Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Vanessa Vineyard opens a tasting room







Photo: Vanessa owners John Welson and Suki Sekhon

Vanessa Vineyard
1090 Highway 3, Cawston, BC, V0X 1C3
T. 250.499.8811



Vanessa Vineyard’s slogan is “carved from stone, fuelled by sun, a vineyard like no other.”

Now, consumers will have a chance to visit this remarkable vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. The winery, which began selling its wines two years ago to its wine club, has now opened a tasting room at the vineyard.

That has coincided with the release of two additional wines, a Merlot and a Rosé, to double the portfolio.

A ribbon cutting of the tasting room is scheduled for 11 am, August 1, 2017. A grand opening, with food and music, is scheduled for  2 pm to 6 pm on August 11.

Without a public tasting room, Vanessa has flown somewhat below the radar screen. On the strength of its releases, however, Vanessa is a must-stop for those who are touring wineries in the Similkameen.

Here is the profile of the winery from my recent book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. In the book, Vanessa Meritage was highlighted as a collectible wine.


This 30-hectare (75-acre) Similkameen Valley vineyard was developed on exceptionally rocky raw land. To prepare it for planting in 2006, the vineyard managers brought in a rock crusher more appropriate, perhaps, to a quarry. The machine wore out two sets of teeth while pulverizing the rock. It is not surprising that the red wines from this vineyard have a spine of minerality that should contribute to their longevity.

The specifications released with the first wines outline this terroir: “The vines grow in rows of rocks, stressing the plants, absorbing the day heat and imparting that warmth during the cooler nights. This gives the grapes their unique and complex character. The west to southwest exposure on which the rocky vineyard sits benefits from the afternoon sun, which contributes to lengthening the growing season and producing low yields of intensely ripe fruit.”

Proprietors John Welson and Suki Sekhon did not necessarily have a winery in mind when they bought this property in 2005. Suki is a successful Vancouver developer, while John is a retired stockbroker who is passionate about wine. In his Vancouver business, Suki constructs buildings that are leased to clients. He thought he could develop a vineyard and then lease it to a winery. That is not the wine industry’s usual business model. Wineries need to know the quality of the grapes before committing to buying them. When the vineyard produced fruit, Suki and John began selling grapes to Andrew Peller Ltd., the owner of nearby Rocky Ridge Vineyard and also Sandhill Wines. In 2010, Howard Soon, the Sandhill winemaker, added a Vanessa Cabernet Merlot blend made with their grapes to his portfolio of single-vineyard wines.

That wine helped encourage John and Suki to open a boutique winery. “We kind of went into this initially, basically to build a vineyard, and then, as you get into it, the industry just pulls you along,” John admits. They arranged to have Howard’s colleague, Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis, make their initial vintages, beginning with 440 cases of Meritage and 186 cases of Syrah in 2012. This grew to a total of about 3,000 cases in 2014. The intent is to plateau at that level of production of premium wines while continuing to sell grapes.

Except for two acres of Viognier, the Vanessa vineyard is planted entirely to sun-loving reds: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Suki had concluded that it is one of the warmest sites in the sunbathed Similkameen and is best suited for red varietals. He will find a cooler site if he and John decide they need white wines in their portfolio.

Old maps show that an easement for a stagecoach road from Osoyoos to Princeton ran by the property. For a time, the partners considered calling the winery Stagecoach Road or Old Stagecoach Road. In the end, they opted for Vanessa, the name of Suki’s eldest daughter.

Karen Gillis continues to make the wines in one of the wineries operated by Peller. Howard Soon, Peller’s recently retired senior winemaker, is a consultant to Vanessa. There is a site for a winery on the Similkameen vineyard. It will be built when sales volumes require a dedicated winery.

Here are notes on the two current releases.

Vanessa Rosé 2016 ($22.99 for 90 cases). This is a dark-hued wine made with 68% Syrah and 32% Merlot grapes given just six hours of skin contact. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherries and red currants. The wine was fermented to complete dryness. One could debate whether a dry rosé this bold might not have benefitted with a touch of residual sugar. This is a wine that is best with food. 88.

Vanessa Merlot 2014 ($34.99 for 570 cases). This wine has 15% Cabernet Franc in the blend. It begins with glass-filling aromas of black currants, cherries and mocha. On the palate, the wine – which has 14.9% alcohol – is rich and full-bodied, with flavours of plum, fig, black currant and spice. The texture has the polish one expects from a bold red that was fermented and aged 26 months in American and French oak barrels (new and one-year old). A big, concentrated powerhouse of a Merlot reflecting this sub-bathed vineyard. 91. A grand opening is scheduled for August 11, 2017.


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