Thursday, July 5, 2012

J-M Bouchard moves Road 13 to the next level

Photo: Road 13 winemaker J-M Bouchard

In early 2011, Michael Bartier turned over the winemaker’s role at Road 13 Vineyards to J-M Bouchard with generous praise for the new guy.

In an email, Michael described his successor as “an amicable guy and extraordinary winemaker.”

J-M has now shown that the praise was merited. Road 13 has just won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence for a white wine he made in his first vintage there: the Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011.

Early in June, at a visit to the winery, I tasted all of the winery’s current releases with J-M, including several from Michael’s last few vintages there. 

The quality of the wines is consistently high. I am surprised that the winery only won one award. Three of its wines were among the 43 in the final round of judging at the Lieutenant Governor’s competition. Only 11 awards were given in what is a very rigorous competition.

Formerly known as Golden Mile Cellars, this winery has employed three solid winemakers since Mick and Pam Luckhurst bought it in 2003. Their initial winemaker was Lawrence Herder; when he decided to concentrate on his own winery in the Similkameen, the Luckhurts recruited Michael from Township 7. Last year, Michael joined Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, in part to launch his own label.

A native of Sherbrooke, J-M (for Jean Martin) became interested in wine after getting a degree in business and hotel management and working in Montréal restaurants. In 1998, he went to Australia, studied wine science at Charles Sturt University. He began making wine in Australia (with a who’s who of vintners) and then went to Alsace and Germany to master Riesling.

Coming back to Canada, he started working in the cellar at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery; then he did several vintages at Hidden Bench, one of Ontario’s hot new wineries. He returned to the Okanagan in 2010 to work on the new Don Triggs winery. When Culmina, as that winery is to be called, fell a little behind schedule, J-M accepted the Road 13 job.

(Culmina is currently under construction, with plans to have the first wines on the market next year.)

At Road 13, J-M is working with owners who have ambitious targets for both quantity and quality.

This spring, Road 13 bought 19 acres of vineyard on the Golden Mile from Vincor, adding it to the 43 acres it already owns both on the Golden Mile and on Black Sage Road. Mick Luckhurst also purchases grapes but concluded that Road 13’s best wines were often made with grapes he was growing in his own vineyards.

He also had a letter of intent to develop a vineyard in the Similkameen with the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. However, he decided his plate is full enough for now and that letter was allowed to lapse earlier this year.

In the 2011 vintage, the winery made 30,000 cases of wine, about 50% more than in the previous year.

J-M is another one of those winemakers (like Grant Stanley at Quails’ Gate) who says that Pinot Noir is his favourite variety but who clearly gives them all his best.

Here are my notes on the current releases.

Road 13 Home Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($24). A crisp, dry wine with what the Germans call racy acidity, this begins with herbal and floral aromas. On the bright palate, there are flavours of lime and lemon, with a fine concentration of fruit and minerals. The finish lingers and lingers. 91.

Road 13 Mitchell’s Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2011 ($24 for a production of 44 cases). The grapes for this wine came from a Summerland vineyard and the inspiration for the style came from Alsace. This is a dry Gewurz with a rich texture, with aromas of spice, ginger and grapefruit peel and with spicy orange and grapefruit flavours. 90.

Road 13 Viognier 2011 ($24). This wine was fermented in neutral oak barrels, fleshing out the rich texture. It has aromas of citrus and stone fruit, with layer upon layer of flavour – apricot, pineapple and peach. 91.

Road 13 Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2011 ($24). The profound flavours and minerality of this remarkable wine reflect that the grapes came from vines planted in 1968. There is honey and quince on the nose, with persistent and ripe flavours of apples, quince, apricot and peach. J-M’s model for this wine was Vouvray. He tweaked the vineyard practices and then fermented the wine in neutral barrels with natural yeast. This made the Lieutenant Governor’s short list. I can’t imagine how it missed getting an award. 93.

Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne ($29). This is the award winner. It is not on the winery’s website, leading me to think that the production was small and that it is only available at the winery. These three varieties were co-fermented and that probably explains the complex harmony here. Crisp and refreshing, the wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, apricots and tropical fruits. The layered texture is appealing, giving the wine depth and persistence. 91.

Jackpot is the term that Road 13 uses for most of its reserve tier wines. While Road 13 uses screw cap closures for most of its wines, it has decided to use corks for the Jackpot range.

Road 13 Chardonnay 2010 ($24). Lightly gold in colour, the wine has buttery and citrus aromas, with flavours of tangerine mingled with toasty oak notes. The oak is very subtly handled, not overshadowing the fresh fruit flavours. 90.

Road 13 Jackpot Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2009 ($34.99). You have to go the winery to get this excellent bottle-fermented wine, with a toasty, citrus aroma and with creamy brioche flavours and a crisp citrusy finish. 92.

Road 13 Pinot Noir 2010 ($24.99). Still tight and youthful in the bottle, this is a wine with vibrant and deep flavours and aromas of strawberry and raspberry. 89.

Road 13 Jackpot Pinot Noir 2009 Castle Vineyard ($39.99 for a production of 125 cases). This elegant wine appeals with delicate aromas of strawberry and spice, and with flavours of cherries and raspberry and what the winery prefers to call “silken black tea.” 90.

Road 13 Syrah 2010 ($35). The wine begins with a touch of white pepper and deli spices on the nose, with flavours of black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. 91.

Road 13 Merlot Syrah 2009 ($45). This wine, a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Syrah, also was a finalist for a LG award. This is a boldly ripe wine, with aromas of sage and plum jam. It has a big juicy palate with flavours of plum, fig, red berries and vanilla. 91.

Road 13 Fifth Element 2009 ($50 for a production of 250 cases). The wine got its name from an earlier blend of five varietals.  This one is 68% Merlot, 22% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Franc. Almost black in colour, the wine has savoury notes of cassis, black cherry, fig, vanilla and chocolates. It is rich and full-bodied, but with the structure to age well. The winery says this will cellar to 2017, which is conservative. 92.


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