Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Phantom Creek releases its first wines

Phantom Creek's Anne Vawter

The grand opening of Phantom Creek Estates is planned for next spring but the first wines have already been released.

They are exceptional. Owner Richter Bai, a former owner of a mining company in China, set out to make “outstanding” wines in Canada.

He has certainly succeeded. Excellence has its price. It is widely reported in the Okanagan wine industry that Mr. Bai, as he is called, has invested $100 million in the Phantom Creek project.

It began in 2014 when he identified wine growing as a prestige agriculture business for his family in Canada. He sought the counsel of wine educator James Cluer MW, who previously had helped steer the launch of Meyer Family Vineyards and One Faith Vineyards. James and Mr. Bai spent much of 2015 visiting prestige wineries in California and France where Mr. Bai educated himself in winery operation and defined what he wanted to do.

In 2016 he purchased the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road where Harry McWatters had started to build a winery before the project stalled. The winery architects from California that Mr. Bai brought in started with Harry’s cellar. Their design for Phantom Creek more than doubles what Harry had in mind.

The attraction to Mr. Bai and his team was not the semi-constructed cellar but the 52-acre vineyard, now renamed – for trademark reasons – the Becker Vineyard. Begun in 1993, the vineyard has proven itself with many award-winning wines over the years.

Mr. Bai also purchased the seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard which is across Black Sage Road from the Becker Vineyard. Planted a few years after Becker by viticulturist Richard Cleave, it is a jewel among Okanagan vineyards. Mr. Bai’s team recognized that, making a blended red wine priced at $100 a bottle and an $80 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Phantom Creek’s first vintage was 2016. The wines were made in a temporary, but well-equipped, winery that has been built in the Becker Vineyard. The winemaking team was led by Napa winemaker Anne Vawter and her husband, Cameron. The couple continue to consult to Phantom Creek but Mr. Bai also has an experienced team of resident winemakers in the cellar.

When he was educating himself in Europe, Mr. Bai met Olivier Humbrecht MW, a member of one of the leading wine growing families of Alsace. In 2017 Olivier agreed to be Phantom Creek’s white wine consultant, as well as to guide Phantom Creek’s transition to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Mr. Bai has also acquired more vineyards, including a 63-acre vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench formerly owned by C.C. Jentsch. This spring Phantom Creek began planting a 62-acre property in the Similkameen Valley called Everden Spring. At the advice of Olivier Humbrecht (right), the largest blocks  here will be Riesling and Pinot Gris, with small blocks of red varieties.

This summer, the construction contractors have been completing the Phantom Creek winery. When done, it will be the showpiece of the South Okanagan, with several grand tasting rooms and a restaurant overlooking vineyards almost from Oliver to Osoyoos.

Here are notes on the wines.

Phantom Creek Riesling 2017 ($30 for 333 cases). This wine was made with grapes from an East Kelowna vineyard, fermented with indigenous yeast over four months. It was aged 10 months in stainless steel (with seven percent aged in neutral oak barrels). This wine is crisp and dry, with lime on the nose and palate and with a spine of minerality. 91.

Phantom Creek Pinot Gris 2017 ($30 for 833 cases). The grapes were from two Okanagan Falls vineyards and were fermented with indigenous yeasts over seven months. Some 60% was aged 10 months in stainless steel; the rest was aged oak casks. The texture is luscious. The wine begins with aromas of pear and a hint of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe pear and apple with a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 92.

Phantom Creek Cuvée 2016 Becker Vineyard ($60 for 1,700 cases). Becker is the new name for the former 52-acre Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. This wine is 39% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been aged 18 months in French oak. The wine has aromas of black cherry and cassis that are echoed on the palate. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous mouthfeel and a lingering finish. 93.

Phantom Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($80 for 250 cases). The seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard was established in 1996, primarily with three clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. An excellent vintage has produced an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of cherry, black currant, blueberry and vanilla; all of that is echoed on the palate. This wine, aged 18 months in French oak, is complex, with a polished texture. 95.

Phantom Creek Cuvée 2016 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($100 for 650 cases). This wine is 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26%  Petit Verdot, 15% Malbec, 8% each of Syrah and Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. This is a bold, rich wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, black currant, plum and vanilla. It was aged 18 months in French oak. Long ripe tannins support the opulent texture and the persistent finish of this delicious wine. 96.


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