Photo: Robert Van Westen
Any winemaker’s greatest challenge is to find names for his
or her wines that are not already protected by someone else’s trademark.
A winemaker in Washington State once told me that “the car
companies have the best names.” Perhaps that explains by Van Westen Vineyards –
where all wines begin with a V – has not called any of its wines Viper. Fiat
Chrysler, as the company is now called, has had a Dodge Viper in its line since
As it happens, the company is ending production of the Viper
this year. Perhaps that opens an opportunity for Van Westen, although Rob Van
Westen does not appear to be running out of ideas. When he released his first
Malbec, he called it Violeta, presumably because the beguiling aroma of this
variety suggests violets to some.
In my Okanagan Wine
in 2014, I had a bit of fun with Rob’s penchant for “V” wines.
Here is an except:
Every wine that Robert
Van Westen releases has a name that begins with V – sometimes with a hilarious
result. The winery’s first Cabernet Franc was released in 2010 as Vrankenstein
because the variety is usually harvested on Halloween. The Icewine was called
Vicicle. But even if the wine labels are light-hearted, the wines are serious.
Rob, along with his
father and brother (both named Jake), are some of the best farmers on the
Naramata Bench. The family, now with 21 hectares (52 acres) of cherries, apples
and grapes, has farmed on the Naramata Bench ever since Jake Van Westen Sr.
emigrated from Holland in 1951 after graduating from agriculture school. Rob,
tall enough to tower over his vines, was born in 1966. He left school after the
10th grade and worked at construction in Vancouver until 1999, when he returned
to help with the family’s newly planted vineyard. He embraced viticulture with
a passion, studying at Okanagan University College and, when he began making
wine, spending nearly four months at wineries in Australia and New Zealand.
Winery began buying Van Westen grapes. Impressed with the quality of the fruit,
CedarCreek’s winemaker at the time, Tom DiBello, encouraged Rob to make wine.
Rob launched the winery in 2005. Since then, he has moved winemaking into a
hulking apple packing plant on one of the family’s properties. In 2009 he
installed an informal tasting room here as well. When it is open, Rob presides
over lively informal tastings. The spirit of the wine shop is mirrored aptly by
the name that Rob has assigned to new Merlot: Vivre la Vie.
The Van Westens have
five hectares (12 acres) of vineyards, with another hectare or two slated for
planting. They grow Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc and plan
to add Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon -- but no Chardonnay. “I’ve never been
a Chardonnay drinker,” Rob admits. Conveniently, considering the winery’s “V”
theme, he does grow Viognier.
Good fun aside, the
wines are excellent. Here are notes on recent releases.
Van Westen Viognier
($25 for 164 cases). This wine, which was fermented in neutral French
oak, begins with aromas of apricot and pineapple. On the palate, which is rich,
there are flavours of peach, apricot and melon. The backbone of minerals and
tannin contribute to a crisp, dry finish. 90.
Van Westen Vivacious
($20). This is Pinot Blanc with
a splash of Pinot Gris. Slightly gold in hue, the wine is rich on the palate.
It begins with aromas of apples, leading to flavours of ripe apples, cantaloupe
and marmalade. 91.
Van Westen Vino
($20). This is a refreshing Pinot Gris with aromas of citrus
and apple. This leads to flavours apple, pear and citrus. 91.
Van Westen Vixen 2015
($20 for 82 cases). This late harvest wine is 52% Pinot Blanc, 48% Pinot
Gris. The hue is light gold. The wine, with a hint of botrytis, has honeyed
aromas and flavours of ripe apples and apricots, hints of poached pears and
caramel. The wine is well-balanced, rich in texture and with a lingering
honeyed finish. Not overly sweet, it is a wine for cheese. 91.
Van Westen Violeta
($35 for 112 cases). This is the winery’s second vintage of Malbec.
The wine had a peppery aroma mingled with red berry notes. On the palate, there
are flavours of red and black currant punctuated with a note of pepper on the
Van Westen Vulture
($40 for 145 cases). This Cabernet Franc was aged 20 months in French
oak. The wine begins with aromas of black currant, cherry and vanilla, leading
to flavours of cherry, red currant and huckleberry, framed subtly by oak. The
long ripe tannins give the wine a rich texture. 92.
Van Westen Vivre La
($30 for 208 cases). This is 100% Merlot. The grippy tannins when
the wine was newly opened were transformed, with decanting, to chewy ripe
tannins. The wine begins with aromas of black currant, blueberry and vanilla,
all of which are echoed in the flavours. 90.
Van Westen Voluptuous
($29.90 for 452 cases). This is 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc. The
wine was aged 18 - 24 months in French oak (one-third new). The winery has been
making this blend – which reflects how the vineyard is planted – since 2005.
Obviously, this is a collectible wine suitable for aging by those who spotted
it early. It is a rich and complex red, with aromas and flavours of black
currant, black cherry and spice. 92