Oculus Breaks Out
Photo: John Simes
Here are the top 10 VQA wines in the Liquor Distribution Branch
There is a big surprise in the just released annual report of the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, covering the 12 months to March 31, 2008.
Mission Hill’s Oculus, one of the most expensive table wines made in the Okanagan, is among the top 10 British Columbia VQA brands by sales volume. The 2004 Oculus, the most recent release, sells for $70 a bottle.
In the 2007/08 fiscal year, the LDB sold $1,121,000 worth of Oculus. That’s serious coin. Clearly, Oculus has made a break through, winning a substantial following among top restaurateurs and serious wine collectors. Hats off to Mission Hill.
Now Mission Hill’s flagship red, Oculus was first made in the 1997 vintage. Recent vintages showed a major step up in quality and complexity, with more of the Bordeaux red varieties going into the blend than was the case initially. The 2004 Oculus is a blend of 74% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.
When I tasted this wine last September, I scored it 94 points. With a higher percentage of Merlot than usual (the previous vintage was 47% Merlot), the wine is the richest Oculus so far and one of the finest that winemaker John Simes has made.
Mission Hill’s decision to raise the price to $70 for the 2004 vintage very likely accelerated the sales of the wine. Earlier vintages sold between $35 and $50 a bottle, and sold relatively slowly. Mission Hill’s marketers scored with the psychology that drives wine collectors and high-end restaurant wine lists by giving the wine a premium price and luxury packaging. The soon to be released 2005 will sell for the same price.
Mission Hill’s achievement is not just that it made a great wine but that it made a surprising quantity of it. The LDB’s sales figure suggest that about 16,000 bottles moved through the liquor stores alone; and the wine was also sold through other channels.
With one exception, all of the top 10 VQA brands showed an increase in sales through the LDB compared with the previous year. Here is the table, showing sales in the 12 months to March 31, 2008, and the percentage change from the previous year:
Sumac Ridge Private Reserve Gewürztraminer $2,143,000 15.8
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio $1,486,000 19.8
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot $1,324,000 79.7
Gray Monk Pinot Gris $1,221,000 79.9
Quails’ Gate Limited Release Chasselas/Pinot Blanc $1,220,000 68.9
Gray Monk Latitude 50 Select White $1,203,000 22
Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris $1,164,000 78.7
Mission Hill Oculus $1,211,000 N/A
Jackson-Triggs Vintners Reserve Merlot $1,211,000 22.2
Burrowing Owl Merlot $1,101,000 -31.4
Oculus is on the list because the 2004 vintage was the first one that Mission Hill sold through the LDB in volume. What is so remarkable is to see a $70 wine on a list with wines selling between $15 and $25.
Sumac Ridge’s Gewürztraminer ($15) is Canada’s largest selling VQA Gewürztraminer and has had that ranking for quite some time.
Mission Hill’s Five Vineyards tier of wines is slowly migrating to a new brand that the winery launched last year: Ganton& Larsen Prospect Wine Company. Look for these value wines under that label.
Gray Monk and Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris both are long time favourites among those who love that white. The wines are quite different in style; Gray Monk’s wine is fruitier, with perhaps a touch of sweetness while Burrowing Owl is drier and more herbal. Both are exceptionally consistent.
Jackson-Triggs and Burrowing Owl Merlot also are long-time favourites for Merlot lovers. The decline in Burrowing Owl sales likely is because the winery sold less through the LDB and more through other channels.
The Quails’ Gate Chasselas/Pinot Blanc ($16.99) and the Gray Monk Latitude 50 ($13.99) are popular on many wine lists because the wines are very well made, affordable and food-friendly.