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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Pinotage
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.