Photo: Averill Creek proprietor Andy Johnston
Recently, Averill Creek Vineyards proprietor Andy Johnston
hosted a rare vertical tasting of every Pinot Noir made at his Cowichan Valley
winery between 2005 and 2012.
All of those who attended had tasted some of Andy’s Pinot
Noirs but none had tasted them all. It is unlikely that anyone not living on Vancouver Island
would have been able to collect such a
vertical. It is hard to find Vancouver Island
wines anywhere else.
That is unfortunate. These are impressive wines from a
terroir that, arguably, suits Pinot Noir.
“I think it is fantastic that we can make these wines in the
,” Andy says. “I feel they have
more elegance and complexity than most Okanagan Pinots. The style is very
different from the Okanagan.” Andy’s views have mellowed: he once argued that
the Okanagan is too hot for Pinot Noir. He now admits admiration for several
Okanagan Pinot Noir producers.
Before he became a grape grower, Andy was a doctor. Born in Wales
in 1947, he came to Canada
in 1973 and practised medicine in Alberta
for about 30
years. In the 1990s, concluding that “there are only so many patient visits in
me,” he decided to switch careers. He prepared by working vintages over several
years in Italy
and New Zealand
While doing that, he acquired a property north of Duncan
, on the fairly steep southward slope of Mount Prevost
He began planting vines in 2002, devoting a third of the 12-hectare (30-acre)
vineyard to four Pinot Noir clones. He began making wine at Averill Creek in
2005. A New Zealand
winemaker helped him in that vintage. Since 2008, his winemaker has been Daniel
Dragert, a Vancouver Island native with a winemaking degree from Lincoln University
in New Zealand
“Daniel is very much on my wave length – or I am on his wave
length – in terms of the style of the wine we want to make,” Andy says. “He’s a
very natural winemaker. He just tastes the grapes, he tastes the wine and he
knows what he wants to do with it. We discuss it but he is spot on every time.
I don’t have to worry about it.”
What he needs to worry about is the variable climate of Vancouver Island
. This shows in the dramatic production
swings from vintage to vintage.
“You have got to go with what the Good Lord gives you each
year,” Andy explains. “You cannot make a formulaic wine in the Cowichan Valley
because there is so much
variation in the years.”
He offers an example of the 2013 vintage.
“We had a major disaster because on September 14, we had a
huge rain storm,” he recounts. “The Pinot was at that very delicate stage where
it was about ready to be picked. A tremendous amount of fruit was knocked off
the vines. We lost six or seven tons in one night. We ended up picking after
that. It didn’t rain for much of October, so what we got eventually was lower
in quantity but really high in quality.”
Th3 2013 vintage is a few years away from release, as is the
2014, a vintage that promises to be as bounteous and as high in quality as
While the climate is variable, Averill Creek’s Pinot Noirs still
show a remarkable consistency in style from year to year.
“I love the development of these wines from 2012 back to
2005,” Andy said at the end of the tasting. “These are all Averill Creek Pinot
Noirs. The identity is there. I am really pleased with that.”
The Averill Creek Pinot Noir currently in the market is the
2010, modestly priced at $26 a bottle. Look for the 2011 later this year. The
winery also still has 2009 Reserve available at $70.
Here are some notes on the wines. I scored them all 90 or
higher, with 95 for the 2009 Reserve.
2005 Pinot Noir:
This wine is at its peak, but what a peak! It is an elegant, feminine wine with
strawberries and raspberries in both the aroma and palate.
2006 Pinot Noir: A
tasting group favourite, this is a savoury wine with aromas of black berries
and leather that are echoed on the silky palate.
2007 Pinot Noir:
While oak is rarely obvious in Averill Creek’s Pinot Noirs, the appealing
toasty notes in the aroma and palate seem to suggest there was a toasted barrel
in the mix this vintage. It also accentuates the quite Burgundian “forest floor”
flavours in the wine.
2008 Pinot Noir: This
is a fragrant wine with aromas of dried cherries and violets; there is
strawberry and raspberry on the palate, with an earthy finish.
2009 Pinot Noir: This
full-textured wine appeals with ripe flavours of cherry and plum.
2009 Pinot Noir
Reserve: There is more of everything here ... more power, more ripe
flavours. The wine was made from grapes picked a few weeks later than the
regular Pinot Noir. The winery then cherry-picked the best barrels to make a
very impressive wine. So far, it is Averill Creek’s only reserve Pinot Noir,
although there likely will be a reserve from 2014.
2010 Pinot Noir: This
wine has an intriguing note of white pepper on the nose and on the palate,
along with bright flavours of cherry and raspberry.
2011 Pinot Noir: This
was a difficult, cool vintage but Andy pulled of a good wine by being brutally
disciplined with crop load. He had to drop so much fruit through the season to
ripen the grapes that Averill Creek’s vines yielded just ¾ of a ton per acre.
At that production, Andy may well be losing money on every bottle of this
vibrant, spicy Pinot Noir.
2012 Pinot Noir:
Consumers will not see this wine until 2016 – but Andy is sending it to
competitions this year to see “what the world thinks.” It is a terrific wine –
aromas of spice and cherry that repeat on the palate. This is a wine with lots
of finesse and ability to age.