Thursday, August 10, 2017

Class of 2016: Anthony Buchanan Wines

Photo: Nicole and Anthony Buchanan

Until recently, Gray Monk’s George and Trudy Heiss were the only winery owners in BC who had previously been hairdressers.

That ceased to be unique when Anthony Buchanan left his Victoria salon to become a winemaker in 2010.

Now, with his wife Nicole, he operates Anthony Buchanan Wines, a boutique virtual winery specializing in Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. A member of the Garagiste North group of small producers, Anthony currently makes less than 500 cases of wine a year.

When he and Nicole, an accountant, have established the brand, there is a carefully considered plan to locate the winery on a property of their own in the Okanagan. They are following a trail blazed by several former virtual wineries that have grown into land-based wineries.

These include Domaine Roche, just opened at the end of Penticton; Kanazawa Winery, which moved into a Naramata Road property this spring; Bonamici Cellars, which just began planting a vineyard on Oliver Ranch Road in Okanagan Falls. It is the normal, and desired, evolution for virtual wineries.

Anthony was born in 1970 in Owen Sound, Ontario, and grew up in London and then Victoria, to which he moved with his mother in 1980.

“I was a hair dresser for 21 years,” Anthony says. “I got into hair dressing right out of high school. I owned my own business for 11 years in Victoria.”

Interested in food and wine, he joined the Opimian Society – a national wine club – when he was 26. “With his first taste of a Gevrey-Chambertin, Anthony was hooked on Pinot Noir,” Anthony writes on his website.
“In 2001, 2002, I started to think about a different career choice,” he told me in a recent interview. “I have always loved food and wine. I like the social aspect of it as well.”

Initially, he set out to be a sommelier, taking the first two levels of Wine and Spirits Education Trust course and the level one course from the International Sommelier Guild. But as he learned some winemaking details from these courses, he decided that winemaking had more appeal as a career. He started with a distance learning course in enology from the University of California at Davis.

At a winemaker dinner in Victoria, he happened to be seated beside Michael Bartier, who had just begun his rise as an Okanagan winemaker. Michael advised Anthony to feel out his proposed new career by working a harvest in the Okanagan. Anthony spent the 2007 crush at Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars where winemaker Matt Mavety advised him to study enology. In 2009, Anthony enrolled in the two-year program at Washington State University.

“It is a very good program,” Anthony says now. “They take 30 students a year. It is very similar to the UCDavis program but from what I hear inside the industry is that it is a lot more hands-on practical winemaking. The Davis program is good if you really like to write research papers.”

Anthony had already begun to switch careers. In 2007, he had begin working in the cellars at the Church & State Winery near Brentwood on Vancouver Island. It was here that he met Nicole, who was doing the winery’s books. He also gained valuable experience from the winemakers there at the time, Napa consultant Bill Dyer and winemaker Jim Faulkner.

Anthony left that job initially to devote his fulltime to the Washington State program. Then in 2010, he and Nicole moved to the Okanagan. He went to work at the Soaring Eagle Winery  as the winery was in receivership.

“Some people think I have taken the hard way into this business, but it has been good for me,” Anthony says. “I have learned a lot and I have been put into some situations which I think some winemakers don’t experience. By that, I mean a lot of corrective winemaking. I have had to salvage large amounts of wine. Your really learn quite a bit in that process. Then when you are all of a sudden given pristine fruit, the facility and the equipment, it is almost like a dream come true.”
He left Soaring Eagle – which by that time was Bench 1775 and under new owners – in July 2012, joining Eau Vivre Winery & Vineyard at Cawston by the 2012 harvest. Four years later, he became the winemaker at Desert Hills Estate Winery near Oliver.

Anthony had begin making wines for his own label at Eau Vivre and has continued to do so at Desert Hills, a much larger producer. It is a generous privilege his employers have given him since many wineries forbid their winemakers to freelance with their own labels.

“When I was at Eau Vivre, the owners were very supportive of me making a small amount of wine,” Anthony says. “They looked at it as a win/win situation for both myself and their winery. The more exposure my wine got or Eau Vivre’s wine got, it benefitted both of us.”

Before he joined Desert Hills, he had a long conversation about this with the Desert Hills owners. “I wanted to make sure that there was going to be no issue with me making wine there,” Anthony says. “They have been extremely supportive of my label.” Desert Hills even offered to distribute Anthony’s label, an offer he declined.

“I have always committed myself to putting my job first, meaning that I look after Desert Hill wines first, and then at the end of the day, if I need to do something with my own label, then I do,” Anthony says. “It is not really a conflict because Desert Hills does not produce either a Pinot Noir or a Pinot Blanc. It just works, it works really well. I am sure some other owners would not want that. I have been lucky that I have had two that have allowed me to do this.”

At Anthony Buchanan Wines, he focussed on Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc because he really likes the varieties.

“Pinot Noir has been a long-term passion of mine,” Anthony says. “I have always enjoyed drinking Pinot Noir from many different regions around the world. And then I also saw a need to make Pinot Blanc. I think it is extremely undervalued. There are not a lot of wineries that produce Pinot Blanc.”

His debut vintage of Pinot Noir was 2014. He added Pinot Blanc the following year. So far, he has worked with grapes from several different vineyards while he begins developing relationships with the growers who want their names on his labels. It is also a recognition he believes the growers should have.

In the future, he plans to add a Riesling and another red varietal, not yet decided on, to his portfolio. “I think four wines will probably be it for the portfolio,” he says. “The idea is to slowly establish the brand in the market place and get a really good following. We will take each year, each vintage as it comes. But there is the end goal of obtaining a small piece of property.”

Here are notes on currant releases. The white is $20 a bottle and the red is $30. The winery’s website has details on where the wines are available.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Blanc 2015: The grapes for this wine are from a Naramata Bench vineyard. Seventy per cent of the wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel; 30% in new French oak. The wine has a subtle toasted note in the aroma from the oak, along with a suggestion of grapefruit. It has flavours of apple and pear and has a dry finish. 88.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Blanc 2016: The grapes for this wine are from a vineyard on the Black Sage gravel bar. A portion was fermented in a concrete barrel. As well, 20% of the wine was fermented with indigenous yeast. The brightness of the fruit aromas and flavours – crisp apple and citrus – reflect the excellent 2016 vintage while the backbone of minerals in the wine expresses the terroir. 90.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Noir 2014: This wine is made with a Pommard clone of Pinot Noir from the Jinny Lee Vineyard in Summerland. This dark-hued wine shows intensity in the aromas and flavours of cherries and dark berries, along with a toasty note (30% of the barrels in which the wine was aged were new). The texture portends the ability of this wine to cellar for another five years. 90.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Noir 2015: This wine was made with clone 115 Pinot Noir from the Sonora Pines Vineyard north of Oliver. The wine is a combination of tank-fermented and barrel-fermented portions. It is a pretty wine, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The fruit flavours are juicy. The wine already has a silky texture. This is the wine to drink while the 2014 is aging. 90.


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