Monday, December 29, 2014

Blue Mountain bubbles take on Champagne

Photo: Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety

Recently, an executive from Champagne producer Lanson was asked by a radio reporter if the Champagne houses should be concerned at dramatic rise in Proseco sales.

Not at all, he replied. The quality of Champagne simply puts it in a different league than Proseco, the Italian bubbly.

I would not argue with that, other than to say we expect more from a $50 - $100 Champagne than we do from a $20 Proseco.

Having said that, we don’t need to go offshore if we want a classy sparkling wine for New Year’s, or for any other occasion. Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, right in our own back yard, is one of Canada’s best sparkling wine producers. Its wines certainly compete with Champagne.

In fact, the wines in its reserve sparkling program are nudging toward the price of Champagne. However, good sparkling wine is never going to be cheap. There is at least twice as much labour involved in making bubble than in making still table wine.

Secondly, when the sparkling wine is aged for years in the cellar before release, capital is tied up for years. The three current Blue Mountain releases are from the 2006, 2007 and 2010 vintages. The cost of capital inevitably will need to be reflected in the price of the finished wine. In fact, the volumes of the Blue Mountain reserves are so modest – 100 to 200 cases – that winemaker Matt Mavety may be making these more for the prestige than for the profit.

Blue Mountain wines have always delivered value for money. This is illustrated by the two table wines, a Pinot Gris and a Gamay, also released this fall.

Here are notes on those wines. R.D. means recently disgorged.

Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2013 ($21). The style of this wine deviates slightly from the fruity, drink me now, style of most Okanagan Pinot Gris wines.  Forty percent was fermented and aged six months in French oak (new to four years old). The wine in barrels also was left in contact with the lees, but with minimum battonage. The other 60% was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The barrel portion gives the wine a rich texture. The wine has herbal and citrus aromas with a bready note from the lees contact. On the palate, there are flavours of pear and citrus. The finish is dry. This wine is built to age four to six years, developing even more complexity. 90.

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2012 ($23). This wine was fermented entirely with the wild yeasts from the vineyard. The technical notes refer to a 20-day maceration period, indicating a moderately slow fermentation. The wine was aged nine months in four-year-old French oak barrels. Aside from a touch of mocha on the palate, there is no significant oak flavour. However, the fleshy texture results in part from time in barrel. The wine has aromas and flavours cherry and blackberry. 90.

Blue Mountain Rosé Brut 2010 R.D. ($33). This wine gets a lovely rose petal hue from the 65% Pinot Noir in the cuvée (the rest is Chardonnay). The wine spent 36 months on lees in individual bottles after completing secondary fermentation. The dosage is 10 grams a litre, enough to flesh out the flavours without making the wine sweet. The wine begins with toasty and strawberry aromas, leading to a creamy mouthful of fruit flavours, with a crisp, clean finish. 91.

Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs 2007 R.D. ($40). This wine is just as elegant and complex as fine Champagne. Made with Chardonnay in the 2007 vintage, the cuvée was bottled for its secondary fermentation in February 2008. The wine spent six years on the lees in individual bottles, to be disgorged in May 2014. The prolonged time on the lees has given this wine toasty, nutty aromas and flavours and very fine bubbles. The finish is crisply clean and dry. 93.

Blue Mountain Reserve Brut 2006 R.D. ($40). This is 30% Pinot Noir, 70% Chardonnay. The wine spent seven years on the lees in individual bottles before being disgorged in May 2014. It is almost creamy on the palate with toasty notes on the nose. The flavours include appealing hints of strawberry and citrus. The wine, which finishes dry, is exceptional in its elegance. 95.

If you can’t find any of this in good wine stores, the winery plans to release a Brut 2007 R.D., followed by a 2008 Brut R.D. You might want to get on a list for this wine.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Stoneboat Pinotage to the rescue

Photo: Stoneboat's Lanny Martinuik

Recently, I was commenting on the quality of Stoneboat Vineyards’s Pinotage to one of the proprietors of another winery.

I was surprised when the individual looked at me and asked: “What is Pinotage?”

Obviously, the wineries making Pinotage in British Columbia have work to do, to say nothing of South African wineries, since the grape is a product of South African viticulture.

So here is a little primer, with a little help from Wine Grapes, the comprehensive book on varietals from Jancis Robinson et al.

The variety was created in 1925 by Professor Abraham Perold, the first professor of viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

The professor apparently had a garden at his official residence. Among other trials, he pollinated a Pinot Noir vine with Cinsault (a Rhone varietal). He planted four seeds from this experiment and, according to Robinson and her colleagues, “forgot them when he left Stellenbosch University to work for the KWV winery in Paarl in 1927.”

Another viticulturist spotted the plants and took them to a nursery at Elsenburg Agricultural College, where he grafted some plant material to rootstock. He showed the plants to Perold who encouraged him to propagate them. The best of the four plants became the mother block for what became Pinotage.

The name was also created by Perold and a colleague. It is simply a contraction of Pinot and Hermitage (the name then given to Cinsault in South Africa).

The first commercial planting of the vine at a winery occurred in 1943. However, it was not until the 1959 vintage that any winery there released a varietal Pinotage. More than a generation had passed since Perold’s experiment. In fact, Perold died two years before that first commercial planting. Developing grape varieties is a task for the patient.

Today, there are 15,000 acres of Pinotage in South Africa, with just modest acreages in Brazil, New Zealand, California – even in Zimbabwe and Israel.

In British Columbia, it is grown primarily by four vineyards. In the 2013 vintage, Pinotage production was 250 tons, putting the variety a surprising eighth in volume of red varietals, just behind Malbec. Yet that was still a mere 1.58% of the total red grape production. One can understand a winery owner not having heard of Pinotage.

Several factors limited the variety’s expansion beyond South Africa.

Firstly, the vine was susceptible to viruses. In time, the growers there developed healthier plant material.

Secondly, South African Pinotage wines sometimes (too frequently in former times) had aromas of nail polish remover, with off flavours going along with that. This was thought to relate perhaps to virus damage, or perhaps to heat stress at harvest or perhaps to overly hot fermentation. The South African vintners have overcome that problem in the last 10 or 15 years.

I have never encountered that fault in an Okanagan Pinotage, by the way, but, some years ago, I had a few from South Africa that not pleasant.

The Okanagan’s first Pinotage vines were imported by Paul Moser, a South African businessman who moved to British Columbia in 1994 and established Lake Breeze Vineyards two years later. (Moser sold the winery in 1998.) Now, Lake Breeze has 100 or so cases of Pinotage that is eagerly awaited by its fans.

The plant material that Moser brought from South Africa was propagated for him by Lanny Martinuik, an Oliver grape grower and nursery operator. Lanny was intrigued with the variety and tissue-cultured enough plant material for a significant planting by the time his family opened Stoneboat Vineyards in 2007.

The View Winery in East Kelowna has an 8.5 acre block of Pinotage, probably the single largest planting in the Okanagan. Those vines were imported independently by one of the winery’s owners. The winery makes good Pinotage and Pinotage Rosé.

There probably is a fourth block of Pinotage on one of the Osoyoos area vineyards operated by Constellation Brands. Inniskillin Okanagan released several vintages of Pinotage in its Discovery Series but appears to have discontinued doing so.

Whatever issues there may have been over the years with Pinotage in South Africa, the variety performs well in the Okanagan, judging from the wines. One vintage of Stoneboat Pinotage even won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Wine.

I had a fine encounter recently with Stoneboat Pinotage 2012. I had been asked to pair wines with the dishes at a dinner party where the centerpiece was a loin of pork. Pinot Noir being out of the budget, I suggested one of my favourite Gamay Noirs. I had considered the Pinotage but thought it risky because so few consumers know of it.

The hosts did a test run ahead of time and were underwhelmed by the Gamay. So was I when I tasted it again. So I lined up several Gamays and the Pinotage and the latter won hands down. At the subsequent dinner, the wine was received with general acclaim.

The lesson is screw up your courage and try a bottle. In fact, try other Stoneboat wines as well. This is very fine family winery. Here are notes on some recent releases.

Stoneboat Pinot Gris 2013 ($18.90 for 1,100 cases). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and peaches. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and apple, with a touch of orange. The texture is generous and the finish lingers. 89.

Stoneboat Chorus 2013 ($18.90 for 1,350 cases). This is a complex blend of Pinot Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Schönburger, Kerner, Pinot Gris and Viognier. The wine has aromas of fruit, herbs and spice, leading to flavours of citrus, apples and herbs. The finish is crisply dry. 90.

Stoneboat Verglas 2012 ($54.40 for 375 ml). This is the proprietary name for this winery’s Icewine. The first time the winery made Icewine, they had forgotten to register the grapes before harvest, as the rules require. So they created the name Verglas and the wine has been so well received that they continue to use it. The grapes here are Oraniensteiner and Pinot Blanc. The wine has a glorious honeyed aroma of peaches and pineapples and this is echoed on the palate. The bright acidity provides a refreshing and tangy balance to the natural sugar. The finish is clean and ever so long. 93.

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.90 for 1,100 cases). This begins with toasty oak aromas mingled with cherry. On the palate, cherry and strawberry flavours mingle with spice and very subtle oak. The texture is silky. 88.

Stoneboat Pinotage 2012 ($24.90 for 1,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of plum and black cherry. On the palate, there is a core of berry flavours, including lingonberry, blackberry and black currant jam. Silky tannins give the wine a long finish. 91.

Note also that Stoneboat has made both a reserve Pinotage (Solo Pinotage) and a Pinotage Icewine. Imagine all of the above flavours concentrated in both wines.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Painted Rock releases excellent 2012 reds

Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner

The 2012 vintage was a great vintage for red wines in the Okanagan and a welcome relief after the challenging vintages of 2010 and 2011.

If you want to taste how good the wines are, spring for a few bottles from Painted Rock Estate Winery on the Skaha Bench south of Penticton.

First of all, this is a real estate winery. It uses only grapes grown on its estate. Unfortunately, many wineries in British Columbia call themselves “estate” wineries even while buying grapes.

There is no regulation against that. Indeed, many of those producers make excellent wines when dealing with top notch growers.

Even so, it would be nice if the term “estate” were used with more precision. If that were to happen, we could also move on to a more precise definition of “reserve.”

But I digress, perhaps because I admire what John Skinner does at Painted Rock. This is a tightly focussed producer with just four red wines and a Chardonnay, all of premium quality. I don’t know what he does with wines that don’t make the cut for his flagship blend because there is no second wine. Either somebody is buying superb leftovers, or everything from that vineyard comes in at a premium quality.

That question comes to mind when I look at the composition of the 2012 Red Icon. For just the second time in the history of that wine – the first vintage was 2007 - there is no Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.

Painted Rock did release a solid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Most producers would have added some to their Bordeaux blend.

Obviously, Alain Sutre, the consultant who advises John on the blend for Red Icon, thought the best blend in the 2012 vintage was the one without Cabernet Sauvignon. Painted Rock never follows a recipe for Red Icon. Hence, each vintage of Red Icon is a bit of a discovery.

The wine is consistent in style, if not in flavour. Anyone who can taste a vertical will recognize there is a common terroir at work here along with fine viticulture and winemaking. These wines also emerge from a similar barrel regime – usually 18 months in French oak, giving them polished tannins along with ability to age.

Here are notes on Painted Rock’s 2012 reds.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2012 ($55). This is a blend of 31% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Verdot. The wine begins with a lovely aroma of spicy black cherry. That leads to vibrant flavours of black cherry and cassis, with notes of vanilla and mocha. Decanting brings out the rich texture of this elegant wine. 95.

Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($40). This wine has aromas of red and black currants, mint and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, espresso and dark chocolate. This wine was double decanted to help it open its aromas, flavours and its rich texture. Cellar this at least five years. 92.

Painted Rock Merlot 2012 ($40). The wine begins with a glorious aroma of cassis, plum and black cherry. It delivers flavours of black currant with notes of tobacco, leather and cedar. The texture is dense, with long ripe tannins. This will cellar as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon. 92.

Painted Rock Syrah 2012 ($40). This is one of those rich wines that seem to fold their arms around you as soon as you put a nose in the glass. It begins with aromas of blackberries, cherries and plums accented with pepper and earth. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherries and mulberries, wrapped up with a touch of pepper on the finish. That core of sweet fruit lingers and lingers. 93.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grüner Veltliner has champions in B.C.

Photo: De Vine's Natalie Windsor in wine shop

Grüner Veltliner, the great Austrian white varietal, took a long time getting to British Columbia. Even today, there are just two producers – De Vine Vineyards on Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula and Culmina Family Estate Winery in the south Okanagan.

The problem, as Ontario vine importer Lloyd Schmidt once explained to me, was that he could find no source of vines that were certified virus free. That explanation is puzzling, given Austria’s long history with viticulture.

Ironically, Karl Kaiser, the Austrian-born co-founder of Inniskillin Wines in 1974, had managed to spirit some Grüner Veltliner vines into Ontario in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Inniskillin released several vintages. In my first wine book in 1984, I described the winery’s 1983 Grüner Veltliner this way: “A pale, greenish-hued wine with a very delicate aroma, but full and fruity like a fresh melon.”

Grüner Veltliner probably was a tough sell, especially when the 1985 Austrian wine scandal caused all Austrian wines to disappear from the market for several years. Inniskillin’s Grüner disappeared into white blends. Then the winery needed to expand its parking lot and did so by removing the Grüner Veltliner vines altogether.

During the past decade, the varietal, along with Austrian wines in general, have been coming back in the market. Grüner Veltliner has enjoyed a modest cult following in the United States. And the University of California at Davis provided virus-free vines to American nurseries which, I believe, are the source of the De Vine and Culmina plantings.

It is notable that the vines grow in two quite different terroirs. Culmina’s vines grow in the coolest section of its vineyard, if you call the south Okanagan cool. The Saanich Peninsula certainly is cooler and the soils are quite different.

It is noteworthy that both terroirs are producing quite promising Grüner Veltliner. The Culmina wine is fuller on the palate, with more alcohol, than the De Vine wine. That is simply a reflection of terroir.

The quality of these wines should encourage other growers to plant the variety as well.

De Vine, which opened in 2010, is owned by John and Catherine Windsor and the families, including daughter Natalie, the winemaker. Initially, they had purchased a 10.4-hectare (23-acre) property in central Saanich, building a home there and converting a spacious barn into a glass-blowing studio for Chris Windsor, one of their sons.

The property is on a ridge with a great view. They decided to improve on it by planting a vineyard. The four blocks, called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were planted in 2007 and 2008 with Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner. They were the first to plant the Austrian varietal in British Columbia.

They planned to sell the organic grapes to Winchester Cellars on the other side of Old West Saanich Road until that winery closed in 2009. So the Windsors recruited one of its former owners, Ken Winchester, as their initial winemaker. They bought the equipment of the Gabriola Island Winery, which had just gone into receivership, and tested the equipment by making small quantities of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir in the 2009 vintage.

Since then, De Vine has opened an appealing wine shop. It is open seven days a week during the summer and on weekends from October to April. The winery’s web site currently is being relaunched. Meanwhile, here are notes on some of the wines you will find in the wine shop now.

De Vine Grü-V Grüner Veltliner 2013 ($21 but sold out). Light (11.4% alcohol) but crisp and refreshing, this wine has floral aromas and flavours of green apples and herbs with the varietal’s classic white pepper on the dry finish. 88.

De Vine Pinot Blanc 2013 ($20). This wine has aromas of citrus and apples, with abundant flavours of green apples. The flavours are bright, supported by good fresh acidity and a refreshing, fry finish. The texture reflects a good vintage on the Saanich Peninsula. The spine of minerality in both this wine and the Grüner Veltliner speak to the terroir of this vineyard. 89-90.

De Vine Ortega Siegerrebe 2013 ($20). This inspired blend builds complexity into a pair of varietals that, on their own, usually are not complex. This wine has aromas of citrus and herbs, leading to generous fruity flavours of green apple and lime and a crisp, refreshing finish. Again, there is a fine spine of minerality. 90.

De Vine Foch Rosé 2013 ($21). I don’t recall ever tasting a Maréchal Foch rosé before and I confess I am not convinced the varietal is really suitable for this application. The gamy aromas of Foch are a bit surprising, coming from a glass of rosé. The palate delivers gobs of black cherry and mocha chocolate flavours. 86.

De Vine Epiphany Black & Blue 2013 ($21 for 375 ml). This is a fortified wine (19% alcohol) made, presumably, with blackberries and packaged in a blue bottle. It is a trifle lean and tart on the finish. 85.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Daydreamer Wines releases Shiraz and Chardonnay

 Photo: Winemaker Marcus Ansems

It was hardly a surprise that the latest releases from Daydreamer Wines in the Naramata Bench are very well made. Marcus Ansems, the winemaker, has a very long and solid track record.

Daydreamer started marketing its wines earlier this year. While the distribution channels still are limited, the wines are sold on the Daydreamer website, by the case or by the half dozen.

My reviews follow. First, here is the winery profile from my recently published John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Two of the signature wines from Daydreamer are Syrahs, a variety that practically runs in the veins of winemaker Marcus Ansems, the owner of this winery with his wife, Rachel. His family in Australia once owned a share of Mount Langi Ghiran, the legendary Shiraz producer in the state of Victoria, and his uncle, Trevor Mast, was a winemaker there.

“One of my favourite wines in the world was made at my family winery,” Marcus says. “It is just unique to that site … an atypical Shiraz. That wine was what inspired me to want to get involved with the industry.” Born in  1974, he graduated in enology in 1996 from Adelaide University. He went abroad to gain experience, first with Simonsig in South Africa and then in Tuscany and the Rhône. He picked up his career in Australia briefly before a Canadian wine entrepreneur, Peter Jensen, recruited him in 1999 to run wineries in Ontario and Nova Scotia. In Niagara, before he returned to Australia in 2002 as a consulting winemaker, he met Rachel, an accountant with a talent in design and photography.

They moved to British Columbia in 2004 where Marcus became the winemaker first for Blasted Church Vineyards and, a year later, for Therapy Vineyards. Since late 2008, he has been the buyer for Hemispheres Wine Guild, a Canadian club for wine collectors.

Daydreamer is the culmination of a family winery dream that Rachel and Marcus share. The winery’s Merlot-based blend is named Amelia, for their daughter. Daydreamer launched with about 1,000 cases including Chardonnay and the two Syrahs, one co-fermented with Viognier. “I like cool climate Syrah,” Marcus says. The wines come in two tiers, with the popular-priced wines are under the Daydreamer label. For premium wines, he has revived the Marcus Ansems label that he first created while he was at Therapy. 

They intend to remain a boutique winery, producing perhaps 2,000 cases a year. To keep the costs in check, they lease a quarter of a five-hectare (12-acre) and they lease space in a new custom crush winery. “I have worked for other people and I have had other partners and lots of shareholders,” Marcus says. “This is just my wife and I. We can do as little or as much as we want. It is a dream.”

Here are notes on the wines. Marcus Ansems is the winery’s premium tier.

Daydreamer Chardonnay 2013 ($24). This wine was fermented and matured for nine months in French oak barriques, without malolactic fermentation. As a result, the citrus (grapefruit) fruit flavour is crisply focussed and refreshing and the oak is subtle. 90.

Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013 ($30). This wine was fermented in barrel and aged for 12 months in French oak. The oak is so well integrated as to be hardly evident but for a note of toast and butterscotch in the aroma. The wine keeps the flavours of tangerine and grapefruit on centre stage. Again, the winemaker did not permit malolactic fermentation. As a result, the acidity is bright and the wine is refreshing. 91

Daydreamer Jasper 2013 ($25). This is 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, fermented in small (900 kg) batches, and aged for 12 months in French oak. There is a touch of mint, spice and red fruit on the nose. The texture is firm; the wine delivers flavours of black currants and spice with a hint of pepper on the finish. 89.

Daydreamer Amelia 2013 ($26). This is 90% Shiraz, 10% Viognier and the grapes were co-fermented in small batches. The wine has matured nine months in French oak. The wine begins with earthy, gamey aromas of deli meats and pepper. The wine should be decanted to allow its texture to flesh out. There are flavours of blackberry, raspberry and Christmas spices with dark chocolate and espresso on the finish. 90.

Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2013 ($35). This has matured 12 months in oak – 70% French, 30% American. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and pepper. It delivers generous flavours of black cherry, spicy fruit cake, with black pepper, chocolate and black cherry on the finish. There is a lot of Australian personality in this full-bodied wine. 91.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Corcelettes Winery takes over Herder Winery

Photo: L to R Urs and Barbara Baessler, Jesce Walker, Sharon Herder, Charlie Baessler

Corcelettes Estate Winery co-owner and winemaker Charlie Baessler got his first job in the B.C. wine industry in 2008 as a cellar hand a vineyard worker at Herder Winery and Vineyards.

Born in 1985, he had just graduated with a degree in environmental engineering in Lethbridge in December, 2007. He was visiting his parents in Cawston when he met the owners of Herder and was offered a job.

Now, Charlie, in partnership with his parents and a business couple from Brandon, is taking over Herder and turning it into the new home for a larger Corcelettes.

This is a major development for Similkameen wineries. Corcelettes, which now makes about 1,000 cases a year and has a small winery and tasting room off the beaten patch near Cawston, has the potential to triple production and to welcome visitors at larger winery that is part of an emerging growing destination for wine tourists.

It also is a positive conclusion to the unfortunate history of the Herder Winery, which had virtually closed after the partnership of founders Lawrence and Sharon Herder broke down two years ago. The Herder name now will disappear, although Charlie and his partner, Jesce Walker, are considering reviving Herder’s iconic Bordeaux blend, Josephine, under the Corcelettes brand. Jesce is the winery’s sales and marketing manager.

“At Corcelettes, we don’t currently have a Bordeaux style red,” Charlie says. “We have a Cabernet/Syrah and a single varietal Syrah, but we don’t have a blend similar to Josephine. If we were going to bring one on, this would be a nice transition. It carries a great name. Lawrence never disappointed anyone with that wine. It kind of immortalizes the whole history there, which we are keen on keeping. I did have some attachment to the property.”

Corcelettes was opened in 2013 by Charlie and his Swiss-born parents, Urs and Barbara. The winery is named after the family farm in Switzerland. There are also Swiss touches in the three-acre vineyard, where one of three white varieties is Chasselas, Switzerland’s leading white. The winery’s flagship red is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Menhir, the name of stone obelisks found in Europe (including on the Baessler family farm).

Herder Winery was opened in 2002, also near Cawston, and moved in 2008 to a property on Upper Bench Road, not far from the Grist Mill and Gardens near Keremeos.

The somewhat baronial house already on the Herder property is perched on the side of a mountain with a panoramic view of the Similkameen valley. Lawrence modified the extensive basement for a winery. On the stony, sun-bathed slopes below, he planted about 6.5 acres of vines, including Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

That vineyard certainly expands the winemaking horizon at Corcelettes.

“I have been looking forward to making Pinot Noir,” Charlie says. “In fact, I had made some arrangements to source Pinot Noir prior to having concluded this deal.”

The Herder winery has been listed for sale for about 20 months. Charlie watched as other potential buyers kicked the tires and, with the sale of existing inventory, as the price came down. There is a little bulk wine remaining in tanks and Charlie is currently evaluating it.

“It has certainly been on my radar,” Charlie says of Herder Winery. “This is not something I put together in a week. I have always had my eye on that place since I worked there. It was such a beautiful place. It recently became a reality to be able to do this with our partners coming on board, Gordon and Diane Peters.”

The Peters and the Baesslers, who once farmed near Brandon, are long-time friends. Gordon Peters, now 61, is the founder and chief executive of Cando Rail Services.

As one of his biographies says, Gordon founded the company in 1978 “with two employees, a tractor and front-end loader and a contract to tear up a rail line in the Tilston area.”  (Tilston is a small community 144 km southwest of Brandon.) Today, Cando has more than 300 employees and does business throughout North America.

“They have always shared that passion [for wine] with us,” Charlie says.  (The Baesslers came to Canada and bought a grain farm near Brandon in 1978.) In recent years, Gordon and Diane have helped the Baesslers at crush at Corcelettes.

Both Charlie and Jesce also work for Clos du Soleil Winery; he manages the vineyard and she manages the wine shop. Clos du Soleil is located immediately east of the new Corcelettes. Currently, Clos du Soleil is building a new winery and tasting room.

“We have made some commitments to Clos du Soleil and plan on honouring those,” Charlie says. “We are really happy to continue. Believe me, I need that job more than ever now.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Clos du Soleil roots in the Canadian Navy

Photo: Lt-Commander (retired) Spencer Massie

Last week, when the Canadian Navy banned alcohol on its ships at sea, I immediately thought of Spencer Massie, the senior partner in Clos du Soleil Winery in the Similkameen.

He is a naval veteran, having retired in 2000 as a lieutenant commander, after 22 years. During his career, he developed a keen interest in wine, often organizing on-board tastings, at least with fellow officers.

When I first interviewed him in 2008, he recounted some of his shipboard encounters with the grape.

“I was the second-in-command, executive officer, on a mine-sweeper on this coast when I was 25 years old,” Spencer told me. “One of my fellow ex-o’s and I, we were both into wine even back then. Normally, the ship would carry a few cases of ordinary wines. He and I were splitting cases of Margaux and things like that. We were in charge of ordering all the bonded storage. There are opportunities within the military where you can experiment and have some fun.”

Well, at least there were.

Spencer had a rationale for organizing wine tastings. “I thought it was important for our young officers to tell the difference between a tawny and a vintage Port, and what it takes to create a good bottle of wine,” he said.

Perhaps the officers who took over when Spencer retired in 2000 did not think it all that important to teach sailors how to drink. The ban was caused by sailors who over-indulged and got into so much trouble that they almost caused an international incident. It is quite probable those sailors never had a chance to develop a palate remotely as sophisticated as Spencer’s.

They might not appreciate the excellent wines coming from the winery which Spencer (and partners) launched in 2008.

The current releases from Clos du Soleil are the wines with which I will toast the navy’s (understandably) vanishing tradition. There will still be opportunities to enjoy the occasional drink on board – on special occasions. It will be a brave captain who will risk having too many special occasions.

Those of us safely on land, however, get to enjoy these wines. Here are my notes.

Clos du Soleil
Capella 2013 ($27.90 for 12 barrels). This barrel-fermented wine is 91% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Sémillon. It begins with lovely aromas of grapefruit and quince. On the palate, the wine is crisp and refreshing, with herbal notes underlying flavours of lime. The model is Bordeaux white. I think this is better, with more intense flavours. 92.

Clos du Soleil Growers Series Guild Merlot 2012 ($24.90 for 125 cases). The grapes for this wine are grown by the Guild family in a vineyard near Keremeos. This is a big, ripe wine with aromas of cassis and vanilla. It delivers flavours of black and red currants with a hint of raspberry. 90.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2012 ($44.90 for 19 barrels). This is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. It begins with an aroma that envelops you with spice, black cherry and cassis. On the palate, there are complex flavours of black currants, dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso with a touch of cedar on the finish. The long, ripe tannins will carry this wine – even though it is drinking well now – for another 10 years. 93-95.

Clos du Soleil Saturn 2013 ($28.90 for 230 cases of 375 ml). This is sensational late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, The intensely honeyed aromas of sweet fruit jump from the glass. On the palate, there are honeyed flavours of citrus, ripe apricot and pineapple. There seems to be a touch of botrytis here, creating an intense and lingering finish of honey and tobacco. I reviewed this before its release in the spring. More time in bottle has taken the wine to an even higher plateau. 92.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir twins

 CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker

One of winemaker Darryl Brooker’s peers, in a private conversation, recently singled out CedarCreek Estate Winery as one of the five best Pinot Noir producers in the Okanagan.

The other four in this person’s view are Blue Mountain Cellars, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, Meyer Family Vineyards and Tantalus Vineyards. I am not sure how he missed Foxtrot Vineyards and a few others.

However, I agree that Darryl raised the bar with the winery’s premium Pinot Noirs in 2011 when he stopped blending all the best grapes into a single reserve, or Platinum, wine. In that vintage, and again in 2012, he has bottled the two best blocks, Block 2 and Block 4, as separate Platinum wines. They are distinctively different and they are both very good.

CedarCreek was purchased early this year by Anthony von Mandl’s winery holding company. Not only has Anthony retained Darryl; he also had him handle the 2014 vintage was the new Martin’s Lane winery, a Pinot Noir and Riesling specialist. Anthony has built the Martin’s Lane winery almost next door to CedarCreek’s East Kelowna property.

CedarCreek has a track record of good Pinot Noir from this vineyard. The winery began releasing Platinum Pinot Noir in 1998, with the grapes from Blocks 2 and 4 almost always blended.

“Block 2 and Block 4 are the two best blocks and the oldest blocks,” Darryl says. The blocks are less than 200 metres apart but the soils and the elevation differ. Darryl immediately noticed the distinctive differences between the blocks. In 2010, he made separate lots of wine from each block and considered releasing them separately. However, he was new at the winery. Hesitating to change established procedures, he blended them into a single Platinum Pinot Noir.

It was a good wine but the personalities of the individual blocks were lost. So in 2011 and again in 2012, he has bottled them separately.

The difference is dramatic. Block 2 Pinot Noir is a “feminine” wine while Block 4 Pinot Noir is darker, more tannic and, in a world, “masculine.” This may create a dilemma, forcing collectors of CedarCreek’s Platinum wines to settle on a preferred style. I would want both and I would pair them with different food; in fact, I would be happy to drink Block 2 on its own.

Here are notes on those wines and also on two other current CedarCreek releases.

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2013 ($18.95). Darryl set out to balance the fruit and the oak in making this wine. Some of it was aged in a 2,250 litre oak foudre, essentially a large French oak barrel. Thus the wine benefited from the impact of the barrel on texture without being overwhelmed by wood. The wine has appealing aromas of citrus and apples with the tiniest hint of oak. The flavours echo that. This medium-weight wine has a finish that is crisp and refreshing. 91.

CedarCreek Merlot 2012 ($19.95 for 3,500 cases). The blend is 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Unusual for a wine of this price, this Merlot spent 20 months aging in French oak. The winery’s view is that a full-bodied red needs that much time in barrel even if it ties up capital. The wine is still tight and should be decanted; I found it tasting richer on the second day. There are aromas of spice, red fruit and chocolate, leading to flavours of black currant and blackberry. 88.

CedarCreek Block 2 Pinot Noir 2012 ($44.95 for 380 cases). This is the pretty wine of the pair, with complex  aromas of spice, cherry and strawberry and intense flavours of cherry and strawberry. The flavours are bright and vibrant and the finish is elegant and silky. 92-94.

CedarCreek Block 4 Pinot Noir 2012 ($44.95 for  376 cases). This is the brooding, full-bodied partner, with aromas of cherry and chocolate. The palate is packed with red fruits (cherries, cranberries, plums). There seems to be more minerals in the backbone and slightly firmer tannins, a structure that suggests good ability to age. 92-93.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bartier Brothers release a solid six-pack

 Photo: The Bartier Bros. Cerquiera Vineyard

Everyone who knows winemaker Michael Bartier knows that a droll sense of humour goes along with his talent.

The most recent release of wines from Bartier Brothers Winery comes with an entertaining updated narrative on how Michael and his brother, Don, found themselves in the wine business in the Okanagan.

They are natives of Kelowna who initially set off on different careers. Don went to Calgary, became an accountant and succeeded in the oil and gas business.

Michael (right) has a degree in recreational administration from the University of Victoria and returned to the Okanagan initially to be a rock climbing guide. Then in 1995, at the age of 28, he got a job as a cellar hand at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards (now See Ya Later Ranch). His career was launched.

Here is where the media kit picks up the story. “Michael has often considered his own winery to make his style of wine, but lacked the business and financial acumen for this undertaking. Don has long been a wine enthusiast, and indeed about the best customer for each winery that Michael worked for.”

In addition to Hawthorne Mountain, Michael has made wine for Township 7 and Road 13. For several years, he has been the senior consultant at Okanagan Crushpad Winery.

With Michael’s advice, Don planted a 2.5-acre block of  Gewürztraminer in 2010 near Summerland, called the Lone Pine Vineyard..

“Michael watched this project closely, and helped a lot. Either Don passed Michael’s test, or Michael laid a trap that Don walked into,” the media kit says. “In either event, the stage was set for the partnership of the Bartier Bros. …”

The brothers released a few wines last year, adding more this year as they build to a full suite of wines.

Their major grape supply is from the 15-acre Cerqueira Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Planted between 1999 and 2009, it has four acres each of Merlot and Chardonnay, 2.6 acres of Syrah, 2.4 acres of Cabernet Franc, and two acres of Sémillon.

“The soils are a heavy, slightly sandy loam with limestone (calcium carbonate0 covered granite cobbles throughout a deep profile,” the media kits says. “With the rough surface of the calcium carbonate, vine roots seek out these rocks for the small amount of water to be found on this surface. It is controversial to say that these vines are ‘feeding’ off these minerals, but that’s exactly what we believe is happening and it shows in the wines.”

Here are notes on those wines. 

Bartier Brothers Semillon 2013 Cerqueira Vineyard ($19.90 for 640 cases).  The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit on a bed of herbs, spice and minerality. The finish is crisp and dry. I would be inclined to cellar this wine for a few years and let time work its magic with this varietal. 90.

Bartier Brothers Gewürztraminer 2013 Lone Pine Vineyard ($18.90 for 211 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromas of apple, peach and ginger. On the palate, a touch of residual sugar lifts the peach and apricot. Well-balanced, the wine finishes dry. 90.

Bartier Brothers Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Cerqueira Vineyard ($19.90). Here is a textbook example of an unoaked Chardonnay that delivers pure and focus fruit aromas and flavours. Look for citrus and apple with a crisp finish and a surprising amount of weight. The flavours linger. 90.

Bartier Brothers Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013 Cerqueira Vineyard ($26.90 for 182 cases). Almost from the start of his winemaking career, Michael Bartier has shown a very sure hand with Chardonnay; his wines have won numerous awards. This is another example. It begins with intense aromas of citrus and cloves, leading to rich, layered flavours of grapefruit, ripe peaches, ripe apples. The hint of spice and cloves, likely reflecting time in barrel, gives the wine good length on the finish. 92.

Bartier Brothers Merlot 2011 Cerqueira Vineyard ($26.90 for 350 cases). The wine begins with intense aromas of black currants and black cherries. Ripe tannins give the wine a firm texture, with flavours of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and spice. This is drinking well but will continue to improve in the cellar over the next three to five years. 91.

Bartier Brothers  Syrah 2011 Cerqueira Vineyard ($26.90 for 325 cases). This wine was tweaked with 13% Cabernet Franc. It smells and tastes like a classic Syrah, with white pepper, black cherry and vanilla in the aroma. The flavours are a blend of plums and peppery prosciutto. 92. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Class of 2014: Monte Creek Ranch

Photo: Monte Creek vineyard with Lion's Head in the distance 

Monte Creek Ranch, the newest winery in British Columbia, has a lot of pioneering history behind its name – and also is pioneering grape varieties new to British Columbia.

Monte Creek is the fourth winery near Kamloops. Its current portfolio of seven wines includes a number made with so-called Minnesota hybrid grapes. These varieties were developed in Minnesota and Wisconsin to survive winter temperatures fatal to vinifera varieties. Most of the wineries in Quebec grow them but this is the first release of these varietals from a British Columbia vineyard.

Some of the history was laid out in a news release that announced the winery:
“Generations back, the small community of Monte Creek, situated east of Kamloops along the South Thompson River and into the rolling hills, was known as "Ducks", after the British settler Jacob Ducks, who ranched the area extensively.

“The town became a hub when Ducks opened a hotel to room railway workers, miners and other ranchers, and achieved fame in 1906 as the site of the last train robbery by the notorious "Gentleman Bandit" Bill Miner. In 1888 Hewitt Bostock purchased 3,380 acres near Kamloops from rancher Ducks. Years passed, yet locals continued to call it Ducks Ranch long after Bostock and his wife made it their home. Today's Monte Creek is a tiny community where farming and ranching is still the mainstay.”

The picture of Bill Miner, apparently from a wanted poster, appears on several of the winery’s labels.

Here is the profile from the new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Marquette, La Crescent and Frontenac have joined the lexicon of varietals in British Columbia with the development of this winery. Those are winemaking hybrids bred at the University of Minnesota to survive winters as frigid as those experienced occasionally at Kamloops. In an abundance of caution, Gurjit Sidhu, the owner of Monte Creek, also has installed wind machines for added protection against late spring and early autumn frost.

Since 2010, Monte Creek has planted about 14 hectares (35 acres) on two vineyards: a south-facing slope called Lion’s Head on the north flank of the Thompson River; and a windswept plateau south of the river and beside the highway (where the winery and wine shop are located). In addition to the Minnesota hybrids, Monte Creek also has a large block of Maréchal Foch. On the Lion’s Head slope, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer are grown.

The first commercial production from this vineyard, about 23 tons in 2013, was vinified for Monte Creek by Eric von Krosigk, the winemaker at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. The wines are promising, in part because the hybrids, which have big berries when grown in eastern Canada, produce small berries with concentrated flavours in the Kamloops climate and soils. Marquette, which the University of Minnesota says is a “grandson” of Pinot Noir, is medium bodied with good flavours. Le Crescent, which has some Muscat in its ancestry, yields a fruity white. “We have at least two very strong ones,” Gurjit says of the gamble on Minnesota hybrids.

The Sidhus are immigrants from the Punjab in India who have already succeeded in horticulture in Canada. Gurjit was just three when his father Gurdev moved the family to British Columbia in 1969. Unable to use his law degree here, he   started a small plant nursery in Mission in 1975. Today, Sidhu & Sons Nursery Ltd., specializing in producing shrubs and trees for landscaping, is one of Canada’s largest nurseries.

In 2001, the Sidhus expanded to growing blueberries, quickly becoming one of the largest producers in the Fraser Valley. Soaring land prices sent Gurjit, who has a diploma in horticulture, looking for cheaper farm land in the interior to plant more blueberries. In 2007 he bought Monte Creek Ranch and then the Lion’s Head Ranch on the north side of the river, almost directly across the valley. Because the Thompson River Valley is not ideal for blueberries, he turned to grapes and a groundbreaking trial of hybrids that could open winegrowing possibilities in British Columbia’s cooler regions.

Since that was written, the winery has built a processing facility in which a tasting room will open in the spring of 2015.

As well, Michael Alexander, 25, (right) a Calgarian who is completing his training this winter at Niagara College, has become the winemaker (with Eric remaining as a consultant. Michael, who had previous experience in both the cellars and the tasting room at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, had the major hand in making the 2014 vintage for Monte Creek.

He has recognized that the Minnesota hybrids are performing differently (and arguably better) in the sunbathed Kamloops terroir than in Quebec. “With the longer growing season and the warmer weather here, we get great ripeness,” he has found. (Photo: Frontenac Gris)

The winery is not relying entirely on grapes that thrive at Kamloops. The inaugural release includes a Cabernet Merlot from grapes purchased in the Okanagan.

“We are working with a few different vineyards,” Monte Creek general manager Erik Fisher said in an interview this fall. “This year we are identifying where we can get the best quality fruit. We are looking at a five year plus option with a grower in the South Okanagan where we can get a consistent supply of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and grow our production levels. The ownership group is also wide open to purchasing some land down there as well.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Monte Creek Hands Up White 2013 ($14.99). This is a blend of  59% Frontenac Blanc, 29% Viognier and 12% La Crescent. Ripening these varieties clear was no issue: the alcohol is 15%. It is noticeable, but not unpleasantly so, in the rich tangerine, caramel and nutty flavours on the full palate. The aromas are fruity, with honeyed notes of melon, citrus and apricot. 87.

Monte Creek Frontenac Gris 2013 ($15.99). The Frontenac Gris grapes thrived in the heat of a Kamloops summer, ripening to almost 30 brix by the time they were picked on October 4. The winery took the hint and made a delicious late harvest wine with 25.6 grams of residual sugar. The wine has a lovely light gold hue with floral and honey aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apple and cantaloupe. The sugar is superbly balanced so that the finish has just a lingering sweetness. 89.

Monte Creek Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.99). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and herbs, leading to flavours of citrus and grapefruit rind, with a backbone of minerals. Rich on the palate, the wine is dry on the finish. 89.

Monte Creek Riesling 2013 ($18.99). This wine reflects the style that winemaker Eric von Krosigk has adopted with Riesling: low alcohol (9.8%) with just a touch of residual sweetness that rests nicely on the mid-palate. The classic mineral backbone and the hint of petrol is beginning to develop amid the lemon and lime aromas and flavours. 90.

Monte Creek Hands Up Red 2013 ($15.99). This is a blend of 49% Frontenac Noir, 20% Marquette, 10% St. Croix, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 5% Savrevois. Dark in colour, the wine is intensely aromatic (cherries, blackberries). On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry and cherry. The winery notes describe this as medium-bodied. However, the long ripe tannins give it a full, lingering finish. 88.

Monte Creek Foch 2013 ($19.99). Dark in color, the wine begins with aromas of raspberry and cherry with a touch of graphite. On the palate, it is a rich, plumy wine with overtones of cherry and blackberry. The finish has the classic smoke and dark chocolate note of the varietal. 89.

Monte Creek Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($19.99). This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (the winery has not provided a breakdown on how much of each). Dark ruby in colour, it has appealing jammy aromas, leading to flavours currants and black cherry with dark chocolate and tobacco on the finish, along with a touch of cedar. This is a delicious wine. 90.

Monte Creek Ranch Winery
2420 Miner’s Bluff Road,
Kamloops, V0E 2M0
T. 250.572.4040