Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Township 7 nails down premium vineyard

Photo: Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott

This summer, Township 7 Vineyards made one of the most significant announcements in its history: it bought the 12-acre Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver.

The vineyard, which was planted in 2000, has supplied Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc to Township 7 throughout the history of both the winery and the vineyard. That vineyard has become increasingly critical to Township 7 which has been expanding in recent years. Its prior vineyard holdings were small.   

Township 7’s modest vineyard holdings were a consequence of the winery’s history. It was established on a five-acre Langley vineyard where the original winery opened in 2001. The second winery opened in 2004, just outside Penticton, and has a postage stamp vineyard. For most of its history, Township 7 has relied on fruit from growers in the Okanagan. The increasing competition for grapes from growers threatened to cap the winery’s growth. Now, it has assured access to premium fruit from Blue Terrace.

The winery founded by Gwen and Corey Coleman. In 2006, they sold the winery to former restaurateur Mike Raffan (and a partner). In 2014, the winery was acquired by Ge Song, a Beijing businessman, who has retained Mike as Township 7’s general manager.

“In 2014, he approached us with a deal he said we could not refuse,” Mike says. “We accepted it. We had taken the winery from 3,500 cases a year to 7,000, and we needed to grow it again. It had to go another level up or it would stall out, because if you are just doing the same thing, you actually fall behind.”

The year before, Township 7 had embarked on a rebranding program that included smart new labels and, more important, taking control over its distribution channels.

“We identified that we needed to run this company to control what we can control,” Mike says. “We went on a mission of direct to consumer sales because we control our relationship with the consumer.” The portfolio now includes eight to 10 wines available just to members of Township 7’s wine club.

The new owner not only endorsed the strategy. He has invested in an expansion which gives Township 7 a capacity of 12,000 cases.

He also backed the recruitment in 2014 of winemaker Mary McDermott, who had been a senior winemaker making premium and sparkling wines in Ontario for Andrew Peller Ltd. She has had a profound impact on the quality of the wines.

One reason has been the relationship she has cultivated with Township 7’s growers.

“We have signed long term contracts with growers and we really to work with them,” Mary says. “It is becoming more of a family business for us. I go visit my growers all the time. I am available for them all the time if they have any questions. That’s what this business is all about.”

She has also accelerated Township 7’s sparkling wine program, with at least two other bubblies soon to join Seven Stars, the winery’s original traditional method sparkling wine. This program also salvages the fruit from the Langley vineyard which, for several years, was relegated to an annual grape stomp.

“Between 2006 and about 2012, we invested in the vineyard and tried to improve things,” Mike says. “At the end of it all, in 2012, I threw my hands up and said, we get what we get. If it has to all go to the grape stomp, it will. Then Mary came in and said ‘Give me some time. I can deal with this’.”

“I went to Mike,” Mary confirms, “and I said we can make a really good sparkling wine. To me, the conditions were similar to Ontario. In the Fraser Valley, we are not getting a lot of sugar. I usually pick grapes in Langley for sparking wine at about 19 Brix. That means about 10% alcohol and that is exactly what we are looking for in sparkling wines. And the acidity is maintained.”

The first Langley estate sparkling wine, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, was made in 2015 and is due to be disgorged in 2020. “It is fantastic,” Mary says. “It will be a spectacular wine.”

Here are notes on current releases from Township 7.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($18.97 for 298 cases). Crisp and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with a light herbal note. 90.

Township 7 7 Blanc 2017  ($18.97 for 588 cases). This is a blend 50% Gewurztraminer, 28% Pinot Gris, 11% Viognier, 7% Riesling and 4% Muscat. The wine is refreshingly spicy. A touch of residual sugar supports the aromas and flavours of pear and apple. The finish lingers. 90.

l"> Township 7 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Blue Terrace Vineyard 2017 ($26.97 for 348 cases). Fermented and aged seven months in barrel, this wine announces itself dramatically with aromas of lime, gooseberry and grapefruit with herbal notes. Those lead to intense flavours of tropical fruit, with a refreshing, tangy finish. 92.

Township 7 Viognier Raju Vineyard 2017 ($24.97 for 498 cases). The Raju Vineyard is near Osoyoos. Some 30% of this wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak barrels; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. Both the aromas and the flavours are intense, recalling peaches, apricots and passionfruit. The wine has good weight on the palate but the bright acidity maintains appealing freshness. 93.

Township 7 Rosé 2017 ($18.97). This is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 19% Pinot Noir, 8% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. The wine has an attractive salmon pink hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb, leading to a bowlful of fruit flavours on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Township 7 Seven Stars 2015 ($29.97 for 533 six-bottle cases). Made with Chardonnay, this elegant traditional method sparking wine begins with a vigorous mousse. It has aromas and flavours of citrus and brioche. On the palate, the wine dances lightly and is refreshing on the finish. 92.

Township 7 Cabernet 2016 ($27.97 for 328 cases). This is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and mocha, echoed on the palate along with coffee and tobacco notes. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 91.

Township 7 Merlot 2016 ($24.97 for 1,038 cases). This wine is made with grapes from both Blue Terrace and the Front Yard Vineyard (which adjoins the Penticton winery). A portion of the wine was fermented in a 5,000-litre oak fermenter, an example of the new tools owner Ge Song has provided his winemaker. The wine is rich and concentrated, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and vanilla. 91.

Township 7 Reserve Merlot Blue Terrace Vineyard 2015 ($39.97 for 125 cases). This terrific wine was available to the wine club only and now is sold out. It is a plush, satisfying wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, black currant and vanilla. 92.


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