Friday, March 16, 2012

Stag's Hollow begins to roll out the 2011s

Photo: Stag's Hollow Syrah Rose 2011Posted by Picasa

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 recalls.

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 vibrant flavours.

The Stag’s 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.

Stag’s 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.

Stag’s 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.

Stag’s 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.

Stag’s 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.

Stag’s 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.


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