Photo: Winemaker Severine Pinte
It is safe to say that winemaker Severine Pinte never has a chance to get bored.
She is the winemaker from two Okanagan wineries, Le Vieux Pin (LVP) near Oliver and LaStella near Osoyoos, both owned by Enotecca Wineries and Resorts of Vancouver.
The portfolios are dramatically different, as are the styles of the wines. “We want Le Vieux Pin to make wines of balance and finesse and restraint, and LaStella to make wines of lushness and exuberance and power,” says managing partner Rasoul Salehi.
Severine, a French-trained winemaker who joined the Enotecca group in 2010, works with different varieties at each winery. It is the sort of creative challenge that appeals to her.
“I like the challenge of having the two wineries,” she says. “I do have to think out of the hat, and really change my way to approaching the grapes and the final product. I joke that I turn my hat the other way when I switch wineries. I do approach the grapes in a completely different way. I won’t work the Merlot the same way I would work the Syrah.”
In an interview last summer, she told me: “I do think that the Okanagan is a great place to make wine. This is my sixth harvest here. There is huge potential. We have great soils, we have an exceptional climate in which to grow grapes. Yes, we can have winters that can be a bit cold but, other than that, we are pretty fortunate.”
The 2015 vintage was famously hot. Almost all wineries began the harvest in late August and certainly in September. The challenge was to being in grapes, which had matured to good flavours, before the acidity dropped too much. Some producers had to acidity wines, a practice not uncommon in hot regions.
According to Rasoul, the two Enotecca wineries avoided adding acid, with a few minor exceptions. “When you try the whites, they don’t actually cry 2015, because we picked ridiculously early,” he says. “Sauvignon Blanc was the first grape that came in, on August 17 or 18. We also picked the Chardonnay super soon.”
It was decided not to make a barrel-fermented premium Chardonnay in 2015 from the early-picked grapes because an oak-aged wine with comparatively low acidity might have been flabby.
“We did not want to wait and acidify,” Rasoul says. “So we made unoaked Chardonnay and we did not do malolactic fermentation. The Leggiero [unoaked Chardonnay] is 11.9% alcohol.”
The 2014 vintage was almost as warm. Winemaker Severine had to be equally nimble to produce wines to the standard expected by consumers of LVP and LaStella.
A case in point is Fortissimo, the winery’s Tuscany-inspired (because it includes Sangiovese) red. LaStella has produced this wine in every vintage since 2007. The wine is a blend primarily of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a volume of Sangiovese that varies with the vintage. In 2014, the blend has 21% Sangiovese, the highest ever, because the variety was critical adding needed acidity to the blend.
“I have never been to Italy,” Severine admits. “We often do tastings of wines from Italy, trying to see where we would like to fit in terms of style. But I don’t want to taste a wine and say, this is what I want to do. We can get inspired but I don’t copy. We do not need to copy other regions in the world. We cannot copy anyway. We don’t have the same climate and soil.”
The current releases from the two wineries are an exhibition of her confident and sur-handed winemaking.
Here are my notes.
LaStella Vivace 2015 ($21.99 for 1,240 cases). This is Pinot Gris but made in the light fruity style of Pinot Grigio, with just 12.8% alcohol. To preserve purity and freshness, the juice was not left in contact with the skins; nor did it sit on the lees. It has notes of lemon on the nose and on the palate and finish with crisp, tangy citrus flavours. 90.
LaStella Leggiero 2015 ($21.99 for 350 cases). Although a portion of this wine was fermented in a neutral puncheon, basically this is a refreshing unoaked Chardonnay, crisp with apple flavours, and lean and dry. The alcohol here is 11.9%, the result of picking early in a hot vintage. 90.
LaStella Lastellina 2015 ($20 for 715 cases). The rosé is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese. The hue is a vibrant pink. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and plum, leading to refreshing sour cherry flavours balanced with a touch of residual sugar that gives the wine a juicy texture. 90.
LaStella Fortissimo 2014 ($29 for 1,374 cases). This is the winery’s bread and butter signature wine – a blend of 57% Merlot, 21% Sangiovese, and 11% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. One can consider this savoury wine an Okanagan version of a super-Tuscan wine. The Sangiovese brings cherry aromas and flavours that blend with flavours of black currant, saddle leather and mocha chocolate. The tannins are long and silky. 92.
LaStella Maestoso “Solo” Merlot 2013 ($89.90 for 188 cases). This wine will be released in the fall but it is already drinking well. It is a bold, rich Merlot with fruit aromas that bound from the glass and flavours that fill the mouth: plum, cassis, lingonberry and spice. 92.
LaStella La Sophia 2013 ($79.90 for 125 cases). This is a Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from the famed U2 block at Inkameep Vineyards. The aroma of cassis and mint candy thrusts itself from the glass. On the palate, there are complex flavours including black currant, deli spices and dark chocolate. It is an intense, big-boned wine with 15.1% alcohol, a structure that portends very good aging. 94.
Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($29.90 for 416 cases). Here is a white that is a match for fine Sancerre. It begins briskly with aromas of lime and herbs and continues just as briskly on the palate with flavours of lime, pink grapefruit and guava. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Le Vieux Pin Petit Blanc 2015 ($18.50 for 790 cases). This is the winery’s entry level dry white, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Viognier. It has flavours of melons and apples with a savoury herbal note on the finish. 90.
Le Vieux Pin Roussanne 2014 ($29.90 for 50 cases). This is the first time that LVP has release a single variety Roussanne. It is an exceptionally complex white with aromas of herbs and tea. On the palate, there, the herbal notes are entwined with flavours of pear, hazelnuts, toasted cereal grain. The wine is dry, with good weight on the palate. The wine is sold almost exclusively to members of the wine club. 91.
Le Vieux Pin Vaïla 2015 ($21.99 for 780 cases). Made entirely with Pinot Noir, this rosé wine’s appeal begins with a vibrant hue. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry and has a zesty, dry finish. 90.
Le Vieux Pin Petit Rouge 2014 ($21.99 for 460 cases). This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a small percentage of Syrah. The wine has been barrel-aged (30% new) for 15 months. The wine begins with aromas of black currant and cherry. It has flavours of black currant, blackberry and hits of espresso coffee. 88.
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2014 ($26.99 for 850 cases). Dark in colour, this wine begins with the classic note of black pepper on the nose. It has flavours of fig, plum, black olives, dark chocolate with a savoury, earthy note on the finish. 91.
Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2013 ($79.99 for 267 cases). This wine was aged in barrel, but with no new oak to ensure nothing obscures the rich fruit flavours of fig and plum. The texture is concentrated. The wine will be released this fall; it is still developing in bottle. 92.
Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2013 ($59.99 for 125 cases). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Syrah; aged 18 months in French oak (none new). The wine is sold just to LVP’s wine club and a handful of restaurants. It is a dense, concentrated wine with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant, coffee and dark chocolate.