Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blasted Church and the wine of Elaine Vickers




Photo: Winemaker Elaine Vickers

This fall, Blasted Church Vineyards retained consulting winemaker Pascal Madevon to work with its resident winemakers, Elaine Vickers and Evan Saunders, on super premium handcrafted red wine.

Perhaps handcrafted is not the right word. Some of the grapes were actually crushed by foot. I was even invited to join in the fun. When I learned how cold the recently-picked grapes were, I passed on the opportunity.

Given how well equipped today’s Okanagan wineries are, it might surprise some how much foot crushing still goes on. To begin with, the human foot is not only the oldest way of crushing grapes; it also is the gentlest. Secondly, sometimes the winery press is just too big for limited quantity of grapes needing to be crushed. I suspect that was why Pascal rounded up winery volunteers to freeze their toes.

The wine already has a name: Nectar of the Gods. Obviously, it will not be released for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, you might search out Nothing Sacred which, at $40 with a production of 100 cases, is currently the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. The winery began making it in 2007. When they skipped making it in 2012 and 2013, they heard from disappointed customers who had begun to collect verticals.

After Elaine Vickers was promoted to Blasted Church’s head winemaker in 2014, she made a fine Nothing Sacred from that vintage. It crowns the winery’s Revered Series, as Blasted Church calls its reserve tier. She would like to make subsequent releases of it, subject to the winery’s strict discipline about the Revered wines: it is only made in the best vintages.

The 2014 vintage was one of the best yet in the Okanagan. The red wines from 2014 are among Elaine’s favourites.
I did not hang around the winery long enough to find out whether Elaine also joined in  the grape stomp that particular afternoon. It might have seemed odd, given how well grounded she is in modern science.

Born in Ontario in 1976, she lived in Abbotsford during her high school years and then got a master’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Victoria. On graduation, she moved to a job at Vancouver General Hospital while pursuing another passion: playing Ultimate Frisbee.

“There is a professional league now,” she says. “There is no pay in Ultimate Frisbee but I was playing at the national level for a little bit.”

Her interest in winemaking began when she worked at a winemaking store while she was an undergraduate. After moving to Vancouver, she advanced her knowledge of wine by working weekends in a wine store and by taking Wine & Spirits Education Trust Courses. Some of her Frisbee teammates worked for wine agencies, further spurring her interest.

One of her high school classmates was Kelly Symonds, formerly the winemaker at Hillside Cellars and more recently at California Cult Classics in North Vancouver. “She let me job shadow her at California Cult Classics, so I could see if it was something I wanted to spend money on and go back to school,” Elaine says. “I decided I liked it. Then I got cut from Team Canada just before worlds [in Ultimate Frisbee]. I decided to go back to school.”

In 2009 she went to the wine school at the University of Adelaide. A year of study and practical winemaking in the student winery earned her a graduate diploma in oenology. She returned to Canada in 2010 and, after working the harvest at the Jackson-Triggs winery in Oliver, she moved to Blasted Church as a cellarhand under winemaker Richard Kanazawa.

When Richard left early in 2011, Elaine remembers that she “panicked because I was the only one here and I was not ready to be the winemaker.” That summer, however, the winery hired consultant Mark Wendenburg, the former veteran winemaker at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

“He just trained me up from cellarhand to assistant winemaker to winemaker, pretty much as fast as he could because he was busy with other clients as well,” she says. She took over the winemaker’s job in August, 2014.

From 2011 to 2013, Blasted Church production grew from 17,000 cases a year to around 25,000 cases. When Mark moved on to his other Okanagan clients, the winery added assistant winemaker Evan Saunders, a graduate of Brock University who had previously worked at Osoyoos Larose Winery.

Blasted Church today has a large portfolio, but not too large for Elaine. “Our size is a nice size,” she maintains. “We still have time to do a few small experiments.” Like Nectar of the Gods.

As a winemaker, she has her favourites. “I enjoy the whole process behind sparkling wines, although there’s a lot of work,” she says. “For white, I like making the wooded Chardonnay and, funnily enough, I like making Gewürztraminer. For the reds, Syrah is probably my favourite grape to work with.”

Here are notes on current releases from the winery.

Blasted Church OMG 2012 ($24.50 for 800 cases).  This traditional method sparkling wine is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Blanc.  The three years the wine spent on the lees before disgorging has given it slight toasty notes and a creamy texture. There are flavours of apple and pear with a pinch of hazelnut. The wine’s brisk acidity gives it clean and refreshing finish. 91.

Blasted Church Pinot Gris 2015 ($20.50 for 2,911 cases). This is 90% Pinot Gris but gets added complexity the 5% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier and 2% Gewürztraminer in the blend. The wine begins with a floral bouquet that leads to flavours of grapefruit and pineapple. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Blasted Church Godspeed 2014 ($18 for 900 cases). This blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer was made for sale primarily through wine departments at Save-On-Foods. The wine begins with herbal aromas leading to flavours of green apples and citrus. The finish is tangy and balanced to dryness. 90

Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse 2015 ($15 for 6,300 cases). This is one of Blasted Church’s most popular whites. It is a blend of 10 varietals: 22% Gewürztraminer, 21% Pinot Gris, 20% Viognier, 13% Optima, 8% Ehrenfelser, 5% Pinot Blanc, 4% Chardonnay and 4% Chardonnay Musqué, 2% Orange Muscat and 1% Riesling. This yields a juicy, fruity wine with dramatic aromas of spicy fruit and flavours of lychee, mango and grapefruit. 91.

Blasted Church Gewürztraminer 2014 ($17.90 for 1,720 cases). Full-bodied with a lingering finish, this wine has aromas and flavours of lychee and spice. The wine has the slightest hint of sweetness but it finishes dry. 90.

Blasted Church Swear To God 2015 ($30 for 127 cases). This wine was fermented and aged in barrels (66% French, of which 40% was new oak, and 34% American oak – three years or older). The wine displays aromas of vanilla, peach and pear leading to buttery flavours of fruit preserves. Only two of the five barrels used here went through malolactic fermentation, a decision which gave the wine a rich texture; the other three barrels preserved acidity and the flavours of peach. 90.

Blasted Church Bible Thumper 2015 ($30 for 100 cases). This is an oak-aged Viognier. The 2015 vintage gave the winery atypical but delightful aromas recalling Sauvignon Blanc. The wine has flavours of guava and grapefruit. The texture is rich and creamy. 91.

Blasted Church Big Bang Theory 2015 ($19 for 4,500 cases). This is an easy-drinking fruit-forward red. It is a blend of 50% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Pinot Noir, 9% Lemberger and 6% Syrah. The wine begins with aromas of red currant and cherry, leading to flavours of strawberry, cherry and cranberry. The tannins are soft and the texture is juicy. 88.

Blasted Church Merlot 2014 ($26 for 907 cases). Four per cent Syrah and 3% Malbec have been added to flesh out the blend and tweak the aroma. The wine has spiced dark fruit and blackberry on the nose. The palate echoes the spiced dark fruit; there is a hint of cedar on the finish. Long ripe tannins give the wine fullness of texture. 91.

Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2014 ($26 for 1,545 cases). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 8% Malbec. The wine has aromas of blackberry, plums and mint, with flavours of black currant mingled with pepper. The Cabernet gives this a hint of menthol on the finish. The tannins are firm but, with breathing, a rich texture emerges. 90.

Blasted Church Syrah 2014 ($27.50 for 1,880 cases). Three per cent Viognier is co-fermented with the Syrah, a technique that lifts the aroma and stabilizes the colour. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and pepper. The palate echoes the aromas, along with flavours of plum and cured meats. 91.

Blasted Church Cross To Bear 2014 ($40 for 11 cases). This is 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier. On of the wines in the Revered tier, it is made only in the best vintages – and 2014 was such a vintage. The wine begins with aromas of plums, black pepper and spicy cured meats, leading to flavours of plums and figs, with espresso and a touch of pepper on the finish. 92.

Blasted Church Holy Moly 2014 ($40 for 150 cases). This is 100% Petit Verdot with a colour that is typically (for the variety) black as night. The aroma mingles floral notes with blackberry and spicy dark fruit. The wine is concentrated in the mouth, with flavours of plums, figs and blackberry. The variety’s minerality adds a note of graphite on the finish. 94.

Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2014 ($45 for 101 cases). This is 40% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each parcel of fruit was fermented and aged separately in barrel, with the very best barrels selected for this blend. Total time in barrel was 20 months (80% French oak, 20% American; most of the barrels were new). The wine has a concentrated texture, suggesting an ability to age. It begins with aromas of raspberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of blackberry and black currant with a hint of spicy dark fruit. 94.








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