Friday, August 2, 2013

Poplar Grove and Monster 2013 wine releases

Photo: Poplar Grove's Tony Holler 

Ian Sutherland, the founding winemaker at Poplar Grove Winery, once said the winery’s maximum production was unlikely to exceed 2,000 cases a year.

That was before Tony Holler came on board in 2007 as the winery’s controlling partner. A native of Summerland, Tony has been an emergency room doctor and then a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur. Earlier in the decade, he built a home on Naramata Bench lakefront and planted a small vineyard near the original Poplar Grove vineyard. He and Ian had become friends and, when Ian needed a partner, Tony responded forcefully.

A serious wine collector, he had been drinking Poplar Grove wines for years. He had also come to believe that the Okanagan can produce world class wines.

“I wasn’t that interested in having a tiny boutique winery,” he told me last year. “I wanted to really develop a winery that was a sustainable business. What I mean by sustainable is that this business could become a family business that might go through generations of our family. In order to do that, I thought you have to have a certain size.”

He consulted winery owners elsewhere. All told him that he needed to scale up to a certain size in order to afford the talent need to make and sell top notch wines.

“So Ian and I, along with consultants, developed a business plan for a winery that was capable, over time, of going to about 25,000 cases,” Tony said. To secure the quality grapes needed for that growth, Tony and his wife, Barbara, invested in vineyards.

“We have to control all our own fruit,” Tony said. “That was why we ended up buying the roughly 100 acres, half here on the Naramata Bench and half on the Osoyoos East Bench.”

In conjunction with these moves, he had two new wineries built. One is the showpiece Poplar Grove Winery that opened last year on the side of Munson Mountain. The stunning view from its floor to ceiling tasting room windows takes in the city of Penticton.

The second winery, just down the road, is Monster Vineyards. Most of the wines for both Poplar Grove and Monster are made in this second facility. It also has a tasting room, take advantage of the fact it is one of the first wineries on the Naramata Road and draws plenty of visitors.

The business strategy is to deliver good, affordable wines under the Monster label for day to day drinking, and wines under the Poplar Grove label that might turn the heads of collectors and connoisseurs. A tasting of recent releases show that the strategy is working.

Here are my notes.

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 ($22). This is a textbook Chardonnay with all the crisp and appealing fruit-forward flavours preferred by those with a bias against oak – but just enough barrel-fermented wine in the blend to add the complexity that this fine varietal deserves. The wine begins with aromas of tangerine, leading to honeyed and lightly buttery citrus flavours. The bright acidity creates a refreshing finish. 91.

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2012 ($20). This is a charmer, beginning with aromas of pink grapefruit. On the palate, there are flavours of pink grapefruit, lime and apple. The texture is juicy and the finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Poplar Grove Viognier 2011 ($25 for 430 cases). This wine begins with aromas of apricot, tangerine and wild flower honey. On the palate, there are generous layers of apricot and cantaloupe flavours. That ethereal spine of tannin that comes with the variety gives the wine a focussed discipline on the finish. 90.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs 2012 ($24.90). Intense in flavour and vibrant in personality, this delicious rosé is made with Malbec and Syrah. It begins with aromas of raspberry, cherry and rhubarb and delivers flavours of cherry and rhubarb. The finish is balanced to dryness. 91.

Poplar Grove Merlot 2009 ($30). This is a wine that seduces the consumer with its sweet aroma and rich flavours. Indeed, the 15.4% alcohol brings to mind that classic Ogden Nash quip: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.” However, the wine has so much substance that the alcohol does not stand out. The wine, which had 18 months in French oak and another 18 months in bottle before release, begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla. On the unctuous palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry, chocolate. The finish is persistent, with a hint of spice. 92.

Poplar Grove CSM 2009 ($ for 650 cases). The name indicates the blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. This is another ripe wine (15% alcohol) that spent 18 months in French oak and another 18 months in bottle before release. The result is an elegant wine with a polished texture. It begins with aromas cassis, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant and plum with dark chocolate and an earthy, gamy undertone. The Cabernet in the blend contributes to a firm spine, denoting this complex wine will age well a few more years. 91.


Monster Vineyards Riesling 2011 ($20). This wine has begun to develop some of the classic petrol notes along with its citrus aromas. There is a touch of grapefruit on the palate. The finish is dry, leaning toward austere. 87.

Monster Vineyards Rosé 2012 ($18). Refreshing and juicy, this is a good summer wine, with aromas and flavours of cherry and rhubarb. There is just enough residual sugar to make the aromas and flavours pop. 88.

Monster Vineyards Merlot 2011 ($20). This is a quaffable and simple Merlot with cherry and raspberry flavours and soft tannins. 86.

Monster Vineyards Cabs 2011 ($20). In contrast to the Merlot, this red overdelivers. It presents a fat gob of sweet fruit flavours to the palate – black cherry, black currant, vanilla, chocolate and coffee. This is generous and satisfying red for summer drinking. 89.


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