Photo: Winemaker J-M Bouchard
wines: that best describes the premium wines being released by British Columbia’s
newest boutique label, The Similkameen Collective.
are anchored on fruit from the 100-acre Blind Creek Vineyard, one of the most
highly regarded vineyards in the Similkameen Valley. Winemaker J-M Bouchard
first made wine from Blind Creek fruit for Road 13 Vineyards soon after he
joined Road 13 as the winemaker in 2011.
enthusiasm he developed for those grapes appears to have been a trigger leading
to the formation of the Collective. The first four wines, all in limited
quantities, are now finding their way into the market. The pricing is
aggressive ($35 to $60 a bottle) but the quality is there to back it up.
which was developed 10 or 12 years ago, is owned by Larry Lund (former owner of
Okanagan Hockey School in Penticton) and his friend, businessman Ron Bell. These
gentlemen, along with Penticton builder Jim Morrison, hold one-quarter interest
in the Similkameen Collective. A quarter is owned by Road 13 and a quarter is
owned by J-M. The final quarter is held by Vancouver wine merchant Brian Berry.
looking at this as an opportunity to bring something really special into the
market,” Brian says. “We are not looking at the accounting team for when this
gets released. The quantities are extremely limited. It is about doing
something special that honours the Blind Creek Vineyard, ideally making a high
water mark for wines from the Pacific Northwest.”
“If there is
a vineyard which is going to stand out in five, 10 years in B.C., that will be
it,” J-M told me two years ago as the Collective was being formed. “I was
tasting the 2013 Syrah one night beside the RWT Barossa Shiraz from Penfolds.”
(J-M once worked at that renowned Australian winery). “For power and concentration,
our Syrah killed it. Five of us were tasting the wine and the reaction was, oh
my God! I am not saying it is better, but it had more power.”
for the benchmark that he has set for the wines from the Similkameen Collective
– a standard he thinks he can achieve.
“If I didn’t
feel we had special fruit, I would not have wanted to start a brand,” J-M says.
“The fact that the owners of Blind Creek are on board with us was one thing
that made me want to have a brand. I knew that the fruit was outstanding.
Everybody battles to get more grapes from that vineyard and a few people want
to purchase the vineyard.”
plans for the vineyard involved the development of a winery. The owners of the
vineyard retained Lawrence Herder, then a winemaker and consultant in the
Similkameen, to create a business plan in 2009. For undisclosed reasons, the
winery did not proceed and the owners since have sold grapes to numerous
wineries, including Road 13.
Similkameen Collective seems a first step in realizing those early plans. It
is, however, a “virtual” winery in that no winery has yet been built on the
vineyard. The wines are made and sold under Road 13’s license.
J-M is a
native of Sherbrooke, Quebec. He developed a passion for wine after studying
business and hotel management and working in Montreal hotels. In 1998, he went
to Australia, enrolling in Charles Sturt University’s winemaking program. While
there, he got hands on experience working with Penfolds and with a smaller
premium producer called Torbreck Vintners.
“I worked at
Torbreck in 2002 and learned to co-ferment Syrah with Viognier,” J-M recounts. “I
even fell into the tank there, with a smile, while doing some pump overs.” Why
the smile? Because he thinks the wine in that tank eventually was released at
$200 a bottle.
After Australia, he spent some time in various
European vineyards. Then he came back to Canada to work with Sumac Ridge Estate
Winery before moving to Ontario’s Hidden Bench Winery. He returned eagerly to
British Columbia when Road 13 recruited him in 2011. From his first vintage
here, he concluded that the best fruit in the cellar came from Blind Creek.
Some of Road
13’s top wines, including at least one winner of a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of
Excellence, were made with grapes from Blind Creek. (That is not to take
anything away from the quality of fruit coming from Road 13’s excellent Golden
look like a pretty vineyard,” J-M says of Blind Creek, which is on the east
side of the Similkameen Valley, south of Cawston. “But it is the last place to
get the sun. It is against the mountain. There is a decent slope and the soil
release of wines from the Collective is about 500 cases. For now, the
production growth will be determined by the demand for these ultra-premium
wines. If the project takes off, J-M has access to more grapes.
notes on the current releases, which are sold in six-packs from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Similkameen Collective Roussanne 2013
($35 for 70 cases).
This is a rich and luscious wine that was fermented in a concrete egg. That
seems to account for the palate-coating texture; that and the ripeness of the
fruit. It has aromas and flavours of ripe apricot with a touch of warmth on the
generous finish. “I don’t think eggs deserve to have all wines,” the winemaker
says. “Some wines do not improve in the egg but the Roussanne is phenomenal.”
Similkameen Collective Syrah & Viognier ($45 for 83
cases). The two varieties are co-fermented. The wine begins dramatically with
aromas of plum jam exploding from the glass. On the palate, there are layered
flavours of plum, black cherry, delicatessen meats and spices and white pepper.
The long ripe tannins give the wine generous texture. 92.
Similkameen Collective GSM 2013 ($50 for 104 cases). This is a blend
of Grenache fermented on Syrah skins, with a dash of Mourvedre in the final
blend. It was aged in neutral oak (the 2014 GSM is being aged in concrete).
This wine manages to be bold and elegant at the same time. It begins with
aromas of plum and blueberry and delivers a mouthful of ripe berry flavours
supported by long, polished tannins. 93.
Similkameen Collective Consensus 2014
($60 for 198 cases).
This is a seamless Meritage blend, with aromas of cassis, blueberry and
vanilla. It delivers spoons full of luscious red berry flavours to the palate.
The finish is persistent with lingering bright fruit flavours. 95,