Photo: John Welson and Suki Sekhon of Vanessa Vineyard
At a recent private tasting, members of the Vanessa Vineyard
wine club got their first look at the two reds comprising this new winery’s
A public release is imminent. These are remarkable wines,
not to be missed by those who like their reds bold and ripe. Who doesn’t?
I am including Vanessa Vineyard in a forthcoming book on
British Columbia wines that, in my view, should be considered for collector
wine cellars. Currently, the wines are being sold through Vanessa’s web site.
There are plans to build a tasting room next year at the vineyard, just beside
Highway 3 south of Cawston.
For background on the winery, here is a sneak preview of the
profile in the book, which is scheduled for release next spring from TouchWood
Editions of Victoria.
This 30-hectare (75-acre) Similkameen Valley vineyard was
developed on exceptionally rocky raw land. To prepare it for planting in 2006,
the vineyard managers brought in a rock crusher more appropriate, perhaps, to a
quarry. The machine wore out two sets of teeth while pulverizing the rock. It
is not surprising that the red wines from this vineyard have a spine of
minerality that should contribute to their longevity.
The specifications released with the first wines outline
this terroir: “The vines grow in rows of rocks, stressing the plants, absorbing
the day heat and imparting that warmth during the cooler nights. This gives the
grapes their unique and complex character. The west to southwest exposure on
which the rocky vineyard sits benefits from the afternoon sun, which
contributes to lengthening the growing season and producing low yields of
intensely ripe fruit.”
Proprietors John Welson and Suki Sekhon did not necessarily
have a winery in mind when they bought this property in 2005. Suki is a
successful Vancouver developer, while John is a retired stockbroker who is passionate
about wine. In his Vancouver business, Suki constructs buildings that are
leased to clients. He thought he could develop a vineyard and then lease it to
a winery. That is not the wine industry’s usual business model. Wineries need
to know the quality of the grapes before committing to buying them. When the vineyard
produced fruit, Suki and John began selling grapes to Andrew Peller Ltd., the
owner of nearby Rocky Ridge Vineyard and also Sandhill Wines. In 2010, Howard
Soon, the Sandhill winemaker, added a Vanessa Cabernet Merlot blend made with
their grapes to his portfolio of single-vineyard wines.
That wine helped encourage John and Suki to open a boutique
winery. “We kind of went into this initially, basically to build a vineyard,
and then, as you get into it, the industry just pulls you along,” John admits.
They arranged to have Howard’s colleague, Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis,
make their initial vintages, beginning with 440 cases of Meritage and 186 cases
of Syrah in 2012. This grew to a total of about 3,000 cases in 2014. The intent
is to plateau at that level of production of premium wines while continuing to
Except for two acres of Viognier, the Vanessa vineyard is
planted entirely to sun-loving reds: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc,
and Merlot. Suki had concluded that it is one of the warmest sites in the sun-bathed
Similkameen and is best suited for red varietals. He will find a cooler site if
he and John decide they need white wines in their portfolio.
Old maps show that an easement for a stagecoach road from
Osoyoos to Princeton ran by the property. For a time, the partners considered
calling the winery Stagecoach Road or Old Stagecoach Road. In the end, they
opted for Vanessa, the name of Suki’s eldest daughter.
Here are notes on the wines.
Vanessa Meritage 2013
($36.99 for 625 cases). This is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc
32% and 24% Merlot. It is a bold red, beginning with aromas of vanilla and
spice that reflect the 18 months the wine had in barrel. The barrel regime was
complex: individual varieties were fermented in and aged eight months in barrel.
Then the wine was blended and aged another 12 months in French and American oak
barrels, of which 60% were new. On the palate, there are flavours of black
currants, black cherries, coffee and licorice. The finish is lingering, with
notes of spice and cedar. 92.
Vanessa Syrah 2013
($34.99 for 270 cases). This is 91% Syrah co-fermented with 9% Viognier in the classic
style of the Rhone. This wine has been aged 18 months in French and American
barrels, again 60% new. Powerful aromas explode from the glass: white and black
pepper, gamy red fruit, chocolate and licorice. All of this is echoed on the
palate, along with flavours of plum, figs, black olives and leather. 92.