New from Stag's Hollow: a fine Tempranillo blend
Photo: Dwight Sick, winemaker
Stag’s Hollow Winery will only be bottling its 2008 Tempranillo blend in May for a September release. Winery owner Larry Gerelus let me taste a barrel sample in December, part of a larger tasting of Stag’s Hollow wines. I can report that it is an exciting wine and that, since there will only be 125 cases, you should get on the list for a few bottles.
Located near Okanagan Falls, Stag’s Hollow was opened in 1996 by Larry and his wife, Linda Pruegger. In a lifestyle change, they left behind good office jobs in Calgary to take over a small vineyard and build the Okanagan’s first winery with geothermal heating and cooling.
When the volume outgrew that facility, they built a 7,000-case capacity winery in 2007, again with geothermal heating and cooling. Since 1996, several other wineries have joined them in making this commendable commitment to a lower carbon footprint (Burrowing Owl, CedarCreek, Hester Creek and perhaps a few others).
The capital outlay for the new Stag’s Hollow winery was just a little daunting, leading Larry and Linda to put their winery on the market. However, a purchase agreement fell through when the proposed buyer’s American bank stopped lending money during the 2008 financial crisis.
With a renewed determination, Larry and Linda found ways to increase the winery’s cash flow. Because the estate vineyard produces only enough grapes for half the winery’s capacity, they have contracted additional grapes. Already good at marketing, they have turned up the volume there as well. Stag’s Hollow wines are now in more restaurants and in such outlets as the VQA stores.
One of their most important decisions in 2008 was to hire Dwight Sick as their winemaker. From the beginning, Stag’s Hollow has had a succession of good winemakers through its cellar (Jeff Martin, Michael Bartier, Brad Cooper among others). Often, they consulted to Larry as well as elsewhere, since Stag’s Hollow was not quite big enough for a full-time winemaker of its own.
The new winery and the higher production (Stag’s Hollow made 6,000 cases in 2009) justify a full-time winemaker. That, in turn, has freed the owners up to do more marketing and more viticulture.
Dwight had done several vintages at Pentâge Winery before he decided to move on in 2008. Larry heard he was available and set up an interview. “It just clicked,” he remembers.
Stag’s Hollow already has a good reputation for Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a cult following for its Vidal. Some years, the winery grafted Chardonnay onto most of the Vidal that was already there when Larry and Linda bought the vineyard in 1992. The winery made good Chardonnay but that varietal is seriously out of fashion while customers can’t get enough of the Vidal. So the Chardonnay grafters are being removed, returning the vines to producing Vidal grapes again.
What Dwight has added is his intense passion for Rhone varietals. By coincidence, he was hired just as the winery had signed a long-term contract with a vineyard growing Syrah. He also has brought significant skills as a blender.
Those came together last year when the winery released a minuscule production of a new red wine called 2008 Quattro IV, a blend of four Rhone varieties.
In a recent tasting with Larry, I was shown the barrel sample of the 2009 Quattro IV. It is a delicious blend of 50% Syrah, 46% Grenache, 3% Viognier and 1% Marsanne. A big, juicy wine with flavours of plum, wild blackberry and pomegranate, it is already so tasty that I scored it 90-93, very good for a wine not yet finished. The winery plans to release only 80 cases at about $40 a bottle, selling most of it on futures and in six-bottle lots.
The winery plans to release 125 cases of the yet-to-be named Tempranillo blend, a blend of 40% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. “When making and blending this wine,” Dwight says, “I was looking to build a wine that was masculine and showed the diversity and depth of what we can grow here in the Okanagan.”
My notes also include the descriptor, masculine. The wine tastes of black cherries, plums and black currants with an attractive note of spice on the finish. It has firm, ripe tannins and should develop lovely complexity with a few more years in bottle. My score: 90-92.
My tasting with Larry included three wines currently available:
2008 Viognier ($24.99). An excellent example of Okanagan Viognier, this wine has stone fruit aromas and flavours of apricots, peaches, pineapples. It has good weight on the palate because Viognier, typical of the variety, has a lightly defining spine of tannin. This is a red wine drinker’s white. 90.
2008 Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon ($22). This gold medal-winning wine is barrel-fermented and aged six months in new French oak. However, the oak is very subtle, showing only as a touch of hazelnut integrated with herbal aromas and flavours of grapefruit. 88-90.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.99). The winery released 308 cases last month. It was one of the first of Stag’s Hollow wines to show up in the VQA store system. At this price and quality, it won’t last long. The wine begins with a great aroma of spice and berries. On the palate, there is plum and black currant. The ripe tannins give the wine that elusive “smooth” finish that many red wine drinkers find appealing. 88-90.