Saturday, January 13, 2018

40 Knots: a high-energy winery







Photo: Brenda Hetman and Layne Craig

Brenda Hetman and Layne Robert Craig, her husband, have injected refreshing energy into Comox-based 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery since they acquired it in July, 2014.

The initial developer of this winery, Bill Hamilton, found himself overwhelmed by the wine business. The many demands of winegrowing, from pruning a large vineyard to selling a good volume of wine, even if sound, are daunting. Brenda and Layne, who came from outside the wine business, are younger. Their enthusiasm seems to have staying power.

A recent email from the winery set out an ambitious program of events at the winery during the winter. Beginning January 13, there are mixology classes every Saturday to mid February; and there is a Valentine’s fashion show on February 8. Check the winery web site for times and ticket prices. Hats off to the owners for not leaving the winery dark over winter.

The wines reflect the terroir of a vineyard whose soil is glacial till. It is literally meters from the Salish Sea.

“With the assistance of winemaker Michael Bartier, we craft wines distinctly shaped by this windswept, sun-soaked vineyard in which we farm using traditional methods,” Brenda writes. Increasingly, they have adopted organic and biodynamic farming practices.

“We do not irrigate our vines,” Brenda continues. “We use the line only to get our liquid kelp out in the early summer.” Not irrigating forces the vines to send roots deeper into the soil. It also prevents the vines from being overly vigorous.

What struck me in tasting the wines reviewed below was this: while the alcohol levels are generally moderate, the flavours are fully ripe. That is a sign of excellent viticulture.

Vancouver Island vineyards typically have lower heat units that those of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Varietals like Syrah and Merlot will not ripen on the island, no matter how good the viticulture. Yet consumers also want big wines. 40 Knots, along with some other island wineries, source those late ripening grapes in the Okanagan. Language on the label general makes it clear when grapes come in off the island.

The 40 Knots vineyard succeeds with earlier ripening varieties, including Schönburger,  Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

One of the most successful is Siegerrebe. The wines are lively and fruity. The only problem is some consumers have trouble pronouncing the name of the grape. It is Zee-ger-eeb-eh.

40 Knots thought they had resolved the problem by calling their wine Ziggy, only to run into a strange trademark fight. Ziggy is also the name of their vineyard dog.

Since last February, Loblaws Companies Ltd. has been objecting to 40 Knots using Ziggy on a wine label. Loblaws apparently has five Ziggy trademarks related to their delicatessen. 40 Knots is trying to have them expunged on the grounds they have not been used. Loblaws has until early in January to file evidence they have been used.

It may seem preposterous that consumers would confuse a wine from 40 Knots with a Loblaws deli. But big companies typically defend trademarks. If they don’t, there is always a risk that other businesses will begin using the trademarks and the trademarks lose their individual value.

Good luck to 40 Knots. However, my advice to consumers who like this excellent wine is learn to pronounce the name of the variety.

Here are notes on the wines.

40 Knots Ziggy Siegerrebe 2016 ($22.90). Siegerrebe, an under-appreciated white variety, is a godsend for the cooler vineyards on Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley. An early ripening aromatic grape, Siegerrebe invariably delivers exuberant tropical aromas and flavours. This wine is an example: aromas and flavours of spice, grapefruit and lime with a crisp, dry finish. 90.

40 Knots Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($22.90 for 414 cases). The grapes for this wine were grown, and very well grown, in the Comox Valley. The alcohol is just 11.9% but the flavours are ripe. Light, dry and refreshing, this wine has aromas and flavours of apples and pineapples. It is well balanced with a tangy finish. 90.

40 Knots White Seas 2016 ($19.90 for 545 cases). There are six white varietals, including Pinot Gris, in this blend. The wine had a long, cool fermentation in stainless steel to preserve the fruit basket of flavours (apple, pear, lime, lemon). The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

40 Knots L’Orange 2016 ($36.90 for 126 cases). This is a blend of Schönburger and Pinot Gris, fermented and aged on the skins in a terracotta amphora. The wine is exotic, with aromas of coriander and with flavours of orange zest, oriental spices and even a hint of tobacco. It is dry and crisp on the finish. I am of two minds about orange wines but this wine’s clean flavours are quite food friendly. 90.

40 Knots Rosé 2016 ($22.90 for 567 cases). This wine has an appealing pink hue, leading to aromas and flavours of cherry and cranberry. The wine is lively and refreshing on the palate and crisply dry on the finish. 90.

40 Knots Pinot Noir 2016 ($29.90 for 398 cases). The low alcohol (10.6%) gives this estate-grown Pinot Noir a refreshing lightness. It has aromas and flavours of cherry mingled with a peppery spice. 88.

40 Knots Stall Speed Merlot 2016 ($29.90). Stall Speed is the tag used when the winery purchases Okanagan varietals that cannot be grown successfully on Vancouver Island. The grapes for this wine are from the Cerquiera Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench farmed by Michael Bartier, who is also the consulting winemaker for 40 Knots. This is a big, ripe wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry and plum. There is a hint of licorice on the finish. 90.

40 Knots Extra-Brut 2014 ($36.90). This traditional method sparkling wine spent two years on the lees before being disgorged. It has the classic biscuit notes of lees aging, along with lemony aromas and flavours. Racy acidity gives this a tart finish. I would suggest three years on the lees for the next vintage would better soften the acidity. 88.

40 Knots Safe Haven 2016 ($21.90 for 350 ml). This is a fortified Maréchal Foch with grapes, the winery says, from one of the oldest Foch plantings on Vancouver Island. The aroma of chocolate, fig and cherry is already evident when the bottle is opened. In the glass, the colour is deep. On the palate, the wine is luscious with more chocolate and fig flavours and with soft tannins. The finish goes on and on. 91.




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