Thursday, October 22, 2015

Class of 2015: Coolshanagh Vineyard

Photo: Coolshanagh owners Skip and Judy Stothert

 Coolshanagh Vineyard
RR1, S16, C47 Naramata, BC V0H 1N0


Whether or not there is minerality in wine was at the centre of the most contentious session last summer at the Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference in Niagara.

Several scientists made presentations insisting there is no such thing as minerals in wine. After listening to this for 45 minutes, Matt Kramer, a wine writer from Portland, erupted. “The only problem with scientists,” he said, “is that they don’t know a goddamn thing they are talking about!”

Even if you can’t measure minerality in wine, you can taste it, he argued.

The Coolshanagh Vineyard Chardonnay from a new winery on the Naramata Bench would support him. A tasting of the three vintages so far from this property suggests this might be one of the most mineral-driven and Burgundian-inspired Chardonnays in British Columbia.

Coolshanagh is a so-called “virtual” winery. It is based on a very real vineyard but the owners, Skip and Judy Stothert, leave the winemaking to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. The wines are also sold under the OCP license since the Stotherts have not yet licensed Coolshanagh.

Even when they do, there is unlikely to be a tasting room. The vineyard, seven kilometres north of Naramata Village, is at the north end of Naramata Road, just past the Chute Lake turnoff. Few wine tourists would drive that far even if the Stotherts did not value their privacy.

Skip is a retired businessman. The company he founded is now called Green Roads Recycling. It is a road paving company with a difference: it renews paving with a moving train of equipment that scoops up the old pavement and melts it and mixes that with the new pavement that is laid down immediately.

“We moved here in 2003,” Skip says. “My sons were taking over the business and I got bored. I researched grape varieties. I knew I wanted to do Chardonnay and I wanted to do Pinot Noir.”

He had grown up in a household with wine on the table. His father, Win Stothert, ran an international engineering company.

“My dad was in the Opimian Society, so I grew up drinking Burgundian Chardonnays right from the get-go, when I was about 10 or 11,” Skip says. “And there also was Burgundian Pinot Noir.”

 The vineyard is between the road and Okanagan Lake. “We bought the property just to retire,” Skip says.  The property, about 52 acres in size, still is mostly raw land and forest with spectacular views over the lake.

He planted the first block of Chardonnay, about 2 ½ acres, in 2004. The vineyard has since been expanded to just over eight acres, most of it four different Dijon clones of Chardonnay.

The winery describes the vineyard in this manner: “The site offers distinct regional flavours that emerge from the fertile, calcium carbonate-loaded silt, gravel, clay and fractured glacial bedrock.”

When the vines began producing in 2008, Skip and Judy began selling the fruit to Foxtrot Vineyards. In 2010 and 2011, Foxtrot put Coolshanagh Vineyard on the label of its Chardonnay.

“In 2011 or 2012, we ran into Okanagan Crush Pad and got pretty excited about the ability to go somewhere and not having to build your own winery,” Skip recounts.  Since the 2012 vintage, Okanagan Crush Pad’s winemakers have been making the Chardonnay that is released under the Coolshanagh label.

The Celtic name on the label resonates with the owners because there is a family connection.

“Coolshanagh came from my side of the family, the McConnans,” Judy says. “My grandmother always used to have Coolshanagh, with the address underneath, on her letterhead. It means a meeting place of friends. My cousins continued with Coolshanagh and named their houses or their summer homes with it. It has continued with our family. When we tried to decide on a name, we just liked meeting place of friends.”

The name might have originated in Ireland.  “McConnan was grandfather,” Judy recounts. “When my grandmother married him, she picked up all of the family traditions. We are not absolutely positive where they came from. We think it might have been Ireland and it might have been Connan at that time. We know that they spent 100, 150 years in Scotland and then came to Canada. They actually landed in Newfoundland and then came across to Victoria.”

The Stotherts got a modest restaurant distribution of their first wine, from the 2012 vintage, in 2014. Perhaps the winery might be called “Class of 2014” but the profile has become greater this year.

Here are notes on the three vintages made prior to this year. The first was made by Michael Bartier and the next two have been made by Matt Dumayne, his successor at Okanagan Crush Pad.

Note that the largest portion of these wines was fermented in a concrete egg; and the final blends were aged in concrete.

If Alberto Antonini, Okanagan Crush Pad’s consultant, had his way, no oak would come near these wines. “To me, Burgundy without barrels would be much better,” he said this summer. “I need oak only if the fruit is coming from an average terroir.”

Pedro Parra, the Chilean viticulture consultant employed by OCP, thinks the  Coolshanagh terroir is anything but average.

“This is the kind of site the Okanagan needs to make world class wine,” he said during a vineyard visit this summer. “This is a mix of limestone, stones. It has good water-holding capacity. That is why the vigour of the vines here is pretty good. If we go down, we have more limestone, more gravel but the soil is more shallow and the fertility is lower. And the vines have low vigour.”

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2012 ($36.90). A third of this was fermented in new French oak. The remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine was then blended and aged on the lees in a concrete egg until bottling in 2013. The wine shows notes of citrus on the nose and the palate. The bright acidity and the spine of minerality give this elegant wine good ageability. 91.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2013 (current release). A third of this was fermented in new French oak and the rest was fermented in a concrete egg. The wine begins with intense aromas of citrus with a hint of hazelnut, leading to flavours of citrus and pineapple. Once again, the wine has bright acidity and a spine of minerality. 92.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2014 (not yet released.) A portion of this was fermented in new oak puncheons, lightly toasted so that oak notes are minimal. The rest was fermented in a concrete egg. This wine has the textural richness that seems an attribute of concrete aging. It has rich flavours and aromas of tangerine and pineapple, with a hint of hazelnut. The bright acidity gives the wine a crisp and lingering finish. 92.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a great backgrounder on one of BC's most anticipated Chardonnays. Thanks John.