Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tyler Harlton and friends

Photo: Tyler Harlton of TH Wines

Before he became a winemaker, Summerland-based Tyler Harlton played eight seasons of professional hockey and seldom had more than 60 penalty minutes a season.

Everyone who meets this laid-back artisan is surprised his penalty minutes were even that high. He is as gentle a personality as you will find in the Okanagan wine industry.

And he hangs out with other artisanal winemakers. In June, TH Wines, as he calls his winery, joined five other small wineries for an informal tasting in Vancouver.  They should consider keeping this league together. Their personalities and winemaking styles are quite complimentary.

TH Wines is one of the smaller of these producers, making just 1,100 cases in 2013. The winery was established three years ago in quarters that Tyler rented in an industrial park in Summerland. His business model calls for spending money on buying grapes and getting the brand established before tying up capital in a vineyard or in a fancy building. He opened a modest tasting room this year for the first time.

He may be operating on a shoestring but that is not reflected in to quality of the wines. These are notes on the wines.

TH Wines By Hand White 2013 ($19.99 for 468 cases). The name of this wine is inspired by the new labels – the image of two hands on a wine barrel. They are Tyler’s hands and the image underlines the artisanal approach here. This wine is 84% Chardonnay, 16% Sauvignon Blanc. It is a richly textured wine with flavours of pear and apple mingled with herbs. The finish lingers. 90.

Th Wines Viognier 2013 ($N/A). This is a classic Viognier, with a creamy texture and with apricot and peach aromas and flavours. The finish lasts and lasts. 90.

TH Wines Rosé 2013 ($21.99 for 119 cases). This is made with Merlot with a splash of Malbec and Chardonnay. It has aromas and flavours of apples and strawberries. The texture is generous and the finish is dry. 89.

TH Wines Pinot Noir 2012 ($29.99 for 270 cases). This is an utterly seductive Pinot Noir. The silky texture and the pretty aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry make this a charming wine with a finish that lingers. 91.

TH Wines Cabernet Merlot 2012  ($34.99 for 306 cases.) The blend here is two-thirds Cabernet Franc, a varietal that Tyler favours. The other third is Merlot and Malbec. The wine has brambly flavours of blackberry and cherry on a foundation of earthy notes and long ripe tannins. 90.

Tyler’s friends include Little Farm Winery, the Cawston boutique operated by wine educator Rhys Pender MW and his winemaker wife, Alishan Driediger (left). They moved to this property in 2008, planting a four-acre vineyard of Chardonnay and Riesling.

Little Farm may well be the smallest licensed winery (or close to it) in the Similkameen and Okanagan. Production in 2013 totalled 353 cases, with the target at full production being 800 cases.

Little Farm Chardonnay 2013 ($29.90 for 68 cases). Crisp and refreshing and reminiscent of Chablis, this wine has delicate citrus aromas and flavours of grapefruit and green apple. 88.

Little Farm Riesling 2013 ($29.90 for 115 cases). In the style of German Riesling, this wine spent some time in neutral oak barrels, gaining texture and softening the bracing acidity. The wine has citrus aromas and tangy citrus flavours wrapped around a nice spine of minerals. The finish is dry. 90.

Little Farm Rosé 2013 ($24.90 for 170 cases). This is made with Cabernet Franc and it displays the vivacity of the varietal. There are aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry, with notes of herbs and pepper on the dry finish. 90.

Also in Tyler’s circle is Orofino Vineyards, also of Cawston. John and Virginia Weber (right) moved from Saskatchewan in 2001 to take over a six-acre vineyard and, within a few years, become accomplished wine growers. Earlier in July, they hosted vertical tastings of their wines, reaching as far back as a 2003 Pinot Noir and a 2003 Cabernet-Merlot.

They have not chosen to stay small even if there is great artisanal style in the winemaking. Orofino now is making about 4,500 cases a year.

Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2013 ($22 for 600 cases). Here is a polished and refined Riesling, with aromas and flavours of lime around a spine of minerals. The wine is crisply tangy and dry with good potential to age. 91.

Orofino Home Vineyard Old Vines Riesling 2013 ($29 for 100 cases). Most of this was fermented in old barrels; two barrels were fermented with wild yeast for additional complexity. The racy acidity is nicely balanced with residual sugar. There are aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit around a mineral core. The finish is tangy. 90.

 Orofino Scout Vineyard Riesling 2013 ($22 for 350 cases). A touch more residual sugar brings out aromas and flavours of lime, apple and peach. The texture is juicy. 90.

 Orofino Celentano Vineyard Gamay 2013 ($23 for 120 cases). This could be a light Beaujolais Cru wine. The aromas and flavours of spicy cherry and raspberry dance on the palate. A note of pepper on the finish wraps up this lively wine very nicely.  90

Orofino Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($32). The wine begins with aromas of cherries mingling with the toasty notes from the barrels. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and strawberry with a touch of mocha on the finish. 90.

Orofino Red Bridge Merlot 2011 ($25). This is the only wine in Orofino’s portfolio not made with Similkameen fruit. The Merlot grapes come from the Oak Knoll Vineyard in Kaleden. This is a very quaffable Merlot (a gold medal winner at the All Canadian Wine Awards) with aromas and flavours of black currant and blueberry. 88.

Orofino Beleza 2011 ($34). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, comprising 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Dark in colour, the wine has a ripe, concentrated texture. There are aromas and flavours of black currant, black cherry and mulberry nicely framed with oak from the 20 months aging in French and American oak barrels. It is a sophisticated wine with the potential to age easily for another five to seven years. 93.

Terravista Vineyards is a 1,700-case boutique making just white wine. There is a delicious irony in that. The owners are Paul and Senka Tennant, one of the couples that founded the Black Hills winery where the star was a red wine called Nota Bene. When the Tennants established a new winery in 2008 on the Naramata Bench, Senka (left) decided she did not want to go on making red wine.

They really differentiated Terravista by planting Albariño and Verdejo, two Spanish whites new to Okanagan vineyards. The blend from these is called Fandango. A blend of Rhone varieties, made with purchased grapes, is called Figaro.

The winery’s tasting room high on the Naramata Bench offers one of the best views over the entire region.

Terravista Fandango 2013 ($24.90). The wine is 70% Albariño and 30% Verdejo. Crisp and fresh, the wine has aromas and flavours of melons and green apples. This is a wine worth aging for a year or two. The 2012 Fandango has developed hints of hazelnut to enhance the complexity. 90.

Terravista Figaro 2012 ($23.90). This is a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne. Glorious tropical fruit aromas charge from the glass. The wine is full on the palate, with flavours of apricot and peach. 90.

Terravista Viognier 2013 ($17.90). This is new to the portfolio, probably because the winery ended up with more Viognier than it needed for blending. The wine is crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of citrus and peach. 89.

Bill Eggert (right), the owner of Fairview Cellars, has been a fixture in Okanagan winegrowing longer than most of the other six. He opened the winery, based on a six-acre vineyard, in 2000. His focus has been Bordeaux varietals although he planted a small Pinot Noir vineyard a few years ago.

I sometimes wonder whether Bill is best described as salt of the earth, or just plain salty. However, the wines are as forthright as the winemaker.

Fairview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($19.90). This vibrant and tangy white has aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit, with herbal notes on the dry finish. 90.

Fairview Cellars Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.90). This is another charmer, with aromas and flavours of strawberries and red cherries, supported subtly by hints of oak. The texture is silky. 90.

Fairview Cellars Madcap Red 2011 ($24.90 for 300 cases). This blend is based on Merlot, with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of mint and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant. The tannins are ripe. 90.

Fairview Cellars Cabernet Franc 2012 ($29.95). The winery has made a name for itself with Cabernet Franc and this is an exuberant example. It brims with aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant and blueberry. 90-91.

Fairview Cellars The Bear 2011 ($34.90 for 300 cases). This is a Meritage with all five of the major Bordeaux reds. The Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend seems to have contributed slight notes of mint to the aroma and the flavour, turbo charging the spicy cherry and black currant flavours. 91.

Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Premier Series 2011 ($39). Fourteen months barrel-aging has given this wine a not of vanilla in the aroma, complementing the black cherry. The wine has a rich palate weight, with flavours of black currant, black cherry and dark chocolate. 91.

Fairview Cellars Iconoclast 2009 ($119.90). This wine is also 100% Cabernet Sauvignon but it spent 27 months in barrel (new and used). The wine is rich on the palate, with depth and complexity. There is vanilla and cassis on the nose, leading to flavours of black currant, prune, cola and coffee. 93.

 Robert Van Westen (left), who runs Van Westen Vineyards near Naramata, comes by his salt of the earth personality naturally. His family has been growing fruit, mostly cherries, on the Naramata Bench since his parents immigrated from Holland in 1951.

The winery has taken over a former fruit packing house. Robert runs the tasting room, when it is open, with a warm informality. He also delivers his wine personally to many of his customers. When he can’t do it, he has a sister in Vancouver who will also deliver.

Van Westen Viognier 2012 ($N/A). This is voluptuous in texture, with aromas and flavours of citrus and apricot, with subtle spice on the finish. 90.

Van Westen Vino Grigio 2012 ($19.90 for 530 cases). This is a refreshing, crisp Pinot Gris with aromas of citrus and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. 90.

Van Westen Vivacious 2013 ($19.90). This is a crisp Pinot Blanc, with aromas and flavours of apples, with a hint of citrus. 90.

Van Westen/DiBello Pinot Noir 2012 ($34.90 for 125 cases). The VD on the label reflects that this is a joint venture wine made by Rob and by Tom DiBello. It begins with aromas of toasty red fruit, leading to flavours of cherry. The firm texture suggests this is a Pinot Noir that should be aged a few more years. 89.

Van Westen Vivre La Vie 2010 ($29.90). This is a Merlot with a concentrated texture. It has aromas and flavours of blueberry, mulberry and blackberry with a peppery note on the finish. 90.

Van Westen Voluptuous 2010 ($29.90 for 218 cases). This is 66% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc. The texture has grip, as it should have in a wine designed to develop in bottle for at least six more years. At this tasting, Rob also allowed guests to sample three previous vintages, including a 2006 which is drinking very well. The 2010 has aromas of cassis and sage, with a medley of flavour including black currant, black cherry, herbs and chocolate. 91


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Blue Grouse is getting a new winery

Blue Grouse winemaker Bailey Williamson

Now under new ownership, the Cowichan Valley’s 21-year-old Blue Grouse Estate Winery is expanding with the construction of a new winery.

The added capacity will enable this winery to increase its production above the boutique volumes made by founder Hans Kiltz.

On retiring in 2012, Hans sold the winery to Paul Brunner (right), a Canadian mining executive who still splits his time between the winery and an office in Lima, Peru (his wife has family in Peru). He was drawn to buy a winery on Vancouver Island in part because he has a brother in Nanaimo.

“We had been looking for a vineyard or a “lifestyle” type of thing for a long time, six or seven years any way,” Paul told me in 2012. “My wife actually found this winery.”

This is a property with a colourful history. The first vines were planted here in 1983 by John Harper (left), a legend in British Columbia viticulture who died in 2001. He had selected arguably one of the best sites in the Cowichan Valley. His work was derailed by a group of promoters whose proposal for a winery and an associated research program flopped.

The property was acquired in 1990 by Hans Kiltz (right), a German-born veterinarian. He had spent many years working in Africa. He moved to Vancouver Island to give his children access to good schools. He intended to transfer his skills to fishing farming but, when that industry went into recession, he switched to winemaking.

He extended the Harper vineyard ultimately to eight and a half acres. “I knew about the vineyard,” says Bailey who once worked in Victoria restaurants. “I always thought that the varieties that Hans was growing were inspired. He wasn’t trying to push the rock up hill.”

Hans produced only estate-grown wines. The first vintage was 1989 and the winery opened in 1993. Blue Grouse is well-regarded for its wines, especially Pinot Gris, Ortega and Pinot Gris. The wines were sold almost entirely on Vancouver Island.

Paul Brunner and Bailey Williamson, his winemaker, are setting out to expand production and raise the profile of Blue Grouse.

In June, the winery announced: “Construction is now underway on a new modernized winery and tasting room, with architectural design inspired by the winery’s namesake bird.  The roofline echoes the curve of a grouse’s head and neck, and finishing touches reflect the palette of the bird’s feathers.” The architect is Joe Chauncey of Boxwood Architects in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the winery has begun assessing the potential for expanding its vineyard. “Once it is all down, we should have roughly 20 acres under vine here,” Bailey says. “We will maintain that for the estate label.”

Bailey also has developed a second label, Quill, for wines that will use purchased grapes. “We need to have a saleable production of around 5,000 cases before it becomes a real business,” Bailey says. “It is a whole different model.”

The winery’s 2013 production was 2,700 cases. The rate at which that expands to the target will be governed by sales. That’s why a new label has been created and why Blue Grouses’ modest winery is being transformed into a destination winery. There will be a large new tasting room as well as an industrial kitchen for catering special events.

“The phone rings off the hook about having weddings here,” Bailey says.

The son of an accountant, Bailey grew up in a family that often had wine on the table. His interest in wine was confirmed in his previous food industry career. “I worked as a chef for 20 years before I got into this line,” he says.

“I landed on the island in 1993 and worked around the kitchens in Victoria. In 2000, I was looking for a change.” He went to the Okanagan, working several vintages at Sumac Ridge and taking winemaking course at Okanagan College.

“Then I went down to McLaren Vale and did a six-month stint there with Hardy’s,” he says. “I had a great time in Australia and was profoundly changed by the experience. “I came back to the Okanagan and worked around at a number of places. Then I was back here on the island for two years and got a job at Merridale making cider, which I found very fascinating and interesting. I left Merridale and was toying with the idea of going to learn to make cheese.”

Then he met Michael Bartier, who has just become the winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards. Bailey confided he would like to keep making wine, but in a stable job, not just working vintages. He was offered a job at Road 13, returned to the Okanagan, and settled down under Michael’s tutelage.  “That was a seminal opportunity for me, to spend enough time in the cellar to learn and understand what was going on,” Bailey says. 

That wealth of experience stands him in good stead at Blue Grouse, which he joined in 2012. As well, his Okanagan contacts have been useful in contracting the premium Okanagan grapes he needs to expand the Quill brand.

Here are notes on the current wines at Blue Grouse.

Blue Grouse Siegerrebe 2012 ($18 for 120 cases). This is a refreshing, juicy white with aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lime. An herbal note and spice on the nose and on the finish add to the wine’s easy appeal. 88.

Blue Grouse Ortega 2012 ($19 for 250 cases). This fruity wine has tropical aromas and flavours, including lychee and ripe peach. 88.

Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2013 ($18.50). Bailey fermented a small portion in barrel while giving lees contact to the tank-fermented portion. The object was to give the wine a fleshier texture and he succeeded. The wine has citrus aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and herbs. 90.

Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2009 ($23 for 253 cases). Five years maturity has given this softened the wine’s robust tannins. Bottle aging has developed a good Burgundian complexity, with an earthy note to the cherry aromas. It has flavours of black cherry, with a spicy finish. This was a gold medal winner at the All Canadian Wine Awards this spring. 90.

Quill White Wine 2012 (17.00 for 650 cases). This is 52% Pinot Blanc, 34% Ortega, 14% Riesling. There are aromas and flavours of apple, pear and lime. The wine has a dry finish, with flavours that linger. 88.

Quill Rosé 2012 ($16 for 150 cases). This is 47% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Noir, 12% Gamay Noir, 1% Black Muscat. An appealing dry rosé, it aromas of cranberry and cherry, leading to flavours of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. 89.

Quill Red Wine 2012 ($19 for 205 cases). This is 47% Cabernet Foch, 21% Maréchal Foch, 21% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Libre. This wine won gold at the All Canadians this spring in the red hybrids class. The two Cabernet varieties are Blattner hybrids and they contribute smoky notes to the aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, currant and blackberry. There are cedar notes on the dry finish. 88.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blue Mountain releases two fine 2013 whites

 Photo: Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety

If one needs a reminder of the contribution of mature vines to good wine, pick up a bottle of Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars’s 2013 Pinot Blanc, a bargain at $17.90.

The Pinot Blanc vines in this vineyard – two French clones – were planted in 1985. The variety was the star of the Becker Project, an industry trial of varietals that ran from 1977 to 1985.

I can’t say that was the sole reason why Ian Mavety planted the variety on his Okanagan Falls property. Ian always marches to his own drummer. However, this was the time when he had begun to transition the vineyard from hybrid varieties to vinifera.

Subsequently, he added Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and (in 2006) Sauvignon Blanc. These largely Burgundian choices emerged from his conclusion that the Okanagan Falls terroir had more in common with Burgundy than with either Bordeaux or Germany.

The Blue Mountain winery opened in 1992 and has consistently been one of the best in the Okanagan.

It is interesting that Ian, who can be something of a contrarian, would stick with Pinot Blanc. As well as the variety grows in the valley, it has struggled for profile compared with more popular Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. With some producers, the wines were so bland that I once said that Pinot Blanc was “the Holiday Inn of wines.”

By comparison, Blue Mountain’s 2013 Pinot Blanc is a suite at the Fairmont. The grapes were whole cluster pressed for greater purity of fruit flavours. Sixty per cent of the wine was fermented in stainless steel; the other 40% was fermented and aged six months in four-year-old French oak barrels. The latter also was aged on the lees, with minimal stirring, for a few months to enhance the texture. The two lots were blended in May.

This complex wine has aromas and flavours of apples and peaches, with a slight herbal note on the dry finish. The wine is full on the palate and the flavours linger a long time. 91.

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($18.90). Some of the earlier vintages of this wine had struck me as too austere. Winemaker Matt Mavety nailed it with this vintage. Again, the grapes were whole cluster pressed, with 65% fermented in stainless steel while 35% was fermented and aged four months in French oak (two to four years old). The wine spent a few months on the lees for texture. The lots were blended in April.  This is an elegant wine with aromas and flavours of grapefruit and with an herbal note that recalls Sancerre. The texture gives the wine a long rich finish. 91.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Upper Bench releases blockbuster reds.

Photo: Gavin and Shana Miller

Judging from three new red wines, Penticton’s Upper Bench Estate Winery is being turned around brilliantly by winemaker Gavin Miller and his wife Shana, an accomplished cheesemaker.

The three reds, all from 2012, can fairly be described as blockbusters. A Zweigelt, a Pinot Noir and a Merlot, each wine is bold and packed with fruit.

The estate-grown Zweigelt has been described by another winemaker as the “best in Canada.” While I know of only two or three good Canadian Zweigelts, this really is a superior bottle.

The variety, a red which makes Austria’s best reds, was planted in this vineyard by Klaus Stadler, the German brewmaster who opened the first winery on this property in 2001 under the name, Benchland. He released one or two vintages of Zweigelt. His wine was a lean and simple red. Part of the problem was that Klaus would not hear of using oak barrels. A stainless steel brewer through and through, he feared that porous barrels simply were too susceptible to hosting harmful bacteria.

The Benchland wines had such a lukewarm reception that Klaus sold the winery in 2004 and returned to Germany. The new owner, Keith Holman, renamed the place Stonehill Winery. The wines did not improve. In 2010, Stonehill and Holman’s six other wineries slid into receivership.

Gavin Miller came along the following year. Backed by pulp and paper tycoon Wayne Nygren, he took over the winery, renaming it Upper Bench for the street it is on. Previously, Gavin had been a winemaker first at Poplar Grove and then at Painted Rock. Shana, who had learned her craft at Poplar Grove, converted part of the winery to cheesemaking.

The back label on each of the newly released reds provides the clue about why these wines are so satisfying. Gavin has provided the tonnage of grapes per acre for each wine. The tonnages range between 3 ¼ and 3 ¾ an acre. Those are yields that, especially in a fine vintage like 2012, result in wines that are generous in concentration and ripe in flavour.

And Klaus would be horrified to learn that each wine has been aged in barrel between 14 and 18 months. The fact is that serious red wines need barrel aging.

Here are notes on the wines. Consult the winery website for cheese pairings.

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012 ($25 for 180 cases). The vines were cropped 3.27 tons an acre. The wine begins with aromas of plum, blackberry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and liquorice. (The winery’s notes also speak of Turkish Delight, pomegranate and orange peel.) A hint of black chocolate emerges on the finish of this richly-flavoured wine. 90.

Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012 ($28 for 331 cases). The vines were cropped 3.4 tons an acre. This is a robust, earthy Pinot Noir with aromas of black cherry and spice. On the palate, there are notes of raspberry with chocolate and cherry on the finish. The tannins are smooth, if muscular, leading me to think this will benefit from three or four years of further age. 89-90.

Upper Bench Merlot 2012 ($30 for 440 cases). The vines were cropped at 3.63 tons an acre. The wine is a tour de force of aroma and flavour, with a fine concentrated texture. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, mulberry, and black currant. On the palate, there are bold flavours of black cherry, spice, vanilla and chocolate. The alcohol of 14.3% indicates that very ripe grapes were used (the grapes were picked in early November 2012.) 92.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Comox Valley’s 40 Knots Winery changes hands

 Photo: Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig. Photo by Sara Silver

The largest vineyard and winery in the Comox Valley, 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, has just been acquired by a business couple who have moved from Fort St. John.

This is the second Comox winery that has changed hands this year. Earlier, film maker James Cameron bought Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery. The two transactions represent a show of confidence in the region’s small, but growing, wine industry.

The new owners of 40 Knots, which opened its tasting room just two years ago, are Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig.
The news release from the winery says this about the new owners:
“Hailing from Fort St John, the couple were seeking to start the next chapter of their lives in Comox. Layne, who grew up on a Saskatchewan farm, wanted to put his love of the land into play, while Brenda wanted to put her business management skills toward building a successful family business, one that would ultimately involve their grown children. It was an added bonus for Layne, a pilot, that the Comox air force base is nearby. Planes can often be seen overhead adding to the force of energy that surrounds the site. The pair met founder Bill Montgomery who was pursuing retirement and quickly came to an agreement.”
Bill and Michal, his wife, had grown accustomed to planes overhead since buying this property in 1990 but it clearly is still a thrill for visitors and for those tending the nearly 40,000 vines here.

Bill (right) also was new to the wine business. Born in Prince Rupert in 1949, he had operated a towboat company in Vancouver until he sold it and moved to Comox. He operated a hobby farm for a number of years before making the plunge and planting vines.

He prepared the 18-acre vineyard on a gravel-rich plateau above the Powell River Ferry dock, burying drain tiles so that the vines would not have wet feet. The vines were planted in 2007 and 2008. About a quarter of the vineyard was Pinot Noir. The other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Merlot. The latter, the result of poor advice from a consultant, was a startling choice for this cool growing region. When Bill discovered that Merlot would not ripen, he replaced the vines – about 3,200 – with Pinot Noir and early-ripening Siegerrebe.

A grandly renovated former barn was turned into a 10,000 square foot winery, However, when the elegant tasting room opened in the summer of 2012, the Montgomerys listed the winery and its executive home for $4,900,000. Bill had perhaps bitten off more than he could chew.

“I am 63 and I wanted to know if there was a market out there,” he told me in 2012. “I have been living and breathing this place since I started it. As you are well aware, it is seven days a week. I thought we would kind of shut it down at the end of November, come back in February, early March. That’s not the way it works at all. It is 12 months of the year.”

The Craigs appear to be younger and they have lined up some help. To quote the news release:

“Brenda and Layne will maintain the name 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery. A line-up of Okanagan-grown wines is added under the name Stall Speed. The pair will be working with Summerland-based Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Matt Dumayne, who will assist with viticulture and work with Vineyard Manager, Lucas Renshaw, on the wine portfolio.
“The new Stall Speed label, depicting an illustration of the air speed indicator from Layne's plane, offer a Meritage and a Merlot Icewine.

" ‘The wines that we can craft from Comox-grown grapes are delicate, aromatic and fresh. Our reason for adding a lineup of wines from the Okanagan is to allow for some bolder reds and Icewine that we cannot achieve locally so that we can present something for everyone's taste’, noted Layne.”

The current 40 Knots portfolio includes a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, a rosé and an aromatic blend of Pinot Gris and Schönburger called Whitecaps. As well, the winery has a 2010 sparkling wine, Spindrift Brut, made with a classic cuvée of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine won a gold medal in a 2013 competition.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Charlie Baessler’s rosé does his mother-in-law proud

Photo: Corcelettes Estate Winery's Charlie Baessler

Charlie Baessler, the winemaker for family-owned Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen Valley, earned a fine store of Brownie points last year from his mother-in-law, Joann Laserich.

She owns Ladyhawke Vineyard near Keremeos. The 8.9 acres of vines, most of them planted in 2007, includes 1,900 Zweigelt vines, along with Maréchal Foch, Riesling and a little Gewürztraminer.

Last fall, Joann travelled around the Okanagan, trying to sell her Zweigelt to one or other of the handful of wineries that make wine from that Austrian red varietal. When she could find no buyer, she appealed to Charlie. He turned the grapes into an excellent rosé called Oråcle.

Now, who wouldn’t want a son-in-law like that?

Located near Cawston, Corcelettes is a recent addition to the wineries of the Similkameen Valley. It released its first wines last year and now offers four wines in its recently opened tasting room. Visiting hours are 11 am to 5 pm Thursday through Monday (and by appointment at 250.408.8825).

Here is the profile from my new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which will be released by the end of July.

Chasselas vines dominate the one-hectare (2.5-acre) vineyard at the winery, reflecting the Swiss heritage of Urs and Barbara Baessler and son Charlie, the winemaker. However, this family came to launch a winery in the Similkameen Valley by a circuitous route.

“It all started because my mom and dad on our place in Switzerland had the best blood line in Simmental cattle,” Urs says. A friendly big-boned man with a booming voice, Urs explains that his given name means bear; it fits him. Born in 1954, he was 17 when four Manitoba farmers bought six Simmental heifers from Domaine de Corcelettes, the Baessler family farm on Lake Neuchatel. Urs accompanied the heifers to Canada, stayed the summer and decided he wanted to farm here. He spent several years travelling back and forth, learning how to farm in Canada while finishing compulsory military service in Switzerland. Staked by his grandfather with a down payment, Urs and Barbara bought a grain farm near Brandon and grew their first crop in 1978.

When wheat prices collapsed in the early 1990s, they diversified with a buffalo farm in Wyoming. Urs figures he was 10 years too early. There was little market for farmed buffalo among consumers who thought he was selling an endangered species. “I said let’s quit this,” he declared in frustration. “We did not like the winters either.” He and Barbara moved to British Columbia in 2007, attracted by mountains reminding them of Switzerland, bought an organic garlic farm near Cawston and converted it to vines in 2010. “The goal always was to have some grapes,” Urs says.

The goal became feasible after son Charlie, born in 1985, completed a degree in environmental engineering at the University of Lethbridge and came to visit his parents, taking a job as a vineyard worker. “Farming chose me,” he says. In 2008, he joined Burrowing Owl Vineyards, eventually becoming one of the vineyard managers. The Baessler family decided that Charlie would be their winemaker, with Charlie learning under the tutelage of Bertus Albertyn, then Burrowing Owl’s winemaker.

The winery, with a modest target of 1,500 cases by the fourth year, debuted with 112 cases of Trivium 2012 , a white blend anchored by Chasselas, and 85 cases of Menhir 2011, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Menhir is the name for stone obelisks erected throughout Europe for ceremonial purposes by prehistoric peoples. A menhir stands on the Baessler family farm in Switzerland and Urs intends to erect a similar boulder at the winery.

Since that was written, Charlie has become the vineyard manager for nearby Clos du Soleil Winery. His wife, Jesce, has become the tasting room manager for Clos. They juggle these day jobs with helping Barbara and Urs Baessler run Corcelettes.

Corcelettes bottled 785 cases of wine for the 2013 selling season. The growth plans are measured and cautious.

“Next year, with our red production and our whites coming on, we will do closer to 1,000 cases,” Charlie says. “We don’t want to get to a place too soon where we have to do a lot of additional renovations and add-ons. We’ll probably do 1,000 to 1,200 cases for the next couple of years and then look at 1,500 cases; and evaluate the sales and see how interested people are in the wines.”

Consumers should be interested in these wines, which are well-made and reasonably priced.

Photo: Sign in Corcelettes vineyard

Here are notes on the wines.

Corcelettes Trivium 2013 ($19.90 for 365 cases). This wine is 50% Chasselas, 36% Gewürztraminer and 14% Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of spice and rose petals, leading to favours of citrus, apple and peach. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Corcelettes Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.90 for 165 cases). This begins with classic spicy aromas. A richly textured wine, it has flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a long finish. 90.

Corcelettes  Oråcle 2013 ($17.90 for 125 cases). The red flesh of the Zweigelt grape has given this wine the pink hue of a Provence rosé. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and pomegranate, with a spicy, dry finish. 90.

Corcelettes Menhir 2012 ($24.90 for 93 cases). The wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. It begins with smoky red berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, mulberry and plum. The Syrah adds a gamey, earthy not. The long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 91.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Class of 2014: Deep Roots Winery

Photo: Deep Roots Winery owners Bryan and Debra Hardman

The Naramata Bench’s bumper crop of new wineries in 2014 (fine and counting) includes Deep Roots Winery, operated by one of the region’s pioneering farming families.

The Deep Roots tasting room, which opened last month, has some advantages. It is close to two other wineries, Van Western Vineyards and Elephant Island Orchard Wines. That sort of critical mass appeals to wine tourists. Secondly, the compact tasting room, with a second-floor deck, provides great views over vineyards and Okanagan Lake.

More important, there is a warm welcome provided by the Hardman family, who are the owners, and the other tasting room personnel. Most important, the wines are well-made and moderately priced.

Here is the profile from the new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which will be in stores by the beginning of August.

The winery’s name was prompted by the Hardman family’s four generations on the Naramata Bench. Bryan Hardman’s grandfather came here in 1919 after four years of military service, working initially with pioneer fruit grower Carl Aikins who once owned about 250 hectares (600 acres).
The Hardmans became major fruit growers as well. Bryan, who was born in 1950, once owned 20 hectares (50 acres) of apple trees. He was also an industry activist, serving as president of B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., the Okanagan’s apple marketing organization. It is famously tough to make a living with apples, even for a grower as progressive as Bryan who regularly embraced trendy new varieties like Gala and Fuji. “Behind any successful farmer around here, you will find his wife has a good job,” Bryan quips. His wife, Debra, who has a master’s in clinical psychology, manages the Ministry for Children and Families in the South Okanagan.

Bryan planted two hectares (five acres) of grapes in 1996 “just to see if I liked it.” When he did, he gradually replaced his apple trees with vines and left the apple business entirely in 2010. Now he owns eight hectares (20 acres) of vineyard and manages another four hectares (10 acres).

He began thinking about a winery after his son, Will, who was born in 1983, began working in the vineyards in 2006. That propelled Will toward winemaking. In addition to taking course at Okanagan College, Will has done crushes with wineries in New Zealand and South Africa. He also worked with Rob Van Westen where Deep Roots made its 2012 vintage, a total of 13 barrels of Merlot, Malbec and Syrah. The new Tillar Road winery was completed for the 2013 harvest when the winery added Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gamay Noir to its portfolio.

The winery launched with just over 1,000 cases of wine, most of which likely will be sold from the wine shop. The winery has the capacity to produce between 3,000 and 5,000 cases, with Bryan still selling some of his crop to CedarCreek, among other wineries. Almost all of the Deep Roots wines are estate grown. “We’re not going to release anything that we are not proud of,” Bryan promises.

Deep Roots Winery
884 Tillar Road, Site 5, Comp 20, RR1,
Naramata BC V0H 1N0.
T 250.460.2390
When to visit: daily 11 am to 5:30 pm

Here are notes on the wines.

Deep Roots Pinot Gris 2013 ($19). Slightly off-dry, this fleshy wine has aromas and flavours of peaches, apricots and spicy baked pears.  88.

Deep Roots Chardonnay 2013 ($22). Although 40% of this wine spent time in new French oak, the 60% that was matured in stainless steel ensures bright, fruit-forward flavours of peach, pear and papaya. 89.

Deep Roots Rosé 2013 ($19). Made with Merlot, this wine charms with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. A touch of residual sugar gives it a juicy texture. 88.

Deep Roots Gamay 2013 ($24). This is a lively red, with aromas and flavours of cherries. The distinctive peppery notes on the finish add complexity to this very quaffable wine. 88.

Deep Roots Merlot 2012 ($24). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry and black berry. On the palate, the vibrant flavours include black cherry, black currant and spice. 89.

Deep Roots Malbec 2012 ($28). One of the wine shop’s personnel calls this a “cowboy wine.” The characterization is not as offbeat as it seems. The wine is both robust and rustic, with boisterous aromas and flavours of black cherry, vanilla, plum and leather. 90.

Deep Roots Syrah 2012 ($34). The winery describes this as a “ripe and brooding” cool climate Syrah. It begins with aromas of blueberries, blackberries and black cherry. Those carry through to the flavour, along with notes of raspberry. The wine also shows the classic gamey flavours and the hints of pepper. 90.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Class of 2014: Mocojo Winery

Photo: Ken and Dianne Oh in the Mocojo winery

The Naramata Bench now accounts for almost a quarter of the wineries in the Okanagan.

While such a concentration of wineries must bring some problems (traffic jams, shortage of hotel rooms), a wine tourist can set himself or herself up here for a week of exceptional tasting.

Mocojo Winery, which opened this spring, can’t do anything about the traffic but it has addressed the accommodation issue: there is also a bed and breakfast here. Tasting room hours are limited; call ahead.

Here is the profile of Mocojo which appears in the soon-to-be released fifth edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Kon Oh came to Canada from South Korea at 16 when his family moved to Alberta. It was his father’s background in agriculture that brought Kon to wine (eventually).  In Korea, his father was a leader in the 4-H movement, an international agricultural youth movement. That brought him into contact with 4-H members in Alberta. “He got a taste of western culture and lifestyle and he decided to immigrate to Canada,” Kon says.

The family settled in Lacombe. “When we were going to school, my father started a little vegetable garden and we were supplying mostly Korean stores in the city,” Kon says. “We were growing radishes and cabbages, and stuff like that, for Korean people. We started with a little greenhouse in the early 1980s.”

After a stint at retail employment, Kon picked up the family’s bent for agriculture. “The farming life started with vegetables,” he recalls. “I was not really thrilled to grow vegetables. It is a lot of work. I spent a year of research to develop the fresh-cut flower business in the greenhouse. We did that for 10 years, growing fresh-cut roses, competing with the South American cut flower industry.”

He and his wife Dianne built a successful business, even with the disadvantage of heating a greenhouse in Alberta’s winters. “We were working pretty much 24/7 cutting roses,” Kon remembers. Ready for a change in lifestyle, they closed the flower business in 2008 and bought an established vineyard near Naramata.

The number of visitors they hosted that summer led them to develop a bed and breakfast; and the enthusiasm of wine touring guests prompted the opening of a winery. “The amount of wine that was purchased by our guests, it was crazy!” Dianne says. There also was the need to add value to the vineyard’s production. “You know what the vineyard can bring in financially after five harvests,” she says. “We would like to be a little more self-sufficient.”

For winemaking, Kon has been mentored by winemaker Richard Kanazawa, a neighbour and a friend. The debut production in 2013 was 700 cases, including Maréchal Foch, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Malbec. The wines are marketed under the Mojoco label, created from the first syllables of the names of their three children. And Kon is not planning to get much bigger than 1,000 cases, leaving time for a new interest – a lieutenant in the Naramata fire department.

Here are notes on the wines.

Mocojo Gewürztraminer 2013 ($18 for 227 cases). The touch of residual sweetness will make this popular in the wine shop. The wine has aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lychee. 88.

Mocojo Viognier 2013 ($20 for 143 cases). For those who don’t care for the fat and oily style with this variety, this is the ideal wine. It is light and fresh with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and mango. The finish is crisp. 89.

Mocojo Maréchal Foch 2013 ($18 for 300 cases). This was a tank sample but the wine has since been bottled for release later in summer. It is a soft, juicy red with black cherry flavours that mingle with a fruitcake spiciness. 89.

Mocojo Malbec 2013 ($24 for 62 cases; October release). This wine begins with aromas of pepper and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry and cherry, with a light dash of pepper on the finish. 90.

Mocojo Winery
1202 Gawne Road
Naramata BC V0I 1No
T 250.496.4063

Burrowing Owl and Calliope releases in 2014

Photo: Burrowing Owl's Tom DiBello

Among the new releases from Burrowing Owl Winery, the 2013 wines draw a little extra attention.

That was the first Burrowing Owl vintage for Tom DiBello, the University of California-trained vintner who spent 10 years at CedarCreek before leaving in 2010 to consult and to develop his own label.

Consulting went on the backburner in 2013 when he was offered the cellar at Burrowing Owl, one of the south Okanagan’s most iconic wineries.

It must have been a comfortable fit. A solid California winemaking style has been stamped on Burrowing Owl from its first vintage in 1997. Consulting winemaker Bill Dyer, who had been the winemaker at Sterling Vineyards, was hired and the first seven vintages were made under his direction.

He was followed by a succession of winemakers including Steve Wyse, Scott Stefishen, Jeff Del Nin and, most recently, Bertus Albertyn. While Steve was mentored by Bill Dyer, Scott and Jeff both trained in Australia. Bertus is a graduate of South Africa’s top wine school.

Throughout all those changes, the Burrowing Owl house style remained remarkably consistent. In part, that is because the vineyard sources have been consistent and have been farmed very well by Burrowing Owl. However, the Dyer style still seems clear, especially in the winery’s ripe and full-bodied reds.

The winery has yet to release any of the reds made by Tom in 2013. Judging from the whites, however, there are no major departures in style that was not dictated by the vintage.  And the 2013 vintage generally was a good one. Undoubtedly, the wines were tweaked by Tom. Good winemakers never rest on the laurels of their predecessors.

While that was Tom’s first year working with Burrowing Owl fruit, he is quite familiar with the south Okanagan terroir. He made some of CedarCreek’s big reds from that winery’s vineyard just north of Osoyoos. If memory serves, CedarCreek also had a vineyard southeast of Osoyoos, as does Burrowing Owl.

The new terroir for Tom probably is the Similkameen. Chris Wyse, Burrowing Owl’s president, has a vineyard near Keremeos. The fruit for those vines support production for Calliope Wines, a winery that the Wyse family launched several years ago. The new Calliope releases include three delicious whites from the 2013 vintage.

Here are notes on current releases.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($13.90). This is made with Similkameen fruit. Refreshing crisp and tangy, the wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with herbal notes on the finish. 90.

Calliope Viognier 2013 ($15.99).  This is also made with Similkameen fruit. The wine begins with aromas of apricot, peach and pineapple; it delivers flavours of apricot, cantaloupe and citrus. There is a touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.

Calliope Figure 8 White 2013 ($15.99). This is quite a complex wine at a budget price. It is a blend of 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 21% Viognier, 15% Chardonnay and 12% Riesling. The Chardonnay was fermented in oak barrels while the Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in oak puncheons. The other varietals were fermented cool in stainless steel. The individual wines were blended four months after vintage and bottle-aged another two months before release. The wine is vibrantly fresh with aromas of grapefruit, melon and grass. It delivers flavours of lime, peach and apples, with a backbone of minerals and a dry finish. 90.

Calliope Rosé 2012 ($13.90). This is 70% Syrah, 30% Viognier. It has aromas of raspberry and spice, with flavours recalling raspberry jam. 89.

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2012 ($15.99). This is 54% Merlot, 34% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the fruit in this exceptional vintage came from Burrowing Owl’s Oliver and Osoyoos vineyards. The wine is generous in texture, with aromas of plums, cherries and spice herbs. It delivers flavours of black currant, blueberry, cherry and vanilla with notes of pepper on the finish. 90.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This wine begins with aromas of Asian pears, apples and nectarines, leading to flavours of pear and grapefruit with notes of herbs and spice on the dry but refreshing finish. Most of this wine was cool-fermented in stainless steel but a small portion was barrel-fermented, adding texture and spice. 90.

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011 ($25). This wine was barrel-fermented (mostly French oak) and was left on the lees in barrel for nine months. The lees were stirred every two weeks to promote the wine’s texture. The oak provides a subtle and elegant frame around the citrus aromas and flavours of papaya, nectarine and grapefruit. 91.

Burrowing Owl Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22). A new wine in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, this is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sémillon. Sixty percent of the wine was barrel-fermented and a portion was aged in a remarkably complicated selection of new (7%) and older French oak, along with some American and Hungarian oak. Here, the winemaker was giving himself a rich palate for blending the final wine. The wine is luscious with tropical fruit aromas and flavours – lemon, guava and gooseberry. The creamy texture is balanced against bright acidity. The finish just doesn’t stop. 92.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010 ($30). A wine has the juicy and generous style that is the hallmark of Burrowing Owl. Savoury on the nose, it has aromas of black cherry, plum and blackberry. The wine delivers flavours of those fruits and berries, along with notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. 91.

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2011 ($30 and available only at the winery). This wine also is new in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, made with fruit from the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. The wine begins with aromas of violets, spice and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and mulberry mingled with notes of spice and black pepper. Even though the wine has been aged in oak for 20 months (only a third new), the texture is still firm. It will age well. 90-91. 

Burrowing Owl Athene 2011 ($38). This wine was born several years ago when Burrowing Owl had to top up a half-filled tank of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah. The wine was a big hit. Now the grapes – 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon – are co-fermented and aged 18 months in barrel. This is a ripe and juicy wine; while 2011 was a cool year, the grapes were not picked until November 7. To steal another winery’s quote, this is the steel fist (Cabernet) in the velvet glove (Syrah). There are aromas of pepper and black cherry, leading to flavours of  blackberry, blueberry and cassis. There is a touch white pepper on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011 ($33). These grapes were also picked late in the season, resulting in a big ripe wine with 14% alcohol. It has black cherry and vanilla aromas with black pepper. On the palate, it shows the variety’s classic gamey, leathery flavours that recall the meat counter of a deli. The texture is rich and generous. The touch of pepper on the finish wraps up a delicious wine. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2011 ($33). The winery was an early proponent of this variety, which is now being embraced by many other producers. The appeal lies in the brambly aromas and flavours – raspberry, blackberry – with touches of pepper and tobacco on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($35). Aged entirely in French oak (30% new), this elegant wine begins with aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, coffee and cola. The texture is firm; this is clearly a wine for cellaring at least five more years. 91.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2009 ($30 for 500 ml). This wine, almost sold out, is now available only at the winery. The winery bottled some in half-litre bottles, thinking that size would be more appealing to restaurants and other consumers than the usual 750 ml size. The winery skipped bottling that size for 2010 and 2011 but have bottled some 2012 in the smaller bottle. The 2009 Meritage is a terrific red from a great vintage. This is 38% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, it begins with a dramatic aroma of black cherry and cassis. Fruit flavours fill the mouth with grace notes of coffee and cocoa on the finish. 95.