Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Class of 2012: Symphony Vineyard

Photo: Lamont Brooks and Pat George

Symphony Vineyard, which opened early in June, has returned winegrowing to a Saanich farm that grew loganberries in the 1960s for Growers Wine Company, then based in Victoria.

Lamont Brooks, who runs this winery with his wife, Pat George, is a second generation member of the Brooks family to manage this farm, once 30 acres in size and now 10 acres. His mother, Thelma, also grew strawberries before Lamont and Pat leased part of it for the 2.1 acre vineyard they planted in 2004.

The winery represents a second career and a lifestyle choice for the couple, both of which are trained in geology and earth sciences. Lamont, who was born 1957, is a physics graduate from the University of Victoria. Upon graduation, he went to work in the oil industry in Calgary, where he met Pat. They spent 13 years with Shell, including three years in Holland, until Vancouver Island drew them back in 2003.

Pat now describes herself as fully retired from the oil industry while Lamont remains modestly involved with a start-up oil and gas company.

They returned to the Saanich Peninsula at a time when the promoters of Victoria Estate Winery had been encouraging the planting of small vineyards.

“It seemed like a fine hobby for us to launch into, on the existing land here,” Lamont says.  “In 2004, we planted the vines and built the winery building. We began making pretty serious wines from our own grapes, starting in 2006, when the vines were in third leaf.”

From the start, this was much more than a hobby. They joined the Wine Islands Growers Association, with Pat serving for many years as the president. WIGA is a technical association that promotes education and problem solving for the grape growers and winemakers of the coast. It is vital because most of the viticultural research is done in warmer terroirs, like the Okanagan and California, and is of limited use on the coast.

“We as viticulturists have had to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, do trials and figure out how to get the best crop in this climate,” Lamont says. “We really have to figure out what works in this climate. Ninety per cent of the research is from warmer places.”

The varietals planted for Symphony are Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Léon Millot. The latter is a French hybrid from Alsace plant breeder Eugene Kuhlmann, who also developed Maréchal Foch. Lamont and Pat planted it to produce a full-bodied red.

In a typical year, the vineyard should yield enough grapes for about 400 cases (the winery opened with about 300 cases from 2011, a difficult, low-production year). Lamont and Pat will augment that by buying grapes from other island growers as they target an annual production of 600 cases.

“We will always aim to be a small winery,” Lamont says. “We don’t want to get to the 1,500 case level. We want to stay a small boutique producer of high quality wine.”

They do not plan to buy Okanagan grapes. “We do want to stay with island fruit,” Pat says. They have already noted the positive response when consumers in the wine shop ask where the grapes come from -- and they can point the vineyard that is just a few hundred yards away.

The view from the wine shop also takes in a picnic patio, the locale of some of the music events held here over the summer. Given the winery’s name, it is only logical that they would host musicians.

“Music and wine seem to go together well, and there are lots of musical people in our family,” Lamont says. “Also, the definition of Symphony: “an elaborate instrumental composition in three or more movements, of grand proportions and varied elements”, could almost describe the long process leading to a bottle of wine – springtime in the vineyard, bursting into a long ‘summer movement’ as grapes form, a quieter fall ripening phase followed by the flurry of harvest and fermentations, and a final slow aging when the sensory character of the wine develops.”

The first wines released this summer establish Symphony as a winery worth visiting. Here are my notes.

Symphony Pinot Gris 2011 ($18). This wine begins with an appealing and fresh aroma of lime and rhubarb which carry through to the flavour that also has hints of pear. The finish is tangy and crisp. 89.

Symphony Pinot Gris 2011 (barrel-fermented) ($19). Barrel fermentation has given the wine a fuller palate. It still shows attractive aromas and flavours of citrus  and has softer acidity while still having a dry finish. 90.

Symphony Gewürztraminer 2011 ($19). Nicely balanced to finish dry but not austere, this wine has delicate citrus aromas and flavours with the classic hint of lychee that the variety often shows. 90.

Symphony Pinot Noir Rosé  2011 ($18). This wine displays a lovely rose petal hue, with aromas and flavours of strawberries. It has a dry finish but with just a trace of residual sugar to give it a juicy texture. 90.

Symphony Millot 2011 ($21). Aged in American oak, this is a dark and fleshy wine, with aromas of black cherries and flavours of plums and cherries. The soft tannins – a touch of tannin was added during fermentation – give the wine youthful approachability. 89. 

Symphony Vineyard,
6409B Oldfield Rd, Saanichton, BC V8M 1X8.
Telephone: 250.208.8784 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            250.208.8784      end_of_the_skype_highlighting


At August 24, 2012 at 9:26 AM , Blogger JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

LOVELY ENTRY JOHN. It turned out that Linda and I were at SYMPHONY, for a Cuban Trio Concert "Fuego de Cuba", visiting Lamont and Pat.

As we hinted to you earlier, their GEWURST is spendid. Imagine Gewurtz ripening in Victoria: it takes winegrower skill, and fidelity to Terroir, to make a Noble Wine like that.

(ok, ok, Gewurtz is not a Noble Vine, strictly speaking, but the wine sure has the FINESSE!)

We just tasted the new LEON MILLOT. It certainly has LEGS (literally). Unfortunately I could only get 1/2 a case... and that was the only fault I found with it.

Mark my words, Lamont will fill the shoes of John Wrinch, of Starling Lane, whose Foch (with some L.M. spice) remains my favorite Island red: it has moxie!

John 'tapped' Lamont and Pat, who will take over his section of Starling Lane vineyard next year, so Linda and I will remain their devoted Fans.



At August 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM , Blogger JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

To expand on Max's comment, Symphony will be harvesting Marechal Foch and Leon Millot this fall from the Wrinch vineyard. Next year, Symphony also will get Ortega and Pinot Noir from that source. Symphony will prove to be an excellent successor to Starling Lane.


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