Monday, January 11, 2010

Pacific Breeze reds really do deliver the WOW factor

Many of us have become jaded with advertising slogans for products that don’t deliver on what the slogan promises. It happens way too often.

However, New Westminster’s Pacific Breeze Winery actually delivers on its slogan, a quote attributed to Maurice Hamilton, one of the winery’s co-founders: “We want to make wines that make people go WOW.”

Recently, I was assessing the winery’s 2006 Killer Cab during a family dinner. One of my guests was so impressed with the flavour that he spontaneously exclaimed “WOW” when he tasted the wine.

During the past month, I have gradually tasted my way through all of the red wines currently available from Pacific Breeze. They all deliver bold flavours. From the modest quantity of each wine, I suspect some are close to sold out, to be replaced by the next vintage. Judging from these and other Pacific Breeze wines, you can buy the wines confidently without tasting them in advance.

The business model at Pacific Breeze is different from all other British Columbia wineries. Licensed as a commercial winery, it makes all of its wines with grapes imported, for the most part, from select vineyards in California.

That sets it apart from all the other commercial wineries which import bulk wine to produce their various cellared-in-Canada wines.

All of B.C.’s commercial wineries once imported truckloads of fresh grapes from California and Washington, either because they were unable to get enough grapes from the Okanagan or because high-quality European varietals were not available here. In the 1980s, Mission Hill, as an example, had quite excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir with imported grapes. In that era, Mission Hill owned no vineyards.

With improved shipping methods of the 1990s, the wineries that incorporate imported wine in their portfolios now bring in finished wine in bulk. It is much more economical and convenient than hauling truckloads of fresh grapes up the I-5. As well, all of the commercially wineries generally have their own vineyards in British Columbia (Mission Hill alone owns about 800 acres).

Pacific Breeze, which does not have vineyards of its own, is modelled on the garagiste wineries of Washington State. There is, for example, a big cluster in Woodinville, north of Seattle, that buy grapes from the vineyards in the Washington Interior. Most of these wineries are making wines of astounding quality because they have contracted top quality grapes.

When Maurice Hamilton and Frank Gregus were creating Pacific Breeze in 2005, all of the top quality Okanagan and Similkameen vineyards were tied up by other wineries. So they had to find grapes south of the border.

“We’re not going to give up on B.C.,” Frank told me in an interview in 2008. “Ultimately, as we become more successful, we would like to be able to have some vineyards in B.C. as well.”

Pacific Breeze has its wines on restaurant wine lists and in some private wine stores. So far, the winery has not cracked the Liquor Distribution Branch, perhaps because the LDB does not quite know whether to put the wines in the California section or in the B.C. section of the stores.

The best place to find the wines is at the winery, a funky little place in an industrial mall under the Skytrain line in New Westminster. Pacific Breeze is often open for weekend tastings, some of which are mini-wine festivals with food and music. The quality of the wines makes it worth the trip.

Here are my notes on the current red wines from Pacific Breeze.

2006 Vin de Garagiste P2 ($19.99). Made from grapes from Lake County, California, this is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Petite Syrah. This is a big, luscious wine, tasting of blackberries, plums, black cherries, chocolate and cedar. I put the wine to the test of going back to it every day for four days. It became richer and the fruit became sweeter. 88-90.

2006 “Killer Cab” ($22.99). This is also Lake County fruit: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 8% Syrah. This is another big wine with character, beginning with an alluring aroma of red currants and iodine. On the palate, it shows spicy dark fruit with the Syrah contributing a rustic, gamy note. 88.

2006 Syrah ($29.99). The grapes also come from Lake County. Big and bold, this wine recalls a spicy, dark fruitcake, with flavours of fig, black cherry and blueberry. 90.

2005 Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.99). These vineyards are in the Red Hills appellation of Lake County. The wine is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot. In a word, delicious – full on the palate, with vibrant red fruit flavours (currants, cherries), with a touch of mint on the nose. It is a concentrated wine that it benefits from decanting. 89

2005 aCure eState Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.99). This wine, made from grapes grown in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, delivers both power and elegance. It begins with a voluptuous aroma of blackberries. On the palate, there are layers of sweet fruit flavours, with a lingering finish. The blend is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.5% Merlot, ½% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Footnote: the vineyard’s name comes from the fact it is owned by a doctor. 88-90.

2005 “Signature Series” Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99). Another Red Hills appellation wine, this is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah, with half a percent each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Dark in colour, the wine begins with a lovely aroma of wild blackberries. On the palate, this full-bodied wine has spicy flavours of currants and plums, with a hint of chocolate and tobacco on the finish. It is drinking well now but will also cellar very well.89-92


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