Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stag’s Hollow releases the Okanagan's first Grenache

The Okanagan finally can take part in International Grenache Day, which is on September 20, the third Friday of the month.

The reason: Stag’s Hollow Winery is releasing 170 cases of its 2012 Grenache, at $30 a bottle.

This is believed to be the first Grenache from any Okanagan winery. There are not many plantings of Grenache in British Columbia. The variety managed to get a reputation of being excessively winter tender, probably because some of the Okanagan plantings were done shortly before 2009. The early October freeze in 2009 and several subsequent hard winters savaged a lot of young plantings, including several of Grenache.

Perhaps it is too early to close the book on this variety. According to the Grenache Association: “It’s the most widely planted red grape in the world and responsible for the velvety, voluptuous mouthfeel that people love in wine; but it rarely gets the credit it deserves because it’s often used in blends.”

The variety, a staple in Spanish reds, is also known as Garnacha Tinta. The detailed discussion of the variety in the massive new Jancis Robinson book, Wine Grapes, is under that name. Robinson (and her co-authors) writes that the variety is “relatively early budding but late ripening, so has to be grown in fairly warm climates.”

The Okanagan certainly has a warm climate but, with a risk of spring frost and a season-ending frost in October, Grenache is perhaps a tight squeeze for the growing window.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, has a particular enthusiasm for Grenache that began in 2006 when he helped plant a small block in the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton. Earlier vintages of that Grenache have disappeared into blends at Stag’s Hollow. If memory serves, one also became an excellent rosé.

But 2012 was a long, warm season, giving Dwight the chance to make a varietal Grenache. The Kiln House Vineyard’s small production was augmented with Grenache from another young block at the Blind Creek Vineyard at Cawston.

The winemaking notes bring to mind the making of Pinot Noir, which is also appropriate for making Grenache. It involved whole berry fermentation in small open top fermenters, beginning with a 72-hour cold soak. The ferments were punched down by hand four to six times daily until the wine was pressed into three-year-old French oak barrels. There, it went through malolactic fermentation and was aged six months on the lees before being racked. The wine is unfiltered and unfined.

There is a surprise when you cut the capsule to open the bottle. The closure is a crystal plug made by a Czech glass producer, Vinolok. Judging from the website, the closure was only developed several years ago. However, it has been taken up by some impressive producers, including Henschke in Australia.

This is an elegant solution to avoiding cork taint. Stag’s Hollow believes that the wine under this closure will maintain “varietal freshness for many years.” Indeed, it would be a delight to come back to this wine in a few years and find it still bursting with its current youthful charm. Here is a note on the wine.

Stag’s Hollow 2012 Grenache ($30 for 170 cases). The wine glows in the glass with a plum-like hue. The aromas are a medley of berry notes with cloves and cinnamon. The palate is soft and juicy, with bright flavours of currants, cranberries and mocha. As the winery notes, the flavours recall a “bold New World style Pinot Noir.” That’s hardly a bad thing. 92.

Okanagan Falls grower Bill Collings adds an interesting footnote:

Just read your blog on Stag's Hollow Grenache.  We planted Grenache in the very early 80's, shortly after we bought the property.  My dad brought back several cuttings from California.  None of the vines died from cold winters.  It does take a long time to ripen and often is made into a rose.  It can also produce huge bunches.  The largest I have weighed was one pound fifteen ounces.


At September 19, 2013 at 4:36 PM , Blogger karthik shan said...

Great blog on the Okanagan Grenache. Pardon my ignorance but why should a Grenache taste like Pinot Noir?

At September 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM , Blogger JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

Some believe that the silky texture is somewhat reminiscent of Pinot Noir.


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