Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Class of 2017: Savard Vines

Photo: Lori Savard, co-proprietor of Savard Vines

Savard Vines
25200 Callan Road
Summerland, BC
V0H 1Z6
Tel: 250-494-1976

A sign on Highway 97 announces Savard Vines but the winery is not visible from the highway.

It is at the end of a steep drive down the mountain side – a paved road with five switchbacks leading to a photogenic panorama of the Savard vineyard and Okanagan Lake beyond it. The switchbacks, which make the approach to the tasting room so memorable, have inspired “Five Turns” as the label of one of the red blends found here.

Lori and Michael Savard bought this 10-acre property in 2003 as an Okanagan getaway from their jobs in Edmonton; and where their four children – all good swimmers – could enjoy the lake. She was a nurse practitioner in cardiology and Michael was (and still is) an emergency room physician.

Initially, they planted garlic and then tried their hand at market gardening before deciding that both types of farm were hard and unrewarding. In 2008, they planted just over four acres of vines. The 6,000 vines also are hard work but a much more attractive addition to the property.

The Savards engaged a consultant to advise them on what to plant. This is a comparatively cool site. The eastern exposure gets the morning sun but is shaded by the mountainside in the late afternoon. The three largest blocks are varieties suited to cooler Okanagan sites: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. There also is a small block of Malbec, a bit of risk for this site but 0ne that has worked out in most vintages.

“After a couple of years of being grape growers, we started selling our grapes to local wineries,” Lori says.  “Knowing nothing about wine myself, I took a simple eight-week course - introduction to wine, level one. And it was fascinating.” By 2013, she had taken enough courses to qualify as a sommelier.

“That was great because it was all about culture and countries, and wine and food, and viticulture” she says of the wine courses. “It combined a lot of things I had done in my life. I have a science degree, so you know a lot about science.  I had travelled a little bit. We had the property in the Okanagan. It was fascinating.”

And it led them to decide they should develop a winery for their grapes. “We thought if we are going to make wine, we have to learn how to do it,” Lori says. “So I took the two-year on-line program from the University of California at Davis. I love fermentations. It is kind of biblical, how the grapes change into wine. I find it fascinating.”

Meanwhile, Michael embraced working in the vineyard. “He loves being on the farm and driving the tractor,” Lori says. “For him, it is his recreation.” Perhaps that is because there is farming in his blood. His grandparents, who grew grapes in France, emigrated to the Okanagan and spent time there as vineyard workers before settling near Edmonton.

In 2015 the Savards built the winery and tasting room and, with the aid of consulting winemakers, started crushing their own grapes. The early vintages from this vineyard were crushed at other wineries. The Savards were able to repatriate some of those wines, giving them inventory when they opened their own wine shop in April this year. As a result, one of the wines in the tasting room at the time was a 2012 barrel-aged Pinot Noir made from their grapes.

It took them a few vintages to settle on a consultant whose winemaking style reflected the styles preferred by the owners. Lori prefers Pinot Gris that is fruit forward and has been fermented in stainless steel or in one of the winery’s two concrete eggs.

When one lot of Pinot Gris in 2015 was barrel-aged, she labelled it as Savard Dusty Ribbon Reserve ($17.99). It is a well-made wine, rich on the palate and with flavours of guava, ripe apples and butterscotch (89). It reminds Lori of a Chardonnay. “I don’t mind Chardonnay but I don’t want a Pinot Gris like that,” she says. “Pinot Gris is an aromatic grape and I want aromatics.” There is also an unoaked Savard Dusty Ribbon Pinot Gris 2015 ($15.99) that is crisp and fruitier (88).

The Pinot Gris she made in 2016 is made in the style she prefers. “The sommelier training educates you a little differently than just being a winemaker,” she believes. “Sometimes winemakers don’t know enough about different styles other than what they make themselves.”

The experience also led the Savards to engage a different consultant to help them finish the 2016 vintage. Lori now gets advice from Pascal Madevon, the veteran French-trained winemaker who made a dozen vintages at Osoyoos Larose and two at Culmina before hanging out his shingle as consultant in the Okanagan. Hiring someone with his qualifications speaks eloquently about the desire of the Savards to produce quality wine.

There was, however, no difference of opinion on how Pinot Noir should taste. Savard Shadow Mountain Pinot Noir 2012 ($32), which the winery considers its signature wine, is an elegant wine with aromas of cherry and flavours of cherry, raspberry and strawberry with a hint of vanilla (90). The 2013 and 2014 vintages have been bottled but not yet released while more recent vintages are in barrel.

“We are trying to keep the style,” Lori says. “The [unnamed] winemaker was pretty much hands-off. He did not do much. We are keeping the same barrel program. I have changed yeasts and I am cooling the fermentation temperatures a little bit. I think it will not be too different. It tastes good in the barrel.”

The production of the vineyard has been supplemented with some purchased fruit, including a Gamay Noir which is blended with 75% Pinot Noir for Savard Five Turns 2015, a name inspired by the switchbacks. Selling for $24 a bottle, it is a fresh and juicy red with flavours of cherry and strawberry and a silken texture (90).

“We bought some grapes last year, some Riesling from Vernon and we bought some extra Pinot Noir,” Lori says. “This year we are probably going to buy Pinot Noir and Riesling. I love Riesling.”

Her first Riesling has just been released as Beards, Horns and Hooves Riesling 2016 ($18.88). The label is apparently inspired by mountain goats. It was not yet bottled when I visited the winery in April.

Also not available at the time was the recently released SV Two Barrels 2015 ($28.88), so named because the winery made just two barrels. It incorporates the vineyard’s Cabernet Franc (44%) and Malbec (28%) in a blend with Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%).

“We have the ability to make 800 to 1,000 cases,” Lori says. “My husband would like to get production higher, perhaps 1,500 cases. I say slow and steady.”

While Michael continues to work as a doctor, Lori has left nursing to make wine and manage the winery, which she does with a passion. “Life is about adventures and filling up your book with adventures,” she says. “The more adventures you have, the fuller your life is.”


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