Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oculus and and its many friends

There is a well known marketing strategy among wineries that takes advantage of the psychology of consumers: crown the portfolio with an exceptional and expensive wine and its coat tails pull along everything else.

I have seen this at work. Some years ago, when Sumac Ridge Estate Winery released a $50 red called Pinnacle, the wine did not sell well (and has since been dropped). But it did increase the sales of the winery’s $25 Meritage. It seems that consumers decided that if a wine was good enough to sell for $50, there was a better than even chance that the next one down in price also was pretty good.

Now, I am not saying that Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is making an $80 Oculus just to sell its less expensive wines. Oculus, in fact, sells well enough that the winery is thinking of having an annual release event just at the winery.

What I am saying is that those of us who can’t afford to buy in a high-priced neighbourhood are likely to buy as close to that neighbourhood as we can.

When you scan the labels that come from the Mission Hill winery in West Kelowna, you discover that the winery has created many neighbourhoods, all of them appealing. The winery had many of its wines on display at a recent portfolio tasting.

The wines commented on here, all of them VQA wines, are only a fraction of what comes from that cellar. It is not always obvious that some of these wines even come from the West Kelowna facility. Mission Hill has an associated company called Artisan Wine Company. The address on the labels of those wines is a postal code in Oliver. The Mission Hill and Artisan brands are kept strictly apart.

This sometimes has hilarious results. The manager of a motel in Osoyoos complained to me this summer that he had driven all over Oliver in search of Wild Horse Canyon. He did not succeed, of course, because that is one of the many labels living in Artisan’s post office box.

I don’t know how the marketers at Artisan and Mission Hill even keep things straight. Maybe it does not matter because there are good wines coming from West Kelowna and also from the post office box.

Now, it is probable that there will be a second discreet winery address in the Oliver area associated with Mission Hill and Artisan. This summer, Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl bought the Antelope Ridge winery from the Combret family. He also bought a neighbouring vineyard. There was winemaking activity this fall at Antelope Ridge (formerly known as Domaine Combret).

So far, there has been no definitive word on what the new name will be.

This is an excellent winery location. The next door neighbours include Road 13 Vineyards, Hester Creek and Gehringer Brothers. Just above Antelope Ridge, Jackson-Triggs founder Don Triggs is completing his new estate winery, Culmina. It will open its tasting room next year.

Here are my notes on Oculus and other wines in its extended family.

Oculus 2009 ($80). This is the flagship red for Mission Hill and a must-have wine for anyone collecting iconic Okanagan reds. The blend for the 2009 is 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. This wine manages to be bold and elegant at the same time, with flavours of black currant, blackberry, black cherry and chocolate; and with spice and red liquorice on a finish so persistent that you should use a stop watch to time it. This wine has all the richness and concentration of a great red vintage in the Okanagan. 94.

The tier immediately below Oculus is called Legacy.

Compendium 2009 ($45). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Think of this as the wine to collect if Oculus is sold out because this also is very fine. Typical of the 2009 vintage, the wine is full-bodied with ripe flavours of black currants and plums and with an elegant texture. 91.

Quatrain 2009 ($45). This is a blend anchored with Syrah and Merlot and filled out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The Syrah contributes to a generous palate, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and black currants. 90.

Perpetua 2009 ($35). This is one of the most sophisticated Chardonnay wines in the Okanagan, with appealing buttery citrus notes on the aroma and the palate. The oak is very subtle, just framing fruit and the voluptuous texture. 91.

The next tier down is called Special Lot Collection.

Mission Hill 2011 Select Lot Collection Martin’s Lane Riesling ($21.99 but sold out). This outstanding Riesling has aromas of fresh lime that jump from the glass. On the palate, the concentration of flavours is remarkable – hints of lemon and lime wrapped around a mineral backbone. The trace of residual sweetness is balanced superbly with racy acidity. 92.

Mission Hill 2010 Select Lot Collection Sauvignon Blanc ($21.99). The tropical fruit aromas are sweet but the wine is crisp and dry on the palate, with flavours of herbs and fresh apples. 90.

Mission Hill 2009 Select Lot Collection Merlot ($30). Here is a ripe, juicy Merlot with a generous ladle of sweet berry and fruit flavours – plums, currants – on the palate. The finish, of course, is dry … and very long. 91.

Mission Hill 2009 Select Lot Collection Syrah ($30). This big red begins with aromas of black cherry and plums; these carry through to the flavours, along with notes of pepper, dark chocolate and black liquorice. 90.

The next tier down is called Reserve.

Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Riesling ($16.99). This is a very good choice now that the Martin’s Lane Riesling is sold out. This displays similar aromas and flavours of tropical fruits and citrus, notably lime, with a finish that seems a little more crisp and dry. 90.

Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Pinot Gris ($19.99). This wine begins with appealing aromas of pear and honeysuckle. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe pear and tangerine, with a lingering finish. 90.

Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99). This wine begins with herbs and lime aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and green apple with a subtle hint of oak. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Mission Hill 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99). This wine has the classic note of mint on the nose along with blackberry, and has flavours of black currants. The tannins are still firm, as one expects from a young but cellar worthy Cabernet. 89.

Mission Hill 2009 Reserve Merlot ($24.99). This wine has a juicy but concentrated texture with flavours of black currant, blackberry and blueberry. The finish lingers. 90.

There is a tier of wines made primarily for restaurants.

Mission Hill Limited Edition Viognier 2011 ($15.99). This crisp, refreshing white with apricot and pineapple flavours has good weight on the palate. 90.

Mission Hill Limited Edition Cabernet Shiraz 2010 ($19.99).  This is a ripe and juicy blend with aromas and flavours of black currant, black cherry, chocolate, tobacco and cedar. 88.

Red Barn Barn Owl White Chardonnay/Viognier 2011 ($17.99). The name comes from a red barn on Mission Hill’s vineyard on Black Sage Road. These two varieties blend well, give the wine aromas and flavours of citrus, pineapple and apricot. The Viognier always adds a light, defining spine of tannin to this crisp, dry white. 89.

Red Barn Barn Owl Red 2010 ($17.99). This firm textured blend has flavours of black currant, coffee and dark chocolate. 88.

The Mission Hill Five Vineyards tier is the winery’s affordable entry level tier.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Chardonnay 2011 ($14.99). Here is a very drinkable Chardonnay, especially at the price, that delivers fresh flavours of peach and lime and has a lively and refreshing finish. 88.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rosé 2011 ($14.99). This is an easy quaffer with flavours of strawberry and cherry. 88.

Other brands released under the Artisan Wine Co. umbrella are positioned as independent wineries.

Rigamarole White 2011 ($14.99). This is a blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier, a clever combination of aromatic varieties with Viognier adding the backbone. 88.

Rigamarole Rosé 2011 ($14.99). This is a Merlot-anchored blend, supported by Cabernet Franc and Shiraz. It has pleasantly jammy berry aromas and flavours of wild strawberry, with a dry finish. 87.

Rigamarole Red 2010 ($14.99). This is an untraditional but effective blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Merlot. It has spicy notes in the aroma, with flavours of black currant and cherry. There is even a hint of liquorice on the finish. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Council’s Punch Bowl Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($12.99). Crisply fresh, this wine has herbal and citrus aromas and a refreshing note of lime on the palate. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Larch Tree Hill Riesling 2011 ($12.99).  This wine is light and fresh, with citrus aromas and flavours and with a touch too much residual sweetness. 87.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Ogopogo’s Lair Pinot Grigio 2011 ($14.99). This is a pleasant white with juicy flavours of apples, melons and citrus. 87.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Townsend Jack Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($12.99). This wine is crisp and lean with aromas and flavours of apples and citrus. 87.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Major Allen Merlot 2010 ($14.99). Soft in texture and juicy, this tastes of currants and blackberries. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Red Willow Shiraz 2009 ($16.99). This is a quaffable red with spicy and berry aromas and with flavours of spicy black cherry. 87.

White Bear Pinot Blanc 2010 ($13.99). This is a solid example of how tasty unoaked Pinot Blanc is, delivering a mouth full of apple flavours. 88.

This is one of four white wines under the White Bear label. The label is meant as a tribute to the Kermode or “Spirit Bear” of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. The wines are all similar in price and personality to the Prospect range.


At November 13, 2012 at 7:20 AM , OpenID heatheronwine said...

interesting insight into wine marketing

At March 3, 2013 at 5:32 AM , Blogger Derek Evans said...

Hi, I was wondering what had happened to Antelope Ridge as we had visited (we live in the UK and have family in the area) in 2010. It too had some "stand out" branding with the bottling, but wonder if this will lead to more blended wine rather than single domaine wines. I find that rather sad especially with the price points that Canada is at CAD 20 is now around GBP 14 and that is possibly before tax. The region could have really used the Jancis Robinson review to push on the premium quality wine process to even places like here, but again maybe this is also a case of producer consolidation to some extent. Will be visiting the area again quite soon, so not sure whether Antelope Ridge or by what name it is going to be called, will be open, and offering anything on site.

At March 5, 2013 at 2:04 PM , Blogger JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

Hi, Derek,
Antelope Ridge is now closed as a new owner works on what I am told will be a "special project." But a new winery called Culmina opens just above it in August and the wines should be excellent. See my recent blog. Any other questions ... contact me by email at


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