Sunday, September 9, 2018

Howling Bluff pursuit of excellence

Photo: Howling Bluff proprietor Luke Smith 

At Howling Bluff Estate Wines, proprietor Luke Smith’s pursuit of excellence never ends.

Although he is the winner of several Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence, he engaged consultant Pascal Madevon this spring for advice on viticulture and on practices in the winery.

“He is not going to change our style,” Luke says. “He is going to make us better at what we do. In this industry, if you stand still, everybody is going to pass you. It does not matter how good we have been in the past, I need to get better.”

I profiled Luke in my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The wine featured was the Summa Quies Pinot Noir, now renamed Century Block Pinot Noir because Summa Quies did not resonate with consumers. I could have featured all of the winery’s Pinots.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

This Naramata Bench vineyard has evolved dramatically since proprietor Luke Smith planted primarily Bordeaux varietals in 2004. Today, Pinot Noir has taken over as the lead varietal, with three blocks totalling 2.6 hectares (6.5 acres).

Luke, whose mother, Lynda Smith, was secretary of the International Wine and Food Society’s Vancouver chapter, became a stockbroker after getting a degree in economics. Success in business enabled him to collect wines and visit favourite wine regions. He bought this Okanagan property in 2003, intending to produce great Bordeaux-style wines. He planted a small block of Pinot Noir because he had been told it was a difficult variety; that appealed because he likes being challenged. “There was never meant to be a Pinot here,” he says. To his surprise, Howling Bluff’s first major award was earned by his 2006 Pinot Noir. “Mother Nature is telling me that my vineyard makes a good Pinot Noir,” he admits.

As painfully expensive as it was to replant much of what he named the Summa Quies Vineyard, Luke believed he had to do it to produce superior wines. “I have come to the conclusion that one out of four years on the Naramata Bench, you have the possibility of making a world-class Bordeaux blend with just Bench grapes,” he says. “But three out of four years, you have a chance of making a world-class Burgundy, or Pinot Noir, on the Bench because of the weather. So why would I fight that?”

The experience turned him into a Pinot Noir champion. “Pinot Noir is one of the best wine [grapes] in the world,” he says with a convert’s conviction. “The most memorable wines I have ever had have been Pinot. What an incredible grape! You can make Champagne, table wine, and rosé. There is the magic and the versatility of the heartbreak grape.”

Luke still makes a small-lot Bordeaux blend called Sin Cera, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc and a blend of that grapes and Sémillon.  In the 2018 vintage, he also will make a Pinot Gris from a three-year-old planting in the vineyard.

Here are notes on some of the current releases.

Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Three Mile Creek Reserve ($20). This is a Graves style white. Sixty percent was fermented and aged four months in a new French oak puncheon; the remainder was in stainless steel. This is an intense wine with aromas of grapefruit and herbs mingled with subtle oak. On the palate, bright acidity and minerality frame grapefruit and gooseberry flavours. 91.

Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2017 ($20 for 850 cases). Aromas of lime, grapefruit and herbs precede layers of tropical fruit flavours. The finish is crisp. 91.

Howling Bluff Rosé 2017 Three Mile Creek ($35 for 275 cases). Made with Pinot Noir grapes, this wine is packed with aromas and flavours. It presents in the glass with a vibrant colour. Dramatic aromas of cherry, strawberry and rhubarb bound from the glass and are echoed on the palate. The wine is juicy and refreshing with a lingering finish. 91.

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2015 Three Mile Creek ($35). This richly satisfying Pinot Noir is made with equal parts clone 777 and clone 667. It begins with aromas of cherry, cranberry and toasted oak. On the palate, there are layers of cherry and strawberry mingled with toasty oak notes. The texture is classically silken. 92.

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2015 Acta Vineyard ($N/A for 73 cases). This dark and robust Pinot Noir begins with aromas of cherry and strawberry compote. On the palate, there are flavours of plum and cherry mingled with toasted oak. The texture has a mouth-filling concentration of fruit. The finish lingers. 92.

 Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2015 Century Block ($N/A). This deep-hued wine begins with alluring aromas of strawberry and cherry mingled with toasty oak. On the palate, the wine is rich with layers of fruit - cherry and strawberry subtly framed with toasty oak. The texture is silky and the finish is persistent and elegant. 93.


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