Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tightrope Wines express Naramata terroir

Photo: Tightrope's  Graham and Lyndsay O'Rourke

Tightrope Winery is just in its third year of sales but, judging from its expansive wine shop, it is getting its share of visitors to the Naramata Bench.

The wines here have impressed wine critics from that start. If this winery still is new to you, here is what I wrote in John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

The seed for Tightrope Winery was planted in the decade that Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke spent working in bars and restaurants at the Whistler ski resort. The jobs supported their skiing, Graham’s fly fishing and shared meals in fine restaurants.

“The thing about Whistler is that you get spoiled because there are so many fine dining restaurants for such a small town,” Lyndsay says. “You get a lot of chance to go out and try nice wines with good food.” Graham agrees. “My wine experience all started with really good wine,” he says. “I did not grow up drinking Baby Duck and the box wines.”

 Both were born in 1971. Lyndsay, whose geologist father, Grenville Thomas is a diamond explorer who is in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has a University of Windsor business degree. Graham, the son of an accountant, grew up near Sarnia and learned to fish during summers in a family cottage on the river. His love of the outdoors led to a University of British Columbia degree in wildlife management.

They moved to the Okanagan in 2003. Immediately drawn to the vineyard lifestyle, they both took Okanagan College courses in grape growing and winemaking. To further improve their skills, they both went to Lincoln University in New Zealand for honours degrees in those disciplines. The studies paid off quickly. When they returned, Graham joined Mission Hill for six years as a vineyard manager before, with a partner, setting up his own vineyard consulting firm. Lyndsay became the winemaker for Ruby Blues Winery from 2009 through 2014.

In 2007, the couple bought a four-hectare (10-acre) Naramata Bench property with a million-dollar view over the lake. They planted about three hectares (seven acres) of grapes -- Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. They made the first 900 cases of Tightrope wines in 2012, using the Ruby Blues winery until they built their own winery in 2014.

They avoided place names and animal names for their winery, coming up with Tightrope, an evocative term for them. “It represents the balancing act you go through when you make wine, from decisions in the vineyard, depending on the season, to decisions in the winery and winemaking,” Lyndsay explains. “All of those variables have to be balanced.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Tightrope Viognier 2014 ($25). This wine has aromas and flavours of stone fruit. The spine of minerality adds to the weight and texture. The flavours carry through to a crisp and tangy finish. 91.

Tightrope Riesling 2015 ($23). Overnight skin contact help develop the citrus and tangerine aromas and flavours. The wine has good minerality and bright acidity, leading to a crisp and dry finish. 91.

Tightrope Pinot Gris 2015 ($21). This is a refreshing juicy wine with aromas and flavours of apples and pears. There is good weight on the palate. 90.

Tightrope Tip-Toe 2015 ($22). This is a blend of 25% Riesling, 24% Viognier, 18% Gewürztraminer and 16% Chardonnay. The winery as made 545 cases of this summer-drinking blend, a medley of citrus, Apple and melon flavours. 90.

Tightrope Rosé 2015 ($25). This is primarily Pinot Noir with 5% Barbera. This is a dry rose with bold mouth filling flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The tangy note on the finish enhances the freshness of the wine. 92.

Tightrope Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). The wine presents in the glass with good colour and with deep cherry aromas. On the palate, the cherry mingles with raspberry. The texture is youth fully firm en route to becoming silky. 91.

Tightrope Syrah 2014 ($35). This wine is made 100% with Naramata fruit but has as much personality as a South Okanagan Syrah. It begins with aromas of red fruit and pepper leading to flavours of plum mingled with deli meats and spice. 92.

Tightrope Vertigo 2014 ($40 for 150 cases). This is a blend of 58% Merlot, 27% Barbera and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 10 months in French and American oak (50% new).  It begins with aromas of black currants, leading to flavours of black and red currants. The spicy finish has a touch of pepper. 92.


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