Photo: Nagging Doubt's Robert Westbury
Nagging Doubt Wines is one of the more
promising labels among the growing number of “virtual” wineries in the
Virtual is an industry term, not mine, for
wineries being incubated by one or other of the licensed wineries that offer
custom crushing services. It allows budding vintners to get their brands
established before sinking major capital into wineries of their own.
“The virtual winery model is perfect for
me,” says Nagging Doubt owner Robert Westbury. “I am not a millionaire.”
He entered the market last year with a few
hundred cases from the 2010 vintage – a Viognier and a Bordeaux blend called The Pull. He raised his
production to 500 cases in 2011 and again in 2012; and he has just released a
Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from the 2011 vintage.
As the wines have begun to sell to
restaurants and private wine stores, Rob has also begun to take the first steps
to move beyond virtual. With the help of a savvy viticultural consultant, he
has begun looking at vineyard sites near Kelowna,
where he lives. Nagging Doubt likely will have a winery of its own in two or
three years. It is a perfect example of how the virtual winery model works.
native, Rob is human relations professional with a passion to become a
winemaker. He was working with a major consulting firm in Vancouver when he launched the Nagging Doubt
label last year.
Since then, he switched to a job in Kelowna. “I wanted to be
close to the [wine industry] culture. So I took a job, and it turns out to be a
great job. I am still working in HR. I love my day job but at night, I can
drive to the winery if I have to; or get on the phone and talk to people about
sales and that sort of stuff.”
The move allowed him to be fully involved
in helping winemaker Mark Simpson make the Nagging Doubt wines in 2012. “I was
there on the crush pad,” Rob says “I did all the punch downs. I was there with
Mark, making most of the decisions together, and some just by myself.”
Nagging Doubt made its first two vintages
at Alto Wine Group, a small custom crush winery near Okanagan Falls
that also incubated Mark Simpson’s wines. By the 2012 vintage, the Dickinson family that
owns Alto had begun to wind down some custom crush work in order to concentrate
on its own Synchromesh brand.
However, Mark Simpson, whose brands include
Siren’s Call, has recently licensed his own winery on a vineyard just south of Okanagan Falls. The winery, called Stoney Slopes
Vineyard, is the new home for Nagging Doubt, at least until Rob buys or plants
a vineyard near Kelowna.
The virtual wineries operate under somewhat
restrictive regulations. Technically, wine made for a virtual winery belongs to
the licensed winery where the product is made. The licensed winery is
responsible for submitting production and sales figures to government, along
with the taxes, fees and markups. Virtual vintners effectively are agents of
licensed wineries. Rob can (and does) show his wines to sommeliers and field
requests for orders. It may be convoluted but the government’s priority is
Meanwhile, Rob is putting the pieces in
place that will see him graduate from virtual status one day. In addition to
scouting for vineyard property, he has begun to cement relations with growers
who will supply his grapes.
His Chardonnay grapes, for example, come
from Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, a four-acre property near Osoyoos farmed
meticulously by Andrew Stone and his wife, Terry Meyer Stone. (They have just
released a 2011 Chardonnay under their own label, Elevation, which also made by
a licensed winery.)
“I really like these growers,” Rob says.
“2012 is the second year I have crushed their Chardonnay, and they really care
about their fruit.”
Because 2011 was a cool vintage, Rob
compares his minimally-oaked Chardonnay to a crisp, lean Chablis. Because 2012
was a hotter growing year, the 2012 Chardonnay promises to be bigger and
“One of the reasons I got into winemaking
is that I love French wine, good Burgundian wine, so I have always wanted to
make a Chardonnay and I have always wanted to make a Pinot Noir,” he says.
“Pinot Noir is what I love the most. If I was to pick one thing to concentrate
on, it would be Pinot.”
The grapes for Nagging Doubt’s Pinot Noirs
are from a vineyard at Trout Creek, near Summerland, which is good terroir for
Rob plans a tight focus at Nagging Doubt,
limiting his ambition to growing to perhaps 2,000 cases. “I just want to
perfect four wines,” he says. Those are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the red
blend, The Pull. The fourth wine will be a white, perhaps an aromatic Germanic
white like Ehrenfelser. The final choice will depend on what vineyard site he
ends up buying.
The Nagging Doubt wines are available in a
number of private wine stores in Vancouver and
on Vancouver Island. The winery’s website also
is helpful in tracking down Rob and his wines.
Here are notes on the current releases.
Doubt Chardonnay 2011 ($22.90 for 150 cases). This
wine begins with aromas of citrus and brioche. On the palate, there are
flavours of green apple, pear and lime. The finish is crisp and tangy. This is
a Chardonnay that pairs easily with food. 89.
Doubt Pinot Noir 2011 ($23). The wine’s impressive
deep hue gives it instant eye appeal in the glass. It has ripe aromas of cherry
and strawberry with a hint of cinnamon. On the palate, the cinnamon becomes
savoury sage, adding complexity to the cherry flavours. The texture has begun
to develop that classic velvet of this variety. 90.