Friday, November 22, 2013

Harper's Trail: the first winery in Kamloops

Photo: Harper's Trail proprietors Vicki and Ed Collett

There is an organization of financial executives that has invited me for several years to choose the wines for their final dinner of the season, and to speak about the wines.

The wines are always from British Columbia, that being a region in which I fancy I have some knowledge.

This year, I stayed with British Columbia while throwing my audience a curve by choosing wines from Harper’s Trail Estate Winery in Kamloops.

After the group got over its surprise … “A winery in Kamloops?” … the comments on the wines were all positive. I expected that, having tasted the Harper’s Trail wines previously.

Harper’s Trail is the first winery in Kamloops. It opened its tasting room this summer, a few months earlier than Privato Vineyard and Winery, the city’s second winery. The latest list of licensed wineries includes a third Kamloops winery called Sagewood. Next spring, Monte Creek Ranch Winery will be the community’s fourth winery. That is enough for a good day of wine touring.

The Harper’s Trail wines are well distributed in restaurants and private wine stores. You can find a list on the winery’s website.

If Harper’s Trail is unfamiliar, here is the profile I have written for the next edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. It will be published next spring.

Harper’s Trail Estate Winery                         Opened 2012
2720 Shuswap Road,
Kamloops BC  V2H 1S9
T 250.573.5855
When to visit: Mid-May to mid-June 11 am – 7 pm Friday through Sunday; daily 11 am – 6 pm (to 7 pm Friday through Sunday) from late June to September 1; daily 11 am – 5 pm September 2 to mid-October.

What makes this vineyard special is same thing that has enabled Lafarge to operate a cement plant nearby since 1970: the underlying limestone in the area, which is quarried for cement but also benefits grape growing. Ed Collett, who owns Harper’s Trail with his wife, Vicki, points to the cliff above the south-sloping vineyards. “That whole side hill is lime rock,” he says.

This property on the north side of the Thompson River is about 16 kilometres (10 miles) east of Kamloops. Formerly, it grew hay and grazed cattle in what is quintessential British Columbia range country. The winery is named for Thaddeus Harper, the 19th-century American-born rancher who once owned the vast 15,569-hectare (38,472-acre) Gang Ranch, one of the first farms to use sturdy gang ploughs. Ed bought his modest slice of ranch country in 2007 after he had conceived the idea of developing a winery. He acquired a taste for wine during travels to Chile on business for the mining equipment company he has run since in 1987.

The desire for a winery emerged during Okanagan wine tours. Ed remembers relaxing at a bed and breakfast overlooking a vineyard and remarking: “I’ve got to get myself one of these.” He began planting vines in 2008. He currently has 11.7 hectares (29 acres) of vines and has plans for more in stages as he and vineyard manager John Dranchuk determine what varieties will succeed. “You have to take baby steps,” Ed notes. “We are further north [than most vineyards] but obviously, it is not a deterrent for us.” The cold winters led to the removal of Merlot while a 2008 planting of Cabernet Franc succeeded so well that more was planted in 2012, followed with 2.4 hectares (six acres) of Pinot Noir and Gamay in 2013. Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay also are succeeding. Wind machines combat early autumn frost. Ginseng shade-cloth on the vineyard’s borders breaks the valley’s constant winds. Propane cannons deter the birds. “All of this is new to the Thompson,” the vineyard manager says. “This was the first vineyard with wind machines and bird bangers.”

The first several vintages, which included three different Rieslings, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, a white blend, a rosé and a Cabernet Franc, were made for Harper’s Trail at Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.  A tasting room opened at the vineyard in the summer of 2013. The temporary winemaking facility used for that vintage is being replaced in 2014 by a new winery. There are future plans for a restaurant and for walking trails on the property.

Here are notes on the wines, all made from grapes grown on the estate vineyard.

Harper’s Trail Pioneer Block Dry Riesling 2012 ($20 for 450 cases). The winery describes this dry wine with 10.8% alcohol as being made in the “Rheingau style.” It begins with appealing aromas of lime and apple, delivering flavours of lime, lemon, and orange peel. It has a fine mineral backbone that contributes to a good texture. 91.

Harper’s Trail Silver Mane Block Riesling 2012 ($20 for 513 cases). This is made in the style of a Mosel Riesling, with only 8.5% alcohol but with 25 grams of residual sugar – three times as much as the Dry Riesling. The aromas were not as developed as those of the Dry Riesling but the flavours and the full texture telegraph the potential of this wine with a few more months of aging. The tangy acidity is well balanced by the sweetness on the palate. 89.

Harper’s Trail Pinot Gris 2012 ($18 for 319 cases). The wine has a slightly coppery hue, the result of giving the wine some skin contact to enhance colour and flavour. It has aromas of apples and pears with appealing fruit flavours and with a crisp, dry finish. 90.

Harper’s Trail Chardonnay 2012 ($22 for 392 cases). The wine begins with aromas of peach and citrus. On the palate, subtle oak frames the flavours of peach and citrus and the hint of cloves. The finish is bright and refreshing. 90.

Harper’s Trail Field Blend White 2012 ($17 for 347 cases). A light and refreshing white, this is a blend of Riesling and Chardonnay. It has aromas and flavours of apples and lime with a crisp mineral backbone. 89.

Harper’s Trail Cabernet Franc 2012 ($25 for 138 cases). The wine begins with aromas of blackberries and black cherry and delivers mouth-filling berry flavours. The texture is juicy, thanks to the ripe tannins, and the wine drinks easily. 90.

Not reviewed are the Gewürztraminer 2012 ($18 for 136 cases) and the Rosé 2012 ($17 for 93 cases), probably because they are sold out.

Not yet reviewed is the Late Harvest Riesling 2012 ($20 for 445 cases of half bottles). I am saving this and other dessert wines for a blog that will be posted early in the holiday season.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

John, as a person that works with Harper's Trail I am understandably biased, but I am so glad to read that you love the wines, and that your tasting group did as well. The winery is so proud of these scores and will be sharing them broadly.