Photo: Burrowing Owl's Tom DiBello
Among the new releases from Burrowing Owl Winery, the 2013
wines draw a little extra attention.
That was the first Burrowing Owl vintage for Tom DiBello,
the University of California-trained vintner who spent 10 years at CedarCreek
before leaving in 2010 to consult and to develop his own label.
Consulting went on the backburner in 2013 when he was
offered the cellar at Burrowing Owl, one of the south Okanagan’s most iconic
It must have been a comfortable fit. A solid California
style has been stamped on Burrowing Owl from its first vintage in 1997.
Consulting winemaker Bill Dyer, who had been the winemaker at Sterling
Vineyards, was hired and the first seven vintages were made under his
He was followed by a succession of winemakers including
Steve Wyse, Scott Stefishen, Jeff Del Nin and, most recently, Bertus Albertyn.
While Steve was mentored by Bill Dyer, Scott and Jeff both trained in Australia.
Bertus is a graduate of South
Africa’s top wine school.
Throughout all those changes, the Burrowing Owl house style
remained remarkably consistent. In part, that is because the vineyard sources
have been consistent and have been farmed very well by Burrowing Owl. However,
the Dyer style still seems clear, especially in the winery’s ripe and
The winery has yet to release any of the reds made by Tom in
2013. Judging from the whites, however, there are no major departures in style
that was not dictated by the vintage.
And the 2013 vintage generally was a good one. Undoubtedly, the wines were
tweaked by Tom. Good winemakers never rest on the laurels of their predecessors.
While that was Tom’s first year working with Burrowing Owl
fruit, he is quite familiar with the south Okanagan terroir. He made some of
CedarCreek’s big reds from that winery’s vineyard just north of Osoyoos. If
memory serves, CedarCreek also had a vineyard southeast of Osoyoos, as does
The new terroir for Tom probably is the Similkameen. Chris
Wyse, Burrowing Owl’s president, has a vineyard near Keremeos. The fruit for
those vines support production for Calliope Wines, a winery that the Wyse
family launched several years ago. The new Calliope releases include three
delicious whites from the 2013 vintage.
Here are notes on current releases.
Blanc 2013 ($13.90). This is made with Similkameen fruit. Refreshing crisp
and tangy, the wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with herbal
notes on the finish. 90.
2013 ($15.99). This is also made
with Similkameen fruit. The wine begins with aromas of apricot, peach and
pineapple; it delivers flavours of apricot, cantaloupe and citrus. There is a
touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.
Calliope Figure 8
White 2013 ($15.99). This is quite a complex wine at a budget price. It is
a blend of 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 21% Viognier, 15% Chardonnay
and 12% Riesling. The Chardonnay was fermented in oak barrels while the
Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in oak puncheons. The other varietals were
fermented cool in stainless steel. The individual wines were blended four
months after vintage and bottle-aged another two months before release. The
wine is vibrantly fresh with aromas of grapefruit, melon and grass. It delivers
flavours of lime, peach and apples, with a backbone of minerals and a dry
Calliope Rosé 2012 ($13.90).
This is 70% Syrah, 30% Viognier. It has aromas of raspberry and spice, with
flavours recalling raspberry jam. 89.
Calliope Figure 8 Red
2012 ($15.99). This is 54% Merlot, 34% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.
All the fruit in this exceptional vintage came from Burrowing Owl’s Oliver and
Osoyoos vineyards. The wine is generous in texture, with aromas of plums, cherries
and spice herbs. It delivers flavours of black currant, blueberry, cherry and
vanilla with notes of pepper on the finish. 90.
Burrowing Owl Pinot
Gris 2013 ($20). This wine begins with aromas of Asian pears, apples and
nectarines, leading to flavours of pear and grapefruit with notes of herbs and
spice on the dry but refreshing finish. Most of this wine was cool-fermented in
stainless steel but a small portion was barrel-fermented, adding texture and
Chardonnay 2011 ($25). This wine was barrel-fermented (mostly French oak)
and was left on the lees in barrel for nine months. The lees were stirred every
two weeks to promote the wine’s texture. The oak provides a subtle and elegant
frame around the citrus aromas and flavours of papaya, nectarine and
Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22). A new wine in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, this
is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sémillon. Sixty percent of the wine was
barrel-fermented and a portion was aged in a remarkably complicated selection
of new (7%) and older French oak, along with some American and Hungarian oak.
Here, the winemaker was giving himself a rich palate for blending the final
wine. The wine is luscious with tropical fruit aromas and flavours – lemon,
guava and gooseberry. The creamy texture is balanced against bright acidity.
The finish just doesn’t stop. 92.
Burrowing Owl Merlot
2010 ($30). A wine has the juicy and generous style that is the hallmark of
Burrowing Owl. Savoury on the nose, it has aromas of black cherry, plum and
blackberry. The wine delivers flavours of those fruits and berries, along with
notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. 91.
Burrowing Owl Malbec
2011 ($30 and available only at the winery). This wine also is new in the
Burrowing Owl portfolio, made with fruit from the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard.
The wine begins with aromas of violets, spice and red berries. On the palate,
there are flavours of black cherry and mulberry mingled with notes of spice and
black pepper. Even though the wine has been aged in oak for 20 months (only a
third new), the texture is still firm. It will age well. 90-91.
Burrowing Owl Athene
2011 ($38). This wine was born several years ago when Burrowing Owl had to
top up a half-filled tank of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah. The wine was a big
hit. Now the grapes – 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon – are co-fermented
and aged 18 months in barrel. This is a ripe and juicy wine; while 2011 was a
cool year, the grapes were not picked until November 7. To steal another winery’s
quote, this is the steel fist (Cabernet) in the velvet glove (Syrah). There are
aromas of pepper and black cherry, leading to flavours of blackberry, blueberry and cassis. There is a
touch white pepper on the finish. 91.
Burrowing Owl Syrah
2011 ($33). These grapes were also picked late in the season, resulting in
a big ripe wine with 14% alcohol. It has black cherry and vanilla aromas with
black pepper. On the palate, it shows the variety’s classic gamey, leathery
flavours that recall the meat counter of a deli. The texture is rich and
generous. The touch of pepper on the finish wraps up a delicious wine. 91.
Cabernet Franc 2011 ($33). The winery was an early proponent of this
variety, which is now being embraced by many other producers. The appeal lies
in the brambly aromas and flavours – raspberry, blackberry – with touches of
pepper and tobacco on the finish. 91.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($35). Aged entirely in French oak (30% new), this
elegant wine begins with aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are
flavours of black currant, plum, coffee and cola. The texture is firm; this is
clearly a wine for cellaring at least five more years. 91.
Meritage 2009 ($30 for 500 ml). This wine, almost sold out, is now
available only at the winery. The winery bottled some in half-litre bottles,
thinking that size would be more appealing to restaurants and other consumers than
the usual 750 ml size. The winery skipped bottling that size for 2010 and 2011
but have bottled some 2012 in the smaller bottle. The 2009 Meritage is a
terrific red from a great vintage. This is 38% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon,
23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, it begins
with a dramatic aroma of black cherry and cassis. Fruit flavours fill the mouth
with grace notes of coffee and cocoa on the finish. 95.