Tuesday, October 16, 2018

JoieFarm's wines get a lift from the kitchen

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble

Heidi Noble, the proprietor at JoieFarm Winery, says her winemaking was re-invigorated this fall by here experience this summer, working with the winery’s two in-house chefs.

JoieFarm took its food service up a notch or more when Heidi, a trained chef herself, took her turn in the kitchen with chefs Brian Skinner and Lina Cascheto. The service was called Le Comptoir at Joie Picnique, a step beyond the excellent wood-fired pizzas the winery has had for several years.

For Heidi, the experience illuminated how her wines could be paired with various menus. And she encourages consumers to recreate Old World recipes and pair them with her European-inspired wines.

The JoieFarm wines, in fact, have always been food friendly wines, with just the right structure and acidity to flatter whatever is on the plate. This is especially so with the exceptional “En Famille” reserve tier.

Here are notes on current releases. All are from the 2016 vintage, one of the best in the last two decades.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Riesling 2016 ($27.90 for 381 cases). This wine could also be called “Old Vines) because the grapes are from the 1978 planting at what is now St. Hubertus Vineyards. The richness of old vines is immediately apparent on the nose, where notes of petrol mingle with lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, lime and ginger framed with honeyed notes. The residual sugar is 17 grams but is nicely balanced with acidity. The mouth-filling flavours persist on the very long finish. 92.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($35 for 279 cases). This wine is made entirely with Chardonnay Musqué, a spicy clone. The wine presents in the glass with a light gold hue. The barrel-fermented wine was aged 10 months in oak, with regular lees stirring. The texture fills the mouth. It has aromas of melon, peach, with an herbal note that Heidi – who is a chef – calls drawn butter. The flavours are complex – baked apple, buttery but also briny. 92.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Gewürztraminer 2016 ($27.90 for 404 cases). The wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice and lychee. On the palate, the wine has a rich, oily texture and flavours of ripe apple and quince. On the finish, there is a hint of ginger and very slight alcoholic warmth, as you might experience with a top notch Alsace Gewürztraminer. 91.

JoieFarm Gamay 2016 ($19.50 for 615 cases). Dark in hue, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and a hint of toast (the wine was aged 10 months in oak – some new barriques, first-fill puncheons and a large neutral oak cask). On the palate, the cherry and blackberry flavours are savoury. Silky tannins lead to a fresh, juicy finish. 91.

JoieFarm PTG 2016 ($25.90 for 714 cases). This is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay Noir, a blend inspired by Burgundy.  The wine was aged 10 months in a combination of new and neutral oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice. That carries through to the flavours, along with plum. The wine has savoury, earthy notes on the finish. 91.

JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2016 ($26 for 670 cases). Rich in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherry and tar. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and raspberry, with savoury notes mingling oak and fruit on the finish. 90.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($40 for 474 cases). Dark in colour, with intense aromas where cherry mingles with vanilla and chocolate, this is a powerful Pinot Noir. It has flavours of raspberry and cherry with hints of chocolate and coffee. The complexity of this age-worthy wine starts with the use of four clones. The wine was aged eight months on oak (40% new, 60% neutral). 93.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Black Market finds a home of its own

Photo: Black Market's Rob Hammersley 

Within weeks of buying a Kaleden vineyard for his Black Market Wine Co., Rob Hammersley had a sign at the gate, 198 Spruce Avenue, announcing a planned 2019 opening.

It is a sign of how anxious he and Michelle Shewchuk, his partner, are to graduate from virtual winery status to a land-based winery. Black Market has made its wines since 2012 at BC Wine Studio, a custom crush facility at Okanagan Falls. It was a way for getting into wine production without committing too much capital.

When Black Market had established its brand, the owners, who had been looking for vineyard property almost two years, were ready for the next step. Kaleden was high on their list of locations.

“We rented a house here for a vacation, eight or nine years ago,” Rob says. “Since then, we have been in love with Kaleden. It’s like the last frontier in the Okanagan. If you think of the regions where there are vineyards and good potential, everything else is already fairly well built out. It’s a fantastic area for growing grapes – one of the best in the area.”

They have named the property Conviction Ridge Vineyard. “We finally have the conviction to do this,” Rob says. Currently residents of Calgary, Rob and Michelle are making plans to move to the Okanagan next year. Now that they have to farm a 4½ acre vineyard, commuting from Calgary no longer will be an option.

Michelle is an Air Canada airline flight attendant (and will continue with her career) while Rob, an accountant and business evaluator, expects to become a fulltime grape grower and vintner next year.

Both were born in Winnipeg (Rob in 1971, Michelle in 1974) and they met while at university. Their interest in wine took off when they joined an informal wine tasting group. After university, they worked three years in Japan as English teachers. There, they fostered a love of travel that has never left them. “It was a defining experience for us,” Rob says. “We travelled a lot. Michelle has travelled her whole life; not so much me.”

They have wanted their own winery for some time. Rob’s judgment as a business evaluator guided the hard-headed decision to start with Black Market under the tutelage of BC Wine Studio before risking capital on land and buildings. “From my perspective, the best way to manage the risk of moving into a fairly crowded [wine] market is to get the market space first and work backwards,” Rob explains.

The retired owner of what is now Conviction Ridge Vineyard was a long-time grower for Gray Monk, (as are numerous other Kaleden vineyard owners). The vineyard was planted about 35 years ago, initially entirely with Bacchus. About 20 years ago, half was grafted to Merlot. A small block of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris is about five years old.

Rob had never before made wine with Bacchus but, after picking the brains of other Bacchus producers, quickly figured out how to fold the varietal into his portfolio. An early pick is destined for a traditional method sparkling wine. Most of the rest – he did sell some fruit – is likely to be added to Black Market’s top-selling white blend, Secret Society.

Because he did not take over Conviction Ridge until August, Rob had not time to convert one of the buildings on the property for wine processing. He made the 2018 vintage at BC Wine Studio.

“If all goes according to plan, we will have a new building next year,” Rob said last month. “All of our equipment is either here already or en route. We ordered in May and April. At one point, we thought we would be able to do production here this year.”

By securing a license for Black Market’s winery and tasting room, Rob expects to achieve a significant improvement in his winery’s economics.

“Our first vintage was 200 cases. Last year, we produced just over 1,000 cases,” he says. “This year it will be about 1,600 cases. There will be significant growth every year once we have a tasting room to generate some volume. Our goal is that this facility would produce in the 5,000 – 6,000 case range.”

He will continue to purchase grapes, since Conviction Ridge does not grow most of the varietals Black Market has in its portfolio. For example, the vineyard’s Merlot is only one of the varietals required for The Syndicate, the winery’s Bordeaux red blend. Similarly, he needs to buy Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc for Collusion, the winery’s white Bordeaux blend.

“As far as reds go, Syrah is where my passion lies,” Rob says. During his enology course, he did a research paper comparing growing conditions of Côte Roti in the Rhône with the Okanagan. He concluded that the wide temperature range between the Okanagan’s hot days and cool nights help make Okanagan Syrah distinctive.

Black Market’s portfolio is tightly focussed. Rob is tempted to add a Gewürztraminer because he has a good source of fruit. And when he finds an exceptional barrel or two in a vintage, he produces small lots which are offered first to Black Market’s wine club. Current examples are a 2017 Sémillon (100 cases only) and a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (not yet released).

Here are notes on Black Market’s wines. The wines are available on line. As well, the winery's website lists the numerous wine stores and restaurants that carry Black Market.

 Black Market Sémillon 2017 ($26). Barrel-fermented in neutral oak, this is a concentrated dry white with aromas and flavours of citrus and a backbone of minerality. 90.  

Black Market Collusion 2017 ($24). This is typically a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon. Aged in barrels for five months, it is a crisp wine with aromas of lime and lemon. That is echoed on the palate, along with herbal notes that give the wine great complexity. 91.

Black Market Secret Society 2017 ($22). The blend has varied over the vintages but the profile has been similar: a dry white aromatic wine. This vintage is about 60% Gewürztraminer, with Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc. It begins with aromas of rose petals and spice. It is juicy on the palate with tropical fruit flavours. 90.

Black Market Syrah 2016 ($35). This begins with aromas of black cherry. On the palate, the deli meat flavours mingle with black cherry and pepper. The firm texture indicates that this wine should be cellared a few more years. 90-92.

Black Market The Syndicate 2015 ($30). The blend is 31% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Petit Verdot. Perhaps the latter varietal defines this wine, give it a dark colour, a dense texture and a floral aroma. There is also a note of cassis and black cherry on the nose. On the palate, the black currant and cherry flavours mingle with fig, spice and vanilla. 91.

Black Market The Syndicate 2016 (tank sample). This is a blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine has the plumpness of ripe Merlot and the brambly aromas and flavours of Cabernet Franc. There are also flavours of cherry and blueberry with a touch of mocha on the finish. It is different from the previous vintage but is equally interesting. 91.

Black Market Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Est. $40). This wine has aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry, dark chocolate and tobacco. Firm and rich in texture, this wine will blossom with another five years in the bottle. 91-93.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Township 7 nails down premium vineyard

Photo: Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott

This summer, Township 7 Vineyards made one of the most significant announcements in its history: it bought the 12-acre Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver.

The vineyard, which was planted in 2000, has supplied Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc to Township 7 throughout the history of both the winery and the vineyard. That vineyard has become increasingly critical to Township 7 which has been expanding in recent years. Its prior vineyard holdings were small.   

Township 7’s modest vineyard holdings were a consequence of the winery’s history. It was established on a five-acre Langley vineyard where the original winery opened in 2001. The second winery opened in 2004, just outside Penticton, and has a postage stamp vineyard. For most of its history, Township 7 has relied on fruit from growers in the Okanagan. The increasing competition for grapes from growers threatened to cap the winery’s growth. Now, it has assured access to premium fruit from Blue Terrace.

The winery founded by Gwen and Corey Coleman. In 2006, they sold the winery to former restaurateur Mike Raffan (and a partner). In 2014, the winery was acquired by Ge Song, a Beijing businessman, who has retained Mike as Township 7’s general manager.

“In 2014, he approached us with a deal he said we could not refuse,” Mike says. “We accepted it. We had taken the winery from 3,500 cases a year to 7,000, and we needed to grow it again. It had to go another level up or it would stall out, because if you are just doing the same thing, you actually fall behind.”

The year before, Township 7 had embarked on a rebranding program that included smart new labels and, more important, taking control over its distribution channels.

“We identified that we needed to run this company to control what we can control,” Mike says. “We went on a mission of direct to consumer sales because we control our relationship with the consumer.” The portfolio now includes eight to 10 wines available just to members of Township 7’s wine club.

The new owner not only endorsed the strategy. He has invested in an expansion which gives Township 7 a capacity of 12,000 cases.

He also backed the recruitment in 2014 of winemaker Mary McDermott, who had been a senior winemaker making premium and sparkling wines in Ontario for Andrew Peller Ltd. She has had a profound impact on the quality of the wines.

One reason has been the relationship she has cultivated with Township 7’s growers.

“We have signed long term contracts with growers and we really to work with them,” Mary says. “It is becoming more of a family business for us. I go visit my growers all the time. I am available for them all the time if they have any questions. That’s what this business is all about.”

She has also accelerated Township 7’s sparkling wine program, with at least two other bubblies soon to join Seven Stars, the winery’s original traditional method sparkling wine. This program also salvages the fruit from the Langley vineyard which, for several years, was relegated to an annual grape stomp.

“Between 2006 and about 2012, we invested in the vineyard and tried to improve things,” Mike says. “At the end of it all, in 2012, I threw my hands up and said, we get what we get. If it has to all go to the grape stomp, it will. Then Mary came in and said ‘Give me some time. I can deal with this’.”

“I went to Mike,” Mary confirms, “and I said we can make a really good sparkling wine. To me, the conditions were similar to Ontario. In the Fraser Valley, we are not getting a lot of sugar. I usually pick grapes in Langley for sparking wine at about 19 Brix. That means about 10% alcohol and that is exactly what we are looking for in sparkling wines. And the acidity is maintained.”

The first Langley estate sparkling wine, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, was made in 2015 and is due to be disgorged in 2020. “It is fantastic,” Mary says. “It will be a spectacular wine.”

Here are notes on current releases from Township 7.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($18.97 for 298 cases). Crisp and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with a light herbal note. 90.

Township 7 7 Blanc 2017  ($18.97 for 588 cases). This is a blend 50% Gewurztraminer, 28% Pinot Gris, 11% Viognier, 7% Riesling and 4% Muscat. The wine is refreshingly spicy. A touch of residual sugar supports the aromas and flavours of pear and apple. The finish lingers. 90.

l"> Township 7 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Blue Terrace Vineyard 2017 ($26.97 for 348 cases). Fermented and aged seven months in barrel, this wine announces itself dramatically with aromas of lime, gooseberry and grapefruit with herbal notes. Those lead to intense flavours of tropical fruit, with a refreshing, tangy finish. 92.

Township 7 Viognier Raju Vineyard 2017 ($24.97 for 498 cases). The Raju Vineyard is near Osoyoos. Some 30% of this wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak barrels; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. Both the aromas and the flavours are intense, recalling peaches, apricots and passionfruit. The wine has good weight on the palate but the bright acidity maintains appealing freshness. 93.

Township 7 Rosé 2017 ($18.97). This is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 19% Pinot Noir, 8% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. The wine has an attractive salmon pink hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb, leading to a bowlful of fruit flavours on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Township 7 Seven Stars 2015 ($29.97 for 533 six-bottle cases). Made with Chardonnay, this elegant traditional method sparking wine begins with a vigorous mousse. It has aromas and flavours of citrus and brioche. On the palate, the wine dances lightly and is refreshing on the finish. 92.

Township 7 Cabernet 2016 ($27.97 for 328 cases). This is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and mocha, echoed on the palate along with coffee and tobacco notes. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 91.

Township 7 Merlot 2016 ($24.97 for 1,038 cases). This wine is made with grapes from both Blue Terrace and the Front Yard Vineyard (which adjoins the Penticton winery). A portion of the wine was fermented in a 5,000-litre oak fermenter, an example of the new tools owner Ge Song has provided his winemaker. The wine is rich and concentrated, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and vanilla. 91.

Township 7 Reserve Merlot Blue Terrace Vineyard 2015 ($39.97 for 125 cases). This terrific wine was available to the wine club only and now is sold out. It is a plush, satisfying wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, black currant and vanilla. 92.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Coolshanagh releases its fifth Chardonnay

Photo: Coolshanagh proprietors Skip and Judy Stothert

With its fifth vintage of Chardonnay, tiny Coolshanagh Vineyard confirms it is one of the premier Chardonnay producers in the Okanagan.

The release of 750 cases of the 2016 vintage is the largest release so far from this Naramata Bench producer. There will never be much because Coolshanagh has just 10 acres of vineyard, almost a quarter of which is more recently planted Pinot Noir. The first vintage of Pinot Noir was 2015 – a miniscule 27 cases. Production of that doubled in 2016.

Coolshanagh is a boutique winery operated by Skip and Judy Stothert. The wines are available on the Coolshanagh website (and in some high-end restaurants). There is no tasting room of wine shop. The vineyard, seven kilometres north of Naramata Village, is at the north end of Naramata Road, just past the Chute Lake turnoff.

The Stotherts bought the 52-acre property in 2003 because they wanted acreage with views of Okanagan Lake and also with privacy. There was no intention to plant vines initially. “We bought the property just to retire,” Skip says. 

Skip is a retired businessman. The company he founded is now called Green Roads Recycling. It is a road paving company with a difference: it renews paving with a moving train of equipment that scoops up the old pavement and melts it and mixes that with the new pavement that is laid down immediately.

“We moved here in 2003,” Skip says. “My sons were taking over the business and I got bored. I researched grape varieties. I knew I wanted to do Chardonnay and I wanted to do Pinot Noir.”

He had grown up in a household with wine on the table. His father, Win Stothert, ran an international engineering company. “My dad was in the Opimian Society, so I grew up drinking Burgundian Chardonnays right from the get-go, when I was about 10 or 11,” Skip says. “And there also was Burgundian Pinot Noir.”

Trees were felled, land was prepared, and the first hectare of Chardonnay was planted in 2004. Since then, the vineyard has been quadrupled with the planting of more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  For viticulture advice, Skip has tapped the experience of Okanagan Crush Pad vineyard managers as well as Pedro Parra, the Chilean terroir consultant used extensively by OCP.

Between 2008 and 2011, Coolshanagh Chardonnay grapes were sold to Foxtrot Vineyards. Then in 2012, Skip and Judy decided to launch their own label. The target, when Coolshanagh is at full production, is to release about 1,500 cases of Chardonnay and 300 cases of Pinot Noir annually.

The wines are made for Coolshanagh by OCP’s winemakers, with input from Skip, who has a clear idea of the style he wants for Coolshanagh. He does not want to make a California-style Chardonnay. He wants an age-worthy wine in the style of a white Burgundy.

The 2016 Coolshanagh Chardonnay began by picking on advice from Pedro Parra. “Each block of Chardonnay is hand-picked at a different time, with the first picking taking place in mid-September and the last in early October, 2016,” according to the technical notes for the wine. “Each section was treated differently to optimally express each vineyard location.” The lots were ultimately blended and bottled without fining or filtration.

While OCP ages most of its wines entirely in concrete, about one-third of each Coolshanagh Chardonnay spends about 11 months in oak (mostly neutral). “To me, Burgundian wine has oak in it,” Skip says. “Even Chablis is moving into using some oak.”

The Stotherts are content with OCP and are not planning to build their own winery. “Maybe if one of the granddaughters wants to build it,” Skip says. “I have a wine building down here and it could be done. But that means we could not do all of the travelling we want to do.  That is what it comes down to.”

A note on the winery name. Coolshanagh is a Celtic word that translates as “a meeting place of friends.” For the Stotherts, it had an excellent ring to it for their property. The name has been used by Judy’s family, which has roots in Scotland and Ireland, for several generations to identify their various homes.

A note on the wine.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2016 ($36.90). This elegant wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with very subtle oak, bright acidity and a spine of minerality. The flavours are fresh and focused, supported with good texture. 93.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Thornhaven Estate: a tasting

Photo: Thornhaven proprietors Jack and Jan Fraser

Late this summer, Danny Evanishen, the veteran tasting room manager at Thornhaven Estates Winery in Summerland, offered to send a sample a sample of the winery’s platinum award Syrah 2015.

I agreed but I also asked him to include a few other wines. Given the daunting number of wineries in the Okanagan, I had not been able to visit Thornhaven in some time.

That seems like a strange omission. Given what I wrote about the winery in the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, this is clearly one of my favourite wineries. Here is an excerpt:

With its Santa Fe architecture, the Thornhaven winery is an Okanagan jewel. Tucked away behind Summerland’s Giant’s Head Mountain, the adobe-hued winery is at the top of a slope covered with about 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of vines. The patio affords postcard views, but the best view is from the bottom of the undulating vineyard, preferably when the late afternoon sun paints a golden tint on the winery and the hillside behind it.

The vineyard was planted by Dennis Fraser, a former grain farmer from Dawson Creek who sold his farm, almost 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres), in 1989 and then began converting a Summerland orchard to vines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Meunier). Winemaking began here in 1999, with Fraser planning a modest tasting room in the basement of his home. Then, a farmer’s habit of thinking big took over and he built a picturesque winery.

The winery was purchased in 2005 by Dennis’s cousin, Jack Fraser, who was changing careers after 24 years working in overseas oilfields (mostly in Libya). Thornhaven is now managed by Jack and his wife Jan, a lively tasting room personality. Son Jason, who mentored with consultant Christine Leroux, is the winemaker.

Now making about 5,500 cases a year, Thornhaven has a portfolio of 13 to 15 wines. The Gewürztraminer is a flagship wine. This is one of the few Okanagan wineries with a varietal Pinot Meunier. The winery also offers an unusual Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend because the varieties are interplanted in the vineyard. The grapes are picked and fermented together, yielding a delicious wine tasting of peaches and citrus. Jack Fraser has a simple explanation for the consistency of the award-winning wines: “The main thing is that the grapes come from nearby vineyards.”

In addition to the estate vineyard, Thornhaven gets grapes from another 10 acres of  winery-owned Summerland area vineyards. The varietals even include Syrah, a grape not often found in the Summerland vineyards. Thornhaven must have a small block. The winery made just 90 cases of the award-winning 2015 wine.

The wines are excellent. I continue to stand by my view that the Gewürztraminer is the flagship wine here.

Here are my notes.

Thornhaven Gewürztraminer 2017 ($18). This delicious wine begins aromas of spice, rose petals and lychee, which are echoed on the palate, along with a touch of lime. A full-bodied wine, it is balanced toward dry with just enough residual sugar to give it a fleshy texture. 93.

Thornhaven Brooklyn’s Blend 2017 ($16). This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay begins with aromas of melon and apple mingled with lime. On the palate, there are luscious tropical fruit flavours of mango, peach and pear. 90.

Thornhaven Infusion Frizzante 2017 ($N/A). This sparkling wine is a blend of  Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Riesling. It presents in the glass with a light blush hue and with a lively mousse. The aromatics are fruity and the flavours recall strawberry and ripe apple. 91.

Thornhaven Rosé 2017 ($16). The winery describes this as a “robust patio wine.” Cherry-hued and rich on the palate, it has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Syrah. 90.

Thornhaven Pinot Noir 2016 ($19). This oak-aged wine begins with aromas of toasty oak mingled with cherry. On the palate, it has flavours of strawberry and cherry. The wine has a silky texture and a medium-bodied palate weight. 90.

Thornhaven Syrah 2015 ($30). This elegant and medium-bodied wine begins with aromas of plum, black cherry and fig. This is a dry wine with a palate of sweet fruit – cherry, blackberry, plum, a hint of licorice and pepper. 92.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lieutenant Governor 2018 wine awards winners

The 2018 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Wine followed a new format this year.

After being managed for 15 years by Government House Trust in Victoria, the competition this year was turned over to the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society and was integrated with the fall wine festival competition. The entire competition now is called the British Columbia Lieutenant Governor's Wine Awards.

The change came about because Government House needed its resources for other projects. The LG Awards have matured into a respected competition, perhaps more suitably managed by professional competition managers.

This year, slightly more than 700 wines were entered. The judging panel included a number of veterans of the previous LG Awards.

As in past fall wine festivals, the judges awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. Then the 58 strongest gold medal winners were judged again. This stringent process produced 12 platinum awards and an additional “best of show” award. These awards, which were handed out Thursday evening by Her Honour, Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin, equate to the awards given in previous LG competitions. In those, only 10 to 12 awards were made each year, with no other medals.

Later this fall, the winning wineries will be invited to a dinner at Government House in Victoria.

The winning wines are a cross section of British Columbia has begun to do best.

There is one Pinot Blanc, a varietal which Liquor Distribution Branch wine buyer Barbara Philip advocated as the signature grape for the Okanagan in her Master of Wine thesis.
There is a Pinot Gris, a Chardonnay and a Riesling, other leading white varietals in the Okanagan and Similkameen. There is a sophisticated sparkling wine.

There are two Pinot Noirs, three Syrahs and one Cabernet Franc, all rising stars among the red varietals in BC.

And for consumers looking for something different, there is the remarkable Optima desert wine and the Okanagan’s first red from Touriga Nacional, a Portuguese varietal usually associated with Port.

Here are notes on the winning wines. With the exception of the sparkling wine, the tasting notes are all from the winery web sites.

Sperling Vineyards Sparkling Brut 2011 ($43.49 for 200 six-packs). This is a traditional Champagne method wine made with Pinot Blanc from a 1996 planting. The wine spent five years on the lees before being disgorged. It has classic bready/bisquity aromas and flavours from time on the lees. There are also flavours of citrus and apple. Good acidity gives the wine a crisp, tangy finish. The bubbles are fine and persistent. (My tasting notes.)

Black Hills Estate Winery Syrah 2016 ($39.90). This vintage of Syrah is elegant, offering notes of blackberry, blueberry, and black & white pepper on the nose with hints of cocoa and eucalyptus lingering in the background. Soft, supple tannins dominate the palate with rich black fruit carrying through for a mouth-watering finish. This wine will pair well with wild game and hearty red meat dishes. Enjoy now or cellar for up to eight years.

Hillside Estate Winery Reserve Pinot Gris 2017 ($24). Our classic Pinot Gris—luscious ripe fruit created scents of orange blossoms and vanilla mingled with tropical fruit aromas followed by a rich and supple mid-palate.  

Kismet Estate Winery Syrah Reserve 2016 ($39.99). Syrah is especially suited to the warm dry climate of the South Okanagan, where it reaches full ripeness with deep purple colour and spicy aromas. Aged for 18 months in new French and American oak barrique barrels. Bright cherry red colour with a good depth and bluish hues at the rim. Intense red currant and red berry fruit aromas along with spice and vanilla. A lively, vibrant palate with intense flavours.

Kismet Estate Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 ($39.99). Smokey toasty, blackberry, black cherry and leather. Sumptuous soft and seamless texture. Focused acidity lifts the fruit of this viscous wine. Structured bold and emery tannins complete the finish. Aged for 18 months in French and American barrique barrels.


Lake Breeze Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016 ($25.90 but sold out). Best wine of the show. This wine is a medium bodied elegant red with rich aromas and flavours of strawberries and plum, followed by a touch of warm spice. Well integrated tannins and generous length reflects the terroir of this estate grown Pinot Noir. An excellent structured wine designed for food.


Little Engine Winery Silver Pinot Noir 2016 ($35). A beautiful ruby colour wine that beckons with initial notes of savoury herbs, dried brush and red fruit leather.  Fresh and juicy start on the palate with bing cherries and dried hibiscus with a considerably lengthy finish highlighting spicy red fruits, anise and a touch of tarragon. Approachable and silky upon release this wine will develop well through 2023 under ideal cellaring conditions.


Moon Curser Vineyards Touriga Nacional 2016 ($39.99). The 2016 Touriga Nacional is a dry, medium-bodied red wine with a nose of spice, red fruits, fennel seed and floral notes. The palate is similar to the nose but with hints of leather, tobacco and cedar. Medium weight, with a silky mouthfeel and approachable tannin and acid structure, the wine delivers an intriguing profile of savoury and fruity characters.


Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2016 ($28.99).  These Chardonnay grapes were whole-bunch pressed to extract the highest quality of juice. Complete malolactic fermentation during 10 months in French oak barrels developed the unique bouquet and mouth-feel. Rich and nutty in flavour, offering lots of caramel, marzipan and pear. Enticing and aromatic with subtle layering of honey and pineapple is followed by a lingering vanilla finish.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Totally Botrytis Affected Optima 2017 ($28.99 for 375 ml). For more than 25 years Quails’ Gate has become known for this wonderfully unique dessert wine. Our Optima grapes are grown at the base of the Quails’ Gate Estate vineyards where the proximity to the lake encourages a micro flora known as Botrytis Cinerea or Noble Rot to grow on the ripe grapes, which concentrates the flavours and intensifies the sugars to produce a Sauterne-style wine.

Rust Wine Co. Syrah 2016 ($37). Q Block is situated on the northern edge of the Black Sage Bench in Oliver. Sandy loam soils and a western aspect produce a Syrah with ripe black fruits, cracked pepper and olive notes. Will continue to age well for 5+ years.

Wild Goose Vineyards Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2017 ($16.52) The lovely aromas and flavours of this wine make it one of the unsung heroes of BC wines. This small production wine has a nose that shows melon & minerality, while the palate tastes of pear and white pepper. The buttery mouthfeel is balanced with a lengthy finish that goes on and on and …

Wild Goose Vineyards Riesling 2017 ($16.52).  This fruit forward Riesling comes from estate grown grapes, including the 33-year-old Wild Goose Vineyards and the 11-year-old Secrest Vineyards. Sweet reserve is added to balance the refreshing racy acidity, a “classic” method of winemaking. The nose shows aromas of floral, spice and apricot, while flavours of minerality and citrus follow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Great Estates opens Penticton tasting room

Photo: Great Estates's Josie Tyabji

The Arterra Canada wineries styled as Great Estates of the Okanagan have just opened a wine experience centre in Penticton that appears to break new ground for the B.C. wine industry.

The centre, located in a 2,500 square foot are on the ground floor of the Penticton  Lakeside Resort’s new wing, effectively is the first offsite tasting room for an associated group of wineries.

Offsite tasting rooms had been proposed by Okanagan wineries during the liquor policy review several years ago by the previous provincial government. Even though there is nothing radical about the idea – these exists in many other wine regions – the proposal was left on the cutting room floor.

How has Great Estates pulled it off? They took over a grandfathered wine store license that once belonged to Harry McWatters. The store in the Wine Experience Centre sells wines produced at the eight or nine Arterra brands in the Okanagan. The license prevents the store from selling non-Arterra wines – but is will not stop the centre from inviting other wineries in to host tastings.

The store presumably pays the bills for a centre that is far more than just a wine store.

“The whole objective is to focus attention on the South Okanagan, in terms of a destination and a region,” says Josie Tyabji, Senior Director Estates and Industry for Arterra.

The centre will host tastings, educational programs and food and wine pairings that will involve numerous South Okanagan wineries, not just the Arterra group.

“Our objective is to bring knowledge to the consumer about some of the differences in the soil types; and differences in the varieties that do well in different areas,” she says.  “We are not limited to the wines from the Great Estates themselves. For instance, if we wanted to have an evening or a day to speak to the Golden Mile, we could bring in some guest wineries and winemakers to help people understand why a certain varietal or wine style is doing well in that area.”

At least some of the credit for this idea belongs to Ms. Tyabji. “How did it come about?” she recounts. “I was driving by this building daily. I looked at it and said, that is an incredible space.” It was, she decided, an ideal place in which to develop a wine presentation centre, a ground floor space with windows looking west toward the beach. Those at the tasting bar get a million dollar view along with their wines.

The Lakeside’s new wing is part of a redevelopment of the hotel after the casino moved out. That has freed up substantial space for conferences in the former casino space. “We have had quite a few inquiries already for conferences,” she says. “It is an opportunity to educate people who are coming here but not necessarily for wine touring.”

The media announcement of the centre included six premium wines that represent some of the Great Estates wines that can be found here. These are my notes.

See Ya Later Ranch Legacy Chardonnay 2016 ($32.99). This wine begins with lovely aromas of citrus and pineapple mingled with buttery vanilla, which are echoed on the palate. The oak is very subtly integrated (the wine aged 10 months in barrel, 25% new). Quite simply, this wine is delicious. 92.

Black Sage Vineyard Meritage 2015 ($60). The blend is roughly equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with a splash of Petit Verdot. This wine was a selection of the 10 best barrels. It begins with aromas of cassis, mint, black cherry and chocolate. Rich on the palate, the wine has flavours of blackberry and black currant. The texture is still firm, indicating a wine that will age well. 90.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Zinfandel 2015 ($27.99.) This is one of the best Okanagan Zinfandels I have ever tasted. It begins with jammy red fruit aromas, leading to luscious flavours of blackberry, cherries and spice cake. The finish is vibrant. 92.

Inniskillin Dark Horse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($35.00). This wine begins with toasty and stewed fruit aromas (cherry, strawberry). The wine had good weight and a silky texture, with flavours of cherry, vanilla and mocha, and with earthy notes on the finish. 90.

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah 2015 ($32.99). Bold and ripe, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and deli meats lightly spiced with black pepper. On the palate, there are layers of fig, black cherry and pepper. 91.

SunRock Vineyards Illumina 2013 ($39.90). This is a blend of 64% Zinfandel and 36% Shiraz. Subsequent vintages have slightly more Zinfandel. The Zinfandel accounts for the aromas of blackberry and black cherry. These are echoed on the palate, along with spice and vanilla. 91.