Monday, February 12, 2018

TH Wines could be sideswipped by the Alberta ban on BC wines

Photo: Tyler Harlton of TH Wines

Tyler Harlton’s TH Wines might become an example of the collateral damage caused by Alberta’s ban on British Columbia wines.

TH Wines is an artisanal producer in Summerland making about 2,000 cases of always interesting wines. Tyler, who is a Saskatchewan native, has attracted numerous customers in Alberta and Saskatchewan since opening the winery in 2012. His wines are in a substantial number of restaurants and wine stores in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Canmore.

Recently, the owner of an Edmonton restaurant called Clementine outlined his opposition to the wine ban in an interview with a Vancouver radio station. He singled out three BC wineries currently on his wine list: Laughing Stock Vineyards, Bella Wines and TH Wines. He hopes – who doesn’t? – that the ban will be rescinded before he needs to replenish the restaurant’s stock of wines.

The ban, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of BC wines. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley picked on the BC wine industry in response to BC Premier John Horgan’s recent moves to delay, if not stop entirely, the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion.

I think it is outrageous for Alberta to take its frustration out on the wine industry. It is especially outrageous when small producers like TH Wines become collateral damage.

"As chance would have it, I have events coming up in Calgary and likely Edmonton," Tyler told me. "We still have the support of all of our restaurant customers and the wine is being allocated to cover obligations."  

I tasted Tyler’s portfolio last August, in a visit to his rustic winery, which is tucked away in a Summerland industrial park. The subject of oil pipelines never came up.

For some background on Tyler and his winery, here is an except from John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

A law school semester in Paris in 2007 cemented Tyler Harlton’s passion for wine. He spent his weekends in French wine regions where he even helped pick grapes. “Seeing the vines in France really connected with me,” says Tyler, who was born in Saskatchewan in 1976 and grew up on a wheat farm. “I had that in my background. The wine industry is sophisticated and popular but at the same time it has an agricultural tradition.”

When he graduated from McGill law school in 2008, he articled with a Penticton law firm to be near the Okanagan’s wine industry. In short order, Tyler decided against a career in law and became a picker and then a cellar hand at Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery. He moved to the cellar at Le Vieux Pin in 2009 and to Dirty Laundry Vineyards in 2010 while planning for himself a holistic agricultural lifestyle including a winery.
He crafted a strategy allowing him to open a winery with limited capital. For a processing facility, he leases about 139 square meters (1,500 square feet) in an industrial building next to Ripley Stainless Ltd., the major supplier of tanks for the wine industry. He has handshake agreements with growers in the south Okanagan for top quality grapes. And he operates the winery under a commercial license that, unlike a land-based winery license, does not require him to be based on his own vineyard.

Since that was written, he has added a compact tasting room at the winery. In fine weather, however, he might still host tastings at a picnic table in the shade or on top of a barrel in the winery.
He continues to buy his grapes since he does not have a vineyard of his own. His methods for sourcing fruit can be ingenious.
“I always have my ear to the ground,” he says. “Winemakers from larger wineries will give me a tip about a grower, so I have a little capacity to do something fun. I am just working hard to make better wines. I spent a lot of time tasting BC wines and seeing what is here. I spend time visiting neighbours to see what is out there and what potential hasn’t been tapped yet.”
Most of the wines we tasted together last August are sold out but here are my notes.  The releases from TH Wines this year will generally be similar varietals.

TH Riesling 2015 ($27.99 for 289 cases). This is just the second Riesling that TH Wines has made. It fermented for nine months, ending up totally dry. The texture is rich. The citrus aroma has a hint of petrol. On the palate, there are flavours of pear and citrus with a spine of minerality. 89.

TH Viognier 2016 ($27.99 for 391 cases). Tyler believes that Viognier is “an interesting grape for the Okanagan.” It is hard to disagree with that on tasting this wine. It begins with appealing stone fruit aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and peach, with a refreshing acidity that gives the wine a lively finish. 91.

TH Rosé 2016 ($N/A). This dry rosé is made with Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes. It begins with a rose petal hue and aromas of strawberry, leading to flavours of strawberry and plum. 90.

TH Pinot Noir 2015 (Sold out). Aromas of cherry and strawberry lead to flavours of cherry and plum, with a hint of oak on the finish. The texture is silky. The wine was aged nine months in barrel (mostly neutral oak). 90.

TH Cabernet Franc 2015 (Sold out). While this is sold out, a 2016 has been released at $34.99. The 2015 was excellent, beginning with brambly aromas that led to  a cornucopia of red berry flavours and a spicy finish. 91.

TH Malbec 2015 (Sold out). Tyler made just 200 bottles of this Malbec with organic fruit from a grower on the Golden Mile. The wine was sold just to the TH wine club. The wine is packed with red berry flavours. 90.


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