Thursday, August 4, 2016

Lake Breeze unveils MacIntyre Heritage Reserve wines

Photo: The Merlot block at Lake Breeze Vineyards

Winery owners Drew and Barbara MacIntyre are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Lake Breeze Vineyards by launching of two super-premium wines under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label.
The wines are Astra 2014 (a Chardonnay) and Ardua 2012 (90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc).

The names are drawn from the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Per Ardua ad Astra, which means through adversity to the stars. Drew’s father, William MacIntyre Sr., had a career in the RCAF. 

As well, the motto of the MacIntyre clan is Per Ardua – through adversity. The name of the red wine is an allusion to the fact that the elder MacIntyre died a month before his son bought Lake Breeze.  These wines serve as a memorial. In terms of wine quality, these are a grand memorial.

Lake Breeze’s Naramata Bench vineyard produced all of the fruit for Astra and, from the 2014 vintage (still in barrel), all of the fruit for Ardua.

“The idea,” says Lake Breeze president and winemaker Garron Elmes (left), “is that these two wines will be from vineyards that I can walk through every day and do what needs to be done.”

Garron is the constant at Lake Breeze, a winery that has had three ownership changes since the first owner, Paul Moser, bought the property in 1994, bringing Garron along from South Africa to make the wine.

The first South African-born winemaker to work in the Okanagan, Garron, who was born in 1972, made the 1995 debut vintage for Lake Breeze Vineyards. Born in Capetown, Elmes was drawn to wine despite being raised in a business family (plastics and injection molding). "I shot off in a completely different direction," he said. "It was just something I always wanted to do." He earned a diploma in 1993 at the Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch, choosing that school over the University of Stellenbosch because the three-year program is solidly practical.

Each of the ten students in the final year is assigned a portion of a vineyard, the challenge being to bring those grapes to maturity and make two wines, one white and one red. Garron won his diploma with the production of about 4,000 bottles of a blush wine from Ruby Cabernet and 2,500 bottles of an off-dry white from an obscure local grape variety. After graduation, he became the farm manager and assistant winemaker at Stellenzicht Vineyards, a mid-sized premium winery.

Having spent three weeks after wine school touring wineries in France, Garron was interested in working outside South Africa because he "wanted to go somewhere and do something different." In mid-1995 his family learned that Lake Breeze owner Paul Moser -- who had also been in the plastics business in South Africa and knew Garron’s stepfather -- was looking for a winemaker in Canada.

"One day my mother said, 'How would you like to go to Canada?'" Garron recalled in an interview soon after arriving in the Okanagan. He knew wine was being made in Canada but, at the time, he thought the industry was near Montreal.  Two weeks later he was on his way, arriving in the Penticton airport in early summer. “The plan was to stay for three or four years and maybe go back to South Africa,” he says now. “But there are worse places in the world than Naramata, so I just stayed.”

Paul Moser sold the winery in 1998. “I am an entrepreneur,” he explained to one journalist. “Once business becomes administration, I become bored with it.” The next set of owners, Wayne and Joanne Finn, came from the helicopter industry – and returned to it after selling Lake Breeze in 2001 to the MacIntyres and another couple from Alberta, who subsequently left the partnership in 2011.

The MacIntyres, however, now have deep roots in the Naramata Bench, including their sprawling Tuscan-styled house. The building is so grand that many visitors to Lake Breeze take it as the winery.

A native of Winnipeg, Drew has been a wine collector for almost 30 years. Recent visitors to his home were treated to a bottle of Harlan Estate 2007, a legendary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon producer.

A tall man with a basketball player’s frame, Drew affects a low-key personality and leaves Garron to occupy the limelight at Lake Breeze. Drew has degrees in commerce, business administration and law, including a master’s degree from the Harvard Law School. He sometimes calls himself “a failed lawyer” – likely because he has been so successful as an investment banker. Currently, he is vice-chair of investment banking at TD Securities and heads its Global Energy and Power Group in Calgary. His wife, Barbara, is a chartered accountant.

Garron has thrived, and been promoted, through three ownership changes because his wines, especially the whites, have consistently been among the best on the Naramata Bench.

In the background, Drew has provided added push to take the Lake Breeze wines to the next level. In the 2005 vintage, he had Garron launch a Bordeaux blend called Tempest. The anchor varietal in that blend in every vintage but one has been Merlot. This is also true with the Ardua blend, where Merlot dominates.

“The inspiration for the Ardua was probably two-fold,” Garron says. “Drew really loves the wines of Pomerol; and I have always been a big proponent of the view that Merlot is the red variety we make best in the valley, particularly in the central Okanagan.”

While Lake Breeze produces between 10,000 and 14,000 cases a year, the MacIntyre Heritage wines are limited production wines – perhaps 200 hundred cases annually of each wine. The wines also are likely to be priced above $60, reflecting the quality statement intended with these wines.

Is Lake Breeze, long a producer of affordable wines, heading for the Harlan Estate stratosphere? Consumers need not worry. In any event, the prices would need to be much higher to match the Napa producer. The average price of that 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon now hovers around US$1,400 a bottle.

Here are notes on the two wines.

MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Astra 2014: This is Chardonnay is 75% barrel-fermented. The remaining 25%, fermented in stainless steel, ensures a pristine freshness of the Chardonnay’s citrus aromas and flavours. The barrel adds subtle toast and hazelnut notes to the finish. Bright acidity maintains a Chablis-like profile for this very elegant wine. All the fruit is estate grown. 94.

MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Ardua 2012. This wine begins with seductive aromas of blueberry and black currant, leading to bold and ripe flavours of black cherry and mulberry. Intense and concentrated, the wine has the structure to allow improve in the cellar at least for 10 years. From a warm vintage, it has California-like alcohol of 15.5%, but the fruit is so rich that the alcohol is not intrusive. 93.


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