Friday, September 13, 2019

Blue Mountain launches three Grand Cru Pinot Noirs

 Photo: Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety

In a significant evolution of its portfolio, Blue Mountain this month is releasing its first three single vineyard block Pinot Noirs.

If this were Burgundy, those would be called Grand Cru wines. Blue Mountain, of course, is not using that designation. It is my way of signalling where the three wines fit at the top of the Blue Mountain portfolio.

These wines are being released simultaneously with Blue Mountain’s Estate Pinot Noir and Blue Mountain’s Reserve Cuvee. This is the first time that those two wines have been released at the same time. The reasoning is that consumers might not appreciate the differences among the wines if the release dates had been staggered.

Blue Mountain has been a leading Okanagan producer of Pinot Noir since releasing its first from the 1991 vintage.

“The wines that are made today are definitely different than the wines that were made in the 1990s and the 2000s.” says winemaker Matt Mavety. “The winemaking has definitely been refined and changed over the last five years.”

The quality of Blue Mountain’s Pinot Noirs has been remarkably consistent over the years. The reflects the fact that all the grapes are grown on the estate; and that Matt and his father, Ian, have been the only winemakers at Blue Mountain. However, Matt disclosed that the winery has used a consultant from Burgundy since 2001 – not to make the wines but to suggest or confirm techniques to improve wines that were already good.

For example, the consultant (whose name is not disclosed) prodded the Mavety family to begin fermenting with natural yeasts. Now, virtually all the wines are fermented with wild yeast. The argument for doing so is to let the terroir show in the wines.

That same objective has driven other refinements in the Blue Mountain cellar, including the release of three single vineyard block wines.

“With the single vineyard bottlings, we are trying to put in bottle a wine that expresses the site itself, not the hand of the winemaking,” Matt says. “We have been working over the last 10 vintages to remove some of our input or our stamp on the wines, to allow more of the site to show through. Not that at any time we were heavy handed but there was room for refinement.”

The handling of both the grapes and the wines has become gentler.

“The refinements in winemaking have allowed the personalities of the vineyards to become very expressive,” Matt says. “Before, when our extraction levels were a bit higher, they started to hide, or muddle, the nuances in the wine. That becomes a very significant evolution in what has happened. It is not one that happened all of a sudden.  It is something we have been working on since, I would say, the 2010 vintage, to try to pull back our activity during the fermentation.”

There has been a significant change in how the wines are racked when wine is being taken off the lees. Previously, Blue Mountain – like most wineries – typically pumped each barrel into tank and, if further barrel aging was required, pumped it back into barrel.

Now, pumping has virtually been eliminated except for filling the barrels initially from primary fermentation vessels. After that, Blue Mountain moves the wine by gravity. A stainless steel tap is inserted into a specially-made bung hole in the head of each barrel. The barrel is then tilted or rocked so that the wine flows from that barrel into the receiving barrel. “It is an old school technique,” Matt observes. “A lot of domains in Burgundy still do it.”

“We would have minimized our rackings in the past but when we were assembling wines for bottling, they were never as clear as they should have been,” Matt says. “We would have to filter the wine. In this case, we are able to handle the wines very gently, step by step, to get to the point where we can bottle unfiltered, no question.”

The decision to bottle single vineyard block wines in the 2017 vintage was the culmination of at least a decade of experience with the Blue Mountain vineyard.  

“As our understanding of the vineyards and the wines we are making from specific blocks emerged, we had three blocks we could isolate as three unique personalities,” Matt says.  “We definitely have differences in the soils here. One of the blocks in particular is different, based on the soil. But quite often, we find the topography is what is giving us a significant difference in the sites.”

Wine from these blocks was already part of the estate and reserve blends. In order not to strip quality from those, only small bottlings – 1,800 bottles each – have been released as single block wines. When the wines being released are lined up side by side, the differences are evident.

“Our customer may have a preference one way or another, but we are not ranking them,” Matt says. “There is an order in which they are poured but not necessarily an order of one, two and three.”

Each block has been named in an attempt to telegraph the personalities of the wines. Block 9, a vineyard block just under a hectare in size with undulating terrain and multiple exposures, is now Wild Terrain. Block 14 is Gravel Force because the soil is a mix of gravel and clay. Block 23’s name, River Flow, is suggested by the sandy soils.

“I would hope customers could taste through the five wines and see a couple of things,” Matt says. “You can see the reflection of the estate. All of these wines were grown here on the bench in Okanagan Falls. They are hopefully all an expression of the land they were grown on, not the winemaking. If our winemaking is too aggressive, the nuances we captured here would be more hidden.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Blue Mountain Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir 2017 ($35). The bright notes of fruit, cherry and raspberry, reflect that much of the fruit is from younger vines. The texture is silky and finish is elegant. 91.

Blue Mountain Reserve Cuvee Pinot Noir 2017 ($45). Dark in colour, this wine begins with aromas of spice and dark fruit, followed by layers of concentrated flavour. The finish is elegant with classic velvet tannins. 93.

Blue Mountain River Flow Block 23 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with toasty oak. That is echoed on the silky palate. A wine with finesse and with flavours that linger on the palate. 94.

Blue Mountain Wild Terrain Block 9 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine does indeed have an unruly edge to it, with aromas and flavours of herbs mingled with cherry. The flavours are bright and the texture is firm. 94.

Blue Mountain Gravel Force Block 14 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine delivers an edgy tension on the palate, with aromas and bright flavours of cherry mingled with spice. The structure is firm and age worthy. 94.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

River Stone's Corner Stone and friends

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane

Judging from this winery’s website, River Stone owners Ted and Lorraine Kane’s children have grown up to the point where one son is old enough to work in the tasting room.

Ted, on the other hand, was still under age when he started making wine. While he initially pursued a medical science career, his passion for wine just kept getting stronger. When Lorraine, already a nurse, began a four-year program in Alberta to become a doctor, he fretted that all the good vineyard land in the Okanagan would be gone before she finished her studies.

As it turned out, there were happy endings for everybody. In 2001, they found 9.5-acres of raw land just north of Oliver that proved to be an outstanding vineyard. By the time Ted planted the vines, Lorraine had finished her degree and established a family practice in the South Okanagan.

It has been a happy ending for consumers as well. Since the winery opened in 2011, River Stone’s wines have never disappointed.

I included Corner Stone, the flagship red wine, in my 2017 book Icon because I consider this a very fine cellar-worthy Okanagan red blend. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Ted Kane had Corner Stone in mind back in 2003, when he began planting the River Stone vineyard on Tuc El Nuit Drive, just outside Oliver. In the French tradition, he planted Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—in the proportions he believed he needed for his blend.

“I knew at the beginning it was going to be a Merlot-forward, Right Bank Bordeaux style because of our cool-climate growing conditions,” Ted says. “Merlot is the most reliable ripener as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, which I knew would be the last to ripen.” Consequently, Merlot was the biggest block on the well-drained south-facing slopes. Subsequent experience led him to increase the planting of Cabernet Franc, another reliable ripener. He also replaced five rows of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot in order to grow the full suite needed for a Bordeaux-type blend.

Ted says some have drawn parallels between Corner Stone and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc, although in the latter’s vineyard, Cabernet Franc takes the lead, followed by Merlot. While he does not mind the compliment inherent in that comparison, Ted says that Corner Stone is made in the New World style, closer to reds from California or Chile. “I wanted to produce wines that had concentration and weight,” he says. “I also found after a short time in France that what I didn’t want was the astringency that was still there after year six on some of the wines.”

The individual varietals are fermented in small lots that are aged separately in French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months. By blending time, Ted has identified the best barrels of each varietal. Wine not needed for Corner Stone is blended into Stones Throw, which, in the French tradition, is made for earlier consumption. He also bottles modest volumes of single varietals, offering them in the wine shop and to his wine club.

Perhaps the most notable of these single varietals is the Cabernet Franc, which grows very successfully in the River Stone vineyard. “If I knew back when I planted what I know now, I would have planted more Cabernet Franc,” Ted admits. Much like Cheval Blanc.

Here are notes on the current releases.

River Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($21.90 for 234 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime and lemon mingled with herbal notes. The palate is packed with fruit – lime, guava, stone fruits. The finish is dry and it lingers. 91.

River Stone Pinot Gris 2018 ($20.90 for 236 cases). This is a crisp white with good weight on the palate and with a mineral back bone. It has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. 91.

River Stone Malbec Rosé 2018 ($22.90). The dark hue announces that this is a bold rosé meant to be enjoyed with food. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and plum, with a lingering finish. 91.

River Stone Cabernet Franc 2017 ($34.90 for 145 cases). A classic Cabernet Franc, the wine shows brambly blackberry aromas and flavours. The texture is youthfully firm. This wine should either be decanted or cellared for a few more years to best unlock the potential. 91.

River Stone Stones Throw 2016 ($28.90 for 860 cases). This is a blend of 78% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak. This is a delicious blend, with bold, ripe aromas and flavours of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry and black currant. 92.

River Stone Corner Stone 2016 ($36.89 for 500 cases). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of 42% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It was aged 18 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of black cherry mingled with oak, eucalyptus, spice and the singular perfume of Malbec. The palate delivers flavours of black cherry and black currant, with a persistent spicy finish. 93.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Kettle Valley's new releases

Photo: Kettle Valley's Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts, the partners at Kettle Valley Winery in Naramata, are about to begin their 28th vintage.

It is a remarkable run, considering that the winery is a second career for both. Previously, Bob was a chartered accountant and Tim was a geologist. As it happens, they are taking their feet off the pedal, just a little.

This year, the partners and their assistant winemaker, Haley Fisher, expect to process about 120 to 130 tons of grapes. At the peak of production earlier this decade, the winery handled 220 tons. (A rough rule of thumb is that each ton of fruit yields about 50 cases of wine.)

“It was just too much work,” Bob told me in an interview in August. “I turn 69 next month and Tim is 62. It is physical work. By slowing it down a little bit and dropping the volume, it has made it easier for us. We both still enjoy it but it has made it more fun.”

The volume may be down but, judging from the five wines just released, the quality remains high.

Two of the wines are from the winery’s Great Northern Vineyard near Keremeos in the Similkameen Valley. Acquired in 2008, it has 12 acres under vine. This vineyard was one of the reasons for the lift in Kettle Valley’s overall production.

The current releases allow for a comparison of Syrah wine from this terroir against one from a Naramata vineyard. The clay soils of the Naramata Bench, where Kettle Valley grows much of its fruit, appear to produce wines with more depth than the river gravel soils in the Similkameen.

One of the varietals grown in Great Northern – but not included in this release – is Zinfandel. After dipping a toe in with a one-acre test planting, Kettle Valley added at least two more. Zinfandel is a difficult varietal to grow because of its tendency to ripen unevenly, even within the same bunch. “We have a handle on both the growing and the winemaking,” Bob says.  

Look for the wine in a future release.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2018 ($24). This is Kettle Valley’s best-selling wine. It is notable for is rosé colour and its depth of flavour, the result of allowing the juice to remain on the skins for up to three days before pressing. A portion is fermented in stainless steel and a portion is fermented on neutral French oak barrels. The wine has aromas and flavours of raspberry and pink grapefruit, with a lingering dry finish. 91.

Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2015 ($38 for 390 cases). This is Kettle Valley’s flagship red, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot touched up with a total of five percent Petit Verdot and Malbec, all grown on the Naramata Bench. Reflecting the vintage, the wine is bold and ripe, with aromas of cassis and black cherry and with flavours of black currant, plum and black cherry. The ripe tannins give the wine a generous and persistent finish. 93.

Kettle Valley Stern Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($38 for 50 cases). This wine, which as aged 21 months in French oak, is quite exceptional. Plump and rich on the palate, it begins with aromas of sweet dark fruit leading to flavours of black cherry, plum and fig  mingled with black pepper. 93-95.

Great Northern Viognier 2018 ($22 for 466 cases). A portion of this wine was barrel-fermented in older French oak; a portion was fermented in stainless steel. Good acidity gives this wine bright fruit flavours, including stone fruits and apple, with fresh floral aromas. 91..

Great Northern Syrah 2015 ($24 for 318 cases). There is five per cent of Viognier in this wine, giving some floral lift to the aromas. The wine was aged 22 months in in French oak. It is a bit leaner than the Stern Vineyard Syrah but it also has power, with flavours of fig, spice and white pepper. 90.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Bordertown adds value wines to portfolio

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill

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

Mohan has never stopped working. He opened Bordertown Winery in 2015 and is now expanding to cider production. Together with a brother, he farms 110 acres of vineyards and orchards, all near Osoyoos. Fourteen grape varietals are grown in these vineyards, supporting Bordertown’s growing wine production.

Mohan dipped his toe into viticulture by planting two acres of grapes in 2005. A quick study, he began increasing his vineyard area in 2007 and was soon selling grapes to both large and small wineries. One of his clients was Mark Simpson, who operates B.C. Wine Studio, a custom crush winery near Okanagan Falls. On Mark’s urging, Mohan opened Bordertown, locating it strategically on the highway just north of Osoyoos. The expansive wine shop signalled Mohan’s ambition that Bordertown become a substantial winery quickly. The winery produced 3,000 cases in 2013, its first vintage. That rose to 13,500 cases in 2017 and Mohan’s goal is to reach 40,000 cases.

Employing consulting winemakers Jason Parkes and, latterly, Daniel Bontorin, Bordertown established its credentials quickly, winning in 2016 a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in Wine for debut vintage of its signature red blend, the 2013 Living Desert Red.

The winery’s current releases include a new budget label, Desert Sage. The wines are exceptional value for the price.

Here are notes on the wines.

Bordertown Desert Sage The White 2017 ($12). This white blend is anchored with Gewürztraminer, supported with Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Viognier and Muscat. Predictably, aroma is a basket of fruit. That is echoed on the palate – apple, melon, peach, citrus. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.

Bordertown Desert Sage The Red 2017 ($14). This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry, black cherry and vanilla. Long ripe tannins support flavours of black cherry with hints of tobacco and mocha. 89.

Bordertown Dry Riesling 2018 ($19) The wine begins with aromas of citrus leading to flavours of lemon and lime and an herbal note on the dry finish. Good acidity gives a refreshing zest to the mid-palate. 88.

Bordertown Pinot Gris 2017 ($20) The wine begins with aromas of melon and pear which are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of orange. The mid-palate texture is rich but the wine finishes crisply. 91.

Bordertown Pinot Gris 2018 ($20). The wine begins with aromas of pear, apple and banana. It is rich on the palate with flavours of orange and nectarine. The finish is persistent. 92.

Bordertown Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 ($22). The wine begins with aromas of peach and apricot. On the palate, it is a bowl of fruit – apples, peaches, nectarines – with a long refreshing finish. A textbook example of pure and intense fruit. 92.

Bordertown Grüner Veltliner 2018 ($22) The wine begins with aromas of melon and new mown hay. The palate has good weight and delivers flavours of green melons with a note of herbs on the dry finish. 90.

Bordertown Living Desert White 2017 ($18). This is the winery’s signature white blend: 46% Muscat, 34% Gewürztraminer and 20% Grüner Veltliner. The wine begins with spicy and floral aromas, leading to a medley of refreshing fruit on the palate, including citrus with a hint of ginger. The finish is dry, with a lingering spiciness. 91.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc Rosé 2018 ($23) The wine presents with a delicate rose petal hue. Aromas of rhubarb and strawberry jump from the glass and are echoed on the palate. The wine has a zesty freshness that shout spring is here. 91.

Bordertown Merlot 2016 ($25) This is a big, ripe wine (14.9% alcohol), dark in the glass, with aromas of black currant, black cherry and blueberry. On the palate, the vibrant black fruit flavours explode, delivering black currant and black cherry mingled with tobacco and cedar. There is good concentration here, with a satisfying finish. 91.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc 2017 ($24). Here is a classic brambly expression of a varietal that is a rising star. It begins with aromas blackberry and black cherry. On the palate, there rich flavours of dark fruits mingled with tobacco, chocolate and spicy oak. Full-bodied, the wine has a lingering finish. 92.

Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($35). The wine begins with inviting aromas of cassis and black cherry. These are echoed in the lively and appealing flavours of black currant, black cherry, mingled with a note of mint. The tannins are long and polished. 93

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Lariana Cellars now boasts a wine club

Photo: Lariana's Carol and Dan Scott

Lariana Cellars, a boutique winery in Osoyoos, has started a wine club.

That may not strike you as earth-shattering news because almost every winery in British Columbia now operates its own wine club.

The significance of this wine club is that Lariana does not make much wine but it is all exceptional. Fans of this winery have had to be fast on their feet to get the wines on release. Belonging to the wine club moves them to the front of the line.

To be sure, this is not a winery with a high profile. Owners Dan and Carol Scott opened the winery in 2013 on a vineyard planted in 2007.

The winery is located on the American/Canadian border just east of the customs and immigration buildings at the Osoyoos border crossing. Visitors need to be alert lest they get into the lineup for the United States rather than making a left toward a vineyard. The winery is a few hundred yards further on.

The Scotts have lived in Osoyoos since 1989 when they moved there to take over a campground Carol’s parents had established two decades earlier. The recreational vehicle sites, which they still operate, occupy the lakeside half of the 10-acre property. The vineyard, which replaced apple and cherry trees in 2007, occupies the top half.

Planting vines was Carol’s passion. Her father, Larry Franklin, had been a major investor in a vineyard on Black Sage Road where Carol spent several summers.  “It was kind of a dream to plant grapes,” she says. “I finally convinced Dan and we cleared the land. It was a new tractor that convinced him.” 

They planted Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. When the hard winters of 2008 and 2009 mortally damaged the Syrah, that variety was replaced with 2,500 Carménère vines. Now, they purchase Syrah for Lariana’s red blend.

The Scotts produce less than 1,200 cases a year in a plain Jane winery with a modest tasting room (appointments recommended). They invested instead in top flight equipment, including the California-made concrete egg in which Carol and Lariana’s consulting winemaker Senka Tennant make Lariana’s exceptional Viognier.  Count me among those who believe this is simply the best Okanagan Viognier.

The winery’s flagship red, usually anchored with the vineyard’s ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, changes its name every year because the wine is named simply for the vintage. The first release was Twelve; succeeded by Thirteen and so on. Adding ten to the name should give you the year when the wine is peaking.

Lariana is about to release the Sixteen as well as the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. Here are notes on these and on wines released earlier this summer.

Lariana Viognier 2018 ($25.90 for 393 cases). This wine was fermented 75% in concrete, with the remainder fermented in a French oak barrel and in stainless steel. It is wonderfully floral on the nose, with notes of honeysuckle and tangerines. The palate is rich with bright acidity and flavours of apricots, peaches. The finish is persistent. 93.

Lariana Carménère 2016 ($49.90). This Bordeaux red varietal, produced just by a handful of Okanagan wineries, is already sold out. The wine has the classic aromas of pepper, black cherry and plums. These are echoed on the palate with a hint of raspberry enlivening the palate. The tannins are ripe, giving the wine a polished texture. 93.

Lariana Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($49.90 for 196 cases). This wine is about to be released. It begins with generous aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, layers of black cherries and black currant mingle with spice and chocolate. I scored this 93 when I tasted it from the barrel a year ago. The time in bottle since then has made the wine even better. 95.

Lariana Fifteen ($44.90 for 565 cases). The blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 17% Carménère. Already released, this is a bold, even voluptuous, red. It begins with aromas of black cherry and plum, leading to flavours of black cherry, fig, blackberry and chocolate. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (35% new) and shows lovely polished tannins. 94.

Lariana Sixteen ($44.90 for 491 cases). Soon to be released, this is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah and 9% Carménère. The wine was aged 17 months in French oak (35% new). The wine begins with a hint of cedar on the nose, along with aromas of plum and black licorice. On the palate, the wine is richly layered, with flavours of plum, fig, spice, chocolate and leather. 94.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kitsch Wines releases in 2019

Photo: Kitsch winemaker Grant Biggs

Trent and Ria Kitsch, who opened this winery in 2016, clearly know how to run successful businesses.

The capital for Kitsch Wines was generated by selling the SAXX brand of men’s briefs. They had launched that brand in 2006 and grew it to the point where a major distributor took it over.

This year, they acquired property which will enable them to double the Kitsch vineyard. The capital for that came from the sale of a cannabis company which, like SAXX, was nurtured to the point where a bigger player took it over.

Meanwhile, the winery, located in northeast Kelowna, is just barreling along. Production in the 2018 vintage exceeded 5,000 cases. That volume supports a full-time winemaker, a viticulturist and a marketing team, along with the two female Mexicans in the vineyard.

There is no secret to the success. Grant Biggs, the winemaker, gets well-grown fruit and turns it into very good wine. I have been impressed with every Kitsch vintage so far.

Grant was born in 1983 in Port Alberni. “My grandfather, I think, is the reason by I pursued a career in wine,” Grant says, referring to Italian-born Elio Navé. “He used to order grapes from California – Zinfandel and Muscat – and we would make wine in the basement together when I was growing up.” His interest in wine grew when he worked in Victoria restaurants, before becoming a cellar worker in the Okanagan, first at Mr. Boucherie Vineyards and then at Tantalus Vineyards. He came to Kitsch in 2015, armed with training from the University of California and a touch for making crisply refreshing wine.

The first time I interviewed Trent and Ria, I found the story of a winery financed by men’s briefs so entertaining that I usually repeated it when I was recommending the wines. When I recommended Kitsch to the food and beverage manager of a major Kelowna hotel, he laughed and showed me the waist band of his briefs. He was wearing SAXX. And he also added Kitsch wines to the hotel’s very good wine list.

I have now met many males who swear by SAXX. Given the volume the winery achieved in just three years, there are also consumers who swear by Kitsch wines.

Here are notes on recent releases.

Kitsch Block Party 2018 ($21 for 481 cases). This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris and 5% Pinot Noir.  The grapes were co-fermented. This is a delightfully bright and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of apples and peaches. 91.

Kitsch Pinot Gris 2018 ($22 for 481 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and was taken off the gross lees quickly in order to preserve a prickly freshness. It is a fruit basket of aroma and flavour, with a dry, crisp finish. 92.

Kitsch Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($N/A for 478 cases). The grapes for this pretty wine were crushed by foot, a time-honored way of delicate treatment of Pinot Noir. The wine appeals with aromas and flavours of strawberry. 91.

Kitsch Esther’s Block Riesling 2018 ($25). This wine is balanced toward a dry finish. A light petrol aroma mingles with citrus notes. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon and lime with a backbone of minerality. This wine will cellar well. 92.

Kitsch Maria’s Block Riesling 2018 ($25). This wine, with 16.5 grams of residual sugar, is balanced to off-dry. The residual sweetness lifts the tropical fruit aromas and flavours and supports a lingering, juicy finish. 92.

A footnote on those vineyard names. Esther is Trent’s mother and Maria is Ria’s name (and a name used by other members of the Kitsch family). The blocks are given individual designations because the soils and aspects are quite different. As a result, the wines are distinctive.

Kitsch Chardonnay 2017 ($24). This wine was fermented in stainless steel, not allowed to undergo malolactic ferment, and aged six months in neutral oak. The wine is fresh with aromas and flavours of apples and pears. 91.

Kitsch 7 Barrel Chardonnay 2017 ($35 for 169 cases). This is a lush barrel-fermented wine (fermented with wild yeast). It was aged 10 months in French oak barrels (69% new). It begins with aromas of orange, ripe apple and vanilla. On the palate, the fruit shows pineapple and marmalade notes. 93.

Kitsch Pinot Noir 2017 ($N/A for 312 cases). This may also be sold out. It is a pretty wine with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry and with a silken finish. 91.

Kitsch 5 Barrel Pinot Noir 2017 ($69 for 123 cases). The wine was made entirely with free-run juice and was fermented with natural yeast. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of spice and cherry. On the palate, the texture is fleshy with dark fruits. Soft, ripe tannins give the wine a velvet finish. 93.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

CedarCreek wines are the bees' knees

Photo: CedarCreek winemaker Taylor Whelan 

This summer’s media release from CedarCreek Estate Winery consists of six exceptional wines.

The winery has designated them all as “Platinum” – the winery’s term for its reserve wines. It is not a designation that CedarCreek uses idly, but keeps just for its best wines.

Always a strong producer, CedarCreek has become even better since it was acquired in 2013 by Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estates. Among other changes, the CedarCreek vineyards are transitioning to organic practices (as are all the vineyards owned by von Mandl).

One of those practices involved introducing bees to the winery’s Home Block Vineyard – with a startling result in the 2016 vintage. Winemaker Taylor Whelan takes up the story:

“Grape vines are self-pollinating, but bees help with the promotion of wild flowers, beneficial plants (such as crimson clover and mustard), and beneficial insects. The bees happily worked our site over the summer. I had kept bees in an amateur capacity in the past and was thrilled to now have around a million of the little ladies working for us.

“But there was a side benefit that we didn’t expect. As our harvest dates for Pinot Noir approached, we were hit with a lot of rain. This can be devastating in a Pinot vineyard as the delicate skins can split, resulting in infection and reduced quality. And splitting did happen across our Pinot blocks – 2 and 4 included.”

Then Taylor and his viticulturist, Kurt Simcic, noticed something that Taylor had never seen.

“Our fruit was absolutely covered in honey bees – hundreds of thousands of them – and they were methodically cleaning the fruit which had split, removing the sweet grape juice from the skins. For them it was a quick sugar hit, but for us it was life-saving as it greatly reduced the chance we would have a botrytis infection and be forced to pick early.

“Ultimately, the bees’ hard work gave us at least another seven days on the vine without disease pressure and allowed us to wild ferment the wines without concern for fruit health.”

Indeed, the 2016 Pinot Noirs are as good as any I have tasted from CedarCreek.

The winery is far along in becoming organic. The transition will be complete with the 2019 harvest. Taylor promises to deliver CedarCreek’s first organic wines next year.

Here are notes on the current releases.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Ehrenfelser Block 9 ($29.99 for 268 cases). Fruit salad in a glass is the phrase that comes to mind with this wine. CedarCreek has always taken pains to produce it in that style. Most of the wine was fermented in stainless steel but 11% was fermented in neutral oak and spent four months on the lees. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and mandarin orange. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit flavours including nectarine, peach and orange. A touch of residual sugar broadens the texture. The finish just won’t quit. 92.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Border Vista Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99 for 429 cases). Fifty per cent of this wine was fermented in stainless steel. To give the wine more texture and length, 40% was fermented in foudre and 10% in concrete. The wine begins with aromas of lime, peaches and herbs. On the palate, the lime and lemon mingle with herbal notes. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

CedarCreek 2017 Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 ($34.99 for 412 cases). This is an elegant and complex Chardonnay. It was fermented with wild yeast in French oak and aged 10 months on the lees in barrel. However, the oak is very subtle. The wine shows great fruit purity, with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and nectarine. 93.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Pinot Noir Rosé Block 1 ($29.99 for 759 cases). CedarCreek dedicated all of Block 1 Pinot Noir for rosé. There were two picks: an early one to get the herbaceous notes, along with grapefruit and watermelon; and a second pick to get strawberry from the riper fruit. The wine is fashionable pale, the fruit having spent just an hour on the skins before being pressed. The wine has delicate aromas of strawberry and watermelon, leading to delicate flavours of grapefruit and strawberry. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.  

CedarCreek 2016 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 ($54.99). The wine begins with almost floral aromas of spice and cherries. It is full on the palate, with savoury and juicy flavours of cherry and plum mingled with spice. 93.

CedarCreek 2016 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 4 ($54.99). Fruit from 21-year-old vines accounts for the rich depth of flavour in this wine. The grapes were fermented with natural yeast. Aromas of plum and cherry are echoed on the palate. There is dark, earthy fruit on the lingering finish. 93.