Photo: Backyard Vineyards winemaker James Cambridge
Wine reviewers are no different from other consumers: if a
producer’s wines put us off, we stop paying attention to that winery.
After all, there are 200 other wineries in British Columbia to choose from.
About three years ago, samples arrived from Backyard Winery
in Langley that
were disappointing. I seldom review wines like that.
There are two types of wineries that make truly mediocre
wines. One lot never get better and occasionally go out of business, so what is
the point of writing about them?
The other type learn
from mistakes, so it is just a matter of waiting for them to come around.
Making good wine is not rocket science.
I knew Backyard was coming around last year when the winery
hired James Cambridge as its winemaker. Perhaps for the first time in its
history, Backyard had an experienced winemaker in house. It is time to revisit
This is a winery with a history. It opened in 2002 as
Glenugie Winery to make wine from a five-acre block of Pinot Noir. The
portfolio was rounded out with grapes and/or wine purchased from the Okanagan.
I recall tasting a good sparkling wine called Christina. The other Glenugie
wines have faded from memory.
Both founder Gary Tayler and his wife, Christina, died in 2008.
The Tayler family sold the winery to Ewen Stewart, a real estate developer.
The winery needed to be rebranded, so Ewen hired Bernie
Hadley-Beauregard, a top notch marketing consultant in Vancouver
. Bernie has come up with such
inspired winery names and labels as Blasted
and Dirty Laundry.
He suggested several names to replace Glenugie. The initial
choice was Neck of the Woods Winery, with Backyard Vineyards reserved for a
second winery that now seems indefinitely delayed. Neck of the Woods did not
catch on with consumers and the name has been parked in favour of Backyard. The
winery, after all, is in Vancouver’s
I never understood why the initial releases under the
Backyard and Neck of the Woods labels were underwhelming. The winery was
getting consulting advice from both Harry McWatters and winemaker Tom DiBello.
I suspect that the winery was unlucky with the quality of Okanagan grapes
and/or bulk wine it purchased.
That is not an unusual problem for wineries separated from
the vineyards by two or three mountain ranges. A winery needs a regular
season-long relationship with growers to get reliable fruit.
When I recently visited Backyard, I learned that James
Cambridge has just been in the Okanagan, meeting with growers. One of numerous
visits during the season. That’s a very good sign and something I would expect
from as seasoned a winemaker as he is.
native, James is
a graduate (top of the class) from Niagara
’s enology and
viticulture program. In Ontario
he worked both with Henry of Pelham Winery and Creekside Winery.
Coming to the Okanagan, he has made wine at Summerhill
Pyramid Winery, at Le Vieux Pin and LaStella Wineries and, prior to Backyard,
at Fort Berens Estate Winery. The 2012 Riesling he made for Fort Berens
won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence.
He took over at Backyard for the 2013 vintage. The wines
from 2013 are good. He probably finished the earlier vintages and those wines,
with one exception, are also solid. All are very well priced.
James also let me taste two promising barrel samples – an
elegant 2012 Reserve Syrah and a
really excellent 2012 Reserve Cabernet
Franc. Keep an eye out for the release of these wines.
Located in a spacious building, Backyard welcomes visitors
in a tasting room with the civilized atmosphere of a warm neighbourhood pub.
There is food service and an appealing gazebo large enough to handle 50 people
under its oak-beamed roof.
Here are notes on the current portfolio. Prices shown are
retail; wine club members get an attractive discount.
Nosey Neighbour White 2013 ($14.99). This is a good value blend of Pinot
Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer, made in an easy-drinking
style. It has aromas and flavours of lime, nectarine and mango. 88.
Riesling 2013 ($18.99). James clearly has an affinity for Riesling. This
wine has collected gold medals at three major wine competitions this year (so
far). A well-balanced wine, fermentation stopped naturally, leaving 10 grams of
residual sugar. That seems to pop the lovely notes of lemon and lime in the
aroma and on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($16.99). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit
and sage, leading to flavours of lime and guava. There is an herbal note on the
Pinot Gris 2013 ($15.99). Backyard has a vineyard near Abbotsford just
coming into production. This wine has about 5% Fraser Valley Pinot Gris, with
the rest from Osoyoos. This wine begins with aromas of pear and melon. On the
palate, the wine is generous in texture with flavours of pear and apple. It has
a crisp finish. 90.
Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.99). Here is a wine with a gold and two silver
medals in international competitions. The wine begins with aromas of lychee,
spice and sage. It is full on the palate, with flavours of lychee, melon and
Merlot 2011 ($16.99). This soft, mouth-filling wine has aromas and flavours
of vanilla and black currant, with a peppery note on the finish. 89.
Syrah 2011 ($21.99). This wine has gained three silver medals in
international competitions. Made with grapes from an Osoyoos vineyard, it is a bold, dark wine
with aromas of black cherries and plums, leading to flavours of plums and
prune. There is an appealing earthiness on the finish, along with a hint of
Meritage 2011 ($19.99). This is 44% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc and 22%
Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine also has silver medals from three international
competitions. Maybe I tasted an off bottle but I don’t see it. I found the wine
too hard to have much appeal. I would certainly urge decanting. 87.
Backyard Vineyards Nosey Neighbour
Red 2012 ($14.99). This is 44% Merlot, 43% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and
7% Cabernet Franc. I like this much better than the Meritage, especially at the
price. It is a juicy red with ripe flavours of black cherry and black currant.