Monday, September 25, 2017

CedarCreek honours The Senator

Photo: Senator Ross Fitzpatrick (left) and Gordon Fitzpatrick (credit Albert Normandin).

The approach by visitors to CedarCreek Estate Winery this summer involved negotiating a lot of construction activity and equipment.

It was a case of short-term pain for long-term gain. The 30-year-old winery, which was acquired in 2013 by Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl, is being renovated to accommodate a year-round full-service restaurant and an expanded wine shop and tasting room.

In fact, there has been a lot of activity at this site in recent years. The new Martin’s Lane Winery, also owned by von Mandl, has been built just north of CedarCreek.

But judging from the wines released this summer, everything is in order at the back end of CedarCreek. Winemaker Taylor Whelan has produced excellent wines.

The current releases include a fine white blend called Senator’s White. (There is also a Senator's Red which I have not tasted.) This is a touching tribute to the previous owner of CedarCreek, Senator Ross Fitzpatrick. Born in the Okanagan, the son of a packinghouse manager, the senator had successful careers in both business and politics. However, his Okanagan roots led to his 1986 purchase of a small cottage winery called Uniacke, which he promptly renamed CedarCreek.

The senator talked about it in a 2004 book, A Wine Journal, that I was commissioned to write for CedarCreek.

“I started working in a packinghouse when I was 13 years old, putting handles on grape baskets,” he says. Having grown up amid orchards, Fitzpatrick was determined to own one. “In my first year in university, I took agriculture because I wanted to come back here.” Later, he switched to commerce courses, equipping himself for a life in business. While his business career advanced elsewhere in North America, he returned regularly to the Okanagan to bid on one orchard property or another but never closing a deal until 1986. That was when he bought a struggling estate winery called Uniacke which then had as many fruit trees as it had grape vines.  

In 1958, as Ross Fitzpatrick graduated from the University of British Columbia, a royal commission was studying the problems of the Okanagan’s fruit packing industry. Fitzpatrick was recruited from university to become the research assistant to Dean E.D. MacPhee, the royal commissioner.

After that commission reported (with a massive 819-page report that restructured the fruit industry), Fitzpatrick worked for two years in the Vancouver office of Sun-Rype, the orchard industry’s marketing arm, before leaving for postgraduate work in the eastern United States and then a political job in Ottawa as the executive assistant to Jack Nicholson, a cabinet minister from British Columbia.
“I went off and did a lot of other things but my heart was always here,” he says. “I kept coming back, looking at places to buy that I couldn’t afford. There are half a dozen key orchard properties in the Okanagan that are very historic, one being Greata -- which we now have.”  It was many years and several business successes later before Fitzpatrick could afford to satisfy his homing instinct.

In 1962 Fitzpatrick applied, and was accepted, for postgraduate business studies at several major American universities, ultimately enrolling at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business in New York. That spring, while he was waiting for the start of the semester, Fitzpatrick, who had been active in campus politics at UBC, worked on Jack Nicholson’s successful election campaign.

Intensely interested in politics even then, Fitzpatrick spent a semester prior to Columbia studying economics at the University of Maryland. His studies, he recalls, were not nearly as engaging as the hours spent at the Library of Congress, observing John F. Kennedy’s incandescent presidency. Along with transferring to Columbia, Fitzpatrick prepared to work in the United States after completing his studies.

But early in 1963, when the Liberals were elected to government, Nicholson invited him to Ottawa as his executive assistant. His dean at Columbia advised him to take the job. Fitzpatrick wrote his examinations early (and earned “dean’s list” marks) but never found time to write the thesis required for the degree. “It is the only thing I have started that I never finished,” he said. He spent the next three years in Ottawa, where he formed a lifelong friendship with Jean Chrétien, then a rising young Quebec politician.

When Chrétien became the prime minister thirty years later, Ross Fitzpatrick was an invaluable advisor in British Columbia and on the new government’s transition team. In 1998, the prime minister appointed Fitzpatrick a senator from British Columbia. True to his homing instinct, the Senator established his office in Kelowna, initially in an office tower not far from where he was born in a house on Bernard Avenue in 1933.

Given his busy schedule, the senator put the management of CedarCreek in the hands of his son, Gordon. He ran the winery so well that the asset attracted the offer from von Mandl. They did the initial deal on a handshake.

Greata Ranch, referred to in the book excerpt, was retained by the Fitzpatrick family. It reopened this year as Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards.

By making a wine called Senator’s White, Anthony von Mandl has honoured the exceptional legacy of Ross Fitzpatrick.

Here are notes on the wines.

CedarCreek Senator’s White 2016 ($18.99 for 2,000 cases). This is a blend of 53% Chardonnay and 47% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented primarily in stainless steel (15% in neutral French oak). The wine begins with lovely aromas of apple, melon and passionfruit, leading to flavours of ripe pear, apples and stone fruit. It is a dry wine with a rich, svelte texture and a lingering finish. 92.

CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2016 ($18.99 for 6,798 cases). This wine has aromas and flavours of pear, nectarine and citrus with a spine of minerality. The almost imperceptible residual sugar is balanced with bright acidity. The wine has a briskly focussed freshness on the palate and finish. 90.

CedarCreek Riesling 2016 ($17.99 for 1.342 cases). This is an exquisitely-balanced Riesling. The wine, with just 11% alcohol, has 19.5 grams of residual sugar and 9.5 grams of acid. The wine delivers aromas and flavours of lime and peach. This bright, focussed wine has a delicious, lingering finish that seems drier than the numbers suggest. This makes for a great food wine (we enjoyed it with sushi) and an excellent aperitif. 91.

CedarCreek Platinum Haynes Creek Viognier 2016 ($28.99 for 741 cases). This is an outstanding Viognier from one of the winery’s Osoyoos vineyards. Some 40% was fermented in French oak barriques; 30% in in barrels and foudre; and 30% in a 660-litre concrete egg. This has helped give the wine a rich, unctuous texture. The wine begins with expressive aromas of ripe apricot and pineapple, leading for flavours of peach and apricot. Fruit flavours coat the mouth and led to an intense and memorable finish. 94.

CedarCreek Pinot Noir 2015 ($24.95 for 3,060 cases). This wine is made with grapes from five different blocks of Pinot Noir, each aged separately in French oak barrels. The result is a dark wine with aromas of black cherry and plum that are echoed on the generous palate. 90.


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