Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fitzpatrick's gold medal bubble and friends

Photo: Gordon Fitzpatrick toasts a gold medal

Gordon Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards at Peachland, was elated when the winery received a gold medal at the recent National Wine Awards for Fitz Brut 2013.

It is not as if winning gold medals is a new experience for him. Gordon was president of CedarCreek Estate Winery until it was acquired in 2013 by Anthony von Mandl, the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate. CedarCreek was a perennial medal winner in Canadian and international competitions. If memory serves, it was Canadian Winery of the Year at least twice.

If Gordon were a thoroughbred, one would say he has good blood lines and one would expect his new winery to win medals as well. Recently, I tasted six new releases from Fitzpatrick with five friends, all keen wine lovers. We were all impressed, to say the least.

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards (FFV) opened this spring for its first full season at the lakeside vineyard beside the highway midway between Peachland and Summerland. Formerly, this was the Greata Ranch Vineyards Winery which the Fitzpatricks closed in 2014 after operating it for 10 years. Subsequently, the property has been refreshed as an 8,000-case winery with underground cellars for 118,000 bottles of bubbly. And the winery has been totally rebranded.

Greata Ranch once was a famed orchard but had become a derelict property by the time Senator Ross Fitzpatrick (Gordon’s father) bought it in 1994. Senator Fitzpatrick planted the vineyard in 1995.

“We have always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. We had a wine shop and a second label, Greata Ranch, but it never got the attention it deserved. I wanted to see what we could do by giving Greata its own personality.”

The strategy is a focus on sparkling wines, about half of the production at FFV. That evolved from a recognition that the cool 40-acre Greata Ranch Vineyard produces excellent fruit for sparkling wines. “With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was,” Gordon says. “They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

The transition to sparkling started with the 2012 vintage. Darryl Brooker, then the winemaker at CedarCreek and now the general manager at Mission Hill, made sparkling cuvées in 2012 and 2013. Taylor Whelan, his successor at CedarCreek, was responsible for the next two cuvées, which are still resting in the FFV cellar. The 2016 cuvées and the 2016 whites have been made by a New Zealand winemaker, Sarah Bain, who was recruited last fall.

The new FFV has a significantly expanded tasting room compared to former one at Greata Ranch, along with new dining facilities.

Sparkling wines are available in a separate tasting room. These wines are featured as part of an hour-plus hospitality tours of the cellars and the vineyard. Many of these tours are led personally by Gordon or the winemaker. There also are shorter tours for those who don’t want to drill down so deeply into the vineyard and the cellars.

Here are notes on the new releases.

Fitzpatrick The Lookout Riesling 2016 ($18.50 for 444 cases). This wine was fermented cool for 49 days in stainless steel. The result is a wonderfully aromatic Riesling, with aromas of lemon, limeand Granny Smith apples. On the palate, it is a fruit basket of flavour: citrus and peach. There is a touch of sweetness, although the residual sugar (20 grams) is balanced with lively acidity. The finish lingers. While the wine has just 11% alcohol, the intensity of aromas and flavour is remarkable. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Mischief Pinot Blanc 2016 ($18.50 for 158 cases). The production is so small because most of Greata Ranch’s Pinot Blanc is now used for sparkling wine. Nonetheless, some table wine is produced because, as the winery says, “Pinot Blanc deserves more acclaim as far as we’re concerned.” This wine begins with aromas of apple, pear and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of apple and white peach with a hint of almond on the dry finish. 90.

Fitzpatrick Interloper Gewürztraminer 2016 ($18.50 for 381 cases). This wine was fermented cool in stainless steel for 45 days and then aged four months on the lees in stainless steel. The result is a wine with aromas of rose petal spice and pineapple, leading to flavours of spice, grapefruit and a hint of lychee. The texture is fleshy. The lingering finish is dry. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2016 ($18.50 for 650 cases). CedarCreek had turned Ehrenfelser into a cult wine and Fitzpatrick bids to continue the tradition, but with a wine that is more elegant and slightly less of a fruit bomb. The wine has aromas and flavours of guava, pears, peaches and pineapples. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Pink Mile Rosé 2016 ($18.50 for 276 cases). This is a Pinot Noir rosé, with the grapes picked and pressed specifically for this wine. It was fermented cool in stainless steel for 25 days and aged there another four months on the lees. The appeal of the wine begins with its delicate (but not washed out!) salmon hue. (Readers will know I expect rosé to have colour.) Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are echoed on the palate. A few grams of residual sugar are balanced with bright acidity, giving the wine a crisp and refreshing finish. 91.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Brut 2013 ($32.99).  I tasted this wine in the spring, just as it was being released, and again this month. I was struck by how well it has developed in bottle over the past five months. The cuvée is 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay. The wines were barrel fermented in neutral oak and aged about 27 months in bottle on the lees. This wine has a rich creamy texture, with flavours of citrus and ripe apple.  The persistent mousse adds to Champagne-like elegance of the wine. 93.


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