Monday, January 14, 2013

Van Westen's big number 8

Photo: Winemaker Rob Van Westen

Rob Van Westen was over the moon when the results of the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards were announced.

His winery, Van Westen Vineyards of Naramata Road, came in eighth, with two gold medals, two silvers and one bronze.

Here is some context so that you understand why he was elated. Van Westen Vineyard submitted only six wines, fewer than any of the other top 20 wineries in the competition.

Tawse Winery, an Ontario winery that has been number one in the competition f0r three years running, submitted an astounding 38 wines to win nine golds, 9 silvers and 14 bronze medals. Not to take anything away from Tawse, but that many entries is the equivalent of keeping a thumb on the scale.

Rob Van Westen would not have that many wines if he had submitted virtually everything he has made since the winery opened in 2005.

One of Rob’s branding policies may also be self-limiting. The name of every wine in his portfolio begins with V. Every bottle sports a bold V, not unlike the Nike Swoosh, making it easy to spot one of his wines in a wine store or on a restaurant table. That’s effective, even if he occasionally stretches for a name. For example, his Icewine is called Vice.

The wines, which are honest and reliable, mirror the vintner’s character. A member of a legendary cherry growing family, Rob branched into winemaking 10 years ago, mentored by Tom DiBello, then the winemaker at CedarCreek. The winery, based on five hectares of vineyard, produced 2,300 cases in the 2012 vintage.

He operates from a former fruit packing house. When he and his partner, Tammi, open the tasting room, they offer a friendly and informal experience. Unless there have been some modifications in the past year, the tasting bar is still a plank on a couple of barrels. There is much to admire about this unpretentious winery.

Production is limited but several of the wines are available in VQA stores and a few other private stores.

Here are my notes on the wines that were released during the past six months.

Vino Grigio 2011 ($18.90 for 499 cases). This crisp and fresh Pinot Gris with 13.4% alcohol has more weight than one expects with the Pinot Grigio style (which is a good thing). It begins with aromas of melon and pear, leading to flavours of pear, melon and cantaloupe. As the wine warms in the glass, lovely tropical fruit flavours emerge. 89.

Vivacious 2011 ($18.90 for 334 cases). This is Pinot Blanc with a splash of Pinot Gris. Crisp and tangy on the palate, it begins with aromas of apples and pineapple and has flavours of green apples and grapefruit. Given the racy acidity, this would be a good wine to lay down until next spring. 88.

Viognier 2011 ($24.90 for 110 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards. This wine is made in the ripe, mineral-drive style of the Rhone. The 14.3% alcohol contributes to the rich texture on the palate. It begins with aromas of apricot, peach and honey and tastes of apricot and baked apples. 90.

Voluptuous 2009 ($29.90 for 204 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards.  This wine, 67% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc, was released on December 1 to various channels including the VQA stores. This is a bold and generous wine from a ripe vintage, with 14.6% alcohol that you hardly notice. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and coffee. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, even a hint of graphite. 92.

V 2009 ($34.90 for 301 cases). This is 68% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5.6% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and 0.4% Petit Verdot.  My sample unfortunately was corked, but not so badly as to obscure the fundamentally solid qualities of this blend; just enough that I could not score it. Take a chance on it.

Vulture 2009 ($49.90 for 42 cases). Rob took a risk with this wine by using no sulphur (except for traces in the topping wine). Sulphur is an almost universal preservative in winemaking, an easy way to prevent oxidation. This wine, which is 100% Cabernet Franc, came through the entire winemaking process, including 19 months in French oak barrels and is none the worse for it. In fact, I think you could cellar this for a few more years. True to the variety, this is a wine with brambly berry aromas, along with oak and cloves. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, currant, raspberry and cocoa. 91.


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