Friday, July 8, 2011

Calliope Wines take wing with 2010 releases

Photo: Jim Wyse

Jim Wyse and his family have always had a deep interest in birds which they made clear by naming their winery Burrowing Owl Vineyards after a particularly endangered owl.

“That is one area of our operations that Jim will be involved with forever,” says Kerri McNolty, his daughter. “He is the one who personally does all the bat boxes and cleans out and repairs all the bluebird boxes. That is his passion. He spends most of his time on the Burrowing Owl captive breeding program. They have had great success this spring with four pairs of burrowing owls that had complete nests with six to eight eggs that all hatched.”

Given that background, it is not surprising that the new label from Burrowing Owl is Calliope Wines, named for the hummingbird. The first Calliope wine was released last year. This summer, four Calliope wines have just been released. The fifth, a red blend called Figure 8, will be out this fall. Figure 8 describes the motion of a hovering hummingbird’s wings.

The Calliope label was created initially by winemakers Ross and Cherie Mirko. They launched it in 1999 (with two partners) and operated as a “virtual” winery until 2005 when they moved to New Zealand and wine industry careers there.

As they were leaving, they sold the brand to bird lover Jim Wyse. “He thought the bird allusion was neat and he would tuck it away and save it for some future date, when we had a brand that needed a name,” Kerri says.

About the same time, the Wyse family purchased property near the Grist Mill at Keremeos, planting primarily Sauvignon Blanc, a variety that has never been in the Burrowing Owl portfolio. The first Calliope wine released last year was a Sauvignon Blanc.

“The Calliope concept is to try new varieties we are not producing at Burrowing Owl,” Kerri says. “And with different techniques, perhaps.”

The four 2010 releases are Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling and a Syrah rosé. The wine to be released this fall is a Syrah Merlot blend.

Photo: Bertus Albertyn

The project also gave Burrowing Owl winemaker Bertus Albertyn an opportunity to expand his repertoire. He had never before made a Riesling. For that matter, Burrowing Owl has never had a Riesling either.

Bertus, who joined Burrowing Owl in October, 2009, was born in South Africa in 1978. While his father was a banker, his grandfather had been a grower and winemaker and his uncle, Chris, heads the viticulture department at the big KWV winery. When Bertus completed his training at the Stellenbosch wine school, he joined a small co-operative winery and then moved to Avondale, a premium wine producer about twice the size of Burrowing Owl. He came to Canada with his wife, Elzaan, now a family doctor in Osoyoos.

The Calliope label gives Burrowing Owl, strictly an estate producer, the option of making wines with purchased grapes as well as grapes from its own plantings.

The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, made mostly with grapes from the Keremeos vineyard, also has grapes purchased from a Summerland vineyard. The Riesling grapes were purchased from a young vineyard near Oliver. The Viognier grapes came from a Summerland vineyard.

“It seems to me that the Okanagan has a natural high acidity,” Bertus observes. Generally, he sees that as a benefit; all of the 2010 releases are crisp and refreshing.

However, he also had to dip into his bag of winemaking tricks to manage the acidity in a cool year like 2010. “Because of the high acidity [of the Riesling], I put it in the barrels just to develop more mouthfeel and to balance it,” he says. “The residual sugar in this wine is not high, about seven grams.”

The soundness of all the Calliope wines is testimony to the experienced winemaking that Bertus has brought to the Okanagan.

Here are notes on the wines.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($16.99 with a production of 662 cases). This wine begins with the classic grassy and citrus aromas of the variety. It has lime and grapefruit flavours with a crisp but lingering finish. 90.

Calliope Riesling 2010 ($14.99 for a production of 190 cases). The wine begins with attractive floral aromas and shows flavours of peach and lime, with a delicate mineral backbone. The finish of this light but well-balanced wine is tangy and refreshing. 88.

Calliope Viognier 2010 ($13.99 for a production of 175 cases). The wine also begins with floral aromas and has flavours of pineapples and peaches. All of the wine was fermented in five-year-old barrels where it remained on the lees for three months. That added to the texture. 88.

Calliope Rosé 2010 ($13.99 for a production of 334 cases). The wine was made with Syrah juice that had one day of skin contact, which extracted a lovely hue. The wine, which has a touch of Viognier, has aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. Juicy and refreshing on the palate, the wine is packed with fruit, the flavours of which are lifted by a touch of natural sweetness. 89.


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