Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Class of 2013: Tightrope Winery

 Photo: Lyndsay and Graham O'Rourke

Tightrope Winery
1050 Fleet Rd
Penticton, BC V2A 8T7

W www.tightropewinery.ca

A new Naramata Bench winery, Tightrope Winery came out of the gate strongly this spring with awards in the first competitions in which it entered its first wines.

The labels, showing an individual negotiating a tightrope, evoke the sure-footed confidence of owners Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke.

Tightrope is an evocative term for them. “It represents the balancing act you go through when you make wine, from decisions in the vineyard, depending on the season, to decisions in the winery and winemaking,” Lyndsay explains. “All of those variables have to be balanced.”

They avoided place names which, they believe confuse consumers when there are too many creeks and such on the labels. “I hope that Tightrope is a name that people will remember,” Lyndsay says. “There is nothing worse than ‘I had a good bottle of wine but I can’t remember the name’.”

The seed for Tightrope Winery was planted in the decade that Lyndsay and Graham  spent working in bars and restaurants at the Whistler ski resort. The jobs supported their skiing along with Graham’s fly fishing and shared meals in fine restaurants.

“The thing about Whistler is that you get spoiled because there are so many fine dining restaurants for such a small town,” Lyndsay says. “You get a lot of chance to go out and try nice wines with good food.”

Graham agrees. “My wine experience all started with really good wine,” he says. “I did not grow up drinking Baby Duck and the ‘box’ wines.”

 Both were born in 1971. Lyndsay, whose geologist father, Grenville Thomas is a diamond explorer who is in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has a University of Windsor business degree. Graham, the son of an accountant, grew up near Sarnia and learned to fish during summers in a family cottage on the river. His love of the outdoors led to a University of British Columbia degree in wildlife management.

They moved to the Okanagan in 2003. Immediately drawn to the vineyard lifestyle, they both took Okanagan College courses in grape growing and winemaking. To further improve their skills, they both went to Lincoln University in New Zealand for honours degrees in those disciplines. The studies paid off quickly. When they returned, Graham joined Mission Hill for six years as a vineyard manager while Lyndsay became the winemaker for Ruby Blues Winery in 2009.

Graham’s Mission Hill experience was like a postgraduate course in Okanagan grape growing. Graham was able to work in 26 different vineyards from Kelowna to Osoyoos.

“I also did a lot of the environmental programs and habitat stewardship programs,” he says. “I brought in a lot of snake training and snake awareness. I did habitat restoration on areas that needed to be restored with native plants. I launched the Mission Hill sustainability program and I helped co-author the BC program on sustainable winegrowing. I am still involved with that program. I launched Mission Hill’s composting program. When I left, we were up to about 1,100 tons of compost, re-using the grape waste.”

Since leaving Mission Hill, he has concentrated on his own vineyard. As well, with a partner, he has launched a viticultural consulting firm.

In 2007, soon after coming back from New Zealand, the O’Rourkes bought a four-hectare (10-acre) Naramata Bench property with a million dollar view over the lake. They planted about three hectares (seven acres) of grapes -- Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. They made the first 900 cases of Tightrope wines in 2012, using the Ruby Blues winery. They will build their own winery in a few years.

Their plan is to continue selling some of their grapes while keeping production around 1,000 cases a year while the Tightrope brand is established. They intend that the winery’s production will top out at about 5,000 cases.

Here are notes the first releases.

Tightrope Winery Riesling 2012 ($22). The wine begins with aromas of herbs, lime and pineapple. On the palate, there are flavours of green apple and grapefruit. The bracing but balanced acidity and the mineral backbone give the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. Drink it now if you must but it will be even more complex in a year. 90.

Tightrope Winery Pinot Gris 2012 ($19). The wine begins with an appealing fruit salad of aromas – melon, pear, apple – that telegraph the flavours. The texture is full but the finish is dry. This is a very refreshing and well-made Pinot Gris. 90.

Tightrope Winery Viognier 2012 ($27). Viognier is a rising star among white wines from the Okanagan and this wine is an example of why that is so. First of all, it captures the variety’s wonderful aromatics. There is a riot of fruit and spice on the nose, including banana, apricot and ripe apple. The palate delivers those flavours, along with hints of orange and coconut. The texture is full. The wine has that gossamer spine of tannin which gives Viognier such excellent focus. The finish is dry and the flavours persist. 91.

Tightrope Winery Rosé 2012 ($19). The winery’s notes quip that Lyndsay and Graham walked the tightrope on this Pinot Noir rosé. They had not planned to make a rosé but an early frost nipped some of the vines in a low-lying corner of the vineyard. The fruit had not ripened enough for a table wine but it was more than adequate for a rosé. This wine, which has 10% Riesling in it, was judged the best rosé at this spring’s Northwest Wine Summit competition. The wine presents with an appealing cranberry hue, with aromas of strawberry and citrus and with flavours of cherries and even a hint of red liquorice. It has a satisfyingly full texture with a dry finish. This is an excellent all-round rosé whether you have a refreshing glass on its own or serve it with food. 90.


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