Photo" Howling Bluff's Luke Smith
Howling Bluff proprietor Luke Smith was a successful
investment advisor when he began a career switch in 2004 to start planting the
winery’s Summa Quies vineyard.
A decade of hard work in the vineyard and the winery has not
knocked the edge from his enthusiasm for this second career. Visitors to the
tasting room discover a man who finds wine growing as bewitching as ever. And
that is despite the viticultural U-turn he has made.
Initially, the preponderance of his seven-acre vineyard was
planted with Bordeaux
varieties. The goal was to make a flagship red blend called Sin Cera. That is
Latin for “without wax” coined by Roman stone carvers when working with marble
so perfect that no wax was needed to hide the cracks.
Howling Bluff’s Sin Cera wines were always well made. Even
so, Luke discovered by 2008 that the Bordeaux
reds, at least on his property, had some limitations. It was a gradual epiphany
after several vintages that led to a reduction in Bordeaux
red plantings and a significant
increase in Pinot Noir. He had only planted an acre of Pinot Noir at first.
“It was the
culmination of what it was like to farm all of those varieties I had,” he says.
“The Pinot Noir is definitely more work but at the end of the day, every single
year, the Pinot Noir was ripe. All the other red grapes? No. Merlot was the
most consistent but everything else was quite finicky.”
He retained some
Merlot and a little Malbec for a small ongoing production of Sin Cera. Most of
the original plantings of Bordeaux
reds have now been grafted over to Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc. (The white Bordeaux varieties
perform better on his Naramata Bench site than the reds.)
He is not at all distressed that Howling Bluff has
transitioned so dramatically away from his original concept of making Bordeaux
“I said to myself
how horrible would that be if all I made was a world class Pinot Noir?” he
He has the awards
to show it can be done. He has won three Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellent
and two of those were for Pinot Noir.
In 2014, he took
another step in his commitment to Pinot Noir by making a rosé. The initial
motive was to further improve his Pinot Noir table wine through the classic
technique the French call saignée. The term means “bleeding” some juice from
freshly crushed red grapes to concentrate the remainder prior to fermentation.
To make this rosé,
Luke bled about 10% of the juice from his tanks of Pinot Noir. This juice was
put into a stainless steel tank and was fermented at a cool temperature.
“That rosé is as
close to a dangerous wine as I have ever made,” Luke says. He means dangerous
in the sense that one cannot stop drinking it. If consumers agree with him, it
likely will be a permanent addition to the Howling Bluff portfolio.
Here are notes the
Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($20). Spectacular tropical aromas explode from the
glass. The lime and the lemon aromas translate into exuberant flavours of those
fruits. The wine is crisp and zesty with herbal notes on the finish. 91.
Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2014 ($20). This is a blend of 85% Sauvignon
Blanc, 15% Sémillon. The Sémillon anchors the wine and adds complexity and
texture to the tropical exuberance of its partner. This wine is rich on the
palate, with flavours of peach and ripe apples added to the notes of lime and
herbs. The finish is lingering. 92.
Howling Bluff Rosé
2014 ($25). The wine, made from juice bled from tanks of Pinot Noir, was
released May 1 and may already be sold out. It is juicy and refreshing, with
aromas and flavours of strawberries. A touch of residual sweetness fleshes out
the flavours and lifts the aromas. 91.
Howling Bluff Summa
Quies Pinot Noir 2012 ($35 for 500 cases). I can’t do better than reproduce
some of the winery’s notes. The wine shows “a nose of berry fruit; strawberry,
plum, raspberry with floral undertones of potpourri … hints of allspice,
fennel, lavender and cedar.” Yes, it is that complex, with flavours of cherry,
mocha and spice and with the earthiness on the finish that Burgundians call
forest floor. The wine is youthfully firm but is beginning to develop the
classic silky texture. 91.
Howling Bluff Sin
Cera 2011 ($25 for 225 cases). This is 82% Merlot and 18% Malbec, aged 18
months in new and used French oak. The wine is firm in texture, with flavours
of black currant, black cherry, dark chocolate and espresso. As the wine opens
up, it reveals a core of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. 90.