Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lake Breeze releases new Seven Poplars wines

Photo: winemaker Garron Elmes

South Africa has a major wine industry but you would not know it from the number of South African wines listed in the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch: a mere 85.

Perhaps there is another way for British Columbia consumers to get their South African fix from their own wine industry, which now employs three South African winemakers.

As well, three or four producers make red wines with Pinotage, the grape variety developed in South Africa about 1925 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The latter is a grape grown in the Hermitage area of France and that probably accounts for the Pinotage name.

The first South African winemaker in the Okanagan was Garron Elmes, who was hired to launch Lake Breeze Vineyards in 1995. He is still there, having survived four ownership changes, because he is a capable winemaker. He also makes Pinotage every vintage because Lake Breeze was the first Okanagan winery to plant that variety. Less than an  acre is planted here and there is no room for more in the vineyard.

Excellent Pinotage wines have been released since by Stoneboat Vineyards, The View Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan and Hillside Winery (although the latter two wineries have discontinued this varietal).

The other South African winemakers are Bertus Albertyn (at Burrowing Owl and Maverick wineries) and Danny Hattingh (at Saxon Winery). Neither have Pinotage to work with but they are doing their homeland proud with the wines they do make.

And that is certainly so for Garron Elmes. Born in 1972 in Capetown, Garron was freshly graduated from Elsenburg College of Agriculture in Capetown when he took the winemaker’s job in the Okanagan. He has since become a Canadian citizen and an award-winning winemaker.

Seven Poplars on the Lake Breeze label was inspired by the stately poplars that used to border the driveway to the winery. The trees were removed a few years ago after some had become diseased and were in danger of becoming windfall.

On the label, Seven Poplars used to signal the winery’s reserve level wines. Garron does not make a big deal of that because he believes most of his wines now achieve the Seven Poplars level.

Here are notes on recent releases.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($22). This wine is sold out at the winery but likely still on restaurant wine lists. It begins with aromas of herbs, citrus and fresh grass. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, with a backbone of minerals and with a crisp, tangy finish. 90.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Chardonnay 2011 ($25). This barrel-fermented Chardonnay is elegant and delicious, starting with appealing aromas of lemon, orange, along with a whiff of toast from the oak. It follows through with flavours of tangerine, apple and toast. There is a creamy richness on the long finish. 90.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Pinot Noir 2010 ($25). Deep in colour, the wine has aromas of raspberry, cherry and spice which are echoed in the flavours. The youthfully firm texture has begun to evolve toward the variety’s classic sensual palate. 90.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Pinotage 2009 ($30).  This wine is now sold out because the winery, which never makes much, breezed through the last 50 cases during the recent wine festival. No wonder: this is a terrific red from a very good vintage. The colour is dark. Aromas of black currant and boysenberry jam leap from the glass, leading to rich and jammy berry flavours. There is even a hint of fig on the long finish. 92.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Merlot 2009 ($25). Here is a ripe, full-bodied wine that jumps from the glass with aromas of cassis, mulberry and sweet plums. The texture is concentrated, with flavours of cassis, plums and spicy black currants on the long finish. 91.


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