Friday, July 27, 2012

Bella Wines debuts as an exclusive bubble producer

Bella Wines partners Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose

Can a winery succeed just with sparkling wine?

Obviously: it has been done in Champagne for centuries.

Now the model has been picked up in British Columbia by Bella Wines, a new virtual winery launched this summer by Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose.

Their first two sparkling wines, one made with Chardonnay and the other with Gamay Noir, are impressive. The bad news is that they launched with just 275 cases. They have been selling the wines personally for about a month and are 70% sold out.

“We are excited to be doubling production for next year as we shoot for 600 cases,” Jay told me in a recent email.

Success by Bella may signal a rising appreciation in the market that sparkling wines have a place at the dinner table, not just at weddings and New Year parties. Bubble is well suited to pair with Asian cuisine.

A growing number of British Columbia wineries have sparkling wines in their portfolios. The four original producers - Sumac Ridge, Blue Mountain, Summerhill and Vigneti Zanatta – have now been joined by Gray Monk, See Ya Later Ranch, Jackson-Triggs, Road 13 and Noble Ridge Vineyards. 8th Generation Vineyards and The View Winery both offer Prosecco style wines. Elephant Island makes two excellent bottle-fermented fruit wines. And this is probably not a complete list

On Vancouver Island, Zanatta has been joined as a bubble producer by Starling Lane, Venturi Schulze Vineyards, Rocky Creek Winery and SouthEnd Farm & Vineyards. Nearly all of the ciders from Sea Cider Farm are sparkling.

Daniel Dragert, the former winemaker at Averill Creek, is exploring launching a winery to make bubble. Both he and Jay recognize that the island is excellent terroir for sparkling wine production. When Jay and Wendy, who now have the wines made by Okanagan  Crush Pad, put down production roots, it likely will be on the island.

Jay, who was born in Kamloops in 1972, came to wine through food, paying his way through college by cooking in various Vancouver restaurants. There was a career detour in Calgary where, among other ventures, he developed a chain of spas. But he also enrolled in a sommelier training course. Fascinated with wine, he began working in wine stores.

The rising profile of Okanagan wine brought him back to British Columbia in 2004, first as a manager of the Twisted Oak restaurant and wine store in Oliver. He moved from there to the British Columbia Wine Institute in 2008 and then in 2010 took a sales position with the Enotecca group of wineries for two years.

“That’s when I fell in love with winemaking,” he says. With some coaching from Severine Pinte, the winemaker at Le Vieux Pin, Jay made wine for personal consumption and he enrolled in Washington State University’s winemaking program.

“I got hooked in the winemaking, and I knew I wanted to do my own thing,” Jay says. “Then I met my fiancé. Wendy shares the passion I have for bubbles.”

A financial consultant for technology startups, Wendy grew up in California, the daughter of businessman whose hobby was wine. For many years, her father imported 300 cases of Champagne a year from a producer named Alain Vesselle.

“When Jay first told me that he wanted his own brand of sparkling wine, I laughed. I said, ‘Dude, I have been drinking Alain Vesselle Champagne every day for the last 30 years’,” Wendy says.

To start their own venture, the couple purchased grapes last fall and contracted Michael Bartier to make the wine at Okanagan Crush Pad’s new facility in Summerland.

“I like the recipe with OCP right now,” Jay says. “It does allow us to make money. And I have always admired Michael Bartier for his winemaking skills.”

As Bella heads for an annual production target of 3,000 cases, the business could require its own facility. “The big thing we discovered is that having everything hand riddled and bottled is a huge production issue,” Jay says. “It may mean having our own space.” As well, Okanagan Crush Pad is launching its own sparkling wines next year.

The plan is that Bella will produce only sparkling wines, using Chardonnay and Gamay Noir grapes. “I have always had a big soft spot for Gamay,” Jay says. “I joke that Gamay makes the best Pinot in B.C. There is some really neat Gamay grown in B.C. and I don’t think it gets the accolades that Pinot Noir gets.”

These are the wines.

Bella 2011 Gamay Noir Sparkling Wine ($24 for a production of 130 cases). The wine presents an attractive rose petal hue, a fruity aroma and palate with hints of cranberry, and a lively mousse with a creamy texture. The finish is dry and refreshing. 90.

Bella 2011 Chardonnay Sparkling Wine ($24 for a production of 115 cases). Once again, the lively bubbles set up quite a display in the flute. The wine is crisp, with hints of toastiness and with slight apple flavour notes. Light and fresh on the palate, the wine has a clean and elegant finish. 90.

No comments: