Photo: Orofino's Virginia and John Weber
The many fans of Orofino Vineyards will be delighted to
learn that this Similkameen winery plans to release a bottle-fermented
The release date has yet to be determined. I heard about it in
October during a winery tasting with the
owners, John and Virginia Weber. The wine, based on Riesling, was made in the
2013 vintage and was still resting on the lees this fall. It is likely there
will be a release during 2017.
I also learned that John has increased his commitment to
concrete tanks and to fermenting with wild yeast. These techniques help
showcase the terroir of the Similkameen vineyards behind Orofino’s wines.
“We started using them in 2014,” John says, referring to the
tanks made for him by an Okanagan manufacturer. “I got a couple of them. In
2015, we added two more. This year, I am adding two more again. They contain
about 1,000 liters each.”
The tanks are used for aging the wines. John still ferments
his reds in open-top fermenters.
“A couple of years ago, we spent some time in Beaujolais and
the Rhone,” John says. “Concrete is all over the place. They just don’t talk
about it. It is not a marketing tool. It is just how they make wine.”
He believes that “there is something to it. We are doing
Syrah in concrete. I have a tank of Riesling this year. We have done Pinot Gris
in concrete. And there is a vein throughout. It is a textural thing.” The 2015
Syrah, already sold out, is notable for its juicy texture after aging just five
months in concrete.
John now ferments most of his wine with wild yeast – or
indigenous yeast, a term preferred by some of his peers who have also stopped
using cultured yeast. In previous vintages, many Okanagan and Similkameen
winemakers thought that wild yeast was risky. Most have gained confidence that
the yeasts on the grapes or floating around the winery will do the job just
fine. Wild yeast ferments may proceed more slowly and occasionally stop before
all of the sugar is consumed. Both issues can be managed.
“All our Pinot Noir is wild-fermented,” John says. “All our
Syrah and some of the Cabernet Franc is wild-fermented. The reds have been far
easier to ferment to dryness than this Riesling.”
The reason for this, he speculates, is that reds are
fermented on skins with a resident yeast population. Whites are pressed off the
skins before fermentation, separating them from some of the natural yeast on
“They also go dry,” he says of the whites, although
fermentation is slower. “I am not saying this is a problem. It is a slow
process because you have to baby it.”
The Orofino wines, almost without exception, now carry the
designation of the vineyard that produced the grapes. This adds an element of
interest to collectors. If, for example, you buy all the Rieslings released
from a vintage, you have a vertical. The wines can be compared and appreciated
for what each vineyard delivers.
Or you can buy the same single vineyard each vintage and develop
a vertical that way. I might suggest buying and cellaring the winery’s Passion
Pit Cabernet Sauvignon, for several reasons.
The grapes are from a two-and-a-half-acre rocky vineyard
wedged against a mountain where the vines get a lot of sun. John thinks it may
be the best Cabernet Sauvignon site in Canada. The rest of the site is still
planted to apple trees.
Last year, the orchard and the vineyard were both sold to an
orchardist. He plans to refresh the apple varieties and, to John’s surprise, suggested
the Cabernet vines might also be replaced with fruit trees. The Webers quickly
concluded an arrangement to farm the vineyard at least for the next two
vineyards, and hopefully beyond that.
So, jump on the Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon as long as it
Here are notes on the wines.
Vineyard Riesling 2015
($22). This dry wine has aromas and flavours of
lemon and lime with a backbone of minerals. The racy acidity gives the wine a
bright and refreshing finish. Notes of petrol have begun to develop,
telegraphing the complexity that will emerge with moderate aging. Here is a
hint: the Webers are now drinking the 2006 vintage! 91.
Vineyard Riesling 2015
($22). Fermented in stainless steel, this wine has
aromas and flavours of green apples and stone fruit with notes of lime. An
imperceptible amount of residual sugar balances the acidity. The wine has a
lingering dry finish. 91.
Orofino Old Vines
Wild Ferment Riesling 2015
($29). The fruit for this wine is from vine
planted in 1989. The wine was fermented and aged in barrels – presumably
neutral barrels which left little oak influence in the wine other than its
texture. Again, there is some residual sugar that balances the racy acidity.
There are flavours of lemon, peach and ripe apple. 90.
Orofino Wild Ferment
($29). This wine was aged in concrete, giving it a rich and
juicy texture. It begins with aromas of black cherry and spiced fruit cake
which are echoed on the palate. There is a touch of white pepper on the finish.
The wine is sold out. 91.
Vineyard Syrah 2014
($29). Aged 20 months in oak, this wine has just been
released. It begins with aromas of black cherry and vanilla leading to flavours
of plum, fig and black olives. A pinch of pepper punctuates the finish. 92.
Orofino Passion Pit
Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
($29). This is reminiscent of a Margaret
River Cabernet Sauvignon with the hint of mint on the nose, along with cassis
and vanilla. On the concentrated palate, there are flavours of black currant,
dark chocolate and black coffee. Twenty months aging in oak barrels contributed
to the elegance of the texture. 93.
Orofino Beleza 2013
for 600 cases). This blend is Cabernet Sauvignon 35%,
Merlot 35%, Petit Verdot 20% and Cabernet Franc 10%. Each varietal was aged
separately in oak for 20 months before the finished wine was blended. This is
Orofino’s flagship red. The aromas of black currant jam, blueberries, spice and
vanilla explode from the glass. That dramatic introduction leads to flavours of
black currants, blackberry and blueberry. The long ripe tannins still have a
little grip, suggesting that the wine will age well. 94.