Photo: One Faith proprietor Bill Lui
One grasps for words to describe One Faith Vineyards, the
Okanagan’s newest winery. Audacious and ambitious, because it launched with the
most expensive red wine yet (about $165 a bottle) from a British Columbia winery.
“My goal for One Faith Vineyards is to become the First
Growth for the Okanagan,” owner Bill Lui said at the crowded launch party.
The collectors and wine aficionados had the first chance to
taste the wine and an opportunity to buy a three-bottle box for $495. Since
only 144 cases of 2012 One Faith were made, there is not a lot of wine to go
around, even at these prices.
If One Faith succeeds, and I believe it will, this wine is a
game changer for the Okanagan. If Bill can get collectors to pay Bordeaux prices for
Okanagan wines, his peers will be able to do the same. That
will significantly improve the overall economics of growing wine in a high-cost
region like the Okanagan and the Similkameen.
Bill is a Vancouver
businessman whose successful medical supply business enabled him to pursue a
growing passion for wine, notable for the great reds from Bordeaux
. He has taken Wine & Spirits
Education Trust courses in wine and wine-making courses at the University of California
. He has travelled and tasted
a recent trip, he arranged to visit all of the five First Growth producers.
Taking his cue from how the best do it, Bill nailed down a
superior source of grapes by leasing several small blocks in Harry McWatters’s
Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage
Road. Planted in 1992, this is one of the most
mature of Okanagan vineyards. It is also farmed by Richard Cleave, a revered
veteran grape grower. Bill considers him “the best farmer” in the Okanagan.
Then Bill went to California
to hire consulting winemaker Anne Vawter. “He was looking in the Napa Valley
for a winemaker,” Anne told me. “He wanted to go outside the fold of the
Okanagan, and look for somebody who was making wines in the style that he
wanted to make. My name kept popping up.”
Anne grew up near Walla Walla
wine country in Washington
. After considering
a career in dentistry, she got a degree in viticulture and enology at the University of California
, quickly emerging an
important consulting winemaker. Most of her clients (such as Ziata Wines,
Oakville Ranch Vineyards and Teaderman Vineyards) are in Napa
. Her husband, Cameron Vawter, is the
winemaker at Dana Estates at Rutherford
Anne has her own label, Red Mare Wines, a name inspired by
her equestrian interests. She manages Blossom Creek Ranch, a horse farm in
She has now made three vintages for One Faith, starting in
2012. She acknowledges that One Faith has been fortunate to launch with three
of the Okanagan’s best vintages.
“I think it is a really fascinating place to make wine,” she
says of the Okanagan. “It is similar in certain ways to Washington State
but individual as well. The soil where we are making our wine on the Black Sage
Bench area is very uniform sand and very deep sand. That is distinctive and
unique. Most places are not going to have that soil structure. That is
fascinating for me.”
“I am also drawn to higher latitudes,” she continues. “There
is something special that happens, especially with the blending varieties –
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It is interesting when you
have that shorter season, longer days and sometimes higher temperatures … a
combination of those things sometimes produces wines that are a little more
interesting. It produces rich Merlots, strong, mouth-filling, tannic Merlots. I
think somehow it has to do with the shorter season and the longer days.”
Bill Lui has spared no expense. The vines are allowed to
produce only between one and two tons of grapes per acre, perhaps a quarter of
the usual yield for Bordeaux
reds in the Okanagan. Such extreme viticulture is designed to produce
concentrated wines with rich flavours. There is a bit more turbo-charging at
fermentation, with 10%-15% of the juice bled off after crush, further
concentrating the wine.
That juice, by the way, is turned into a rosé called The
Girls. The proceeds from that wine go entirely to breast cancer research. There
also is a companion red, a home for wine that does not make the cut for
blending into One Faith.
The volumes of One Faith are small. Production in 2013 was a
little higher than 2012 while the current vintage production was similar to
“The idea is to keep the production very small, with
attention to detail,” Anne says. “All of the wine is barrel-fermented, which
takes an amazing amount of space, time and energy. The goal is to maintain
something small that we can keep our eyes on.”
The result is what Harry McWatters, who has given marketing
advice to Bill, calls “a new milestone in British Columbia
Here is a note on the wine.
One Faith 2012 ($495
for a box of three). The wine is a blend of 45.4% Merlot, 30% Cabernet
Sauvignon and 24.6% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged between 20 and 22 months
in French oak. The wine begins with deep and complex aromas of cassis, vanilla,
spice and dark cherry. On the palate, there are layered flavours of black
cherry, plum, cassis, chocolate and tobacco. It is a sveltely polished wine
with long, silky tannins. The wine is drinking well now but will continue to
improve in the bottle for five to eight years. 95.