Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rustico recruits for its “Wine Posse”

Photo: Bruce Fuller in the Rustic wine shop

Don’t be surprised if hundreds of people emerge from the Vancouver International Wine Festival next week wearing sheriff’s badges.

Anyone who presents himself or herself to Bruce Fuller at the table of Rustico Farm and Cellars will be deputized as a Wine Marshall.

This is what Bruce does in the Okanagan winery’s tasting room all season. He estimates that he has deputized at least 4,000 members of the Rustico Wine Posse, as the wine cub is called here. He hopes that these deputies will spread the word for Rustico’s wines.

It is a bit of a gimmick but hardly an empty one.  Deputies are offered free shipping of wine within British Columbia. Other discounts also apply from time to time.

The badge reminds visitors of the rollicking good time they had in the tasting room. No one in the Okanagan runs a tasting room with as much élan as Bruce Fuller.

It comes from his previous careers in marketing, including some years with The Pattison Group.  Bruce is one of those people with more promotional ideas before breakfast than the rest of us have all week.

Rustico, which he opened in 2009 with the backing of silent partners, is the culmination of a decade-long dream to develop an Okanagan winery modelled on an Italian village.

The property he bought for Rustico, however, took him in a different direction, one inspired by the Okanagan’s former history as ranch country.

The property, at the end of the Golden Mile viticultural area south of Oliver, was purchased from the Crown in 1963 by a dapper Hungarian immigrant called John Tokios. He had been working in a silver mine at Beaverdell. When it looked like the mine was shutting down, he bought a massive log bunk house, moved it to the property and planted vines in 1968 for what eventually was a nine acre vineyard. The varieties planted included Chancellor, a red French hybrid. The last of the Chancellor has now been removed making room for, among other varietals, Zinfandel.

John Tokios reassembled the bunk house and added a sod roof. Over the next number of years, he prowled the surrounding sage-covered hills, collecting the bleached skulls of cattle and elk. He “decorated” the bunk house exterior, including the roof, with these. There was no habitation in the south Okanagan more unusual.

John died in 2000 and the vineyard was purchased four years later by Don Bradley, a brewer who planned a winery here. When the inspectors would not permit a tasting room in the bunkhouse – there was some question about its structure soundness – Don put up a new building next door for the winery and wine shop.

Then the whole property was on the market again when Don changed his mind and moved to Victoria to start a brewpub. Bruce Fuller was able to buy a near-turnkey winery and, after completing it, he was able to open in 2000.

The sod-covered bunkhouse is still there (seems there was nothing wrong with its structural soundness) but Bruce has removed most of the animal skulls, since they might have turned off some visitors.

He has added a number of antiques, including a centuries-old doctor’s buggy, to revive the heritage atmosphere. In the rustic wine shop, he decants the wines into pitchers and serves it from tumblers rather than fancy stemware. Only once has a wine snob objected. These all reflect the thespian flare that makes Rustico Farm such an entertaining visit.

As you might guess, the wine portfolio’s labels are a little different. There is Doc’s Buggy, Farmer’s Daughter, Isabella’s Poke, Mother Lode, Saloon Sally, Bonanza, Last Chance and Threesome. Coming soon are a pair of Chardonnays – Silver Garter for the unoaked and Golden Garter for the oaked version. Also under development is a bag in box wine called Ambush, marketed in a box resembling a stagecoach strongbox.

At the wine festival, Bruce will be pouring Isabel’s Poke Pinot Gris, Last Chance Zinfandel Merlot Chancellor blend, Doc’s Buggy Pinot Noir and Mother Lode Merlot.

The fifth wine at the trade tastings on Thursday and Friday afternoons is Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel, the flagship red at Rustico. This is one of only two or three Zinfandels in the Okanagan. I recently sampled one and here are my notes.

Rustico Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($34.95). The full-bodied wine may well be unfiltered because it throws a bit of sediment, which is not a problem if you decant the wine. It begins with aromas of oak, vanilla and red berries. On the palate, there are classic varietal flavours, including raspberry, blackberry and black cherry. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 90.


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