Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bartier Brothers terroir-driven wines

Photo: Winemaker Michael Bartier

A little back of the envelop math about Michael Bartier’s career surprised me: he is going into his 23rd year as an Okanagan winemaker.

As the cliché goes, how time flies. I met Michael early in his career when he was the assistant winemaker at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards.

At the time, I was researching my 1998 book on the varietals that dominated Okanagan wines at the time. (I had the misfortune to call the book Chardonnay and Friends, just as ‘anything but Chardonnay’ had become fashionable; that did not help sales of the book at all.)

One of the grapes still being grown at the time was Chelois, one of the French red hybrids. Most of the hybrids were pulled out in 1988 but Hawthorne Mountain still had some. I made an appointment to interview the winemaker, only to discover when I arrived 10 days later that he had been fired a day or two earlier.

The winery produced Michael Bartier to take the interview. Hawthorne Mountain (originally known as LeComte Estate Winery) had been making Chelois wines at least since 1986. That vintage had earned a gold medal and the chairman’s grand prize at the 1989 Pacific National winemaking competition.

Michael was still giving the variety some respect when I met him. “It’s nice to have an approachable entry-level wine,” he told me. “This is a red wine with training wheels.”

From Hawthorne Mountain, Michael went on to carve out a solid career with several wineries including Township 7, Road 13 and Okanagan Crush Pad. In 2009, he and his older brother, Don, launched their own Bartier Brothers label. The winery and the tasting room were established in 2015 on the Cerqueira Vineyard just off Black Sage Road south of Oliver.

This was a producing 14.5-acre vineyard when the Bartier brothers bought it. It grows Sémillon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. There is no Chelois – but neither is Michael not making entry-level wines any more.

The vineyard is crucial to the serious terroir-driven wines he makes now. “We want people to see and taste first hand that wine pedigree comes from farming in rocks – in our case the rocks of the Black Sage Gravel Bar,” Michael said when announcing the new wine shop.

To quote the news release issued at the time: “The area was flooded after the last glacial retreat, depositing mineral-rich glacial till which has formed limestone deposits in the gravel.  Bartier Bros. maintains that these deposits are what make their wines and other wines of the area world class.”

Late last year, I sat down with Michael to taste the current releases from Bartier Brothers.  Here are notes on the wines.

Bartier Brothers Sémillon 2016 Cerqueira Vineyard ($17.29 for 648 cases). The many fans of this white will welcome the arrival of the 2016 vintage, with a production of 648 cases. That compares with a mere 72 cases of the 2015 Sémillon after a sharp, bud-killing frost in November 2014 severely limited the crop. Michael joked that he could compensate for the loss by selling the 2015 Sémillon for $180 a bottle. The wine, in fact, was sold to the Bartier wine club at the regular price.

The 2016 Sémillon begins with aromas of lemon and fresh straw, leading to flavours of lemon, grass and what the winery describes as sesame seed. The wine is crisp and dry. It is delicious now but an extra year in the bottle will reward those who are patient. 90.

Bartier Brothers Riesling 2015 ($19.49 for 313 cases). The grapes for this wine come from the Thadd Springs Vineyard at Harper’s Trail Estate Winery near Kamloops, where Michael is the consulting winemaker. Once again, the terroir gives this wine a good backbone of minerality. “That limestone they have on the hillside behind their winery impacts the wine,” Michael says. “You know that the ground water that comes through that affects their vines.”

The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon, with a hint of classic petrol. Dry, with bright acidity, this crisp and focussed wine will age for years – if you can keep your fingers away from it. 91.

Bartier Brothers Chardonnay 2016 Cerqueira Vineyard ($23.49 for 850 cases). Michael began making his name with Chardonnay as far back as his time at Hawthorne Mountain. One of the award-winning Chardonnays he made there had more than 15% alcohol although the label said 14.7%. “Sometimes when we need to reduce alcohol, we let the printer do it,” he quipped at the time.

Today, he has a different take on alcohol levels. “I don’t like high alcohol,” he says now. “The lower the alcohol, the better.” This Chardonnay, a third of which was fermented in older barrels, has 13% alcohol and lots of elegance. It begins with citrus aromas that lead to flavours of citrus and apples. The mid-palate is creamy due to aging on the yeast lees for six months, but the finish is crisp. 90.

Bartier Brothers Cabernet Franc 2015 Cerqueira Vineyard ($25.99 for 498 cases).  “I like this grape,” Michael says. “It is very well behaved in the vineyard. I think it is well-suited to the glacial till that we are farming in and I think it is well-suited to our summer temperatures. Cabernet Franc seems to thrive on the hot temperatures where other varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, will shut down.” The Cabernet Franc block is now 10 years old.
This is a big, ripe red, with a smoky note on the nose mingled with black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, chocolate and cedar. The smoky notes are attributed to the smoke from forest fires that hung over the Okanagan late in the vintage. Michael decided not to remove the smoke because it definitely adds an interesting character to the wine. “It is a legitimate expression of the vintage,” he maintains.  91.

Bartier Brothers Merlot 2015 Cerqueira Vineyard ($23.49 for 457 cases). This is a ripe and concentrated wine. A slight hint of smoke mingles with cassis and black cherry aromas. On the palate, the wine has flavours of ripe blueberry and black cherry, with a lingering finish. 91.

Bartier Brothers Syrah 2015 Cerqueira Vineyard ($30.34 for 181 cases). The winery’s notes explain: “The grapes destemmed and lightly crushed and directly crushed into French barrels which had their ends removed. After filling, the barrel heads were replaced and maceration took place over 36 days with the barrels being rolled two rotations, twice a day.” The must was then pressed and the wine went into neutral French oak barrels for 14 months.

A lot of work, but well worth the effort. The wine is concentrated with smoky aromas of blackberry, deli spices and pepper, leading to flavours of black cherry. 92

Bartier Brothers The Goal 2014 ($25.99 but sold out). This is a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot. The flagship red blend at Bartier Brothers, this begins with appealing aromas of cassis and dark red fruit, which is echoed on the concentrated palate. 92.


At March 7, 2018 at 12:30 AM , Blogger Dean Wautier said...

I am extremely pleased that top Okanagan winemakers are feeling confident about really taking the concept of terroir seriously. I have joined their wine club and look forward to receiving their wine.

I have Cabernet Franc , Syrah and Riesling arriving first. I am I best to put all of them away for awhile? Suggestions?

Thank you so much for your exceptional contributions to BC wine.


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