Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women call the shots at Bench 1775

Photo: Bench 1775 general manager and winemaker Valeria Tait

Recently, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce asked me to moderate a panel on women involved in our wine industry.

The speakers were Elaine Triggs of Culmina Winery, Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and Ann Sperling of Sperling Vineyards. They were chosen from a surprising long list of women who make the wheels go round at many British Columbia wineries.

The sold-out lunch (followed by a wine tasting) was such a success that the chamber is considering hosting a second one next year.

Another name to throw in the mix is Bench 1775 Winery. If you check this Naramata Road winery’s website, you will discover that no fewer than eight awesomely-qualified women calling the shots.

The only other Okanagan winery run exclusively by women (to the best of my knowledge) is Cana Vines Winery, operated by Mindy Elgert and her daughter Lisa.

The team at Bench 1775 is headed by Valeria Tait. She wears three hats: viticulturist, winemaker and general manager. She is an industry veteran. Born in 1964, she has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in integrated pest management. She started working at the Summerland research station on plant viruses and then developed her independent consulting business with grape growers in the early 1990s as new vineyards were being planted. “I was lucky to get in on the industry when it was starting to grow,” Val told me a few years ago.
She became a partner at Bench 1775 in 2013 and, after the winery ownership changed the following year, she was given her currant portfolio of responsibilities.

The other members of the Bench 1775 team are:

·       Sonja Lloyd in charge of quality control. She has a doctorate in microbiology from Washington State University.

·       Julia Cannings is the tasting room manager. She is a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in English and French literature.

·       Andrea Duckett is the manager of the Bench 1175 wine club.

·       Tina Ma is the internati0nal sales manager. Born in China, she has a master of business administration from New York State University.

·       Simone Ardiel is the lead cellar hand. She is a graduate of the winery and viticultural program at Niagara College.

·       Pamela Moodie is the accounting manager. She has a degree in urban planning and is a certified general accountant.

·       Leanna Liu is the marketing and social media manager. Born in Beijing, she has a bachelor’s degree in screen writing from the Communications University in China and master’s degree in digital media management from Northwestern University in the U.S.

All I can say is wow! The coffee breaks at Bench 1775 must be more like college seminars. One thing for certain: these eight are making excellent wines.

Here are notes on recently released wines.

Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014 ($24.90.) This silky, yet muscular, wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and strawberry with hint of mocha. 90.

Bench 1775 Groove 2014 ($19.90). Here is a soft juicy red made for easy drinking. Made with Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, it is a bowl full of cherries with vanilla on the finish. 88.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc clone 214 2013. ($27.90). Only the Bench 1775 wine club can buy this superb red.  It is an elegant wine with layers of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and mulberry. 92.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 ($26.90). This is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc. The fruit flavours are boldly ripe. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant, mulberry. The tannins are still firm and the wine should be decanted or cellared a few more years. 92

Bench 1775 Malbec 2014 ($25.90). A wine club only release, this complex red combines fruit from the Similkameen Valley with fruit from the Okanagan. In her notes on the wine, Val says that the Similkameen portion results in a more intense wine because the soils in that valley are “much bonier and drier” that those of the Okanagan. This dark wine begins with aromas of plum and mulberry, going onto to a robust palate with flavours of black cherry, plum and fig. On the finish, there are hints of cola and dark chocolate. 92.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Township 7 adds key vineyard sources

Photo: Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott

One of the most effective winery marketing tools is the “wine club.”

The clubs were non-existent a decade ago. Today in British Columbia, it is a rare winery that does not have one.

For the consumer, they also are a benign tyranny. They put you at the front of the line for the most desirable wines. But winery followers often get locked into wines by the case even if that quantity is more than one might buy at any one time. But if you do not join the club, chances are that you will not get a sniff at some of a producer’s better wines. Those are often allocated largely, if not entirely, to the wine club.

I am not being critical of wine clubs for the sake of being grouchy. I just want to suggest consumers can learn to live with them by creative buying. A certain Okanagan wine that I collect every year is now limited to wine club members; and I am not a member. But a friend of mine is. He orders a case every year. He keeps four bottles for himself while another of his friends and I each get another four bottles.

Perhaps the winery would discourage that practice if they knew. Too bad … there is only so much room in most wine cellars. And there are far too many fine Okanagan wineries to buy case lots of all the finest, in the hope you live long enough to drink it all.

This reflection was brought on by the most recent samples from Township 7 Vineyards & Winery. These included several very fine wines from the superb 2014 vintage, among them wine club allocations. Indeed, by the time you read this, club members will have swallowed by the entire allocation of some.

The winery’s clubSEVEN is sensitive to the fact that some consumers have limited storage space. Members receive three shipments a year, each with eight bottles of wine chosen by the winery. Several of the selections are limited edition wines exclusive to the club. Membership obligations beyond that are simple, as explained in the Township 7 website:

·        Choose from 2 membership rewards: 1) pick up your shipment and receive 15% off the cost of your wines or 2) Free shipping right to your door anywhere in Canada.
·        Each shipment includes limited edition wines available only to club members.
·        Other perks include special members-only pricing (10% off) on all wine purchases outside of club shipments, invites and VIP treatment at our special events and two clubSeven parties a year.
·        No membership fees just membership rewards.

I noted a significant development at Township 7 from reading the technical sheets on the wines. Mary McDermott, the winemaker, has been able to source fruit from two vineyards never before used by the winery. One is the historic Sperling Vineyard in East Kelowna which has a relatively young block of Pinot Noir. The other is Vanessa Vineyards in the Similkameen.

As well, judging from the concentrated texture of the Bordeaux reds, it seems she has persuaded the winery’s long-term growers to up their games. While 2014 was one of the Okanagan’s best vintages ever, that alone does not account for the obvious step up in wine quality.

Here are notes on recent releases, some of which have already been sent to clubSEVEN members. Prices do not include taxes.

Township 7 Seven Stars 2014 ($29.97 for 114 cases). This limited production sparkling wine is exclusive to clubSEVEN.  Crisply dry and refreshing, this wine is made with Chardonnay. It has toasty and citrus aromas with flavours of green apple and lime mingled with the biscuit notes imparted by 18 months aging on the lees. 91.

Township 7 Pinot Noir 2015 ($30.97 for 248 cases). This is also a wine club exclusive; a pity because this is the winery’s first Pinot Noir and deserves wider distribution. The fruit is from the Sperling Vineyard in East Kelowna, where Ann Sperling also crafts excellent Pinot Noir. I thought the Township 7 wine was going through one of those notorious Pinot Noir phases and I left half a bottle until the second day. Then it showed its potential: bright fruit with delicate cherry flavours that were richer on the second day. The texture is wonderfully silky. 88-90.

Township 7 Merlot 2014 ($22.97 for 1,168 cases). This wine is widely available. The wine was aged 18 months in French and American oak barrels, polishing the long ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry. The texture is firm but it opens up if you decant the wine or give it time to breathe. 90.

Township 7 Reserve Merlot 2014 ($34.97 for 300 cases). This is exclusive to clubSEVEN. This intense and complex wine is made with grapes from Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver. This has been a source of grapes for Township 7 for almost 20 years, so the vines have excellent maturity. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry mingled with vanilla and minerality. There are flavours of dark red fruits, including plum and cherry, with dark chocolate and black licorice on the finish. Extended aging in French and American oak (30% new) has contributed to a svelte, elegant finish. 92.

Township 7 NBO 2014 ($27.97 for 278 cases). This is available only at the Township 7 wine shops in Langley and Penticton. NBO stands for North Bench Oliver, the location of Blue Terrace Vineyard. This wine is 58.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41.5% Merlot. This wine is so rich in flavour – plum, fig, black cherry, dark chocolate, licorice – that it seemed almost port-like. It is not: the wine is ripe but the alcohol is a reasonable 14%. Like all the other reds in this release, NBO will cellar well for the next decade. 91.

Township 7 Syrah 2014 ($30.97 for 368 cases). This is exclusive to the wine club.  The grapes for this wine are from Vanessa Vineyards, a vineyard which has turned heads with two Syrah vintages under its own label. The wine begins with appealing aromas of sweet fruit (plum and currants) along with notes of pepper and smoked meat. On the palate, the wine is robust and full-bodied with meaty flavours of fig, black cherry and dark chocolate. 91.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tantalus releases two Pinot Noirs

Photo: Tantalus vineyard in winter

During an Okanagan visit in late January, I dropped in at Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna to taste the two Pinot Noirs released just in time for the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Given the brisk winter weather and the snow on the steep driveway at Tantalus, I expected to find the tasting room deserted but for staff. The valley’s Yukon Quest conditions hardly seemed conducive to wine touring.

The surprise: two or three consumers came to the wine shop during the hour I was there. Perhaps it speaks to the hardiness of today’s wine tourists. But it also says a lot of the reputation of Tantalus wines.

Initially, the reputation of this vineyard was made with its Old Vines Riesling, from grapes planted in 1978 when the vineyard was owned by the late Den Dulik and his family. In 1997, his daughter Susan opened a winery called Pinot Reach Cellars. The Old Vines Riesling was tasted a few years later by Jancis Robinson, the celebrated British wine writer, who had high praise for it.

The vineyard and winery were purchased in 2004 by Vancouver investment dealer Eric Savics. He renamed it Tantalus. The winery resumed making Old Vines Riesling in 2005. The wine has been acclaimed in every vintage since then by numerous wine critics.

The vineyard has since been expanded, with a careful focus on the varieties that produce best on this East Kelowna slope. That meant planting more Riesling, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. David Patterson, the current winemaker and general manager, has a focussed toolbox to work with.

I was able to taste not only the two Pinot Noirs but also two Chardonnays and one Riesling [not the Old Vines, since the last release is sold out and the next is not yet released].

Here are my notes.

Tantalus Juveniles Chardonnay 2015 ($20 for 600 cases). When the winery makes wine from younger plantings, the practice is to label them “Juveniles”.  This is the first vintage of Juveniles Chardonnay, from a four-acre block of vines planted in 2013.  This is a lovely fruit-forward Chardonnay; only half was aged in oak barrels and those were neutral. It has aromas and flavours of apple and pear. The finish is crisply refreshing. 90.

Tantalus Chardonnay 2014 ($30 for 355 cases). The wine is made from grapes planted in 2007 and in 1985. The maturity of the fruit supports a more intense style of Chardonnay. The wine was aged 11 months in 40% new French oak and 60% in neutral French oak puncheons. The wine begins with buttery and citrus aromas, leading to flavours of pear, citrus and spice. Bright acidity adds to the lively and fresh fruit on the palate. 91.

Tantalus Riesling 2015 ($23 for 3,200 cases). Crisp and tangy, this wine begins with aromas of lemon and Granny Smith apples, which is echoed on the palate. The flavours are intense, hinting of citrus and quince. This wine is widely available, including holding a place on the wine lists of all 23 Cactus Club restaurants. 92.

Tantalus Juveniles Pinot Noir 2015 ($25 for 500 cases). The fruit for this wine comes 2007 and 2009 plantings of Dijon clones. The wine was fermented with wild yeast and aged about a year in oak. Most of the barrels must have been neutral, not covering up the lively fruit expression – aromas and flavours of raspberry. The texture is silky. This is a very drinkable wine. 89.

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2014 ($30). Thirty percent of this wine was aged in new French oak barrels; the remainder aged in more neutral oak for a year. The older vines assert themselves here in the depth of colour and in the intensity of the aromas and flavours of spicy black cherries and plum. 92.

Monday, February 6, 2017

One Faith Vineyards at Vancouver International Wine Festival

 Photo: One Faith proprietor Bill Lui

For most attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year, the "must" discovery among the 60 BC wineries there will be Bill Lui’s One Faith Vineyards.

This is a small but very fine producer on Black Sage Road that aspires to nothing less than to be an Okanagan First Growth – at least symbolically since the Okanagan lacks Bordeaux’s system of classified growths.

One Faith Grand Vin, at $165 a bottle, will be the most expensive Okanagan wine at the festival (and one of the most expensive wines in the room). And Bill will be pouring three vintages of the wine at his table, along with his $50 second wine, a Bordeaux red blend called Certitude.

The lineup at the One Faith table should be deep. These are limited production wines among the best ever produced in the Okanagan. The skeptics who doubt an Okanagan wine is not worth this much money can decided for themselves – and can compare them with premium-priced imported wines on the floor.

One Faith launched in December 2014 with Grand Vin 2012. I am surprised to see it is to be poured at the Festival because only 144 cases were made. To be sure, the price ensures that wine would hardly fly off the shelf: One Faith wines are marketed in boxes of three priced at $495 a box.
I presume the Festival liquor store, which ordered 20 cases, will break the boxes into lots of one bottle. I also expect the wines will sell out quickly, given the sophisticated and well-heeled collectors who attend the festival.

Until now, One Faith has been a “virtual” winery, making its wine in a custom crush facility. The good news is that Bill now has a 10-acre vineyard at 4644 Black Sage Road. A winery is under design, with plans for a tasting room in an underground barrel cellar by 2019.

Now 58, Bill was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Canada. He has been a Canadian citizen since 1977 and has a degree in environmental science from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Much of his previous business career, which he describes as merchant banking, was in Taiwan and China. In China, he managed a company that made medical instruments. After taking it public and selling his interest, he retired to Vancouver, in part to be with his school-age children and to look after aging parents.

With time on his hands, he began studying the wine industry. “I am working for my daughter,” he laughs. [His daughter is 13.] “I don’t want her to see I have nothing to do. I want her to see I have a focus in business, so she can tell her schoolmates about it, that her dad is a winemaker.”

He is not a winemaker in the technical sense, although he has taken a number of courses from the University of California. It would be more accurate to call him a winegrower who has employed several topflight consultants to make the wines.

When Bill decided to create a winery, he retained Vancouver wine educator and consultant James Cluer MW for guidance on grape sources and winemakers. Grapes for the initial vintages were obtained from the Sundial and Saddle Ridge vineyards on Black Sage Road. The sale of both vineyards last year was one reason that Bill bought his own vineyard as well as lining other sources of premium grapes.

James Cluer helped Bill recruit the immensely talented Anne Vawter(right), the winemaker who made the One Faith vintages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. She and her husband, Cameron, both are consultants for blue ribbon Napa wineries. Last year, they also became consulting winemakers the new Phantom Creek Estates, the winery under development at the Black Sage Road vineyards formerly owned by Harry McWatters and Richard Cleaves.

“My interest in wine came through my uncle who ran a beer and wine distributorship in the Seattle Tacoma area,” Anne says. “He introduced my father to good wines. We lived in Walla Walla. My father would find wines and go on wine lists. I was one of his children that enjoyed tasting the wines with him, even when I was little.” She acted on his suggestion that she go to the University of California to study winemaking.

Because Phantom Creek, a large and ambitious project, will compete directly with One Faith, Anne severed her relationship with One Faith. Her role at One Faith has been taken over by Jacqueline Kemp, a New Zealand working in the Okanagan. She blended the 2014 One Faith wines and made them in 2015 and 2016.

Bill Lui has also engaged Pascal Madevon, the former Osoyoos Larose winemaker and now a consultant, for advice on viticulture and one winery design.

Anne appears to have defined the style of One Faith in her three vintages with Bill. The wines are bold and full-flavoured with an elegant polish, some of which is due to her technique of fermenting the reds in barrel. (She did the same in her first vintage at Phantom Creek last year, with equally effective results.)

Bill, of course, set the bar high for his winemakers when he began to refer to his wine as an Okanagan First Growth. “First Growth for me is what all my friends are used to,” he explains. “A lot of my friends are in Hong Kong and they drink a lot of First Growths. They hardly drink any Canadian wine. They were born with French wine. A lot of people criticised me when I called my wine First Growth. I try not to use First Growth very much now, but I hope I can be a First Growth of the Okanagan in time.”

He is confident his wines can hold their own in the big leagues. Last fall, he took a table to introduce his wines at a major trade show in Shanghai. Many consumers ignored his table until the word got around that the wines were special.

“In the afternoon, a pack of people came to my booth to taste my wine,” Bill recounts.  “There was a great reception there. People didn’t believe Canadians have good red wine.”

Here are notes on the three vintages of One Faith that will be available at the wine festival.

One Faith 2012 Grand Vin ($495 for a box of three). The wine is a blend of 45.4% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24.6% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged between 20 and 22 months in French oak. The wine begins with deep and complex aromas of cassis, vanilla, spice and dark cherry. On the palate, there are layered flavours of black cherry, plum, cassis, chocolate and tobacco. It is a sveltely polished wine with long, silky tannins. The wine is drinking well now but will continue to improve in the bottle for five to eight years. 95.

One Faith 2013 Grand 
Vin (Price not finalized). The winery made 250 cases of this wine. The blend is 77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec. Aromas of black cherry and vanilla bound from the glass as a prelude to the medley of sweet fruit on the palate: flavours of blueberry, black cherry and black currant. The long ripe tannins polish the wine’s long, elegant finish. 95.

 One Faith 2014 Grand Vin (not released). This wine, not yet tasted, is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. “I think the 2014 is a stunning wine,” Bill says.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery is back

Photo: Mt. Boucherie winemaker Jim Faulkner

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery emerged last year from nearly two years in receivership.

The quantity of its wines suffered but, it seems, not the quality. The winery has underlined that last fall with the release of its flagship red, Summit Reserve 2013, at $50 a bottle. That’s not chuzpah: the wine is worth it.

The winery’s website also shows a wine called Contessa 2013, priced at $89.95 for just over 500 cases. This is a blend 34% Cabernet Franc, 24% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Syrah, aged 25 months in French oak. It was not available for tasting during a recent winery visit.

One has to applaud winemaker Jim Faulkner and the supporting management team for laying down  markers that say the winery is truly back after a second implosion of the family dynamics at Mt. Boucherie.

The winery opened in 2001. It was then operated by three brothers: Sarwan, Nirmal and Kaldep Gidda. The lengthy profile in my 2009 edition of The Wineries of British Columbia set out the family background:

With refreshing candour,  Sarwan Gidda explains why his family remained grape growers when they bought a vineyard in 1975 with the intention of replacing the vines with apple trees. “It was better money than the apples,” he says. Since that discovery, this Punjabi-born family has acquired about 71 hectares (175 acres) of vineyards, growing both for their modern estate winery near Westbank as well as for several other wineries. It is probable that the Gidda brothers grow more varieties of grapes – including an obscure Russian variety called Michurinetz – than any commercial Okanagan grower.

The Gidda brothers have farming in the blood. Mehtad Gidda, their father, had been a farmer in India until, at the age of 29, he brought his family to British Columbia in 1958. A very hard worker, he laboured at sawmills while investing his savings in orchard property. “Dad wouldn’t let us get into farming until we got educated,” Sarwan remembers. “He thought farming was too hard.” The eldest of the three brothers, he studied business administration. Nirmal earned a science degree and Kaldep, the youngest brother, trained as a mechanic. Now, all are partners in Mt. Boucherie and the vineyards.

That book was published just as Sarwan left the partnership in 2008 to establish the nearby Volcanic Hills Winery with his son, Bobby. Volcanic Hills, with Daniel Bontorin as winemaker, has been operating smoothly since then.

The relationship between Nirmal (right) and Kaldep at Mt. Boucherie unravelled in 2014 and its lender, Farm Credit Canada (FCC), sought a receiver to manage the business. The reasons were set out in a BC Court of Appeal judgement in December, 2014.

“There is discord between the brothers and each has commenced litigation against the other,” Justice S. David Frankel wrote. “FCC commenced these proceedings against the Giddas and their companies because it had lost confidence in the brothers’ ability to conduct their financial affairs in a manner that would protect and maintain the security provided to it.”

Kaldep opposed the appointment of a receiver. When one was appointed, he sought to bar the receiver and a vineyard management company from the vineyards. That resulted in neglect of the vineyards, including not irrigating some, which reduced the winery’s production in 2014 and 2015.

“Production went 40% down,” winemaker Jim Faulkner says. “We went from 20,000 cases - even 25,000 cases one year – down to about 15,000 cases.”

The winery continued to sell wine and operate its tasting room throughout the turmoil, an indication of the fine balance a good receiver can achieve: keep the business running while conserving capital until a new owner is found.

At one point, conserving capital meant that one order of bottles and three orders of labels were cancelled. Unable to bottle some wine in 2015, Jim kept it protected in good storage. Some of the reds now being released spent 22 to 30 months in neutral oak – without any deleterious impact on them.

Jim continued to make wine in difficult circumstances, while turning down several job offers from competing wineries. His dedication to Mt. Boucherie is one reason that the receiver had a viable business to sell last year.
“In my opinion, the receiver was rather balanced,” Jim says. “They just followed numbers that we gave them. It did not affect me that much. There is always accountability to the receiver. I never had a problem with that. I have run nightclubs and I have taken over a few that were in receivership. I bought a house that was in receivership. I have had my fair share of them.”

Jim, who was born in Penticton in 1962, developed an interest in wine during the 19 years he spent managing nightclubs. That interested was cemented when he and his wife honeymooned in Bordeaux in 2000, visiting a number of wineries. “We came back in 2000 just as they needed help at CedarCreek at crush and they were looking for labourers. I remember doing a lot of cleaning and shovelling tanks out – and I really loved shovelling tanks out. I loved the physical labour.”

From there, he moved to Summerhill Pyramid winery for several years before being hired by Church & State on Vancouver Island. He spent three years there, mentoring under Bill Dyer, the legendary California winemaker who had previously launched Burrowing Owl Winery.  “He is a generous, knowledgeable man and a good person,” Jim says. “I learned quite a bit from him.”

Wanting to move back to the Okanagan, Jim joined Mt. Boucherie in 2009. “I think some of the better wines I have made, have been in the last few years,” he says. Mt. Boucherie wines won awards in several competitions even while its affairs were in tumult.

The winery attracted interested from several groups when the receiver put it on the market in 2015. The successful bidder, a group headed by Vancouver businessman Sonny Huang, took over Mt. Boucherie on March 30, 2016. Born in China, Sonny is a long-time resident of British Columbia and a self-made entrepreneur who started with a pizza shop and now is a real estate developer as well an importer/exporter of produce and wine.

Sonny installed a management team headed by Craig McCulloch, a former grocery executive. He also opened the purse. Before the 2016 vintage, Jim was able to install sorting tables for the first time and to order 100 new barrels. Meanwhile, Mt. Boucherie’s 300 acres of vineyards (in the Similkameen, Okanagan Falls and West Kelowna) are being rejuvenated. There are plans to extend the barrel cellar, to replace the tasting room and add a restaurant and boutique hotel. The winery’s ultimate production target is about 50,000 cases of wine.
Here are notes of some current Mt. Boucherie wines.

Mt. Boucherie 2016 Rosé ($19; tank sample for spring release). This is made with Zweigelt grapes. Light skin contact achieves a Provençal pink hue. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and raspberry. The finish is dry but the weight and juicy texture create a lingering, fruity finish. 90.

Mt. Boucherie Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($30). This is a big Chardonnay, with buttery aromas and rich marmalade flavours that just fill the mouth. 90.

Mt. Boucherie 2016 Gamay (barrel sample for spring release). The winery has a good following for its Gamay, made in the style of Beaujolais Village wine. This is a dark, full-bodied Gamay with a touch of oak from some of the new barrels. The dominant flavour is cherry and the texture is silky. 88.

Mt. Boucherie Meritage 2012 ($34.95). This is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc; it was aged 30 months in French oak. The wine still has a firm but polished backbone, with aromas of vanilla, coconut and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant with black coffee and dark chocolate on the finish. 90.

Mt. Boucherie Winemaker’s Reserve Summit 2013 ($49.90 for 1,050 cases). This is 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Malbec. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of blueberry, cassis and vanilla, leading to rich flavours of black cherry and black currant. The long ripe tannins give the wine a full texture and an elegant finish. 93.

Mt. Boucherie Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah 2014 ($35 for 350 cases). This wine was 22 months in oak (93% French, 7% American). It begins with aromas of pepper, black cherry and licorice, leading to flavours of fig and plum punctuated with pepper on the finish. The texture is full and rich. 92.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mission Hill's seamless changing of the guard

Photo: Mission Hill vice-president and winemaker Darryl Brooker

The passing of the winemaking torch at Mission Hill Family Estate has been exceptionally smooth.
John Simes, the legendary New Zealand-born winemaker, who has been there since 1992, was succeeded after the 2014 vintage by Darryl Brooker, previously the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, which Mission Hill had acquired early in 2014.

Darryl holds the title of vice-president as well as chief winemaker. Born in Canberra, Australia, in 1973, Darryl came to the Okanagan in 2010 after making wine in Australia, New Zealand and Ontario.  

“Virtually every job I have started, the previous winemaker was not there any more,” Darryl says. “It has been interesting here. John and I knew that I was coming for a while. There have been a couple of advantages. John invited me to blending sessions. He was still fully in charge, but I had an 18-month transition into the job. It was a good way to see the 2013 reds and the 2014 whites. I got to sit through the blending sessions with Pascal Chatonnet, our consultant, and be an observer.”

He and John agreed the John “would see through the 2014 vintage, including the reds, in to the bottle, and I would take over from 2015. Obviously, I was running the winery by then, but out of respect, I made sure he was happy with my decisions.”

Darryl adds that “it has been a nice transition. You don’t experience that very often at all, unless you go from assistant to winemaker at the same property. It is not that I am going to make the wines exactly the same as John. It has been a good way to get a handle on why he is doing things a certain way.”

John remains involved at Mission Hill, overseeing the vineyards, and Darryl still taps his expertise. 

“I trust his palate a lot on picking decisions and things,” Darryl says. “When the Merlots came in, I asked him to spend a couple of hours with me in the winery and taste through the Merlots. It is quite nice having him around and having that experience. I would be silly not to use it.”

The wines currently available reflect the seamless transition from one talented winemaker to another.

Mission Hill has a large portfolio, divided into tiers. The entry-level tier is called Five Vineyards, reflecting the fact that Mission Hill operates  at least five vineyards throughout the Okanagan.

In ascending order, there is a reserve tier and a terroir tier. The Legacy Collection sits at the crown of the portfolio.

The Terroir Collection wines, which were the last major initiative by John Simes, are available exclusively at the winery because production is limited. These wines are made with grapes that are among the top three percent of the fruit in Mission Hill’s vineyards.

The Legacy wines includes a Chardonnay called Perpetua, a red Bordeaux blend called Compendium and another red blend called Quatrain, which includes Syrah in the blend. The flagship is Oculus, the Bordeaux blend that Mission Hill launched in 1997. It is now one of the Okanagan’s outstanding Icon wines.

Here are notes on the wines.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2015 ($12.99). This wine is screaming good value. It is juicy with aromas and flavours of peach and lychee. Absolutely delicious. 90.
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rosé 2015 ($12.99). This may be sold out but it is another delicious wine for the price. It has aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and watermelon, with a lingering fruit sweetness on the finish. 89.
Mission Hill Five
Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 ($15.99). This is a silky, medium-bodied Pinot Noir long on quaffability, with aromas and flavours of cherry and with a spicy finish. 88.
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($20.49). This refreshing and vibrant wine delivers lush aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, including lime and grapefruit. The wine is beautifully balanced with a creamy texture. Twenty-one percent was fermented and aged six months in French oak. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2015 ($20.49). Twenty percent of this wine was fermented in barrel, adding depth and complexity to the final blend. It has aromas of spice and citrus, with flavours of peach and citrus. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($N/A). This wine, with buttery and toasty notes on the nose, is a reminder that one can always count on Mission Hill Chardonnays to deliver. The wine is rich and buttery on the palate, with flavours of marmalade and orange zest and with a lingering finish. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2014 ($24.99). This is 87% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 13 months in French and American oak. The firm, age-worthy texture is typical of Okanagan Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, cedar, black cherry and black currant. The dark red fruit flavours, reminiscent of Black Forest cake, develop as the wine breathes. This delicious wine came into its own after being open overnight. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($25.99). The wine, which was aged 13 months in French and American oak, begins with aromas mint, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, the texture is concentrated, with flavours of  black currant and plum. 92.
Mission Hill Reserve
Limited Edition Viognier 2015 ($N/A). Here is another wine not on the winery’s website, meaning it is available just at the winery. The wine begins with appealing floral aromas with notes of apricot, peach and honeysuckle. The palate is rich with flavours of stone fruit and ripe apple. 91.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Bluebird Passage Viognier 2014 ($30 for 423 cases). These two Viogniers are something of a benchmark for Okanagan Viognier. This wine begins with appealing aromatic notes of stone fruit. On the palate, there are rich and luscious flavours of peach, apricot and mango. The finish is long and lingering. 93.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Bluebird Passage Viognier 2015 ($30 for 398 cases). This is a single vineyard wine. One third was fermented in a concrete egg, one third in older oak barrels and one third in stainless steel. Darryl’s objective: “A big, unctuous Viognier but with nice aromatics and brightness to it.” A terrific wine, it begins with aromas with floral and ripe apricot notes. The palate is luscious, with flavours of apricot, peach and mango. The finish lingers. 92.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot 2013 ($N/A). This wine is made with grapes from a 14-acre vineyard near Oliver that has been managed organically since it was planted in 2006. In 2013, Mission Hill began the process of getting organic certification. The wine begins with intense aromas of plum, blackberry and blueberry, which lead to flavours of black currant, black cherry and blueberry jam. There is a touch of chocolate on the finish. 92.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot 2014 ($N/A). Like the previous vintage, this wine is remarkable for its concentration. It begins with aromas of spicy cassis, leading to flavours plum, blueberry, chocolate and licorice. 93.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection Crosswinds Syrah 2012 ($65 for 950 cases). This wine as aged 13 months in French oak. Even after several years in bottle, the wine still has grippy tannins and notes of oak and vanilla. However, once decanted, it shows aromas of spice, cedar and white pepper, leading for flavours of black cherry and chocolate. The wine has intense concentration. 91.

Mission Hill Perpetua 2013 ($50). This is an elegant Chardonnay with aromas of citrus, butter and toast. On the palate, the citrus and apple notes are supported by a mineral backbone and by bright acidity. 91.

Mission Hill Compendium 2012 ($75 for 2,500 cases). This is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc. The volume of this wine speaks to the quality of the fruit Mission Hill is getting from its Osoyoos vineyards. The wine was fermented in small French oak fermenters and aged 14 months in French oak. The wine has aromas of oak and cassis leading to flavours of plum and black currant, with a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. 93.

Oculus 2013 ($125 for 1,975 cases). This wine, not yet fully released, is 51% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, all from Osoyoos vineyards. It was fermented in small French oak fermenters and aged 14 months in French oak. It begins with appealing aromas of black cherry, blueberry, vanilla and a suggestion of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, black coffee and dark chocolate. The long, ripe tannins give this elegant wine a svelte and polished texture. Because of its youth, I doubled decanted the wine. But for the need to reviewing it, I would have cellared it for seven to 10 years, allowing it to blossom naturally. 94-95.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

BC wineries need to circle the wagons

Photo: Mission Hill Oculus: best in the room at Wine Festival preview

For at least 60 British Columbia wineries, their presence at the Vancouver International Wine Festival in February takes on added importance in light of the new U.S. administration’s protectionist attitudes.

Having a high profile at one of North America’s best wine festivals gives the wineries a further chance to connect with consumers. British Columbia wineries already enjoy considerable consumer loyalty. They have a 17% market share, according to the B.C. Wine Institute.

I am actually surprised it is not higher. The Festival recently hosted a tasting for wine trade and media and poured a representative selection from the 1,700 wines that will be poured during the week-long event.

Festival staff may well have cherry-picked 29 wines to ensure that the BC wines stood out. Nevertheless, I thought that the best wine in the room at this mini-tasting was Mission Hill Oculus 2012. Overall, the BC wines stood up very well against the American and other international wines. And one of the most mediocre wines in the room was a Sauvignon Blanc from California.

The BC wineries at the Festival need to hope that consumers at the event continued to be impressed with BC wines. Even before Donald Trump had his tiny hands on the nuclear codes, the United States had launched a trade action against the BC wine industry. The Americans argue that allowing exclusive grocery store access for BC wine is an unfair trade practice.

Canada has been the single largest export market for American wines, predominantly California wines, since 2008. California wine sales to Canada in 2015 totalled $461 million. While BC has been a good market for California wines, their market share here is about a third of the market share of BC wines. Hence, the argument that setting up an exclusive sales channel for VQA wines is discriminatory.

The Overwaitea Food Group began selling VQA wines in selected grocery stores in April 2015. Seven Overwaitea/Save-on-Food stores now have wine sections. The company controls other VQA licenses not yet activated. As well, Loblaw’s and other grocery chains have, or are acquiring, grandfathered wine store licenses for the sale of just BC wine.

In theory, they could sell imported wine, but only in a separate section of the store. That would lack the appeal and the convenience of the VQA wine section.

The Americans have been complaining for some time that this discriminates against them. And they have allies. In November, 2016, the Wine Institute in California said this in a statement:

“Wine Institute appreciates the continued efforts of, and strongly supports, the governments of the US, Australia, Argentina, Chile, the European Union, Mexico and New Zealand which on April 29, 2016, filed a formal objection with the BC premier challenging the province’s grocery store regulations. [These give] less favourable treatment to imported wine than they do to BC Wines. As such, [they are] violating Canada’s commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization. … For this reason, BC’s discriminatory program must be modified to allow equal access for imported wines.”
The trade action was finally launched just a few days before the Trump inauguration by Michael Froman, President Obama’s trade representative, and is being continued by Trump’s trade representative.
Froman said in a statement: “The discriminatory regulations implemented by British Columbia intentionally undermine free and fair competition. Canada and all Canadian provinces, including BC, must play by the rules.”

Robert Koch, the president of the Wine Institute, chimed in last week to observe that: “BC consumers are among the most knowledgeable and sophisticated purchasers of wine. Any expansion of retail distribution channels should ensure that consumers have convenient access to their preferred wines from around the world.”

 Never mind that their preferred wines currently are BC wines, by a big margin. Never mind that imported wines are sold in 600 private stores and 200 BC liquor stores.

I cannot admit to a great deal of sympathy for the American position, given the pride I take in the remarkable accomplishments of the BC wineries. If the US is adopting an American First policy, surely it is not discriminatory if we have a BC First policy regarding our wines!

Sadly, while the trade action will take some years to resolve, at the end of the day the Americans are likely to prevail and grocery stores will be opened to all wines, not just VQA wines.

It would deprive VQA wines of an important marketing advantage, but that will not be the end of the world. The quality of BC wines now easily matches the quality of imported wines and BC’s “sophisticated” consumers obviously know that.

However, the BC wine industry needs to keep up its efforts to convince consumers this is so. Taking part in the Vancouver International Wine Festival is an important promotional effort.

Here are some of the stellar BC wines you will find at the Festival, both at tasting events and in the on-site liquor store, based on wines the Festival has previewed.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2014 ($60). The wine has sage and herbal notes on the aroma and the finish. The fruit flavours include black cherry, plum, coffee and chocolate. The texture is rich and ripe, with long tannins. The winery says this was “more masculine” than previous vintages – even after dialling back the Cabernet Sauvignon, which speaks well of the quality of the Merlot.  92-94.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2014 ($40) The wine begins with aromas of ripe, dark fruit – plum and black cherry – with floral notes, perhaps reflecting the four percent co-fermented Viognier in the blend. It is rich and juicy on the palate, with a smoky hint on the finish. 92.
Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015 ($25). Here is a Pinot Gris with good weight on the palate. It has aromas and flavours of pear, apple and citrus. 88.
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate SunRock Shiraz 2014 ($27). This full-bodied red begins with aromas of fig, plum and leather. The flavours are bold and intense: black cherry and fig with black cherry on the finish. 92.
Mission Hill Oculus 2012 ($125). This wine is juicy in texture with aromas of cassis, black cherry and red liquorice, leading for flavours of red and black fruits. It has a svelte, polished finish with long ripe tannins that promise 10 to 15 years of improvement in the cellar. 94.
Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir 2015 ($27). Here is a rich, bold Pinot Noir, dark in colour, beginning with aromas of spiced cherry. On the palate, there are luscious flavours of cherry and strawberry. The seductive texture is all velvet. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Viognier 2015 ($25). This wine has aromas and flavours of peach, apricot and apple, with a rich texture and with bright acidity to create a refreshing finish. 90.