Friday, September 12, 2014

Mission Hill releases its premium Terroir Collection

Photo: Courtyard at Mission Hill

This summer, Mission Hill Family Estate has launched an additional tier of premium wines to bring its portfolio to seven tiers.

Called the Terroir Collection, these are limited production wines that are, or will evolve, to single vineyard wines over time.

“The idea is more than just do a single vineyard wine,” says Mission Hill winemaker John Simes. “It is trying to go beyond that and have wines that have distinctness about them, from the particular geography they come from combined with different sort of winemaking.”

There are six varietal wines in the initial release, with plans for future releases of Cabernet Franc, Viognier and a “heritage” Chardonnay from the same block of grapes that anchored Mission Hill’s 1992 Chardonnay.

The wines, which are available at the winery and to the wine club, are priced aggressively, reflecting the quality of the premium grapes that are utilized and the elaborate winemaking that is involved. The quality of the wines is, to revert to the cliché, totally world class.

“All of these wines are made to be at a premium level,” John says. “The work in the vineyard is pretty much the same for all of them. We set the blocks up specifically at the start.”

The grapes in Mission Hill’s top rung Legacy tier – Oculus, Compendium, Quatrain, Compendium and Perpetua – come from vineyards that also produce most of the Terroir Collection wines. The top three per cent of Mission Hill’s grapes are used in these wines.

“It shows we are maturing as a company,” John contends. “We have got a very good group of people, both in the vineyards and in the winery. To layer this amount of complexity, there is a significant increase in the amount of work you have to do everywhere. It’s a lot of work to get a project up to this level.”

The volumes typically are around 500 cases for each wine. “They are not toy wines,” John says. “They will be quantities that are available. They will be wines that will be offered through our wine club, but they are not tiny volume wines, nor up in the thousands of cases.”

Wine club members should be particularly excited by John’s reprise of the legendary 1992 Chardonnay.

John (right) arrived at Mission Hill in the summer of 1992 from New Zealand, where he had trained and worked with one of that country’s largest wineries. He immediately began familiarizing himself with the vineyards of Mission Hill’s growers. (Mission Hill had no vineyards of its own at the time.)

He was struck by the quality of Chardonnay at one vineyard south of Oliver. He rushed through an order for 100 new American oak barrels. When the grapes arrived, he crushed them in a gentle basket press and fermented the wine in barrel. He made about 3,000 cases.

That 1992 Grand Reserve Barrel Select Chardonnay won the Avery’s Trophy as the top Chardonnay at the 1994 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was almost certainly the first credible international award for a British Columbia wine. It did a lot to launch the reputation of Mission Hill and of the Okanagan.

Mission Hill now owns vineyards throughout the Okanagan. In 2012 Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl bought the former Domaine Combret winery, now relaunched as CheckMate Artisanal Winery. At the same time, he bought the adjacent vineyard, the source of that 1992 Chardonnay.

“We think the clone originated in California,” John says. “It has quite a high acidity for Chardonnay – not really high but a little higher than some of the other clones. It has a slight Muscat note to the clone but it is not a Muscat clone. It is quite intense and distinctive. It is a very good clone.”

In fact, in 1997 and 1998, Mission Hill got cuttings from that block, now called the Heritage Block. After having them grafted by an Ontario nursery, the vines were planted in another Oliver vineyard that Mission Hill calls Lone Pine. A Chardonnay from that vineyard is one of the eventual three Terroir Series Chardonnays that are released or planned.

Here are notes on the new Terroir Selection wines as well as on the current Legacy Series releases. There are 25 cases of wine in a barrel.

Sunset Ranch Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 ($40 for 76 cases). This is the Mission Hill vineyard in Osoyoos that grows some of the winery’s best fruit, including the grapes for Perpetua, the winery’s top Chardonnay. This Unoaked Chardonnay expresses great purity of fruit in the citrus aromas and flavours with exquisite mineral notes as a backbone. The wine also has good weight on the palate. 91.

Lone Pine Chardonnay 2012 ($40 for 19 barrels).  “I aimed at a style that has a more noticeable oak character,” John says. About 35% of the wine was fermented in a combination of new and one-year-old barrels; the rest in stainless steel. The well-handled oak serves as a frame for bright spicy and citrus aromas and flavours. This is a very elegant wine. 92.

Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($30 for 19 barrels). The fruit is also from Osoyoos. The grapes were left on the vine to achieve high level of ripeness, giving the wine a rich texture with subtle flavours of grapefruit. A portion of this wine was barrel-fermented and aged on the lees to acquire that texture. 90.

Brigadier’s Bluff Rosé 2012 ($30 for 223 cases). Some of the same premium Merlot grown for Oculus was set aside to make a top drawer rosé. The grapes were picked at optimal ripeness and flavour (alcohol is 13.8%), given skin contact and then fermented in stainless steel. This is a rosé with power and concentration; with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The finish is dry but there is enough residual sugar to flesh out the texture. The wine is beautifully packaged in a clear bottle that shows off the brilliant hue. 92.

Crosswinds Syrah 2011 ($50 for 13 barrels). This is a firm, ageable Syrah, with flavours of plum and black cherry, with spice and white pepper on the finish. 90.

Splitrail Merlot 2011 ($50 for 13 barrels). This is a big, concentrated, brooding Merlot. It starts with glorious cassis aromas, leading to flavours of black currant, coffee and cola. 91.

Perpetua 2011 (Sold out). This wine has a premium package as elegant as the wine. Just over 20% of this wine is fermented in new French oak; the rest is fermented in stainless steel. “Perpetua is a wine where you almost don’t notice the oak,” John says. “It is part of the wine but it is much more subtle and integrated. And Perpetua is a single vineyard wine, just from the vineyard in Osoyoos.” The citrus aromas are touched lightly by oak. On the palate, the citrus and apple flavours are vibrant, fresh and complex, with a fine mineral backbone. 93.

Quatrain 2010 ($60).  This is 40% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Cabernet Franc. The combination makes for a generous, even juicy, wine with flavours of vanilla, black cherry and black currant. 92.

Compendium 2010 ($60). This is 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc. It has the firm texture that suggests great longevity. It has flavours of black currant, dark chocolate, dark coffee, liquorice, mint and cedar. 91.

Oculus 2010 ($100). This is 51% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Cabernet Franc. This is such a complex wine that it is a challenge to find appropriate descriptors. It begins with aromas of spicy oak, tobacco and cassis, going on to flavours of black currant, plum and espresso coffee. The tannins are long with just enough grip to give the wine longevity in the cellar. 95.


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