Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cornucopia's wine and winery finds

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Photo: The end of vintage

This year, Cornucopia, the annual food and wine festival in Whistler, definitely marked the end of the very late 2011 vintage in British Columbia.

With some wineries still picking in mid-November, there were perhaps not as many winemakers behind the winery tables as usual. Other winery staff or agents stood in for the winemakers, and quite ably, dispensing the wines and the information that makes this one of the leading wine festivals of the year.

It has always been the last major wine tasting festival of the year. From now until early January, everyone in the industry is too occupied with keeping shelves and restaurants supplied. The rest of us are too busy with the demands of the holidays.

The wine tasting drought lifts in Vancouver on January 24 with the Taste of British Columbia, organized by Liberty Wines. That tasting will be at the Four Seasons Hotel, a change of venue for an event that has been held at a different hotel for years. I have no idea why Liberty changed the venue. Could it be because the Four Seasons has better stemware?

Cornucopia gets a lot of things right, including the provision of decent wine glasses.

This year, there were about 70 domestic and international wineries at Cornucopia’s trade and consumer tastings, far more than any person can cover, however diligent. But let me share a few of the things I did discover.

One was a winery from Lake Chelan in Washington, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, run by a jolly couple named Don and Judy Phelps.

Lake Chelan is a resort community a couple of hours due south of the Okanagan. With growing conditions not unlike the south Okanagan, this was officially designated as a viticultural area in 2009. There are at least 16 wineries in the area, none of which – to the best of my knowledge - has ventured into the Canadian market until now.

Hard Row to Hoe is a bit of a mouthful but there is a story. In the 1930s a local resident with a row boat established a taxi service across the lake, ferrying miners from one side to a brothel on the other.

For the owners, who did their first commercial crush here in 2005, this is a second career. Judy, who has a master of science degree in zoology, retired in 2006 from a research and development post at Pfizer Inc. and then got a certificate in winemaking from the University of California. Don has a master’s in civil engineering and has a private consulting practice (water resources) in Chelan.

Much like Summerland’s Dirty Laundry Winery (which was also at Cornucopia), Hard Row to Hoe has embellished the names of its wines with double entendres alluding to the dubious connection to the brothel. There is Burning Desire (for Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). There is Iron Bed Red, Nauti Buoy, Good in Bed Brut, Shameless Hussy and Double Dip (it doesn’t mean what you think).

My favourite of the wines they showed at Cornucopia was a terrific 2010 Marsanne. Here’s hoping that Don and Judy found themselves an agent.

KWV, the big South African wine producer, did have an agent looking after its table. I stopped because I have not tasted Roodeberg in years. This was everybody’s favourite South African red in the days when South African wines had a bigger market share. It is still a pretty solid wine, well-priced at $13.99 a bottle.

The find at the KWV table, however, was a wine called Café Culture Pinotage 2009 ($14.99 in private wine stores). This is meant to be a new style of Pinotage – a generous red with tons of berry flavours and with the smoky finish of a good cigar.

The New Zealand contingent at Cornucopia included Oyster Bay Wines which has just shaved $2 from the price of each bottle between now and the end of January. Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18) and Oyster Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 ($23) are very good value.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s Eric von Krosigk was among the winemakers at Cornucopia and not still stomping grapes. He was pouring a 2009 Organic Riesling ($19.95) that was impressive for its classic notes of citrus and petrol. One expects good Riesling from Eric who began his winemaking career with six years of study and practice in Germany.

Kettle Valley’s Bob Ferguson was also at Whistler and was relaxed because Tim Watts, his partner, was back in the Okanagan, dealing with the last grapes of the vintage. The winery’s Old Main Vineyard, a westward-facing slope that grows Bordeaux reds near Okanagan Lake, has one of the longest seasons of any vineyard on the Naramata Bench. Kettle Valley’s flagship Old Main Red 2008 ($38) was one of my favourite reds at the tasting.

At the Quinta Ferreira table, where owners John and Maria Ferreira presided, one of the solid value wines was the 2009 Cabernet Merlot ($21.90). But the star here was the 2009 Syrah ($29.90). This is the successor to the 2008 which won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence this year … and I think the 2009 is even better.

Cornucopia incorporates a wine judging each year and the winners are designated with a “Top 25” award. Two are singled out as wines of the year.

The top white was a Chenin Blanc 2009 ($25), from Bellingham, a very fine South African winery. The red wine of the year was the Nk’Mip Cellars QQ Syrah 2008 ($35).

No one was more overjoyed to have Top 25 recognition than Cliff Broetz, one of the owners of a Salt Spring Island winery called Mistaken Identity. The wine is a white blend, Abbondante Bianco 2010 ($20), an appealingly fragrant and crisp wine. The winery only opened two years ago and recognition like this confirms that the winery is off to a strong start.


At January 1, 2012 at 1:40 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the write up about us John. It was a pleasure to meet you. We are still trying to break into the tough B.C. wine market. Cornucopia was a fantastic event and we will be back. Hope you get a chance to visit down at Lake Chelan Washington some day ( just 2 hours south of the Oosoyos border). There are 16 wineries located around the lake and makes a nice wine tasting get away. - Judy Phelps, vintner/proprietor at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards (www.hardrow.com)


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