Sunday, January 19, 2020

Upper Bench's Cabernet and friends

Photo: Upper Bench's Gavin and Shana Miller

Cabernet Sauvignon is not the easiest grape to get ripe in the Okanagan. However, Gavin Miller, the co-owner and winemaker at Upper Bench Winery, has the variety figured out.

Over a succession of recent vintages, Upper Bench Cabernet Sauvignon has never disappointed. The latest releases from the winery included an excellent 2016 estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon.

Keep in mind that the estate is on the Naramata Bench, not on the sun-bathed Osoyoos East Bench or Black Sage Road. It takes good viticulture to produce ripe, full-bodied Cabernet on the Naramata Bench.

For some background on this winery, here is an excerpt from the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
There is divine symmetry at Upper Bench. Gavin Miller currently has eight wines in the portfolio while Shana, his wife, has eight cheeses in her portfolio. Both are available in the tasting room.

The winery has undergone a profound transformation since 2011 when Gavin, backed by a silent partner, businessman Wayne Nystrom, acquired what was then known as Stonehill Estate Winery in a bankruptcy court auction of the winery and its three hectare (seven acre) vineyard. The partners started almost from scratch, including a new name, turning the page on the struggles of previous owners. German brewmaster Klaus Stadler planted the vineyard in 1998. He launched Benchland Winery three years later to such a lukewarm reception that he stopped making wine after the 2002 vintage and returned to Germany, selling the winery in 2004 to orchardist Keith Holman. Renamed Stonehill, it specialized in port-style wines before slipping into bankruptcy in 2010 with the other six Holman wineries.

Rebranding the winery, which is within Penticton’s city limits, has enabled Gavin and Shana to make a new beginning with high quality wines and cheeses. “I am really pleased we got this winery,” Gavin says. “I always thought it had good bones, this place. It was never used to its potential.”

 Born in Britain in 1965, Gavin was a sales manager in London when he came to Penticton on vacation in 1995 and met Shana. They lived in London for a year before returning to the Okanagan in 1997. Drawn to wine after a year as a sign maker, Gavin took Okanagan College courses That launched him on a career that began  in the vineyard at Lake Breeze, the cellars at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards, the tasting room at Sumac Ridge and then winemaking, first at Poplar Grove and then at Painted Rock, where he made award-winning wines before leaving after the 2010 vintage.

Gavin and Shana now have had a decade of wine and cheese-making at Upper Bench. He continues to make award-winning wines that pair well with her cheeses.

Here are notes on four current wine releases.

Upper Bench Chardonnay 2018 ($25 for 780 cases). This is a crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay, short on oak but long on aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and pear. The admirable restraint of oak was the result of aging just half the wine for three months in French oak (30% new). 90.

Upper Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($36 for 165 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of cherry and blueberry mingled with spice and tobacco. The palate delivers abundant red fruits and a robust texture with earthy/forest floor notes on the finish. 90.

Upper Bench Estate Merlot 2016 ($35 for 236 cases). This wine, which has five percent Cabernet Sauvignon, was aged 21 months in French oak (33% new). It begins with inviting aromas of blueberry, black cherry and vanilla which are echoed on the palate. There also are notes of vanilla and cedar. The texture is full and the tannins are ripe. 92.

Upper Bench Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($40 for 212 cases). The wine was aged 21 months in French oak (30% new). There is 5% Merlot in this wine. Dark in colour, the wine has a concentrated texture. It begins with aromas of black cherry, vanilla, cedar and tobacco. On the palate, it delivers flavours of black cherry, plum, vanilla mingled with mint. The finish lingers. Decanting enables the wine to unlock all of its flavours. 93.


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