Wednesday, April 11, 2018

50th Parallel releases Matt Fortuna's wines

Photo: 50th Parallel winemaker Matt Fortuna

The new releases from 50th Parallel Estate are interesting for two reasons: they offer a glimpse of the 2017 vintage and also of the work of Matthew Fortuna, the new winemaker.

First, the vintage, which 50th Parallel describes as “a very strange year in the Okanagan.”

The winery elaborates: “The valley’s water basin experienced a heavy snowfall during the winter and then a large deluge of rain early in the spring.” The snow melted quickly, causing serious flooding in the valley.

“However, this watershed was a welcome gift to the vineyards as the timing of the moisture allowed for a wonderful natural soaking of the vines at a time when we would normally be irrigating the vineyards,” the winery continues. “Despite the early rainfall, the season quickly became hot and dry into the early summer.”

That set the stage for one of the worst forest fire years. “These fires were so large that they caused a frequent haze in the valley which diminished light and blocked out some of the sun’s intense energy,” the winery said.

Fortunately, 50th Parallel and other wineries in Lake Country did not experience heavy smoke events. There is no smoke taint in the wines.

“In fact, as we reflect on the season, we believe that the less intense smoke may have helped the vintage, as the temperatures were moderated from what may otherwise have been a very drought-like year,” the winery says.

The yields in 2017 were lower than the 2016 yields (a bounteous year) but the quality of the grapes turned out well. Matt Fortuna had good fruit to work with.

Formerly the assistant winemaker at 50th Parallel, he took over last year from Grant Stanley, the winemaker since 2013. Grant was on hand to consult with 50th Parallel last year but he was transitioning to the cellar at SpearHead Winery.

“I have been working with Grant for 10 years, going back to the Quails’ Gate days,” Matt told me last year.

Matt was born in Niagara Falls in 1981 and was exposed to wines, notably wines of Ontario, while working in hotels there.

“I guess the turning point for me was when I tasted a Pinot Noir from Oregon,” he said. “The Oregon Pinot was unlike anything I had tasted before or smelled before. It was beautiful, it was complex, it was aromatic. That turned me on to the idea of Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs as something unique, and I tried to get myself here.”

In 2007, he volunteered to work a harvest at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. That turned into his winery career.

“I knew Quails’ Gate was a prominent producer of Pinot Noir,” he said. “That is where I learned everything. I was there for five years, starting in 2007. And I developed a good relationship with Grant Stanley as well – a mentor, a long-time friend. He saw opportunity for me here, so he brought me along on this project and I became his assistant here.”

Matt did not quite learn everything at Quails’ Gate. “I took the winemaker program at Okanagan College. I did a vintage in Australia as well. I was in Mornington Peninsula. I worked with one of the pioneering wineries there, Moorooduc Estates. Dr. Richard McIntyre has owned it for 30 years, trying to recreate a little Burgundy in Australia. That was a really good experience for me.”

It goes without saying that there has been no abrupt change of style in the 2017s. Here are notes on the wines.

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2017 ($19.90 for 2,495 cases). This is perhaps 50th Parallel’s signature white wine and it is available in good volume. It begins with aromas of peach and apple leading to a bowl of tropical fruit flavours on the palate. A small portion of the wine was barrel-fermented, adding a backbone of toastiness to the wine. Just a hint of residual sugar adds flesh to the texture. The finish is refreshing. 90.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2017 ($19.90 for 1,244 cases). In recent years, a lot of us have been tiring of Gewürztraminer. Too many lack personality – but that is not so with 50th Parallel. This wine begins with aromas of rose petals, spice and citrus. It leads to mouth-filling flavours of lychee, oranges and spice. The touch of residual sugar is well balanced. The wine has good texture with a long, fresh finish. 91.

50th Parallel Riesling 2017 ($19.90 for 777 cases). This wine was bottled in February and seems to be taking its time in recovering from bottle shock. Buy it and lay it down for a few months, even a year, to unlock the potential. It has aromas of citrus and flavours hinting of lime and green apple, with a spine of minerality. The numbers are excellent to a Riesling to age: 7.5 grams of residual sugar and 8.2 grams of acidity. 90-92.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir Rosé ($19.90 for 1,031 cases). The wine’s pink salmon hue invites you immediately. It begins with aromas of strawberries and raspberries, leading for flavours of strawberry and watermelon. The wine is juicy on the palate and crisp on the finish. 91.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2016 ($35). This is a lovely wine, beginning with aromas of citrus and butter. These lead to flavours of tangerine, apple and nectarine with a subtle accent of oak. The bright acidity of the 2016 vintage gives lift and freshness to the wine. 92.


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