Monday, March 5, 2018

Poplar Grove releases: Current and future

Photo: Poplar Grove's Natasha Ponich

My last visit to taste in the Okanagan was during a surprisingly cold and snowy week early in November.

However, I managed to keep my rental car on the road and I got to all my appointments on time. In fact, the tastings were often quite leisurely because the usual wine tourists had the good sense to stay off the roads.

My final appointment was with Stefan Arnason, the winemaker at Poplar Grove Winery in Penticton. He had spent the better part of that week judging wine in California. His return flight through Vancouver had been delayed by the weather.

Fortunately for me, Natasha Ponich, his assistant, took me through an excellent tasting of Poplar Grove’s premium wines. Some of those are just being released or will be released later this year.

The current release package from the winery’s marketing staff includes just three wines, among them the first 2017 Pinot Gris I have seen. The superb 2016 Pinot Gris I tasted with Natasha is sold out.

Natasha is a native of Duncan on Vancouver Island. “I grew up down the street from Blue Grouse Estate Winery,” she says. “I rode horses and enjoyed the rural life.  It is a lovely area and a great place to grow up.”

In due course, her love of the rural lifestyle brought her to the Okanagan Valley. She got a job with Earlco Holdings Ltd., a major vineyard management company based on the Naramata Bench. She spent five years there and also completed to the winemaking program at Okanagan College.

When Natasha moved back to Vancouver Island (for personal reasons), she was hired by Bill Montgomery, who had opened 40 Knots Vineyard & Winery at Comox in 2011. About the time he sold the winery in 2014, Natasha returned to the Okanagan, eventually landing the enviable assistant winemaker post at the prestigious Poplar Grove winery.

Poplar Grove was established about 1995 by Ian and Gitta Sutherland. The wines, especially the reds, developed an early cult following. It is no longer a boutique winery but it has, if anything, a stronger following. 

In 2008, Tony Holler, a Naramata Bench neighbour of Ian, acquired control of Poplar Grove and transformed its status. The son of Austrian immigrants, Tony, born in 1951, grew up on a Summerland orchard, went to medical school and succeeded in the pharmaceutical industry. He has applied his focussed entrepreneurship to the wine business.

He already was buying Poplar Grove wines and believed in the Okanagan’s potential to produce wines ranking with the best in the world. “I wasn’t that interested in having a tiny boutique winery,” Tony said. So he invested in vineyards to become nearly self sufficient in grapes, and in a well equipped modern winery.

“Ian and his winemaking team were working from a 4,000-5,000 square foot building, producing this wine with very little technology,” Tony told me a few years ago. “The question in my mind was what if we had the proper infrastructure – a winery with the right cooling systems, with the right tanks and the right barrels, what can this winery really become?”

The answer is in the impressive portfolio made by the winemaking team.

Poplar Grove is now a Holler family project, with one of the owner’s sons now living in the valley and growing grapes.

“The family is all involved,” one of the staff tells me. “It is certainly a family passion project. Tony Holler is never in a bad mood when he comes in here. It just lifts the staff. You can imagine the amount of stress that a business like this creates. He is always so positive when he comes in, so positive about the wines we are creating down here – and he really believes in them.”

Here are my notes. The wines will make you a believer, too.

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.30). Natasha says she is “super excited” about the white wines from the 2017 vintage, something I am hearing from others in the industry. The fruity aromas of this wine – banana, citrus, pear and apple – brought a spontaneous “wow” from a fellow taster. The wine delivers flavours of citrus, pears and apples with a touch of spice on the crisp and refreshing finish. As delicious as the wine is now, there is even more upside if you give it another few months of bottle age. 91.

Poplar Grove Viognier 2016 Haynes Vineyard ($21.65). The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit and it delivers flavours of apricots, peaches and apples. The finish is crisp and racy. 91.

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2016 ($19.04). This wine delivers intense fruity aromas and flavours – peaches, citrus, cloves. The acidity is fresh and bright (the wine was not permitted to go through malolactic fermentation). Only 18% of the wine spent any time in oak. The result is a refreshing wine with great appeal. 91.

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($26 for 168 cases). This is almost a polar opposite in style. Totally fermented in oak, it is a rich, buttery wine with a medley of marmalade flavours. On the finish, there are notes of vanilla and spice. 92.

Poplar Grove Syrah 2014 ($30.35). There is three percent Viognier in this wine. It begins with aromas of blueberries, licorice and fig. The palate displays a broad array of red fruits, including fig, plum, and black cherry. There is a hint of pepper on the finish. Big ripe tannins give the wine a plushness on the finish. 91.

Poplar Grove Benchmark 2014 ($N/A). This is a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. The red berry aromas jump from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, mulberry, black cherry, with a lingering spice on the finish.  This is a magnificent blend; just put it down for 10 years and let it reward your patience. 92.

Poplar Grove Merlot 2015 ($26). Look for this wine to be released in the fall. It is a bold, generous wine with dark, brooding flavours of black currant, dark chocolate, and blueberries. The concentrated texture signals that the wine needs to be cellared. 91.

Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2015 Classic ($N/A). Another fall release; the grapes are from Osoyoos vineyards. The wine shows the bold character  of the hot 2015 vintage. “The tannins help hold the alcohol,” Natasha says. “All of our 2015s had big alcohols.” The wine begins with perfumed aromas of blackberry, also with a delicate touch of smoke. On the palate the are flavours of brambleberries and cherries, with long ripe tannins and a finish that does not want to quit. 93.

Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc Munson Mountain 2015 ($35). This is a wine to be offered first to the Poplar Grove wine club. The grapes are from the vineyard directly below the winery on Munson Mountain. The wine is earthy as well as brambly with flavours of black cherry, blackberry and spicy blueberry. 92.

Poplar Grove The Legacy 2014 ($50). This is the winery’s flagship red. It is a blend of 44% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 4% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine aged 21 months in oak. The wine has not yet been released but collectors need to get on the list; this superb wine is from one of the Okanagan’s best vintages and will age well. Already, it appeals with aromas off cassis and black cherry. On the palate, there is rich, dark fruit mingling sweetly with chocolate and spice. 94.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home