Thursday, May 26, 2011

Krāzē Legz brings the Charleston to Kaleden

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Photo: Gerry and Sue Thygesen with a bottle of Speakeasy Rose.

With all of the winery growth in the Okanagan in the last decade, it is strange that no winery opened until now in the picturesque village of Kaleden.

Just eight miles south of Penticton, this century-old village has a long history of orchards (dating from the 1920s) and a reasonably long history of vineyards. The Gewürztraminer vineyard owned for 30 years by Earl Cornish was planted in 1978. More recently, Chris Scott’s Oak Knoll Vineyard has grown superior Merlot for several wineries. Several other vineyards are also tucked away here on slopes facing Skaha Lake.

One of those is a new vineyard, supporting Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery, the winery that Sue and Gerry Thygesen opened here in September, 2010, to finally put Kaleden on the wine map in the Okanagan.

The winery name is pronounced “crazy legs” but is deliberately misspelled to make it more memorable (and probably to distinguish it from a wine brand in Sonoma). What should make the winery memorable is its 1920s theme, beginning with the keyhole in the tasting room door and the 1920s music playing inside.

The 1920s was the era of Prohibition. The illegal drinking establishments – the speakeasies - had keyholes in the doors through which the operators screened patrons. Often the patrons were supposed to have passwords. According to Gerry, “Joe sent me” usually worked. The Krāzē Legz wines all have names reflecting that era: Black Bottom Stomp, for example, recalls an energetic dance of that era.

Sue and Gerry come to the wine industry after successful marketing careers here and in the United States. Gerry, who was born in Alberta in 1957, first came to Penticton in 1973 to play junior hockey. He returned to the Okanagan in 1980 after university in the U.S. to marry Sue, a native of Golden.

He began his marketing career with Okanagan Dried Fruits. By the time it was purchased by Sun-Rype in 1993, it had become a major national brand.

The Thygesens then moved to Washington State, where Gerry worked for two similar companies as vice-president of sales while Sue developed a photography business.

Just before moving to the U.S. in 1995, they bought the Kaleden property that is now their vineyard. At the time it was planted to apples and peaches. When they got around to planting vines in 2007 (tree fruits no longer were viable), they turned for advice to Chris Scott, not just because he had a vineyard but because he and Gerry worked together at Okanagan Dried Fruits.

“We got tired of the rat race in the States,” Gerry says, explaining their decision to come back to the Okanagan. “We had a long conversation with Chris, with our investment advisor and with our accountant. Coming back to the Okanagan all made sense for the life style we wanted to enjoy. I have always been extremely interested in the marketing end of things and been very successful at it. So it made sense to tie that in to our plans for the future – not just the growing of grapes but the crafting of fine wines.”

They have a 14-acre property with slopes that provides excellent exposure for their nine acres of grapes. The site also has appealing views of Skaha Lake. The neighbour down the hill is Linden Gardens, Kaleden’s leading tourist attraction.

In the vineyard, they grow Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Given their practice of limiting the crop load to around three tons an acre, the vines will not produce enough fruit for estate-only production. However, that crop load produces quality grapes.

“We would like to get to, and stay around, 2,500 cases,” Gerry says. “Based on our cropping here, we are going to have to purchase some grapes. We would like to purchase them locally if we can get growers locally to work with us on what we are looking for.”

Initial production in 2009 was about 1,000 cases of red and white wines. That increased somewhat in the 2010 vintage, although the Thygesens had a setback now common in the Okanagan. A bear and her two cubs found the vineyard and ate the equivalent of about 300 cases of Chardonnay. They hope to deter the bears this fall with the vineyard dog they purchased after that experience.

The Krāzē Legz wine labels set the wines apart from most other Okanagan wines, both for the 1920s themed names and for the keyhole on the back of each bottle. B y peeking through the keyholes on the wines – at least the whites – consumers can have fun discovering hidden artifacts among the feet of the dancers.

“The keyhole for us is more important than the characters,” Gerry says. “We feel it eventually it will be our Nike Swish. It will be consistently the most recognizable part of our marketing.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

The Bee’s Knees Pinot Blanc 2009 ($23). This wine has the aroma of spiced apple, with flavours of ripe apples and pears. The flavours are fresh and clean and the finish lingers. This wine was a silver medalist at last fall’s Canadian Wine Awards. 89.

The Charleston Chardonnay Unoaked 2009 ($23). This is a ripe Chardonnay (14.6% alcohol) with the fruit flavours and weight to carry the alcohol. The winery let it hang deliberately late into fall to plump up its flavours and character. It has flavours of honey, butter and tangerine, with a hint of residual sugar nicely balanced with natural acidity. The wine is a crowd pleaser and, in fact, was a silver medalist peoples’ choice at an Okanagan Wine Festival last year. 89.

Speakeasy Rosé 2009 ($23). This wine was made by blending white and red wines. The wine has a lovely vibrant pink hue. It is robust on the palate, with an aroma of blueberry and flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The finish is dry. 88.

Black Bottom Stomp Merlot-Cabernet Franc 2009 ($32). This wine, with a good concentrated texture, begins with berry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, there are the brambly flavours of the Cabernet Franc, along with black currants. The finish includes hits of coffee and chocolate. This is a generous and satisfying red. 90.


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