Photo: Sunrock winemaker Dave Carson
Arterra Wines Canada, which farms almost 1,300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, has carved out one of its best properties for a single vineyard red wine brand.
Sunrock Vineyards is a sunbathed 180-acre vineyard on the Osoyoos Lake Bench that was developed twenty years ago by Vincor International, the predecessor to Arterra.
This is one of several single vineyards that Arterra has launched in recent years. Wines from Black Sage Vineyard, formerly the flagship at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, have become a stand-alone brand.
At Inniskillin Okanagan, wines from the Dark Horse Vineyard are emerging similarly as single vineyard wines.
Sunrock Vineyards was a star in the Jackson-Triggs wine portfolio, along with the Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve wines. The latter continue to be produced and now sell at slightly lower prices than Sunrock. For Grand Reserve and other Jackson-Triggs wines, the winemakers have the flexibility of selecting fruit from any and all of the many Arterra vineyards in the south Okanagan.
Spinning out Sunrock indicates that the team at Arterra realize how exceptional this vineyard is.
Troy Osborne, Arterra’s director of viticulture, has been involved with farming Sunrock from the start.
“When I first drove into that vineyard, it was jaw-dropping,” he recalls. “It is textbook viticulture. You have the massive granite face, a south-facing slope and then a lake at the bottom of it. You get very good air movement through the vineyard. And it is just big. There are not a lot of sites in the south Okanagan where the heat units compare with that site.”
A winery brochure provides additional detail: “Ripening potential is extended into late October as the site is adjacent to a massive south-facing outcropping known as ‘Sunrock’ that reflects the sun’s rays during the day and holds the desert heat well after sundown. These factors contribute to the huge varietal expression for late ripening varieties that can only be achieved on limited sites in the South Okanagan Valley.”
When the vineyard was being planted in 1998-1999, the viticulturists at the time hedged their bets by planting both white and red varietals. The reds included a 30-acre block of Pinot Noir. When it was realized within a few years that the vineyard is far too hot for Pinot Noir, those vines were all grafted over mostly to Shiraz.
(Perhaps because Mark Sheridan, the original vineyard manager, is Australian, Vincor took to call the varietal Shiraz, not Syrah. Arguably, the style of the wine from the Sunrock property is more Australia than Rhone.)
Chardonnay also was planted in Sunrock originally but that variety also has been replaced with heat-loving reds. The major varietals grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, Shiraz and Zinfandel.
The Sunrock wines are made by Dave Carson, a veteran Okanagan winemaker and now the senior winemaker in Arterra’s British Columbia team.
“I started in the industry in 1982,” he says. “I worked at Sumac Ridge for 23 years. I became the winemaker at See Ya Later Ranch for a few years. I did not start with Sunrock and that particular team until 2007. I still remember going up there with the team to taste the grapes. It was a beautiful October day. One of the bird bangers went off and echoed off the rocks. I felt a shiver go up my spine and I said, yes, I have arrived.”
He continues: “The site produces great wines year after year. 2015 was a year where you could hit the ball out of the park. Even in those years not as good, Sunrock always comes through.”
Here are notes on the current releases.
Sunrock Shiraz 2015 ($34). Big and ripe, this wine begins with generous aromas of plum, fig and black cherry mingled with black pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of dark fruits, vanilla and oak. 92.
Sunrock Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($34). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant mingled with spice and dark chocolate around a spine of firm but ripe tannins. 93.
Sunrock Red Meritage 2016 ($34). The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with appealing aromas of plum and cassis. On the palate, there are opulent flavours of plums, black cherries, vanilla and chocolate. 92.
Sunrock Illumina 2016 ($39). This is a blend of 67.5% Shiraz and 32.5% Zinfandel, an inspired blend created several years ago by Dave Carson. It is a bold wine with aromas of blackberries and black cherries. On the palate, the wine is juicy, offering layers of jammy fruit framed by subtle oak. 93.