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.
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 ($30). This is a wine that seduces the consumer with its sweet aroma
and rich flavours. Indeed, the 15.4% alcohol brings to mind that classic Ogden
Nash quip: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.” However, the wine has so
much substance that the alcohol does not stand out. The wine, which had 18
months in French oak and another 18 months in bottle before release, begins
with aromas of cassis and vanilla. On the unctuous palate, there are flavours
of plum, black cherry, chocolate. The finish is persistent, with a hint of
Poplar Grove CSM 2009
($ 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.
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.
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.
Merlot 2011 ($20). This is a quaffable and simple Merlot with cherry and
raspberry flavours and soft tannins. 86.
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.