Friday, July 10, 2009

Lieutenant Governor's Awards of Excellence in wine for 2009

A dozen wines emerged this year from 248 submitted for competition to win Awards of Excellence in the Lieutenant Governor's competition.

This competition began in 2003. It is one of the few wine competitions with no entry fee. It is open to all wines produced from British Columbia grapes.

The panel of judges (of which I am one) taste the wines blind. That is, we do not know who the producers are. We are supplied only with the variety and the vintage.

It is a tough competition. The maximum number of awards of excellence has been 12; in some years, it can be less. There are no second places.

This year's awards went to a broad range of producers, large and small. Some of the winning wines are remarkably affordable, proving that a top wine does not have come with a top price.

Here are the winners:

Bounty Cellars 2007 Pinot Blanc ($16.90). Bounty is low-profile winery in an industrial park not far from the Kelowna airport. Most of its business involves making private label wines. Recently, as an example, it released four private label wines for the University of British Columbia's alumni association. However, the winery does sell through private wine stores (see the Bounty website for a list).

CedarCreek Estate Winery 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot ($40.10). Platinum Reserve is the top tier of CedarCreek's wines. That name was coined by Okanagan Wine Festival judges in the early 1990s who thought a CedarCreek Merlot was so good that they gave it the first and only platinum medal ever in that competition's history. I was a judge on that panel, too. If that was a good Merlot, this one is over the moon. My records are incomplete but memory tells me that CedarCreek has won previously.

Church & State 2006 Syrah ($26). Church & State currently has its wine shop in Saanich but most of its wines are made in the Okanagan with Okanagan grapes. The winemaker is Bill Dyer, an all-star consultant from California who previously was Burrowing Owl's winemaker. He made great Syrah there as well.

Howling Bluff Estate Winery 2006 Pinot Noir ($29.60). Howling Bluff is a new winery on Naramata Road, owned by former investment advisor Luke Smith. This will be a hard wine to find because only 140 cases were made and only nine are left at the winery. The good news is that Luke believes the 2007 Pinot Noir is even better than this winner.

JoieFarm 2007 Reserve Chardonnay ($30). JoieFarm is also a previous winner in the LG competition. The wine will be released in September and 425 cases were made.

JoieFarm 2008 Riesling ($27). JoieFarm made 1,000 cases of this wine. It should be more easily available in private wine stores.

Peller Estates 2007 Private Reserve Pinot Noir ($18.99). This wine is great value and it is widely available - even in B.C. liquor stores. This award should draw attention to how much Peller wines have improved over the past several vintages.

Road 13 Vineyards 2006 Fifth Element ($35.99). This red is an elegant blend of five grape varieties - four Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. This winery is also a repeat winner of this award.

Sandhill Wines 2007 Small Lots Syrah ($34.99). This wine has just been released. Consumers need to move fast to get some of this excellent Syrah - only 224 cases were made. It can be ordered through the website. Sandhill is another repeat winner.

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Gewurztraminer ($17). It is only right that this wine wins an award. The See Ya Later vineyard is North America's largest single block of Gewurztraminer and obviously one of the best. The wine is available in VQA stores, among other places. This winery is a repeat winner.

Stoneboat Vineyards 2007 Pinotage ($24.90). Stoneboat is a small new Oliver winery that won an LG last year with a Pinot Noir. Pinotage, a variety created in South Africa, is made by only a handful of Okanagan wineries.

Wild Goose Vineyards 2008 Pinot Gris ($18.99). I have lost count of how many LG awards have been taken by this excellent winery at Okanagan Falls. It may be five by now. The best bet is to order directly from the winery.

Congratulations to all - and to the producers of the other wines. There were a lot of fine wines entered this years.


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