Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt Mavety
Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars has been a leading producer of Pinot Noir in the Okanagan since 1991.
For many years, the winery produced just an estate Pinot Noir. In time, as the vines and the winemaking matured, a Reserve Pinot Noir joined the portfolio. Beginning with the 2017 vintage, the winery also released three single vineyard block Pinot Noirs along with the other two.
The winery is about to release all five of its Pinot Noirs from the 2018 vintage. Those who were very impressed with the 2017 single vineyard block wines will be completely swept away by the exceptional 2018s.
I tasted these wines with a friend who has great affection for Pinot Noir and deep knowledge about the varietal. He shared my excitement for the single vineyard block wines. He wondered why Blue Mountain, since it has been growing Pinot Noir for more than 30 years, had waited until last year to release what would be Grand Cru wines if the Okanagan were Burgundy.
Last year, Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety told me that 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 – about 1,800 bottles each – have been released as single block wines. When the wines 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.
The winemaking is similar for all of these wines. The grapes are harvested by hand, de-stemmed and lightly crushed into open-top fermenting tanks. Fermentations are done with wild yeast. The maceration period is 14 to 18 days with light pump-overs and cautious punch-downs of the cap.
At the end of fermentation, the wine is drained to tank and the remaining pomace is gently pressed. The wine settles for three to seven days and is then decanted into French oak. Portions of the reserve Pinot and the three single vineyard block wines age in barrels ranging from new to four years old. The wines age on their fine lees, which contributes a richness to the texture.
All the wines were bottled in March 2020 and have had six or so months in bottle before release.
Treating the grapes the same way allows the terroir to shine through. The difference between the estate Pinot Noir and the reserve appears to reflect blending of wines from the best barrels. The personalities of the single vineyard block wines clearly reflects the terroir of those specific sites.
Here are notes on the wines.
Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2018 ($35). Made with four clones of 12-year-old vines, this is a bright Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherries and baking spice. The texture is silky. 90.
Blue Mountain Reserve Cuvée Pinot Noir 2018 ($45). This wine, which is significantly richer on the palate, is made with four clones of fruit from vines that range in age from 21 years to 34 years. It begins with aromas of cherries, blueberries and dark fruits. The wine is savoury with flavours of cherry and plum and a hint of earthiness on the lingering finish. 93.
Blue Mountain Gravel Force Block 14 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). Made with two clones (115, 667) from 31-year-old vines, this is a wine with power. The winery calls it “brooding.” It is rich and full of dark fruit flavours and has what Burgundians would call forest floor on the finish. 95.
Blue Mountain River Flow Block 23 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). This is made from clones 113 and 144; the vines are 26 years old and grow in sandy loam. The wine begins with voluptuous aromas of cherry and spice leading to seductive flavours of cherry and ripe raspberry. 95.
Blue Mountain Wild Terrain Block 9 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). The vines here, clones 115 and 667, are 21 years old. The block’s topography is described as variable and extreme. The texture is firmer than its partners. The spice notes that mingle with dark fruits on the nose and palate recall hints of orange peel. It is a surprising untamed but pleasing character. 94.