Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hester Creek exploits its fine terroir

 

 

 


                                     Photo: Hester Creek proprietor Curt Garland


 

Hester Creek Estate Winery and its wines comprise a poster child to terroir.

 

The vineyard is one of the oldest and best vineyards on the Golden Mile. The winery tells the story succinctly on its website. I take the liberty of reproducing it here.

 

Fifty years ago, Hester Creek’s grapevines were first planted on the property by Italian immigrant Joe Busnardo with varietals that he had grown up with in northern Italy. The perfect location for European vinifera grapes, the site just south of Oliver was on a sun drenched, bench with sloping hills that facilitate a longer growing season. Virtually unheard of at the time for British Columbia, over 80 classic European vinfera grapes were planted on the then 76 acre property. 

Several of those original varietals planted by Joe have thrived over the past half century with the Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano, “Italian Merlot” and Cabernet Franc flourishing on Hester Creek’s estate. These old vines have an intensity and certain elegance about them, that cannot be reproduced and bring a sense of old world Italy to our vineyard.

Over the years we have added to the classic mix of varietals with additional plantings in the early 1970s of Merlot in Block 2 and Pinot Blanc in Blocks 4 and 9 of the vineyard. This has since been followed by plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Sémillon, and Syrah.

Our estate now comprises of 115 acres. A distinctive terroir, our well draining, alluvial fan soil is on a unique west to east sloping bench that also breaks north to south, which enables the grapes to benefit from an extended frost-free season in both the spring and fall.

Here are notes on three wines released in late summer by Hester Creek.

 


Hester Creek Ti Amo 2019

($19.99 for 300 cases). With this wine, Hester Creek has joined the ranks of those B.C. producers making bubble. In style and in price, the wine is aimed at the Prosecco category. It is made with Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and a touch of Sémillon. It has flavours and aromas of peaches and apples. The bubbles give it a creamy texture while the finish is crisp. 90.

 




Hester Creek Chardonnay 2019 

($21.99 for 825 cases). This is a very attractive wine at this price. Two-thirds of the wine was fermented in stainless steel, one-third in French oak barrels. The wine was aged eight months in French
oak, accounting for the subtle notes of vanilla and butterscotch mingled with flavours of apple and pear. 91.

 

 

Hester Creek Garland 2017 ($55.99 for 400 cases). This wine, named for Hester Creek proprietor Curt Garland, is one of the winery’s two flagship red wines. This is

 

 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Culmina releases a strong portfolio

 

 


Photo: Culmina's winery

Culmina Family Estate Winery was so named because it is the culmination of a career in wine for Donald and Elaine Triggs. They founded Culmina in 2007 and sold it in 2019 to Arterra Wines Canada.

 

Arguably, it is the finest winery in Arterra’s portfolio.

 

Arterra is the successor to Vincor International Ltd., which Donald Triggs had developed into a major international wine company before Vincor was taken over in 2006 by Constellation Brands. The latter subsequently spun off the Canadian wine assets to Arterra, which is controlled by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. Jay Wright, Arterra’s chief executive, formerly was the right-hand man to Donald Triggs.

 

 

The year after the Vincor takeover, Donald and Elaine began developing 56 acres of densely planted vines on three mountainside benches on the Golden Mile as the site of Culmina.

 

The three vineyard benches, each with differing soils and elevations, provide winemaking options. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the largest blocks, followed by Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. There is also 2½ acres of Grüner Veltliner, the Austrian white.

 

The well-equipped winery is perched on the mountainside, allowing the winemakers to move wine gently with gravity. The design also affords superb views over the valley from the wine shop.

 

Culmina has been deeply influenced by the same French winemaking expertise that Donald had employed in the development of Osoyoos Larose Winery. Culmina tapped the expertise of Alain Sutre, the same Bordeaux consultant who helped get Osoyoos Larose launched, as well as Pascal Madevon, the initial winemaker at Osoyoos Larose.

 

In 2015, when Pascal opened his own consultancy, he was succeeded by another French-trained winemaker, Jean-Marc Enixon. He is making outstanding wines, as the current releases reveal.

 

Here are notes on the wines.

 


Culmina Stan’s Bench Chardonnay No. 011 2018
($38 for 50 cases). This elegant Chardonnay will be released later this year or early next year. Even then, it merits further cellaring to fully express itself. There are aromas and flavours of citrus fruits, orange peel and butter. 90-92.

 



Culmina Margaret’s Bench Chardonnay No. 010 2018 ($38 for 50 cases).
This attractive wine is slightly more forward than the Stan’s Bench Chardonnay. Rich in texture, it begins with aromas of and citrus that lead to intense flavours of
pear, ripe apple, citrus, butter and vanilla. Neither of these Chardonnays went through malolactic fermentation, accounting for the fact both are fruit forward. 92.

 




Culmina Malbec 2016
($39). This wine begins with the classic spicy perfume of this variety. There are layers of fruit on the palate, including cherry, plum and mulberry, mingled with mocha. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a polished texture. 93.

 




Culmina Merlot 2016 ($35). What is there not to love about Merlot from the Golden Mile? This luscious wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. The richly textured palate delivers a medley of dark fruits, including plum and cherry mingled with vanilla and chocolate. 93.

 







Culmina Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
($39). This wine has aromas of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. These lead to flavours of black currants, black cherry, vanilla and spice. Decanting is suggested to let the wine express itself. 92.

 





Culmina Cabernet Franc 2016
($38). This wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black cherry and spice. The wine is full on the palate with flavours of black cherry and blackberry mingling with tobacco and chocolate. 92.

 


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Clos du Soleil adds another vineyard

 


 



 Photo: Clos du Soleil's Michael Clark

 

It seems that in each passing year recently, Clos du Soleil Winery makes vineyard purchases that assure it a firmer grip on its destiny.

 

In September, the winery purchased the Whispered Secret Vineyard near Keremeos. Clos began buying Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard in 2014. That led to Clos leasing the vineyard and taking over the farming. This summer, Clos jumped at the chance to buy the vineyard from which it had already been getting some of the winery’s best fruit.

 

“For many years now, this vineyard has provided some of the highest quality grapes going into our flagship Capella white wine,” Michael Clark, Managing Director and winemaker at Clos du Soleil, said in a statement. “In addition, it has provided 100% of the grapes for our late-harvest Saturn wine, as well as our more recent Winemaker’s Series Pinot Gris.”

 

The 10.3-acre vineyard is on the south side of the Similkameen River. Its north-facing slope makes it slightly cooler than Clos du Soleil’s other vineyards on the north side of the valley. The vines, including a small block of Merlot, are 15 years old. Clos du Soleil expects the vineyard to complete its transition to organic in 2020.

 

“Whispered Secret has to be the most enchanting piece of vineyard land I have ever farmed,” says Steve Roche, Clos du Soleil’s vineyard manager. “Nestled between sheer rock faces to the south and the babbling waters of the Similkameen river to the north, here we have beautiful alluvial, loamy soils, with fantastic drainage, perfect for cultivating our superlative Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.”

 

Clos du Soleil began with a 7.5-acre estate vineyard planted in 2007 with Bordeaux varietals. In 2017 and 2018, two nearby parcels were acquired. Les Collines, as the vineyard was christened, has about six and a half acres of vines. La Côte is a 10-acre vineyard.

 

These carefully-farmed vineyards give Clos du Soleil a consistent volume of quality Similkameen grapes to support the winery’s premium products.

 

Here are notes on three current releases.



 


Clos du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Chardonnay 2019 

($22.90 for 119 cases). This is the winery’s first Chardonnay, with grapes from La Côte vineyard. The wine was fermented and aged eight months in neutral French oak puncheons, with less stirring and malolactic fermentation. Aromas of apple and peach are echoed intensely on the palate. The oak is imperceptible, leaving the fruit flavours central in this refreshing wine. 91.

 


Clos du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Sémillon 2019 ($21.90 for 101 cases). The fruit for this wine is from Oliver. Seventy-two per cent was fermented in stainless steel and the remainder was fermented in French oak. Both portions were aged on the less for six months and then combined prior to bottling. In the glass, the wine has an appealing lightly golden hue and aromas of apple, lemon and honey. There are flavours of apple and pear with an herbal note on the dry finish. 90.

 




Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2016
($54.90 for 96 cases). This blend is 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, all from the estate vineyard. Dark in colour, the wine jumps from the glass with cassis aromas mingled with blueberry. It delivers flavours of black currant, black cherry, blackberry mingled with hints of vanilla, leather and chocolate. The finish just won’t quit. A powerful and elegant wine with the structure to age for the next decade. 93.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

foxly rose and friends

 

 


 

 

Summer is over – but it is never too late to drink rosé wines. Here are notes on three random samples.

 

The wine from Foxtrot Winery is that winery’s first rosé. Foxtrot has made its reputation over the last 15 or so years with exquisite Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

 

Two years ago, the original owners sold the winery to a pair of New York Burgundy aficionados. I have no idea why they chose to add a rosé to the portfolio. I suspect it just reflects the roaring popularity of rosé wine. Virtually every winery now must have one in the portfolio.

 

foxly, as Foxtrot calls its rosé, is a bit unusual. It is not made from a Burgundian variety but rather from Pinot Gris. The technique – extracting colour with skin contact – qualifies it to be called an orange wine. Foxtrot was smart enough not to put that on the label.

 

The Nk’Mip rosé clearly is made by the saignée method – by bleeding juice from tanks of crushed red grapes before fermenting the red wines.

 

See Ya Later’s rosé is made with Pinot Noir, one of the most common varietals for rosé because of its delicate colour and its fruity aromas and flavours.

 

These are all dry rosé wines designed to drink with food. That illustrates why rosé has become a year-round wine, not just something to quaff on a summer’s afternoon.

 

Here are notes.

 


Foxtrot foxly Rosé 2019
($23). This is made primarily with Pinot Gris grapes. The rose petal hue comes from giving the grapes 48 hours of skin contact. It has flavours of strawberry and watermelon mingled with spice and minerality. It is dry. 88.

 

 



Nk’Mip Winemaker’s Rosé 2019 ($17.99). This is made with juice from five varietals:  Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. The result is a rosé full of aromas and flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. 90.

 

 




See Ya Late Ranch Legacy Series Rosé 2019
($24.99). This is primarily made with Pinot Noir. The wine is fashionably pale and quite dry. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry and watermelon. 88.

Township 7 launches sparkling wine club

 

 


                        Photo: Winemaker Mary McDermott (courtesy Township 7)

 

 

This fall, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery launched a wine club dedicated just to sparkling wine.

 

The few Canadian producers specializing in bubble, such as Bella Wines at Naramata and Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia, also have wine clubs but Township 7 may be Canada’s only full-line winery with a separate club for sparkling wines. Members of the seven stars club are offered two annual shipments (in spring and in fall), each with six bottles of sparkling wine.

 

Township 7 has been making sparkling wine since 1999, some with grapes from its cool vineyard in Langley. Frustrated with trying to make table wine from those grapes, the winery had almost given up on that vineyard before Mary McDermott was hired as Township 7’s winemaker in 2014 and laid down a Langley cuvée the next year. She had started making bubble at an Ontario winery. “I love not only making sparkling wine but also drinking it,” she says. “It has been a passion of mine for many years.”

 

Township 7 makes five sparkling wines. Seven Stars Equinox is a sparkling Pinot Noir rosé. Seven Stars Polaris and Seven Stars Eclipse are both made with Chardonnay. Seven Stars Vega, just released and already sold out, is made with Viognier.

 

Seven Stars Sirius 2015, to be released next year, is 54% Pinot Noir and 46% Chardonnay, with grapes from Langley.

 

These wines are all made in the classic Champagne method, where the secondary fermentation – which makes the bubbles – occurs in each individual bottle. Sparkling wines also can be fermented in pressure tanks or even carbonated, but the most sophisticated are made like Champagne.

 

And Mary McDermott’s skill has been recognized.  Township 7’s Polaris 2016 was judged the best Canadian sparkling wine last year at the world championships in London.

 

Here are notes on current releases from this winery.

 

 


Township 7 Provenance Series Chardonnay 2018
($21.97 for 598 cases). This wine is made with fruit from an Oliver vineyard. Half the fruit was fermented in French oak barriques and also went through malolactic fermentation. The other half was fermented in stainless steel, with no malolactic ferment. The outcome is a very balanced wine showcasing the citrus and peach aromas and flavours, with notes of vanilla and butter. 91.

 



Township 7 Provenance Series Merlot 2018 ($25.97 for 1,028 cases).  The wine begins with spicy aromas of black cherry and blueberry that are echoed on the palate. Long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying texture. 90.

 





Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve Pinot Gris 2019 ($26.97 for 148 cases). The
wine was fermented in neutral oak with wild yeast. To give the wine an Alsace-style richness, it was fermented for 21 days at slightly warmer temperatures. It had regular lees stirring as well. It shows aromas and flavours of pear, peach and melon. 91.

 




Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($26.97 for 388 

cases). This wine, which includes 15% Sémillon in the blend, was fermented and aged seven months in French oak barrels (15% new). It is a wine so complex that it comes across with a cerebral personality. It begins with aromas of herbs, lime and gooseberry which carry through to the flavours. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 91.

 


Township 7 Seven Stars Equinox 2016
($45.97).  Made with Pinot Noir, the wine is seductive in every way: the romantic pink hue, the fine mousse, the fruity aromas and flavours. 93.

 





Township 7 Seven Stars Vega 2018 ($32.97). Only 1,296 bottles were made;
all were offered to the wine club. Made with Viognier – rarely used for bubble -  this wine has aromas of pink grapefruit mingled with brioche. It is creamy on the palate with a long finish. 91.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Red Horses Vineyard champions Cabernet Sauvignon








Photo: Red Horses Vineyard's Eileen and Tim Fortin

Red Horses Vineyard is a small winery in Oliver which opened this spring, specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon.

It likely is the only Okanagan winery making as big a bet on Cabernet Sauvignon, a noble Bordeaux varietal once considered risky because it ripens later than Merlot. That was the view in the 1990s. Two decades later, the seasons are warmer and Cabernet Sauvignon is ripening reliably.

The two Red Horses vineyards have been planted since 2009 and the sites are warm. The ripe flavours of the winery’s debut whites show that the owners chose well.

For more background on the winery, which just opened this spring, here is an excerpt from my recently published Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. As small as the winery is, there is a tasting room. It is well worth a visit.

Red Horses Vineyard is perhaps the most focused small winery in the Okanagan. The vineyard is planted exclusively with Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery opened with just Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the latter made with purchased grapes. “There is a possibility in the future we might plant something other than Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Tim Fortin, one of the partners. “Now, I just want to make the best Cabernet I can make.”

The winery is owned by Tim and Eileen Fortin and Tim’s parents, Rod and Pat Fortin. It represents a circuitous journey to wine by both couples. Rod was born in northern Saskatchewan in 1940. He was 12 when his family moved to Oliver. “I started working in the orchards when I was 13, and I pretty well had my fill by the time I left here in 1959,” he remembers. After high school, he pursued several successful business careers in Vancouver, including modular housing for resource communities in the 1960s, followed by gravel production. After he sold that business, he and his wife retired in 2008 to the Okanagan, which he maintains has the best climate in Canada.

In 2009 they bought a 1.1-hectare (2¾-acre) orchard with 70-year-old trees near Tuc-el-Nuit Lake, at the outskirts of Oliver. Rod had no desire to begin growing tree fruits. “It was perfect for growing grapes,” he says. “I have always had an interest in wine. I drink wine every day, at least a couple of glasses.” His favourite wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. For several years, he sold the grapes, keeping enough to make wine for personal consumption.

Then Tim and Eileen bought an adjoining property, also planted Cabernet Sauvignon, and proposed a winery. Born in Vancouver in 1966, Tim met Eileen at cooking school there. Their love of wine developed in restaurants (Eileen’s Winnipeg family had operated a restaurant). After cooking school, they started their own catering company. That business led Tim to film-industry catering and then to a 30-year career managing logistics in that industry. When he retired, Tim and Eileen also moved to Oliver, to a vineyard and the management of Red Horses. The winery, which displays two life-size metal horse sculptures, takes its name from a family interest in horses and western lore.

Consulting winemaker Philip Soo makes the wine for Red Horses, which launches with 100 cases of 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, 450 cases from the 2018 vintage, and close to 1,000 cases in 2019. “And I don’t think we will go above 1,000 cases,” Tim says. “We will try to keep the quality up and the volume down.”

Here are notes on four current releases.

Red Horses Cross Breed 2018 ($28.75 for 55 cases). This is a field blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry, cassis and dark chocolate, with spice and chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long, ripe and soft. 91.

Red Horses Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($26.75 for 100 cases). The winery’s first vintage, it was barrel-aged for 26 months. The structure is firm and the wine benefits from decanting. It has aromas and flavours of black currants with a hint of oak on the finish. 90.

 Red Horses Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($23.75 for 188 cases). This wine also benefits with decanting, opening up to appealing aromas and flavours of black cherry, blackberry and cola. 91.

Red Horses Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2018 ($35 for 100 cases). This is a rich and full-flavoured wine that was aged 14 months in new French oak barrels. It begins with aromas of vanilla and black cherry. The palate is generous, with flavours of cassis, dark cherry, plum and vanilla. The finish is persistent. 93.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Mayhem releases a white Port






Photo: Mayhem's Terry Meyer Stone


Mayhem Wines may not entirely revive the lagging interest in Gewürztraminer but I predict this Okanagan Falls producer will spark a conversation about the variety with its recent releases.

These include a fortified Gewürztraminer. I cannot recall anything quite like this since the occasional Perle of Csaba dessert wines from several Okanagan wineries in the 1980s – and I do not think that those were fortified.

A wine like this, which very much recalls White Port, is in keeping with the Mayhem personality. The winery describes itself as “fun collaboration” between Terry Meyer Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards and her brother, JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards.

With the exception of Gewürztraminer, there is no overlap in the wine portfolios of the two producers. Meyer is a leading Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer. The only reason Meyer still makes a Gewürztraminer is because that varietal was already planted when JAK bought a vineyard in Okanagan Falls in 2008. Most of those vines have since been replaced but a small volume is still made, primarily for the Meyer wine shop.

The Mayhem portfolio, based on grapes from both home vineyards and from established growers, consists of aromatic whites and Bordeaux varietal reds. The two Gewürztraminers in this release are made with grapes from Cellarsbend Vineyard in Naramata.
The fortified Gewürztraminer reminded me of White Port, another rarely seen wine. The technical details describe the vinification: the grapes were fermented down to 19 brix and then fortified with alcohol, bringing the final alcohol to 18.1%. The wine was aged in an oak barrel for 20 months, including one summer when the barrel was left in the hot sun to oxidize slightly and to become concentrated. It is quite a remarkable wine.

Here are notes on the wines.

Mayhem Pinot Gris 2019 ($15.65). The wine has aromas and flavours of pears and citrus, with good weight on the palate and with a lingering finish. 90.

Mayhem Pinot Blanc 2019 ($15.65). The wine has aromas and flavours of apple and stone fruit. The finish is crisp and dry with a note of minerality. 90.

Mayhem Gewürztraminer 2019 ($15.65 for 111 cases). The wine begins with subdued notes of ginger and lychee, leading to flavours lychee, apple and pear, with a dry finish. 90.

Mayhem Fortified Gewürztraminer 2018 ($30.43 for 500 ml). This is a concentrated wine, packed with flavours of nuts and caramel. The flavours persist on the finish. Only 100 cases were made. 92.