Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The zucca melon farm that now is a key CedarCreek vineyard

 Photo: CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker

Even though the winery has been producing since 1986, CedarCreek Estate Winery still had several firsts in its spring release wines this year.

These include Platinum, or reserve quality, single vineyard reds from its Desert Ridge Vineyard, just north of Osoyoos. The property once was a renowned zucca melon farm.

Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek’s founder, decided in 2001 the Kelowna-based winery needed a vineyard well-suited to Bordeaux red varieties. He acquired six hectares that year and an adjoining 3.2 hectares the following year, calling it Desert Ridge Vineyard. Merlot vines from France were planted in 2002. The additional Bordeaux reds varieties --Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec – were planted in 2003.

“This vineyard site has a colourful history in agriculture,” Senator Fitzpatrick once told me. “As recently as 2001, peppers and tomatoes were grown here but in its previous glory days during the 1940s, it was a zucca melon farm.”

This forgotten vegetable, a giant bottle gourd, was a major crop in both the south Okanagan and the Similkameen Valleys for perhaps twenty years before being displaced by orchards and vineyards. The zucca melon belongs to the same vegetable family as cucumbers, squash and zucchini. The seeds, it is believed, came to North America from Sicily, brought by immigrants whose families had cultivated the zucca for years.

It arrived in southern British Columbia about 1938, to be embraced with a passion because the fruit grows as prodigiously as the zucchini but with a big difference: mature zuccas are giants averaging sixty to one hundred pounds each. Neutral in taste, the melon’s flesh is a chameleon assuming whatever flavour is added in the processing. During World War II, the zucca served as the base for simulated strawberry jams and other faux confections. The melon disappeared from cultivation so quickly after 1950 that the Grist Mill at Keremeos could find seeds only in California when it added zucca to its heritage garden in 1990.

Anyone tasting the single vineyard wines from Desert Ridge will be forever grateful that the senator found a higher use for this terroir.

“A single vineyard Meritage from Desert Ridge is a first for us,” CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker explained in a note with the wine samples. “After a decade of maturing in that stony soil that breaks so much of our equipment, our vines have reached the point where they show a character unique to Desert Ridge.”

Continuing, he wrote that the Platinum Merlot is also a single vineyard first. “We have about 150 rows of Merlot in that vineyard, and this wine comes from rows 45-90. There’s something special about these rows that we have tasted consistently each year, so in 2012 we decided to give them their very own label.”

And there is one more first among the current releases: the winery’s first Estate Meritage. The wine’s flavours have been turbocharged by adding 20% Malbec to the blend.

Here are notes on the wines from one of CedarCreek’s best spring releases.

CedarCreek Merlot Cabernet 2012 ($19.95 for 3,976 cases). This wine, which was aged 21 months in French oak, is a complex blend of 61% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec. The winery says the Malbec is a “not-so-little, little thing.” Another premium Okanagan winery refers to Malbec as a secret weapon because of its impact on aromas and flavours. CedarCreek draws attention to the hint of violets in the aroma. I also find chocolate, black cherry and vanilla. The wine delivers flavours of red fruit with a spiciness recalling good fruitcake.  The wine has long ripe tannins. 89.

CedarCreek Meritage 2012 ($21.69 for 1,425 cases). This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine, dark in colour, was aged 18 months in French oak. Once again, the winemaker has given a big role to Malbec in the blend. Aromas of black currant, vanilla and cherry jump from the glass, once again recalling good fruitcake. Firm in structure but with ripe tannins, the wine delivers flavours of  black currant, espresso, dark chocolate on the palate. 90.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay 2013 ($26.09 for 375 cases). The winery takes pains to showcase the mature single blocks in its vineyard that are producing superior grapes. This Chardonnay was fermented slowly (35 days!) with wild yeast. The preserve the pure fruit expression, the wine was fermented
and aged just 10 months in 500-litre oak puncheons. No malolactic fermentation was allowed. The wine begins with toasty aromas (from time in the lees) mingled with hints of tangerine and apple. Those carry through in the flavours. The wine is almost creamy in texture, with a hint of oak on the long finish. This is a lovely and complex Chardonnay. 91.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot 2012 ($34.79 for 550 cases). Aged 20 months in French oak, this is a bold and ripe Merlot. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, liquorice and spicy notes from very good oak. The wine is concentrated on the palate, with flavours of black cherry and black currant. It has ripe but firm tannins, with a structure to support another 10 years in the cellar. Decant the wine for drinking now. 92.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage 2012 ($39.09 for 525 cases). This is 54% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine aged 20 months in French oak. Dramatic aromas of red fruit, tobacco and cedar spring from the glass. Savoury and spicy flavours of red currant, cherry and mulberry seduce the palate. The tannins are ripe and long, with enough firmness to give the wine longevity. 92.


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