Thursday, October 25, 2018

Blasted Church updates its labels – again

Photo: Blasted Church winemaker Evan Saunders

For the third time since Chris and Evelyn Campbell bought the winery in 2002, Blasted Church Vineyards has revised its labels.

The winery, which is near Okanagan Falls, originally was called Prpich Hills, after the surname of the founder. The Campbells retained the Vancouver label guru, Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, to come up with a new name.

He suggested Blasted Church. The inspiration was an Okanagan Falls church (still in use) which had been moved in 1929 from Fairview, the abandoned mining town near Oliver. The movers set off some dynamite in the church to facilitate taking it apart for the move.

Beauregard and his team at Brandever Design retold the story on the winery’s labels, with a series of lively caricatures. The labels were an instant hit with consumers, propelling Blasted Church to success.

In 2010, the winery decided to refresh its labels. The new generation of labels still were story-telling caricatures but the art was bolder and more sophisticated.

The third generation Blasted Church labels are more painterly. They seem inspired by Baroque and Renaissance painters, with some Vancouver scenery for good measure. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc is a female nude that the 16th Italian artist might have posed on Wreck Beach, which is in the background.  

The new labels spotlight the wines of Evan Saunders, who took over in mid-2017 as the senior winemaker at Blasted Church. He has begun to tweak the style of the wines – notably whites which are lower in alcohol and fresher in flavour. He has also begun to push the envelop, notably with small lot reds fermented and bottled in clay.

Born in Manitoba in 1984, Evan took a microbiology degree at the University of Victoria, originally to prepare for medicine until an interest in wine took over. In 2011, he went to Brock University for a diploma in grape and wine technology. He returned immediately to the Okanagan and spent three years at Osoyoos Larose before moving to Blasted Church in 2014 as assistant winemaker.

“The first wine I started drinking consistently at University of Victoria was Hatfield’s Fuse,” Evan says, referring to a popular Blasted Church white blend. “I walked into a wine store. The colours [on the label] were bright and it caught my eye. It is a funny coincidence that I ended up here.”

The larger volume wines at Blasted Church remain consistent in style, compared with previous years and previous winemakers. Evan suggests this is largely because the vineyard sources have been relatively constant. The winery’s grapes come from a 40-acre estate vineyard on the east side of Skaha Lake. The winery also contracts grapes from about 60 acres, mostly in Oliver and Osoyoos.

“I probably tend toward a fresher style,” Evan says of his winemaking. “I do a little earlier picks to get a really vibrant acidity. A little fresher, a little less residual sugar, on the whites especially.”

With the red varietals, he likes longer hang time, long maceration time and more intense pump overs and cap management. “I am just focussing on the vineyards, to try to bring out everything that I can.”

“And I have done a lot of work on the barrel program, trying to match coopers and forests and grain and toasting to specific vineyard blocks, learning what works together the best,” he adds. In 2015, he began fermenting some small lot wines in barrels.

The small lot wines he ferments in clay eggs are the edgiest (and most expensive) wines now released by Blasted Church. The winery underlined the uniqueness of its 2016 Sacrosanct Cabernet Franc by bottling 120 bottles in clay bottles produced by the Italian manufacture of the amphora. It is almost sold out at $125 a bottle. Some 35 cases also was bottled conventionally.

Here are notes on some current Blasted Church releases.

Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($24 for 660 cases). This wine, which has six percent Sémillon in the blend, includes a 20% barrel-fermented portion. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of lime, grapefruit and herbs. The bracing acidity focusses the refreshing tropical fruit flavours. 91.

Blasted Church Unorthodox Chardonnay 2017 ($19 for 500 cases). This unoaked Chardonnay is made from the aromatic Musqué Clone. The wine begins with tropical and spicy fruit aromas leading to flavours of melon and apple on a crisp and dry palate. 90.

Blasted Church Gewürztraminer 2017 ($18 for 700 cases). Dry and food-friendly, this wine has classic aromas of rose petal and lychee. The moderate alcohol (12.9%) gives the wine a lightness and elegance on the palate, with flavours of melon and orange. 90.

Blasted Church Viognier 2017 ($22 for 500 cases). This wine includes the first harvest from the Viognier block planted several years ago on the estate. The wine has aromas and flavours of stone fruit. There are also hints of pineapple and quince on the finish, along with a spine of tannin to give discipline to the structure. 91.

Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017 ($35 for 48 cases). The Sémillon in 2017 was so good that two barrels were set aside for this small lot wine. It is rich on the palate, with flavours of mango, guava and orange peel. 91.

Blasted Church Cabernet Franc 2016 ($31 for 491 cases). This wine – only the second Cabernet Franc varietal released by the winery – begins with classic brambly aromas (raspberry, strawberry and sage). On the palate, there are flavours of blackberries and spice which persist on the long finish. 92.

Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($32 for 487 cases). This is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon with 11% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and sage, followed by notes of chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of peppers. The tannins are long and ripe. 92.

Blasted Church Cross of Bear 2015 ($40 for 200 cases). This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged 22 months in new French oak barrels. The rich flavours have soaked up the toasty oak very well. There is spice and cassis on the nose, leading to flavours of blackberry, plum and black currant. The ripe tannins support a long and generous finish. 93.

Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2015 ($45 for 202 cases). The blend is 40% Merlot, 38% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is a bold wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, chocolate and coffee. This wine also aged 22 months in barrel, about two-thirds new. 95.

Blasted Church Holy Moly 2015 ($40 for 225 cases). This is 100% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, the wine begins with floral fruit aromas supported by leather. On the dense palate, there and flavours of fig and plum and dark chocolate. 94.

Blasted Church Sacrosanct 2016 ($125 for clay-bottled wine, $65 for glass bottles). This is a Cabernet Franc fermented with wild yeast in an amphora, where it remained nine months on the skins before the wine was pressed off the skins. The wine is quite fruity – think black currant jam – with a voluptuous texture. 94.

Blasted Church Small Blessings Be Fruitful 2017 ($65 for 36 cases). This wine (fermented in a clay egg with wild yeast) is a blend of 42% Teroldego, 42% Lagrein and 16% Syrah. The former two varietals are Italian grapes from a Similkameen vineyard. The wine has aromas and flavours of tar, dark fruits and chocolate with an earthy finish. The wine is so unusual that I can’t begin to score it. Suffice it to say, it will create a sensation at someone’s dinner party, especially if paired with game.


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