Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Foxtrot's new owners make the wines more accessible

 Photo: New Foxtrot owners Douglas Barzelay (l) and Nathan Todd

Just before Easter, the new owners of Foxtrot Vineyards are hosting a “retrospective” Vancouver tasting of the winery’s legendary Pinot Noirs.

This may be a first for a winery whose limited volumes usually have been on allocation to a lucky number of collectors and to high-end restaurants.

I can think of at least two reasons why this event – with invitations apparently limited to the trade – is happening.

Firstly, there are many good British Columbia Pinot Noirs being made than in 2004, when founder Torsten Allander launched this project. Noir. Foxtrot now competes with other first-rate producers, even if the Foxtrot quality easily holds its own.

Secondly, very few consumers and industry peers know who the new owners are and what their plans are. Both are impressive.

First, some background on the winery. Torsten, a retired pulp and paper engineer, came to wine growing in 2002 when he and his wife, Kicki (who died last year), retired to a 1.4-hectare (3.5-acre) property on Naramata Road planted entirely with Pinot Noir. Born in Sweden, he had come to Canada in 1973 for a career with NLK Associates Inc., a top pulp and paper consulting firm based in Vancouver and Montreal.

After selling the grapes for a few years, Torsten enlisted Lake Breeze Vineyards in 2004 on a three-year winemaking trial with his grapes. “I wanted to convince myself before I invested a lot of money in a winery that we can produce a top wine that can compete on a world level,” Torsten once told me.

The acclaim which the initial vintages received left no doubt about the quality of the Foxtrot Pinot Noirs. In 2008, Torsten and his winemaker son, Gustav, built a winery and cellar with the barrel capacity for 2,000 cases of wine. In 2012, Torsten bought an adjoining two hectares (five acres) of orchard, replacing the trees with Pinot Noir vines propagated from cuttings of Foxtrot’s clone 115 Pinot Noir.

Torsten sold this Naramata Bench winery last summer to Douglas Barzelay, a retired New York lawyer, and his partner, Nathan Todd, a former Calgarian who lives in New York.

Both are passionate fans of Burgundy wines. At a 2011 private dinner in Vancouver, a Foxtrot Pinot Noir 2006 was served to Barzelay and Todd along with several top Burgundies. It led them to explore the Okanagan, where after several visits, they bought an orchard next door to Foxtrot.  They asked Gustav Allander, Torsten’s son and the Foxtrot winemaker, to advise them on planting the vineyard, and then to make their wines. When they learned that Foxtrot was for sale, they bought the entire winery in 2018.

Barzelay is one of the world’s leading authorities on the wines of Burgundy. He is co-author (with journalist Allen D. Meadows) of a recently published book, Burgundy Vintages: A History from 1845. And he has tasted and made notes on nearly all of those vintages.

Barzelay was also an expert witness in 2013 trial of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. The case began five years earlier when Barzelay alerted a leading Burgundy producer to a Kurniawan wine auction catalogue listing wines that the New Yorker knew to be fake.  

One would think his is a difficult palate to impress. Clearly, the wines from Foxtrot have done so.

The partners have retained Gustav to make the wines. They dipped into their Burgundy connections to engage an eminent consultant, Véronique Drouhin, the head winemaker of the renowned Domaine Joseph Drouhin. “I learned a lot from her,” Gustav said after the 2018 vintage.

The 2.9-acre peach orchard initially purchased by Barzelay and Todd is being planted this spring. Half of the vines will be on their own roots and the other half will be grafted to rootstock to test Barzelay’s theory that own-rooted Pinot Noir might be better. The idea comes from his extensive experience at tasting Burgundy wines that were made before phylloxera forced vineyards to use rootstock.

“Doug’s book is the place to understand why he has this obsession with grafted vines as opposed to vines on their own roots,” Todd says. “Few people get to taste wines from ungrafted plants today. Doug will claim there is a definite textural difference. You can detect pre-phylloxera wines.”

The new owners will make it easier for consumers to get Foxtrot wines. For the first time since Foxtrot started selling its wines in 2007, the winery will open a tasting room on the Naramata Bench. Tastings will be appointment only.

Here are notes on current releases.

Foxtrot 2017 Chardonnay ($41). The fruit came from an Oliver vineyard with 30-year-old vines. This sophisticated wine, fermented in and aged in French oak barrels (30% new), has well-integrated flavours of citrus and green apple with very subtle oak. Bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing crispness. 91

Foxtrot 2016 The Waltz Pinot Noir ($44). A three-vineyard blend, this sensual wine begins with aromas of strawberry and raspberry leading to spicy notes mingled with cherry and strawberry. The texture is silky. 92.

Foxtrot 2016 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir ($54). This wine is made entirely with fruit from the estate vineyard. This seductively silky wine, which was aged 20 months in French oak (40% new), begins with intense aromas of cherry, strawberry and spice which continue on the rich palate with dark fruit flavours and spice. 95.


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