Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ex Nihilo wins customers with music

Photo: Ex Nihilo's gate (Credit Shawn Talbot)

With a growing number of wineries, Lake Country is no as far from the beaten path as it was in 2008 when Ex Nihilo Vineyards opened.

Ex Nihilo was then the third winery, after Gray Monk Estate Winery (1982) and Arrowleaf Cellars (2003).

Those wineries have since been joined by Intrigue Wines (2009), 50th Parallel Estate (2013), Blind Tiger Vineyards (2016) and The Chase Wines (2017).

It makes for a full day of wine touring, including a lunch stop at either Gray Monk or Arrowleaf.

Each of those wineries has its own strategy for attracting visitors. At Ex Nihilo, that strategy includes events featuring leading musical artists. Just look at the programs scheduled in the immediate future or recently:

·       Musician Andrew Allen  is in concert at the winery July 7 and 8. The evening performances include dinner.

·       Singer songwriter Barney Bentall has evening performances at the winery July 14 and 15 also including dinner.

·       Last October, country singer Lee Dinwoody anchored an evening marking the 10th anniversary of winemaking by Ex Nihilo.

·       Throughout the year, Ex Nihilo seldom misses a chance to celebrate Christmas or Valentine’s or any other occasion for a good party.

For some background on the winery, here is an excerpt from my new book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.

It was mad cow disease that propelled Jay Paulson into winemaking. It is a long story.
Jay is one of the partners in Ex Nihilo Vineyards, along with his wife, Twila, and Jeff and Decoa Harder, all of them former Albertans. Jay, Twila, and Jeff have been friends since high school.

Decoa, a former skiing instructor with a marketing education, was the first of the four in the wine business, as a wine salesperson for Quails’ Gate and Mt. Boucherie. She says, “I woke up one morning [in 2003] and said ‘Jeff, we have to find land.’” The following year, they bought a property in the municipality of Lake Country and built a house. After enlisting the Paulsons as partners, they planted two hectares of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Riesling vines in 2007. The vineyard doubled in size in 2013 after the Paulsons moved from Edmonton to the Okanagan.

Jeff and Decoa were instrumental in sparking Jay’s interest in wine in 2002, after they invited the Paulsons to join them for a vacation in the Napa Valley, where Jeff’s brother, James, owns a winery. When he returned to Edmonton, Jay immersed himself in wine appreciation courses. 

At the time, the Paulsons were in the cattle industry, with Jay operating a cattle brokerage business (buying and selling livestock for feeder lots and slaughterhouses). The incidence of mad cow disease in some Alberta herds devastated the industry, triggering Jay’s decision to partner with his friend in Ex Nihilo.

The early vintages of Ex Nihilo, which opened in 2008, were made by Jim Faulkner and Dr. Alan Marks, both of whom were associated with Mt. Boucherie. After being mentored by them in the cellar, Jay emerged as assistant winemaker in 2012 and took full charge two years later. [Dr. Marks continues to consult.]

Most of the wines in the Ex Nihilo portfolio are collectible, including a notable Riesling, a Bordeaux blend called Night, and intense Merlots. However, Pinot Noir has emerged as the signature varietal because it is planted in the estate vineyard.

Here are notes from a recent tasting at Ex Nihilo.

Ex Nihilo Pinot Gris 2015 ($20). This is a bold and ripe wine, reflecting that warm vintage. It is a big mouthful of pears, apples and tropical fruits with a hint of anise on the finish. 90.

Ex Nihilo Riesling 2015 ($20). The winery gained early acclaim with its Rieslings. The grapes for this are from both the estate vineyard and from The Rise, a vineyard near Vernon. The wine has aromas of pink grapefruit and flavours of lemon and orange. The residual sugar is balanced with lively acidity and the wine has a dry finish. 90.

Ex Nihilo Privata Chardonnay 2015 ($26). Made with grapes from the Similkameen, the wine was aged for eight months; 60% in French oak and 40% in American oak. It is a full-flavoured wine (pineapple, guava) with an intriguing hint of spearmint in the aroma. 92.

Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir 2015 ($36). This is a delicious example of a full-bodied Pinot Noir. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of cherry and plum that are echoed on the palate, with an intensity that flirts with jaminess. The texture is silky. 92.

Ex Nihilo Merlot 2014 ($36). The grapes are from the Secrest Road Vineyard near Oliver because most sites in Lake Country are too cool for Merlot. This is a superbly concentrated wine, with aromas of vanilla and black and red currants. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis and black cherry. 92.

Ex Nihilo Night 2014 ($50). Made with grapes from the Black Sage Bench, this is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 19 months in French oak. The balance and structure of this wine are perfect elegance. It begins with aromas of cassis. On the palate, there are flavours black cherry, plum, fig and spice. The winery believes this can be cellared until 2030. 93.


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