Photo: Burrowing Owl winemaker Bertus Albertyn
In the spring of 2007, Burrowing Owl
Vineyards bought an Osoyoos property that it calls Eva’s Vineyard. The
vineyard, with most of its vines already eight years old, remained under
contract to sell grapes to Vincor until 2009.
Since Eva is the daughter of Burrowing Owl
president Chris Wyse, one can assume there will one day by vineyard-designated
wines. Burrowing Owl’s winemaker, Bertus Albertyn, is already keeping some
Eva’s Vineyard wines separate long enough to assess his options both for blends
and for single vineyard wines.
A recent tasting at Burrowing Owl included
a barrel tasting in the cellar of wines from specific blocks in both the estate
vineyard and in Eva’s Vineyard. Some of the wines show the individuality that
cries out for small lot production. On the other hand, Burrowing Owl over the
last 15 years has developed a following for consistent estate blends so good
that most of the wines already are on allocation.
When and if the winery starts releasing
small lot wines, there may well be knife fights among restauranteurs to get what
will be highly prized wines. Other wineries would like problems like that.
Burrowing Owl is responding to demand for
its wines with incremental production increases and with some additional wines.
For example, the winery has a Fumé Blanc style of Sauvignon Blanc under
Secondly, the winery a few years ago
launched a second label, Calliope Wines. Since the initial release of just one
wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, the value-priced Calliope portfolio has been expanded
to six wines. There is a double barrel strategy here. Firstly, the lower prices
of these wines attract to the Burrowing Owl orbit new consumers who might find
most of Burrowing Owl’s portfolio a touch pricey.
Secondly, because some of the wines are
made with purchased grapes or with newly planted varietals, it gives the winery
the chance to experiment. The winemaker gains experience with varieties not
always grown at Burrowing Owl; and the winery’s sales team gets to test the
market’s acceptance of new varietals and blends.
Currently, Burrowing Owl has three
vineyards. The 140-acre estate vineyard which surrounds the winery on the Black
Sage bench supplies most of the winery’s fruit. Eva’s Vineyard is a 30-acre
property with 11 acres of vines, all of them red varietals, although the winery
plans to plant Viognier there as well. Smallest of the three is a 9.5-acre
vineyard near Keremeos that grows mostly Sauvignon Blanc, with two tiny blocks
of Sémillon and a test block of Tempranillo.
These vineyards give Bertus enviable
Here are my notes on current releases. It
should be noted that Burrowing Owl sells through several channels. Some of the
production is allocated to VQA and private wine stores as well as restaurants;
some is allocated to internet sales; and some is available in the winery only.
The Calliope wines are sold through VQA and
private wine stores as well as from the separate web site. The prices quoted
here are VQA prices. Some private stores set somewhat higher prices on the
Owl Pinot Gris 2011 ($20). The winery has recently
expanded its Pinot Gris acreage somewhat to meet the demand for what many
regard as a benchmark Okanagan Pinot Gris. This wine has the classic aromas and
flavours of pear and citrus with a hint of spice. The full texture gives this
wine a generous, lingering finish. 90.
Owl Chardonnay 2011 ($25). Chris Wyse proclaim: “We
are proud Chardonnay oakers!” However, the oak is very subtle in this wine,
with its lingering buttery flavours of tangerine and apple. The release of this vintage is imminent. 90.
Owl Pinot Noir 2010 ($30). From my recollection of
previous Pinot Noir vintages, Burrowing Owl has progressively refined the
viticulture with a variety that is tricky on sandy soils. The outcome has been
wines with ever greater concentration. This deep, intensely-flavoured Pinot
Noir is a good example, with rich and spicy cherry aromas and tastes. The
tannins are well on the way to becoming silky. 89-90.
Owl Merlot 2009 ($30). This is probably the
varietal with which the winery built its reputation as one of the Okanagan’s
leading Merlot producers. This wine is juicy on the palate, with concentrated
flavours of plum and black currant and with spicy red fruit in the aroma and on
the finish. 90.
Owl Cabernet Franc 2009 ($33). Here is another wonderfully
concentrated red that begins with aromas of raspberries and blackberries. On
the palate, there are brambly berry flavours along with hints of chocolate and
Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($38). This elegant
wine is already delicious but it will deliver a spectacular reward to
collectors who cellar it for the next seven to 10 years. Now, there is a core
of sweet fruit – cassis, plum, cocoa and spice – all wrapped around long ripe
Owl Syrah 2009 ($35). This is a powerhouse red with
15% alcohol but with such good balance and texture that you only experience the
richness of flavour on the palate. This begins with black cherry aromas and
delivers flavours of black cherry, blackberry, plum, spice, chocolate and red
Owl Meritage 2009 ($45 but sold out on line). Lucky
the collectors who snapped up this complex wine. It is a blend of 38%
Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23%
Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The intense berry aromas jump
from the glass. On the palate, there are layers and layers of flavours, including cassis, black cherry,
plum, coffee and cocoa. This will also age well. 93.
Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($16.99). Burrowing Owl Estate
Winery uses the Calliope label for appealingly-priced wines made, at least in
part, with purchased grapes. This is a refreshing, tangy white with herbal and
lime flavours and with a crisp finish. 88.
Viognier 2011 ($15.99). This displays the classic
weight and minerality of the variety, with aromas and flavours of pineapple and
green apples. 88.
Riesling 2011 ($14.90). This wine begins with
delicately floral and herbal aromas. On the palate, there are citrus flavours,
with a crisp and tangy finish. 88.
Rosé 2011 ($13.99). A wine with a lovely rose petal
hue, this is made with Syrah (70%) and Viognier (30%). The wine begins with
aromas of strawberry and cherry and delivers of raspberry and wild strawberry.
The finish is crisp and dry. 88.
Figure Eight White 2011 ($21.99). This is a
delicious blend of 30% Chardonnay, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris and 5%
Viognier. It begins with herbal and citrus aromas and delivers citrus and melon
flavours, with a finish that is crisp and fresh. 89.
Figure Eight Red 2010 ($19.99). This red blend is
78% Syrah and 22% Merlot. This is a solid barbecue red, with aromas and
flavours of black currants, plum, raspberry and chocolate. 88.