Thursday, July 20, 2017

Howling Bluff goes solar

Photo: Pinot Noir producer Luke Smith

It appears that the experience of growing wine has turned former stockbroker Luke Smith, the proprietor of Howling Bluff Estate Wines, into an environmentalist.

The Naramata Bench vineyard that he began planting in 2004 is, Luke says, ‘dedicated to becoming a fully sustainable and earth friendly winery.”

Howling Bluff uses neither pesticides or chemical fungicides. It uses drip irrigation, not overhead irrigation. It mulches its prunings, putting them back into the vineyard or shipping them to Penticton’s composting plant.

“As of the spring,” Luke writes, “we started on the next project with the installation of the first of four phases of solar panels. Howling Bluff has a goal to be a Net Zero winery within the next half decade.”

That puts Howling Bluff on the leading edge with a growing number of wineries moving in this direction. Off The Grid Organic Winery in West Kelowna, with a straw bale wine shop and solar panels, is still connected to the grid only because the local municipality insisted on it. Others with solar panels include Orofino Vineyards at Cawston and Burrowing Owl Winery near Oliver.

Undoubtedly, there are others, given how much sunshine there is in the Okanagan and the Similkameen – at least in the summer. It might be another matter on those winter days when the valleys are socked in.

There also is some good winemaking at Howling Bluff. The winery has now won three Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of excellence for its Pinot Noirs. Most recently, the 2013 vintage of its Century Block Pinot Noir took that award this summer.

Here are notes on recent releases:

Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($20 for 611 cases). This was fermented in stainless steel at a cool temperature, resulting in a wine with excellent fruit aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of lime and grapefruit. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit and gooseberry mingled with herbs and spice on the crisp, tangy finish. 91.

Howling Bluff Three Mile Creek Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($25 for 322 cases). This is a complex Graves style white. Sixty percent of the juice was fermented in and aged four months in new French oak puncheons while the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. A modest volume of Sémillon in the blend adds complexity. There are aromas and flavours of herbs and grapefruit with a subtle hint of smoky oak in the background, along with a spine of minerality. The finish is crisp and dry. 92.

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($20 for 405 cases). This is a robust rosé, unapologetically dark in hue (readers will know I prefer dark rosés, not pale ones). This wine was the result of bleeding juice from tanks of crushed Pinot Noir and then fermenting the juice in stainless steel at cool temperatures. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherries and strawberries. A slight touch of tannin is on the dry finish. I think this gives a good structure. This is a rosé for year-round drinking. 90.

Howling Bluff Acta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 ($35 for 277 cases). This is clone 777, planted on a western-facing slope that was once a beach of an ancient lake. Acta is Latin for beach. This wine was aged 12 months in French oak (30% new, 35% each in second and third fill barrels). With bright fruit flavours and silken textures, this is a very appealing Pinot Noir. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. It is juicy on the palate and spicy on the finish. 92.

Howling Bluff Summa Quies Pinot Noir 2014 ($35 for 250 cases). This wine is made with clones 114, 667 and 777. It had a similar barrel regime to the previous wine. It begins with aromas of cherry, subtle spicy oak and herbal, forest floor notes. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, strawberry and vanilla. The colour is deep and the texture is both rich and silky. 92.

Howling Bluff Century Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($N/A for 83 cases). The 2013 vintage of Century Block was priced at $75. This wine is called Century Block because in the 1980s 100 different varieties of apples grew on this site. Now, it is planted with 1,200 vines, clones 666 and 777. This wine was aged for 12 months in new French oak. It begins with aromas of mint, cloves and red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and ripe strawberry mingled with a hint of oak. The concentrated texture suggests a wine of considerable potential to age. 93.


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