Photo: Stag's Hollow Syrah Rose 2011
The 2011 vintage was one of the most
challenging in the Okanagan in a decade. However, I am finding quite good wines
from producers who got a grip on the vintage early in the growing season.
One of those producers is Stag’s Hollow
Winery of Okanagan Falls. Larry Gerelus, owner of the winery with his wife,
Linda Pruegger, was on the west coast this week to show the winery’s new
releases to restaurateurs and wine writers. These included a Syrah Rosé and a
Sauvignon Blanc, both from 2011 and both excellent.
He also brought some reds from the 2009
vintage, a fine vintage for reds and a dramatic contrast to the 2011 vintage.
The heat units in the Okanagan were among the highest on record in 2009 while
2011 had some the lowest heat units of the past decade. In a way, both years
were challenging; 2009 produced big wines with lots of alcohol. A good winery
has no choice but to rise to the challenge.
Larry learned how to deal with the weather
early in his career as a winegrower. Trained as an actuary, he was working in
an oil industry human resources job in Calgary
when a wave of downsizing swept through the industry. Larry invested his
settlement package in a vineyard near Okanagan Falls
in 1992, opening a winery in 1996.
Larry describes the 1996 vintage as “a
brutal vintage.” The summer was unusually cool and wet, tough conditions for
maturing grapes. But Larry had a stroke of luck. In 1994 and 1995, he had
grafted Merlot and Pinot Noir onto the trunks of the Chasselas and most of the
Vidal that had been growing in the vineyard. The vines adjusted to this in 1996
by naturally carrying a light crop. “We got relatively ripe fruit,” Larry
Fast forward to 2011, with its late and
cool spring. “Due to the 1996 experience, as soon as I saw the bloom date in
2o11, I knew we were in trouble,” he says. Ideally, the bunches should bloom
about mid-June, leaving a good margin of time for the grapes to develop and
ripen. In 1996, bloom in the Stag’s Hollow vineyard was about July 4. In 2011,
bloom was June 28 and 29.
Remembering that 1996 succeeded because the
crop load was low, Larry and his team immediately reduced the number of bunches
on each vine in 2011. One might gamble that that vines will catch up if the
weather improves but if the vintage starts as late as 2011, there is not much
chance that over-cropped vines will catch up in October. By then, the days are
too short to mature fruit well.
The 2011 weather, fortunately, turned warm
and dry through most of September and into the middle of October. Early reports
suggest that moderately cropped vineyards produced the grapes necessary for
good wines. The whites are crisp but fruity and the reds – so I am told – have
Hollow 2011 Syrah Rosé ($18.99 for a production of 220 cases) is one of the very few rosé wines made with
this grape (Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are more common). This is 91%
Syrah – most of which was whole cluster pressed and left on the skins for three
hours to pick up colour and flavour. The remainder of the blend is 5% Viognier
and 4% Muscat.
The result is a wine with a delicate rose petal hue, a delightful aromatic lift
in the aroma and mouth-filling flavours of strawberry and cranberry. The wine
is balanced to finish dry but not austere. 90.
Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19.99). Not yet
released, this attractive wine begins with both tropical fruit and grassy
aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and grapefruit. The lingering
finish is vibrant and refreshing. 90.
Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($19.99 for a
production of 800 cases). There is probably another month or two supply of this
wine in the pipeline. This is crisper, more flinty version of the varietal, no
doubt reflecting the vintage and the extra year in bottle. Savoury and
herbaceous, this is a great seafood wine. 88.
Hollow 2009 Heritage Block ($24.99). To be released
in the spring, this is a blend of 63% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc and 5%
Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is approachable now but you would do better to
cellar it another year, giving the bold oak a chance to completely marry with
the rich fruit. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry, plum and black
currant with some of the classic savoury sage notes of the Okanagan. 88-90.
Hollow 2009 Renaissance Merlot ($29.90 for 125
cases). Released last year, this wine is nearly sold out. It is a concentrated
and structured wine, well worth cellaring. It begins with aromas of blackberry
and plum and shows flavours of plums, cherries, mocha and vanilla. 90.
Hollow 2009 Syrah ($27.99). Also released last
year, this begins with aromas of blackberry, spice and pepper. On the palate,
there are the classic meaty flavours of the variety with red fruit, earth and
minerals on the finish. Think of Rhone, not Australia, 90.