Monday, July 7, 2014

CedarCreek tweaks its winemaking to achieve complexity

 Photo: CedarCreek's Darryl Brooker

Earlier this year, the Fitzpatrick family sold CedarCreek Estate Winery to Anthony von Mandl, the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate.

The recent releases from CedarCreek show that the undisclosed purchase price bought a solid portfolio of wines. Darryl Brooker, CedarCreek’s Australian-born winemaker, remains in charge of the cellar. In fact, Anthony like what he tasted well enough that, shortly after the takeover, Darryl was sent to Germany for a few weeks to add to his fine touch with Riesling in the cellars of top German Riesling producers.

Darryl joined the winery in 2010. Soon after getting there, he began making vineyard-designated wines. CedarCreek has several excellent blocks of mature vines at the winery’s so-called Home Vineyard. Darryl has identified these to produce wines of such quality that they have been released under the winery’s Platinum tier, as its reserve wines are called.

Comparing the winery notes on these wines with earlier vintages reveals that Darryl has tweaked his winemaking practices to raise the complexity of the wines across the board.

One: fermentation times are long, which means the whites are fermented cool and, in some cases, with slow-working native yeast.

Two: a portion of most of the whites is now fermented in oak. Tom DiBello, his predecessor, also liked some oak fermentation with Pinot Gris but his Ehrenfelser and Rieslings in 2009 – as an example, - were fermented in stainless steel.

Both Tom and Darryl are very good winemakers but with somewhat different styles. I liked Tom’s wines (he is now doing good work at Burrowing Owl). I am intrigued at where Darryl is taking CedarCreek. I’ll bet Anthony von Mandl is as well.

Here are notes on some of the current releases.

CedarCreek 2012 “Block 5” Platinum Chardonnay ($29.95 for 526 cases). A wine with the vivacity of very good Chablis, this Chardonnay celebrates the fruit flavours that this block of vines delivers. The wine was fermented 60 days in 500-litre oak puncheons with wild yeast, and aged another 10 months on lees in those puncheons.  There is negligible oak flavour but there is a superb texture to help soften bright acidity. The winemaker allowed no malolactic fermentation, not wishing to take anything away from the bright aromas and flavours of lime and pineapple. This is an outstanding Chardonnay. 93.

CedarCreek 2013 Platinum Viognier ($24.95 for 765 cases). One-third of this was fermented in a 660-litre concrete “egg”, one-third in a large oak cask and the remaining third in neutral oak. The concrete egg is crucial to developing the almost creamy texture of this wine. It begins with honeyed aromas of apricot and pineapple and delivers rich apricot flavours to the palate. The wine has a good backbone and a ripe 13.9% alcohol, with a long rich finish. 92.

CedarCreek 2013 “Block 3” Platinum Riesling ($24.95 for 550 cases). I imagine Darryl took a bottle to Germany, showing the producers a very good Okanagan version of a racy Mosel Riesling. It has aromas and flavours of lime. It has a bracing tangy finish, the result of having 12.3 grams of acid per litre. But that is nicely balanced with 14.5 grams of residual sugar. The wine has a Mosel-like alcohol of only 8.8%. As tasty as the wine is now, I would suggest aging it for two or three years, totally developing its potential. 92.

CedarCreek 2013 Riesling ($17.95 for 2,010 cases). This Riesling also has a comparatively low alcohol (9.9%), with a little less acid and residual sugar. In the glass, there are alluring aromas of Sultana raisins, leading to flavours of lime and lemon. While the aroma suggests the wine will be sweet, it is in fact balanced to be crisply dry, with a good backbone of minerals. 90.

CedarCreek 2013 Ehrenfelser ($18.95 for 2,800 cases). Most of the grapes for this wine come from a Westbank vineyard that was planted in 1977. CedarCreek unlocked the exuberant fruity aromas and flavours in 2002 by removing some of the canopy and exposing the grapes to more sunlight. The wine subsequently acquired a cult following. The wine begins with appealing aromas of  fruits … perhaps a touch of lychee and white peach. It delivers a fruit bowl to the palate, everything from apples and lime to white peaches. About 10% was fermented in French oak (the rest in stainless steel) and that seems to have added a complexity that was missing in earlier vintages, when the wine was simply a fruit bomb. It is balanced to finish dry. 90.

CedarCreek 2013 Gewürztraminer ($17.95 for 2,200 cases). Here again, 10% was fermented in French oak. The wine begins with characteristic aromas of spice (the winery says nutmeg) and delivers rich flavours, almost nutty, with a hint of ginger on the finish. There is just a touch of residual sugar but the spiciness gives the wine a dry finish. 90.

CedarCreek 2013 Pinot Gris ($17.95 for 6,470 cases). Fermenting a portion in French oak – 15% in this wine – seems to be one way in which Darryl raises the complexity of his whites. The texture of this elegant wine is rich. It begins with a hint of almond and apple on the nose and delivers flavours of pear, with enough acidity to leave the wine refreshing. 90.

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2012 ($17.95 for 2,041 cases). There is six percent Pinot Gris in this wine, which was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak and aged 11 months on the lees. The aroma of pineapple and citrus is fresh and appealing. There are flavours of citrus with a hint of apple and a lovely kiss of toastiness from the lees. This is an excellent fruit-forward Chardonnay where the oak is very subtle and is mainly there to add texture.  90.

CedarCreek 2013 Rosé ($17.95 for 395 cases). I note that the production has been reduced from 700 cases in 2012. I hope that does not mean the bloom is off the popularity rosé wines have enjoyed for a decade. CedarCreek’s previous vintage was too dry, with only 5.7 grams of residual sugar against bracing acidity. This vintage, with 9.1 grams and lower acidity, is altogether more charming. Made with Pinot Noir, it has that lovely Provence hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry, delivering those flavour to the palate, along with a silky texture. The winery should have made more. 90.


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