Monday, January 29, 2018

Mission Hill's Darryl Brooker making his mark

Photo: Mission Hill General Manager and Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Darryl Brooker has been putting his finger prints on the wines of Mission Hill Family Estate since he succeeded John Simes as winemaker and general manager.

John remains a legend in Okanagan winemaking. He joined Mission Hill in 1992 and made his final vintage there in 2014 before retiring. Darryl quotes John as saying that 2014 was the best vintage he had experienced in the Okanagan.

During his 22 vintages, John was in charge of selecting and planting Mission Hill’s extensive vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Those properties stretch from East and West Kelowna through the Naramata Bench and Black Sage Road to the Osoyoos East Bench. This cornucopia of terroirs enabled John and his winemaking team to create an extensive portfolio of premium wines.

In wine, there is always room to raise the bar, no matter how high it is already. Previously the chief winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, Darryl is rising to the challenge at Mission Hill.

Born in Canberra in 1973, Darryl is a graduate of Charles Sturt University in Australia. He has a Bachelor of Applied Science - Wine Science, as well as a graduate diploma from Adelaide University in Wine Business.

He made wine at Villa Maria Estate in Hawkes Bay and at Mountadam Vineyards in Barossa Valley in Australia.  He came to Canada in 2003 when he was hired to launch Flat Rock Cellars in Ontario. He moved to the Andrew Peller group, working at Hillebrand and Thirty Bench, before joining CedarCreek in 2010. CedarCreek was acquired in 2013 by Anthony von Mandl and put under the umbrella of his holding company, VMF Estates. Darryl was promoted to Mission Hill.

Darryl’s touch on the Mission Hill portfolio can already be found in several of the current releases. Among them, Mission Hill’s first single varietal Cabernet Franc, a restyled Sauvignon Blanc, and a single vineyard aromatic white blend. As well, a new source of fruit has enabled him to rework Perpetua, Mission Hill’s premium Chardonnay.

The 2016 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Darryl says, is “a big change for us in the style of Sauvignon Blanc. And a big change on how John Simes was making it as well. I don’t want it to be New Zealand style but I wanted it to be a little more grassy, so I picked a lot of our blocks earlier than I have traditionally, just to layer in some of those grassy, herbaceous notes.  Then I picked some mid-tier and some ripe and tropical, just to get a few more layers in the blend.  I wanted to find something that was uniquely Okanagan but sat in the middle” between the New Zealand style and the Loire style.

The C Sharp wine is a single vineyard blend of five white varietals. “We wanted to have another go at a white blend,” Darryl says. “White blends have come and gone. They all got made sweet and dulled down. We wanted something very contemporary and fresh and very different.”

The Jagged Rock Vineyard is a block is at the top of a Mission Hill property on Black Sage Road. The elevation and the aspect make this a comparatively cool site, which accounts for the varieties grown here. The 2016 wine is a blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Semillon, 15% Muscat, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Gris.

“It was important to me to make it as a single vineyard wine,” Darryl says. “I wanted to make a more serious white blend as opposed to whatever is left over in the winery. We blend this wine before we blend any of our other wines. We use what we consider some of the best fruit, as opposed to what is left over.”

The 2015 Perpetua is another big change. Traditionally, the wine was made with Chardonnay grapes from Mission Hill’s Osoyoos vineyard. The 2015 wine contains 25% fruit from Mission Hill’s Naramata Ranch Vineyard.

“The reason I went for Naramata Ranch was not just because I was impressed with the wine from there; 2015 was such a hot year,” Darryl says. “We did not have enough acid in the Osoyoos fruit while the Naramata Ranch had good acid. So I blended the wines.”

Naramata Ranch, formerly known as Paradise Ranch Vineyards, is secluded at the very northern end of Naramata Road. Mission Hill purchased the vineyard some years ago and, by now, has replanted much of it.

“We planted a new Chardonnay clone at Naramata Ranch,” Darryl says. “It is clone 548, a French clone. I believe it is the first in Canada. It is about eight years old now. I liked it so much that it is 25% of the blend in the 2015 Perpetua.”
The 2015 Terroir Series Cabernet Franc is to be released this spring – the first time Mission Hill has released a solo Cabernet Franc. The grapes are from the Vista’s Edge  Vineyard in Osoyoos right against the U.S. border, one of the best properties that John Simes developed for the winery.

“I talked to John about Cabernet Franc when I got here,” Darryl says. “That was where we differed. He said Cabernet Franc is made for blending; we will never make a single varietal. So for my first vintage, I wanted to make a single varietal.”

It was a good call. “It is a big structured Cabernet Franc, which most people don’t expect,” Darryl says. About 625 cases were produced from vines that were 21 years old.

“Cabernet Franc is playing a much more important role than it did five, 10 years ago,” Darryl believes. “I think it is the variety of the future for the Okanagan Valley, when it comes to Bordeaux reds. Every year, the window for Cabernet Franc is getting more and more perfect.”

Mission Hill’s flagship wine is Oculus, a Bordeaux blend made every vintage since 1997. The 2014 vintage, made by John, has not yet been released. “It’s a stunning wine,” Darryl says. “The vines are older, the winery is so well equipped. It will prove to be the best Oculus yet made. Everything came together in 2014 for a really good wine.”

Here are notes on some wines in the portfolio.

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($20). This is a lively and expressive wine, beginning with aromas of lime and fresh grass. The flavours are intense, mingling notes of lime, lemon, herbs and grass. The finish is crisp; and the flavours linger on the palate. 92.

Mission Hill C Sharp Jagged Rock Vineyard 2016 ($25). This small lot wine is available just in the Mission Hill wine shop. It is now sold out but a larger volume will be released from the 2017 vintage. This is a delicious wine. Tropical fruit aromas explode from the glass, leading to flavours of green apple, lime and spice. The wine was deliberately bottled with some natural carbon dioxide and this adds to its delightful freshness. 91.

Mission Hill Perpetua 2015 ($50). The wine begins with citrus and apple aromas subtly touched with oak. The fruit is bright, with notes of butter and citrus and a hint of vanilla on the finish. The good acidity portends fine aging ability. 94.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2014 ($15.99). Five Vineyards is the entry level tier at Mission Hill. This is a tasty, if uncomplicated, blend with aromas and flavours of cherry, blackberry and black currant. 88.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2014 ($25.99). This is a bold red, with aromas of cassis and vanilla. It has a concentrated texture with firm tannins; the wine needs decanting but will age well. It has flavours of black currant and black cherry with a note of cedar and tobacco on the finish. 91.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Pinot Noir 2015 ($Sold out). The grapes for this come from what is now called Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road. Only 350 cases were made and offered primarily to the winery’s wine club. It was also submitted to a recent Decanter wine competition, where it won a gold medal. The wine is dark and full-bodied for a Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. 92.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Cabernet Franc 2015 ($50). The wine begins with aromas of cassis, blackberry and mulberry. Quite concentrated, it delivers flavours of black cherry, leather and chocolate. The finish is very long. This wine makes a profound statement on behalf of the variety. 93.

Mission Hill Oculus 2014 ($135). The blend is 50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, with most of the fruit coming from Vista’s Edge. Still to be released, this wine shows great harmony, with aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry. There are notes of dark chocolate and leather on the finish. The power and structure of this wine will give it a long life – easily 15 years in a good cellar. 95.


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