Sunday, April 12, 2009

JoieFarm's 2008s raise the bar

Naramata’s JoieFarm (the new name for Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School) has clearly raised the quality of its excellent wines to a higher level, judging from the four 2008 wines released this spring.

The wines – three exuberant whites and an equally exuberant rosé – are downright delicious, very good with food and equally satisfying on their own.

Ever since the winery’s first vintage in 2004, JoieFarm has produced appealing wines with personality. One comes to expect good wine from JoieFarm but when the wines are better than merely good, one looks for the explanation.

There are at least three explanations.

First, the vintage. Recently, I surveyed about 20 Okanagan winemakers to get their assessment of the 2008 vintage. Most said it was just an average year for most reds although a better than average year for Pinot Noir. All agreed that it was a terrific year for white wines which have emerged from a cool vintage with good fruit flavours and tangy acidity. In short, 2008 was a good year for the sort of wines that are made at JoieFarm.

Secondly, JoieFarm is no longer borrowing space in other wineries. The 2008 wines were made in JoieFarm’s new winery. A modern building with good equipment, it is a short walk from where JoieFarm owners Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble live. The new wines can be monitored with obsessive care by Michael and Heidi, and by their assistant winemaker.

During the 2008 vintage, the assistant (for at least the second vintage in a row) was Vancouver wine writer Kenji Hodgson. Shortly, he will head to France for a year to polish his excellent native winemaking skills. Heidi and Michael, now producing close to 10,000 cases a year, have engaged a new assistant.

Thirdly, the blend of the wines appears to have become much more complex and nuanced.

For example: the winery’s 2004 rosé, which received good reviews, was made entirely with Pinot Noir. The 2008 rosé (which sells only for a $1 a bottle more) is a blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris.

The 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay is made with fruit from four vineyards in three different growing regions of the Okanagan.

It is hard to say whether that is deliberate or just a function of the winery’s increased production. In 2005, when the winery made only 450 cases of unoaked Chardonnay, it needed to draw Chardonnay from just two sources (along with a dash of Pinot Blanc). In 2008, the winery made 1,254 cases of unoaked Chardonnay, a production that allowed it use more sources of Chardonnay but no Pinot Blanc.

The flagship wine here, modelled on Alsace white blends, is JoieFarm 2008 A Noble Blend ($21.40). In the 2004 vintage, when 500 cases were made, the wine was a blend of three aromatic grapes – Gewürztraminer, Kerner and Muscat. The current release – 3,118 cases plus 360 magnums and 17 double magnums – blends six varieties. The wine is 36% Gewürztraminer (from three Naramata vineyards), 17% Kerner, 16% Pinot Blanc, 13% Auxerrois, 12% Pinot Gris and 6% Oraniensteiner. Significantly, JoieFarm is buying these grapes from long-established vineyards that a naturally low yielding.

This wine begins with inviting aromas of spice and citrus that explodes from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, grapefruit, green apple and melon, with bracing but refreshing acidity that gives the wine a crisp finish. There actually is some residual sugar, which adds to the body of the wine, but the balance is so exquisite that the finish is dry. One more virtue: the alcohol is a moderate 12.5%. Rating: 92 points.

The JoieFarm 2008 Riesling ($20.40), of which 1,071 cases were made, has only 11% alcohol and enough residual sugar to qualify as a late harvest wine – except that the wine again is brilliantly balanced with racy acidity. The impression is of a wonderfully fruity wine, not a sweet one. It begins with inviting floral aromas. On the palate, it has flavours of pink grapefruit with a squeeze of lime. The acidity, the layers of fruit and the sugar combine to make this a juicy mouth-filling wine with great length, one of the top five B.C. Rieslings. 90 points.

JoieFarm 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay ($20.40) is modelled on the unoaked Chardonnays of Macon in Burgundy. This elegant wine is pristinely fresh in its aromas and flavours, hinting of newly sliced apples and freshly baked bread, perhaps reflecting nuanced lees treatment. The wine has good weight, with a tangy acidity to give it a crisp finish. 90

The JoieFarm 2008 Rosé ($18.90), of which 2,204 cases and 575 magnums were made, is a wine of considerable power and heft while still managing elegance. Once again, the aromas explode from the glass - spice, rose petals, strawberries. There is matching explosion of flavours: pink grapefruit, rhubarb and strawberry compote, sour cherries, apples, with a refreshing, tangy finish of great length. The vivacious, lively rosé delivers a remarkable array of delicious fruit to the table. 91 points.

The bottom line: these wines offer excellent value for the price. It is worth making that point because, in a recent unguarded comment to a journalist, Heidi suggested that some British Columbia wines are not good value. She is absolutely right, even if she found herself issuing a statement later to put her comment in context. One has to say that her candour is as refreshing as these wines.


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