Photo: Howling Bluff's Luke Smith
The Okanagan wine industry is largely
populated by individuals who have switched from white collar careers to become
Few have plunged more deeply into their new
careers than former stock broker Luke Smith, now the owner of Howling Bluff Winery.
Plunged is the operative word. This fall he
will be crushing the grapes by foot to make a super-premium Pinot Noir. “We don’t want a machine to touch it,” he says. (You would be surprised how many other wineries do this from time to time.)
This is the ultimate step that Luke has
taken in a grape growing odyssey that has seen him switch almost all of the Bordeaux vines he planted
in 2003 and 2004 to Pinot Noir. He concluded that his terroir on the Naramata
Bench was far better suited to ripening Pinot Noir every year.
The late and cool 2011 vintage was the last
straw with his Bordeaux
reds. The year forced him to drop so much fruit in an effort to ripen the
grapes that he produced just nine barrels for his Sin Cera red blend, down from
24 barrels in 2010.
Future vintages of Sin Cera will be made
primarily with grapes purchased from select growers in Oliver and Osoyoos. The Bordeaux varieties ripen
more reliably there, Luke believes, that they do on his vineyard. But be
believes that he can ripen Pinot Noir – he has 6 ½ acres now – and make
outstanding wine every year.
He has the awards, including a Lieutenant
Governor’s award of excellence, to prove that his Summa Quies vineyard can grow
world-class Pinot Noir.
This summer, he isolated a block of about
1,200 Pinot Noir vines beside the winery for a trial to produce a super-premium
wine. The vines are being cropped around one ton an acre in an effort to make a
wine of intense flavour and aroma. The remainder of the Summa Quies vineyard is
being cropped at about twice than tonnage, more in line with the normal crop
load that leading Pinot Noir producers find is adequate for quality wine.
“We are going to pick
it separately,” Luke says of the grapes in his trial block. “Daniel [his son] and
I are going to get in there and stomp it. It will be whole cluster, stomped on.
It will ferment in its own tank, all free run juice. It will be about three
barrels’ worth and it will go into one new barrel and two second-fill barrels,
for 18 months. It will be bottled and stay in the bottle for another 18 months.”
When he is ready to
release the wine in 2016, he intends to have it tasted blind against a
selection of $100 Pinot Noirs from international producers and “let it lie
where it lies.”
He does not expect to come in last.
Of course, you will want to taste some of
his wines before 2016. Here are notes on current releases.
Bluff Summa Quies Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2011 ($20 for 253 cases). Mostly Sauvignon Blanc, this blend has aromas
of herbs and citrus, with a satisfying dollop of sweet fruit on the middle of
the palate. The finish is slightly off-dry. While winery owner Luke Smith is
happy with the wine, he also intends to make a crisper, drier version in 2012.
Bluff Summa Quies Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 ($35 for
311 cases). This wine, which is nearly sold out, shows what can be done by
cropping Pinot Noir at two tons an acre. The wine’s lovely colour would flatter
a jewel case. There is a dramatic explosion of cherries in the aroma, carrying
through to spicy, cherry flavours and a silky but concentrated texture. 90.
Bluff Three Sisters Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 ($28
for 275 cases). Made with purchased grapes, this is a light and charming Pinot
Noir with strawberries in the aroma and cherries on the palate. 88.
Bluff Summa Quies Vineyard Sin Cera 2009 ($31 for
300 cases). This is a blend of 37% Malbec, 29% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and
8% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is just as impressive as the tank sample I
reviewed a year ago. Then, I described it as “a chewy, concentrated red with
flavours of plums, olives, figs and with long ripe tannins.” This time, I also
picked up spice and black currant with an elegant structure. 92.
Bluff Summa Quies Vineyard Sin Cera 2010 (not yet
released). This red is youthfully firm, with cherry and mocha aromas and with
flavours of black currant and raspberry. The vivacity of the flavours reflect a
vintage that was not as hot and ripe as 2009. Good viticulture still produced
good wine. 90.