Friday, July 26, 2013

Class of 2013: Corcelettes Estate Winery

 Photo: Urs, Barbara and Charlie Baessler

Corcelettes Estate Winery
295 Beecroft River Road
Cawston BC V0X 1C1
T 250.535.1909
When to visit: by appointment

The newest producer in the Similkameen Valley, Corcelettes Estate Winery, received its license this week, enabling it to begin selling its two excellent and well-priced wines.

The winery has debuted with a white blend called TriVium in which the major varietal is Chasselas, the dominant white grape of Switzerland. The inaugural red is a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon called Menhir. (That is explained further down.)

Clearly. there is a Swiss influence in this winery.

Chasselas vines dominate the one-hectare (2.5-acre) vineyard at the winery, reflecting the Swiss heritage of Urs and Barbara Baessler and son Charlie, the winemaker. “I love Chasselas,” Urs says. “Being Swiss, that’s our national white wine.”

Currently, only two other wineries have Chasselas: Quails’ Gate, where it was planted years ago when a nursery sent vines different from what had been ordered; and St. Hubertus, where the owners are from Switzerland.

The Baessler family came to launch a winery in the Similkameen Valley by a circuitous route.

“It all started because my mom and dad on our place in Switzerland had the best blood line in Simmental cattle,” Urs says. A friendly big-boned man with a booming voice, Urs explains that his given name means bear; it fits him. Born in 1954, he was 17 when four Manitoba farmers bought six Simmental heifers from Domaine de Corcelettes, the Baessler family farm on Lake Neuchatel.

Urs accompanied the heifers to Canada. He stayed the summer and decided he wanted to farm here. He spent several years travelling back and forth, learning how to farm in Canada while finishing compulsory military service in Switzerland. Staked by his grandfather with a down payment, Urs and Barbara bought a grain farm near Brandon and grew their first crop in 1978.

When wheat prices collapsed in the early 1990s, they diversified with a buffalo farm in Cody, Wyoming, starting with 20 animals.

“You know, coming from Switzerland, I was born and raised in the mountains and I have always missed the mountains,” Urs says. “That was why we ended up going to Wyoming, why we bought that ranch, because we wanted to be near mountains. I could get to Cody in one day from Brandon and be in the Rockies.
If I had known back then how beautiful B.C. was, we would have come here in 1994 already. We didn’t know, we never went farther than Calgary.”

His diversification into buffalo ranching was ill-timed, he discovered. “If we would have done it 10 years later, it would have been an awesome money-making deal,” Urs says. “We were 10 years too early. When we had meat for sale, nobody wanted to buy buffalo meat. They thought it was an endangered species. They did not know there were ranchers out there raising these animals for meat. We couldn’t even sell the meat. We ended up with 200 buffalo. It was brutal.”

The Baesslers wound up the ranch and then decided to sell the Manitoba farm. “We did not like the winters either,” Urs says.

This time, the quest for mountains and better weather led to the Similkameen Valley in 2007 where they bought an organic garlic farm near Cawston. In 2010, they began planting vines. “The goal always was to have some grapes,” Urs says. The family now has 2 ½ acres at the winery and, with a partner, 5.7 acres of vines nearby on Middle Bench Road.

Son Charlie, who was born in 1985, is a key part of the decision to open a winery. He has a degree in environmental sciences from the University of Lethbridge but did not go into that field after visiting the Similkameen and taking a vineyard job with Herder Vineyards.

“Farming chose me,” he says. In 2008, he joined Burrowing Owl Vineyards, where he is now an operations manager. There, he began to learn winemaking under the tutelage of Bertus Albertyn, the winemaker at Burrowing Owl from 2010 until this summer.

Corcelettes’s first wines were made under Bertus’s supervision at Maverick Estate Winery, the new winery that Bertus launched last year. Corcelettes is modifying a farm building on its property to accommodate the 2013 crush. The family is still debating whether to have a small tasting room there or in Barbara’s artist studio nearby. In any event, there is not enough wine yet to support regular tastings.

The winery, with a modest target of 1,500 cases by the fourth year, debuted with 112 cases of TriVium 2012 , a white blend anchored by Chasselas, and 85 cases of Menhir 2011, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Menhir is the name for Stonehenge-era stone obelisks erected throughout Europe for ceremonial purposes. A menhir stands on the Baessler family farm in Switzerland and Urs intends to erect a similar boulder at the winery.

Here are notes on the wines.

TriVium 2012 ($18 for 112 cases). This is 45% Chasselas, 30% Gewürztraminer and 25% Pinot Gris. It is a delicious blend, with layers of apple, peach and citrus flavours and with a crisp and lightly spicy finish. 90.

Menhir 2011 ($25 for 85 cases). This is a blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. It starts with intense and appealing aromas of black cherry, vanilla and white pepper, all of which are echoed on the palate. The generous texture is rich and ripe. 91.


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