Founded in 1995, Stag’s Hollow Winery, which produced 6,600 cases in 2021, is emerging as Pinot Noir specialist in Okanagan Falls, even as the winery also makes excellent wines from Spanish and Italian varietals.
Perhaps winemaker Keira LeFranc’s competence with Pinot Noir has not been fully recognized. I reach that conclusion when I see that the winery is only asking $30 a bottle for its two flagship Pinot Noirs. Stag’s Hollow is leaving money on the table.
Three clones of Pinot Noir grow in the winery’s Stag’s Hollow Vineyard, the winery’s original vineyard, now with a total planted acreage of 7.7 acres. The Pinot Noir vines are about 30 years old. The vineyard also has Vidal, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Ottonel.
In 2011, Stag’s Hollow’s founders Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger planted 15 acres in a second Okanagan Falls vineyard, now called the Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard. The plantings include seven clones of Pinot Noir, along with such exotic varietals as Albariño and Dolcetto. They sold the winery in 2019 to Eric Lui but Stag’s Hollow has not changed directions.
Both of its vineyards are primarily in the Okanagan Falls sub-appellation, which was declared in 2018. The major varietal in the sub-appellation is Pinot Noir. The leading producers in Okanagan Falls of that varietal include Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars and Meyer Family Vineyards. That is good company to be in.
Here are notes on current Stag’s Hollow releases.
Stag’s Hollow Albariño 2021 ($26 for 365 cases). This is a crisp and focussed white wine. It begins with aromas of citrus and pineapple, carrying through to flavours of peach, mango and lime. The texture is rich but the bright acidity gives the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. 92.
Stag’s Hollow Pinot Gris 2021 ($24 for 590 cases). The winery’s objective is to make a Pinot Gris in the mold of Alsace. To do so, the winery does two picks of this block at harvest: an early pick to capture bright acidity and fruity flavours; and a second a month later when the more mature fruit shows honeyed and raisined notes. This blend is the result. The wine has aromas and flavours of peach, melon and spice. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto Rosato 2021 ($25 for 180 cases). The magenta hue of this rosé will get under the skin of the fans of anaemic-looking Provençal-style rosés. Tough. This is what you get when the winemaker stomps the grapes by foot and then indulges in a five-day cold soak. The flavours are equally dramatic: red fruits mingled with herbs and spice. The finish is dry. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Simply Noir 2020 ($23 for 440 cases). This superbly quaffable wine is a blend of 67.7% Pinot Noir, 22.6% Merlot, 5.5% Gamay and 4.2% Dolcetto. The wine is juicy with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. 88.
Stag’s Hollow Pinot Noir 2020 Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard ($30 for 175 cases). This wine is a blend of six Dijon clones (777, 115, 828, 114, 667 and Pommard), all fermented and aged separately for 12 months before the final wine was assembled. The wine begins with floral aromas mingled with spice and red fruit. The silky palate delivers flavours of cherry and strawberry, with a savoury “forest floor” note on the finish. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Pinot Noir 2020 Stag’s Hollow Vineyard ($30 for 195 cases). This wine is a co-ferment of clones 115 and 667 in an estate block of Pinot Noir almost 30 years old. It was aged 12 months in French oak barrels (16% new). The vine age has led to a darker, slightly brooding Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry, plum and spice. 91.
Lakeboat Vineyard and Winery, which opened in July, is the fourth winery in Kaleden. The challenge now is making wine tourists aware of this tiny wine region ten minutes south of Penticton.
“We just have to figure out how to get people to know we are here,” says Tara Mathison, Lakeboat’s owner. “Kaleden is one of those places that you just drive by all the time.”
If all it takes is quality wines, Lakeboat will help to raise the profile of Kaleden, a bucolic lakeside village established in 1909 and now bordered with vineyards and orchards. The first winery to open here in 2010 was Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery, now operating as SKAHA Vineyard @ Krāzē Legz Winery. (Its tasting is closed this season). Farm Gate Winery, which fronts on Highway 97, has been open about three years. Black Market Wine Co., which decided to base itself on a Kaleden vineyard after operating as a virtual winery for several years, opened its tasting room this spring. Another former virtualk winery, Anthony Buchanan Wines, now has a tasting room in the village (Friday and Saturday by appointment). Lakeboat’s tasting room is open five days a week – Wednesday through Sundays and on holiday Mondays.
I profiled Lakeboat two years before it opened, in The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide which was published in 2020. Here is an excerpt.
Several years ago in the Kelowna airport, Calgarian Tara Mathison encountered a friend, Gordon Haskins, from her time studying law in Toronto. He was now, she discovered, a banker in Kazakhstan and he was in the Okanagan to find a vineyard property for an eventual career change. She agreed to help by tasting wines from nearby producers every time he identified a possible vineyard. (He did find property on the Naramata Bench.) “I think that is how I got sucked into buying a winery,” she laughs, referring to Lakeboat.
It is a little more complicated than that. She has travelled and tasted in many wine regions with her former husband, a developer with a love for food and wine. When she stopped practising law to raise her three daughters, she became involved through his business in renovating houses. In 2016, she purchased a century-old house in Kaleden to renovate. The house was surrounded by the vineyard of Topshelf Winery, a struggling property that was also for sale. Tara bought it in November 2017 – and found she taken on an even more challenging renovation job.
Topshelf Winery had been established by Leonard and Myra Kwiatkowski and got its name because two of their sons had played professional hockey. They bought the Kaleden property in 2008 as a retirement project (Leonard was 60) and opened the winery in 2011. They had taken on more than they had counted on and put the winery on the market soon after Tara bought the heritage house.
The vineyard, she discovered, was neglected. The mildewed grapes of the 2017 harvest had to be destroyed. She hired vineyard professionals to rejuvenate the 1.4-hectare (3 ½-acre) vineyard of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Merlot.
The winery’s new name reflects Tara’s interest in the sternwheelers and sidewheelers that used to ply Okanagan lakes before railroads and highways. “They all had interesting stories,” she says. “I find the history of the lake boats fascinating.”
Recognizing the gaps in her wine industry skill sets, Tara has sought support with the requisite experience. Lakeboat’s general manager is Will Coleman, one of the founders in 2001 of Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, and more recently general manager of Skimmerhorn Winery & Vineyard in Creston.
The winemaker at Lakeboat is Mireille Sauvé, whose own label is The Wine Umbrella. Those wines are also available in the Lakeboat wineshop.
Mireille and Will have known each other since they worked the harvest at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards in 1996. However, Mireille, who was born in Edmonton, came to wine by way of working in restaurants.
“I started working in restaurants at 14,” she says. “By the time I was 21 I wanted to take on management positions. Nobody really wanted to hand over their keys to me because I was 21.” Helped by a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier, she attended George Brown College in Toronto and emerged as Canada’s youngest sommelier in 1997. She has subsequently honed her winemaking skills with a mentorship at Hedges Cellars in Washington and with a wine chemistry course from the University of California. She has reciprocated the support of Les Dames by producing wines, starting in 2014, that raise funds for the organization.
“It is all encompassing,” Mireille says of wine. “It takes over your whole life. I do get excited about every single glass of wine that showcases terroir. There is a story in that glass that goes generations back and makes that wine what it is. It is the only topic I have discovered in my life that has grabbed me with that interest, that I actually never want to talk about anything else.”
Lakeboat intends to use grapes primarily, perhaps exclusively, from Kaleden vineyards. “My goal with all of these wines is to make them as varietally typical as possible, so that we can showcase the terroir, the sense of place,” Mireille says.
“Pinot Gris is the Okanagan’s darling,” she continues. “I want those fresh orchard flavours to shine through. I focus hard on balance when it comes to Chardonnay. I believe in a responsible use of oak. I don’t want to overwhelm the fruit.” Pinot Noir is made in a what she calls a new world style, showcasing fruit. “The Merlot is a nice big bold wine,” she says. “That is close to my heart. Merlot is such an under-appreciated grape variety.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Lakeboat Pinot Gris 2021 ($21.95). This wine is crisp and fresh. It begins with aromas of pear and peach. The palate delivers peach and apple notes. 91.
Lakeboat Chardonnay 2021 ($26.95). The wine presents with a golden hue. Aromas of butter, vanilla and citrus lead to flavours of guava, mango and stone fruit. The texture is rich and the finish is long. 92.
Lakeboat Pinot Noir 2020 ($29.95). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice. The silky palate delivers flavours of cherry and plum. 91.
Lakeboat Merlot 2020 ($32.95). The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and cassis. Full-bodied, the wine has flavours of black cherry, blackberry and cassis. Long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying, juicy texture. 91.
Wine Umbrella Fleur 2019 ($26.95). This is 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 31% Viognier and 9% Muscat. The wine is a delicious bowl of tropical fruits, with aromas and flavours of melon and peach mingled with lemon. 91.
Wine Umbrella Co-Syrah 2020 ($39.95). This is 91% Syrah, 9% Viognier. It begins with aromas of toasty oak, plum, fig and dark chocolate. All that is echoed on the palate, mingled with black cherry and a touch of pepper. 91.
Perhaps nothing gives parents more pride than to have an offspring follow in their footsteps.
That happened to Mark and Linda Holford, the operators of Rocky Creek Winery in the Cowichan Valley, where Mark is the winemaker. Their daughter, Robin, has also become a winemaker and, after getting a degree from Brock University in Ontario, was able to work with her father in making wines in 2019. She now plans to travel and polish her winemaking skills elsewhere in the world. No doubt, her parents hope she brings her experience back to the Cowichan Valley one day.
I profiled Mark and Linda in the BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide, published in 2011 and no longer in print. Let me repeat an excerpt because the history is interesting.
Mark, the third generation in his family to make wine at home, realized a long-held dream when he turned winemaking into his profession in 2005. “Ever since I was in my early teens, I helped my dad make wine,” Mark recounts. “He did a lot of amateur winemaking and my grandfather in England did a lot.” That skill made him popular at university when he agreed to make wine and beer for his friends as well. It dawned on his that this “could be something I could do as an occupation.”
Born in Deep River, Ontario, in 1968, Mark is a chemical engineer with a master’s degree in environmental engineering. He met Linda in Calgary, her hometown, when he was completing a co-operative studies assignment with an oil company. She is an engineering technologist with management skills gained in the oil industry. They spent two and a half years in Sarnia where Mark worked in the Shell petrochemical plant.
“But we always wanted to come to Vancouver Island,” says Linda. “When we were in Calgary, we wanted to get a job [here] and an opportunity happened first in Sarnia.” In the fall of 2001 Mark and Linda were vacationing in Victoria, where Linda’s retired parents lived, when he found a position at the pulp mill at Crofton. They bought a home nearby in Ladysmith. Plans for a winery were put on hold because there was no room for a vineyard on their suburban street. Then they discovered they could get a commercial license and make wine with purchased grapes. Rocky Creek opened in 2005, making 600 cases with grapes from a vineyard at Chemainus and with purchased wild blackberries. Their first release was a port-style blackberry wine – which also won the winery its first medal.
Linda and Mark soon figured out that small wineries are more profitable with a land-based license (because government takes much less in taxes and charges). In the winter of 2008 they moved to a three-hectare (7½-acre) farm in the Cowichan Valley, on a property almost back to back with Venturi-Schulze Vineyards.
They now manage the Chemainus vineyard, growing Ortega, Siegerrebe, Bacchus, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. They also manage a small Cowichan Valley vineyard planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and several other white varieties. They buy grapes from another nearby vineyard which grows, among other varieties, some Tempranillo grapes. In their own Cowichan Valley vineyard, they have planted Maréchal Foch, some of Valentin Blattner’s Swiss hybrids, and almost a hectare (2½ acres) of blackberries.
In Linda’s recent notes accompanying Rocky Creek samples, there is biographical detail on Robin Holford and her journey into winemaking.
“Robin developed a keen interesting in winemaking after years of watching her father work his craft,” Linda wrote. “When she entered high school, Robin began to consider winemaking as a potential career option.” After researching university options, she went to Brock University in St. Catherines, Canada’s leading wine school.
“After five years of study, she came home to Rocky Creek and was given two wines to make completely solo as well as helping her father with the harvest of in 2019,” Linda continues. Her solo wines in that vintage were Robin’s Rosé (named after her some years before) and Pinot Gris.
“After the harvest was finished,” Linda writes, “she participated in a harvest in New Zealand as part of her dream to travel and learn winemaking from different world regions.”
Here are notes on current releases from Rocky Creek.
Rocky Creek Sirius White 2020 ($27.50). This is a complex blend made from estate-grown varietals: Viognier, Siegerrebe, Albariño, Ortega and Blattner whites. The wine presents with a light golden hue. It begins with aromas reminiscent of marmalade and vanilla. There are savoury flavours mingled with apple and pear. 89.
Rocky Creek TLC White Blend NV ($15.50). This is a field blend of Viognier, Albariño, Madeleine Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Siegerrebe and Ortega. Understandably, it is hard to nail down descriptors for all of the tropical and orchard fruits in the aroma and honeyed flavours (the wine is dry, however). 90.
Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2021 ($16.25). Overnight skin contact has imparted a salmon colour to the wine, setting it apart from most (but not all) British Columbia Pinot Gris wines. The skin contact also imported lush flavours of ripe pear and stone fruits, with citrus notes on the finish. 90.
Rocky Creek Robin’s Rosé 2021 ($18.40). This wine presents with a cherry hue that brings cheer to those of us who are not enamoured with the current fashion for anaemic-looking rosé wine. The wine is a blend of Tempranillo, Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. The aromas of cherry and strawberry lead to tart cherry flavours. 89.
Rocky Creek Sirius Red 2018 ($40). This wine, aged in French oak barrels, is made with the Cabernet Foch grape, one of the red varietals developed by Swiss plant breeder Valentin Blattner. The wine is dark, with aromas of black currant and blackberry that are echoed on the palate, mingled with black pepper. Bright acidity gives the wine an edge on the finish, suggesting the wine could be cellared a few more years. 90.
Rocky Creek Wild Blackberry NV ($22.50 for 500 ml). Wild blackberry wines have long been Vancouver Island’s answer to Port, even if some wineries have stopped making it (try hiring blackberry pickers!). This 16% wine is dark, with full-on aromas and flavours of the berries. The residual sweetness lifts the aromas and flavours. This is an after-dinner wine with blue cheese. 91.
Photo: Tantalus general manager and winemaker David Patterson
At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, David Patterson, the general manager and winemaker at Tantalus Vineyards, had the foresight to inquire whether he could insure his senses of taste and smell. Loss of those senses, usually temporary, was one of the consequences of getting Covid. It would be devastating for a winemaker.
David found that insurers in the United States offer that coverage, but apparently no Canadian insurer offers it.
He was right to inquire, however. “I had Covid over bottling,” he told me in June. “It was the first time in 13 years I could not bottle my own wine. I had to rely on my team. They did a good job. It was a scary thing because I lost my taste and smell for four days.”
He had regained his senses fully when we met at the winery. He led me through a tasting of the current releases from Tantalus, including a mini-vertical of Chardonnay to show how well it ages. For the record, if you happen to have a bottle of 2011 Tantalus Chardonnay, it still is drinking well.
Tantalus occupies a storied vineyard in East Kelowna. This is one of the Okanagan’s oldest vineyards, and one of the first to grow wine grapes in quantity. It was planted by horticulturalist J. W. Hughes and then sold to his foreman, Martin Dulik. Martin’s son, Denny, planted Clone 21-B Riesling in 1978, an excellent variety for this terroir. When his granddaughter Susan opened Pinot Reach Cellars, her Old Vines Riesling drew international acclaim.
Vancouver investment dealer Eric Savics bought the property from the Dulik family in 2004. He expanded the Riesling plantings significantly here and on recently acquired adjacent vineyards. The winery farms more than 30 hectares (75 acres). The wines are primarily estate-grown. Old Vines Riesling remains the flagship white at Tantalus.
David Paterson, the New Zealand–trained winemaker who joined Tantalus in 2008, credits the site for the exceptional quality of Old Vines Riesling. “It is all of the terroir,” he says. “The aspect, the elevation, the soils. The root system has gone down a long, long way and draws up a lot of minerality. The root system is so deep now and so established that they buffer themselves against hot and cold vintages. We get a very consistent product. It has very little to do with winemaking. I put my stamp on it, I suppose, but at the end of the day, the grapes are really, really good.”
He puts his stamp on some wines literally as well as figuratively because he stomps the Pinot Noir grapes by foot when making the wine.
“Foot-treading is to what I saw in Burgundy with winemaking,” he says. “What I really want to do was make that more rustic style of Pinot Noir that I love out of Burgundy and out of Oregon. I do 40% whole bunches, only foot-trodden. I find that pumps and punch-downs can really bruise the fruit. Human feet jumping in once a day preserves the integrity of the wine and extracts what we want without extracting any bitter seed tannin or astringency. We’ve gone back to the old school of how our grandfathers used to make their wine. I really like that. Really aromatic, really brambly and beautiful, rather than being big and bruising. The wine still has power – but elegant power.”
While the winery made its reputation initially with Riesling, it is rising force as a Chardonnay producer. This is based, in part, on Bear Chardonnay.
“I created it from the younger block of Chardonnay vines to emulate Chablis in style,” David says. “It is barrel-fermented but no new oak; all done in old puncheons and barriques. It is bottled so there is only about five months élevage. We want to capture that freshness of Chardonnay in this wine.”
Tantalus also made this style to fill a gap in the market for a Chablis-style Chardonnay that restaurants could serve by the glass at a reasonable price. Bear has been so successful that it is the fastest growing wine in Tantalus portfolio. The winery produces more than 2,000 cases of Chardonnay, most of it Bear.
This winery also is notable for its labels, reproducing masks by the Tahltan/ Tlingit artist Dempsey Bob. Even before buying the winery, Eric Savics had assembled a significant collection of Bob’s art.
This summer, visitors to the Tantalus tasting room have also been able to buy a book: Dempsey Bob In His Own Voice. It is extremely interesting recounting of the artist’s career, with stunning reproductions of his work. The book accompanies a major exhibition of Bob’s art currently in the Audain Galley in Whistler.
Here are notes on the current releases from Tantalus.
Tantalus Blanc de Blancs 2019 ($31.30). This is a traditional method sparkling wine made with Chardonnay. It won gold at the National Wine Awards. An elegant wine, it presents with an active display of bubbles which lend a creamy texture to a wine that is otherwise crisp and dry. There are notes of brioche in the aroma and on the palate, along with citrus flavours. 93.
Tantalus Blanc de Noir 2019 ($36.52). This wine is sold out but there still are a few cases at the winery. It is made from a single block of Pinot Noir was planted in 1985. Winter damage in recent vintages, which froze buds but not the plants, limited the winery to produce just 125 cases in 2019. A dash of Pinot Noir dosage has given the wine a hue that Tantalus calls “pale sunset pink.” Close your eyes and the wine transports you to Champagne with its elegantly fruity aroma mingled with brioche. On the creamy palate, there are notes of raspberry and red apple. 93.
Tantalus Riesling 2021 ($27.83). This wine won gold at the National Wine Awards. The small berries produced in the 2021 vintage has result in a wine packed with aromas and flavours of lime, lemon, apple mingled with peaches. 93.
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2019 ($39.13). Also a gold medalist at the National Wine Awards, this is the cult wine associated with the property. The old vines, planted in 1978, give the wine both intensity and longevity (15 to 20 years). This wine has begun to develop the classic “petrol” aroma of Riesling. This carries through to the flavour, where it mingles with citrus and minerality. 96.
Tantalus Rosé 2021 ($23.48). This is 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier. The winemaker suggests that Pinot Meunier gives this pretty rosé lift, texture and charm. There are aromas and flavours of strawberry and pink grapefruit. 92.
Tantalus Bear Chardonnay 2021 ($23.48). This is a vibrant wine with aromas and flavours of peaches and apples. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Tantalus Chardonnay 2020 ($36.52). This is a classic barrel-fermented Chardonnay, aged 10 months in French oak. However, the oak just frames the sweet fruit flavours of peach, pineapple, apple. There is a hint of clove on the long finish. 94.
Tantalus Pinot Noir 2020 ($40). This wine won silver at the National Wine Awards. This is a complex wine, incorporating seven clones: 114, 115, 667, 777, 828, 37, 943. Multiple parcels are fermented separately, with wild yeast. The wine is aged 16 months in oak barriques (20% new), blended and put in neutral oak for several more months. The wine is dark, with aromas of cherry and cedar. The texture is youthfully firm, which bodes well for ability to age. There are flavours of dark fruit mingled with vanilla and cloves on the finish. 92.
Tantalus Pinot Noir Reserve 2019 ($65.22 for 100 cases). The estate vineyard includes 18 rows of mature clone 667 Pinot Noir, considered by the wine to produce “some of the prettiest parcels of fruit from our single-vineyard estate”. This wine is primarily that clone, with splashes of clones 37 and 777 to enhance the blend. The wine was aged 15 months in French barriques (40% new). The wine begins with alluring, perfumed aromatics mingled with spice and oak. Full-bodied, the wine delivers flavours of dark cherry and plum with a satisfying note of forest floor on savoury finish. 95.