Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Class of 2017: The Chase Wines

Photo: Winemaker Adrian Baker

The Chase Wines
2290 Goldie Road,
Winfield, BC

The Chase Wines, the newest producer in Lake Country in the North Okanagan, will open its tasting room later this month.

It is Act One of the O’Rourke Family Vineyards (OFV) drama. Act Two is the winery expected to open in two years at the top of a nearby Carr’s Landing vineyard. The architecture promises to be, well, dramatic: the winery is perched on a granite outcrop above 300 meters of man-made tunnels for aging wine (below).

For wine tourists, it promises to be one of the Okanagan most memorable wineries, with wines to match. The 4,000-square foot Chase Wines facility opening this month is just the teaser.

Who gets into Okanagan wine production by opening two wineries? Edmonton businessman Dennis O’Rourke. Sureway Construction Group Ltd., which he founded in 1973, is one of Alberta’s largest construction contractors. He had had a second home in Lake Country for almost 30 years before he decided to invest in wine production in the area.

And he decided to make an impact. He bought a 140-acre property that was part derelict orchard and part a stand of conifers, mostly killed by pine beetles. The property is a few kilometers south of 50th Parallel Estate Winery, another showcase Lake Country winery that opened in 2013, the year when O’Rourke began planting his vineyard.

Like 50th Parallel, the O’Rourke site has a long and relatively steep slope down toward Okanagan Lake. From the top of the south-facing O’Rourke Vineyard, visitors have a 35-km view (see right)  down the lake to the Bennett Bridge and beyond.
There is 16 acres of conifer forest at the back of the property. “Our main entrance will come in through that forest,” says Adrian Baker, the winemaker and general manager at OFV. “The driveway which comes through the forest has curves in it, so you can’t see the entrance and the exit at the same time. When you come through this way, you have the big reveal of the vineyards and the lake. The whole theatre of it is that the Okanagan is so bright, with the lake and the skies.”

The landscaping and architecture will be designed to impress. “The little things reflect the big things,” Adrian says. “You want people to come in through your gate and get to your tasting room, and already be convinced the wine is good before they even pick it up. If everything is straight and orderly and it looks like we are in control of it, and the driveway is nice and the grass is mowed, then it presents a picture that these guys know what they are doing.”

Visitors will spend the next two years anticipating this experience – but not the wines, where the big reveal happens in a few weeks in The Chase tasting room.

The Chase facility, 4,000 sq. ft. in size, was built over the past year so that Adrian could start making wines as the vineyard began producing grapes. The Chase is a functional but spacious building, directly across the road from Intrigue Wines, which opened in 2009.

“We can use this site quite strategically for what we sell here and how we sell it,” Adrian says, explaining why two wineries are being built. “What it really provides is a buffer for the main site. It is a buffer in terms of time. It gets us producing here and gives us more years to get producing up on the hill. This site will be very public, open and accessible. It gives the owner more flexibility with the main site on how accessible he makes that to the public.”

As it happens, Adrian is experienced in developing Lake Country vineyards and wineries, having been the launch winemaker at 50th Parallel before moving to the FPV project in 2013.

He was born in Wellington, New Zealand. “I trained in molecular biology and biochemistry in Wellington , then after a mid-20s crisis and a bit of travel, went back to school for winemaking at the University of Adelaide,” Adrian says.

He spent two years as assistant winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills Wines in Marlborough. In 2001, he joined Craggy Range Winery. That winery also has an Okanagan connection. Craggy Range founder Terry Peabody, while developing Craggy Range, was chief executive of Western Star, a Kelowna commercial truck maker that he purchased in 1990. After it was turned around, it was taken over by Freightliner in 2000 (and subsequently was closed).

By 2004, Adrian had become the Senior Winemaker Cool Climate at Craggy Range, making Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

“I came to B.C. in July, 2010, on a reconnaissance mission, to see if it we could create an adventure for our young family,” says Adrian, the father of four home-schooled children. “I came back at harvest time to do some consulting for a prominent winery.” He liked what he saw in the Okanagan and in April, 2011, came here permanently, first to begin developing 50th Parallel and then, two years later to join the even grander O’Rourke project.

Perhaps Dennis O’Rourke reminded him a bit of Terry Peabody: both are self-made business successes. And Dennis certainly has the resources to drive Lake Country project.

“When we started laying out the vineyard posts, he rang his office and said he would like a surveyor.” Adrian recalls Dennis asking, “Who is our best surveyor?” That individual was working at Fort McMurray. The surveyor “was asked to get into a pickup truck, load up with survey equipment and get to Lake Country the following afternoon. So this guy comes down with a GPS total station and $70,000 worth of survey equipment. We had a guy working here who had done some surveying. He was trained in two days and we GPS-located all the poles.”

Such precision matters. “In a vineyard, if you get the micro-precision, the macro makes sense,” Adrian says. 

The vineyard, when fully planted, will have about 100 acres of vines, sufficient to sustain an average production of about 20,000 cases a year. Pinot Noir accounts for the largest blocks, followed by Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

And there is a two-acre block of Grüner Veltliner, with another 3 ½ acres to be planted this year. Adrian believes that this Austrian white variety is well suited to Lake Country.

To help with the viticulture, Adrian in 2014 recruited Peter Wilkins, a fellow New Zealander with extensive vineyard management experience. “Pete and I worked together at Craggy Range,” Adrian says.

Adrian began fermenting wine from the young vines in 2015.  “We took a little bit of each of the varieties that we planted. For me, it was just seeing that I had planted the correct varieties.” Very little of the production from that vintage will be sold. The wines are well-made but have been retained for the owner and his friends. The volume was small in any event.

And Adrian was refining the style and making sure the owner was onside. Briefly, it looked like Adrian’s decision to dedicate 12% of the vineyard to Riesling might be a problem.

“I had my little tank of Riesling fermenting in here in the middle of winter,” Adrian told me last year. “The owner comes in. He’s a big man. He said, towering over me, ‘You know Adrian, I have had four glasses of Riesling in my life and I have hated every one of them.’ So I took a glass and I went to the Riesling tank – a 600 litre tank; we bottled 53 cases of Riesling, bone dry – and I went up to him and said, ‘Try this’. He tasted it and quite liked it.” In fact, it was his favourite of the wines he sampled.

“He is now a converted preacher of Riesling,” Adrian chuckles.

“When I first met Dennis, I took him Chablis,” Adrian says, relating another episode in owner education. “We are not going to make great big sunshine-soaked Chardonnay up here in Lake Country.” Nor does he think he needs to. “Chablis is just about the most versatile white wine out there.”

That suggests his stylistic preference with white wines. “I don’t like sweet wines,” he says. “I know we are going to have to have something off-dry because people are going to want them. But I don’t think a Riesling like ours needs a lot of sweetness. With its phenolics, it stays refreshing.”

Here are notes on the wines to be offered at The Chase. Notes on the 2015 show the potential with bottle age.

The Chase Riesling 2016 ($19). This is a disciplined dry wine, with aromas and flavours of lemon and lime wrapped around a core of minerality. The bright acidity gives the wine a tangy finish. It also gives it longevity in the cellar. 90-92.

The Chase Gewürztraminer 2016 ($19). This wine begins with aromas of spice and rose petals, leading to flavours of lychee and spicy grapefruit. Balanced to dry, this is a superb food wine. 90.

The Chase Pinot Gris ($19). Twenty per cent of this was fermented in barrel, simply to add texture. The wine is crisp and refreshing with aromas and flavours of pears and apples. There is a hint of anise on the dry finish. 91.

The Chase Rosé 2016 ($19). Three and a half days of skin contact before fermentation assured good colour extraction from the Pinot Noir grapes. This is a dry wine with notes of strawberry and cranberry on the palate. 90.

The Chase Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($26 for 23 cases). This is a complex dry white wine, fermented and aged 15 months in barrel. The treatment added texture and weight but did not make the wine oaky. There are aromas and flavours of melons and grapefruit. 91.

The Chase Chardonnay 2015 ($26). A delicious core of fruit is surrounded by aromas of vanilla and citrus. The appealing finish is crisp and lingering. 91

The Chase Pinot Gris 2015. A quarter of this was barrel-fermented, giving the wine generous texture. On the palate, it is bursting flavours of melon and peach. The finish is dry. 92.

The Chase Gewürztraminer 2015. A year in bottle has allowed the wine to develop an Alsace-like richness, with spice and lychee on the palate. There is a savoury note on the exceptionally long finish. 92.

The Chase Riesling 2015. Made with fruit from three-year-old vines, this wine has lemon flavours wrapped around a spine of minerals. It has begun to develop a hint of petrol. 90.


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