Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hester Creek raises the bar with its new Trebbiano

Hester Creek winemaker Rob Summers

Hester Creek Estate Winery in the Okanagan calls itself Canada’s only producer of Trebbiano.

The release from the 2013 vintage is, without a doubt, the finest Trebbiano from the property. The price has increased a few dollars but the wine is worth every penny.

For the first time, the wine has been released with the tag “Old Vines” on the label, drawing additional attention that there might be something special in the bottle.

There is history here.

Joe Busnardo, the original owner of the winery – it was then called Divino – is believed to have planted the Italian variety in 1968. He sold the vineyard in 1996 to relocate Divino to the Cowichan Valley. He took vine cuttings, including Trebbiano, with him for the Vancouver Island vineyard. If he produced that wine there, it likely disappeared into a blend.

It is not known whether anyone ever asked Joe where he sourced Trebbiano in Italy. There are at least six varieties of Trebbiano listed in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. The varietals are not even always related to each other.

The odds are that Hester Creek has Trebbiano Toscano. “It is by far the most widespread of the heterogeneous group of varieties with Trebbiano in their name and the second most widely planted in Italy,” Robinson writes. “It generally disappears into blends or in some countries into a still. Its neutral nature and high acidity make it an ideal candidate for distillation.” It is in fact the same variety as Ugni Blanc, much favoured by French distillers.

Hester Creek’s vines might also be Trebbiano Spoletino, a much less well known Umbrian variety. Joe Busnardo came from Treviso, north of Venice, which is closer to Umbria than to Tuscany.

It would take extensive DNA work to establish which Trebbiano this is. In fact, the Hester Creek vineyard still has a few other old Italian varieties, including one just called Italian Merlot, that need more research. Joe was blazing trail when he started planting the vineyard in 1968 with vines both from Italy and California. He planted as many as 136 varieties, experimenting more than a decade before the Becker project. Pinot Blanc, the most successful varietal in the Becker project, was already thriving at Joe’s vineyard.

Joe and succeeding owners have been winnowing the varietal mix down to what succeeds best here (and with consumers).

Hester Creek has propagated enough Trebbiano from its original block to support an annual production of 800 to 1,000 cases. Half of the 2013 Trebbiano has already been sold. I would not delay picking up a few bottles.

Rob Summers, the Hester Creek winemaker, gave several reasons when I asked him why the wine had made such an apparent jump in quality.

“It was a beautiful vintage,” he says. “And the old vines are the key.” The original vines in Block 16 date from 1968 and they provided cuttings for an additional planting in 2002.

There also was a technical upgrade in the winery’s fermentation equipment. The winery invested $20,000 in equipment that enables the winemaker to lift the cap of solids in a tank of juice and rack off the clear juice from the bottom. “You don’t let the juice settle on the solids for two to four days,” Rob says. He was able to ferment very clean juice and, after a healthy fermentation, do just minimal filtration.

Because the equipment arrived midway through the harvest, he was not able to use it with all the whites. The Pinot Blanc, however, benefited from this process and the 2013 vintage of that variety also is impressive. This fall, all the whites will get the treatment.

Here are notes on the Hester Creek releases.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2013 ($17.95 for 6,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and pear with a hint of anise on the finish. The wine is crisply refreshing with good weight. 88.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2013 ($16.95 for 4,500 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apples and melons. Those flavours are delivered to the palate, alone with a fine backbone of minerals. The flavours are fresh and crisp. 90.

Hester Creek Old Vines Trebbiano Block 16 2013 ($22.95 for 1,000 cases). The wine is elegant in a Burgundy bottle, with a light golden hue in the wineglass. The aromas are complex, including herbs, nuts, citrus and pears. The imperceptible touch of residual sugar expresses itself in richness on the palate. The wine has flavours of cantaloupe, pear and grapefruit, with a long lingering finish. 92.

Hester Creek Rosé Cabernet Franc 2013 ($19.95 for 1,000 cases). I have heard it argued that rosé wines should be a pale pink. I am glad Hester Creek is not of that school. This wine’s dark and vibrant hue is instantly appealing. In the aroma, there are strawberries, cherries and rhubarb. The medley of fruit flavours  fill the mouth. Here, the residual sugar (12 grams per litre) gives the wine volume, with a touch of black currant jam on the finish. 90.


Ed S. said...

Coincidentally, my next-door neighbour's parents hailed from Treviso as did my mother, from nearby Montebelluna.

This got me scratching my head when you write that Treviso "is closer to Umbria than to Tuscany."

Last time I looked, Umbria is south of Tuscany and hence further away (google maps say ~430km vs ~340 to Siena)


JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

My geography stands corrected. I have visited both, along with other wine regions in northern Italy, and somehow had it in my head that Umbria was north of Tuscany. So Joe's vines may have come from Tuscany after all.