Monday, December 24, 2012

No doubt about Nagging Doubt

Photo: Nagging Doubt's Robert Westbury

Nagging Doubt Wines is one of the more promising labels among the growing number of “virtual” wineries in the Okanagan.

Virtual is an industry term, not mine, for wineries being incubated by one or other of the licensed wineries that offer custom crushing services. It allows budding vintners to get their brands established before sinking major capital into wineries of their own.

“The virtual winery model is perfect for me,” says Nagging Doubt owner Robert Westbury. “I am not a millionaire.”

He entered the market last year with a few hundred cases from the 2010 vintage – a Viognier and a Bordeaux blend called The Pull. He raised his production to 500 cases in 2011 and again in 2012; and he has just released a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from the 2011 vintage.

As the wines have begun to sell to restaurants and private wine stores, Rob has also begun to take the first steps to move beyond virtual. With the help of a savvy viticultural consultant, he has begun looking at vineyard sites near Kelowna, where he lives. Nagging Doubt likely will have a winery of its own in two or three years. It is a perfect example of how the virtual winery model works.

An Edmonton native, Rob is human relations professional with a passion to become a winemaker. He was working with a major consulting firm in Vancouver when he launched the Nagging Doubt label last year.

Since then, he switched to a job in Kelowna. “I wanted to be close to the [wine industry] culture. So I took a job, and it turns out to be a great job. I am still working in HR. I love my day job but at night, I can drive to the winery if I have to; or get on the phone and talk to people about sales and that sort of stuff.”

The move allowed him to be fully involved in helping winemaker Mark Simpson make the Nagging Doubt wines in 2012. “I was there on the crush pad,” Rob says “I did all the punch downs. I was there with Mark, making most of the decisions together, and some just by myself.”

Nagging Doubt made its first two vintages at Alto Wine Group, a small custom crush winery near Okanagan Falls that also incubated Mark Simpson’s wines. By the 2012 vintage, the Dickinson family that owns Alto had begun to wind down some custom crush work in order to concentrate on its own Synchromesh brand.

However, Mark Simpson, whose brands include Siren’s Call, has recently licensed his own winery on a vineyard just south of Okanagan Falls. The winery, called Stoney Slopes Vineyard, is the new home for Nagging Doubt, at least until Rob buys or plants a vineyard near Kelowna.

The virtual wineries operate under somewhat restrictive regulations. Technically, wine made for a virtual winery belongs to the licensed winery where the product is made. The licensed winery is responsible for submitting production and sales figures to government, along with the taxes, fees and markups. Virtual vintners effectively are agents of licensed wineries. Rob can (and does) show his wines to sommeliers and field requests for orders. It may be convoluted but the government’s priority is collecting revenue.

Meanwhile, Rob is putting the pieces in place that will see him graduate from virtual status one day. In addition to scouting for vineyard property, he has begun to cement relations with growers who will supply his grapes.

His Chardonnay grapes, for example, come from Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, a four-acre property near Osoyoos farmed meticulously by Andrew Stone and his wife, Terry Meyer Stone. (They have just released a 2011 Chardonnay under their own label, Elevation, which also made by a licensed winery.)

“I really like these growers,” Rob says. “2012 is the second year I have crushed their Chardonnay, and they really care about their fruit.”

Because 2011 was a cool vintage, Rob compares his minimally-oaked Chardonnay to a crisp, lean Chablis. Because 2012 was a hotter growing year, the 2012 Chardonnay promises to be bigger and richer.

“One of the reasons I got into winemaking is that I love French wine, good Burgundian wine, so I have always wanted to make a Chardonnay and I have always wanted to make a Pinot Noir,” he says. “Pinot Noir is what I love the most. If I was to pick one thing to concentrate on, it would be Pinot.”

The grapes for Nagging Doubt’s Pinot Noirs are from a vineyard at Trout Creek, near Summerland, which is good terroir for this variety.

Rob plans a tight focus at Nagging Doubt, limiting his ambition to growing to perhaps 2,000 cases. “I just want to perfect four wines,” he says. Those are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the red blend, The Pull. The fourth wine will be a white, perhaps an aromatic Germanic white like Ehrenfelser. The final choice will depend on what vineyard site he ends up buying.

The Nagging Doubt wines are available in a number of private wine stores in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. The winery’s website also is helpful in tracking down Rob and his wines.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Nagging Doubt Chardonnay 2011 ($22.90 for 150 cases). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and brioche. On the palate, there are flavours of green apple, pear and lime. The finish is crisp and tangy. This is a Chardonnay that pairs easily with food. 89.

Nagging Doubt Pinot Noir 2011 ($23). The wine’s impressive deep hue gives it instant eye appeal in the glass. It has ripe aromas of cherry and strawberry with a hint of cinnamon. On the palate, the cinnamon becomes savoury sage, adding complexity to the cherry flavours. The texture has begun to develop that classic velvet of this variety. 90.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gifts for the the wine lover

Photo: Wine Grapes is a massively thorough reference

On my weekly CKNW spot on December 14, I recommended some last minute gift ideas for wine lovers.

For those who were not listening, or did not have a chance to make notes, here are the recommendations.

 *Taste BC 2013 takes place this year at 4.30 pm to 7.30 pm. January 15 at the Pan Pacific Hotel. The tickets are $50 each and are sold through the Liberty wine stores. This is the first major tasting of the year, with about 50 BC wineries in the room; and there is also food. It is a very nice evening.

*Tasting room tickets for the Vancouver International Wine Festival the week of February 28. They are on sale for $85, $10 off the price in the new years. There are other attractive packages also on sale on the Festival’s website.

 * Sign up the gift recipient to a membership in his or her favourite winery’s wine club. A growing number of Okanagan wineries have launched clubs. Usually, the membership is free with a commitment to buy some wine on a regular basis. Red Rooster Winery, for example, will charge $75 every second month and send you three bottles of wine. Laughing Stock Vineyards has a wine club with a variety of options for six different wines three times a year to a case of each of your favourites.

As for books, these are available on line at Indigo or Amazon and often in book stores as well:

  • Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Grape Varieties by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz. This is a massive volume (1,242 pages) selling for around $125 (the list price is  $175). This is the book for the very knowledgeable wine lover or for those in the business. I have whiled away hours reading about grape varieties … their history, their alternate names, where they grow. You can enjoy wine without this book, of course, but it is the best source on grapes I have ever read.
  • Had a Glass 2013: Top 100 Wines under $20 by James Nevison ($15). This is the book if you need your hand held in the wine store. This is a familiar source that James updates regularly.
  • Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quests for the World’s Best Bargain Wines by Natalie Maclean ($15). The elegant Ottawa wine writer does not always recommend cheap wines but she does recommend value for money wines.
  • John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (fourth edition) by John Schreiner ($20). Published in May, this is my most up to date book on Okanagan wineries. For those of you living in North Vancouver, Village VQA Wines in Edgemont Village should have signed copies.
  • The New York Times Book of Wine by Howard G. Goldberg and Eric Asimov ($20). A collection of wine columns from the past 30 years.
  • Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2013 by Hugh Johnson ($14). Johnson has been doing this succinct annual reference volume for at least 30 years. Most of the wines you will buy are listed here by winery. The amount of information is astounding for such a compact volume.

And these two excellent books have been around for several years but still are among the most interesting general wine interest reads:

  • The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of The World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace ($14 in paperback). This is about one of the great wine frauds in which an alleged German collector sold supposedly rare wines to extremely wealthy Americans via Christie’s auction house. Fascinating and a page turner.  One of the people taken in was a big financial supporter of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. The man can’t buy any luck, it seems.
  • Wine and War: The French, The Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Donald Kladstrup ($13 in paper). How many clever French wineries hid their best wines from the occupying Nazi armies, not always successfully.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fort Berens finds its feet in Lillooet

Photo: Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek

In 2008 Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, newly arrived in British Columbia from Holland, decided on an audacious gamble: they would establish the first winery in Lillooet, beside the Fraser River.

There is a history of trial vineyards in the region going back decades, but theirs was to be the first commercial vineyard. There is no doubt that Lillooet has the heat units to ripen many varieties. The question was whether untimely frosts or cold winters would stop the project.

So far, their gamble is looking quite promising. Here is their report on their 2012 vintage:

“The 2012 harvest in the estate vineyard at Fort Berens Estate Winery started on September 21st and was completed on October 25th. We are very excited about both the quality and the quantity of the fruit this year. The flavours are impressive and the fruit was very clean. The quantity allows us to continue the transition from grapes sourced from the Okanagan to grapes from our estate vineyard in Lillooet.

“Overall, the 2012 growing season was quite good, with a long frost free period. The spring was warmer than last year, which encouraged earlier bud break (May 1st) – about one week ahead of 2011. A cool yet dry May & June period resulted in bloom starting on June 20th. Summer temperatures were average with a few hot spikes in July, where temperatures approached 40c. The temperatures in September and early October were higher than average with lots of sun and no rain till mid October. Second half of October was much cooler. During harvest we saw balanced development of sugar and acids in our early whites and reds. The cooler second half of October required some patience with our later varieties including Cabernet Franc and Riesling.
“Lack of rain, good air movement throughout the season and low humidity resulted in a very low disease pressure. With a new deer and bear fence and bird netting on our red (and gris) varieties, we saw little loss to wildlife.
“In addition to the 47.5 tons harvested from the Estate Vineyard in Lillooet, we sourced approximately 15 tons from the Okanagan. Total production in 2012 will exceed 4,000 cases with more than 75% of the grapes coming from our estate vineyard in Lillooet. This is a significant growth in production aimed at fulfilling the strong demand for our wines.
“The first 2012 wines, including our Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir Rosé and 23 Camels White will be released at the Vancouver International Wine Festival from February 25th till March 3rd 2013.
“While our production is growing quickly, many of our wines are still short in supply and high in demand as our wines continue to perform well in international competitions. The best way to assure access to these limited production award winning wines is to join the [winery’s] Discovery Club, where membership has some tasty privileges.”
With the end of the vintage, Fort Berens also has released four wines from 2010 and 2011. Here are my notes:

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2011 ($18 for 288 cases). A gold medal winner at the New World International Wine Competition, this wine combines grapes from the Okanagan (40%) with grapes from the winery’s vineyard in Lillooet (60%). By fermenting and aging only about a third in oak, the winery produced a fruit-forward Chardonnay with a touch of complexity. The wine begins with aromas of tangerine and butter, going on to flavours of lemon and pineapple. The finish is crisp. 88.

Fort Berens 23 Camels Red 2011 ($22 for 292 cases). This is 65% Cabernet Franc, 17.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17.5% Merlot. The 23 Camels wines from this winery are aimed primarily at the restaurant trade, as wine by the glass. A 19.5 litre keg of this wine sells for $399. Aged only six months in oak, this wine is all about showing off its brambly fruit, with flavours of cherry, spice and pepper. The soft tannins make it an easy quaffer. 88.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2010 ($24.99 for 136 cases). This wine has an impressive awards list, including a double gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and gold at the Los Angeles Wine Competition. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of blackberry and vanilla, leading to flavours of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and pepper. Give this time to breathe: the texture becomes generous and satisfying. 90.

Fort Berens Meritage 2010 ($26.99 for 475 cases).  This wine scored a gold and best of class at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition, among other awards. It is 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas and flavours of black currants, blackberries, spice and vanilla. To get the best from this wine, either decant it or cellar it a few years. On decanting, it opened to a rich and satisfying texture. 90.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Great wines for the season

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings

This is the season when many of us look for something special in wine, either for the holiday dinners or as special gifts.

I have looked through recent tasting notes and have come up with a long list of wines that I would not mind below my tree this year. You need to check each winery’s website to determine where the wines are available. Chances are that you will not find them in government liquor stores; but more likely in VQA stores or in the better private wine stores.

Here are some recommendations.

Blasted Church Merlot 2009 ($25.99 for 612 cases). Here is another big ripe (14.7% alcohol) red from a great vintage. Richly concentrated in texture, the wine has aromas and flavours of black currant, plum, vanilla and black cherry. There is a hint of chocolate and oak on the juicy finish. 91.

Blasted Church 10th Anniversary Amen N.V. Port de Merlot ($30 for 55 cases of 375 ml bottles). Not to be confused with the winery’s Amen Port, this is a wine specially made from the winery’s 1oth anniversary. It is a blend of fortified Merlot from the 2006 vintage, with the addition of wine from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages; the entire blend had extra time in barrel. Clearly, the winery set out to build in considerable complexity. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum, prune, black cherry, vanilla and spice. The generous palate presents flavours of plum, black cherry, liquorice, chocolate and espresso coffee. 92.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($37.90). This wine struts, beginning with aromas of cassis and mint. The flavours are rich and ripe: cassis, blackberry, plum, with a long, lingering finish. The wine is delicious now and also will age well for another five to 10 years. The wine has just been released in the winery’s on-line wine shop. 93.

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2010 ($24.90). This barrel-fermented Chardonnay begins with aromas of toast, apples and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, apples and nectarines. The oak contributes a touch of nut and toast flavours to the crisp finish. This is also a new release in the on-line wine shop. 90.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.90). Dark in colour, this is a generous wine with aromas of toasty black cherries and a big dollop of fruit – black cherry and raspberry – on the palate. The wine is still youthful but the silky texture has begin to develop. There is an attractively spicy finish. A good choice with the Christmas turkey. 90.

Cassini Cellars Quattro Rosso 2010 ($29 for 608 cases). This full-bodied gold medal winner is 67% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 1% Syrah. It is a generous red with aromas and flavours of black currants, plum, chocolate and vanilla. 90.

Cassini Cellars Maximus 2009  ($34 for 700 cases). This is the winery’s big red, a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec. It is swaggering ripe and generous wine with aromas and flavours of plum, currants, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. 91.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2010 ($24.95 for 840 cases). This is a seductive Pinot Noir at a seductive price. Dark in colour, it begins with dramatic aromas of cherries, blueberries and blackberries, leading to luscious flavours of cherry and spice, with the classic velvet texture of the variety. 92.

Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery Black Bottom Stomp 2009 ($28.95). This Merlot Cabernet Franc blend is still available on the winery’s website. It is a ripe cellar-worthy red even if it is already drinking well. It begins with black cherry aromas and delivers rich flavours of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and vanilla. 91.

LaStella La Sophia 2009 (48 cases available only to the winery’s wine club). This is a richly textured wine with aromas of black currants, figs and cigar box; and with flavours of currants, figs and chocolate, with a hint of cedar on the finish. 92.

LaStella Maestoso 2009 ($100 a bottle for 148 cases). This is 100% Merlot, a big, ripe wine with 15.2% alcohol buried in a plush texture of concentrated berries. The wine begins with a luscious aroma of sweet fruit, with flavours of black currant, plum and blueberry jam. This is truly a sybaritic wine. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2011 ($N.A. for 496 cases). This is 78% Viognier and 11% each of Marsanne and Roussanne. According the winery website, it is not yet been released. I can’t imagine why not. The wine has aromas of apple and citrus, with a core of melons, apples and minerals. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2009 ($60 for 62 cases). This is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah. The name recalls an old (and no longer permitted) practice of “re-touching” Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah. The wine is available online, with a three-bottle limit. Dark in colour, it begins with appealing aromas of cassis. On the generous palate, there are flavours of black currant, figs and plum, with a touch of pepper. 92.

McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2011 ($29.95 for 295 cases). This is the second release of Chardonnay from Harry McWatters. The ripe style reflects the terroir of his Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road, soon the site for Harry’s new Time Estate Winery. The wine begins with aromas of citrus, nutmeg and butter, leading to flavours of tangerine, pineapple and butter with a hint of honey on the finish, even though the wine is dry. 90.

Meyer Family Vineyards Tribute Chardonnay 2010 ($35 for 640 cases). Made with grapes from the winery’s Naramata vineyard, this powerful wine has aromas and flavours of tangerine, orange peel and spice. The oak subtly frames the vibrant fruit. 93.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery Family Reserve Cabernet Franc 2009 ($35 for 112  cases). This is a fine expression of the varietal, with brambly aromas and with flavours of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry. The texture is rich and the finish is spicy. 91.

Nk’Mip Cellars Riesling 2010 ($18 for 1,300 cases). This crisp and dry white, with aromas of citrus and a hint of petrol, has a style recalling the complexity of mineral-drive Australian Rieslings at twice the price. 90.

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2010 ($25 for 927 cases). This complex barrel-fermented Chardonnay (including some wild yeast ferment) has lively citrus aromas and flavours, underpinned with toasty butterscotch notes. The fresh acidity of the vintage has made this an age-worthy white Burgundy. 90.

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.99 for 956 cases). Dark in hue, this almost cerebrally complex wine begins with aromas of strawberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of cherry and spice. There is just a hint of oak. The texture is rich and silken but the wine has the structure to age well. 92.

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah 2008 ($34.99 for 883 cases). Big, bold and satisfying, this is one of the Okanagan’s best Syrahs. The gamy rare steak aroma goes on to flavours of black cherry, dried plum, black pepper and spice. 93.

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine 2011 ($60 for 533 cases of 375 ml bottles). This begins with an appealing aroma of apples and citrus, leading to fruit flavours of pineapples, baked apples and apricot, with a touch of honey. The fresh acidity of the vintage gives a superbly refreshing balance to this elegant Icewine. 95.

Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($40 for 300 cases). This is an excellent gift for someone prepared to cellar the wine for a few years. It is drinking well now but has even better years (five to 10) ahead of it. It begins with appealing aromas of black currant, plum, cherry and chocolate which are delivered to the palate as well. The wine has firm, ripe tannins, with hints of liquorice, vanilla and cedar on the finish. 92.

Painted Rock Syrah 2010 ($35.63). Deep in colour, the wine begins with aromas of pepper, cedar and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of pepper, figs and plums. The texture is generous, with just the perfect backbone of ripe tannins and oak to give this wine a long life in the cellar as well. Think of this as a Rhone-style red, disciplined and elegant, with a long finish. 93.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2011 ($20 for 5,500 cases). This excellent value begins with appealing aromas of tangerine, peach and hazelnut. On the palate, there is a basket of tropical fruit flavours – peaches, mangoes, mandarin orange, with notes of butter and biscuits. The bright acidity, precisely balanced with a touch of residual sweetness, gives the wine a refreshing, fruit-forward and crisp finish. 91.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2010 ($22.99 for 2,892 cases). This wine begins with aromas of blackberry and blueberry, leading to bright berry and spice flavours, with a touch of pepper. The firm texture signals that this wine needs a few more years in the cellar to peak – although the impatient consumer should decant this for current consumption. 88+.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2010 ($24.99 for 2,766 cases). This gamey, full-bodied red with its own cult following is made with grapes from 28-year-old Maréchal Foch vines. The wine has cinnamon spice and plum aromas, with flavours that run the gamut from deli meats to spiced plums and chocolate. 89.

Quails’ Gate Optima Late Harvest 2011 Totally Botrytis Affected ($29.99 for 715 cases of 375 ml bottles).This is one of the finest dessert wines in the Okanagan, made in the classic Sauternes technique. Quails’ Gate has been making it for more than 20 years. Naturally occurring botrytis (or noble rot) on the ripe grapes causes some dehydration, concentrating flavours and sugar. This wine began with 48 Brix, the same degree of sweetness as Icewine. About half of that sugar remains in the wine, superbly balanced with acidity. The wine begins with aromas of apricots, honey and tobacco. On the rich palate, there are flavours of honeyed apricot and orange peel. This elegant wine has a long, lingering finish. 95.

Quinta Ferreira Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($30 for 200 cases). Here is a classic expression of a great vintage in the south Okanagan. The wine’s ripe flavours include plum, black currant and black cherry, with a touch of vanilla on the finish. The ripe tannins give the wine a deceptively soft texture … but the structure will carry this wine for three or four more years, if there is any left! 91.

Road 13 Chardonnay 2010 ($24). This wine begins with a hint of toast and citrus in the aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of tangerine and grapefruit, with bright refreshing acidity and minerals in the background. The core of tropical fruit flavours linger on the palate. 90.

SpierHead Winery Vanguard 2010 ($29.90 for 275 cases; 48 magnums also produced). This is 48% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 18 months in French oak (55% of it new). It begins with appealing aromas of cassis and vanilla. It is bright and vibrant on the palate – like so many 2010 reds – with flavours of black currant, cherry, blackberry and raspberry and with a hint of spice on the finish. 91.

SpierHead Winery Pursuit 2010 ($21.90 for 375 cases). This is a bargain Bordeaux blend with 57% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. It also spent 18 months in French oak (44% new). The wine begins with aromas of black currant, blackberry and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, coffee and cedar on a firm texture. 89.

Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Merlot 2010 ($29.99 for 100 cases). Deep purple in colour, this is a concentrated red that will benefit with cellaring to let all of its expressive aromas and flavours to develop. There is blackberry, blueberry, mocha and spice on the nose and palate. 91.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2010 ($19.99 for 818 cases). The wine begins with aromas of baked apples, fresh bread, nutmeg and tangerine. On the palate, there rich flavours of honeyed stone fruit and tangerine. 90.

Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18.99 for 708 cases). Aromas of lime and grapefruit surge from the glass. On the palate, the flavours are herbal entwined with lime and grapefruit. The finish is crisp and refreshing and dry. 90.

Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($25.99 for 428 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis, cherry and chocolate. The long ripe tannins gave this wine a supple, appealing texture. 90.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Okanagan's first independent wine brokerage opens

Photo: Wine broker Mark Wendenburg

Veteran Okanagan winemaker Mark Wendenburg and his wife, Jacquie, have launched the Okanagan’s first independent wine brokerage, a business whose time has come.

Industry reports suggest that the 2012 vintage in British Columbia was a record 35,000 tons. That is expected to generate surplus wine, leaving wineries scrambling to sell excess volume.

The Wendenburgs have come along at just the right time. Within days of launching WineAspect B.C. Bulk Wine Brokers Ltd., they were dealing with a couple of dozen clients. “It has been very well received,” Jacquie says.

The WineAspect website currently includes these wine offers:

·                            2012 Chardonnay    5,863 Lt                     $ 5.40 per litre
·                            2012 Pinot Blanc      3,177 Lt                      $ 4.10
·                            2012 Pinot Gris        10,137 Lt                    $ 5.10
·                            2012 Syrah                15,017 Lt                    $ 6.50
·                            2012 Gamay Noir     9,200 Lt                     $ 5.50
·                            2012 Pinot Noir        1,100 Lt                      $ 8.00
·                            2008 Mad. Sylvaner/Mad. Angevine 1,100 Lt

There are also five inquiries from producer that want wine; and Jacquie says that additional offers and requests are being processed.

“Every winemaking country in the world has bulk wine brokers,” Mark says. “We do too. The big wineries have them but there isn’t anybody for the smaller wineries … and some are not so little.”

The idea came to him because he had begun fielding requests in his other business, Wendenburg Wine Consulting, to handle bulk wine sales (and he did a few transactions).

“It is such a different business that I thought it made sense to start it on its own,” he says.

So he teamed up with his wife. She handles the administrative chores while Mark makes sure the wine samples are sound and marketable.

Mark, who was born in Penticton in 1961, the son of a grape grower, has been involved in the wine industry since 1980, including training in Germany from 1982 to 1987. On his return to the Okanagan, he worked at Brights Wines and then became involved a trial sparkling wine project at what is now the Blue Mountain winery.

In 1992, he joined Sumac Ridge, taking over, among other duties, the production of Steller’s Jay sparkling wine. He left Sumac Ridge in 2010 to become a consulting winemaker, with Blasted Church Vineyards and Backyard Vineyards now his major clients.

Jacquie was born in Switzerland and met Mark when he was working at a winery there. She brings a rich background in customer service and administration to the wine brokerage business, including 10 years as an international flight attendant for Swissair.

“He is going to be the front man and I will do the leg work,” Jacquie says.

The strength of their business includes the credibility that Mark has earned within the industry. He is someone that everybody trusts, and in the business of trading wine, that counts for a lot.

Many wineries already trade or sell wines but there has never been a well-organized brokerage before.

“There are other places where people can advertise [wine] but there wasn’t one go-to person,” Mark says. “We really want to help the wine industry. I know how tough it is for big companies and small companies because I have worked for both of them. [I know] how hard it is the manage volume: it is either too much or it is too little, and you have to try to manage it. This is the way.”

To begin the process, a winery will send Mark samples, along with a technical analysis of the wine. If Mark decides that the wine is sound, the offer goes up on the WineAspect website. Mark and Jacquie will handle negotiations, confidentially, between seller and buyer. When a deal is completed, they will charge each party 3% of the sale price of the wine. There is a flat fee of $100 to each party if the volume handled is 500 litres or less.

The buyer is encouraged to do his own technical analysis and Mark keeps a spare sample of the wine to ensure there are no changes in the wine between the offer and the sale. However, WineAspect itself does not guarantee the wine.

Wineries have various reasons for selling bulk wine. It may be surplus to their blending needs or to their portfolio. They may have made the wine because they agreed to take extra grapes offered by one of their growers. They may need a bit of cash quickly.

Similarly, the reasons for buying someone else’s wine are numerous. A winery may need to fill a hole in its portfolio; or complete a blend; or put together blends for export.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sandhill presents three vintages

The current releases from Sandhill Wines illustrates how much the growing conditions can vary from vintage to vintage in the Okanagan.

They also illustrate how skilfully winemaker Howard Soon and his vineyard team rise to whatever challenge or opportunity nature throws their way.

The 2009 harvest was early, capping a hot year, and has yielded powerful reds. The 2010 and 2011 seasons both were late, producing lighter reds with more elegance than power.

Here are Sandhill’s notes on those three vintages.

2009 – “The 2009 growing season arrived late as the cold temperatures of a long winter seemed to drag on [and] resulted in some reduced crops.…The vines did catch up so that by early summer, vine development was at its normal stages. Summer was extremely hot and dry, which quickly advanced the ripeness of the slightly smaller than usual crop load, foretelling an early quick crush. On Thanksgiving weekend, temperatures dropped to about -9°C in the South Okanagan, halting any further ripening of the grapes. However, at this point all our grapes were essentially ripened and ready to pick. We have some great white wines and the reds are excellent, especially with the reduced crop; wines are rich and intense, yet smooth.”

2010 – “A later than usual bud break and slightly cooler temperatures greeted the 2010 growing season. Once summer finally arrived in mid-July, four weeks of fabulous heat and sunshine filled the valley. The wonderful weather lasted until mid-August and through the important beginning stage of ripening called ‘véraison’. A gift … came in late September with a spell of great weather, and October was drier than usual…. The grapes were left hanging about two weeks longer than usual to allow for complete ripeness. Although grape tonnage was down, this enhanced the concentration of flavours. The last day of harvest, November 8, arrived with great promise for fresh and vibrant whites, and fruit-forward reds.”

2011 – “The growing season began slowly and remained unseasonably cool right through July.  Reducing crop load in the vineyards was essential in producing a healthy harvest as higher crop yields would not ripen sufficiently in cooler temperatures. Normal summer temperatures arrived in August and carried through to late October. Overall tonnage was down for 2011. The whites are very vibrant. The reds are also good, with softer fruit intensity and balanced tannin structure.”

By being able to hang the grapes late into October, Sandhill achieved good ripeness. Every wine has an alcohol of 13.5% or better except for the rosé and the Viognier, which are 12.5% and 12% respectively. Those are adequate numbers for the style of those wines.

Howard Soon recently showed the Vancouver wine trade 11 Sandhill wines – mostly –premium Small Lot wines - from these three vintages. These are all single vineyard wines; that has been the Sandhill philosophy from the beginning. It allows Howard to explore terroir. It also gives Sandhill a point of difference in the market.

The disadvantage, perhaps, is that Howard does not have the option of region-wide blending. In an area like the Okanagan, some winemakers blend to strengthen wines when a certain region comes up a little short, as may happen from year to year. Howard and his team need to get it right in the first place. But also note how effectively he blends small percentages of other varieties, all from the same vineyard, into most of his wines. He is taking advantage of flavour and maturity differences that occur even among blocks in the same vineyard.

Here are my notes. Some of the volumes are given in barrels. As a rule of thumb, there are 25 cases of wine in a barrel.

Sandhill Rosé 2011 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($17.99 for 396 cases).  There are four varietals in this: Gamay Noir (41%), Cabernet Franc (31%), Sangiovese (21%) and Barbera (7%). The grapes were cold-soaked about four days and then 10% of the juice was drained off (the French call this saignée). There are two advantages to this method of making rosé. It produces a beautifully coloured rosé brimming with flavour and complexity; and it improves the concentration of red wines that were made from those four varietals as well. It was a clever way of getting the best from the red grapes in the 2011 vintage.  

The rosé, fermented cool in stainless steel like a white wine, has a dramatic cranberry hue, with flavours of raspberry and cherry and even red liquorice. The wine is crisp and dry, with the weight of an all-season wine. Try it with turkey this Christmas. 90.

Sandhill Viognier 2011 Osprey Ridge Vineyard ($28 for 1,102 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromatics – apricot, peach, pineapple and citrus fruits. That fruit basket carries through to the palate, along with apple favours and a tangy hint of lime on the refreshing finish. 90.

Sandhill Single Block Chardonnay 2010 ($30 for eight barrels). The block referred to here is B11 on the Sandhill Estate Vineyard map. The vines were planted in 1997 in a hot spot below a 400-foot granite cliff. It sounds as if the block could produce a fat Chardonnay; but in a year like 2010, the result was a fresh and elegant Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of tangerine, butter, pineapple and what the winery’s notes call biscuit but I call bacon fat. It comes from the oak due to fermenting 60% of the juice in barrels. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus, apples and spicy but subtle oak. The finish is fresh, with lingering fruit. 91.

Sandhill Sangiovese 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($30 for 21 barrels). There is 10% Barbera blended into this wine, presumably to give a little more flesh to the wine in a lean year. This is a medium-bodied red with cherry aromas and with spicy cherry flavours and a dry, almost dusty, finish. 89.

Sandhill Barbera 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($30 for 17 barrels). There is 12% Merlot in this blend. The wine has a generous texture, with aromas of cherries and lingonberries. On the palate, there are juicy flavours of cherry and plum. 90.

Both the Barbera and the Sangiovese were picked October 26 and 27, showing how late the 2010 vintage was.

Sandhill Malbec 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($35 for five barrels).  There is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. (The grapes were picked on October 22.) The wine begins with a dramatic bouquet of cherry, mulberry and blackberry, going on to flavours of plum and cherry and lingonberry, with a spicy finish. 90.

Sandhill Petit Verdot 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($30 for four barrels). There is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. The wine is almost inky in colour, typical of Petit Verdot. It begins with intriguing aromas of plum, spice, black currant and chocolate. The wine is generous on the palate with delicious flavours of plum, blueberry, black cherry, chocolate and spice. 91.

Sandhill One 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($35 for 21 barrels). This is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Malbec, 19% Petit Verdot and 3% Syrah. It begins with aromas of black currants and vanilla. On the palate, there is a medley of berry flavours along with vanilla and cedar. The finish is long, with berry flavours mingled with coffee and spice. 92.

Sandhill Two 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($35 for 11 barrels). This is 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Franc. There are aromas of black currants, tobacco and oak (the wine after all spent 20 months in barrel), leading to flavours of black cherries, prunes and vanilla, with ripe, earthy tannins. 90.

Sandhill Three 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($35 for 11 barrels). The blend is 64% Sangiovese, 18% Barbera, 9% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Think of this as Sandhill’s Tuscan blend. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and spice. On the palate, the tannins add a dusty note to the light cherry flavours. The finish is spicy. 89.

Sandhill Single Block Merlot 2009 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($40 for five barrels). These grapes were harvested on September 28, so ripe that the wine has 15.5% alcohol. However, the flavours and textures are so rich that the alcohol is not obvious. The aromas are absolutely spectacular – plum, black cherry and vanilla. The palate is full and generous, with flavours of black cherry, chocolate and vanilla. The finish is long and satisfying. 92.

While it is early yet to discuss the 2012 vintage, all the reports indicate that it turned out to be an excellent vintage, with no extremes of weather and with substantial crops of good fruit. There will be plenty of wine from the 2012 vintage and the quality should rival 2009.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blue Mountain releases for late 2012

Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety

On its website, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars has a neat wine finding tool: simply enter your postal code and up comes a list of every wine store and restaurant within 10 miles that has Blue Mountain wines.

Why is this important?

Well, in the old days, it was far harder to find the wines. Basically, you needed to be on the winery’s mailing list to order your allocation. After all, there were not a lot of wineries in the Okanagan and Blue Mountain, when it opened twenty years ago, was one of the five best wineries – if not the best.

Since then, there has been a tenfold increase in winery numbers. Blue Mountain is still one of the best but it has a lot more competition.

That is why Blue Mountain has made it easier to find its wines, including opening the winery’s tasting room without the necessity of making an appointment.

The winery still has mailing lists and it is a good idea to be on them, especially if you want a place in line for the exceptional sparkling wines. But if you are not on the list, you can always try your luck at, say, Everything Wine.

Blue Mountain recently invited some of the people on its list to a private tasting at the Vancouver Club. That was on the heels of showing its wines recently at Cornucopia in Whistler.

Based on those events and other tasting opportunities, here are notes on the current releases. Even if some are sold out at the winery, those should be available in restaurants or private stores. Just enter your postal code on the winery’s web site.

Blue Mountain Brut N.V. ($23.90). This cuvée is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Gris, all from the 2009 vintage. In the tradition of many sparking wines, the vintage is not shown on the label. The wine spent 24 months on the lees before being disgorged. The result is a complex and elegant wine with fine bubbles, toasty/bready aromas and crisp citrus notes on a very clean and refreshing palate. It more than holds its own against Champagne. 92.

Blue Mountain Brut Rosé 2008 ($32.90). The cuvée is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wine has a lovely rose petal hue and a delicate fruity aroma. On the creamy palate, there are delicate strawberry flavours. This is a delicious, crisp sparkling wine just looking for an elegant brunch. 92.

Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs 2006 R.D. ($39.90). This elegant and focussed wine has fine bubbles and complex aromas of bready lees and citrus. The flavours are delicately toasty, with a hint of citrus. The wine is crisp but the five or so years it was on the lees before being disgorged have softened the natural acidity. 92.

Blue Mountain Reserve Brut 2005 R.D. ($39.90 but sold out). The cuvée is 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Gris.  The wine spent six years on the lees before being disgorged in March. It has just been released and was gone in a flash, which is too bad. This wine, with its rich nutty and fruity flavours and its dry finish, reminded me of the style of Krug Champagne, which I happen to think is the world’s best Champagne. 94.

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2011 ($17.90). This variety can be bland but not when Blue Mountain’s Matt Mavety is making the wine. About 30% is fermented in four-year-old oak barrels – barrels that are almost neutral in flavour but still enhance the texture of the wine. This Pinot Blanc is fresh and crisp, with classic apple flavours. It is full on the palate and has a long finish. 91.

Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2011 ($20.90). Blue Mountain raised the bar years ago with its Pinot Gris. This wine comes from the grapes of 24-year-old vines and that shows in the concentration of flavours. It begins with aromas of spicy citrus fruits with toasty note, probably because a third of the wine was fermented in barrels and left sur-lie for six months, with minimum battonage. On the palate, there are flavours of pears, citrus and spice. 92.

Blue Mountain Stripe Label Pinot Gris 2009 ($25.90). Stripe Label is Blue Mountain’s designation for a reserve wine, representing select premium lots in each vintage. The wine has had more than two years of bottle age prior to release. That enables the wine to mature its rich and fruity aromas and flavours (ripe pears, spice and orange peel). 92.

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011 ($20.90). This appealing wine recalls a young white Burgundy, suggesting it will age to rich elegance in a few years. The aromas show slight hints of lees, oak and citrus; the citrus flavours are rich on the palate. The wine is youthfully vibrant with bright acidity. 91.

Blue Mountain Stripe Label Chardonnay 2009 ($25.90 but sold out). This wine, 55% of which was barrel-fermented, has developed a creamy elegance with aromas and flavours of tangerine and toast. 92.

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18.90). This is Blue Mountain’s third vintage from vines planted five years ago. The wine is crisp and lean, with herbal aromas and with herbal and citrus flavours. 90.

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2011 ($20.90). This is a bit of a brooding red with spicy berry aromas and with flavours of earthy black cherry. It seems to be the concentrated texture that gives the wine such a studious personality. 87.

Blue Mountain Stripe Label Pinot Noir 2009 ($35.90 but sold out). Subtle and elegant, this wine begins with aromas of spice and strawberries, leading to flavours of cherry with a touch of raspberry and mocha. The wine has developed the classic silky texture of the variety.