Photo: Howling Bluff's Luke Smith
Every winery in the Okanagan has its own story to illustrate
the steep learning curve of growing wine in British Columbia.
For the most part, vineyards were planted with the benefit
of incomplete knowledge of the terroir. The historical viticultural information
was largely irrelevant and there was little history with the European varieties
planted since the later 1990s. Sometimes varieties proved ill-suited to the
sites were they had been planted.
Luke Smith’s experience at Howling Bluff Estate Wines on the
Naramata Bench is fairly typical. The former
stockbroker planned to grow mostly premium Bordeaux-style reds when, in 2003,
he began turning an apple orchard into his Summa Quies Vineyard.
“After nine years of farming, I am starting to see the
patterns of the vineyard,” he said in the spring of 2011 when he started
converting most of the property to Pinot Noir.
He has kept enough of the Bordeaux
varietals to make Sauvignon Blanc but he is phasing out the finely crafted Sin
Cera, as the Bordeaux
red blend is called. It means without wax and was the term used by Roman
sculptors when marble they used was free of imperfections that needed to be covered
Luke’s switch to Pinot Noir is terroir driven. “I have come to the conclusion that you have
the possibility of making a world class Bordeaux blend with just Naramata Bench
grapes one out of four years,” he says. “In three out of four years you have a
chance of making a world class Pinot Noir on the Bench, because of the weather.
So why would I fight that?” In fact, Howling Bluff has won the Lieutenant
Governor’s Award of Excellence twice with Pinot Noir.
“I have people asking, as I interplant with Pinot Noir, ‘How
can you afford to do it?’ I can’t really afford to do it,” Luke admits. “But I
set out to make a world class wine and I am not going to stop half way through
In my view, he is well on his way to his goal. Here are
notes on the current releases.
Howling Bluff Summa
Quies Rosé 2015
($20). This is a Pinot Noir rosé made with grapes picked
specifically for rosé. It is thoroughly delicious with aromas and flavours of
cherry, plum and strawberry. Plump and juicy on the palate, it has a persistent
Sauvignon Blanc 2015
($20 for 300 cases). The wine begins with aromas of
herbs and grapefruit. The fruit flavours are concentrated, showing notes of
lime and gooseberry. The wine is crisp and dry on the finish. 90.
Howling Bluff Sin
($25 for 550 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Petit
Verdot. It is a blend not to be repeated in this winery because the Malbec was
pulled out in 2013 to make room for more Pinot Noir. This is an elegant wine, aged
18 months in French oak, begins with smoky aromas mingled with cassis. There is
a core of brooding red fruit flavours in a generous palate. 91.
Howling Bluff Summa
Quies Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013
($35 for 211 cases). This is a blend of
clones 667, 777, 114 and 115. The wine was aged 12 months in French oak (30%
new). This bold Pinot Noir begins with aromas of ripe plums mingled with hints
of forest floor. On the palate, the flavours are dramatic and profound, showing
notes of cherry and plum with a savoury and earthy note on the finish. 93.
Howling Bluff Vintage
2009 Fortified Pinot Noir
($35 for 375 ml). This delicious wine has the
aromas and flavours of a good tawny Port: aromas of leather, spice and
chocolate that are echoed on the palate. The alcohol is gently warming. Fortified
Pinot Noir is unusual. This wine began when, in the 2009 vintage, the winery
set aside about 370 litres after fermentation had reduced to natural sweetness
to 10 Brix. Some press must was distilled and this alcohol was used to fortify
the wine. The wine went into two-year-old French oak. The barrels went into an
aging cellar and stayed there, unopened, until the fall of 2015 before the wine
was bottled. 92.