Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laughing Stock prepares to blend Portfolio 2010

Photo: David Enns

Everyone has his own defence against a cellar palate.

A month on a BMW motorcycle in South America is the self-prescribed cure for David Enns, the winemaker and co-owner of Laughing Stock Vineyards.

“I just spent 30 days in South America, drinking a lot of really bad wine,” he says. To be fair, he also found some really good wine, amid the profusion of $5 - $8 wines.

But he returned last weekend from his third South American bike tour with a refreshed perspective. “You know, we are making good wine in B.C., period,” he believes. “We’ve got a great thing going here in B.C.”

Now he is turning his clear head and fresh palate to one of the winery’s most important tasks each year: blending the winery’s 2010 reds, including Portfolio, Laughing Stock’s flagship Bordeaux-style wine. Since the first vintage in 2003, Portfolio has become one of British Columbia’s icon reds.

Laughing Stock makes between 3,000 and 3,400 cases of red wine each year, including about 2,000 cases of Portfolio. Each year the winery offers “futures” on Portfolio, usually selling between 500 and 700 cases. This year, the futures offering is open on the winery’s website for just one month, until the end of February.

In a futures offering, buyers of the wine are asked to order and pay for wine that is not even bottled yet, for delivery in about 10 months.

In exchange for taking a chance on the future, the buyers get a reasonable discount. Portfolio will retail at $42 a bottle on release next October. But if you buy the futures offering now, you pay $35 a bottle. The futures price has not risen in eight vintages.

The five varietals that will be blended into Portfolio 2010 are still in French oak barrels. During the next two to four weeks, David will taste each barrel and put together various blends before deciding on the final blend for the wine. The barrels that don’t quite make the cut for Portfolio typically end up the winery’s lower-priced, but still delicious, Blind Trust blend.

While David blends to an established taste profile, Portfolio blend varies a bit, depending on which varieties are strong in any given vintage. Over the years, Merlot has dominated the blend – but not always.

Portfolio 2009 is a blend of 36% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Portfolio 2008 is 53% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.

Blind Trust 2010 will be bottled in April and released in June. The final Portfolio blend, however, is returned to barrels for another three months before being bottled. The wine also gets several months of bottle age before it is finally released.

So why put money down for a wine that is not even blended? Because David Enns and Laughing Stock have established a solid track record with successive vintages of Portfolio.

“I think we are working hard at Laughing Stock to do that consistently year in and year out,” he says.

The vintages in the Okanagan, until 2010 and 2011, have given winemakers big, ripe fruit to work with.  David believes that consumers will notice a difference in the two most recent vintages because both were cooler that any vintage since 1999.

“One thing with the 2010 vintage, and I think it will be a repeat in 2011 reds, is that the wines are going to be lighter and much more elegant, without the heavy mouthfeel viscosity associated with the previous five years,” he says.

Like many other Okanagan winemakers, he thinks the 2010 and 2011 Okanagan reds will have more in common with Bordeaux than with California. They will be wines with slightly lower alcohol, slightly higher acidity and – in the hands of a skilful blender – with bright fruit flavours and elegant balance. And they will age well.

“2010 and 2011 will be Old World years,” David suggests.  “One of the reasons I came to the Okanagan was to make wines that are like the international wines that I like to drink. That allows for a variation from year to year. It does not have to be super dark black fruit every year. It can be a number of different things, as long as there is a sense of balance and a full ripeness.”

Photo: Laughing Stock winery


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