Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Hester Creek's Trebbiano and friends


 Photo: Hester Creek's Robert Summers (l) and Mark Hopley

Followers of this blog will know that I admire all the wines now being made at Hester Creek Estate Winery by Robert Summers and Mark Hopley.

Among the whites, I have had a preference for the Trebbiano. However, the Terra Unica Sémillon makes a fair bid at taking over the top spot. It is, alas, a wine club only wine with just 167 cases produced. There are 2,000 cases of Trebbiano and it is more widely available.

You may also recall my story about trying to convince a winemaker from Tuscany, where lots of Trebbiano grows, that an excellent one is produced in the Okanagan. He just scoffed that it rained too much and the soil was not right. When I countered those arguments, he snapped that “You don’t have the culture.” I gave up trying to open a closed mind.

In fact, it was an Italian immigrant who planted the vines at what is now Hester Creek. Joe Busnardo, the original owner of the winery – it was then called Divino – is believed to have planted the Italian variety in 1968. He sold the vineyard in 1996 to relocate Divino to the Cowichan Valley. He took vine cuttings, including Trebbiano, with him for the Vancouver Island vineyard. If he produced that wine there, it likely disappeared into a blend.

It is not known whether anyone ever asked Joe where he sourced Trebbiano in Italy. There are at least six varieties of Trebbiano listed in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. The varietals are not even always related to each other.

The odds are that Hester Creek has Trebbiano Toscano. “It is by far the most widespread of the heterogeneous group of varieties with Trebbiano in their name and the second most widely planted in Italy,” Robinson writes. “It generally disappears into blends or in some countries into a still. Its neutral nature and high acidity make it an ideal candidate for distillation.” It is in fact the same variety as Ugni Blanc, much favoured by French distillers.

Hester Creek’s vines might also be Trebbiano Spoletino, a much less well known Umbrian variety. Joe Busnardo came from Treviso, north of Venice, which is closer to Umbria than to Tuscany.

It would take extensive DNA work to establish which Trebbiano this is. In fact, the Hester Creek vineyard still has a few other old Italian varieties, including one just called Italian Merlot, that need more research. Joe was blazing trail when he started planting the vineyard in 1968 with vines both from Italy and California. He planted as many as 136 varieties, experimenting more than a decade before the Becker project. Pinot Blanc, the most successful varietal in the Becker project, was already thriving at Joe’s vineyard.

Joe and succeeding owners have been winnowing the varietal mix down to what succeeds best here (and with consumers).

Hester Creek has propagated enough Trebbiano from its original block to support an annual production that has now grown to 2,000 cases.

The Sémillon vines were planted in 1997 and 1998, after Joe had sold the winery. Credit for choosing that varietal likely belongs to Frank Supernak, the legendary winemaker who managed Hester Creek from 1996 until his accidental death in 2002. If you belong to the Hester Creek wine club, drink a toast to Frank with this sensational white.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Hester Creek Character White 2018 ($15.99 for 3,500 cases). This is a blend of two-thirds Pinot Gris, one-third Gewürztraminer.  The wine begins with aromas of tropical fruits mingled with pears. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and pear. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2018 ($16.99 for 7,000 cases). Crisply dry, the wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple, with a spine of minerality. 90.

Hester Creek Old Vines Trebbiano Block 16 2018 ($20.99 for 2,000 cases). This wine begins with aromas of papaya and grapefruit. On the palate, there is an intense and rich medley for fruits, including papaya, mango and apple. The finish is dry and lingering. 93.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Sémillon 2018 ($19.99 for 167 cases). Utterly delicious just about covers it, the result of a long cool fermentation in stainless steel (11% was also fermented in French oak). It begins with aromas of honeydew melon, citrus and apricot. Those aromas are echoed on the palate, alone with notes of tangerine and lemon. The finish is crisply dry and very long. 93.

Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Rosé 2018 ($17.99). The wine presents attractively in the glass with a bright ruby hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb that are echoed on the palate. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.


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