Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ten years of Laughing Stock Portfolio




 Photo: Cynthia and David Enns

Laughing Stock Vineyards, which opened in 2005, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with events that included vertical tastings of its flagship red blend, Portfolio.

At one event at the Naramata winery for its wine club members, owners David and Cynthia Enns offered to sell a limited number of verticals from the winery’s library stock. To their surprise, few sets were purchased -- because most club members already had verticals in their own cellars.

Only a handful of Okanagan wines can boast of a similar following. Oculus from Mission Hill, Nota Bene from Black Hills and Le Grand Vin from Osoyoos Larose, Pinot Noir from Blue Mountain, all of which have released in ten or more vintages, come to mind. Several other producers are closing in on decade-long collectible vintages, a sign of the maturing British Columbia wine industry.

David Enns set out to make a collectible wine from day one after beginning his winemaking in a garage in Whiterock. The first wines he made with Washington State fruit – he crushed a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001 and two tons of Syrah in 2002 - were the rehearsal before turning pro in 2003.

Laughing Stock’s first vintage was about 500 cases of Portfolio in 2003. It was made in the then-tiny Poplar Grove winery. It was two years before David and Cynthia built a winery on the five-acre Naramata vineyard they had purchased.

“I did the pilgrimage [to Bordeaux] before I blended the 2003 Portfolio,” David says. “I went to Bordeaux for the en primeur tasting. It was an amazing trip of tasting close to 1,000 different wines and then coming back and blending Portfolio.” The 2003 Portfolio is 64% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. 

Opening a winery was a major career change for David and Cynthia, who were then running an investment consulting company. They only sold that business in 2006 after their winery was established.

“Our original business plan was that we were going to buy a lot of our fruit so we don’t have to become farmers,” David recalls. “Well, we quickly realized that if you want good wine, you need good fruit – and you have to grow it. So we hunkered down and bought another 22 acres [in Osoyoos]. So 50% of our fruit comes from Osoyoos and 50% comes from the Naramata Bench.”

For the vertical tasting, Laughing Stock presented several tables, starting with one about the volume of grapes crushed each year.

2003
  8 tons
2004
 32 tons
2005
 43 tons
2006
 87 tons
2007
 78 tons
2008
 98 tons
2009
103 tons
2010
  90 tons
2011
 110 tons
2012
 109 tons
2013
 121 tons

Currently, there are no plans to increase production volumes. “In 2005 I built my winery,” David says. “I built it to do 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year.” Cynthia adds: “We are not increasing production and we are not going to build a new facility in the next five years.”

The Portfolio blend has become more complex as Laughing Stock has been able to access or grow the entire suite of varietals found in most Bordeaux blends.

Another table from the winery sets this out.

Vintage
Merlot %
Cabernet Sauvignon %
Cabernet Franc %
Malbec %
Petit Verdot %
2003
64
33
3


2004
55
35
10


2005
59
33
 3
 4
1
2006
61
16
16
 5
2
2007
56
25
12
 6
1
2008
53
24
12
 8
2
2009
36
27
22
14
1
2010
32
42
 6
18
2
2011
42
32
17
 7
2
2012
45
25
22
 7
1

As that table shows, Portfolio has been anchored with Merlot in every year but 2010. “Back in the day, people said go heavy Merlot all the time,” David says. “It was pretty safe advice. Since then, there has been more Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc planted in the right sites now. A more balanced approach can be taken today than 10 years ago.”

However, Portfolio is “definitely skewed towards [Bordeaux] Right Bank style,” David adds. “It is all Right Bank except for 2010, which is Cabernet Sauvignon-based.” That was a reflection of vintage conditions, in which Cabernet Sauvignon shone through better in the blend.

The basic consistency in the style of Portfolio is one reason why the wine is collected. But that does not mean the wine tastes the same today as it did a decade ago. It is a wine that has been continuously refined through access to more and better grapes. The wine also improved after Laughing Stock built its own winery and included sophisticated winemaking equipment. As well, David has worked with a wide variety of French coopers en route to choosing the barrels he believes best suit his style.

“We only get one shot at this a year,” he says. “The coopers I am picking are all French. A lot of the oak is fine-grained and the barrels are medium or medium plus toast.”

Laughing Stock is small enough that it can ferment its grapes in small batches and keep them separate until blending.

“At the fifteen month mark, the following March, is when we start a month of blending trials,” David says. “We will make two cuvees. One is Blind Trust Red and the other is Portfolio.”

The lower-priced Blind Trust Red is bottled in April while the Portfolio blend goes back into barrel for about three more months. Typically, Portfolio has 18 to 20 months of barrel age; between 35% and 55% of those barrels are new. The object is to structure Portfolio as age-worthy, with Blind Trust as an earlier-drinking red.

“We build our wines to age,” Cynthia said at the vertical tasting.  “How well do B.C. wines age? Will they be fresh and clean in 10 years? We can’t answer that question until we get there.”

The tasting, of course, provided the answer. Wines as well made as these can last that long, or almost that long.

Portfolio 2003, however, is beyond its best. Anyone with a few bottles left needs to open them soon. The winery advised drinking it by 2013. The other vintages all are sound.

There is a reason why 2003 is not aging well. That vintage was the hottest in the decade, with 1,494 degree days, about 200 degree days more than the annual average. That produced very ripe grapes. In its youth, this was a jammy and fleshy Portfolio (“a fruit bomb,” Cynthia says), somewhat low in acidity and with 15.1% alcohol. (Due to a labelling error, the bottle read 13.8% alcohol.)


Here are notes on succeeding vintages, with point scores I made during the tasting.

Portfolio 2004: The winery advises drinking it this year but don’t fret if you keep it another year. It is a wine with aromas of vanilla and cassis, with berry flavours that are still bright. The finish has notes of chocolate, thyme and sage. 91.

Portfolio 2005: Drink this by 2015. This was the first Portfolio made in the new gravity-flow winery and incorporating five varietals. It has matured to display aromas of cassis, blueberry and mulberry and to offer of core of cherry and vanilla flavours. 94.

Portfolio 2006: Drink this by 2016. The 2006 vintage was warm and consistent. Beginning with aromas of plum and blueberries, the wine has a concentrated texture with flavours plum, black currant, chocolate and espresso. The texture is still firm. 92.

Portfolio 2007: Drink this by 2018. The wine begins with almost floral aromas of black currant, black cherry and vanilla that are echoed in the flavours. There is a touch of mocha and mint on the finish. 93.

Portfolio 2008: Drink this by 2019. For the first time, fruit from Osoyoos and Cabernet Franc from a grower were incorporated in Portfolio. The wine comes off as bold and muscular, with aromas of black cherry and jammy flavours of black cherry, black currant, plum and sage. 94.

Portfolio 2009: Drink by 2020. This vintage was shortened by frost early in October; fortunately, it has been the second warmest year in the decade (1,427 degree days) and the grapes were superbly ripe. This is big, rich Portfolio with aromas of vanilla, cassis and blueberry and flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate, coffee and liquorice with a hint of graphite on the finish. 95.

Portfolio 2010: Drink by 2021. This was a notoriously cool year, requiring the dropping of some fruit (note the drop in the tonnage crushed). Surprisingly, given the vintage, the best varietal in the winery was Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a fresh and lively Portfolio, a bit lean in texture but with aromas of cassis and flavours of red currant, pomegranate and mint. 93.

Portfolio 2011: The winery has not published a lifespan recommendation; I would suggest drink by 2021. This was another cool vintage (1,195 degree days) with a harvest that did not start until mid-October and did not end until mid-November. However, this wine was good enough to win the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. It has aromas of black currant, cedar and spice, with flavours of black currant, cherry and chocolate. 93.

Portfolio 2012: No lifespan recommendation from the winery; I would suggest this will cellar until 2024. The aromas are still closed but the wine has intense flavours of black currant, black cherry and liquorice. The text is generous with long, ripe tannins. This was one of the best vintages, with 1,333 degree days in a long, warm growing season. 92-94. 

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