Friday, November 10, 2017

Moraine is completing a new winery





Photo: Moraine winemaker Jacqueline Kemp

The new winery under construction at Moraine Estate Winery will totally transform this Naramata Road property.

In effect, the facility is catching up with the transformation of the wines since 2012, when Moraine hired New Zealand-trained winemaker Jacqueline (Jacq) Kemp.

The original winery on this property was called Zero Balance. It was one of seven properties owned by the Holman Lang Group, which went bankrupt in 2010. The following year, Oleg Aristarkhov, a Siberian-born electrical engineer who had emigrated to Edmonton in the 1990s, bought Zero Balance.

He also planted four acres of Pinot Noir on the Naramata Bench in 2010. He saw Zero Balance, with seven acres of vineyard and a highly visible location right on Naramata Road, as a good business opportunity. “I have liked wines all of my life,” he said.

The most charitable description of Zero Balance is that it was a homely winery. However, Oleg and Sveltlana, his wife, turned the old house beside the road into a charming tasting room.

Initially, they arranged to have their wines made elsewhere until Jacq said she could turn a large equipment building on the property into a winery. It did not take too long for Moraine’s production, which had risen to about 6,000 cases a year, to outgrow the building. In fact, the 2016 crop was unexpectedly large. Jacq made 8,000 cases in pretty cramped quarters, with some difficulty.

The new winery has a capacity of 15,000 cases. The building also accommodates several tasting rooms and apartments. It does not look that large from the road – but it has several levels below ground.  Moraine lost some vines to make room for the winery – an utterly disposable variety called Dunkelfelder. It is a very dark-fleshed grape, planted initially when wineries used it to add colour to wines. More capable viticulture has make colouring grapes unnecessary.

Now 41, Jacq  was born in New Zealand. Because her father was a New Zealand diplomat, she grew up in Europe, primarily in Belgium.

“I was introduced to wine when I was seven, eight, nine, ten,” she remembers. “It is part of your meal. I was getting to taste wine when I was little and really enjoying it. That was really where it started … going out with Dad to the supermarket and seeing the hundreds of bottles on the shelves; and going to the different wine regions with him.”

Winemaking was not her first career choice even when it seemed to be her first love. “I did my honours in animal and human nutrition, but I was always taking wine courses along side,” she says. “And then I realized one day I had to make a choice; whether I was going to go into cancer research and spend most of my time in a lab; or switch to my other passion, which was wine. That was where I made my switch.”

She augmented her scientific training with wine courses at Lincoln University in Christchurch in 2000. “It was an easy step,” she says. “I spent my whole time in the vineyard and the winery at Lincoln University and just did the papers. My focus was getting my hands into the vineyards and getting as much practical experience at that stage as I could.”

A brief winemaking excursion to the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne in Australia was cut short when she was put off by the frightening number of scorpions and poisonous snakes in Australia. New Zealand’s wild life is famously benign.

Back in New Zealand, she started working in the cellars of Sacred Hill Winery in Hawke’s Bay. “My first job at Sacred Hill was racking Chardonnay from barrel,” she says. “That is pretty much where my interest in Chardonnay began. They had some pretty good Chardonnay there.”

The senior winemaker, Tony Bish, initiated her by asking her to make wines from a dodgy lot of Malbec. “He gave me the worst grapes you could imagine and said, ‘See if you can make something from this.’ Off I went. One day, they were doing a tasting with all their Malbecs and I stuck my wine in there. He said, ‘What’s this? Where does this come from?’”

“I said it was mine,” Jacq recounts. Impressed, the winemaker appropriated the wine for Sacred Hill.

“It was a good start for me to have some really difficult grapes to work with,” she says. “It also taught me how to manage grapes that were really green, or had wasp pick in them … all these different bits and pieces. It was a really good learning step in my career.”

She went on to make wine at Akarua Winery, a notable Pinot Noir specialist in the Central Otago region on New Zealand’s south island.

She came to Canada in 2008 when Chris Carson, now her former husband, was recruited by Meyer Family Vineyards at Okanagan Falls.

“I had always wanted to come to Canada and that was the time when it just made sense” she says. “We could move into the wine industry here and still have a family. In New Zealand, that was not all that possible. You needed to exit the wine industry to have your family, and then jump back in.”

She picked up her winemaking career in the Okanagan primarily as a consultant, joining Moraine in 2012.

  

The key to her winemaking is the exceptional attention she and Oleg pay to the vineyards.

“Tony Bish at Sacred Hill told me that from that start,” Jacq says. “He spent 80% of his time in the vineyard, and I was with him. That’s where it all happens. That is where that quality comes from. That is what New Zealand does as a whole. Even our big wineries are so focussed on viticulture. Winemaking? Yeah, we’ll get to that – but if the grapes don’t come in right, it is just a mess.”

A case in point was how she managed Pinot Noir in 2015, a hot year when the grapes wanted to ripen prematurely, before flavours were fully developed.

“I was trying to slow those vines down as much as possible in 2015,” she says. The vines carried a higher than usual crop to prevent the grapes ripening in mid-August. “If we had taken our crop down to the normal level at the start of August, we would have been ripe way too early. I was trying to put the hand brake on as much as I could.”

Here are notes on Moraine’s current releases.

Moraine Chardonnay 2016 ($26 for 142 cases). The oak use is restrained (six months in French oak, 50% new). As well, the winemaker eschews lees stirring. The result is a lively, fruit-forward wine with aromas and flavours of melon touched with vanilla and butterscotch. 91.

Moraine Pinot Gris 2016 ($19). Fermented and aged in stainless steel, this is a refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of pear and melon. It is juicy on the palate but crisp on the finish. 89.

Moraine Viognier 2016 ($24 for 245 cases). This wine is floral and fruity on the nose, with flavours of pineapple and apricot. “I picked it quite early,” Jacq explains. “On this site, if it gets really ripe, it gets really soapy.  I picked it just about when its flavours were coming out, about 22 brix. It has good acidity in there and that is balanced with residual sugar.” 90.

Moraine Riesling 2016 ($24 for 397 cases). The grapes are grown in a section of the vineyard with mineral soils laid down at the time of the glaciers. That seems to account for the mineral-driven tension and bright acidity of the wine, which has aromas and flavours of lime and lemon. The finish is dry without being austere.  The wine is exclusive to the tasting room and to Moraine’s wine club. 91.

Moraine Pink Mountain Rosé 2016 ($23 for 154 cases). This is a wild-ferment whole bunch Gamay Noir rosé. It is a lively, juicy wine with aromas and flavours of wild strawberry. A very light touch of residual sugar (six grams) adds to the refreshing character of what is a dry rosé. 90.

Moraine Pinot Noir 2015 ($27). Made with just the 767 clone and aged in oak for 10 months, this wine’s boldness reflects the hot 2015 vintage. It is a generous wine with almost jammy flavours of plum and strawberry. The texture is silky and the finish is long. 9o.

Moraine Pinot Noir 2016 (tank sample). This wine was entirely fermented with wild yeast. Because the vintage was cooler, the cherry and strawberry aromas and flavours are bright and appealing. 91.

Moraine Syrah 2015 ($26 for 249 cases). This is estate-grown Syrah that succeeds because the vineyard, moderated by exposure to the lake, permits extra hang time for the variety. “I thought there was no way we were going to grow Syrah here,” Jacq marvels. “For me, it is one of the quieter stars, a good example of Syrah from the Naramata Bench.” The slightly smoky and dark fruit aromas jump from the glass, leading to flavours of black cherry, plum, fig and bacon and a hint of pepper. 92.

Moraine Malbec 2015 ($35 for 152 cases). Like the Syrah, this estate-grown Malbec benefits from the particular terroir of the vineyard. It begins with the variety’s familiar floral perfume, leading to flavours of black cherry and blackberry. There is a hint of pepper on the finish. 92.

Moraine Meritage 2014 ($35 for 403 cases). This is a blend of 45% Merlot (from Oliver), 33% Cabernet Franc and 22% Malbec (both from the Naramata Bench). It has aromas and flavours of black currant, blackberry and black cherry. There is a hint of licorice and vanilla. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak (about 50% new). 90.


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