Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tom DiBello becomes a Canadian

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Photo: Tom DiBello

Now it is confirmed: winemaker Tom DiBello is a keeper.

Early in November, Tom and Tari, his wife, became Canadian citizens, erasing any concern that Tom would eventually resume his winemaking career in the United States where he grew up.

Tom is still close enough to his citizenship exam to delight in stumping native Canadians with some of the questions.

Example: Who was Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine? Answer: in 1842, he was the first Canadian to become prime minister of the United Province of Canada and the first head of a responsible government in Canada.

I had to admit to Tom that I didn’t know that.

As if to celebrate becoming a citizen, his DiBello Wines has just released two more wines. This spring, he released the first wine on his own label, 87 cases of $33 Viognier. It has now flowered wonderfully in the bottle to become a luscious white with layers of tropical flavours.

It has now been joined with a Chardonnay and a Merlot; and a Syrah will be along as soon as it has had a bit more bottle age.

Tom was born in 1957 in New York, Tom grew up in California’s Newport Beach, acquiring a lifelong love of surfing. After vacillating between medicine and business, he qualified as a winemaker at the University of California. His first job in 1983 was at Napa’s respected Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where he became director of cellar operations.

“Warren Winiarski is a tough taskmaster,” DiBello said of the owner of Stag’s Leap. “He’s a demanding perfectionist.” Some of that may have rubbed off on Tom, even though he hides it behind a laid-back personality.

He left Stag’s Leap for Australia in 1987 where he had the pick among several choice winemaker jobs. He went to Cape Mentelle, a highly-regarded producer at Margaret River in Western Australia. “It’s right on the beach,” DiBello explained the choice. “Margaret River has one of the best surfing beaches in the world and that’s what I looked on from my house there.”

He came back to California a year later (for economic and romantic reasons) and spent two years as a wine salesman. In 1989 he joined a small new winery at Temecula in southern California, Clos de Muriel, which won medals for its wines but was under-financed and closed after the 1992 vintage.

He went from there to do a vintage in Virginia and then spent four years with a winery in Arizona. In 1996 he joined Claar Cellars, a new Washington State winery. He made two vintages there and another two at a winery called Washington Hills before being recruited by CedarCreek. He came to the Okanagan in the summer of 2000 and stayed at CedarCreek for a decade before leaving to consult.

He is currently associated publicly with Alto Wine Group in Okanagan Falls and with Perseus Winery in Penticton. He also has a list of clients with lower profiles.

And he has his own label, DiBello Wines. (Actually, the labels are designed by Tari, a good artist.) Here, he produces small lots of interesting wines for sale to key restaurant clients and wine enthusiasts. The DiBello website also lists a wine store in Vancouver and another in the Okanagan that carry the wines.

Here are my notes on the current releases.

DiBello Chardonnay 2010 ($27.90 for a production of 110 cases). This is lovely crisp Chardonnay. The subtle use of oak supports but does not mask the fresh, tangy flavours of citrus and peach. There is a touch of butteriness, just enough to flesh out the palate. 90.

DiBello Merlot 2010 ($29.90 for a production of 110 cases). The grapes for this wine come from an Osoyoos vineyard from which Tom has secured Merlot since 2000. He believes it is a special site and the flavours of the wine confirm that. It has a lovely aroma and flavour of black currants, with long ripe tannins but also with that fine backbone that gives Okanagan Merlot the structure to age. This is an elegant wine. 91.

DiBello Syrah 2010 ($29.90 for a production of 140 cases). Not yet released but very promising, this robust wine is also made with Osoyoos grapes. It has a touch of pepper on the aroma and on the palate, along with flavours of dark fruits and black chocolate. 90-92.


At December 1, 2011 at 1:14 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

For an excellent explanation on the important role of Lafontaine and his political partner Baldwin on Canadian History, see Reflections of a Siamese Twin by John Ralston Saul.


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