Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fairview's Bill Eggert at Salt Tasting Room

Photo: Bill Eggert at Salt

It tells you something about the fans of Fairview Cellars wines and its winemaker owner, Bill Eggert, that they packed the tasting room at Salt for a winemaker dinner on the final evening of the Victoria Day weekend to hear Bill.

An unpretentious restaurant in Blood Alley in Vancouver’s Gastown, Salt has the personality in which a salt of the earth winemaker like Bill is a perfect fit.

Part of his appeal is that he is ever the iconoclast. If you are looking for a provocative opinion (and usually a sensible one), he is your man.

For example, he thinks that bag-in-the-box wines made from British Columbia grapes should be permitted to carry the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) seal. The matter recently was in the news because Summerhill Pyramid Winery plans to release from boxed VQA wines primarily for restaurants. But the wines cannot be identified as VQA because the regulations state that VQA wines must be bottled only in glass.

Bill Eggert would like to have the option of release some boxed wines, although he seems to have no immediate plans for that. Given that all his wines are produced in limited volume and sell out quickly, he might have difficulty scraping together enough production for a box program.

Judging from his website, only one of the seven wines poured at Salt is actually available from the winery. A few might show up in a private wine store or on a restaurant wine list. Those who collect Fairview Cellars registered on the winery’s web site long ago.

Bill opened Fairview Cellars in 2000. It is based on a six-acre south-facing vineyard that overlooks the Fairview golf club near Oliver and is not far from the site of the historic mining town (it no longer exists) also called Fairview. Since there is no highway sign for the winery, visitors usually use the golf course as their marker.

The absence of a sign does not mean Bill is hostile to visitors. He will open the tasting room if he is around and if there is wine available. If there is a gate across the driveway, that might suggest he is not around. Fairview Cellars is basically a one-person operation and visitors need to accept that.

If Bill is not in the tasting room, chances are he is in his vineyard. “I am not a winemaker,” he once told me. “I am a grape grower. My wine is made in the vineyard and it is the vineyard secrets I keep to myself, not the winemaking secrets.”

Bill grew up in northern Ontario, the son of a mining engineer. He has a degree in agriculture from the University of Guelph and might still be working in Ontario if he had been able to talk a grape-growing uncle to replace the hybrid grapes in his vineyard with vinifera. Bill moved to British Columbia in 1963 and worked in Okanagan vineyards until buying his own land in 1989. You can bet it is planted to vinifera, notably with Cabernet Sauvignon, his favourite grape variety.

Initially, he planted only red grapes. “Why waste my land on white varieties?” he said once. Then he made a white wine in 2005, a Sauvignon Blanc, with purchased grapes. It was well received and Bill subsequently planted the variety in the coolest part of his vineyard.

The Salt tasting included two vintages of Sauvignon Blanc. The 2009 was made with grapes from a Golden Mile grower called Bruce Iversen. It is a classic, crisp varietal, with hints of lime and flint. The 2010 ($19.90 but the 190 cases are sold out) is a blend of Iversen and Fairview grapes. It is also quite a different wine. The acidity in the 2010 whites, Bill says, was the highest he had “ever experienced with vinifera in the Okanagan.” So he balanced the wine with enough residual sweetness to offset the acidity. The result is a soft and peachy Sauvignon Blanc.

Still available is Fairview’s Cabernet Franc 2009 ($26.90 with a production of 300 cases). This is a dark, muscular red with flavours of fig, plum, tobacco and chocolate. The generous texture adds to the satisfaction of drinking this wine. Bill advises opening it in 2013 but it tastes good already. 91.

Bill dipped into Fairview’s cellar for three reds from 2007, another red vintage almost as solid as the 2009 vintage.

Madcap Red 2007, which is mostly Merlot, is a svelte and polished wine; medium-bodied with a touch of mint and with currant flavours. 88.

The Bear 2007 is Fairview’s Meritage, a blend incorporating all five Bordeaux varietals, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon being 50% of the blend. Bill selects wines from his best barrels for this premium wine. This wine began with aromas of cassis, moving to flavours of black currants and liquorice. It presented a fairly tight structure at first but blossomed in the glass. 90.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: Bill describes this varietal as “the workhorse” at Fairview. He grows it on his original property and on a leased vineyard next door. As well, he contracts two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon at Inkameep Vineyards. The variety is used in at least two blends as well as being released on its own. The 2007 wine, which Bill suggests is three years from its peak, begins with the classic aroma of eucalyptus often found with Cabernet Sauvignon. It has red currant flavours with hints of cedar and cigar box; and coffee and chocolate on the finish. 90.

The tasting ended with a Cabernet Franc 2005, one of the first reds that Fairview bottled under screw cap. Lucky collectors with this wine will find that the closure has preserved the fresh berry and floral aromas and flavours very well. On the palate, there are flavours of boysenberry. The tannins have softened and the wine is elegant, but with not quite the power of the 2009. 89

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