He taught me all my cellaring skills. I learned everything I could from him. And I developed a good relationship with Grant Stanley as well – a mentor, a long-time friend.” Grant joined 50th Parallel in 2013 and brought Matt with him.

“I learned a little more about stylistic winemaking when I was his assistant here,” Matt says. “Going forward, we are pretty fortunate to have Grant work with me through this year, consulting. I hope to adopt his stylistic approach in winemaking and continue the program he has developed here.”

Matt also took the winemaking course at Okanagan College and did a vintage in the Southern Hemisphere. “I was in Mornington Peninsula,” Matt says. “I worked with one of the pioneering wineries there, Moorooduc Estates. Dr. Richard McIntyre has owned it for 30 years, trying to recreate a little Burgundy in Australia. That was a really good experience for me.”

Matt points out that his surname, Fortuna, is Italian for luck. He comes from Italian stock. “There was always homemade wine on the table throughout my whole life,” he says.

Here are notes on the current wines.

5oth Parallel Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.90). This wine delivers gloriously focussed aromas and flavours of fruit, notably peach, citrus and lychee, with a backbone of minerality. The finish lingers and lingers. 91.

50th Parallel Riesling 2016 ($19.90). The winemaking technique involves whole bunch pressing and a long cool fermentation to preserve the fruit. The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime with herbal notes on the tangy, crisp finish. 91.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2016 ($19.90). The wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice and citrus, leading to flavours of lychee and spice. The 14 grams of residual sugar are carefully balanced with acidity, giving the wine good weight and a lingering finish. 92.

50th Parallel Rosé 2016 ($19.90). Forty-hours of cold-soaking the juice on the skins have given this a lively pink hue, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The wine is refreshing, with a dry finish. 90.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2015 ($35). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and vanilla, leading to flavours of buttery marmalade. The wine is fruit forward, with a delicate touch of oak. Good acidity gives this a crisp finish. 90.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2014 ($29). This wine begins with aromas of cherry and toasted oak that are echoed on the silky palate. This is an elegant and pretty wine. 91

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2015 ($29). The dark colour signals a bigger wine, reflecting the ripe 2015 vintage. It begins with aromas of red fruit and sage, leading to flavours of black cherry and strawberry. Still youthfully firm in texture, the wine has the structure to age gracefully for five or 10 years. 92.

50th Parallel Unparalleled Pinot Noir 2014 ($50). A selection of the 14 best barrels, this is a more of everything super-premium wine. The aromas are so rich and appealing that one lingers before tasting the wine. On the palate, there are flavours of toasted oak, black cherry and plum. This bold, concentrated wine will certainly blossom into a great bottle over the next 10 years. 94.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Quails' Gate 2015 reds do justice to the vintage

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

Every glass of wine from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery seems to call for a toast to Richard Stewart, the man who bought this outstanding West Kelowna vineyard site in the 1950s.

He is the father of Quails’ Gate president Tony Stewart and his older brother, Ben, who is better know for his interest in politics but is also involved with the winery.

The Quails’ Gate vineyard is on a long, southeast-facing slope of Mt. Boucherie. The slope catches the heat of the sun all season while the volcanic soils add complexity to the wines.

The flagship variety is Pinot Noir (the Stewarts were the first in Canada to plant a significant quantity of Pinot Noir). That is a cool-climate varietal that does well in the North Okanagan.

What always amazes me is this vineyard also succeeds with Bordeaux reds and Syrah, varieties that do well in the South Okanagan but, at least in theory, should struggle in the north. Generally, they do – except in this special sunbathed terroir.

Let me share a bit of history from my 1996 book, British Columbia Wine Companion, which is out of print.

Stewart, Richard (1926-): A member of a family prominent in Okanagan agriculture almost since the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Stewart  first planted grapes in 1961 on  property now part of the Quails' Gate vineyards. As well, he formed a partnership with Calona Wines to establish Pacific Vineyards, which leased land from the Westbank Indian Band for a vineyard and bought land south of Oliver for a second vineyard. "We believed there was room for growth in the wine industry," Stewart recalled later. Initially he planted what were then considered the established varieties -- such North American labrusca grapes as diamond, Campbell's early, sheridan and patricia. A nursery in Seattle, one of his suppliers, misidentified a shipment of  what should have been 10,000 diamond vines. Stewart discovered when the vines were growing that he had been shipped chasselas, a vinifera vine that produces  far superior fruit than diamond. "We left them in," Stewart chuckled.

In 1964 he and Joe Capozzi (in the latter's private aircraft) flew to grape-growing areas in Ontario and New York state to choose varieties for the initial Pacific Vineyards plantings the following year.  At Gold Seal Vineyards in New York, one of the early vinifera growers, they found that the previous winter had devastated the vines. That convinced Stewart and Capozzi to play it safe, planting the more hardy hybrid varieties, including de chaunac, chelois, verdelet and maréchal foch. After managing Pacific Vineyards for several years, Stewart sold his interest to Calona Wines and concentrated on developing the vineyard near Westbank that now supports Quails' Gate.

Maréchal Foch was also one of the first varieties planted at the Quails’ Gate vineyard. Perhaps the success of the Chasselas and then of Pinot Noir led the Stewart family to commit almost their entire site to vinifera grapes.

Except for Maréchal Foch. In 1994, Jeff Martin, then the winemaker at Quails’ Gate, made a big, rich red with those grapes. Without doubt, it was the best Foch made in the Okanagan to that time. The wine developed and has retained a cult following. Quails’ Gate makes an Old Vines Foch Reserve from the West Kelowna fruit and an Old Vines Foch from another old block of Foch the winery owns near Osoyoos. The survival of Foch as a winemaking grape in British Columbia is due largely to Quails’ Gate.

The latest releases from Quails’ Gate, which include two Foch wines, are all reds from the superb 2015 vintage. The current winemaker at Quails’ Gate is Nikki Callaway, Canadian-born and French-trained. She did not put a foot wrong in making any of these wines.

Here are notes on the wines.

Quails’ Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($34.99 for 1,900 cases). The wine presents with a deep purple hue in the glass. Aromas of cassis, mulberry, vanilla and tobacco jump from the glass. Rich and ripe on the palate, it has flavours of black currant, black cherry, leather and cocoa. 92.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2015 ($25.99 for 4,949 cases). Dark in the glass, the wine begins with aromas of cassis and blueberry. The ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture, supporting flavours of black cherry, black currant and dark chocolate. 91.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2015 ($24.99 for 3,500 cases). The wine begins with aromas of cherries, plum, deli meats and oak (it was aged 18 months in oak).  The aromas are echoed in the flavours. On the palate, the wine is noticeably dry, with firm tannins. 90.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2015 ($46.99 for 1,500 six-bottle cases). This dark wine simply envelops you with rich aromas of black cherry, dark plum, dark olives and toasty oak, all of which is realized in the flavours. The wine has a plump texture, with a finish where sweet fruit mingles with coffee on the long, rich finish. 93.

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2015 ($54.99 for 585 six-bottle cases). This wine, so named in honour of ancestors of the Stewart family, is sold exclusively at the winery. The wine, aged 18 months in French oak, is almost black in hue – the promise of a rich and ripe red. It begins with aromas of plum, blueberry and vanilla with a suggestion of white pepper. The wine is dense on the palate, delivering flavours of dark fruits mingled with leather and chocolate, supported by good minerality. There is a long, savoury finish. 93.

Quails’ Gate The Connemara 2015 ($59.99 for 240 cases). The wine is so named because Richard Stewart’s father, also Richard, insisted that Connemara was the most beautiful part of his native Ireland. This blend of 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc is also available just at the winery. By all means, make the trip. A restrained wine on opening, it develops with time in a decanter to show aromas of violets and cassis mingled with a whiff of oak. (The wine was aged 18 months in French oak.) On the palate, there are flavours of dark red fruit mingled with black coffee and tobacco. There is exceptional polish and elegance to this wine. It should be cellared for perhaps another 10 years. 94.

Friday, October 6, 2017

House of Rose is a good-time winery

Photo: Grape stomping at House of Rose (photo courtesy of winery)

The grape stomps on the Saturday afternoons during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival are becoming something of a tradition at House of Rose Winery near Kelowna.

Such a rollicking public romp fits the informal atmosphere that has prevailed at this winery since it was opened in 1993 by the ebullient Vern Rose. While the winery at 2270 Garner Road is perceived to be somewhat off the beaten path, it scores high as a wine-touring destination because shows guests a good time.

The grape stomp is just one example. “It's free (we encourage a food bank donation) and fun for the whole family,” says co-proprietor Aura Rose. “People love to get it off their bucket list. We've watched babies to those over eighty jump into our specially made Grape Stomping Barrel - sort of a take on the famous I Love Lucy clip. ” 

There are also music concerts during the summer. There are customer appreciation days. This summer, the winery applied for a license to host weddings in the vineyard. And there is a BnB suite at the winery, one of the additional features created by Vern’s daughter Aura, and her husband, Wouter van der Hall (left). They took over the winery in 2009, two years after a stroke incapacitated Vern.

Since I have not blogged about this winery before, here is some background on its history from the 2012 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

After running this winery for 10 years, Vern Rose began thinking of selling in the 2003 vintage, when he turned 76, because that was one of his toughest summers. The Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire threatened his Rutland neighbourhood three times, forcing evacuation of the winery and sharply curtailing the usual number of visitors. Yet even after such a taxing summer, Vern hoped that a buyer would let him manage the vineyard for five more years. Before a buyer emerged, Vern was incapacitated by a stroke that sapped the energy from one of the wine world’s great characters.  

A Saskatchewan native who was born in 1927, Rose acquired his Okanagan vineyard after retiring in 1982 from a career as a schoolteacher in Edmonton. A few years later he accomplished his lifelong dream to visit New Zealand. Not one to merely enjoy the sights, he attended a viticultural conference and volunteered at a vineyard. That inspired him to open his winery north of Kelowna. His habit of wearing Tilley hats (a clean one at wine shows, a scruffy one in the vineyard) became his trademark.

He was perhaps the only Okanagan vintner to still back the heritage varieties that most others removed in the 1988 pullout. House of Rose still produces both Okanagan Riesling and De Chaunac in its 2.2-hectare (5½-acre) vineyard, along with Verdelet for icewine and Maréchal Foch, almost the only red hybrid to make a comeback in British Columbia. The vineyard also has Chardonnay and Cabernet Foch. The latter was provided to Vern by Swiss plant breeder Valentin Blattner after the two had become fishing buddies.

Aura, who runs her own health care communications company, became involved with House of Rose in 1996 as the bookkeeper. She and Wouter, a Dutch-born child welfare consultant, have brought discipline to the sprawling wine portfolio at House of Rose, with perhaps more focus on the heritage varietals and on Winter Wine, as the trademarked dessert wines are called.

While there have been changes in the vineyard since that was written, House of Rose still grows De Chaunac (the only Okanagan winery with the variety) and, among other wines, turns it into port.

Both the winery’s labels and the off-dry style of some of the wines differentiate House of Rose from many of its peers. The winery’s signature red is called Hot Flash. It is off-dry and, with softer tannins, made to be quaffable. “We did a focus group with 85 women to create this wine - easy drinking and no food necessary,” Aura says.

Another label is called Sweet Mystery. “We've been making a sweet red for a few years now, [and] they are becoming more popular,” Aura says. “The secret ingredient in this wine is our port.”

Here are notes on current releases from House of Rose. Prices do not include tax.

House of Rose Cool Splash 2016 ($15.57). This is a Pinot Gris with a name suggestive of a summertime frolic. It begins with aromas of apples and stone fruits, leading to flavours of apple and melon. A touch of residual sugar balances the racy acidity. 88.

House of Rose Grapes With Benefits 2016 ($15.57). The winery does not disclose the blend of this wine; however, a dash of 2014 Viognier Icewine is included to add a touch of honeyed sweetness to the pineapple and citrus aromas and flavours. This is a good aperitif. 89.

House of Rose Rosé eh 2016 ($16.43). This robust rosé wine is a blend of Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Syrah. It begins with a brilliant strawberry pink hue. It has aromas of cherries and strawberries and flavours of watermelon. The finish is spicy and dry. 88.

House of Rose Merlot 2014 ($19.91). This wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and blackberry, leading earthy flavours of cherry and cranberry, punctuated with a touch of oak. 90.

House of Rose Hot Flash 2016 ($17.30). This dark wine is an unoaked blend of Maréchal Foch and Syrah, with the dark cherry and gamey deli aromas of the Foch carrying the day. The gamey and cherry notes are echoed on the palate, along with some of the classical vegetative Foch flavours. This retro wine brings back pleasant memories of the 1980s, when many wineries still grew Foch. 88.

House of Rose Sweet Mystery 2016 ($17.30). This unconventional red is a blend of Maréchal Foch, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The wine begins with jammy aromas of plum and blueberry, echoed in the flavours. The wine is off-dry but the residual sweetness lifts the aromas and adds flesh to the texture. A good quaffing red. 88.

House of Rose Vintage Okanagan Tawny 2012 ($26 for 375 ml). This is made with the De Chaunac grape, a French hybrid once ubiquitous in Canadian vineyards but now almost gone. The wine has excellent rancio character of a tawny port, although lighter in body that a Portuguese tawny. There is an aroma of plum and fig. On the palate, there are flavours of chocolate, cherry and fig. The alcohol is 16.9% but it is not clear from the winery notes whether this was fortified or whether that was achieved by two years of slowly fermenting until the yeast quit. In any event, the finish is smooth. 88.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Harry McWatters in his 50th vintage

Photo: Harry McWatters toasts yet another vintage

Okanagan wine pioneer Harry McWatters this year marks his fiftieth vintage since he started his career with the long-gone Casabello winery in Penticton in 1968.

Since then, he went on to found Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and to buy Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards (now See Ya Later Ranch). Those wineries were acquired in 2000 by Vincor. Harry remained involved with Vincor and its successor until 2008.

On leaving there, he launched a new label, McWatters Collection, and then a new winery, Time Estate Winery. He started building a new winery on his Black Sage Road vineyard in 2015.

When that vineyard and project were acquired by Phantom Creek Estates (which will open its winery in a few years), Harry regrouped and bought the 12,000-square-foot former Pen-Mar four-theatre cinema in downtown Penticton as the new home for Time.

“I came here [to the theatre] in 1957,” Harry recalls. “I was 12 years old. I brought a date for a Saturday afternoon matinee.  It cost 25 cents for admission, soft drink and popcorn for both of us.”

The 2017 crush, Harry’s 50th vintage, is taking place in that movie house, which has been beautifully restored and equipped with the latest winemaking equipment.

As if this is not enough to keep him busy, he operates a winery north of Summerland called Evolve Cellars, in a facility formerly known as Bonitas before Harry leased the building.

The bottom line is that Harry goes into his 50th vintage with three well-made brands that have quickly gained a following: Time, Evolve and McWatters Collection.

And Time has just been named the official wine supplier for the Calgary Flames (and associated sports teams).  The first two wines being offered to Saddledome patrons are a 2016 Pinot Gris and a 2016 Cabernet Merlot. They will be co-branded as “It’s Go TIME Calgary Flames.” The wines will also be available at retail in Calgary.

A raconteur par excellence, Harry has tales from most of his vintages. When Sumac Ridge was launched in 1980, Harry and his partner, Lloyd Schmidt, made the wines that year at the Casabello winery. They did not finish modifying the former golf course club house in which they were installing the Sumac Ridge processing equipment until 1981.

“Probably the most memorable vintage, not necessarily for the positives, was 1981,” Harry remembers. “It was a really, really challenging vintage. We froze on the 28th of September. It was a very cool late summer. The next day, the leaves started to shrivel and fall. Picking was easy. But it is also the vintage when Lloyd Schmidt got his hand caught in the crusher. He and I were doing all of the crushing. He got his hand in the crusher and took the end off two fingers.”

Another memory: The last vintage in which Sumac Ridge made Okanagan Riesling was 1988. Harry never planted the grape, which is a foxy hybrid that once was ubiquitous in the Okanagan. After the free trade agreement was signed, almost all the Okanagan Riesling vines were pulled out because the variety was banned in the incoming VQA rules.

Harry was an early and major supporter of VQA, even though the ban of the variety caused significant short-term pain for Sumac Ridge’s adherence to that principle. “When we stopped making Okanagan Riesling, it was a 10,000-case brand,” Harry says. “We took a big hit, walking away from a 10,000-case brand.”

Another memory: In 1993, when the grape crop was large, Sumac took a contract to crush and process 100 tons of Pinot Blanc for Andrés Wines. The grower supplying the grapes over-cropped the vines and overwhelmed Sumac Ridge with 193 tons.

“The deal I had made was to produce 100 gallons of juice from every ton; everything left over, we kept,” Harry says. “I charged them $125 a ton to process it. By doing the 200 tons, although it almost killed our crush staff, it went a long way to help buying our new Bucher press. It was $80,000. At the time, $80,000 in the early 1990s, just after we had bought the vineyard, was a big amount.”

Another memory comes from notable 1995 vintage. That was the year when Sumac Ridge got its first harvest from the vineyard that Harry and Lloyd had planted in 1992 on Black Sage Road with 100 acres of Bordeaux red varieties. It was seen as a both a viticultural and financial gamble. “We stretched everything to the limit to buy 115 acres, and have the money to go ahead and plant it,” Harry recalls.

The wines made from that first harvest were outstanding. The Sumac Ridge 1995 Meritage was judged best red wine in Canada. In 1997, when the wine was released, Harry took samples to VinExpo, the big wine industry fair in Bordeaux.

A senior Bordeaux wine official complimented Harry on the Meritage and was completely dumfounded when he learned the wine was from three-year-old [or third leaf] vines. Harry recalls: “He said that is impossible because ‘you don’t get fruit until fourth or fifth leaf’. The only way I could exit the conversation was to admit I must have been mistaken about the year I planted the vines. It is, of course, not a mistake I would have made.”

The vintages of 1996 and 1999 are remembered as excellent for sparkling wine but, because they were very cool, difficult for table wines.

“1999 was a tough decision for us,” Harry says. “At Veraison, we were so far behind that we dropped 50% of our fruit on the ground. Because we dropped so much fruit, we had a very light crop. It was not financially very rewarding but the quality stood up better than the 1998 [a big, hot vintage]. We had some pretty good wines in 1999 in a vintage that did not have a great reputation. It is a judgment call you have to make. I don’t regret having made that decision but it had a huge impact financially.”

One could speculate that this left Sumac Ridge vulnerable to the successful takeover offer from Vincor.

Photo: Time's cellar in the former moving theatre

Harry has shown remarkable ability to rebound from setbacks and always remain at the centre of the action in the BC wine industry. Now, back at the scene of his first movie date, the Time Winery is just the latest sequel in a remarkable career.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Evolve Effervescence NV ($19.99). This Charmat method sparkling wine is made primarily with Chardonnay with about 15% Pinot Noir in the cuvée. The wine has vigorous bubbles, a bready hint on the nose and crisp, refreshing green apple flavours. 90.

Evolve Pinot Blanc 2016 ($15.99). This is a clean and focussed white from a grape that does not always get its due. There are aromas and flavours of apple and pear. The finish is crisp and fresh. 90.

Evolve Riesling 2016 ($16.99). This wine has just 10.8% alcohol because the fermentation was stopped to preserve some residual sugar. The sweetness is very well balanced with acidity. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime with a finish that has a zesty beginning and a lingering end. 90.

Time Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($22.99 for 250 cases). This barrel-fermented wine begins with aromas of lemon and a hint of oak and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is light, with clean, fresh citrus flavours. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.

Time Riesling 2016 ($22.99 for 220 cases). This wine, with just 9.5% alcohol, recalls elegant Rhine Rieslings. It begins with aromas of lemon and lemon zest, leading to intense lemon and lime on the palate, mingled with good minerality. The racy acidity is well balanced with almost imperceptible sweetness. 90.

Time Chardonnay 2014 ($25). This wine is still made with grapes from the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road; it was subsequently sold. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla and marmalade leading to a rich palate with flavours of baked apple and butterscotch. The finish is long, with notes of oak mingled with ripe fruit. 90.

Time Viognier 2016 ($22.99 for 130 cases). This wine begins with aromas of ripe pineapple and apricot, leading to a palate loaded with stone fruit flavours, subtly framed with delicate oak. 91.

Time Cabernet Franc 2014 ($19.99). A classic example of the variety’s appealing brambleberry aromas and flavours – think of a mix of black cherry and blackberry. The long ripe tannins give this wine a lush and generous structure. 91.

Time Merlot 2015 ($N/A). The youthful firmness of this wine calls for decanting, which allows the blueberry and black currant aromas and flavours to open. The concentrated texture becomes juicy. 90.

McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2014 ($30 for 520 cases). This wine won a gold medal earlier this year at the Chardonnay du Monde competition in France. It begins with an intense aroma of marmalade, baked apple and vanilla, leading to flavours of baked apple and citrus, with a light note of butterscotch. This opulent wine has the perfect balance of almost tropical fruit flavours and oak.  92.

McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2015 ($N/A). Recently bottled, this is developing into a rich and buttery Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of citrus. 91.

Evolve Cabernet Merlot 2016 ($19.99). This is an easy-drinking blend, soft and juicy with aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberry. 88.

Evolve Shiraz 2016 ($19.99). The winemaker has done a good job emulating the style of Australian Shiraz. The wine is generous on the palate, with aromas and flavours of black cherries, figs and licorice. 88.

Evolve Elevate Carménère 2014 ($30). This bold, assertive red begins with dark fruit aromas accented by cracked black pepper. The palate delivers flavours of plum, fig, black currant with a note of pepper on the finish. 91.