Thursday, August 11, 2016

Intrigue Wines: Lake Country success

Photo: winemaker Roger Wong

By any measure, Intrigue Wines is a success story. It opened Lake Country in 2009 with 500 cases of wine. This year, it expects to produce 10,000 cases.

The winery was launched by two couples: winemaker Roger Wong and his wife, Jillian; and Kelowna businessman Ross Davis and his wife, Geri.

One of the things setting Intrigue apart is that both Roger and Geri also work at nearby Gray Monk Estate Winery. She is the controller and Roger has been part of the winemaking team there since 2005.

The obvious question, and one that Roger has fielded many times, is whether or not he is in a conflict of interest. “My reply evolved to ‘No, this is a Compliment of Interests’,” Roger says. “By my business being successful I can help to draw customers to other area wineries.  Ultimately, this is how things have worked out for our region which is still growing.”

This reflects the generally enlightened attitude among Okanagan wineries, where collaboration is the rule, not the exception. To be sure, some wineries forbid their winemakers to have projects on the side. Most understand that it is not a bad thing to share talent.  

For many years, Gray Monk, which opened in 1982, was the lone winery in Lake Country. Today, Lake Country’s seven wineries constitute the sort of critical mass than draws in many wine tourists.

For the record, the other wineries are: Arrowleaf Cellars (opened in 2003), Ex Nihilo Vineyards (2008), Intrigue Wines (2009), 50th Parallel Estate (2013), Blind Tiger Vineyards (2015) and O’Rourke Family Vineyards (opening in 2017).

Roger Wong was born in Vancouver in 1965. Even though he started making wine at home when he was 17, he took a degree in Geography and became a map maker with the federal government. Eventually, the hobby overtook his interest in geography.  When he was 30, he quit his government job (technical records keeper for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources) to volunteer with Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in the 1995 crush.

Tinhorn Creek hired him and fostered his career in its the vineyards and cellars and through courses at the University of California. In 1998, Roger took over as winemaker at Pinot Reach Cellars, a Kelowna winery that became Tantalus Vineyards in 2004. In 2005 he moved to Gray Monk, primarily to make the red and sparkling wines.

Intrigue emerged after both the Wongs and the Davises planted vineyards in Lake Country. The dominant variety is Riesling. It is a variety for which Roger has a special affinity, believing it is the finest variety for the North Okanagan. It certainly is one of the best in the Intrigue portfolio.

Here are notes on the wines.

Intrigue Gewürztraminer 2015 ($16.90 for 487 cases). The wine begins with aromas of rose petals and spice, opening to aromas of tangerine. On the palate, there are notes of orange rind and lychee with a lightly peppery spice on the finish. Balanced to finish dry, the wine is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Intrigue Pinot Gris 2015 ($16.90 for 949 cases). The wine has a delicate blush, indicating some skin contact, a winemaking technique to lift aromas and flavours. The wine begins with aromas of apple, pear and peach. These are echoed on the palate. The texture is full and juicy but with the acidity to give the wine a refreshing finish.  Utterly delicious. 91.

Intrigue Focus Riesling 2015 ($19.90 for 200 cases). This is the winery’s flagship Riesling made with grapes from the renowned Clone 21 B Riesling. It begins with aromas of lemon and lime, leading to flavours of lemon wrapped around a spine of minerality. The intensity of the flavours is almost electric, thanks to the bracing acidity, and the dry finish is persistent. 93

Intrigue Social White 2015 ($14.90 for 1,941 cases). This is 64% Riesling, 33% Gewürztraminer, 3% Muscat Canelli. The price and the packaging indicate this is meant to be a wine for easy enjoyment with friends. It has floral and spice aromas, leading to juicy flavours reminiscent if lemon meringue pie without the sugar. 90.

Intrigue Frosted Vines 2015 ($18.90 for 416 cases). The winery explains: “Frosted Vines is made from Kerner, Riesling, and Ehrenfelser grapes which are left on the vine until after the first frost. The growing season ends when frost causes the leaves to fall from the vines yet the flavours in the grapes continue to intensify. As the berries raisin the sugars, acids and flavours become more concentrated.”   This aromatic wine presents a medley of raisins and tropical fruit to the nose, leading to concentrated favours reminiscent of good marmalade.  With 40 grams of residual sugar, this is a dessert wine. It would be lovely over fresh peaches or on its own with soft blue cheese. 89.

Intrigue I Do 2015 ($19.90 for 1,916 cases). This is a sparkling pink wine made with Riesling and three unnamed red varietals. The wine has an appealing rose petal hue, with aromas of raspberries and apples. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberries and just enough residual sugar to give the wine fleshy textures and a sweet finish; however, the lively effervescence counters the sweetness to create a sensation of crispness. 90.


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