Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lang Vineyards: proponent of Maréchal Foch

Photo: Winemaker Robert Thielicke in the Lang cellar

Recently, I visited Lang Vineyards on cold and snowy morning in November. Predictably, there were no other consumers in the wine shop – but then, most of the wines were sold out after a good sales season.

Fans of Lang need not fret. Winemaker Robert Thielicke was putting the final touches on the 2017 vintage, one that most Okanagan vintners rate as surprisingly good.

The winery’s general manager, Mike Lang, recently assured consumers that “2018 should be another great year when it comes to our new wine releases!”

In the winery’s latest newsletter, he wrote: “We are very excited for the new vintages of Maréchal Foch, Viognier, Riesling and much more.  These wines should start releasing in early spring to our wine-club members and will be available later in spring in our wine-shop and web store.”

Lang has long been a proponent of Maréchal Foch, a French hybrid that once was ubiquitous in Okanagan vineyards – and also was controversial. George Heiss, the former owner of  Gray Monk Estate Winery, famously quipped that the vine was not exported from France. “It was deported,” George said.

French plant breeder Eugene Kuhlmann (1858-1932) was the creator of this and of several other hybrid varieties, most of which now have been phased out of vineyards in France and North America. The variety is named for a French hero of World War One, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of the Allied armies in 1918. Like the other hybridizers of his day, Kuhlmann created new varieties by crossing native American vines with European vines in a search for productive and disease-resistant varieties.

Georges Masson, an Ontario wine writer in the 1970s, wrote that Foch “makes a good wine resembling a French Burgundy.”  The comparison to Burgundy, which is made with Pinot Noir, may have been inspired by the vaguely similar earthy aromas and smoky note in the finish of a Maréchal Foch wine. Other flavours include plums and spice. Masson thought the wine aged well. It depends on the style: most are made to be enjoyed when released with only a rare one crafted for long-term cellaring. 

There are two reasons, I believe, that Foch got a bad name. First, like almost all other red varietals in the Okanagan in the 1970s and 1980s, it was generally overcropped. Many red wines of that era were thin and vegetal. That does not describe a properly grown Foch.

Secondly, Foch is a challenging grape to ferment. Early in his winemaking career, Robert Thielicke worked with Dr. Alan Marks, then the winemaker at Mr. Boucherie Estate Winery.

“Alan gave me a lot of good advice on making Foch,” Robert says. “That foxy, hybrid nose … there are certain tricks you can do to get rid of it. It requires a lot of tannin. Not oak tannin, just tannin to take away the green. According to Alan, he said triple up your tannin. It precipitates out of the wine. You are getting rid of the green when the tannin precipitates.”

Günter Lang, the founder and former owner of Lang Vineyards, was in the habit of leaving some residual sugar in the Foch wines. The style, soft and juicy, had a lot of fans but Robert has recognized that palates are changing. The Lang Foch is still soft and juicy but no longer noticeably sweet.

It might be a stretch to suggest Foch might emerge as a “noble” wine. But it has a role as a serviceable every day red, with enough upside to produce the occasional reserve tier red.

Since there still are some Lang wines in the market, here are notes of the current releases.

Agrihof Ehrenfelser 2016 ($24.99 for 100 cases). This wine, sold under Lang’s license, is made by Robert Thielicke. The label is inspired by Italian and German words signifying artisanal agriculture. This is a crisp, dry white with complex aromas and flavours of quince. 90.

Lang Bravo White 2016 ($18.99). This is an aromatic blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Schönburger and Muscat. Fresh and tangy, the wine begins with aromas of citrus with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, pear and melon. 90.

Lang Viognier 2016 ($24.99). The wine is made with grapes from the Naramata Bench. It begins with tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, apricot), leading to a rich texture and flavours of apple, peach and pineapple. 91.

Lang Sparkling Rosé 2016 ($21.99). This is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine derived its appealing colour from three days of skin contact. The fine bubbles result from forced carbonation. The wine is crisp, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. It looks and tastes festive but would also flatter a brunch. 90.

Lang Cabernet Franc 2015 ($24.99 for 100 cases). Made with grapes from Oliver, this is a bright, brambly wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and blackberry. 90.

Lang Maréchal Foch 2015 ($22 for 1,000 cases). This is the signature red at Lang Vineyards – and it is nearly sold out. It is a juicy red with soft tannins and with aromas and flavours of cherry and plum. 88.

Lang Maréchal Foch 2015 Legacy Series ($25 for 75 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in oak. It has aromas of black cherry and plum which are echoed on the rich palate, along with notes of chocolate and vanilla. 91.


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