Friday, June 12, 2015

Blue Grouse and friends

 Photo: Blue Grouse winery with roof inspired by the back of a grouse

Blue Grouse Estate Winery & Vineyard has set a high standard for winery architecture on Vancouver Island with new winery and tasting room that opened last month.

“We hope that Blue Grouse will become a destination,” says Paul Brunner, the mining engineer who bought the winery in 2012 from its founders, Hans Kiltz and his family.

You can be assured a building this spectacular will be on every wine tourist’s must-visit list in the Cowichan Valley.

I was struck by the private comment of one industry veteran who suggested the building does not “fit” the Cowichan Valley. I suppose Paul could have built something more in keeping the valley’s dairy barns. But hardly anyone tours dairy barns.

The new Blue Grouse winery should provide a real shot in the arm to wine touring in the valley.

To design the winery, Paul hired Joe Chauncey of Boxwood Architects in Seattle. He incorporated features of a grouse in the design. The roofline resembles the curve of a grouse’s head and neck. The curves of the tasting room soaring ceiling are meant to remind one of a grouse’s belly.

The new building occupies the footprint of the former winery but is a good deal larger. The winery is taller, with a mezzanine overlooking the vineyard.  In fact, everything has been scaled up, including a much larger parking lot in anticipation of growth in visitor numbers the building should inspire. The new owner also has allowed his winemaker, Bailey Williamson, to increase the portfolio with a second label – called Quill - using purchased fruit.

This property was a pioneering, if tiny, Cowichan Valley vineyard, planted in 1977, according to the winery. A German-born veterinarian, Hans Kiltz, bought the property in 1989 and opened the winery in 1992. The small size of the vineyard – somewhere between seven and ten acres – limited his production. However, Hans was among the band of Vancouver Island winemakers who never bought Okanagan grapes.

The wines now being released under the Blue Grouse label continue to be made just from estate-grown grapes. But Paul has had to expand production to justify what he has invested in buying Blue Grouse and redeveloping the winery.

Paul was born in Colorado in 1950, the son of a Swiss-born carpenter and developer. His family moved to Canada in the 1960s and became Canadian citizens. Paul has a mining technology diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology, an engineering degree at the Colorado School of Mines and a master’s in business administration from Harvard.

He parlayed that into a long career with an international drilling services company called Boart Longyear. He was the company’s chief executive in 2008 when he retired. His business career took him, and Cristina, his Peruvian-born wife, to numerous wine-producing countries, including Chile, South Africa, Australia and the United States. Eventually, their love of wine led to invest in their own winery.

I took advantage of an invitation to Blue Grouse’s grand opening to visit three other Cowichan Valley wineries. One of them, Unsworth Vineyards, opened an elegant wine shop several years ago with a patio that looks over a large and attractive pond. Unsworth also operates a well-regarded restaurant, something that is still to come at Blue Grouse.

The other two wineries are Enrico Vineyards and Glenterra Vineyards.

Here are notes on wines I was able to taste.

Blue Grouse Estate Bacchus 2013 ($20 for 80 cases). This wine has floral and spicy aromas, leading to flavours of grapefruit and grapefruit rind. The finish is crisp and bone dry. 88.

Blue Grouse Estate Ortega 2013 ($20 for 321 cases). The wine begins with a lovely floral aroma, with hints of apple. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, lemon and tangerine. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Siegerrebe 2013 ($20 for 102 cases). This early-ripening grape does well in coastal vineyards. The wine invariably is thespian, with dramatic spicy aromas of lime and grapefruit. It delivers a bucket of tropical fruit flavours. This wine has a crisply dry and refreshing finish. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris 2013($19 for 133 cases). The winemaker fermented most of the grapes in stainless steel but also fermented 20% in barrel. The generous texture of the wine benefitted from that. The wine has aromas and flavours of pear and melon. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2012 ($24 for 130 cases). This wine was aged 10 months in barrel (30% new French oak). There is a hint of oak in the aroma with flavours of cherry. 89.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2013 (barrel sample). This has appealing aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry, with a spicy note on the finish. The wine shows more concentration and fullness than the previous vintage while retaining the minerality of the vineyard. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Black Muscat 2012 ($30 for 46 cases). Blue Grouse claims to grow the only Black Muscat vines in North America. The wine is always a surprise in the glass. It is dark in colour with dramatically spicy aromas and flavours of boysenberries.  The finish is totally dry. It is an excellent wine with cheese. 89.

Blue Grouse Quill White 2013 ($17 for 389 cases). This is a blend of 39% Pinot Gris, 36% Ortega, 15% Gewurztraminer and 10% Müller-Thurgau.  Half of the grapes were sourced in the Okanagan, half came from the estate. This is a juicy white, with aromas and flavours of lime, apple and peach. 88.

Blue Grouse Quill Rosé 2013 ($17 for 140 cases). This is made from Gamay Noir purchased from a Cowichan Valley vineyard. Light-bodied and refreshing, it has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cranberry and red currant. 90.

Blue Grouse Quill Red 2012 ($19 for 205 cases). This is a blend of three island grown grapes and one from the Okanagan: 47% Cabernet Foch, 21% Maréchal Foch, 11% Cabernet Libre and 21% Merlot. The aromas are dominated by the singular spikiness of the Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre, two varieties developed by Swiss breeder Valentin Blattner. There are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and chocolate. 89.

Enrico Vineyards, owned by Victoria businessman Harry Smith, opened in 2010. A former defenseman on the 1961 world champion Trail Smoke Eaters, Harry walked away from a Detroit Red Wings training camp in the 1960s because he though he could do better in business. How right he was! His ventures have range from shopping centres to a Hawaii coffee plantation and Columbia Fuels Inc., the largest petroleum products distributor on Vancouver Island. The Enrico vineyard is on a farm he bought in 2000. His winemaker is Daniel Cosman, also the winemaker for Unsworth.

Enrico Celebration 2012 ($24). This is a Charmat method sparkling wine made with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Almost gold in colour, it has flavours of nuts and orange peel with a rich texture from lees contact. 87.

Enrico Ortega 2014 ($17.50). This wine begins with lovely floral aromas. On the palate, it is intensely fruity with flavours of peach and lime. The residual sweetness lifts the flavours and gives the wine a juicy texture. 90.

Enrico Pinot Gris 2014 ($18.50). This is a refreshingly crisp wine, with aromas and flavours of spice, pears and peaches. 90.

Enrico Pinot Gris Reserve 2014 ($24). This is a barrel-fermented wine from the best grapes selected from the winery’s 3 ½ acres of Pinot Gris. The wine has an appealing core of sweet fruit flavours (apple, pear and citrus) with a hint of oak in the aroma. 91.

Enrico Red Dragon 2013 ($17.50). This is a curious name for a delicate rosé made from Pinot Noir. The wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry. 88.

Enrico Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($20). This wine is made from Okanagan grapes. The wine is still a bit firm and should be decanted. There is a hint of mint and black currant on the nose, leading to flavours of black currant, plum and dark chocolate. 88.

Enrico Cabernet Foch 2012 ($18.50). This estate-grown wine is claimed to be Vancouver Island’s first 100% varietal red from this Blattner hybrid. The wine is dark and full-bodied with aromas of mint, pepper and earth, leading to flavours of plum. There is an intimation of deli spices. 90.

Enrico Cabernet Libre 2012 ($18.50). This is another estate-grown Blattner hybrid. The hallmark of this variety seems to be a distinctive peppery and earthy aroma. The wine is lean, with flavours of cherry. 88.

Glenterra Vineyards is a 15-year-old winery operated by a remarkably modest winemaker called John Kelly. Perhaps his modesty accounts for Glenterra being lower on the radar screen than it should be. The wines here always are interesting, displaying the hand of one of the island’s best winemakers.

Glenterra Vivace 2014 ($20). This is a blend from a large number of experimental white grapes that were already in the vineyard when John bought it. It is hard to pin down the elusively fruity, spicy flavours of this dry white. 89.

Glenterra Brio 2012 ($25). This is a blend of the experimental reds in the vineyard, supplanted with Okanagan fruit (mostly Merlot). The wine is delicious, with a good body and with flavours of black currant, plum and vanilla. 90.

Glenterra Orange Pinot Gris 2014 (N.A.). John Kelly has joined the growing number of leading edge winemakers who produce so-called orange or natural wines. In this case, the Pinot Gris is fermented on the skins with wild yeast and left on the skins for some time. The result is a bronze wine with flavours of herbs, grapefruit, and dried orange peel. The wine is quite dry, verging on austere. It begs to be aged. 90.

Unsworth Vineyards was established in 2010 by Tim and Colleen Turyk. They come to wine from operating a large fish packing business. The winery occupies a 32-acre farm on which a previous owner had planted Maréchal Foch in 2006 but then abandoned plans for a winery. With its spacious tasting room and restaurant, this has become a popular stop for wine tourists.

Unsworth Charme de L’ile NV ($21.00). This sparkling wine is described by the winery as a “Proseco style” wine. It is made with 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Gris and 20% Sauvignette, all from the Cowichan Valley. The wine begins with clean fruity aromas, leading to flavours of apple and citrus. 88.

Unsworth Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This is a delicious, refreshing wine with flavours of apples, pears and peaches and with a crisp finish. 89.

Unsworth Allegro 2014 ($20). This crisp and tangy white reminded me a bit of Sauvignon Blanc (the blend is 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Sauvignette). It has a lightly pink hue, aromas of apples and flavours of lemon and lime. The wine’s fresh acidity gives it a vibrant finish. 90.

Unsworth Petit Milo 2014 ($23). This variety, along with Sauvignette, is a white hybrid developed by Valentine Blattner (with significant work by Paul Troop and Daniel Cosman, partners in an island grape nursery). This wine has aromas of grapefruit and lime, with flavours of peaches and guava. The noticeable residual sweetness lifts the flavours and gives the wine a juicy texture. 88.

Unsworth Rosé 2014 ($19). This won double gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships. Made with Pinot Noir, it has aromas and flavours of strawberries and raspberries. The finish is dry and refreshing. 90.

Unsworth Cab Merlot Timbucktwo 2012 ($20). The blend is 95% Merlot from Naramata Bench, 5% Cabernet Libre from the estate. The latter brings a note of spice to the aroma. There are flavours of black currant and plum. The soft tannins make this wine approachable and easy-drinking. 87.

 Unsworth Symphony 2012 ($22). This is by far the best Blattner red I have yet tasted. The wine is 85% Cabernet Libre and 15% Petit Milo, aged 26 months in American and French oak barrels. It begins with aromas that the winery describes as “cooked cherries” and goes on to deliver flavours of fig, liquorice, chocolate, earth and spice. 91.

Unsworth Ovation NV ($21.50 for 500 ml). This is a port-style wine made with Maréchal Foch grapes. It is rich, with flavours of plums, figs and liquorice. 91.


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