Friday, January 24, 2020

Lunessence winery changing focus

Photo: Lunessence general manager Cameron Walker

This spring, Summerland’s Lunessence Winery & Vineyard intends to plant about four acres of Pinot Noir, beginning a modest change of direction for a producer previously known more for bold reds and elegant whites.

There are two reasons for planting Pinot Noir. First, Lunessence relies on growers elsewhere in the Okanagan for most of its red varieties at a time when there is a general shortage of red fruit. Planting its own red varieties is a prudent defensive move.

Secondly, the Summerland terroir is well suited for Pinot Noir. Three of the acres to be planted is new vineyard contiguous to the existing Lunessence vineyard. In the fourth acre, Pinot Noir replaces Syrah, which always struggled to ripen here (even though it produced a good rosé). The Syrah and a block of Merlot were planted in 2003 by the previous owners of the property.

The increasing emphasis on Pinot Noir, and to a lesser extent Chardonnay, began already in the 2019 vintage. According to Cameron Walker, the winery’s Australian-born general manager since 2018, Lunessence last fall purchased 10 tons of Pinot Noir from the Palo Solara vineyard in Kelowna. That should produce about 550 cases of wine.

The other reds purchased in 2019 were four tons of Merlot and three tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from an Oliver grower. The estate Merlot and Syrah were harvested to produce 150 cases of Blanc de Noirs.

The portfolio recalibration at Lunessence coincides with the arrival last summer of Maxime Legris (below). He takes over from Michal Mosny who left to focus on his own winery, Winemaker’s CUT, under development beside highway 97, midway between Oliver and Osoyoos.

Maxime, who was born in Ottawa, decided to become a winemaker after training as a sommelier. He earned a bachelor of science in enology from Brock University in St. Catherines and worked for several vintages at the Malivoire Wine Company.

“I always had it in mind to move out to British Columbia,” he says. “I came to the valley in 2014 after having done a couple of vintages in New Zealand” with Babich Wines in a new Marlborough winery. He did the 2014 and 2015 vintages there but came back to the Okanagan to work the same vintages at Pentâge Winery near Penticton. He became assistant winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery in 2017, where he did two vintages before joining Lunessence.

His arrival at Lunessence coincides with the winery’s decision to apply for organic certification of its vineyards. “We have been farming organically here since 2014 but had never pursued certification,” Cameron says. “We have now started that process.”

Maxime came with first-hand organic experience because CedarCreek and all the other producers owned by Anthony von Mandl are committing his vineyard holding company, Sebastian Farms, to organic viticulture.

“It is an interesting opportunity for the valley,” Maxime believes. “When you have a large producer like Sebastian Farms transitioning 1,300 acres, it immediate puts us on a global stage. Our total organic production is quite high, relative to the world. It creates an interesting marketing opportunity for wines from the valley, to distinguish ourselves on the world stage. Thirty per cent of the valley is certified organic fruit. The climate is hospitable for that.”

Lunessence emerged in 2015 on the site of a winery formerly known as Sonoran Vineyards. The former operators, the Smits family, sold the winery in 2014 to businessman Zhizhong Si, a China-born environmental consultant who was educated in Canada. He is now based in Vancouver.

Fans of Lunessence wines need not worry that the portfolio changes will be abrupt of jarring, if only because some of the grape sources will remain constant. For example, the popular Sauvignon Blanc Muscat white blend is from a Naramata Bench vineyard which is now managed (but not owned) by Lunessence.

“This is a vineyard we have been working with since 2014 when we took over” [from the Smits], Cameron says.  “It is Jeff Harries’s vineyard in Naramata. He has about five acres. It is about 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscat. And he has a couple of rows of Chardonnay, Viognier and Sémillon. We pick the whole lot together and co-ferment it. It goes in as a field blend every year.”

A modest change in style will reflect Maxime’s decision to age the red wines a little longer in barrel, softening the tannins and leaving the wines less grippy on release. The exception will be the Pinot Noirs where barrel-aging is limited to eight to 10 months, keeping the fruity aromas and flavours fresh.

Since I tasted through the wines in August (I was working hard on a book all last year and wine reviews lagged), some of these wines will be sold out. But if you have the wines in your cellar or find them in a restaurant, you might be interested in my notes.

Lunessence Quartet 2018 ($19.99). This is a blend of 60% Riesling, 37% Gewurztraminer, 2% Muscat and 1% Pinot Blanc. All of the estate vineyard’s grapes go into this blend and are supplemented with purchased fruit from Oliver vineyards. . Fermentation is entirely in stainless steel. The wine is crisp and fresh despite having a touch of residual sugar. It has citrus, green apple and melon aromas and flavours. 90.

Lunessence Viognier 2018 ($20.99). The fruit is from an Oliver vineyard. The wine has aromas of peaches and apricots with subtle floral notes, leading to flavours of stone fruits, honeydew melon and honey. The viscous mouthfeel adds to the weight and the long finish of this delicious wine. 91.

Lunessence Sauvignon Blanc Muscat 2018 ($21.99).  This field blend is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Muscat Canelli; the remaining 10% includes Viognier, Chardonnay and Sémillon. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and finished with 20 grams of residual sugar. It begins with aromas of lime and pineapple. It has flavours of lime, lemon, guava and orange. The finish is long and luscious. 92. 

Lunessence Reserve Riesling 2017 ($27.99). Only 10.5% Alcohol. The winemaking protocol was designed to produce an orange wine. The crushed juice fermented with indigenous yeast on the skins for 20 days. It then was aged four months in neutral oak barrels, where the orange hue from skin contact deepened. The wine begins with complex aromas, including orange peel, leading to flavours of ripe nectarine and cantaloupe. 91.

Lunessence Blanc de Noirs 2018 ($19.99). The blend is 69% Merlot and 31% Syrah (mostly estate fruit). This is a juicy, refreshing rosé with aromas and flavours of strawberry and watermelon. 91.

Lunessence Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($34.99). The winery describes this as a “grippy” and youthful Cabernet Sauvignon which needs to be decanted and aerated. It was aged just eight months in Hungarian and American oak and then spent 10 months aging in bottle before release. It has aromas and flavours of  black currant mingled with vanilla. 90.

Lunessence Merlot 2017 ($29.99). This wine was also aged eight months in Hungarian and French oak and then 10 months in bottle before release. But Merlot is seldom as grippy as Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a full-bodied red with aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. 92.


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