Monday, October 17, 2016

Nagging Doubt settles into East Kelowna

Photo: Nagging Doubt Winery

The virtual winery model has been somewhat controversial in the British Columbia wine industry, although the model is widely accepted around the world.

The model has aspiring winemakers making their wines (or having them made) in a licensed winery with custom crush facilities. It is a way to get into wine production without sinking substantial capital into a vineyard and a winery immediately.

“Even though I am now land-based, I am still a supporter of the model,” says Rob Westbury, the owner (with his wife, Abbey) of Nagging Doubt Winery. “There are a lot of people who are extremely talented at winemaking, who could make something that is challenging, interesting and different but would never be able to do so unless they were set up on a virtual model.”

He made his first commercial wine in the 2010 vintage, using custom crush facilities of an Okanagan Falls winery. He was able to get his toe in the water, so to speak, without giving up his other professional career. By using a custom crush winery and mentoring with a winemaker, Rob could start with limited resources and build the brand.

Born in Edmonton in 1969, Rob has degrees in psychology and telecommunications management, equipping him for a career that took him all over North America with an international consulting firm. “I’ve always enjoyed wine, ever since I was legal to drink,” he says. “The tipping point was I had an assignment in San Francisco. I remember going to Napa and Sonoma almost every weekend. I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘I could definitely do this for a living’.” 

In 2012, he moved from Vancouver to Kelowna, still working in human relations but also continuing to make wine. It enabled him to search for property where he could grow grapes and build a winery of his own. In 2014, he and his wife bought a former equestrian farm in East Kelowna and planted vines. The tasting room opened this summer, completing Rob’s journey from a virtual winery to a land-based winery. (And he still has his day job.)

“The previous owners were not farmers,” Rob says. “They turned this into a horse boarding facility and a pasture, and that is how they kept their farm status. We took what was a horse barn and converted it into this winery.”

The stable need to have the concrete floor reinforced substantially since wine tanks are heavier than horses.  It was also modified to accommodate production facilities, a laboratory and offices. However, hardware for the stalls has been retained, adding character to the winery.

The pasture and its riding ring have become a 5 1/2-acre vineyard. Rob planted two acres of Chardonnay and an acre of Pinot Noir in 2014, followed by two acres of Siegerrebe and half an acre of Ortega in 2015.

He has continued to buy grapes, both because his vineyard is young and because his top selling wines require Bordeaux varieties not grown on his cool East Kelowna property.

“I leased a 2 ½ acre vineyard in Naramata, a Merlot vineyard,” Rob says. It produced enough fruit in 2014 that he was able to add a Merlot to his portfolio, supplementing his successful Bordeaux blend that he calls The Pull.

“The demand for The Pull was quite exceptional, so we doubled production in 2014,” he says.

The growth of the brand shows his prudence at entering the market by way of the virtual winery route.

“The first year we were in business, it took us 18 months or so to sell out” The Pull. “In the second year, it was 15, 16 months. In the third year, it was 12 months. Last year, we sold out in six months. At that point we made a conscious decision that we had to increase production because we had restaurants with a lot of demand for it. So we made almost 400 cases. Traditionally, we did 190 to 200.”

Rob is equally as enthusiastic about his Chardonnay and his Pinot Noir, the two Burgundian varietals in the portfolio.

In 2014, he made about 90 cases of Pinot Noir, with fruit from a Peachland vineyard. Next year, he will release a very good 2015 Pinot Noir with grapes purchased from the Canyonview Vineyard in Summerland. In the longer term, he looks to his own vineyard’s Pinot Noir to come on stream.

He also purchased Chardonnay in 2015 from Canyonview, making what he regards as one his best wines. “My template is Chablis,” he says. “I am not trying to make Chablis. I am trying to make a terroir-focussed wine with lighter oak, higher acidity and lower alcohol. This is right in my sweet spot.”

He was counting on his own vines for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2016 but, in their first harvest, the vines did not deliver the desired intensity of flavours. “Based on flower set from this year, though, I know we will get a sizeable harvest in 2017,” Rob says.

Here on notes on some wines in the Nagging Doubt portfolio.

Nagging Doubt Chardonnay 2015 ($19.50 for 164 cases and 22 kegs). This is a crisp and dry wine with vivid aromas and flavours of citrus and with very subtle oak in the background. 90.

Nagging Doubt Pinot Noir 2015 (To be released in 2016). These notes are from tasting a barrel sample. The wine will be bottle early in the new year. Rob started fermenting the grapes with wild yeast, adding cultured Burgundy yeast half way through. He was able to achieve the legendary “forest floor” aromas and flavours of Burgundy, along with intense flavours of cherries. 92.

Nagging Doubt The Pull 2014 ($29.90 for 392 cases). The blend is 40% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec. The wine has had 18 months in French oak. It has bold aromas of black cherry and vanilla with a floral perfume. On the palate there are flavours of plum, black cherry and espresso. The tannins are ripe but with enough grip to mature elegantly for 10 years. 92.


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