Friday, February 13, 2015

Class of 2014: Roche Wines

 Photo: Winemaker Dylan Roche

New in the market, Roche Winery is a tiny artisanal producer that happens to make very good wines.

Roche did its first public tastings last summer, along with other artisanal wineries, at the Garagiste North festival, held on the grounds of Meyer Family Vineyards at Okanagan Falls.

Now, the owners Dylan and Pénélope Roche have been introducing the wines into the market. So far, they have a grand total of 300 cases. These are now available in the leading private wine stores in Vancouver as well as in the B.C. Wine Information Centre in Penticton and the B.C. Wine Museum in Kelowna. They are also on several top restaurant wine lists, including Hawksworth in Vancouver and Bogner’s in Penticton.

These are New World wines with the fingerprints of France all over them: the owners are both trained in France.

Dylan was born in Vancouver in 1976, the son of a lawyer and a nurse, and got a degree in urban geography from the University of British Columbia. He had been a shop manager in a a Vancouver bicycle store while in college. With that experience, he went to Burgundy in 2000 as a bike mechanic and cycling guide.

That was where he “suffered a conversion experience,” as he says on the Roche website ( He began exploring wineries in France and Italy. By 2003, he was enrolled in enology studies in Beaune.

By dint of hard work, he filled his resume with jobs at various French wineries while also working with Butterfield & Robinson, the Canadian-based cycle tour company.

His winery resume includes:

* Winemaking apprenticeships in Côte d’Or, Chablis and New Zealand over five years.

* Wine educator and program director at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac from  March, 2006 to February 2008.

* Assistant winemaker at two estates in Péssac-Léognan.

* Winemaker at Château Bellevue de Tayac in Margaux from 2010 until returning to Canada in 2012 to work in the Okanagan, where he is now the winemaker at Intersection Estate Winery.

Pénélope, his wife and partner in Roche Wines, was born in France, with five generations of winemaking and viticulture behind her in the family estate, Château Les Carmes in Haut-Brion. She also has formal winemaking and experience in Spain, New Zealand and Australia.

While Dylan has been busy at the Intersection winery and vineyard, Pénélope has worked with the vineyards that supplied the grapes for their debut wines here.

The Chardonnay is made with fruit from the Coulombe Vineyard, a half-acre block of Chardonnay south of Oliver. The Pinot Gris is from Kozier Organic Vineyard near Naramata.

Roche Wines has yet to license its own winery. However, they are able to produce the wines under the license of Parallel 49 Vineyards (the license under which Intersection operates).

Perhaps an independent winery is in the cards down the road: Dylan and Pénélope bought an eight-acre block last summer on Upper Bench Road in Penticton. Currently, that includes 3.5 acres of Schönburger (under contract to another winery) and one acre of Zweigelt. Dylan made a rosé from the Zwiegelt. The couple are considering other varietals that may or may not be planted after the Schönburger contract ends in 2017.

Roche Wines will release 180 cases of rosé this summer at $20 a bottle. The couple also have 300 cases of Pinot Noir still in barrel and not yet priced.

Here are notes on the current releases. Not reviewed is a 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay. Dylan made 40 cases and sold it all to Merchant’s Oyster Bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive.

Roche Chardonnay 2012 ($28.90 for 85 cases). This wine was fermented in French oak barrels (one was new) and remained on the yeast lees for six months. This is a wine with pure focussed fruit on the nose and palate, with aromas of citrus and a note of brioche. It tastes of lemon and fresh apples, with a good backbone of minerals and with bright acidity. With a few years of age, this will develop Burgundian characters. 90.

Roche Pinot Gris 2013 ($26.90 for 175 cases). This wine was also fermented in barrel – neutral French oak – and remained on the lees for 10 months. It is one of the most complex Pinot Gris wines I have seen in a long time. Think of Alsace. The racy acidity gives the wine a bright, refreshing attack. It has aromas of pear and spice and flavours of apple, melon and citrus. The flavours seem to come in richly-textured layers and the finish is very long. The winemakers give this an aging potential of four to six years, a recommendation that speaks to the wine’s complexity. 92. 


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