Monday, January 25, 2016

Lake Breeze scoops peers with 2015 wines

 Photo: Lake Breeze winemaker Garron Elmes (courtesy of Lake Breeze)

Garron Elmes, the president and winemaker at Lake Breeze Vineyards on the Naramata Bench, has scooped his peers by releasing the first wines from the 2015 vintage.

The two white wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris, were released on December 10, 2015, just a few months after the harvest.

“As a result of the 2015 harvest ending a full month ahead of usual, we have been able to finish and bottle a few of our customer’s favourite wines well ahead of schedule and in time for the holidays,” he announced via the Internet.

When I wrote this, I was not aware of any other winery releasing its 2015 wines yet. Derek Kontkanen, the winemaker at Inniskillin Okanagan, contacted me to say that wineries in the Constellation group  released a Sauvignon Blanc in November and a Pinot Blanc in December. Because the vintage was usually early, the flood of 2015 whites should begin in February. Many wineries were busy bottling in January.

With the exception of Beaujolais Nouveau, wines are rarely released in the same calendar year as the vintage.

Beaujolais Nouveau is an old French tradition. Here is a succinct account from “Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers’ barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine.

“In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born.

“By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November, tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.”

Beaujolais Nouveau peaked in this market in the mid-1980s. One year the Liquor Distribution Branch listed eight brands – and still was trying to sell the stock at Easter. Several Okanagan wineries, including Mission Hill and Calona Vineyards, also got on board with Foch Nouveau.

Given the early harvest on the Okanagan in 2015, it is surprising that no producer revisited the idea to roll out a Gamay Nouveau here in late November.

Hats off to Garron Elmes. Lake Breeze does not grow Gamay but it does have several excellent white varietals, including one of the Okanagan’s mature blocks of Pinot Gris

His two releases give consumers an early look at the quality of the 2015 wines. These wines tell me that 2015 was a very good year when the winemaker in question got on top of the challenges of a hot vintage. It was a very hot year. Grapes left on the vines too long would have had too much sugar (high potential alcohol) and not enough acidity.

At Lake Breeze, Garron lined up all his ducks. Both of these whites have an acceptable 13.5% alcohol and refreshing natural acidity. They are delicious to drink now and have the structure to hold up through the year. That probably is a moot point: the wines will be sold out by midyear.

Here are notes:

Lake Breeze  Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($22 for 700 cases). The aromas of lime and herbs are echoed in the luscious tropical fruit flavours. The wine has very good weight, a kiss of minerality and refreshing acidity. 91.

Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2015 ($20 for 1,600 cases). This wine, which begins with aromas of peach and apple, is bursting with fruit flavours, including apple and citrus. The touch of residual sugar, which is very nicely balanced with acidity, adds flesh to the texture. The finish is refreshing. 91.


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