Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blue Mountain opens its tasting room at last

Photo: Blue Mountain's Mavety family; credit Andrea Johnson

Recently, I dipped into my cellar for a bottle of Blue Mountain Pinot Noir 2006. It was a delicious bottle, richer than I recall it being when young. At five years, the wine is at its peak but has the texture to hold for several more years, and probably longer in cellars with ideal temperature control.

Until this year, when my cellar was getting too full compared with the declining consumption at my dinner parties, I bought at least half a case annually of Blue Mountain Pinot Noir on release.

On several occasions, I have shared verticals of the wine. (What is the point of collecting wine if you don’t share it?) You could always count on a good turnout for a vertical tasting because of the perception that Blue Mountain wines were hard to get.

There was something to that. To make sure of a chance to buy the wines, you needed to have your name on what was called Jane’s List. It was named for Jane Mavety, a founder of the winery with her husband Ian. As the winery’s marketer, she allocated the wines to customers.

In the years when Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars – now in its 20th year - was arguably the best winery in British Columbia, the wines sold out quickly. The limited production reserve wines still sell out quickly; you certainly need to be on the list.

A lean family business, Blue Mountain opened its tasting room only a few times a year. For the most part, visitors needed to make an appointment to ensure someone was around to receive them. Occasionally, visitors without appointments were turned away. When a forest fire was contained at the edge of the Blue Mountain vineyard in 2003, some industry wag quickly cracked that the fire did not have an appointment.

That policy changed yesterday. The winery announced that it will open its tasting room from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday from May through early October.

Times have changed. When Blue Mountain opened in 1992, there were about 25 wineries in British Columbia. With rare exceptions, Blue Mountain for many years never had to sell its wines through any private wine stores, much less the Liquor Distribution Branch.

Today, there are about 225 producers and they are all fighting for business. Blue Mountain began making its wines accessible in private stores about five years ago. When the wines first went on the floor at Everything Wine, there was an actual buying frenzy until pent-up demand was satisfied.

Blue Mountain’s wines still are consistently high in quality. However, there are plenty of other superb wine producers and they all have tasting rooms. Now that wine tourism is significant in the Okanagan, Blue Mountain has been foregoing its easiest sales by not having regular tasting room hours.

There is another generation sharing the work with Ian and Jane. Matt, their son, is the winemaker and shares his father’s passion for growing grapes. Christie, their daughter, has become the winery’s sales and marketing manager.

“Blue Mountain is blessed with a truly spectacular setting,” she is quoted in the winery’s press release. “The new tasting room hours will make it more convenient for wine lovers to visit and taste Blue Mountain wines, right where they’re made.”

We’ll all drink to that.


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