Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Black Hills expands its portfolio

Photo: Winemaker Graham Pierce

Look for two new wines from Black Hills Estate Winery, the producer of the legendary Nota Bene red blend.

In September, the winery will add Syrah to its portfolio, releasing 1,200 cases of 2009 Syrah.

The winery is also working on a second-label red wine, part of the strategy of winemaker Graham Pierce to continue refining Nota Bene.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (the dominant variety in the wine), Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Nota Bene was first made in the 1999 vintage. On June 11 this year, the winery celebrates its eleven vintages at a so-called Nota Bene release party at the vineyard.

The 2009 Nota Bene was offered to the winery’s on-line customers in early April. While that allocation was snapped up in two days, the winery has obviously kept enough back for periodic sales at the winery on special occasions.

Nota Bene has always been made just with the three Bordeaux varietals grown on the estate vineyard, with all the wine made in each vintage going into the blend.

Now, the winemaker has begun, for the first time, to cull some barrels of wine – about 10% to 15% of total production – when assembling the final blend for Nota Bene. The object is to tweak the intensity and the quality of what is already a fine wine.

Most producers of top quality reds do this. The barrels that don’t make it into the prestige label are either sold to other wineries or are dedicated to lower-priced second labels.

One should never assume a second label wine to be inferior. In any good winery, there is always quite acceptable wine left over after the prestige blend has been put together. I have not tasted the Black Hills second label wine yet but one can be confident in its quality, given this winery’s track record.

Black Hills was established by two couples, Peter and Susan McCarrell and Bob and Senka Tennant. When the McCarrells decided to retire, the winery was sold to a large group of investors in 2007. The Tennants, meanwhile, have moved on the plant a small vineyard of Spanish white varieties on the Naramata Bench and have a winery, Terravista Vineyards, under development.

The new owners at Black Hills, after recruiting winemaker Graham Pierce from Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, have both refined the property and expanded the portfolio. Almost $1 million has been invested to add new equipment to what was already a modern winery. As well, the vineyard has been converted top drip irrigation, both to conserve water and to improve the quality of the grapes.

The winery released its first Viognier last fall and has begun the Syrah program, using both estate grapes and fruit from two other neighbouring growers.

The winery has discontinued making Chardonnay. After concluding that its two-acre Chardonnay block was on a plot too hot for the variety, the winery in 2008 grafted those vines over to Carmenère and now has about two and one-third acres of that variety, enough to produce about 400 cases a year.

Black Hills was the first Canadian winery to release a Carmenère, a late-ripening Bordeaux red that does especially well in Chile, producing big plush reds. Because the Okanagan’s season is shorter than that in the vineyards of Chile, Okanagan Carmenère wines almost always have intensely peppery flavours. Black Hills discovered there is a strong following for a red with that flavour profile. That was why the Chardonnay block was switched to Carmenère.

On a recent winery visit, I was able to taste two of the current releases plus a barrel sample of the new Syrah. Here are my notes.

Alibi 2010 ($N.A.). A blend of Sauvignon Blanc (about 75%) and Sémillon, this is a lovely aromatic wine, with floral and herbal notes, and with flavours of grapefruit and lime. The crisp, refreshing finish lingers. 90.

Nota Bene 2009 ($53). This is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, a fairly classic blend. Those who collect this wine will find this ripe, rich vintage reflects the house style that has been consistent throughout its history. There is vanilla, eucalyptus and dark fruits on the nose, with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The ripe tannins give the wine an immediate accessibility but it certainly will cellar well over the next five years. 93.

Syrah 2009 ($N.A.). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of pepper, black cherries and game meat. On the palate, the flavours are generous, with flavours of plums and figs and the spiciness of good deli meats. The wine is full, with the textural elegance of ripe tannins. 90.


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