Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Spierhead commits to Pinot Noir



Photo: SpierHead Winery

When East Kelowna’s SpierHead Winery released its first Pinot Noir from the 2010, proprietor Bill Knutson priced the wine only $18 a bottle because it was a “juvenile wine.” 

In the vintages since (except for the hail-damaged 2013), the estate’s Gentleman Farmer Vineyard has proven itself as excellent Pinot Noir terroir. A multitude of Pinot Noir clones have been, or will be, planted as the winery is making a big bet on Pinot Noir.

“At SpierHead, we have decided to go all in with the heartbreak grape,” Bill said in a letter that accompanied the recent sample release. “It is already our largest planting and this past spring [2014], we planted a further five acres of Pinot Noir. We will be planting more in 2015 and, as some clones require a two-year lead time for delivery, we have more Pinot Noir coming in 2016.”

In a following email conversation, he elaborated that “approximately nine of our 12 planted acres consist of Pinot Noir. My plan is to establish a vineyard with a broad diversity of clones to enable some experimentation with combinations and possibly single clone wines.”

Bill continues: “In our original four acres of pinot noir we have Dijon clones 115, 777 and 828.  We don’t have much of the 828 and as we think it is our most successful performer, we planted another 4,000 vines of 828 in 2014.  We also added a fourth Dijon clone in 2014, putting in about 3,000 clone 667 vines.” 

In 2015, SpierHead will plant some Mt. Eden clone Pinot Noir, one of the so-called heritage clones grown in California.

A further two acres of Pinot Noir will be planted next year. “I would have done it this year except that I couldn’t get the clones that I wanted,” Bill says. “I have ordered a few thousand each of Pommard and Dijon #943.  Pommard is one of the clones that is widely used in Oregon.  It is usually regarded as bringing a spicy element to the wine.  943 is a relatively new Dijon clone which is proving very hard to get. It is receiving rave reviews, especially in New Zealand.” 

“Our goal,” Bill writes, “is to be one of the wineries mentioned in any conversation concerning the top Pinot Noir producers in B.C.”

The hail damage in 2013 in the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard required SpierHead to source additional Pinot Noir elsewhere in the Okanagan. One source is the Golden Retreat Vineyard in Summerland, already a supplier of Pinot Gris to SpierHead.

Golden Retreat is operated by David Kozuki, a grower whom Bill describes as being “very conscientious.” In fact, the fruit is so good that SpierHead has decided to bottle a limited run of a vineyard-designed Pinot Noir from Golden Retreat.

“From the 2015 harvest, assuming no hail,” Bill says, “we’ll do a vineyard-designated wine from Kozuki’s vineyard and we’ll also do one from our own vineyard.” 

SpierHead’s current releases include its first reserve, called Pinot Noir Cuvée. The initial release from 2013 is a little over 100 cases. “Going forward we plan to produce annually a small quantity of a cuvée, made from our best available barrels,” Bill writes. 

As part of the Pinot Noir focus, the winery - which also produces Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay – will be dropping Pursuit and Vanguard, the Bordeaux blends it had been making since the 2009 vintage.

“Our last vintage of Vanguard and Pursuit will be 2013, which we’ll bottle in June,” Bill says. “All along we have bought the Bordeaux reds for these wines from Harry McWatters’ Sundial vineyard on Black Sage Road.” (Harry is currently building his own winery on that vineyard, although he continues to sell grapes to other clients.)

Bill points out that SpierHead is nor growing Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon on the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard. “And I don’t think it would make sense to plant those varietals in our area.”

In any event, SpierHead intends to focus on Pinot Noir and “do a good job with it,” Bill says. 

Here are notes on three current releases from SpierHead.

SpierHead Chardonnay 2013 ($22.90 for 270 cases). About 30% of this wine was aged 10 months in French oak; the rest was aged in stainless steel. The oak is very subtle in this fresh and lively wine with its laser-like fruit aromas and flavours. There are citrus aromas and flavours of green apples and honeydew melons. The wine also shows a good spine of minerality. The finish is crisp. 90.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2013 ($24 for 600 cases). The wine is made with three clones of Pinot Noir – 115 (68% of the blend), 667 and the Pommard clone. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak. The alcohol is a moderate 12.4% but, as is often the case with good Pinot Noir, the silky texture is fuller than the alcohol would indicate. There are aromas of cherry and strawberry, leading to flavours of   cherry and raspberry. 90.


SpierHead Pinot Noir Cuvée 2013 ($32.90 for 100 cases, 24 magnums and six double magnums.) The same three clones are in this wine, with Pommard, at 44%, taking the lead. This seductive wine is a hedonistic beauty. It begins with alluring aromas of raspberry jam with notes of cherry. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak – just enough oak to support a rich bouquet of cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavours. The texture is silky with just enough tannin to take this wine to a peak in four or five years. 93.

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