Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blue Mountain 2016 Reserves: Old Vines make a difference

International Chardonnay Day is May 23. Consumers in British Columbia do not lack for excellent Chardonnays to drink on that (or any other) day.

Few producers have been growing Chardonnay and turning it into a consistently fine wine longer than Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars at Okanagan Falls.

The winery has just released its 2016 Reserve Chardonnay. According to the specification sheet, that wine was made with fruit from 27-year-old vines. In other words, from vines that were planted in 1992.

The Mavety family have been growing grapes on their vineyard since the early 1970s. Initially, they were growing the same hybrid varieties that most other vineyards had planted. Conventional wisdom at the time was that the Okanagan was too cool for the classic European grape varieties.

By the mid-1980s, Ian Mavety recognized that the Okanagan could not compete with international wines just with such varieties as Maréchal Foch, De Chaunac and Okanagan Riesling. He began redeveloping this vineyard, initially planting Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau. The latter three varieties were replaced after Ian concluded they would not produce very good wine in his terroir.

After visiting vineyards in France, he decided that the best varieties for the Okanagan Falls are were the Burgundian ones and the Pinots. The vineyard was redeveloped with Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

His first block of Chardonnay was planted in 1990. Today, the vineyard grows 21 acres of Chardonnay.

In my very first edition of The Wineries of British Columbia, published in 1994, I noted that Blue Mountain opened in 1992 with a Pinot Noir and two whites from the 1991 vintage – Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The first Chardonnay was released from the 1993 vintage.

Few, if any, other producers were then growing Chardonnay; but several blocks in private vineyards signalled that Chardonnay would succeed in the Okanagan. When Robert Combret moved his family from France to the Okanagan to establish Domaine Combret in 1994, he bought an established Golden Mile vineyard from a grower named Joe Fatur. He was growing Chardonnay. A few years later, the Combrets made a Chardonnay that won the Okanagan’s first gold medal at the Chardonnay du Monde competition.

About the same time, Mission Hill bought some Chardonnay in 1992 from a neighbouring grower to Fatur. That fruit produced the wine that won the Avery Trophy at a major London competition in 1994. With classic hyperbole, Mission Hill positioned that as the best Chardonnay in the world. It was a very good wine and it started to put the Okanagan on the map.

These vineyards are now owned by the parent company of CheckMate Winery, which specializes in just Chardonnay (and Merlot). Earlier this year, I gave 100 points to the CheckMate Little Pawn Chardonnay 2015.

Blue Mountain has never entered a lot of competitions. It did not need to because its wines sold out year after year. Competition judging also can be haphazard. When a winery has a stellar reputation, as Blue Mountain does, the last thing it needs is to risk winning a bronze medal.

Blue Mountain wines continue to sell briskly even though there is much more competition. The 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, released a month or so ago, is sold out. The other two reserves reviewed here still are available.

A bottle of Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay would be an excellent way to celebrate International Chardonnay Day.

Here are notes on the wines.

Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($30). This is a very elegant wine with aromas of citrus and flavours of citrus mingled with notes of lees and spice. With just 10% of the wine allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, the wine has a lively fresh acidity. The texture will enable the wine to develop even more complexity over the next five to eight years. 94.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2016 ($28). These vines were planted in 1989 and are now delivering grapes with rich flavours and minerality. Thirty percent of the wine was fermented and aged sur-lie for eight months in French oak barrels. The rest was fermented in stainless steel, retaining fresh fruit. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and vanilla, leading to flavours of pear, apple and spice. 92.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($40). The vines for this wine were planted as early as 1987.  The wine is dark with intense and concentrated aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of cherry and vanilla, leading to savoury and spicy flavours of black cherries and dark fruit. 93.


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