Stephen Cipes, the founder of Summerhill Pyramid Winery,
once said he would like to use the term, Champagne
He explained that he did not want it confused with the
“cheap junk” that was in the market as sparkling wine.
is a protected
designation used (except for a few holdouts) only for wines made in the
Champagne region of France
There is a trade agreement between Canada
that prevents Canadian wineries
from using any European place names.
But there is nothing to stop a Canadian winery from doing
comparative tastings of its wines against Champagne
or similar international wines.
And that is just what Summerhill did recently, as a prelude for releasing
several of its prestige bubblies to restaurants and to wine shops in British Columbia
Since 1991, Summerhill has produced both table wines and
dessert wines. The primary focus, however, has always been on sparkling wine.
That began when Stephen Cipes co-operated in an Okanagan
winemaking trial in the late 1980s with Jack Davies, the founder of Schramsberg
“Jack Davies was my parents’ inspiration,” says Ezra Cipes,
son of the founder and the now the winery’s president. “My family moved to
Summerhill in 1986. They had table grapes and hybrid wine grapes. There was one
small block of Riesling, part of the Becker plantings from 1978. In the late
1980s, when the BC industry was regrouping, all sorts of consultants came
through. Jack Davies was one. He visited our vineyard. He is a sparkling guy.
He told my parents they would be wasting their time making still wine here; they
should make sparkling wine.”
They did in fact collaborate on one wine (Davies is believed
to have been considering producing in the Okanagan). “We released it at the
Millennium as Cipes Schramsberg Cuvée,” Ezra says.
Over the years, Summerhill winemakers – notably Eric Von
Krosigk (left) – have laid down vintage after vintage, aging it in the tradition of Champagne.
“We have quite a few of these treasures sitting in our
warehouse, waiting to be released,” Ezra says.
Several have now been released after making their public
debut at a wine trade luncheon in September, tasted against international
The Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2010, a 100% Chardonnay sparkling
wine, was tasted side by side against Pierre Peters Grand Cru Extra Brut Blanc
de Blancs Champagne.
Several expert tasters at the lunch preferred the Cipes wine, which also sells
for about half the price of the Champagne.
Cipes Blanc de Franc 2011, a sparkling wine made with
Cabernet Franc grapes, was matched against a Loire
sparkling rosé, Château Moncontour NV. The wines are comparable in price. Here,
it seemed to me it was a draw: the Loire
is fruitier while the Cipes wine is somewhat austere.
Finally, Cipes Traditional Cuvée 1996 was matched against a
Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc Brut 2009. The comparative tasting was not that
valid: the relatively young California
sparkling wine had the appeal of freshness and fruitiness while the Cipes had
the appeal of the complexity of 19 years of bottle development.
The bad news is that you may have a hard time finding this
wine. Only 200 cases were made and most has been allocated to restaurants. A
modest quantity is available at the Summerhill winery for $99.
The wine is one of those “treasures” that received prolonged
aging in the Summerhill cellar, much like some of the very old Champagnes that show up
from time to time.
“It was incredibly acidic when it was young and it took this
long before it gained this harmony,” Ezra explains. “It couldn’t hang around
our cellar any longer. We find a lot of beauty in it, a lot of excitement.”
It is a companion to Cipes Ariel Cuvée 1998, a prestige
cuvée, also made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It has been on
the market already and, whenever the stock gets low, a little more is disgorged
and released. No Champagne was paired with
this wine; it might have been interesting to put it against a Krug because
are also well aged.
Would it upstage the Krug? Probably not, but neither would
it embarrass itself.
These are fine sparkling wines. And if you are on a budget,
there is always Cipes Brut, at $26.95. It won gold at the B.C. Wine Awards.
Here are notes on the other wines.
Cipes Blanc de Noirs
2008 ($34.90). Made with Pinot Noir, this is a crisply refreshing sparkling
wine, with notes of apple on the palate and with a delicate hint of lees aging
on the nose. 90.
Cipes Blanc de Blanc
2010 ($39.90). The wine begins with a lovely and delicate fruity aroma,
leading to flavours of citrus and apple. The lees note is delicate as well,
adding a hint of complexity to this crisply fresh and very elegant wine. The
plus is the active display of fine bubbles in the glass. 93.
Cipes Blanc de Franc
2011 ($39.90). This was a wonderfully opportunistic rosé sparkler, made in
a cool year when the winery got some Cabernet Franc grapes not ripe enough for
a table wine. There was more than enough flavour for a sparkling wine. Salmon
pink in colour, this wine has aromas and flavours of cherries and strawberries. It is bone dry,
with a slightly earthy and bitter finish suggesting tannin. 88
Cuvée 1996 ($99.90). While the acidity has been moderated by 19 years of
age, the wine still is bright and tangy. The flavours are very complex with
notes of marmalade, ginger and oyster shells. The bubbles are extremely fine
and quite long-lived. 92.
Cipes Ariel Cuvée
1998 ($88). This wine has aged to rich complexity, with aromas of apple, nectarine
and hazelnuts. On the palate, the wine has good weight, with flavours of
hazelnuts and marmalade. The finish is crisp, with long-lasting bubbles. 93.