Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jackson-Triggs might sort out its labels

Photo: Jackson-Triggs winemaker Brooke Blair

The many fans of Jackson-Triggs wines may finally see an end to the frustrating confusion among the winery's labels.

Over the past year, the winery has consulted numerous focus groups. The apparent feedback is that consumers have trouble sorting out the tiers. That is similar to what wine critics have been saying and even what the company's own winemakers have been suggesting. Finally, the marketing executives at Jackson-Triggs intend to sit down and do a major brand review.

Here's the problem. The company has white label, black label and gold label wines as well as single vineyard wines. A leading Vancouver chef told me recently that he has given up trying to figure out which is which. He just buys on price.

If one is buying the lowest priced wines (as many are in this economy), chances are one will buy the Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Selection (white label) wines, selling around $10 a bottle. These are not VQA wines (not made from grapes grown in Canada). That means there is imported wine in the blends. Plenty of consumers fail to make the distinction between these wines and authentic Canadian wines. Given that the wines are blended to a dependable basic quality, many people do not care about that distinction, either.

The black label VQA wines are called Proprietors' Reserve and are priced around $15 a bottle. The gold label wines are called Grand Reserve and generally sell between $20 and $30. At top of the price ladder are the single vineyard SunRock Vineyard wines, selling for around $35.
The Jackson-Triggs brand was developed in the mid-1990s. Since then the VQA wines have opened a considerable quality gap over the non-VQA wines. Thanks to good grape growing and good winemaking, the VQA wines are definitely worth the extra money if one has a palate that is at all discerning.
The question, then, is whether the white label wines have become a drag on the brand. That is an issue that the winery's marketing people need to address.
The other issue is how many consumers can remember whether Proprietors' Reserve or Grand Reserve is the superior tier. It is even harder when the Grand Reserve is called Proprietors' Grand Reserve (still the case with most vintages still available). Perhaps the company's brand review will come up with label names that are easier to distinguish from each other.
This week, Brooke Blair, who makes the red wines at the Jackson-Triggs winery in the Okanagan, led a tasting for the British Columbia Wine Appreciation Society in Vancouver. Born and trained in Australia, she worked three years at Hollick Wines in the Coonawarra before moving in 2004 to Jackson-Triggs in the Okanagan. It was a leap of faith - she could not find any Canadian wines to taste in Australia. Now, she is so committed to her career here that she plans to become a Canadian citizen.
The tasting included current releases representing all three VQA tiers. Here are some notes:
Proprietors' Reserve Gewurztraminer 2008 ($14.99). This is available only at the winery's tasting room because production was small. It begins with an appealing aroma of rose petals and white peaches. The flavours present an array of tropical fruits, including grapefruit and mango, lifted by a light touch of residual sweetness and a spicy note on the finish. 87
Proprietors' Reserve Rose 2008 ($14.99). This refreshing wine is made primarily with Cabernet Franc, a great grape for pink wines. At Jackson-Triggs, the grapes are crushed and then left sealed in the crusher for 24 hours, long enough to extract a vibrant hue and plenty of flavours. The juice is then pressed off and the wine fermented in stainless steel. The outcome is a juicy and appealing wine, tasting of strawberry, rhubarb and pomegranate. 87
Proprietors' Reserve Riesling Icewine ($52.99 for 375 ml bottle). Derek Kontkanen, the other VQA winemaker at Jackson-Triggs in the Okanagan, did a master's thesis on icewine and it shows in the consistent quality of his icewines. This wine has aromas and flavours of pineapple, honey and guava, with just the right amount of acidity to provide a well-balanced, refreshing finish. 90. The winery also produces two icewines in the Grand Reserve tier, one of them a sparkling wine.
Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($19.99). This wine begins with a hint of lime and grapefruit in the aroma and carries through with tangy flavours of lime and tropical fruit. The finish is crisp. 88
Proprietors' Grand Reserve Merlot 2006 ($25.99). A dark and concentrated wine, it begins with aromas and flavours of vanilla, plum and black currants, with a hint of pepper. The tannins are firm but ripe. 88-90, depending on whether or not the wine is decanted. It is better from a decanter.
Proprietors' Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz ($24.99). This is a 50/50 blend of the two varieties. The Shiraz adds flesh and texture to the typical leanness of Cabernet Sauvignon. Together, they produce a big, brooding red. 89
Proprietors' Grand Reserve Meritage 2006 ($26.99). This is a blend of 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. Think of this as a big, ripe Bordeaux red with cigar box aromas, concentrated texture and flavours of red currants and plums. 90-91
SunRock Shiraz 2006 ($35). SunRock is the name of a vineyard on the north side of Osoyoos Lake that has a huge, heat-reflecting cliff at the north end. Shiraz vines love it here, yielding wine that begins with aromas of earth, prunes, and white pepper. The wine opens slowly in the glass, revealing generous plummy flavours and textures. 90-92
SunRock Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($35). The extra year of age has enabled this red to achieve its sweet spot, with flavours of red fruits and with a texture of polished elegance. This still have several years of graceful development ahead of it. 91.
Brooke's advice is drink the Proprietors' Reserve wines within five years of the vintage and the Grand Reserve wines within seven years. While I think the wines will age longer than that, I agree with her reason to be conservative. "I'd rather get a wine on the way up than on the way down," she says.


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