Saturday, December 5, 2015

Class of 2015: Blind Tiger Vineyards

 Photo: Blind Tiger proprietors Charlene and Jerry Wowchuk

Blind Tiger Vineyards
11014 Bond Road,
 Lake Country, BC
T. 250.766.0622
T. 250.718.5901

This winery takes its name from one of the terms (blind pig is another) for illegal bars operated in the United States during, and even before, Prohibition.

It seems that the operators got around the law by charging customers to see performing pigs, tigers or other animals while serving “free” drinks.

It is a flight of fancy to apply the name to a perfectly legal winery in Lake Country. Jerry Wowchuk, who operates this winery with his wife, Charlene and their daughter, Morgan, just wants to attach an aura of history to the winery.

Canada is very young,” he explains. “It is hard to celebrate any history when there is none.”

However, his ancestors in both the Ukraine and on the Prairies knew the art of distilling and probably shared a drop or two with friends. But they surely were too busy as hard-scrabble farmers to run blind tigers.

The closest Jerry has come to a blind tiger is presiding in his winery’s charming tasting room. “I love working in the tasting room,” he says. “I get people coming in from the Prairies. I like to talk. I am an auctioneer, so that is all I do, is talk. There is always a connection.”

The background music is from his vinyl collection because he believes that vinyl sounds better than digital music. The wines are served in generously-sized Riedel stemware. “Even bad wine tastes good in that glass,” he says. “I will never have those cheap little glasses.”

The decision to plant five acres of grapes in 2010 was inspired by earlier vacations in Bordeaux and Tuscany.  “We fell in love with vineyards,” Jerry says. They moved from Vancouver to Lake Country in 2007, looking for a quiet community in which to raise children.

“When I came onto this property, I said this is perfect,” Jerry remembers. “Look at the hills on here. This is great, just like Tuscany.” Prudently – because Lake Country is cooler than Tuscany – no Tuscan varieties were planted. The two largest blocks in the vineyard are Gewürztraminer and Riesling, with small blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery also buys grapes to round out its portfolio.

The property had been a llama farm and then a goat farm. Since it was already organic, Jerry and Charlene turned for guidance to one of the Okanagan’s leading organic authorities, Karnail Singh Sidhu, the owner of Kalala Organic Estate Winery.

They not only tapped Karnail’s advice; they also have relied on him and consultant Dr. Alan Marks as winemakers, starting with the 2013 vintage, when they produced about 1,000 cases of wine.

Jerry is determined to continue as an organic producer. “Even if it bankrupts me, I am not changing to conventional farming,” he asserts. “If anything I will go more biodynamic, except for some of the weird stuff. We’re small enough where we can just baby these vines and make some really great wines.”

Running a winery is a long way from his roots in Winnipeg, where he was born 49 years ago and where he and Charlene, his business partner, met in high school. He started his career in the trucking industry, moved on to manufacturing jobs, to plumbing and then to the repair of restaurant equipment.

“Because we renovated restaurants, we would have a bunch of equipment left over,” Jerry says. “So we started taking them to auctions. I realized it was a good way to make money.”

He moved his family to Vancouver in 1994 and started a construction company that evolved into Kwik Auctions, the business that Jerry and Charlene operate now from a warehouse in Burnaby and their home in Lake Country.

“Kwik Auctions has over 19 years of experience in the Restaurant Industry, from service to the liquidation of restaurant equipment,” the company says on its web site. “Kwik Auctions sells restaurant equipment, accepts consignments, buys restaurant equipment or entire restaurants, and also conducts appraisals. Of course, we specialize in Restaurant Equipment Auctions. Our goal is to supply you with anything and everything you need for your food service establishment. No food equipment is too large or small- we deal with it all!”

The business allows them to develop Blind Tiger Vineyards and to support other interests, such as the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Jerry acquired last summer.

In the 2015 vintage, Blind Tiger produced about 2,000 cases, a level at which they intend to keep the winery for a while. “That is our focus,” Charlene says. “This is a little pet project because everybody said we couldn’t do it.”

Here are notes on the wines, except for the Gewürztraminer, sold out before the end of the season.

Blind Tiger Pinot Gris 2014 ($16.95). The wine, made in a juicy off-dry style, has aromas and flavours of apple, pear and peach. 88.

Blind Tiger Riesling 2012 ($17.95).  This is an appealing wine, with aromas and flavours of lime and green apple. The racy acidity balances the residual sugar, giving the wine a crisp, tangy finish. A slight hint of petrol is developing (which is positive). 90.

Blind Tiger Pinot Noir 2013 ($22.95). The wine has aromas of strawberry and vanilla, leading to flavours of strawberry and cherry. It is a light but pretty wine with a silky texture. 88.

Blind Tiger Pinot Noir 2014 (Not yet released). The wine has aromas and bright flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a touch of pepper on the finish. The firm texture has just begun to evolve toward the variety’s classic silkiness. 89.

Blind Tiger Speakeasy Red 2011 ($23.95). This wine, which was aged one year in American oak, is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Syrah. The wine has aromas and flavours of vanilla, black cherry and blackberry with a hint of chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long and supple. It is a wine for current consumption. 89.


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