Thursday, May 5, 2011

Orofino releases 2010 whites, 2009 reds

Photo: John and Virginia Weber, courtesy Orofino Vineyards

John and Virginia Weber, the owners of Orofino Vineyards, celebrate the 10th anniversary this year of their arrival in the Similkameen Valley to operate a six-acre vineyard.

Both from Swift Current in Saskatchewan, John had been a teacher and Virginia was (and still is) a nurse. There was not even a great deal of farming in their backgrounds, let alone growing grapes. Yet they have succeeded brilliantly as wine growers, making small volumes of excellent wine that sells out quickly after its release.

They are original thinkers. The winery they opened in 2005 is housed in a building made of straw bales. Unique among Canadian wineries, it was built at moderate cost. The natural insulating quality of the bales minimizes the winery’s energy consumption and its environmental footprint.

It is hard to say whether that motivates consumers with a green sensibility to buy Orofino wines. The Webers do not make a big deal about their values, largely preferring to let the wines speak for themselves.

The wines are good, as I found during a tasting with John of the recent releases from Orofino. These included two whites from the 2010 vintage. That year, John says, was “fantastic for whites – and for reds if the work was done properly in the vineyard.” The white varieties matured at slightly lower sugar levels than in the previous year; alcohol levels are a little more moderate but the flavours of the wines are not compromised.

Here are my notes.

Pinot Gris 2010 ($19.90 with a production of 165 cases). Orofino drew grapes for this wine from two Similkameen growers not far from the winery. The juice remained on the skins for several hours after crushing, picking up more flavour and the slightest of bronze hues before being fermented in stainless steel. The result is a cleanly focussed wine with flavours of citrus, pear and apple and with a crisply dry finish. John believes it is the best Pinot Gris he has made. 90.

Riesling 2010 ($19.90 with a production of 710 cases). John did not say so, but I think this the best Orofino Riesling yet. He drew on three Similkameen vineyards for the fruit, including the 21-year-old vines at Orofino, which give the wine a fine mineral backbone. While the aroma is still restrained (time in the bottle will develop that fully), the wine is packed with flavours of grapefruit and lime. The wine fermented to natural dryness, ending up with a tangy, refreshing finish and 12.3% alcohol. 90

Pinot Noir 2009 ($31.90 with a production of 70 cases). This wine is made entirely with estate-grown grapes. John has four clones of Pinot Noir in four different blocks, one of which is 22 years old. The volume amounts to about three barrels, one of which was new French oak. The wine, which is unfiltered and unfined, spent 16 months in barrel before being bottled. It begins with appealing aromas of spice and strawberries. On the palate there is more raspberry and strawberry, with toast and spice from the underlying barrel notes. It has an attractive silky texture. 90.

Red Bridge Merlot 2009 ($25 with a production of 650 cases). Five vintages ago, John began buying Merlot grapes from Chris Scott’s five-acre Oak Knoll Vineyard at Kaleden. He likes the grapes so much that this remains the permanent exception to his sourcing only Similkameen fruit. Ironically, the wine is named after the red bridge across the Similkameen River at Keremeos. This is an appealing wine, with aromas and flavours of blackberry, blueberry and plum. The dense, chewy texture of the wines reflects that Scott cropped the vines about 2 ½ tons an acre – when Merlot is often cropped nearly double that. This big, ripe wine has 14.7% alcohol but has so much substance that the alcohol is not hot. 91.

Beleza 2008 ($33.90). This wine was already released last year, winning several awards. It is a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Unfiltered and unfined again, it spent 16 months in a combination of French and American oak. It begins with aromas of currants and chocolate, continuing to flavours of plum, black cherry, vanilla and spice. It has substantial weight on the palate and ripe tannins that will allow it to age well for another five years. 92.

Orofino has two other 2009 reds not yet released, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon from a nearby vineyard called Passion Pit. You can imagine what the local teenagers did there before vines were planted.


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