Photo: Jesse and Randy Toor; courtesy of Desert Hills
In the 1980s, Randy and Jesse Toor, the
twin brothers who run Desert Hills Estate Winery, spent summers working in
vineyards on Black Sage Road.
They remember looking at the orchards that
also flourished in the neighbourhood and dreamed about owning one.
That memory inspired the smart new label
that Desert Hills launched this spring. The tree embossed onto the crisp white
label represents the orchard they once coveted. After buying it in 1988, they
soon learned about the difficult economics of apple growing. In 1995, they
replaced the apple trees with grape vines, mostly red varietals, opening their
winery in 2003.
A decade later, this successful family
business (brother Dave is also an owner) produces between 8,000 and 10,000
cases a year of wines that frequently win awards.
The current releases are impressive. Here
are my notes from a recent visit to the compact Desert Hills wine shop.
Hills Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($16.90 for a production
of 600 cases). If a winery has to make unoaked Chardonnay, this might be the
template. The wine is crisply fresh, with flavours of apples and citrus and
with a long juicy finish. 89.
Hills Cactus Series White 2011 ($16.90 for 1,200
cases). This is an unusual blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and
Chardonnay but it works. The aromatic varietals give the wine herbal aromas. On
the palate, there are flavours of pineapple, pear and apple with a crisp
mineral note on the finish. 89.
Hills Viognier 2011 Sira’s Vineyard ($24.90 for
1,000 cases). Here is a delicious white, with aromas and flavours of apricot,
ripe pineapple, apple, and with spice and minerals on the crisp finish. 90.
Hills Gewürztraminer 2011 ($22.90 for 1,133 cases).
Here is a very good varietal expression of Gewürztraminer, begin with aromas of
rose petals and spice. On the palate, there are layers of lychee and citrus
flavours, with a fleshy texture and a long finish. 91.
Hills Gamay 2011 ($19.90 for 2,200 cases). Along
with Blue Mountain
and Robin Ridge, Desert Hills makes some of B.C.’s
best Gamay. This dark-hued wine has black cherry and cinnamon aromas, with
earthy black cherry flavours. The cinnamon kicks in again on the long finish.
Hills Merlot 2008 ($24.90). The four years of
bottle age enabled this wine to develop aromas of cassis and sweet berries,
which carry through on the flavours to a spicy finish. The texture is firm
enough to give this a few more years of cellaring. 88.
Hills Syrah 2008 ($36.90 for 1,200 cases). This is
a rich and ripe Syrah, with aromas of pepper, red fruit and spice and with
earthy flavours of of figs and prunes. 91.
Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Three Boys Vineyard ($29.90).
The wine begins with the classic minty aromas of the variety, along with
cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants. The tannins are
long and elegant. 88.
Hills Cabernet Franc 2008 Eagle’s Nest Vineyard ($26.90).
Big and concentrated, this wine begins with brambleberry aromas. On the palate,
there are flavours of blackberry, currants and chocolate, with a long,
satisfying finish. 90.
Hills Mirage 2007 ($36.90 for 833 cases). This is the winery’s
blend: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and
5% Petit Verdot. Firm and muscular, this wine begins with aromas of vanilla and
cassis. On the palate, the concentrated texture opens to reveal flavours of
black currants, chocolate and tobacco, with a note of liquorice on the
lingering finish. 92.