Monday, October 1, 2018

Thornhaven Estate: a tasting

Photo: Thornhaven proprietors Jack and Jan Fraser

Late this summer, Danny Evanishen, the veteran tasting room manager at Thornhaven Estates Winery in Summerland, offered to send a sample a sample of the winery’s platinum award Syrah 2015.

I agreed but I also asked him to include a few other wines. Given the daunting number of wineries in the Okanagan, I had not been able to visit Thornhaven in some time.

That seems like a strange omission. Given what I wrote about the winery in the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, this is clearly one of my favourite wineries. Here is an excerpt:

With its Santa Fe architecture, the Thornhaven winery is an Okanagan jewel. Tucked away behind Summerland’s Giant’s Head Mountain, the adobe-hued winery is at the top of a slope covered with about 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of vines. The patio affords postcard views, but the best view is from the bottom of the undulating vineyard, preferably when the late afternoon sun paints a golden tint on the winery and the hillside behind it.

The vineyard was planted by Dennis Fraser, a former grain farmer from Dawson Creek who sold his farm, almost 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres), in 1989 and then began converting a Summerland orchard to vines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Meunier). Winemaking began here in 1999, with Fraser planning a modest tasting room in the basement of his home. Then, a farmer’s habit of thinking big took over and he built a picturesque winery.

The winery was purchased in 2005 by Dennis’s cousin, Jack Fraser, who was changing careers after 24 years working in overseas oilfields (mostly in Libya). Thornhaven is now managed by Jack and his wife Jan, a lively tasting room personality. Son Jason, who mentored with consultant Christine Leroux, is the winemaker.

Now making about 5,500 cases a year, Thornhaven has a portfolio of 13 to 15 wines. The Gewürztraminer is a flagship wine. This is one of the few Okanagan wineries with a varietal Pinot Meunier. The winery also offers an unusual Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend because the varieties are interplanted in the vineyard. The grapes are picked and fermented together, yielding a delicious wine tasting of peaches and citrus. Jack Fraser has a simple explanation for the consistency of the award-winning wines: “The main thing is that the grapes come from nearby vineyards.”

In addition to the estate vineyard, Thornhaven gets grapes from another 10 acres of  winery-owned Summerland area vineyards. The varietals even include Syrah, a grape not often found in the Summerland vineyards. Thornhaven must have a small block. The winery made just 90 cases of the award-winning 2015 wine.

The wines are excellent. I continue to stand by my view that the Gewürztraminer is the flagship wine here.

Here are my notes.

Thornhaven Gewürztraminer 2017 ($18). This delicious wine begins aromas of spice, rose petals and lychee, which are echoed on the palate, along with a touch of lime. A full-bodied wine, it is balanced toward dry with just enough residual sugar to give it a fleshy texture. 93.

Thornhaven Brooklyn’s Blend 2017 ($16). This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay begins with aromas of melon and apple mingled with lime. On the palate, there are luscious tropical fruit flavours of mango, peach and pear. 90.

Thornhaven Infusion Frizzante 2017 ($N/A). This sparkling wine is a blend of  Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Riesling. It presents in the glass with a light blush hue and with a lively mousse. The aromatics are fruity and the flavours recall strawberry and ripe apple. 91.

Thornhaven Rosé 2017 ($16). The winery describes this as a “robust patio wine.” Cherry-hued and rich on the palate, it has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Syrah. 90.

Thornhaven Pinot Noir 2016 ($19). This oak-aged wine begins with aromas of toasty oak mingled with cherry. On the palate, it has flavours of strawberry and cherry. The wine has a silky texture and a medium-bodied palate weight. 90.

Thornhaven Syrah 2015 ($30). This elegant and medium-bodied wine begins with aromas of plum, black cherry and fig. This is a dry wine with a palate of sweet fruit – cherry, blackberry, plum, a hint of licorice and pepper. 92.


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