Photo: Monte Creek vineyard with Lion's Head in the distance
Monte Creek Ranch, the newest winery in British Columbia, has a lot of pioneering
history behind its name – and also is pioneering grape varieties new to British
Monte Creek is the fourth winery near Kamloops. Its current portfolio of seven
wines includes a number made with so-called Minnesota hybrid grapes. These varieties
were developed in Minnesota and Wisconsin to survive
winter temperatures fatal to vinifera varieties. Most of the wineries in Quebec grow them but this is the first release of these
varietals from a British Columbia
Some of the history was laid out in a news release that
announced the winery:
“Generations back, the small
community of Monte Creek, situated east of Kamloops
along the South Thompson River
and into the
rolling hills, was known as "Ducks", after the British settler Jacob
Ducks, who ranched the area extensively.
“The town became a hub when Ducks
opened a hotel to room railway workers, miners and other ranchers, and achieved
fame in 1906 as the site of the last train robbery by the notorious
"Gentleman Bandit" Bill Miner. In 1888 Hewitt Bostock purchased 3,380
acres near Kamloops
from rancher Ducks. Years passed, yet locals continued to call it Ducks Ranch
long after Bostock and his wife made it their home. Today's Monte Creek is
a tiny community where farming and ranching is still the mainstay.”
The picture of Bill Miner, apparently from a wanted poster,
appears on several of the winery’s labels.
Here is the profile from the new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Marquette, La Crescent and
Frontenac have joined the lexicon of varietals in British Columbia with the development of
this winery. Those are winemaking hybrids bred at the University
of Minnesota to survive winters as
frigid as those experienced occasionally at Kamloops. In an abundance of caution, Gurjit
Sidhu, the owner of Monte Creek, also has installed wind machines for added
protection against late spring and early autumn frost.
Since 2010, Monte
Creek has planted about 14 hectares (35 acres) on two vineyards: a south-facing
slope called Lion’s Head on the north flank of the Thompson River; and a
windswept plateau south of the river and beside the highway (where the winery
and wine shop are located). In addition to the Minnesota hybrids, Monte Creek also has a
large block of Maréchal Foch. On the Lion’s Head slope, Riesling, Pinot Gris
and Gewürztraminer are grown.
The first commercial
production from this vineyard, about 23 tons in 2013, was vinified for Monte
Creek by Eric von Krosigk, the winemaker at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. The
wines are promising, in part because the hybrids, which have big berries when
grown in eastern Canada,
produce small berries with concentrated flavours in the Kamloops climate and soils. Marquette,
which the University
of Minnesota says is a
“grandson” of Pinot Noir, is medium bodied with good flavours. Le Crescent,
which has some Muscat
in its ancestry, yields a fruity white. “We have at least two
very strong ones,” Gurjit says of the gamble on Minnesota hybrids.
The Sidhus are
immigrants from the Punjab in India
who have already succeeded in horticulture in Canada. Gurjit was just three when
his father Gurdev moved the family to British
Columbia in 1969. Unable to use his law degree here,
he started a small plant nursery in Mission in 1975. Today,
Sidhu & Sons Nursery Ltd., specializing in producing shrubs and trees for
landscaping, is one of Canada’s
In 2001, the Sidhus
expanded to growing blueberries, quickly becoming one of the largest producers
in the Fraser Valley. Soaring land prices sent Gurjit,
who has a diploma in horticulture, looking for cheaper farm land in the
interior to plant more blueberries. In 2007 he bought Monte Creek Ranch and
then the Lion’s Head Ranch on the north side of the river, almost directly
across the valley. Because the Thompson River
Valley is not ideal for blueberries,
he turned to grapes and a groundbreaking trial of hybrids that could open
winegrowing possibilities in British
Columbia’s cooler regions.
Since that was written, the winery has built a processing
facility in which a tasting room will open in the spring of 2015.
As well, Michael Alexander, 25, (right) a Calgarian who is completing
his training this winter at Niagara
, has become the
winemaker (with Eric remaining as a consultant. Michael, who had previous
experience in both the cellars and the tasting room at Summerhill Pyramid
Winery, had the major hand in making the 2014 vintage for Monte Creek.
He has recognized that the Minnesota
hybrids are performing differently (and arguably better) in the sunbathed Kamloops terroir than in Quebec. “With the longer growing season and
the warmer weather here, we get great ripeness,” he has found. (Photo: Frontenac Gris)
The winery is not relying entirely on grapes that thrive at Kamloops. The inaugural
release includes a Cabernet Merlot from grapes purchased in the Okanagan.
“We are working with a few different vineyards,” Monte Creek
general manager Erik Fisher said in an interview this fall. “This year we are
identifying where we can get the best quality fruit. We are looking at a five
year plus option with a grower in the South Okanagan
where we can get a consistent supply of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and grow
our production levels. The ownership group is also wide open to purchasing some
land down there as well.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Monte Creek Hands Up
White 2013 ($14.99). This is a blend of
59% Frontenac Blanc, 29% Viognier and 12% La Crescent. Ripening these varieties
clear was no issue: the alcohol is 15%. It is noticeable, but not unpleasantly
so, in the rich tangerine, caramel and nutty flavours on the full palate. The
aromas are fruity, with honeyed notes of melon, citrus and apricot. 87.
Monte Creek Frontenac
Gris 2013 ($15.99). The Frontenac Gris grapes thrived in the heat of a Kamloops summer, ripening
to almost 30 brix by the time they were picked on October 4. The winery took
the hint and made a delicious late harvest wine with 25.6 grams of residual
sugar. The wine has a lovely light gold hue with floral and honey aromas. On
the palate, there are flavours of ripe apple and cantaloupe. The sugar is
superbly balanced so that the finish has just a lingering sweetness. 89.
Monte Creek Gewürztraminer
2013 ($17.99). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and herbs, leading
to flavours of citrus and grapefruit rind, with a backbone of minerals. Rich on
the palate, the wine is dry on the finish. 89.
Monte Creek Riesling
2013 ($18.99). This wine reflects the style that winemaker Eric von Krosigk
has adopted with Riesling: low alcohol (9.8%) with just a touch of residual
sweetness that rests nicely on the mid-palate. The classic mineral backbone and
the hint of petrol is beginning to develop amid the lemon and lime aromas and
Monte Creek Hands Up
($15.99). This is a blend of 49% Frontenac Noir, 20% Marquette
, 10% St.
8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 5% Savrevois. Dark in colour, the wine is
intensely aromatic (cherries, blackberries). On the palate, there are flavours
of blackberry and cherry. The winery notes describe this as medium-bodied.
However, the long ripe tannins give it a full, lingering finish. 88.
Monte Creek Foch 2013
($19.99). Dark in color, the wine begins with aromas of raspberry and
cherry with a touch of graphite. On the palate, it is a rich, plumy wine with
overtones of cherry and blackberry. The finish has the classic smoke and dark
chocolate note of the varietal. 89.
Monte Creek Cabernet
Merlot 2013 ($19.99). This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (the
winery has not provided a breakdown on how much of each). Dark ruby in colour,
it has appealing jammy aromas, leading to flavours currants and black cherry
with dark chocolate and tobacco on the finish, along with a touch of cedar.
This is a delicious wine. 90.
Monte Creek Ranch Winery