Friday, March 20, 2009

New releases, new strategy from CedarCreek

The trio of 2008 whites being released on April 1 by CedarCreek Estate Winery all sport smart new labels, part of a dramatic overhauling of that winery’s portfolio.

The labels are the tip of the iceberg. More significantly, the winery is reducing its portfolio to 16 wines from 24 by eliminating almost entirely its mid-tier Estate Select wines that currently sell from $20 to $35 a bottle.

The winery is retaining its super-premium line, called Platinum Reserve. Selling at $35 and above, these limited production wines represent the best of the best from CedarCreek.

The mid-tier range is being amalgamated with what the winery previously called its “classic” range. The range that emerges will sell for $20 or less a bottle, with a lift in quality that should over-deliver. The largest part of the winery’s annual production, which totals about 40,000 cases, will be dedicated to this range.

This is how it works. CedarCreek’s Estate Select Merlot currently retails for $30 a bottle. In the future, most of that juice goes into the regular Merlot, selling for $20.

“This will be the finest Merlot at under $20 imaginable,” promises Gordon Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek’s president. “And it will be readily available at fine restaurants and retail stores.”

This is a savvy business strategy. It is no secret that, in the current economy, consumers have been buying fewer mid-priced wines while shopping through value-priced selections. CedarCreek is aiming most of its wines at the sweet spot that consumers of B.C. wines are prepared to accept.

While CedarCreek seems to be reducing its average pricing across the board, the winery will not be cutting any corners with quality. Since 1998, CedarCreek has improved its vineyards significantly and has recently developed two more vineyards at Osoyoos, planted to Bordeaux reds, Syrah and Viognier.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that our grapes are getting better and better,” Gordon says. The winery will soon be 80 percent self-sufficient in grapes. “One of the challenges in the cellar - because the grapes have been getting better and better - is that it was getting hard to differentiate between three different tiers.”

Look for CedarCreek to be more aggressive in its marketing as well. Gordon says that the winery has been too modest in the past. It has much to blow its horn about: Canada’s winery of the year twice in the last decade and finalist three more times, to say nothing of its other accomplishments in national and international competitions. There are Okanagan wineries with cult followings that have not shown as well at competition.

The winery is also switching to screw cap closures for most of its wines, retaining corks (two-inch premium corks) for its Platinum Reserve wines.

The screw cap is a superb closure for three 2008 aromatic whites just being released – the Riesling, the Gewürztraminer and the Ehrenfelser. All are priced at $18.

Here are my notes on the new releases:

2008 Riesling (1,210 cases produced): Refreshingly tangy, this wine has aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit. The fruit is intense. The bracing acidity is nicely balanced with natural sugar, finishing dry but fruity. This is an excellent Riesling. 88 points

2008 Gewürztraminer (1,812 cases produced): This was recently bottled and the spice aromas were still mute. They will be glorious by summer, along with flavours of peaches and lime sherbet. 88

2008 Ehrenfelser (2,068 cases): This wine has been called a fruit salad in a glass. It begins with very expressive aromas of peaches, grapefruit, lichee and lime. On the palate, the flavours are vibrantly tropical. The tangy acidity makes for a refreshing and lingering finish. This is a very versatile wine, delicious on its own but easily paired to a range of foods from poultry to mild curries. 90

The grapes for CedarCreek’s Ehrenfelser come from a grower’s vineyard near Westbank that was planted more than 30 years ago. Mature vines often yield the highest quality grapes. In 2002 CedarCreek’s viticulturist made what the winery calls “an educated guess” about how to manage the vines. The canopy of leaves was thinned, allowing more sun to reach the grapes. This has promoted the lush, ripe flavours and aromas in the wine. Tom DiBello, the winemaker, ferments this wine (and the other aromatic wines) at unusually low temperatures to preserve all the floral and tropical characters.

The result – Canada’s best Ehrenfelser. Maybe the world’s best Ehrenfelser.

The variety, by the way, was developed in Geisenheim and was named for the romantic ruined Schloss Ehrenfels on the Rhine, just west of Rüdesheim.


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