Saturday, July 19, 2014

Charlie Baessler’s rosé does his mother-in-law proud

Photo: Corcelettes Estate Winery's Charlie Baessler

Charlie Baessler, the winemaker for family-owned Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen Valley, earned a fine store of Brownie points last year from his mother-in-law, Joann Laserich.

She owns Ladyhawke Vineyard near Keremeos. The 8.9 acres of vines, most of them planted in 2007, includes 1,900 Zweigelt vines, along with Maréchal Foch, Riesling and a little Gewürztraminer.

Last fall, Joann travelled around the Okanagan, trying to sell her Zweigelt to one or other of the handful of wineries that make wine from that Austrian red varietal. When she could find no buyer, she appealed to Charlie. He turned the grapes into an excellent rosé called Oråcle.

Now, who wouldn’t want a son-in-law like that?

Located near Cawston, Corcelettes is a recent addition to the wineries of the Similkameen Valley. It released its first wines last year and now offers four wines in its recently opened tasting room. Visiting hours are 11 am to 5 pm Thursday through Monday (and by appointment at 250.408.8825).

Here is the profile from my new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which will be released by the end of July.

Chasselas vines dominate the one-hectare (2.5-acre) vineyard at the winery, reflecting the Swiss heritage of Urs and Barbara Baessler and son Charlie, the winemaker. However, this family came to launch a winery in the Similkameen Valley by a circuitous route.

“It all started because my mom and dad on our place in Switzerland had the best blood line in Simmental cattle,” Urs says. A friendly big-boned man with a booming voice, Urs explains that his given name means bear; it fits him. Born in 1954, he was 17 when four Manitoba farmers bought six Simmental heifers from Domaine de Corcelettes, the Baessler family farm on Lake Neuchatel. Urs accompanied the heifers to Canada, stayed the summer and decided he wanted to farm here. He spent several years travelling back and forth, learning how to farm in Canada while finishing compulsory military service in Switzerland. Staked by his grandfather with a down payment, Urs and Barbara bought a grain farm near Brandon and grew their first crop in 1978.

When wheat prices collapsed in the early 1990s, they diversified with a buffalo farm in Wyoming. Urs figures he was 10 years too early. There was little market for farmed buffalo among consumers who thought he was selling an endangered species. “I said let’s quit this,” he declared in frustration. “We did not like the winters either.” He and Barbara moved to British Columbia in 2007, attracted by mountains reminding them of Switzerland, bought an organic garlic farm near Cawston and converted it to vines in 2010. “The goal always was to have some grapes,” Urs says.

The goal became feasible after son Charlie, born in 1985, completed a degree in environmental engineering at the University of Lethbridge and came to visit his parents, taking a job as a vineyard worker. “Farming chose me,” he says. In 2008, he joined Burrowing Owl Vineyards, eventually becoming one of the vineyard managers. The Baessler family decided that Charlie would be their winemaker, with Charlie learning under the tutelage of Bertus Albertyn, then Burrowing Owl’s winemaker.

The winery, with a modest target of 1,500 cases by the fourth year, debuted with 112 cases of Trivium 2012 , a white blend anchored by Chasselas, and 85 cases of Menhir 2011, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Menhir is the name for stone obelisks erected throughout Europe for ceremonial purposes by prehistoric peoples. A menhir stands on the Baessler family farm in Switzerland and Urs intends to erect a similar boulder at the winery.

Since that was written, Charlie has become the vineyard manager for nearby Clos du Soleil Winery. His wife, Jesce, has become the tasting room manager for Clos. They juggle these day jobs with helping Barbara and Urs Baessler run Corcelettes.

Corcelettes bottled 785 cases of wine for the 2013 selling season. The growth plans are measured and cautious.

“Next year, with our red production and our whites coming on, we will do closer to 1,000 cases,” Charlie says. “We don’t want to get to a place too soon where we have to do a lot of additional renovations and add-ons. We’ll probably do 1,000 to 1,200 cases for the next couple of years and then look at 1,500 cases; and evaluate the sales and see how interested people are in the wines.”

Consumers should be interested in these wines, which are well-made and reasonably priced.

Photo: Sign in Corcelettes vineyard

Here are notes on the wines.

Corcelettes Trivium 2013 ($19.90 for 365 cases). This wine is 50% Chasselas, 36% Gewürztraminer and 14% Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of spice and rose petals, leading to favours of citrus, apple and peach. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Corcelettes Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.90 for 165 cases). This begins with classic spicy aromas. A richly textured wine, it has flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a long finish. 90.

Corcelettes  Oråcle 2013 ($17.90 for 125 cases). The red flesh of the Zweigelt grape has given this wine the pink hue of a Provence rosé. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and pomegranate, with a spicy, dry finish. 90.

Corcelettes Menhir 2012 ($24.90 for 93 cases). The wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. It begins with smoky red berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, mulberry and plum. The Syrah adds a gamey, earthy not. The long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 91.


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