Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tinhorn Creek releases a trio of reserves

Photo: Tinhorn Creek winemaker Andrew Windsor 

The three excellent reserve wines recently released by Tinhorn Creek Vineyards includes  illuminating background information on the winery’s two vineyards.

I think it is worth reproducing some of the text.

The winery produces wines in two tiers; Varietal and Oldfield Reserve tiers. The single-varietal series includes a Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Special lots are selected each year for the winery’s reserve tier, named the Oldfield Reserve tier. This tier is a playground for experimentation and is a creative showcase of the best wines from each vintage.

The series includes 2Bench White and 2Bench Red, both proprietary blends, as well as a Rosé, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and a Golden Mile-designated Chardonnay. The Oldfield Reserve red wines are aged for a minimum of three years prior to release. All Tinhorn Creek wines evoke the unique terroir of the region: the sage-covered desert terrain.

Tinhorn Creek’s 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard located on the Black Sage Bench. Black Sage Bench is home to approximately one third of the Okanagan Valley’s vineyards. This area was first planted with hybrid grape varieties which were later removed in 1988 as a result of NAFTA under a government program to replace less desirable grape varieties with premium vinifera grapes.

The land sat fallow for several years before replanting began. Twenty minutes north of Osoyoos, the Black Sage Bench sits on top of sandy soil that can be up to 300 feet deep. Affectionately known as “The Beach”, the soil on the upper elevated area of Black Sage Bench makes planting a challenge as freshly dug holes immediately fill with sand. The soil has lower nutrient and organic matter content than other areas in the valley, and there is a high evaporation rate as water drains right through soil, requiring more irrigation than other sites. Fortunately, the benefits outweigh the challenges, which is apparent in the quality of the grapes the area produces.

The Diamondback Vineyard has a southwest facing elevated location and enjoys both early morning and late afternoon sun. In the summer months, the site can get two to three additional hours of sunlight per day compared to the Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. The grapes planted at this site can ripen one to three weeks prior to the same varieties at Tinhorn Creek, in part due to this extended sun exposure.

The Diamondback Vineyard has 100 acres planted with eight varietals. Planting began in 1994 with Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. More plantings followed including Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. By 1997, the Diamondback Vineyard planting finished. More recently, Semillon, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have been planted at this site.

The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation; the Golden Mile Bench starts at Fairview Road in Oliver and extends south to Road 13. Although this area measures longer than a mile, it was first referred to the “Golden Mile” in the mid-1940s as it gained its reputation for its rich farmland.

The Golden Mile Bench is located on a bench above the valley floor, and the elevation makes it significantly warmer than the valley floor. These features also help the vineyard escape damaging spring and fall frosts.

The Tinhorn Creek vineyard site enjoys the early morning sun exposure. By late afternoon, the sun dips behind the hills, providing cool summer evenings, allowing grapes develop their exquisite flavours. To the west of the vineyards lies the Thompson Plateau. The sun goes behind this ridge early in the day relative to the other side of the valley. The vineyard can be in shade as early as 17:00 in the summer months making it a cooler, slower ripening area. The downward slope of the vineyards provides good airflow and, mainly due to water drainage, varietals ripen differently uphill versus downhill.

The soils on the Golden Mile Bench consist primarily of rocky clay loam soil, characteristic of the Golden Mile alluvial fan. In fact, the stone archway above the winery entrance was constructed with rocks from the Gewürztraminer vineyards. These heavier soils are more difficult to plant due to the large number of rocks; but the soil holds moisture longer, so less irrigation is required. Additionally, less fertilizer is needed due to high nutrient content and vines grow more vigorously in these conditions. As a result, the vineyard team does shoot removal and leaf thinning during the summer to keep the fruit exposed to the sun and to ensure the vine is in balance.

The previous owners planted Pinot Noir in 1989, Merlot between 1989 and 1991, and Kerner and Chardonnay in 1990. Today, there are ten varieties of grapes planted at this site including Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.

Here are notes on the three releases. The 2014 wines are from the vintage in which Andrew Windsor took over as winemaker when Sandra Oldfield became winery president.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve 2Bench White 2016 ($19.99 for 1,507 cases). This is a blend of 47% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Sémillon, 16% Viognier, 14% Chardonnay and 6% Muscat. The winery went to some lengths to produce a complex wine, fermenting portions of the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier in new and used French oak. The remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of melon and guava, touched with notes of honey and vanilla. The winery notes suggest the palate is light; to my taste, it is rich, with flavours of tropical fruits and vanilla. The lingering finish is dry. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2014 ($26.99 for 1,536 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a special 18-year-old block of vines at a high elevation in the winery’s Diamondback vineyard on Black Sage Road. Here, the grapes are smaller and the yields are lower. There is 15% Cabernet Franc in the blend. The result is a dark and concentrated wine that was aged 18 months in French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and fig. That is echoed on the palate, along with notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. The firm structure will support aging. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Syrah 2014 ($31.99 for 859 cases). The grapes for this are from 13-year-old (in 2014) vines in the Diamondback Vineyard. The two percent Viognier in the blend results from adding Viognier skins to the fermenting Syrah. Fermentation was done with wild yeast. The wine stayed on the skins for about eight weeks, maximizing the robust flavours of this Syrah, which was aged 18 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (30% new). The wine begins with powerful aromas of figs, plum, white pepper and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum, fig jam, licorice and pepper. The finish is exceptionally long. 92.


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