After several years of hand-selling its wines (primarily to restaurants), Blackwood Lane Vineyards & Winery is about to open its own wineshop in a remodelled house on a south Langley hilltop with views of Mount Baker.
To borrow a phrase from the advertisements for Junker, a Langley car dealership, "it's worth the drive!" These are wines for the connoisseur - hopefully, the well-heeled connoisseur. Some of these tasty wines are not inexpensive. The Reference (above), for example, is an $89 Bordeaux blend.
Alliance, another of the winery's Bordeaux blends, sells for $59. Are they worth it? Wait until you see the scores.
Blackwood Lane's tasting room is at 25189 8th Avenue. It overlooks a south-facing slope with a two-acre vineyard. As it happens, the vineyard is being replanted after last's hard winter.
However, while the winery has based itself in Langley, this is in every other respect an Okanagan winery, with grape purchase contracts throughout the south Okanagan including the storied Inkameep Vineyards near Oliver. Like Domaine de Chaberton and Township 7, Blackwood Lane prefers to have its winery close to the important Vancouver market.
The winery is operated by Carlos Lee, a Vancouver businessman of Korean parentage who grew up in Peru, and Charles Herrold, a 1980s rock musician turned businessman turned winemaker.
In most blind tastings, it is hard to single out the winemakers. That is probably not so with Blackwood Lane. Charles stamps his wines with as identifiable a signature as any British Columbia winemaker. The wines, especially the reds, share bold, athletic builds - powerhouses of flavour. The reds have the structure to age but without the harsh tannins sometimes encountered in pricey reds. With a bit of decanting, these wines can be enjoyed now. With a bit of patience, they can be enjoyed five or 10 years from now.
Aggressive pricing (not all Blackwood Lane wines are expensive) might be a risk in this economy. However, these are small lot wines. Only 240 cases of The Reference were made. Even in this economy, there are enough collectors, connoisseurs and plain old high rollers to soak up that modest number of cases.
The prices reflect the high cost involved in making these wines. Charles and Carlos generally pay top dollar for Okanagan grapes in an effort to assure themselves of premium quality fruit. The reds are aged as long as two and a half years in expensive oak barrels, mostly French, and then age still further in bottle before being released. That is the formula for handcrafting expensive wines.
I recently tasted through the range of wines that are expected to be available in the Blackwood Lane wine shop, come the grand opening promised on the web site. The partial bottles were retasted again over the following several days, to see how the wines evolve. They improved and remained delicious as long as - in the case of a Merlot - a week after the original bottle was opened. Such sturdy winemaking is commendable.
An explanation on why two of the wines are called Vicuna, the name of a particular Peruvian llama. When Carlos and Charles bought this Langley farm, the neighbour had a herd of llamas. Sentimental for the country of his childhood, Carlos suggested naming some wines after those animals. No sooner had Blackwood Lane committed to those names than the neighbour sold the herd.
Vicuna Blanco 2008 ($19). This is an appealing aromatic blend of (mostly) Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer. The wine has clean, refreshing flavours of pears and citrus fruits, with a tangy finish. A very quaffable white. 88 points.
Vicuna Roja 2005 ($N.A.) This is an unusual but successful blend of Pinot Noir (42%) with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a juicy wine with flavours of lightly spicy strawberry jam. 88.
Blackwood Lane 2005 Chardonnay ($19). Charles Herrold made about 700 cases of this wine and only has 150 cases left. It is drinking well now but probably has peaked. It is a bold rich golden-hued wine that recalls the California style of yore - tons of marmalade and butter flavours with aromas of honey and toast. 88
Blackwood Lane 2008 Chenin Blanc Sommelier Series ($24) Charles managed to buy grapes grown on 34-year-old Chenic Blanc vines to make 70 cases. It is a fleshy wine with aromas and flavours of lime and herbs. There is a long, tangy finish. The wine was fermented in neutral oak barrels, accounting for its attractive texture. 89
Blackwood Lake 2006 Cabernet Franc Sommelier Series ($44). The exceptionally grown fruit is from Inkameep and the wine spent 18 months in French oak. This is a vibrant red, with aromas of red currants and pencil lead; and with flavours of currants and cherries. The finish goes on and on. 90 The recently bottled 2007 Cabernet Franc is comparable.
Blackwood Lane 2006 Merlot Sommelier Series ($39). Another bright, lively red with flavours of cherry, blackberry and currant with a touch of vanilla on the nose. With time in the opened bottle, the wine became richer on the palate without losing freshness. 90 The recently bottled 2007 Merlot is comparable.
Alliance 2006 ($59). This is a blend of 58.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 12.5% Cabernet Franc that spent 25 months in a variety of barrels. The winery has released 625 cases and plans to release about 700 cases of a comparable 2007 Alliance. Dark in colour, this is a big, ripe red with vanilla and currant aromas and with flavours of currants, plums, spice, chocolate and coffee. The texture is polished and generous on the palate. 94
The Reference 2006 ($89). Made with 80% free-run juice, this blend includes all five Bordeaux varieties - the three in the previous blend along with Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine begins with those classic cigar box and currant aromas one finds in good Bordeaux reds. On the palate, there is lovely sweet fruit, with notes of cherry, plum and chocolate. The wine is complex and elegant, with the svelte texture of ripe, fine-grained tannins. 96