Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tall Tales garagiste Kyle Lyons

Photo: Kyle Lyons

You are likely to get a chuckle, if not a belly laugh, from the back labels of the wines Kyle Lyons makes at his Tall Tale Wines.

Here is the back label from his 2016 Syrah Nouveau: “At Tall Tale Wines no detail of the winemaking process is overlooked in the pursuit of excellence. Planted in 2014, our old vines vineyard grows on soils imported from Jura, France. To achieve soft minerality on the palate, we irrigate exclusively with artesian mineral water. From the fermentation in neutral stainless steel, to organic glass bottles wrapped in biodynamic labels, this wine will have you telling our Tall Tales for generations.”

There is a twinkle in his eye as he explains the back labels: “They are sarcastic, tongue in cheek, and make fun of a lot of the buzzwords that are used in the wine industry today.”

There is also a tradition of telling tall tales in his family. It may have started with his maternal grandfather.

“The label specifically relates back to my grandfather who would tell me that, when he arrived here by boat, he did not have enough money to buy horses,” Kyle says. “He had to tame a moose. I wasn’t very old before I figured out that was bull. He never arrived by boat at all.”

That grandfather was a farmer at Salmon Arm in the B. C. interior. He is remembered in the sketch on the labels. It shows an individual walking behind a plough which is pulled by a most unlikely team – a moose and a bear.

Clearly Kyle, a garagiste winemaker who began marketing his wines this summer, has a gentle sense of humour. But he is dead serious about wine. And he will be among the producers at the Garagiste North tasting August 27 in Penticton.

Born in Kamloops in 1986 and raised in the Okanagan, Kyle says he “stumbled” into the wine industry.  “I got hired by Sumac Ridge when I was 18, just to help out - sweeping floors, scraping misprinted labels misprinted off bottles,” he says. “I got there at the right time. A couple of guys above me had left and I made my way up the ladder. Within the first year of being there, I realized that wine was something I preferred to pursue as a career.”

He spent five years with Sumac Ridge and its sister wineries in the Vincor/Constellation group. He was exposed to a wide range of useful cellar experiences.

In 2010, he joined Artus Bottling, the Okanagan-based mobile bottling company that, with a fleet of mobile bottling lines and a sparkling wine bottling line, bottles for the majority of B.C. wineries.

“I thought it was a great opportunity that I got to visit a different winery every day and make some good connections,” Kyle says. “The next thing I knew, I found myself there for over five years.”

He left that job when he decided he “missed being inside the cellar, making wine and being hands on with the fruit.” So he headed to Australia to do a harvest at Bannockburn Vineyards with winemaker Matt Holmes, who had previously worked in the Okanagan (Tantalus Vineyards and Liquidity Wines).

“It was while I was working there that I discovered the nouveau style of Syrah,” Kyle says. “They don’t make any at Bannockburn but I found a handful from other Australian wineries. After tasting it, I knew that when I got back, I had to try to make myself.”

When he returned to the Okanagan, he took a harvest job at Liquidity Wines, where he has since become a lead cellar hand. It keeps the bread on his table and allows him to develop his own tiny label.

The wines for Tall Tales’s first vintage in 2016, a total of 300 cases, were made in space Kyle rented at Synchromesh Wines near Okanagan Falls. Like a number of other garagiste wine producers, Kyle operates under another winery’s license while growing his label until he is ready to be self-sufficient.

“In my first vintage, I made the Syrah Nouveau and the Pinot Noir Blanc,” he says. “I also have a very small amount of sparkling wine.” The latter was inspired by the years he spent riddling sparkling wine at Sumac Ridge.

“The Syrah Nouveau was a lot of fun to make,” Kyle says. “I brought all the fruit in and I put whole clusters, 100% stems, right into a sealed vessel. I purged the vessel with CO2, got rid of all the oxygen; sealed it up and then I walked away from it for about a week and a half. When I came back and opened the lid, you could smell the fermentation was going. At that point, I would taste berries … every morning and every evening … until it was where I felt it should be on the palate. Then I pressed it off and let the fermentation finish in tank.”

His winemaking style is basically natural. His 2016 wines were all fermented with wild yeast. “There are no additions, no nutrients, no enzymes, just a little bit of sulphur at the end to help protect the wines” Kyle says. “It was a method of winemaking I had never done. I had never done hands-off natural winemaking, so it was a little bit stressful at first.”  He credits Synchromesh owner Alan Dickinson helping him settle his nerves.

He is trying to differentiate himself from all of the other wineries in the Okanagan.

“There are so many wineries here that are competing to be the best at the same thing,” Kyle says. “Not that that is bad, but I knew from the beginning that I did not want to compete in the market with a Bordeaux blend or a Pinot Gris. I wanted to come out with something just a little bit different but still approachable.”

In the 2017 vintage, he will make another Syrah Nouveau, a Semillon and, if he can source Pinot Noir, another Pinot Noir Blanc. “I also may have an interesting surprise up my sleeve that I don't want to discuss just yet because it's very possible I won't be able to get the fruit that I need to make it happen but I'm trying my damnedest,” Kyle says.

Here are notes on his 2016s.

Tall Tales Pinot Noir Blanc 2016 ($23). Minimal skin contact has given this wine a delicate and appealing blush. There are aromas and flavours of apple. The finish is dry. 87.

Tall Tales Syrah Nouveau 2016 ($28). This wine begins with aromas of spice and cherries. The fruit flavours are bright and youthful, in the nouveau style, while the finish is robust and earthy. 88.


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