Photo: BC Wine Studio's Mark Simpson
Winemaker Mark Simpson put an audacious marker down in 2010 when he launched his Siren’s Call with a portfolio including a premium red blend called Harmonious.
The wine was competing with as such icons as Nota Bene. The audacity was that Mark’s fermenting expertise to that point was primarily in beer.
“When I started my company, I was looking for consulting work as a winemaker,” he recalls. “Nobody knew me as a winemaker. I was regarded as a beer guy from Vancouver. When I started making wine, I put my own skin in the game.”
His transition from brewing to winemaking has succeeded. His BC Wine Studio, a custom crush wine producer based on an Okanagan Falls vineyard owned by partner Steve Carter, has nurtured several start-up wineries as well as expanding the Siren’s Call portfolio. And it is just launching wines, including a traditional method sparkling wine, under the Hawk’s Vineyard label (Steve Carter’s brand).
Harmonious has taken its place among the leading red blends. It was one of the wines entered last November in the BC Iconic Reds tasting. As it happened, Harmonious 2014 was my favourite red that evening. Harmonious 2015, which will be released in mid-2019, is as good.
Recently, I sat down with Mark to taste the new Siren’s Call releases.
First, some background on Mark. Born in England in 1960, Mark began his career in 1982 with the Molson Breweries after earning a microbiology degree at the University of British Columbia. In 1992 he became the brewmaster for the Granville Island Brewing Company in Vancouver. He came to winemaking in 2001 as research director for RJ Spagnols Wine and Beer Making Products which had just been acquired by Vincor International. “I got to buy grapes and juice from all over the world for the wine kits,” he says. “And I was part of the Vincor winemaking team and got to hang out with the Vincor winemakers.”
In 2007, he set up Artisan Food and Beverage Group Inc., his consulting company. Working in another winery’s facility, he created Siren’s Call three years later, in part to establish his credibility with his wine industry clients. “It is like buying a billboard,” he said once.
In 2012, Steve Carter, an Artisan client who wanted to establish a winery, bought a 6.5-acre vineyard near Okanagan Falls. The site is now called Hawk’s Vineyard. Mark moved his winemaking to this site, calling it BC Wine Studio and making it home for Siren’s Call, among other labels.
Successful producers have begun as virtual wineries at BC Wine Studio and now have developed their own wineries. These include Nagging Doubt Wines, now based on a vineyard in East Kelowna, and Black Market Wines, now on its own vineyard in Kaleden.
“BC Wine Studio is a collaborative place,” Mark says. “We want to nurture people to start out in the industry.”
Tasting room facilities at BC Wine Studio are informal, in part because the steep and narrow road into the vineyard is somewhat challenging. However, Mark and Steve have begun planning a readily accessible wine shop on Oliver Ranch Road.
Here are notes on the wines.
Siren’s Call Viognier 2017 ($21). This is a classic expression of the varietal, with aromas and flavours of stone fruit mingled with citrus and spice. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Siren’s Call Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($25). Maturity has given this wine a rich texture with flavours of lemon and lime. 90.
Siren’s Call Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2016 ($22). The blend is two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Sémillon. The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas that lead to tropical flavours of lemon and lime. The finish is crisp and fresh. 91.
Siren’s Call Cabernet Franc 2016 ($25). This wine was made with fruit from a Similkameen vineyard, with Mark aiming for a lighter Loire style red. The wine begins with aromas of raspberry and sage. There is bright red fruit on the palate with a hint of pepper on the finish. 90.
Siren’s Call Pinot Noir 2016 ($25). Made from grapes sourced from an Oliver vineyard, this wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice. This is echoed on the palate, along with subtle hints of vanilla. The texture is fleshy, with a silken finish. 91.
Siren’s Call Syrah 2015 ($35). Syrah is one of Mark’s favourite winemaking varietals. This wine incorporates grapes from both the Similkameen and the south Okanagan. Aged 18 months in American oak, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and white pepper. On the palate, the flavours mingle black cherry with deli meats. There is a smoky note on the finish. 91.
Siren’s Call Petit Verdot 2015 ($27). This varietal is rarely bottled on its own. Almost black in colour, the wine is dense and concentrated. Aromas of black fruits including black currant lead to flavours of black cherry and black currant, with leather, slate and licorice on the finish. Pair the wine with dark chocolate. 92.
Siren’s Call Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($35). The 2015 vintage produced exceptionally ripe and full-flavoured Cabernet Sauvignon, leading to a special bottling for Siren’s Call. The wine, aged 18 months in French and American oak, has aromas and flavours of black cherry and black currant. There are layers of fruit on the palate. Long ripe tannins give the wine an elegant and polished texture. 93.
Siren’s Call Harmonious 2014 ($35). The blend is 44.4 % Merlot, 10.5%, Cabernet Franc, 14.4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.9% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 3.9% Syrah 3.9%. The wine begins with perfumed aromas of black cherry, cassis and spice. On the palate, there are mouth-filling layers of fruit including black cherry and blackberry with a hint of pepper. The finish is persistent. 95.
Siren’s Call Harmonious 2015 ($35). This wine is anchored around 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah in the blend. Dense and layered, the wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and spice. 94 – 95.