Photo: Urs, Barbara and Charlie Baessler
Corcelettes Estate Winery
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
“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
the Baessler family farm on Lake
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
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.
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
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
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.