Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Class of 2015: Emandare Vineyard

 Photo: Mike and Robin Nierychlo

Emandare Vineyard
6798 Norcross Road, Duncan BC, V9L 6C3   
T. 778-679-6706
Tasting room open 1 pm to 6 pm Fridays

A recently tasted bottle of 2007 Maréchal Foch from Starling Lane Winery, which was discovered in my cellar during a reorganization, was a reminder of how good that boutique Saanich winery was.
Who expected such longevity from the variety? Yet the fruit was still fresh and the wine had not begin to fade.
The bad news is that Starling Lane closed three years ago.

The good news is that the Cowichan Valley vineyard that grew some of that Maréchal Foch is now owned by Mike and Robin Nierychlo. In May, they opened Emandare Vineyard not far north of Duncan. They have not yet released their Maréchal Foch but the barrel sample of that wine is promising, as is a barrel sample of Pinot Noir.

They have released two excellent whites, one of them from the oldest block (14 years) of Sauvignon Blanc on Vancouver Island.

It causes one to ask why Sauvignon Blanc has not been planted all over the island. As Mike points out, if that variety thrives in the cool climate of the south island in New Zealand, it should do equally well on Vancouver Island. To the best of my knowledge, the only other producer on the island with Sauvignon Blanc is Dosman Vineyards, a neighbour of Emandare. His planting is four years old.

The Nierychlo name should be familiar to those who have followed wines in British Columbia. For several years, Mike posted wine videos on a site that was known as Wine Garage TV … until a California wine retailer with the similar name forced him to change the name.

The site is still there, with almost 200 videos. Look for

Mike’s wine education was almost entirely gained when he was picking the brains of winemakers and making contacts while producing the videos. He has combined that knowledge with his native shrewdness to develop Emandare, with the help of his wife, Robin. The winery name is the phonetic echo of their initials: M & R.

Both grew up in Langley, Mike, the son of Polish immigrants, in 1983 and Robin, the daughter of Dutch immigrants, in 1984.

“I came from a family of hard workers,” Mike says. “One of my first jobs was at a lumber mill on the green chain. That makes you a man very quickly.”

Soon after marrying Robin in 2004, Mike discovered that he and his brother-in-law shared a passion for wine. That led them to start making wines. They began with a cherry wine before progressing to grape wines. Robin says they never made the same wine twice.

“We never made wine from a kit,” Mike says. “We would go to wineries we loved and we could say, can we buy grapes from you and can we hand-pick some. Oftentimes, they would say sure, because we would only need 1,000 pounds for what we were doing. Then we would ask the winemakers, by the way, how do you make the wine? That was how we started.”

The next step in his wine infatuation was to start making videos.

“Here is how I got involved in wine media,” he recounts. “I was just sitting in the garage one day, where we were making wine, and I was bored. I had a bottle of wine there, so I grabbed my video camera and started talking about this wine. I don’t even remember what the first bottle of wine was. I talked about it and I posted that on the Internet. And for about two years straight, I was posting several videos a week, talking about wine, winemaking, wine tasting, food pairing. And I did piles of interviews.”

Soon, he and Robin began looking for a way into the industry as producers. “We love island wine.” Mike says. “That is part of the reason we wanted to be here.”

Their search settled on Vancouver Island after the couple moved to Victoria where Robin now is a radiation scheduler with the B.C. Cancer Agency. Mike is self-employed, owning a business making counter tops. And both are keeping the day jobs while Emandare gets rolling. “We didn’t walk in here with deep pockets,” Mike says. “We come into this with business knowhow and work ethic. And a loan. You can’t do it without some cash.”

Their property, with about 6 ½ acres of vines, was planted 14 years ago by a grower named Marcel Fleurie. About the time that Starling Lane closed, Marcel – for personal reasons – leased the property to another winery, hung out a for-sale sign and moved away.

It had been on the market for two years before Mike and Robin bought it in September 2013.

The varieties grown here include two acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Sauvignon Blanc; they plan to double that planting. They are also growing Siegerrebe, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and a combined acre of two Blattner hybrids, Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre.

“The Cabernet Foch is a brilliant blending grape,” Mike says. “I would never make a straight red from it. It makes a really boring straight wine.”

He is not impressed with Cabernet Libre and likely will pull it out after this vintage – although in 2014, it was the backbone of a popular rosé, 55% of a blend with Tempranillo, Malbec and Carmenère. Mike is not sure why the previous owner had planted about 100 vines each of three late ripening varieties more suited to Osoyoos than Vancouver Island. Another rosé is planned from the 2015 vintage.

Although there are no current plans to seek organic certification, Mike and Robin have adopted many organic practices. They turned off the irrigation system completely. “Last year, 2014, was considered a drought year and our plants were healthy and happy,” Mike says. He believes the vines learned to fend for themselves because irrigation was sporadic when the vineyard was operated under lease.

Last fall, they harvested 11 tons of grapes from a vineyard they were still rejuvenating.

“I figure this place, once it is healthy, can do 12 to 15 tons on average,” Mike says. “If I could hit 30,000 pounds of grapes a year, that would be a beautiful number. We did our conservative business plan [for the winery], based on eight tons of grapes from this property.”

Friends helped Mike and Robin build the modest winery. And he dipped into his “Rolodex of contacts” to equip Emandare.

“Every piece of wine equipment we purchased was used,” Mike says. “Because of my relationships from the past, I found used equipment. I got 120 emails when I needed a bottle filler. I called around and found one and traded some wine for it and got it cheap.  That’s how we got all of our equipment.”

Mike adds that “we are doing everything old world and we are doing everything naturally as far as winemaking goes. Not a grain of commercial yeast has entered this building. That’s why we went organic; we don’t choose the kill the yeast in the vineyard.”

In Emandare’s first vintage, 2014, the winery made about 800 cases of wine – two whites, a sold-out rosé and two reds still in barrel. The winery’s tasting room opened in May. Emandare also has been a regular attendee at the Duncan Farmers’ Market  every Saturday. This has proved one of the best outlets for introducing the brand to the market.

Here are notes on the two whites.

Emandare Siegerrebe Gewürztraminer 2014 ($20). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and delivers generous and intense tropical fruit (lemon, guava). Low in alcohol at 10.4%, the wine is refreshing. The blend is 80% Siegerrebe, 20% Gewürztraminer. 89.

Emandare Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($24). The wine has a fleshy texture because a touch of residual sweetness remains. Herbal on the nose, the wine has flavours of grapefruit, kiwi and honeydew melon. 90.


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