Class of 2011: 40 Knots Winery
Photo: Bill Montgomery
Vancouver Island’s newest winery, 40 Knots Winery in Comox, has just released its first four wines.
You will need to move smartly to get some. The winery produced only 185 cases in 2009 and 219 cases in 2010.
However, there is a large and professional managed vineyard here as well as a staff winemaker. Expect to see more production in the future.
I profiled the winery in John Schreiner’s BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide, which was released this spring by Whitecap Books. Here is the entire profile, followed by notes on the four wines.
Occasionally, extra drama in this vineyard is provided by the thunder overhead of CF-18s, taking off or landing at the nearby Canadian Forces Base at Comox. Bill Montgomery and Michal, his wife, have grown accustomed to the roar of military aircraft since buying this property in 1990 but it still is a thrill for visitors and for those tending the 32,000 vines here.
Growing wine is quite a departure from Bill’s previous career. He grew up in Prince Rupert, where he was born in 1949. His father owned a towboat company there. Subsequently, Bill established his own towboat company, Burrard Towing, based in the Port of Vancouver. He and his wife moved to Comox after selling the company and for many years were hobby farmers with a few head of cattle. Bill delayed ordering grape vines for a number of years when, as he recalls, his wife said, “You can’t do that—you have to be born into the industry.” But most other new entrants into the wine business were hiring advisors and Bill decided to do the same.
He prepared the six-hectare (15-acre) vineyard on a gravel-rich plateau above the Powell River ferry dock, burying drain tiles so that the vines, supplied by a nursery in France, would not have so-called wet feet. The vines were planted in 2007 and 2008. About a quarter of the vineyard is in Pinot Noir. The other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Merlot. The latter was a surprising choice for this cool growing region, a choice showing that advisors do not always get it right. Subsequently, Bill has begun converting that block to early ripening Auxerrois and Siegerrebe.
40 Knots’s winemakers, Natasha Ponich and consultant Christine Leroux, produced the first vintage, a few thousand litres, from a small harvest in 2009. “We made a very good Pinot Gris,” Bill says. He expects to have wine for public sale in 2011, depending how the vines produce fruit as they become established. “I am not rushing this,” he says.
The winery and tasting room have been installed in a renovated former barn that overlooks the vines. The new structure is so grand that you would think Bill was, in fact, born into the wine business.
Here are my notes on the wines.
40 Knots Pinot Gris 2009 ($22 for a production of 30 cases). Clean and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of apples, citrus and peach. The wine has good weight on the palate and has a tangy, lingering finish. 88.
40 Knots Chardonnay 2009 ($23 for a production of 115 cases. The wine was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and French oak. The winemaker was carefully to keep the oak subtle, showcasing the delicate citrus flavours and the floral aromas. The hint of butteriness on the palate suggests that the wine went through malolactic fermentation to achieve its soft acidity. 87.
40 Knots Rosé 2010 ($21 for a production of 60 cases). This is a Merlot rosé (with the addition of 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay). I have only once before tasted a Merlot rosé from an island winery and this one is head and shoulders better. It has a lovely salmon pink hue, aromas of strawberry and strawberry jam and flavours of strawberries and red plums. The wine gets an extra punch of flavour from 20½ grams of residual sugar; yet it is well balanced and does not come off as a sweet rosé. 89.
40 Knots Pinot Noir 2009 ($25 for a production of 56 cases). This wine, which has a fine dark colour, spent nine months in new French oak before being bottled. It begins with aromas of spice and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, chocolate and spice, with the gamey, earthy undertones that are sometimes called “forest floor.” The texture is still firm and I would recommend cellaring this for another year to let it develop all its complexity. 88.
40 Knots Winery
2400 Anderton Road
Comox BC V9M 4E5