Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Perseus: Penticton's in-town winery

Photo: Anthony Burée

Visiting Perseus Winery & Vineyard in Penticton recently brought to mind a Sunday afternoon I once spent exploring wineries in Grinzing, a western suburb of Vienna.

The wineries and vineyards there sit comfortably among houses, apartments and shops just off the street car line. Most wineries serve hearty lunches. For a change of pace, there are several Beethoven museums in the area in houses in which the great composer once rented rooms.

The Perseus winery, which opened its tasting room last year, is in a 60-year-old house on Lower Bench Road, a busy street bordered by comfortable residences. It is one of a handful of wineries within Penticton city limits. You could actually walk here from downtown (there is no street car). For a cultural side trip, the art gallery is just down the hill.

It is only in the parking lot behind the wine shop that one sees the vines – a substantial expanse of vineyard running up a slope from a rugged ravine. None of this is visible from Lower Bench. Even in the future, when a proposed showcase winery is nestled into the ravine, Perseus is likely to remain discreetly in the urban landscape.

So far, it is a strategy that seems to be keeping the neighbours on side. “We’re open until six o’clock,” explains Anthony Burée, the general manager. “They can come home [from work], walk up the street, have a glass of wine at the bar and buy a bottle of wine.”

No cars park out front because the parking lot is tucked away out of sight and off the street. The house, although renovated to accommodate a very smart tasting room and a basement winery, looks largely unchanged. “It fits in with the neighborhood,” Anthony says.

Planning for this winery, which opened initially under the name, Synergy, began about five years ago. The three major partners are leading Penticton businessmen. Larry Lund, once a star center with the Houston Astros of the World Hockey Association, was the founder in 1963 of the Okanagan Hockey School. Ron Bell is a home builder, a land developer and a hotel owner. Jim Morrison operates a major construction company.

Among them, the three own just over 100 acres of vineyards in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys; most of that acreage is just coming into production. A substantial portion of last year’s production, about 3,000 cases, was made with purchased grapes.

The early plans called for the construction of a winery designed by Robert Mackenzie, Penticton’s most experienced winery architect. Preliminary drawings have been made but, when the economy slumped in 2008, the partners decided on a more cautious strategy of building the brand before building the new winery.

Anthony, who had previously been involved in launching Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries, was hired last year as general manager. On his recommendation, the winery switched its name from the corporate-sounding Synergy to Perseus.

Perseus was actually among a group of prospective winery names that the partners had register before getting a license as Synergy. Anthony thought that Perseus is a great name, if only because the constellation can be seen in the night sky from the vineyard. However, Synergy remains the “fighting brand” label for wines in the $19 to $22 range.

Neither the fighting brand nor the premium range of wines are aggressively priced; that reflects Anthony’s judgment of what consumers will spend on wine after the recent adjustment in the economy.

“The halcyon days of being able to charge $50, $100 a bottle right out of the gate is not there any more,” he says. “I said we have to focus on creating a product that is so much better than what it is priced at. We are a brand new winery.”

The winemaker since the first vintage in 2008 has been Lawrence Herder, the co-owner of Herder Vineyards in the Similkameen. He and Anthony do many of the blends together in order to shape a Perseus style that is different from the Herder style. “There are winemaker egos,” Anthony says. “Fortunately, Lawrence is so well established that he does not mind doing it that way.”

Clearly, it works. The wines, in bottles with smart, contemporary labels, are well worth the stop in the tasting room. Here are my notes on some of the current releases.

Perseus Synergy Pinot Grigio 2009 ($18.99). This has the easy quaffability one associates with Pinot Grigio – notes of pears and citrus on the palate, refreshing acidity, lingering finish. 88.

Perseus Synergy Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($19.99). This wine has ripe flavours of peaches and apricots, with a soft acidity that gives it a full texture on the palate. 87.

Perseus Synergy Merlot 2009 ($20.99). Here is good value. Ripe and spicy, with flavours of currants, it is as delicious as a good slice of fruit cake. 89.

Perseus Synergy Shiraz Cabernet 2009 ($21.99). This is a 58%/42% blend with Shiraz taking the lead in what is a classic pairing. It has aromas and flavours of spice and red berries with notes of leather from the Shiraz. 88.

Perseus Invictus 2008 ($29.99). This is the winery’s Bordeaux blend: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. Elegant and full bodied with lovely ripe fruit, the wine tastes of currants, blueberries and blackberries with an appealing spicy finish. 90.

Perseus Invictus 2009 (not yet released). This wine is also built around about 50% Cabernet Sauvignon which accounts for the appealing eucalyptus aromas. A little more floral in aroma than the 2008 (probably reflecting its youthfulness), this has a similar flavour profile. The finish is vibrant, elegant and complex. 91.

Perseus Tempus 2009 (not yet released). This is the winery’s Syrah and a very good one it is. Round and chewy in texture, it has classic flavours of plum, delicatessen meats and spice, notably white pepper on the finish. 91.


At May 19, 2011 at 7:24 PM , Blogger Val-Gal said...

John, I stopped by Perseus recently but was just a little too late to the shop. Must return to enjoy the wines you describe. I noticed a word seems to be missing in this: "No cars park out from because the parking lot...." Thanks for the great tone you bring to all your writing. ~Valerie


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