Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards opens

Photo: Gordon Fitzpatrick with a glass of Fitz Brut

Gordon Fitzpatrick has such confidence in the sparkling wines at Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards that visitors to the newly-opened winery’s sparkling wine bar will be offered Champagne to compare with Fitz Brut.

After tasting two vintages of Fitz Brut, I agree that the Fitzpatrick wines measure up favourably to French Champagne. In fact, a lot of British Columbia sparkling wines are quite competitive with international bubble. I applaud Gordon for making that point.

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards (FFV) has just opened for its first full season at the lakeside vineyard beside the highway midway between Peachland and Summerland. Formerly, this was the Greata Ranch Vineyards Winery which the Fitzpatricks closed in 2014 after operating it for 10 years. Since then, they have redeveloped the property as an 8,000-case winery with underground cellars for 118,000 bottles of bubbly. And the winery has been totally rebranded.

That decision was made after the Fitzpatricks sold CedarCreek Estate Winery to Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of Mission Hill Family winery. The Fitzpatricks shelved a plan to spend $2 million on CedarCreek, focussing their resources instead on Greata Ranch.

“We have always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon, who had also been CedarCreek’s president. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. We had a wine shop and a second label, Greata Ranch, but it never got the attention it deserved. I wanted to see what we could do by giving Greata its own personality.”

That personality includes a focus on sparkling wines, about half of the production at FFV. That evolved from a recognition that the 40-acre Greata Ranch Vineyard produces excellent fruit for sparkling wines. “With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was,” Gordon says. “They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

Greata Ranch once was a famed orchard but had become a derelict property by the time Senator Ross Fitzpatrick (Gordon’s father) bought it in 1994. Senator Fitzpatrick planted the vineyard in 1995.

The transition to sparkling started with the 2012 vintage. Darryl Brooker, then the winemaker at CedarCreek and now the general manager at Mission Hill, made sparkling cuvées in 2012 and 2013. Taylor Whelan, his successor at Mission Hill, was responsible for the next two cuvées, which are still resting in the FFV cellar.

The 2016 cuvées have been made by a New Zealand winemaker, Sarah Bain, who was recruited last fall.

A brief biography is on the winery’s website: “Sarah began her path in the wine industry working in the vineyards of Central Otago, New Zealand in 2004. It was just a summer job to start, but it only took one vintage to convince her that growing and making wine was her future. Since then, her career has been based mainly in Central Otago at two leading organic & biodynamic producers. She worked first at Burn Cottage making premium quality Pinot Noir and then at Quartz Reef, one of New Zealand’s leading producers of Traditional Method sparkling. Sarah has also worked vintages in California, Germany and Canada.”

She did a crush in 2013 at Okanagan Crush Pad winery which whetted her appetite for the Okanagan.

The FFV winery is significantly expanded from the footprint of the Greata Ranch winery. The former tasting room has been extended to become what Gordon calls “the great hall. (right)” The tasting bar will serve the FFV table wines, which are primarily aromatic whites and rosé. Red wine (Pinot Noir and Meritage) accounts for just 12% of the production; at full production, there will only be 76 barrels in the cellar.

Sparkling wines are available in a separate tasting room. These wines are featured as part of an hour-plus hospitality tours of the cellars and the vineyard. Many of these tours will be led personally by Gordon or the winemaker. There also are shorter tours for those who don’t want to drill down so deeply into the vineyard and the cellars.

The FFV facility also includes a bistro, with 22 seats inside and 44 seats outside. A seasonal restaurant, it is managed by Chef Tony de Luca of the Niagara Culinary College and a team of his best students. There is also a lounge where visitors can relax with a glass of wine and take in the view over Okanagan Lake. And there are facilities for weddings.

Here are notes on the sparkling wines currently available.

Fitz Brut 2012 ($32.50).  This is 69% Pinot Noir and 31% Chardonnay, barrel-fermented in neutral oak and aged about 36 months on the lees. This is a bright, crisp wine with hints of apples mingled with toasty lees notes on the palate. 92.

Fitz Brut 2013 ($32.99). This is 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay. The wines were barrel fermented in neutral oak and aged about 27 months on the lees. With grapes from a slightly warmer vintage, this wine has a rich texture and softer acidity, with flavours of citrus and ripe apple. 91.



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