Monday, July 31, 2017

Road 13 tilts toward the Rhône

Photo: Road 13's Joe Luckhurst

Last summer, when winemaker Jeff Del Nin took over at Road 13 Vineyard from J-M Bouchard, he remarked to a friend that opportunities like Road 13 don’t come along very often.

It is a striking comment, considering that Jeff had been making wine since 2009 at Church & State Wines, one of the other leading wineries in the south Okanagan.

That remark was echoed by how well Road 13 did in the 2017 National Wine Awards. It was the top BC winery, winning 13 medals. The performance also was among the top 10 Canadian wineries.

What attractions did Road 13 offer?

Perhaps it was that the winery is in a quirky replica of a 19th Century Bavarian castle with a modern production wing attached to it. Perhaps it is the volatile but passionate personality of Mick Luckhurst, one of Road 13’s proprietors.

Perhaps it is neither. Church & State’s production facility is a former fruit cold storage. There is only limited production in the showpiece Robert Mackenzie-designed winery on Black Sage Road. And Kim Pullen the owner of Church & State, is another passionate, volatile vintner.

The real attraction of Road 13 is it access to vineyards, such as the superb Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen, that grow excellent Rhône varietals, among other varietals. Jeff has a track record for producing Rhône varietals, such as the award-winning TreBella, one of Church & State’s best whites. The Australian-trained but Canadian-born winemaker had not worked with Rhône varietals before he joined Church & State. He proved himself a fast learner.

This summer’s releases from Road 13 include an outstanding Marsanne and two excellent Syrahs (the latter would have been made by J-M but finished by Jeff).

Mick’s son, Joseph, who is Road 13’s general manager, told me last summer that he intended to increase Road 13’s focus on Rhône varietals.

“I honestly believe this is where BC can shine,” he said. It is also where Road 13 can establish an identity that differentiates its wines from all of the Bordeaux blends in the South Okanagan. “Very few wineries have become branded for the Rhônes,” he said. “There is room there to be one of the guys.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2016 ($17 for 1,827 cases). This is a blend of 54% unoaked Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Gris, 10% Kerner, 7% Chenin Blanc, 3% Viognier and 2% Orange Muscat. The result is a dry white with fruit bowl of aromas and flavours (citrus, apples and melon); and with a crisp, spicy finish. 90.

Road 13 Chip off the Old Block Chenin Blanc 2016 ($19 for 249 cases). The wine is so named because the grapes come from a relatively young planting, propagated with cuttings from the winery’s 1968 Chenin Blanc block. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of citrus, apples and stone fruit. That is echoed in the intense fruit flavours. All is wrapped around a spine of minerality. The wine is crisply dry with a lingering finish. 91.

Road 13 Marsanne 2016 ($24 for 75 cases). There is two per cent Viognier added to this wine for what the winery calls “additional aromatic lift and complexity.” The wine begins with aromas of citrus, apples and melons. On the seductive palate, there are honeyed flavours of peach and nectarine, with a hint of vanilla on the finish. 92.

Road 13 Honest John’s Rosé 2016 ($18 for 2,327 cases). This is a robust and dry rosé, assembled from a blend of 54% Merlot, 24% Pinot Noir, 10% Gamay Noir, 5% Viognier, 2% Syrah and 1% Cabernet Franc. The colour is vibrantly pink. There are aromas of strawberry and watermelon leading for mouth-filling cherry and strawberry flavours. 90.

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2015 ($37 for 347 cases). The blend is 70% Syrah, 24% Malbec, 3% Viognier and 3% Gamay. Dark and concentrated, the wine begins with quite dramatic aromas of ripe red fruits, including cherries, blackberries and boysenberries. The texture is luscious. The wine delivers savoury and ripe flavours of black cherry, black currant, sweet tobacco and mocha. The alcohol is 15% but the wine has the concentration to carry it. 94.

Road 13 Syrah 2015 ($35 for 381 cases). The blend is 94% Syrah, 3% Viognier, 3% Roussanne and 2% Mourvedre. Dark in colour, the wine begins once again with dramatic aromas of black cherry, blueberry, plum and black pepper. On the rich palate, the wine echoes to ripe fruits from the aroma. The finish is long, with a hint of pepper and deli spice. 92.


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