Ross Hackworth (above) had been drinking the wines from Nichol Vineyard & Estate Winery for a number of years before he bought the winery four years ago from founders Alex and Kathleen Nichol.
“I knew that the wines he [Alex] had made for years fit my sensibilities, because the wines were always soft, always approachable, always food-friendly,” Ross told me last year. “That’s what I like in wine.”
The most recent releases from Nichol indicate that Ross has not deviated from the fundamental Nichol style although, arguably, the wines have an added degree of refinement. As well, Ross has dropped some of the niche wines that Alex used to make while adding a quite interesting Gewurztraminer to the portfolio.
The Nichols opened the winery in 1993 after converting a former Naramata orchard into a vineyard. They planted the first Syrah in the Okanagan. The legendary Syrahs that Alex made undoubtedly inspired others to plant what has become one of the Okanagan's important red varieties.
By coincidence, Ross grew up on a Naramata orchard that his parents bought in 1973. As the Nichols were planting their vineyard, Ross, who was trained for business, began a sales executive in Vancouver with a major pulp and paper company. He liked the career but eventually tired to travelling two to three weeks each month.
In 1999, Ross spent weekends helping a friend restore the heritage hotel in Naramata. In the process, he reconnected with his roots and bought a home in Naramata. He had just begun looking for his own vineyard when he learned that the Nichols were getting ready to retire. The purchase agreement provided for Alex to mentor Ross for a vintage or two. Ross was an apt student, for the quality of Nichol wines has not missed a beat.
The one visible change at Nichol under the new owner was a major expansion of the winery in 2007. Frugal and tight for funds, Alex laboured in cramped quarters to make between 700 cases and 1,200 cases each year. Ross is targetting an annual production of 3,500 but he built a winery big enough to make 10,000 cases a year. The reason? He figured out that it is easier to make good wine if the working space is efficient and comfortable.
Gewurztraminer joined the portfolio after he contracted grapes from a neighbouring vineyard that happened to have that variety. Lovers of this wine will welcome this addition to the Nichol selection.
Here are notes on current releases.
Gewurztraminer 2008 ($17). This intense, focused wine is a Riesling lover's Gewurz, emphasizing fruit, not spice. It begins with appealing aromas of citrus, lychee and rose petals. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit with a backbone of minerals and tangy acidity. The finish is dry and lingering. 90
Cabernet Franc 2006 ($27). Something about this vivacious red, its exotic personality perhaps, reminded me of some great Carmens I have heard. The wine begins with aromas of red berries, vanilla and chocolate. On the palate, there is a vivid core of cherry and mocha flavours. The tannins are ripe but firm enough to give this wine good life in the cellar. 88
Pinot Noir 2006 ($27). At three years of age, this wine is still evolving towards its peak. The colour is a fine dark ruby. It has aromas of cherries and raspberry, leading to flavours of raspberry and spice, subtly supported by oak. The wine also shows that Burgundian earthiness so prized in Burgundy Pinot Noirs. Firm when first poured, this wine develops the classic silken texture of Pinot Noir with time in the decanter. 89
Syrah 2006 ($30). Satisfyingly robust, this dark-hued wine announces itself boldly with gamey aromas of plum and deli spices. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, blackberry and pepper. As the ripe tannins soften in the glass, the wine reveals a plush core of plum and black cherry flavours that almost explode on the palate. The finish is long, very long. 90