Monday, March 12, 2012

Hester Creek's The Judge and friends

Photo: Winemaker Robert Summers

During the recent International Wine Festival in Vancouver, Hester Creek Estate Winery rolled out the second vintage of its icon red, a wine called The Judge, along with several new releases.

The superb quality confirms the turnaround at this winery. It was in bankruptcy in 2004 when Prince George trucking company owner Curt Garland bought it.

He put the winery solidly back on its feet by:

* Recruiting veteran Ontario winemaker Robert Summers to reshape the portfolio.

* Building a totally new winery, filled with state of the art equipment for making quality wines.

* Recruiting Australian Mark Sheridan, formerly the viticulturist with Vincor, as Hester Creek’s general manager. He in turn has added a depth of talent in the winery’s sales team as well as a social media manager.

* Hiring a marketing agency to refresh the look of the brand. The unappealing, even funereal, labels of old have been replaced by crisply clean white labels that stand out in wine stores and look elegant on restaurant tables.

* Building six luxury villas on the mountainside above the winery, helping gives the Okanagan more of the quality lodging that goes with a world-class wine region.

* And opening last year an acclaimed restaurant at the winery, called Terrafina.

All of these moves constitute the foundation for excellent wines at prices that, for the most part, are affordable.

Perhaps the exception is the $45 price on The Judge 2008. However, this is a limited production “best of the best” red aimed at the knowledgeable collectors and their cellars. You will get the message just by lifting the bottle. A package this heavy certainly raises expectations that this blend of Bordeaux reds is not any old judge but the chief justice himself!

In the glass, the wine does not disappoint. It is a big, ripe wine, with aromas and flavours of vanilla, plum and figs. On the palate, it presents with a rich and generous texture, with flavours of coffee, chocolate, liquorice and spice on the finish. It is a powerful and satisfying red. 94.

A recent release is Hester Creek Reserve Merlot 2008 ($26.99). Here is one of those firm Okanagan Merlots with a backbone of minerals and tannin and oak that will repay anyone who cellars this wine a few more years. The ripe black currant aromas and flavours need a bit more time for the core of sweet fruit to develop. 89-91.

The new red at the festival was Hester Creek Select Barrels Merlot 2010 ($18.99).  This is a marvellously ripe and concentrated wine for the price with bold flavours of black currant, coffee and chocolate. The wine seems more approachable than the reserve Merlot even though it is two years younger. 90.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2011 ($19) is the winery’s first 2011 release. While it might be suffering a touch of bottle shock, it delivers excellent flavours of citrus and peach. It has the crisp finish that likely will be the hallmark of 2011 excellent whites. 88-90.

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