Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Meet Nanaimo's Noble Beast Wines

Photo: Noble Beast's Julian Bakker

If you share my interest in small new labels of British Columbia wines, you will welcome Nanaimo-based Noble Beast Wines.

This is the creation Julian and Lisa Bakker, a young couple who were drawn to wine during a 2003 honeymoon in the Okanagan. As Julian recounts the story, they did not have much money (like so many newly weds). Looking for something to do, they discovered that most wineries offered free tastings.

“We fell in love with the whole culture surrounding wine,” he says.

A decade later, they are selling two solid wines made with Okanagan grapes: a 2012 Gewürztraminer and a 2011 Merlot Cabernet blend. Quantities are small – 150 cases of the Gewürztraminer, slightly less of the red. There was a 2010 Pinot Noir but it is sold out. That means the wines are hard to find, aside from the winery’s web site. A good place to start is in restaurants and private wine stores in Nanaimo. These are identified on Noble Beast’s web site.

Born in Etobicoke, Ontario, Julian has lived in Nanaimo since 1993. He was 13 then when his parents moved there from Ontario (his father was taking an island teaching job). Lisa, who is a nurse, is from Shawnigan Lake. The couple are dedicated island residents. Their ambition, once Noble Beast is established, is to buy a small farm somewhere on Vancouver Island and plant a vineyard.

Julian is something of a Renaissance man. A pianist and guitar player, he has played in rock bands and he continues to be involved in arts production. He has worked as a freelance photographer. He also has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Victoria.

When he began asking Okanagan winemakers how to get started in the business, one of them suggested he go to an Okanagan Falls winery now called Synchromesh Wines. It had been launched in 2010 as a small custom crush winery and, for a time, functioned as something of a collective for a group of winemakers.

One of those winemakers was Mark Simpson, a veteran Vancouver beer maker who has diversified into winemaking for his own label (Siren’s Call) and for several clients. Mark agreed to take Julian as one of his clients and the first Noble Ridge vintages were made under the Synchromesh license. Synchromesh has since reduced its custom crush activities.

This year, Mark moved the business to his own Okanagan Falls winery, called BC Wine Studio. The clients that followed him included Julian Bakker and Noble Beast.

Julian’s long term plan is to acquire his own skills at making wine, which should not be difficult for someone who has already mastered photography, music and geography. Meanwhile, he can rely on Mark to help him line up good Okanagan grapes and make the wines.

“The game plan is to get to the 500 case level,” he says. “I have been pouring my energy into developing the business.”

In 2012, only 200 cases were produced for Noble Beast, of which only 50 were red. In the 2013 vintage, 150 cases of white wine and 72 cases of red have been produced. The current plan is to grow cautiously to 300 cases in the 2014 vintage. At this point, the portfolio is tightly focussed on dry Gewürztraminer and a red Bordeaux blend.

The winery’s catchy name has a simple origin. He and Lisa own a Boston terrier which they call Noble Beast.

Here are notes on the wines.

Noble Beast Gewürztraminer 2012 ($20.50). Made in a European style, the wine begins with spicy fruit aromas. These lead to grapefruit flavours in a rich texture and dry finish. 88.

Noble Beast Merlot Cabernet 2011 ($27). This wine begins with aromas of vanilla and red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry. The firm texture suggests this wine will cellar well; with decanting, it is already approachable. 88-90.


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