Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Poplar Grove/Monster Vineyards strategy for quality

Photo: Poplar Grove's Tony Holler

Founded in 1993, Poplar Grove was still a boutique winery in 2007 when Tony Holler acquired majority ownership from founder Ian Sutherland.

Born in Summerland, Tony had already succeeded as a doctor and pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He had bigger ambitions in the wine industry and more resources to invest than his partner.

“I wasn’t that interested in having a tiny boutique winery,” Tony told me in an interview a few years ago. “I wanted to really develop a winery that was a sustainable business. What I mean by sustainable is that this business could become a family business that might go through generations of our family. In order to do that, you have to have a certain size.”

Since then, two new wineries have been built: the Poplar Grove winery still retains the boutique size and image while the nearby Monster Vineyards winery has the capacity to produce and cellar most of the wines for both labels. The capacity is 25,000 cases. With the space available at the Monster facility, the premium Poplar Grove reds now have the luxury of two years, or so, in barrel and another two years in bottle before being released. That is one reason for the noticeable rise in the complexity and quality of those reds in recent years.

The other reason, and a more fundamental one, is that Poplar Grove gets almost all of its grapes from vineyards owned by Barbara Holler, Tony’s wife.

 “When we looked at what we needed to make high end wines, one of the things that Ian Sutherland brought up was that he was buying a lot of fruit,” Tony says of his winery planning with Ian in 2007. “That was really going to be an issue. If we were going to develop a 25,000-case winery, and we are buying all the fruit, I don’t believe we can get the quality that is needed. So my wife, Barb, and I decided we have to become an estate winery. We have to control all our own fruit; we need to plant our own vineyards. That was why we ended up buying the roughly 100 acres, half here on the Naramata Bench and half on the Osoyoos East Bench.”

The Monster label, which was created several years ago, enables winemakers Stefan Arnason and Nadine Allander to keep a clear distinction in style and quality between Poplar Grove’s premium wines and Monster’s fruit-forward, easy-drinking wines.

“You can dilute those top brands by having wines that I would say are not at that level,” Tony says. “We decided [Monster] will be fun wines that people can enjoy on a patio in the afternoon.”

Monster has certainly won enough awards to prove that these are also very well made wines. The latest releases have the double appeal of being tasty and affordable.

Here are notes.

Monster Vineyards White Knuckle 2013 ($17.90). This is a blend of 50% Riesling, 24% Chardonnay, 21% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of peaches, apples and citrus. On the palate there are gobs of tropical fruit, with flavours of lychee, tangerine, and apricot. The texture is juicy, with bright acidity nicely balanced with a trace of sweetness. I am not sure why it is called White Knuckle because there is nothing scary at all about quaffing it happily. 88.

 Monster Vineyards Skinny Dip 2013 ($19.90). This is 90% Chardonnay, 10% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of ripe apple and ripe pears, with a hint of honey and lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of apples and grapefruit. The texture is generous but the finish is dry; and that results from superb winemaking. The technical note shows the wine has 10.5 grams of residual sugar. One might expect a sweet finish but the bright acidity leaves the wine crisp and refreshing. 89.

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2013 ($21.90). This is a bright and fresh Chardonnay, beginning with aromas of apples and honeydew melon. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and nectarine with a subtle toasty hint of French oak. The subtlety came from the winemaking decision to put 14% of this wine in new French barriques, and just for three months. The rest aged in stainless steel; malolactic fermentation was discouraged so that the lively fruit flavours could be preserved. The texture is ever so lightly creamy. This is quite an appealing wine. 90.

Poplar Grove Viognier 2013 ($24.90). This wine is available only in the winery’s tasting room and to those fortunate enough to have joined the wine club. It begins with lovely aromas of orange blossoms and fresh apricots. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and peach with a touch of ripe pineapple. The texture is rich with the classic spine of minerality this variety displays. The fruit flavours are exceptionally pure and intense, with a refreshing brightness reflecting good acidity. 91.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs 2013 ($24.90). There are five varietals in this rosé which was made by the saignée method (bleeding juice from freshly crushed red varieties). This wine is 41% Merlot, 27% Syrah, 25% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a lovely pink watermelon hue (in the style of a Provence rosé).  It begins with aromas of raspberry and strawberry, leading to flavours of raspberry and cherry. The wine’s residual sugar gives the flavour a hint of mid-palate sweetness while the bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 90.

Monster Vineyards Monster Cabs 2012 ($19.90). This is 37% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 4% Malbec. This is a juicy wine with a wallop of fruit on the palate. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and spice. The long ripe tannins give this wine immediate drinking appeal but there is enough backbone to hold the wine for several years in the cellar. 89.

Monster Vineyards Merlot 2012 ($19.90). This is 92% Merlot with 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black currant, blueberry and cocoa. The palate is generous with flavours of cherry, plum, blueberry and sage. This wine overdelivers for the price. 90.

Monster Vineyards Red Eyed 2012 ($19.90). This is 83% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 6% Syrah and 2% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A minor quibble: the term, Meritage, should not be on the bottle because Syrah is not part of a Meritage blend, even if it almost certainly improves the wine. The wine begins with aromas of dark plum, black cherry and vanilla, with the perfumed note of Malbec. On the palate, the wine has abundant flavours of black cherry and black currant with a hint of cedar and sage on the finish.  90.

Poplar Grove Merlot 2010 ($29.90). How do you make a great wine in a cool vintage? In 2010, Poplar Grove reduced the yield of its total production from a potential to 210 tons to just 80 tons to assure good ripeness. It worked. This Merlot has 14.8% alcohol. There is also 10% Malbec in the blend. It begins with powerful aromas of black currant and vanilla, leading to flavours of black currant, black cherry, cola and chocolate. The ripe tannins give this a concentrated texture. The wine is drinking well now but will age well. 91.

Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2011 ($34.90 for 450 cases). This wine is 85% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Merlot. This is arguably the signature varietal for Poplar Grove. This wine, whose polished texture comes from 21 months barrel aging and 18 months bottle aging, begins with spicy aromas of raspberry and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black and red currant, with hints of black cherry, chocolate and vanilla. An ageable wine, it benefits from decanting if you must drink it now. 92.

Poplar Grove Syrah 2011 ($34.90). There is 4% Viognier in this wine, co-fermented with the Syrah. The wine begins with bold, meaty aromas of deli counter spice, plum and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of spicy black cherry, plum and prune, with lack pepper on the finish. The texture is generous. 91.

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