Friday, September 13, 2019

Blue Mountain launches three Grand Cru Pinot Noirs

 Photo: Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety

In a significant evolution of its portfolio, Blue Mountain this month is releasing its first three single vineyard block Pinot Noirs.

If this were Burgundy, those would be called Grand Cru wines. Blue Mountain, of course, is not using that designation. It is my way of signalling where the three wines fit at the top of the Blue Mountain portfolio.

These wines are being released simultaneously with Blue Mountain’s Estate Pinot Noir and Blue Mountain’s Reserve Cuvee. This is the first time that those two wines have been released at the same time. The reasoning is that consumers might not appreciate the differences among the wines if the release dates had been staggered.

Blue Mountain has been a leading Okanagan producer of Pinot Noir since releasing its first from the 1991 vintage.

“The wines that are made today are definitely different than the wines that were made in the 1990s and the 2000s.” says winemaker Matt Mavety. “The winemaking has definitely been refined and changed over the last five years.”

The quality of Blue Mountain’s Pinot Noirs has been remarkably consistent over the years. The reflects the fact that all the grapes are grown on the estate; and that Matt and his father, Ian, have been the only winemakers at Blue Mountain. However, Matt disclosed that the winery has used a consultant from Burgundy since 2001 – not to make the wines but to suggest or confirm techniques to improve wines that were already good.

For example, the consultant (whose name is not disclosed) prodded the Mavety family to begin fermenting with natural yeasts. Now, virtually all the wines are fermented with wild yeast. The argument for doing so is to let the terroir show in the wines.

That same objective has driven other refinements in the Blue Mountain cellar, including the release of three single vineyard block wines.

“With the single vineyard bottlings, we are trying to put in bottle a wine that expresses the site itself, not the hand of the winemaking,” Matt says. “We have been working over the last 10 vintages to remove some of our input or our stamp on the wines, to allow more of the site to show through. Not that at any time we were heavy handed but there was room for refinement.”

The handling of both the grapes and the wines has become gentler.

“The refinements in winemaking have allowed the personalities of the vineyards to become very expressive,” Matt says. “Before, when our extraction levels were a bit higher, they started to hide, or muddle, the nuances in the wine. That becomes a very significant evolution in what has happened. It is not one that happened all of a sudden.  It is something we have been working on since, I would say, the 2010 vintage, to try to pull back our activity during the fermentation.”

There has been a significant change in how the wines are racked when wine is being taken off the lees. Previously, Blue Mountain – like most wineries – typically pumped each barrel into tank and, if further barrel aging was required, pumped it back into barrel.

Now, pumping has virtually been eliminated except for filling the barrels initially from primary fermentation vessels. After that, Blue Mountain moves the wine by gravity. A stainless steel tap is inserted into a specially-made bung hole in the head of each barrel. The barrel is then tilted or rocked so that the wine flows from that barrel into the receiving barrel. “It is an old school technique,” Matt observes. “A lot of domains in Burgundy still do it.”

“We would have minimized our rackings in the past but when we were assembling wines for bottling, they were never as clear as they should have been,” Matt says. “We would have to filter the wine. In this case, we are able to handle the wines very gently, step by step, to get to the point where we can bottle unfiltered, no question.”

The decision to bottle single vineyard block wines in the 2017 vintage was the culmination of at least a decade of experience with the Blue Mountain vineyard.  

“As our understanding of the vineyards and the wines we are making from specific blocks emerged, we had three blocks we could isolate as three unique personalities,” Matt says.  “We definitely have differences in the soils here. One of the blocks in particular is different, based on the soil. But quite often, we find the topography is what is giving us a significant difference in the sites.”

Wine from these blocks was already part of the estate and reserve blends. In order not to strip quality from those, only small bottlings – 1,800 bottles each – have been released as single block wines. When the wines being released are lined up side by side, the differences are evident.

“Our customer may have a preference one way or another, but we are not ranking them,” Matt says. “There is an order in which they are poured but not necessarily an order of one, two and three.”

Each block has been named in an attempt to telegraph the personalities of the wines. Block 9, a vineyard block just under a hectare in size with undulating terrain and multiple exposures, is now Wild Terrain. Block 14 is Gravel Force because the soil is a mix of gravel and clay. Block 23’s name, River Flow, is suggested by the sandy soils.

“I would hope customers could taste through the five wines and see a couple of things,” Matt says. “You can see the reflection of the estate. All of these wines were grown here on the bench in Okanagan Falls. They are hopefully all an expression of the land they were grown on, not the winemaking. If our winemaking is too aggressive, the nuances we captured here would be more hidden.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Blue Mountain Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir 2017 ($35). The bright notes of fruit, cherry and raspberry, reflect that much of the fruit is from younger vines. The texture is silky and finish is elegant. 91.

Blue Mountain Reserve Cuvee Pinot Noir 2017 ($45). Dark in colour, this wine begins with aromas of spice and dark fruit, followed by layers of concentrated flavour. The finish is elegant with classic velvet tannins. 93.

Blue Mountain River Flow Block 23 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with toasty oak. That is echoed on the silky palate. A wine with finesse and with flavours that linger on the palate. 94.

Blue Mountain Wild Terrain Block 9 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine does indeed have an unruly edge to it, with aromas and flavours of herbs mingled with cherry. The flavours are bright and the texture is firm. 94.

Blue Mountain Gravel Force Block 14 Pinot Noir 2017 ($55). This wine delivers an edgy tension on the palate, with aromas and bright flavours of cherry mingled with spice. The structure is firm and age worthy. 94.


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