Friday, December 11, 2009

Is there Nothing Sacred at Blasted Church?

The newest release from Blasted Church Vineyards, Nothing Sacred 2007, is a milestone wine.

It is the winery’s first full-out Bordeaux blend. It is also the wine that says that Richard Kanazawa (photo above), the winemaker who joined Blasted Church in 2007, has put his stamp fully on the portfolio.

The wine also marks the beginning of other important changes that are coming here. The most noteworthy is that, next year, Blasted Church will begin offering its wines under new labels and in lighter (more environmentally friendly) bottles.

Based in Okanagan Falls, Blasted Church began life in 2000 as Prpich Hills. New owners two years later changed the name, hiring Vancouver marketing guru Bernie Hadley-Beauregard for the re-branding.

He came up with Blasted Church, a name inspired by an old church in Okanagan Falls that was moved there in the 1920s from a mining ghost town in the south Okanagan. The movers famously set up a charge of dynamite to loosen the building nails in what the locals soon called the blasted church.

Even cleverer than the name were Bernie’s labels (see an example above) – lively caricatures that made the wines stand out in any wine store or restaurant table. The winery had a lot of fun with the labels. For example, in a bit of strategic flattery, the images of senior Canadian wine writers appear on the Pinot Gris label.

The labels were an immense hit with consumers and played no small part in the growth of this winery into a 20,000-case producer.

When the labels were rolled out, Hadley-Beauregard advised Blasted Church to revisit the branding in four years. For one reason or the other, it has taken an extra three years for this to happen – but happen it will, next year.

“We are performing a rather neat brand rejuvenation project at Blasted Church in the new year,” Hadley-Beauregard told me in a recent email. “Essentially, the current (and very successful) label series will be retired, and a completely new series introduced throughout 2010 (as each of the new vintage wines come to market).”

No doubt, there is a market rationale for this. From the winemaking point of view, there is also a rationale: the wines of Blasted Church have become too seriously good for irreverent (pardon the pun) labels.

At last two developments account for the continual improvement in the wines.

First, Blasted Church has had professional viticulturists looking after its vineyards for several years. The current vineyard manager, Morton Serbon, who joined the winery last summer, is trained and experienced in Australian vineyards.

Second, the winemaking regime has stabilized. Due to various unfortunate circumstances, the winery has had six winemakers since 2002. Even though all were more than capable, the style of the wines never quite settled down.

Richard Kanazawa looks like a keeper. Born in Langley in 1972, he came to winemaking by chance. After a brief stint as a professional rugby player in Japan, he came back to Canada needing a job and got one delivering wines for Domaine de Chaberton. He studied food technology at the BC Institute of Technology, hoping that would springboard him into a winemaker’s job. When it did not, he went to Australia in 2002where he studied winemaking and worked with several wineries.

Returning to Canada in 2004, he found a job at the Red Rooster winery. Before leaving that winery for Blasted Church, he made the 2006 Malbec with which Red Rooster won its first Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence.

In the 2007 vintage, he shared cellar responsibilities with winemaker Kelly Moss. Shortly after vintage, she moved to Ontario for family reasons. Richard got the 2007 whites into bottle and finished the 2007 reds. Since then, he has been the senior winemaker here.

His 2008 white wines have been released for some months now. The Gewürztraminer (89-90), the Riesling and a blend called Mixed Blessings are sold out. Still available is a tangy, herbal Sauvignon Blanc ($18.99), fruity Pinot Gris ($19.99), underrated Chardonnay Musqué ($17.99) and the winery’s most popular aromatic white blend, Hatfield’s Fuse ($17.99). All of these score 88 to 90.

For Hatfield’s Fuse fans, the winery is making about 6,000 cases from the 2009 vintage.

The 2007 reds were finished very well. Nothing Sacred 2007 ($39.99) is a blend of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 23% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc. Individual parcels of fruit came from vineyards on the Naramata Bench, Oliver and Osoyoos as well as Blasted Church’s Skaha Lake Bench Vineyard. Each lot was processed separately and aged in new French oak. In the end, 216 cases of a fine hand-crafted wine have been released. It is an elegant and complex red with the spice of Malbec defining the aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, black cherry, cedar and blackberry. This is a 91 point wine, perhaps more with a few years in the cellar.

The winery’s Syrah 2007 ($25.99) is a generous wine with the classics notes that are beginning to define Okanagan Syrah – pepper on the nose and the finish, along with earthy, gamy flavours of plum and blackberry. 89.

At a recent tasting Richard also brought a barrel sample of the Syrah 2008. This wine includes some Viognier in the blend. Perhaps that accounts for the additional elegance of what will be a very delicious wine when released. 90.

The only 2008 red released so far is The Dam Flood ($18.99), a cheerful blend of 60% Merlot, 40% Lemberger, a juicy, quaffable red with flavours of plum and blueberry. 88. The winery has released 1,500 cases of this.

Just about to be released is Pinot Noir 2008. The 2007 is still in the market for $25 and that’s fine because the 2008 needs another six months or so to begin showing its potential.

At a recent tasting, Richard also brought along barrel samples of several exciting reds that are not yet finished. The Malbec Syrah 2008 (the sold-out 2007 vintage sold for $40) is a marvellous combination of Malbec’s coffee, plum and spicy notes with Syrah’s pepper and gamy flavours. 90.

There were also promising barrel samples of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from the 2008 vintage. Clearly, Blasted Church has good wine with which to launch whatever the rebranding will look like.


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