Monday, May 15, 2017

Tasting the new releases at Kitsch Wines

Photo: Kitsch winemaker Grant Biggs

In 2016, one of the most interesting new wineries was Kitsch Wines in East Kelowna.

There is an exciting youthful vibe here, reflecting the youth of the owners, Ria and Trent Kitsch, and their winemaker, Grant Biggs.

There are also excellent wines. The winery's debut 2015 Riesling was judged best of  variety at the recent Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. The 2016 whites, just being released, are from one of the best vintages so far for Okanagan whites. The 2015 Pinot Noir is elegant even if Grant repeats the cliché that the variety is the heart break grape. This, after all, was his first Pinot Noir. And the barrel sample of a superb 2016 Pinot Noir that he showed me makes it clear he has his arms around the variety.

The owners are Kelowna natives. Trent was born in 1979; Ria was born three years later. Trent played minor league baseball before getting a business degree at the University of Western Ontario. Ria studied business at UBC Okanagan and in Austria, including wine appreciation in Krems, followed by backpacking in South America.

She met Trent when she returned to Kelowna, where she joined him in developing and marketing the SAXX brand of men’s underwear. When the brand had grown to the point where it was ready for international marketing, the couple sold the business.

 “We had an exit strategy,” Ria says. “For us it was essential that if it was going to be big, it get into the hands of people that could make it big, because that wasn’t us. We needed to prove the concept – that men would buy it and rebuy it at the price we valued it at. $25 a pair is expensive for underwear. So we sold [the company] and that allowed us to pursue our Okanagan dream of planting grape vines and starting the winery.”

Their 12.7-acre vineyard was planted in 2013 and 2014. The largest blocks are Riesling. They also grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

The winery and the tasting room were opened in a three-car garage attached to the large house built for Trent’s parents (who are in the housing development business). The garage doors open up to reveal the grand view over the vineyard.

However, the winery will relocate this fall because the Kitsch family would prefer more privacy. Trent and Ria are looking at options that include moving a few hundred yards west to their own home where there is another garage that could be turned into a winery. Another option might be a move into downtown Kelowna, becoming an urban winery. The winery will continue to get grapes from this vineyard as well as other vineyards in East Kelowna and Lake Country.

Winemaker Grant Biggs, who also manages the vineyard, was born in 1983 in Port Alberni and worked as a sommelier in Victoria restaurants.

“My grandfather, I think, is the reason by I pursued a career in wine,” Grant says, referring to Italian-born Elio Navé. “He used to order grapes from California – Zinfandel and Muscat – and we would make wine in the basement together when I was growing up. I associated the fondest memories with the foods that grandma was cooking and the wine that my grandpa was drinking.”  His grandmother is French.

Grand began his winemaking career as an assistant winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Vineyards, moving to Tantalus Vineyards for two years in 2013. He has also done a crush in a large New Zealand and enrolled in the distance learning program from the University of California at Davis.

By the time he was hired for the first vintage at Kitsch in 2015, he had honed detail-oriented cellar skills that have given him a sure hand at making wine.

“2015 was an expedited year,” Grant says. “I had ordered all of the equipment and wrote the business plan. It was a hot growing season. We got our license on September 2 and we were picking Chardonnay the following day. The 2016 vintage was a little calmer.”

The winery made  about 1,000 cases in 2015 and increased production to 2,300 cases in 2016.

 “I am looking forward to 2017,” Grant says. “Once we put wine in bottle, I am always looking forward to what is next.”

He anticipates it will be a more challenging vintage. Compared to the early start of vine growth in 2016, this year has started weeks later. However, he has a young German viticulturist helping him in the vineyard. The two of them are prepared to react to whatever the season brings.

“You put the work in and every year you try to get a little better,” Grant says. “This was only my second vintage here. I hope with every year to come, there is a bit more refinement, just finding my style. Or hopefully, never finding my style. Let the season determine what needs to be done with the grapes and don’t try to fight that too much.”

Here are notes on current releases.

Kitsch Dry Riesling 2016 ($24.90 for 650 cases). The wine has appealing aromas and flavours of lime and lemon around a mineral backbone and a tangy finish. The balance gives the wine an electrifying intensity: the wine has 11.3 grams of residual sugar and 9.3 grams of acid. That structure assures the wine will age for at least 10 years even if it is approachable now. 92.

 Kitsch Riesling 2016 ($22.90 for 450 cases.) The wine has similar acidity to the dry Riesling but twice as much residual sugar. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and white peach, going on to deliver flavours of sweet lime and grapefruit. The residual sugar lifts the aromas and flavours. The finish, however, is almost dry. This is the one to drink while the dry Riesling is aging. 91.

Kitsch Riesling 2015 ($23.90 for 393 cases). This wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime, echoed on the palate. The flavours are surprisingly concentrated for fruit from young vines, with a vibrant tension created by balancing nine grams of acidity with 15.4 grams of residual sugar. The wine has begun to show a note of the classic petrol that develops as Riesling ages. 92.

Kitsch Pinot Gris 2016 ($21.90 for 255 cases). The wine presents with a slight blush, the consequence of giving 72 hours of skin contact to three-quarters of the crushed fruit before fermentation. Richly textured but finishing dry, the wine has aromas and flavours of pears and apples. There is a hint of anise on the finish. 91.

Kitsch Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($21.90 for 163 cases). This is youthful Pinot Noir from vines planted in 2014 – a very sensible way to use second leaf fruit. A dry rosé, the wine’s strawberry hue may be suggestive: the aromas and flavours also suggest strawberry and raspberry. 90.

Kitsch Chardonnay 2015 ($23.90 for 202 cases).  I tasted this last year but was shown it again to see how well it has developed in bottle. This barrel-fermented wine begins with a lightly gold colour in the glass and with aromas of citrus and apple. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit ranging from melon to apple to pineapple and lemon. There is a very subtle note of oak on the finish. This is almost sold out but the barrel sample of 2016 Chardonnay is every bit as good. 92.

Kitsch Pinot Noir 2015 ($26.90 for 234 cases). This wine is made with clone 115 grapes from a Lake Country vineyard. The wine was aged eight months in oak barrels. It has aromas and flavours of black cherries and spice with the elusive note on the finish referred to as barnyard by connoisseurs. The texture is silky. 90


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