Friday, September 23, 2016

Vanessa releases its 2013 reds

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 second release.

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 sell grapes.

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.


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