Friday, July 28, 2017

Singletree releases its first Grüner Veltliner

Photo:Singletree's Andrew Etsell

Abbotsford’s Singletree Winery has released the first Fraser Valley-grown Grüner Veltliner wine.

The renowned white varietal of Austria, Grüner Veltliner has been grown in British Columbia for less than a decade. Today, six wineries are producing wine from the grape, with Singletree the most recent to release a wine from the variety.

Andrew Etsell, who runs Singletree, credits his parents, Garnet and Debbie, for inspiring his interest in Grüner Veltliner.

“My parents go skiing to Austria every winter,” he says. And Laura [Preckel, Andrew’s partner] and myself have also travelled through Austria. We really discovered the grape there. I had not heard of it before, since there was not a lot in BC. I started tasting the Grüner Veltliners from around Austria and I saw how wide a range of styles it is made in there. I thought that Austria has a fairly similar climate to us. Why can’t we grow it here?”

The answer is that, until a decade ago, importers of grape wines could find no sources of vines that were certified virus-free and thus would be allowed into Canada.

“We actually look at planting Grüner Veltliner in 2010,” Andrew says. “It took us until 2013 before we found vines. I believe they came out of Ontario. We only have an acre because that is all that is available. We took what we could.”

He now has one acre of Grüner Veltliner among the 12 acres of vines Singletree has planted since 2010. The major varietal is Siegerrebe, an early-ripening grape well suited to the Fraser Valley. Singletree also grows Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

On the strength of the winery’s initial release, he is looking for additional sources so he can increase Singletree’s Grüner Veltliner. “We are also looking at working with a nursery. If we can’t find the vines, we would take cuttings from our own vineyard.”

Andrew adds: “I always like growing grapes that are not as mainstream as most. The Siegerrebe and the Grüner Veltliner are not grown by a lot of people. The Grüner Veltliner, with the minerality and the citrus and honey, is just an interesting grape to grow here.”

The winery, which opened its tasting room in 2015, was developed because the underlying Etsell family business, a turkey farm, was judged not big enough to support the elder Etsells and their two sons.

Farming is in their blood. “I have always wanted to farm,” says Garnet Etsell, who once owned a blueberry farm when he was a teenager. “My first degree was actually in animal science, so we went into dairy farming.” Because that business struggled, Garnet got a business degree and switched to accounting. But he never lost the desire to farm.

“In 2001, we decided to purchase a piece of property at the north end of Mt. Lehman Road [near Abbotsford].  “I said to my wife I have always wanted to farm. If I didn’t have a commercial operation by the time I was 45, that was going to be it. Just before I turned 45, we bought our first commercial turkey operation.”

Andrew, meanwhile, studied horticulture with the idea of developing a plant nursery on the family farm. In 2004, he went to Mission Hill Family Estate to gain some practical agriculture experience – and developed a strong interest in winegrowing.

“I started looking at planting down here in 2004, 2005,” he says. “Over the next four or five years, I researched the wineries here in the valley and tried to find out what had done well and what they would not plant again. We also worked with a few consultants.”

More than one suggested he plant some of the same Blattner hybrids that a number of small growers in the Fraser Valley already had. He rebuffed one consultant by challenging him to “bring me one good bottle of Blattner wine and I will plant the variety.”
“They grow great here,” Andrew acknowledges. “They are disease resistant and they ripen early. They are a great grape for the area but you can’t sell the wines.”

But he was impressed with whites made from a two-acre Siegerrebe block a friend had planted at nearby Clearbrook. Andrew leased that block and planted five more acres of that aromatic German vinifera in Singletree’s estate vineyard.

Beginning with the debut 2013 vintage, Singletree arranged to have Okanagan Crush Pad and its winemaker, Matt Dumayne, make the wines. Andrew has since augmented his skills with a two-year winemaking course at the University of California in Davis. Singletree has begun to build its own winemaking facility in time for Andrew to take full responsibility by the 2018 crush.

Here are notes on current releases at Singletree.

Singletree Winery Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($17.30 for 150 cases). The wine begins with lightly honeyed aromas of mango and melon. It has flavours of citrus, melon and apple. Bright acidity and good minerality give the wine a refreshing and tangy dry finish. There is the suggestion of white pepper on the finish, a characteristic of the variety and one that is likely to be more expressive as the vines mature. 91.

Singletree Winery Siggy 2016 ($19.04 for 170 cases). This is the winery’s flagship Siegerrebe white wine with a more consumer-friendly name. Beginning with spicy and fruity aromas, it delivers a basket of tropical fruit flavours. The finish is dry and refreshing. 90.

Singletree Winery Pinot Gris 2015 ($19.04 for 200 cases). This wine was fermented in concrete, enhancing the rich texture. It delivers flavours of pear and apple with a touch of spice on the dry finish. 88.

Singletree Winery Chardonnay 2015 ($20.98 for 300 cases). This wine was fermented in barrels and in stainless steel and aged in barrel (30% new). The subtle oak frames flavours of peach and pear. 89.

Singletree Winery Rosé 2016 ($17.30 for 200 cases). This wine was made with organic Pinot Noir. Aromas of rhubarb and strawberry lead to crisp, refreshing flavours of strawberry and watermelon. 90.

Singletree Winery Harness 2014 ($30.35 for 275 cases). To be released this fall, this is blend of 51.3% Merlot and 48.7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Made with grapes from a great red vintage, this wine was aged in barrel for 18 months. It begins with aromas of cassis, black fruits and spice leading to flavours of blackcurrant and black cherry mingled with notes of leather and chocolate. 91.


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