Monday, October 14, 2019

Fitzpatrick winery champions bubble

Photo: Gordon Fitzpatrick

Those who attended the Pinot Noir festival at UBC Okanagan this summer were greeted at the entrance by Gordon Fitzpatrick and glasses of sparkling wine from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards.

This Peachland winery, which only began making sparkling wine in 2012, has quickly established itself as one of the Okanagan’s leading producers of bubble. The winery confidently prices its reserve bubble to compete with Champagne.

For some background on the winery, here is an except from my newest book on Okanagan wineries, which will be released next spring.

The visitor experience at this winery, where about 100,000 bottles of sparkling wine are maturing in vaulted underground cellars, is meant to be “luxury at play.” The president Gordon Fitzpatrick or winemaker Sarah Baine often gives personal tours and tastings. The resort-like winery has a bistro and a patio where visitors relax with a glass of wine while taking in views of the vineyard or Okanagan Lake.

This is the second winery established here by the Fitzpatrick family. Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, Gordon’s father, purchased this lakeside property south of Peachland in 1994. Formerly a renowned orchard called Greata Ranch, it was redeveloped as a 16.2-hectare (40-acre) vineyard to supply the senator’s CedarCreek Estate Winery across the lake. From 2003 until 2014, the Fitzpatricks also opened Greata Ranch Vineyards winery here. The sale of CedarCreek in 2014 led them to focus entirely on Greata Ranch.

“We had always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon, who had also been CedarCreek’s president. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek, and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was. They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

The vineyard is a cool site planted to varieties well suited for the sparkling wines. The Greata Ranch winery was closed for three years to develop a new 8,000-case winery and to age an inventory of traditional bottle-aged sparkling wines. Gordon had begun the preparations in 2012 when he asked Darryl Brooker, then CedarCreek’s winemaker, to make the 380 cases of sparkling wine with which the new winery opened in 2017.

“It is not just a wine brand,” Gordon says. “I want to create a little bit of a lifestyle brand as well. That is why there is emphasis on what we are going to be doing on site, and the restaurant and the food, and the way we present. I want to see if we can cross over and create what I call luxury at play.”

Here are notes on some current releases.

Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2018 ($19.50 for 644 cases). Ehrenfelser is a variety that the Fitzpatrick family first championed at CedarCreek with fruit from the legendary Mannhardt Vineyard. The winery continues to get fruit from that vineyard as well as from its own estate. The wine was fermented cool in stainless steel. It begins with appealing aromas of peaches and nectarines; those fruits are echoed on the palate and accented with bright acidity. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Lookout Riesling 2018 ($18.50 for 431 cases). The numbers – 18 grams of residual sugar – suggest this would be a sweet wine. Instead, because the sugar is balanced well with bracing acidity, the wine is crisp and refreshing. It begins with aromas of citrus. It is bright and lively on the palate with flavours of Granny Smith apples and lemon. With just 10.5% alcohol, the wine dances lightly on the palate. 91.

Fitzpatrick Big Leap Chardonnay 2017 ($24.50 for 274 cases). This wine was fermented with wild yeast in a French oak barrel, and also aged 10 months in French oak (25% new). The use of oak is subtle and does not mask the remarkable purity of the fruit flavours. The wine begins with aromas of citrus, apple and a hint of butterscotch. This is echoed on the palate. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Elusive Pinot Noir 2017 ($24.50 for 248 cases). The grapes – clones 667 and 115 – are from a single block in the Greata Ranch vineyard. A quarter of the grapes went to ferment as whole clusters. Fermentation was with wild yeast. The wine was aged in French oak (20% new). Subtle use of oak means the wine has retained fresh, fruity aromas of cherries and strawberries with a touch of spice on the finish. The texture is silky. 90.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2015 ($42.50). This is a sophisticated sparkling Chardonnay, aged about 36 months on the lees. Crisp, dry and focussed, it has aromas of citrus and flavours of green apple mingled with brioche. The mineral backbone supports the crispness and the enduring finish. 93.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Reserve Blanc de Noir 2015 ($42.50). This is a very elegant sparkling Pinot Noir. It begins with aromas of apples leading to flavours of citrus along with biscuit and nutty notes from the 36 months the wine aged on the lees. The texture is creamy and satisfying. 93.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hester Creek's The Judge and friends

 Photo: Hester Creek's Curt Garland

Hester Creek’s Bordeaux blend, a wine called The Judge, was the wine I included in my 2017 book, Icon.

The purpose of that book was to highlight wines suitable for a collector’s cellar. I have held The Judge in high regard since its first vintage in 2007. Since the book was published, Hester Creek has thrown me a curve by releasing a second wine, called Garland, every bit as collectible as The Judge. Take your pick!

Here is an excerpt from the book that provides the back story to The Judge:

The Judge was born from winemaker Rob Summers’s determination to make an estate blend. Before joining Hester Creek in 2006, he had spent the better part of two decades making single varietals in the Niagara region for Andrew Peller Ltd. “I said, ‘We can do better, more complex wines if we do a blend,’” Rob argued. “But I was the varietal winemaker, and you don’t have a lot of choice when you are at a large winery.”

Hester Creek, with its old vines, gave him the opportunity to make estate blends. “As an estate, you have to have your iconic wine,” Rob believes. “Just because you have to have one.” A prototype blend for the Judge, made in the 2006 vintage, was never released because, in Rob’s judgment, more vineyard improvements were needed. Under the new ownership of businessman Curt Garland, Hester Creek was still recovering from its 2004 bankruptcy.

The 28-hectare (70-acre) Hester Creek vineyard dates from 1968, when Italian immigrant Joe Busnardo planted vinifera grapes exclusively. The so-called “Italian Merlot” he planted is now part of another of the winery’s red blends. Subsequent owners added French clones of the Bordeaux red varieties to the vineyard after Joe sold the winery in 1996.

Rob had recognized this as one of the best vineyards in the South Okanagan when he visited the Valley in 2002 as Peller’s national winemaker. By 2007, significant upgrades in the vineyard and the winery enabled Rob to make the first vintage of the Judge. It remains a blend of almost equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

The Judge is notable for its rich flavours and silky tannins. This reflects both the old vines and the winemaking technology in Hester Creek’s new winery, built in 2010. The winery’s Italian-made Ganimede fermenters extract flavour but not hard tannins by stirring the crushed skins with recirculated fermentation gas rather than with mechanical devices. “It is a very thorough mixing, but it is also very gentle,” Rob explains.

The Judge is crafted from select blocks of vines that are 15 or more years old. The winery’s award-winning Cabernet Franc and Merlot reserve wines come from the same blocks, but the best barrels are set aside for the Judge. The three varietals in the Judge age separately in barrels (75% French, 25% American) for 12 to 14 months before being blended and aged together for another year. For consistency of flavour and style, up to 15 percent of the previous vintage is added to each blend.

“I am trying to make a fairly big-style red that is approachable and yet complex enough to be interesting,” Rob says. “The fruit concentration and ripeness we get is pretty exciting.”

Late this summer, the winery released four wines including The Judge 2016. Because I have had my hands full completing another book on Okanagan wineries, I have been slower than usual to review new releases. The publisher now has the manuscript and I have time to catch up on the reviews.

The late summer releases also included the second vintage of Garland, a Bordeaux blend named for the winery’s owner. This wine is anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon and arguably is even a better wine for long term cellaring. The winery recommends aging either Garland or The Judge up to 10 years. I think Garland has the longer legs.

Here are notes on the wines.

Hester Creek Chardonnay 2018 Golden Mile Bench ($21.99 for 800 cases). The winery fermented 34% of this in French oak barrels (20% new) and fermented the rest in stainless steel. The wine was aged eight months in barrel. The oak is subtle and well-handled. The wine begins with aromas of citrus mingled with spice. On the palate, there are flavours of mandarin orange mingled with butter and vanilla. The texture on the palate is rich. 91.

Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 ($25.99 for 1,100 cases). This is 84% Syrah and 16% Viognier, co-fermented. The wine was aged 14 months in barrel (60% American, 40% French). It is a classic Okanagan Syrah, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, delicatessen meats and a touch of white pepper. Long ripe tannins gives the wine a fleshy texture. 91.

Hester Creek The Judge 2016 Golden Mile Bench ($43.99). The blend is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 24 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). The wine begins with complex aromas of cherry, plum and sage. The palate is rich and ripe, with flavours of black cherry, cassis, mocha and vanilla. The finish is very long. 94.

Hester Creek Garland 2016 Golden Mile Bench ($55.99 for 350 cases). The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% Merlot, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 5.5% Malbec, 3.5% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 18 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). The wine begins with aromas of blackberry mingled with cedar and leather. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry and blackberry. The polished tannins give the wine an elegant texture as well as the ability to develop well in the cellar. 95.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

TIME and Evolve wineries change guard

Photo: Christa-Lee McWatters (credit Chris Stenberg)

Wine industry giant Harry McWatters, who died suddenly in July, left a seamless succession plan for Encore Vineyards, the holding company for TIME Winery and Evolve Cellars.

Christa-Lee McWatters, Harry’s daughter, took over as president and chief executive of Encore “as per the family's succession plan” – in the words of an Encore press release last month.
“Harry had been in the wine business for 51 years and mentored Christa-Lee in the business from the time she was a child,” the release continued. “Evolve Cellars is a project led by Christa-Lee, noting that the brand values of celebrating the Okanagan and living as the best version of herself is something she aspires to.” 

One of Christa-Lee’s first decisions was to move Evolve from Summerland into the TIME Winery in downtown Penticton. Evolve was set up by the McWatters family in 2015. It was based in a leased building that formerly had housed the unsuccessful Bonitas Winery. When the lease expired this summer, Christa-Lee decided to consolidate it with the TIME facility.

She plans to have an Evolution Lounge built over winter adjacent to the TIME tasting room. Like the wines in the TIME portfolio, the Evolve wines are made by the team headed by chief winemaker Graham Pierce.

The Evolve wines, however, are aimed at a different palate, as Harry told me during an interview a year ago. “Our target consumer is different,” he said. “We are marketing a lot more to females between 25 and 45 years old. Of all the white wines we produce, none of them see any oak. They are all varietally correct. They are not blended. They are all fruit forward. Even the red wines are all very fruit forward.”

The side-by-side tasting rooms should provide a chance to graduate some of those consumers to arguably more sophisticated TIME portfolio.

TIME opened in 2018 in a renovated former four-screen cinema in downtown Penticton. The facility now includes a year-round restaurant, a large tasting bar and a fully-equipped winery and barrel cellar.

Here are notes on four recent releases from TIME.

TIME Brut 2018 ($34.99). This is 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay. The base wines were fermented variously in French oak, stainless steel barrels and stainless steel tanks. The wine is crisp, dry and refreshing, with citrus aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and brioche. 90.

TIME White Meritage 2018 ($25). The blend is 51% Sauvignon Blanc and 49% Sémillon. Forty per cent of the wine was fermented in French oak; the remainder was cool fermented in a stainless steel tank. The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit, honeydew melon and pear with a hint of coconut. On the palate, it delivers flavours of lemon, lime and gooseberry. The finish is crisp. 91.

TIME Riesling 2018 ($22.99). This wine was fermented cool in stainless steel, with fermentation stopped so that the wine retains almost 21% residual sugar and just 10.5% alcohol. The wine has aromas of lemon and lime and flavours of lime and nectarine.  The off-dry style is perfectly suited as an aperitif wine. 90.

TIME Rosé 2018 ($24.99). This a rare example of a Syrah rosé, with enough colour to present well on the table. The ripe strawberry aromas are echoed in the flavours, along with hints of cherry and pepper on the dry finish. 91.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Noble Ridge lauds noble patrons

Photo: Leslie and Jim D'Andrea

Jim and Leslie D’Andrea, the owners of Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery, have launched two wines under what is called the “Be Noble” program.

It flatters some of their best customers while, at the same time, underlining how those individuals have embraced good causes. The customers are rewarded by having their surnames on the labels of some very good wines.

The winery explains the program thus:

“During our strategic planning session this past December, the Noble Ridge Management Team reviewed … what was important for Noble Ridge’s overall objectives and mission statement. While financial success was obvious, we also saw that ‘being noble’ continued to be a very strong motivator and key to our overall culture and strategy.

“As the discussion continued, we realized that we truly those valued those who not only espoused being noble but also acted on it. As a result, we instituted our NOBLE CAUSES whereby Noble Ridge staff will pick a few charities to support annually. A portion of our tasting fees are given to these charities …

“We also realized that there are people who have become our advocates, displaying the exact qualities of nobility that we were aspiring to achieve for ourselves.”

The first two Noble Knights (and Dame) are honored with special wines that are available just to the wine club and in the tasting room.

A 2017 Chardonnay honours Richard Powers.

“Richard is constantly buying and promoting [our] wine to his friends, business associates and family.” An associate professor the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, he helped expand the Noble Ridge wine club in Ontario. He also is frequent volunteer on numerous committees, including the Canadian Commonwealth Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Rugby Canada.

The other inaugural honorees are Jim and Pam Stone, both practising physicians. The winery says that “both have made significant professional and volunteer contributions in each of their fields, cardiology and pediatrics respectively.” They have also given time and support at the winery and have promoted Noble Ridge wines to their friends.

“We are truly blessed to be associated with such Noble People,” the winery says. “We are going to add new Noble Knights and Dames in the future.”

Here are my notes on the wines.  

Noble Ridge 2017 Noble Knights Powers Vintage Chardonnay ($38.99 for 94 cases). This is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of butterscotch and caramel. These notes are echoed on the rich flavour palate, along with citrus and stone fruit flavours.  The finish lingers. 90.

Noble Ridge 2017 Noble Knights Stone Vintage Cabernet ($38.99 for 531 cases). The blend is 51% Cabernet Franc and 41% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 16 months in French and American barrels (20% new).  The wine begins with aromas of cassis, sage, plum and cherry. On the palate, it delivers flavours of cherry and black currant mingled with blackberry and blueberry. The tannins are ripe but firm and the finish is long. 92.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Township 7 adds bench strength

Photo: Winemaker and vineyard manager Ryan McKillop (courtesy Township 7)

Now celebrating its 19th anniversary, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery time in the industry has spanned the (so far) golden age of British Columbia wine.

When the original Township 7 winery opened in Langley in 2001, the VQA program was barely a decade old and still contentious; and there were perhaps 50 wineries.

Today, there are 350 wineries with so many under development that 400 is possible. The VQA program now is mature while a series of new sub-appellations are drilling down to an understanding of terroir wines barely contemplated 20 years ago.

Township 7 consists of two of those wineries. The initial winery in Langley is now dedicated to the production of sparkling wines. The much larger winery at the start of the Naramata Bench makes a full range of table wines.

There have been three sets of owners at Township 7 and each has been better resourced. Businessman Ge Song, who acquired the winery in 2014, has made major investments to expand the Okanagan winery and upgrade the equipment. In 2018, he allowed the winery to purchase the 12-acre Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver, securing total control over a vineyard from which Township 7 has been buying fruit almost from the beginning.

He also has supported the winery in critical personnel decisions. Mary McDermott, a skilled winemaker, was recruited from Andrew Peller Ltd. in Ontario. She has had a major impact on the quality of wines. And it was her idea to devote the Langley vineyard to sparkling wines.

This summer, Township 7 added bench strength by hiring Ryan McKibbon as assistant winemaker and vineyard manager. He is a graduate of Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture program. His expertise includes organic and biodynamic grape growing.

He did a vineyard internship focussed on organic and biodynamic viticulture at Felton Road Wines in New Zealand. He has worked with other organic/biodynamic producers including Hidden Bench Winery on Ontario, Crystallum Wines in South Africa and Phantom Creek in the Okanagan.

Would anyone care to guess on the future direction of Township 7’s viticulture?

The Township 7 journey illustrates why British Columbia wines have improved so dramatically over the past 20 years: better equipped wineries, more experienced winemakers and, most fundamentally, much improved viticulture.

Current releases have benefited for all that.

Township 7 2018 7 Blanc ($18.97 for 888 cases). This is a blend of 56% Gewürztraminer, 22% Pinot Gris, 9% Viognier, 9% Riesling and 4% Muscat. All the varieties were fermented slowly at about 12◦C over three weeks to deliver maximum freshness and flavour. The aromas are predictably, and pleasantly, aromatic with notes of grapefruit and spice. On the palate there are luscious flavours of pink grapefruit and nectarine. The residual sugar adds to the lush texture and lingering finish. 91.

Township 7 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($18.97 for 828 cases). The grapes for this wine are from the Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver. Long a supplier of fruit to Township 7. Most of the fruit was fermented cool in stainless steel; a two-barrel portion was fermented in oak and added to the blend for complexity. The wine begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. Crisp and dry on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of lime, grapefruit zest and herbs. The finish is very persistent. 91.

Township 7 2018 Reserve Pinot Gris ($26.97 for 148 cases). The wine is exclusive to Township 7’s wine club. The wine begins with aromas of pears and stone fruit. Rich in texture but with a dry finish, the wine delivers flavours of pear and nectarine mingled with a hint of orange and oak. The wine was barrel-fermented in neutral French oak. Lees stirring added to fullness of the texture. The finish of this delicious and complex wine lingers. 93.

Township 7 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($45.97 for 198 cases). This wine is also a wine club exclusive. The fruit for this wine came from the Romar Vineyard in Osoyoos. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak (60%) and American oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with very expressive aromas of cherry, blackberry and cloves that explode from the glass. On the palate, the wine has silky tannins and delivers flavours of black cherry, blackberry, tobacco and spice. 93.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Clos du Soleil releases new flagship vintages

Photo: Clos du Soleil winemaker Michael Clark

This excellent winery in the Similkameen Valley has been inspired from the start by the wines of Bordeaux. The styles of the two current releases continue in that direction.

One of the wines is the red blend called Signature. This was the wine recommended in my 2017 book, Icon, for those building a cellar vertical.

Here is an except from the book to provide some background on the winery:

The winemaking aesthetic at Clos du Soleil is an echo of Bordeaux. “But while we talk about our French philosophy, our wines are never going to taste like Bordeaux, and they shouldn’t,” cautions Michael Clark, the managing partner and winemaker. “They should taste like Upper Bench Keremeos in the Similkameen Valley, and I think they do.”
The founding partners, all lovers of French wines, planted just Bordeaux varieties—five reds, two whites—on a 4-hectare (10-acre) farm purchased in 2006. Formerly a honey-producing farm, the property’s lean soils lie on a moderate south-facing slope against a mountainous rock face. The vines are grown under both organic and biodynamic disciplines.

The Bordeaux-inspired wines were initially crafted by Ann Sperling, a consulting winemaker of national repute and one of the owners of Sperling Vineyards in Kelowna. And before Clos du Soleil built its own winery in 2015, the wines were made at the Sperling winery. Winemaking was taken over in 2013 by Michael Clark, who grew up in a home where the wine cellar included classified growth Bordeaux wines.

Born in Cambridge, Ontario, in 1972, Michael began reading wine books when he was 10. Initially, he pursued careers in science (he has two degrees in theoretical physics) and finance (he has a master’s of business administration). After managing hedge-fund portfolios in Switzerland, he surrendered to his passion for wine, studying viticulture there and making wine in Bordeaux. When he returned to Canada to join Clos du Soleil in 2012, he had also received a winemaking certificate from the University of California. “Anybody will tell you that I am a bit of a detail person,” he says. “I think that plays well in winemaking, because it is the sum of a million little details that add up to the final wine.”

Michael believes that “the star of our vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon, which is planted right below the rock face. The Similkameen terroir is expressed in the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is so unique. It doesn’t taste like an Okanagan Cabernet or a California Cabernet or a Bordeaux Cabernet. It really tastes of here. It has a spicy, floral, violet component. It has density, lots of complexity, but it isn’t heavy.”

That defines the style of Signature, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux red, and also the limited-production Estate Reserve, first produced in the 2010 vintage.

“To me, delicacy matters,” Michael says. “My philosophy is that our best wines demonstrate their quality in ways other than bigness or heaviness. A great wine, whether you are talking about Clos du Soleil or a classified growth in Bordeaux, is determined by elegance, complexity, layers and ageability, not by huge, chewy fruit or aggressive tannins.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Clos de Soleil Capella 2017 ($24.26 for 471 cases). This wine is 71% Sauvignon Blanc and 26% Sémillon. The aromas immediately take one to Graves: citrus, herbs, minerals. The palate delivers flavours of grapefruit, lime, herbs and spice, leading to a crisp, dry finish. The fruit was fermented 60% in French oak barrels and 40%, with wild yeast, in stainless steel barrels. All lots were aged nine months on the lees, with the best barrels selected for the final blend. 91.

Clos de Soleil Signature 2015 ($39.04 for 20 barrels). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. This wine, the flagship at Clos du Soleil, was aged 15 months in French oak barrels. The wine, dark in colour, begins with rich aromas of cassis, black cherry, raspberry, mingled with floral notes. On the palate, there are layers of flavour: cherry, black currant and blueberry mingled with sage. The texture is firm, with long ripe tannins; the finish is very long. 94. 

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.