Sunday, July 21, 2013

Daniel Bontorin's Seven Directions rosé

 Photo: Daniel Bontorin

It might be hard to find an Okanagan winemaker more passionate for rosé than Daniel Bontorin, a consulting winemaker whose clients include Volcanic Hills Estate Winery.

His own label, Seven Directions, produces only rosé – but rosé with a difference. This spring, he released 97 cases of a vineyard designated Pinot Noir rosé that was partially fermented in new French oak. The wine, sold through Volcanic Hills, various wine stores and through the Seven Directions website, has won several medals since it was released in the spring.

Daniel’s rosé-making pedigree goes back to the 2005 vintage when he made Vaïla, the outstanding rosé at Le Vieux Pin. That wine, along with rosé from JoieFarm Winery, probably started the renewed interest in a wine style made now by the majority of wineries.

Vaïla is a Pinot Noir rosé. Daniel made three vintages at Le Vieux Pin before moving on to consulting. Subsequent winemakers at LVP have continued to make it in the same vibrant and juicy style of the original.

Daniel made the first Gamay Noir rosé for Volcanic Hills in the 2010 vintage. The wine promptly won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. Daniel continues to produce the Gamay rosé for his client. The varietal choice is determined by what is available at Volcanic Hills.

For his own rosé, Daniel likes Pinot Noir. In particular, he likes the organic Pinot Noir grown by Kalala Vineyard at Westbank. “The 2007 Vaïla was from the Kalala Vineyard, so I knew the quality of the fruit,” he says.

The inspiration for the Seven Directions rosé comes from France. “I have been drinking some French rosé wines the past couple of years,” Daniel says. “I like the texture and the feel.”

About a third of the Seven Directions wine was fermented in new French oak and aged there for three months on the lees to add richness to the texture. The rest of the wine was fermented in stainless steel.  “Most of the French rosés are done in puncheons of 500, 600 litres,” Daniel says. “It was a trial. We may double it or do 50% more, but we will introduce more of the barrel portion into it for our 2013.”

Daniel wants his rosé to be bold and intense.

“I pick the fruit for my rosé as if I were making a red wine,” he says. “Most people make a rose with low alcohol. I have always picked my fruit for rosé at optimal ripeness, as if I were making a red wine. For Pinot Noir, I try to hit 24.5 to 25 brix.  My rosés are always 13.5%-14.5% alcohol, with a rich texture. That’s what they do in France. They don’t pick it to make a rosé; they pick it at the proper physiological ripeness of the grapes.”

To achieve deep colour and flavour, Daniel leaves the crushed grapes on the skins for four days, much longer than the typical one-day cold soak for rosé.  

“All my rosés are cold soaked for four days, prior to drawing off the juice,” he says. “So you are getting that intense flavour and rich colour. You will lose colour through fermentation, filtration and fining. The more you have in the beginning, the better.”

Because Volcanic Hills wants different flavours in its rosé wine, Daniel uses no barrels in those wines. It also means there is no conflict between the styles of the winemaker’s wine and the client’s wine.

Because Daniel takes advantage of the Volcanic Hills license to make and sell the Seven Directions wines, he might be described a virtual winery.

In recent years, a number of such independent labels or virtual wineries have appeared in the Okanagan – so much so that there are reports that the government intends to crack down on virtual wineries. I assume the pressure is coming from the established wineries who don’t like the increased competition.

I hope the reports are wrong. Any government that believes in the free market, as this one says it does, should not be in the business of stifling competition and creativity in the wine industry. Shutting down independent winemakers who are trying to raise the bar does not improve the British Columbia wine industry.

Here are my notes on Daniel’s wine.

Seven Directions Kalala Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé ($27.90). The wine presents with an appealing deep salmon pink hue. The aromas are both floral and fruity, with a big punch of strawberry. The flavours are bold – strawberry and plum with a touch of grapefruit – and the texture is full. It has a dry and lingering finish. This is a serious and elegant rosé, versatile with many food choices. 91.


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