While reviewing these wines, I shared the Meritage with a
neighbour who is familiar with the style of Burrowing Owl wines.
“Is there a better winery in British Columbia
?” he asked.
The question was rhetorical. In his mind, this is the best
winery. I evaded the question since, after all, I have to do business with all
the producers. However, the scores achieved by these wines speak for
themselves. The Wyse family who own this winery could utter the classic line
attributed to Baron Philippe Rothschild, that his chateau was “first among
That puts a heavy on Burrowing Owl president Chris Wyse who
is in the midst of perhaps the most important decision he will make this year:
hiring a new winemaker.
Bertus Albertyn (left), the South African winemaker who has been at
Burrowing Owl since October 2009, is stepping aside later this season to
concentrate on Maverick Estate Winery. Maverick, which has just begun to get
its wines into the market, is a project launched by Bertus and his
father-in-law, Dr. Skalk de Witt.
Bertus trained at South Africa’s leading wine school.
By the time he came to the Okanagan, he had been seasoned by work with a large
co-operative winery and then as head winemaker for Avondale, a well-regarded family-owned
One of Burrowing Owl’s strengths has always been the
consistent style of the wines that was stamped on the winery by Bill Dyer, the
consultant from California
who made the first seven vintages here, starting with 1997. The reds, especially,
have always delivered bold and satisfying flavours. Burrowing Owl consumers
always knew what to expect. The wines made by Bertus probably exceeded those
Obviously, his departure leaves a hole. However, I expect
that the winery has been inundated with résumés from strong winemakers eager to
take over such a strong legacy. “I am certain we will have a strong replacement for Bertus,” Chris told
Here are notes on the winery’s recent releases.
Burrowing Owl Pinot
Gris 2012 ($20). The winery’s flagship white, this begins with appealing
aromas of freshly sliced apples with a squeeze of lime. On the palate, the wine
delivers flavours of pear and guava with a hint of grapefruit. The fine mineral
spine leads to a crisp and refreshing finish. 91.
Burrowing Owl Merlot
2010 ($30). The vintage was a cool one but Burrowing Owl, with its great
site and superb viticulture, pulled of a terrific Merlot with 14% alcohol. In
the glass, the wine presents an appealing aroma of black currant, black cherry,
lingonberry, spice and chocolate. The wine is full on the palate with juicy
flavours that mirror the aromas. In spite of the year, the wine presents the
plush texture and concentration of a ripe Merlot. There are notes of spice and
cedar on the lingering finish. 91.
Cabernet Franc 2010 ($33). This wine
won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. I can do no better than to
echo the notes published by the winery: “An intense nose of blackberries and ripe cherries evolves
into cedar and dried herbs with a faint hint of cocoa and vanilla. The palate
has round lush flavours of juicy red fruit, black tea and ripe plums. Bright
red raspberry in colour with well integrated tannins and a balanced acidity.
This wine will benefit from decanting and pairs perfectly with herb roasted leg
of lamb, or smoked duck breast.” 92.
Burrowing Owl Athene
2010 ($35). This is a blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah –
always a good marriage, as the Australians showed. This wine begins with
appealing aromas of vanilla, blueberry and plum. On the palate, there are
flavours of black currant, black cherry and plum, with spice and pepper on the
Burrowing Owl Syrah
2009 ($35). This is sold out at the winery website but will be in
restaurants and perhaps private wine stores. This is a powerhouse red with 15%
alcohol but with such good balance and texture that you only experience the
richness of flavour on the palate. This begins with black cherry aromas and
delivers flavours of black cherry, blackberry, plum, spice, chocolate and red
Meritage 2009 ($45). This is also
sold out on the winery website but may be available in restaurants and private
wine stores. Burrowing Owl’s flagship red, it is simply terrific. It is 38%
Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit
Verdot. It begins with lush aromas of black cherry, cassis and spice. On the
palate, there are layers upon layers of savoury black berry and boysenberry,
with coffee and cocoa and cedar on the finish. The tannins are firm enough to
allow this wine to be cellared another five years; but also ripe enough that it
can be enjoyed now. 93.