Thursday, August 28, 2014

Inniskillin's Sandor Mayer returns to Hungary

Photo: Winemaker Sandor Mayer

After just over 25 years in Canada, Inniskillin Okanagan winemaker Sandor Mayer is returning to his native Hungary in September.

The decision, which has been under consideration for several years, is strictly family related. “My parents are in Hungary,” he says. “My father is 87. I would like to be close to them when they need help.”

He describes the decision as giving back. “When I started my career, they helped me a lot to study winemaking and viticulture,” Sandor says. “They supported me in the school. My father has a small vineyard. I will certainly be involved in that. While he has relatively good health, we are going to do some things together.”

Sandor has good winery contacts in Hungary and plans to pursue opportunities there.

He leaves a considerable hole in the Okanagan’s winemaking talent pool. At times, the weight of his contribution has not always been fully appreciated, perhaps because of his low-key personality and – unusual for a winemaker – his lack of ego. Among his peers, he is highly respected.

Sandor was born in 1958 in the Hungarian village of Jánoshalma. He began making wine with his father when he was 14. He spent four years studying horticulture and viticulture at a technical high school and moved on to college for a bachelor’s degree in enology and viticulture in 1981 from the University of Kecskemét.

After three years of mandatory service in the army, he took over an advanced position in the Central Research Station at Kecskemét in 1984 and worked with a leading Hungarian grape researcher. Two years later, he took a job as a vineyard manager in the Lake Balaton region in central Hungary.

When neither the salary nor the opportunities were adequate, he and his wife, Andrea (a graduate of the same university) slipped out of Hungary in 1987 to work in Austria’s Burgenland wine region.

An uncle in the Okanagan sponsored their emigration to Canada in 1988. It was not a propitious time to find work in his field because few jobs were available. 1988 was the year when two-thirds of the vineyards in the Okanagan were pulled out because the hybrid varieties then being grown were judged too mediocre to compete with the wines from California after the free trade agreement took effect.

However, Sandor found a short-term vineyard management job in 1989 with Boucherie Mountain Vineyard, the predecessor to Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. There, Sandor’s knowledge of making wine from botrytis grapes triggered the creation of one of the Okanagan’s great dessert wines, the Quails’ Gate Totally Botrytis-Affected Optima.

Botrytis is a fungus also known as noble rot that, in the right weather conditions, dehydrates grapes and concentrates the flavours and the sugar. The fungus flourishes in misty mornings followed by dry afternoons. It is rare in the Okanagan, where the weather is dry and where, when it rains near harvest, growers take measures to prevent rot of any kind. The vineyard at Quails’ Gate is near the lake and parts of it are susceptible to botrytis. Quails’ Gate founding president Ben Stewart thought it was nasty rot until Sandor arrived.

“I remember in 1989, when I started at Quails’ Gate, picking some botrytis-affected grapes on New Year’s Day,” Sandor told me in 2003. “I made a Tokay type of wine. It turned out to be a very good wine, but in those days, no one knew about botrytis-affected wines in the valley. In fact, they would throw out those berries during the harvest because they were rotten. And Ben did that for four or five years until they realized what a treasure they had on their hands.”

In 1990 Sandor found one of the few permanent jobs then available in the valley: replanting the 23-acre vineyard for Okanagan Vineyards south of Oliver. The vineyard was a failed winery which had been taken over by Alan Tyabji. The vines had all been pulled out in 1988.

Before it could be replanted, Sandor cleared away a tangle of trellis wires, posts, vines and waist high grass. A fire to deal with grass and dead vines burned out of control. Quick work by the Oliver fire department bailed Sandor out.

Against “expert” advice, the Dark Horse Vineyard (as it came to be called) was planted entirely to vinifera, with Cabernet Sauvignon being especially successful. 

“Imagine!,” Sandor marveled in a 2007 interview with me. “We committed for Cabernet and it just worked out fine. In fact, if I recall, the first crop was picked in 1993; on the third year, Cabernet produced a decent crop. Since then, we have never had a bad vintage except for 1999. It was a cool fall. But still, we were able to produce a decent wine from the Cabernet. In 1999, we had two frosts – one in September, one in early October.”

He regards planting Dark Horse Vineyard and making wines from it his greatest accomplishment in the Okanagan, far greater than some of the many awards his wines have won. "Everybody wins medals," he says modestly.

Okanagan Vineyards was acquired in 1996 by Inniskillin Wines, one of the stable of wineries owned by Vincor, then Canada’s largest wine company. Subsequently, Vincor developed about 800 acres of vineyard in the south Okanagan. These included small blocks of varieties that were experimental in the Okanagan, such as Zinfandel.

Sandor was assigned to make the wines from these varieties for what Inniskillin Okanagan called its acclaimed Discovery Series.  It played to one of his strengths: in Hungary, he made many experimental wines to prove up new varieties. The Discovery Series was launched in the 2002 vintage with the Okanagan’s first Zinfandel. The program grew to include varieties such as Malbec, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.

 “We would like to try the potential of these varieties,” Mayer explained in one interview. “Different wines for wine enthusiasts and wine lovers. If any of these do not perform well in the future, we will drop them, and bring another one into the group. It is an evolution. The most important is the wine quality.”

Sandor’s return to Hungary at this time also may have been spurred when Constellation Brands (which took over Vincor) closed the aging Inniskillin winery last winter. It is now used by Constellation’s viticulture team.

Both Inniskillin’s production and the tasting room have moved to the Jackson-Triggs winery north of Oliver, no doubt changing the winemaker’s duties and responsibilities.

Throughout his Okanagan career, Sandor has been generous with other winemakers who sought to tap his expertise.

 “Anybody who asks me, I will answer,” Sandor told me in a 2002 interview. “It’s no problem. If they ask me, I help and try to bypass for them all the failures they could go through. I don’t mind because it is not a competition for me at all. Making top quality wine is not just one or two pieces of information. It is the art of the whole thing. I cannot copy anybody and they cannot copy me.”

He goes back to grow grapes in Hungary but retains great pride in the Okanagan. “I am taking back with me the biggest respect for the Okanagan Valley, and I will tell my colleagues about this region,” he promises.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The concrete wines at Okanagan Crush Pad

Photo: Concrete fermenters made by Italy's Nico Velo

During the past three years, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has made a huge investment in concrete tanks for fermenting and aging wines.

In 2011, a year after opening, the Summerland winery installed six California-made concrete eggs, each with the capacity of 2,000 litres.

Last year, the winery added eight 4,400-litre concrete tanks made by Nico Velo, a manufacturer in Italy. Nico Velo has also supplied concrete tanks to the Italian winery of Alberto Antonini (below), the consultant who recommended the use of concrete to OCP.

Alberto was on hand three years ago when the eggs arrived and explained his advocacy of concrete rather dramatically.

“Concrete is a nice environment,” he said. “When you smell an empty concrete tank, you smell life. You smell something which is important for making a premium wine. If you do the same with a stainless steel tank, you smell nothing. You smell death. To me, the making of premium wine is about life, it is not about death.”

Several other Okanagan wineries have installed some concrete eggs in the past two years. None has made a more extensive the commitment than OCP has made to this winemaking technology.

Concrete tanks are an example of the old becoming new. Before stainless steel was invented (about 1913), it was routine to find concrete tanks (sometimes glass lined) as well as large wooden vats in most wineries. Rust-resistant stainless steel tanks became ubiquitous because they are far easier to clean and, if desired, to sterilize than wood or concrete.

However, the advocates of concrete believe that the risks around cleanliness can be managed – and the benefits in wine quality are worth taking the risk.

“Pretty much everything in the Haywire portfolio is now in concrete,” says Matt Dumayne, one of the winemakers at OCP. Haywire is the winery’s major brand.  

He explains the perceived benefit of fermenting and aging in concrete: “What we have found in the last couple of years is that it really enhances creaminess, mouthfeel and texture.” He also believes that the wines express the terroir better.

Last year, he did three trial lots of Chardonnay – one in barrel, one in stainless steel and one in concrete.

“The barrel ferment [wine] was obviously quite oaky with glycerol in the texture,” Matt (left) found. “The stainless steel [wine] was very varietally focused, very fruit driven on the nose, with strong acidity, but very linear. The one fermented in concrete seemed to decrease varietal typicity a little bit but the enhanced structure and mouthfeel was far superior to the stainless, I thought.”

OCP has now begun releasing wines “raised” in concrete, leaving consumers to decide whether or not these are better than wines raised in stainless steel or barrels.

The British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch is on board. The LDB ordered 1,000 cases of Haywire White Label Pinot Gris. This is OCP’s biggest sale yet to the LDB. The wine will be available in many liquor stores for the next four months.

Here are notes on current Haywire wines.

Haywire White Label Pinot Gris 2013 ($19.90). In general, white label signifies wines made from grapes grown for Haywire by contracted vineyards. This wine displays the textural generosity of a wine raised in concrete. It is juicy on the palate, with refreshing acidity and with aromas and flavours of citrus and pear. The finish is dry. 89.

Haywire Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22.90). The grapes are from a Summerland vineyard managed by OCP. Matt says the wine “is 100% native ferment [with wild yeast] in concrete. It is very different – 100% Sauvignon Blanc but it has a lot of funk to it.” I am not quite sure what funk might be. I find tropical fruit aromas with flavours of lime and grapefruit. The wine shows some mineral notes but the texture again is juicy and the finish is crisp. 90.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard  Wild Ferment ($29.90). This is 100% Pinot Gris but the varietal has been omitted from the label. The winery is trying to establish its organic Switchback Vineyard as a stand-alone brand.  Think Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which does not put the varietal on its label either. This is a richly textured wine with aromas of honeysuckle and herbs and flavours of pear and citrus. The finish lingers. 92

Haywire Rosé 2013 ($19.90). This is not yet released because the winery believes in giving its rosé wines some bottle age. This is made with Gamay Noir. The wine was fermented and aged six or seven months in concrete eggs. Once again, the texture is juicy, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The finish is dry. 90.

Haywire White Label Pinot Noir 2012 ($22.90). This is also available in the LDB. The grapes are from the Secrest Vineyard near Oliver, a vineyard with which OCP has a long-term contract. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak barrels, preserving the delicacy and the charm of its aromas and savoury cherry flavours. The texture is silky. 90.

Haywire Baby Bub NV ($13.90 for a 375 ml bottle).  This summer wine is a bit of a teaser, with the release of 300 cases for sale at the winery and to restaurants. This is a traditional method sparkling wine, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. A Syrah dosage has given it an appealing rose hue. It is a cheerful and juicy sparkler with lively flavours of strawberry, a summer wine that has been flying of the shelf at the winery. 88

A vintage-dated big brother, simply called Bub, is still aging in bottle. The winery made 1,200 cases in the 2013 vintage, along with another 100 cases of “Ancient Method.” That is a bone dry sparkling wine, made without the usual additional of sugar because the wine is allowed to finish bottle fermentation just with its natural sugar.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big wines from the Similkameen

Photo: Winery owners Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson

The slogan of Ravenswood Winery in California is “no wimpy wine.”

If the slogan were not trademark protected, it could also apply to Kettle Valley Winery’s Great Northern Vineyards in the sun-baked Similkameen Valley.

Ravenswood made its name with bold Zinfandels. The winery’s website is a particularly good resource for information on the varietal.

There is not much Zinfandel planted in British Columbia. I am aware of two blocks in the south Okanagan and two in the Similkameen. No doubt there are more but, because the variety ripens unevenly, some growers shy away from it.

The variety’s uneven ripening often results, paradoxically, in wines with robust alcohols. The reason: by the time all of the berries are ripe, a significant part of the bunch has turned to high-sugar raisins.

Recently, I tasted the impressive Mt. Boucherie Family Reserve Zinfandel 2010 made with Similkameen grapes. Even though 2010 was a cool vintage, the wine still has 14.1% alcohol and is packed with robust fruit.

The Great Northern Zinfandel 2012 is from quite a warm vintage and has a body-warming 15.5% alcohol, with even more fruit. It tastes like Zinfandel has a future in the Similkameen.

The Great Northern Vineyard is owned by Colleen Ferguson and Janet Watts, whose husbands – Bob and Tim - grow the grapes and make the wine for Kettle Valley. The 2012 vintage was only the second for Great Northern. The winemaker for some of the Great Northern wines is Andrew Watts, the New Zealand-trained son of Janet and Tim.

Kettle Valley Winery, which opened in 1996, is named after the legendary rail line that once operated in the Okanagan. The former rail bed, now a walking and biking trail, runs along the top of the Naramata Bench and can be seen from Kettle Valley’s vineyards.

When the Kettle Valley owners launched the first Great Northern wines last year, they found a railroad that once operated in the Similkameen. Conveniently, they allowed them to design labels with a locomotive on them that look very much like the Kettle Valley labels. That is clever branding.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the Kettle Valley Railroad: “The Kettle Valley railroad was built primarily in a mile-for-mile battle with the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railroad (VV&E). The VV&E was actually owned by Great Northern Railway. The competition between the KVR and the VV&E during constructions of both railways was intense and resulted in many areas within the Southern Interior being serviced by two railways, when one would have been sufficient. Eventually, the hatchet was buried between the KVR and VV&E, as they both were forced to collaborate when constructing their railways through the Coquihalla Valley.”

There is even less of the Great Northern rail bed remaining.

Here are notes on the three wines.

Great Northern Vineyards Viognier 2013 ($21 for 162 cases). The wine begins with bold aromas of ripe apricots and hazelnuts. The wine presents a rich and warming palate (alcohol is 15%), with flavours of stone fruits. A portion of this was barrel-fermented and put through malo-lactic fermentation. That probably accounts for the almost buttery texture. The finish persists. 90.

Great Northern Vineyards Syrah 2011 ($24 for 150 cases). This concentrated wine has 13.5% alcohol, reflecting that 2011 was a cool vintage. The vines were cropped only two tons an acre and even then, the fruit was not picked until October 25. The wine begins with aromas of spicy plum and blueberry. The 22 months aging in French oak has polished the tannins. Juicy on the palate, the wine has favours of plum and black cherry, with a touch of spice and pepper on the finish. 90.

Great Northern Vineyards Zinfandel 2012 ($24 for 191 cases). This wine begins with earthy aromas of plum and leather, leading to robust flavours of plum, black cherry and blackberry. The wine presents a huge dollop of ripe sweet berry flavours to the palate. If Ravenswood had made this wine, you know what the tag line would be. 91.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Serendipity Winery and its neighbour

Photo: Therapy Vineyards hilltop winery

Wine tourists on the way to Naramata often remark on the unusual proximity of Serendipity Winery and Therapy Vineyards.

The Therapy winery is perched on the crest of a hill while Serendipity seems to be buried into the base of the hill. It always strikes me a great location for a cable car ride.

Therapy is the older winery, opening in 2005 in what had been the original Red Rooster winery. It took Therapy about five years to outgrow that facility and build the much larger winery on the crown of the hill. Serendipity opened in 2011 and built its current cellar (right) a few years later.

Therapy, which is owned by a group of investors, celebrates psychotherapy and Sigmund Freud on the labels of many of its wines. Occasionally, the winery moves away from that, commissioning artist labels, perhaps in recognition that the Freud puns  can wear a little thin – even if the wines don’t. The winemaker, Steve Latchford, is a veteran vintner who started his career in Ontario.

Serendipity’s owner, Judy Kingston, formerly had a successful law practice in Toronto until opting for the wine grower’s life style. Many of the Serendipity labels feature an image of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, with an apple about to hit his head. You need to read the text on the bottles to get a flavour of the stories.

Serendipity has just hired Brad Cooper, the former winemaker at Township 7. However, the wines under review here made by Richard Kanazawa (the 2013s) and by Jason Parkes (the 2010s) with input in both instances from Judy, who is a hands-on owner.

Here are notes on the wines.

Serendipity Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($N/A). This wine is crisply lean, with aromas of lemon and herbs, leading to flavours of lemon and lime and a repeat of the spicy herbs on the dry finish. 88.

Serendipity Viognier 2013 ($20). This is a stunning wine, brimming with aromas and flavours of tropical fruit. The lychee, peach and apple flavours explode on the palate and the bright acidity gives the wine a lively and fresh finish. With just 12% alcohol, this wine drinks just as well on its own as with food. 92.

Serendipity Rosé 2013 ($18). This rosé is clearly made in the style of Provence, with its pale hue and its crisply dry finish. The wine has aromas of spicy cherries. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry, cranberry and cherry, with lingering spice notes. 88.

Serendipity Estate Merlot 2010 ($N/A). The winery must have a warm and well-managed vineyard to get a ripe wine like this – 14.6% alcohol – in a cool vintage. This wine’s aromas of vanilla, black currant and black cherries simply charge from the glass. The flavours are bold, with black currant, vanilla and dark chocolate. The texture is still firm, with an interestingly rustic earthy note on the finish. 90.

Serendipity Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($N/A). The grapes for this wine are from the Similkameen vineyard operated by a retired RCMP officer appropriately named Walt Makepeace. He and Serendipity’s Judy Kingston met in viticulture classes and she struck a deal to get his grapes until he had his own winery. The Makepeace family has just opened Hugging Tree Winery and Judy will need another good Cabernet source.

This wine begins with aromas of vanilla (from bold barrel aging), black currant and blueberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis mingled with cola, dark chocolate and espresso coffee. This wine should either be decanted or cellared for the three or four years in which it will continue to get better and better. 91.

◊ ◊ ◊

Therapy Gewürztraminer 2013 ($19.99 for 295 cases). As if Gewürztraminer is not already aromatic, winemaker Steve Latchford employed techniques to accentuate those fruity aromas. That included 18 hours of skin contact and then fermenting the juice quite cool (14 Celsius) with a yeast strain that boosts aroma. The result is a wine with spice and ginger in the aroma and the palate, along with flavours of grapefruit. The wine has good weight on the palate. The wine is balanced to finish dry and food friendly. 90.

Therapy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($20 for 215 cases). Winemaker Steve Latchford had the vines managed in a way that was designed to produce a classically herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc. No leaf thinning was done so that the grapes were shaded. Nor was the crop thinned. The result is a wine with moderate acidity of 11.7%, with aromas of citrus and herbs and flavours of lime and lemon. The wine has a crisp, tangy finish with a spine of minerals. 88.

Therapy Dog Days of Summer Viognier 2013 ($23.99 for 77 cases). The wine, part of Therapy’s artist series, is named for a colourful label designed by Langley artist Gerald Alexander. This limited production wine is available only at Therapy’s wine shop or by the case from the winery. As soon as I read that the grapes came from Ron Fournier’s vineyard, I was eager to taste the wine, for Ron is one of top growers in the South Okanagan. This wine was barrel-fermented in French oak, spending two months on the lees and then, after racking, three more months in barrel, probably to enhance the texture. The wine begins with rich aromas of banana, honeysuckle and apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot on a subtle frame of soft, but not obtrusive, oak. There is a lovely dry but creamy finish. 91.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Maverick opens its wine shop

Photo: Maverick Estate Winery's tasting room

Kelowna’s Robert Mackenzie is the architect of record for Maverick Estate Winery’s new wine shop – with a design capturing subtle notes of Cape wineries in South Africa.

The white stucco exterior and the tin roof are especially evocative of Cape wineries with which the winery owners and their families are familiar. Schalk de Witt is a doctor from South Africa who has been practising in Alberta and British Columbia for many years. Winemaker Bertus Albertyn is a 1978 graduate of Stellenbosch University who came to the Okanagan in 2009, after marrying Schalk’s daughter, who is also a doctor.

It proved to be a very convenient marriage (as opposed to marriage of convenience) for Schalk. He owns two parcels of vineyard land in the south Okanagan, one purchased in 2006 and the other, now occupied by the winery, in 2009. Having an experienced winemaker in the family allows him to unlock the potential of that vineyard real estate.

Bertus (left) spent four years as the winemaker at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery before leaving in mid-2013 to focus on Maverick. Concurrent with that career, he and Schalk converted the 2009 purchase – a former organic farm – into a 7 ½-acre vineyard planted to Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Planting is scheduled for the nearby second property, 15 acres in size, in 2015.

“The vineyard is doing really well,” says Bertus, who was able to produce 2,800 cases in the 2013 vintage with purchased fruit as well as with grapes from Maverick’s planting.

While Bertus and Schalk converted former farm buildings in a winemaking facility, they decided to build totally new wine shop. Visually, the 1,500-square foot building announces that Maverick is a must-visit winery.

The wine shop is perched on the west side of Highway 97, midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. The wine shop’s expansive windows look out on vineyards and farm.

The wine shop opened with three very interesting white wines, with a red blend and a port-style wine scheduled for release later in the year.

Here are notes on the wines.

Maverick Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($19 for 500 cases). The winemaking here involves great attention to detail, beginning with picking the grapes by hand into 30 pound trays; cooling them to 5-8 Celsius before pressing whole bunches; and then leaving the juice in contact with the skins for eight hours. The free run juice is fermented cool in stainless steel to preserve vibrant fruit flavours and aromas. The press wine, about 25% of the volume, is fermented in used French oak barrels and left on lees for three months before being blended with the free run portion. And did I mention it? Bertus sometimes ferments with natural yeast!

The style of this wine recalls good Sancerre. The wine begins with aromas of herbs and lime, leading to flavours of lime and grapefruit. The wine’s bright acidity gives it a tangy and refreshing finish. 91.

Maverick Pinot Gris 2013 ($19 for 270 cases). The winemaking techniques again are detail-driven, including hand picking, whole bunch pressing and gentle pressing. A quarter of the wine was fermented, with natural yeast, in old French oak. When fermentation is complete, the wine is racked and blended and then aged on the fine lees for three months to enhance its texture and eight on the palate. There is also 10% Gewürztraminer in the blend.

The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and pear, leading to flavours of pear and apple. The winery describes the style as “unadorned” with mineral notes on the finish. This is such a complex wine that I would recommend decanting to fully liberate the fruit flavours.  90.

Maverick Origin 2013 ($16 for 170 cases).  The winemaking techniques are quite similar to those used to make the Sauvignon Blanc. This is 60% Gewürztraminer, 40% Sauvignon Blanc. A quarter of the blend was aged in used French oak barrels to enhance the texture. This is the winery’s third vintage of wine, which is packed with tropical fruit aromas and flavours. The wine has a luscious honeyed texture, with citrus and melon flavours and a crisp, spicy finish. 90.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A loaf of bread and a jug of wine

 Photo: Platinum Bench banners advertise its breads

Before Fiona Duncan and Murray Jones launched Platinum Bench Estate Winery in 2012, she had a high-stress job in Winnipeg as vice-president of production for Nygård International, the fashion designer and manufacturer.

To relieve stress, she took up the hobby of baking bread, taking courses at the San Francisco Baking Institute. It has now come in handy at the winery and she continues to take courses. This spring she added baking with ancient grains and making gluten-free bread to her repertoire.

The hobby has developed into one of the appeals to visiting this winery on Black Sage Road. Freshly-baked bread is available for sale. It is also paired with the wines served in the tasting room. It is a rare visitor not bowled over by the experience.

Both the breads and the wines are available for sale on the winery web site. The breads are shipped par-baked.

Murray, who owned a manufacturing company, and Fiona got into the wine business by buying a producing vineyard in 2011. For them, it was a major lifestyle change with a learning curve that was more or less vertical.

The 2011 vintage was a challenging one, especially for a couple learning viticulture on the fly (with the help of Okanagan College courses). Richard Cleave, one of their neighbours and a viticulturist with 40 years of experience, become a good friend and a valued mentored.

Judging from the wines recently tasted there, the stars have now lined up for Fiona and Murray. The 2012 and 2013 vintages were stronger than 2011 and, so far, 2014 is also looking very good. Helped by a veteran winemaking consultant, Murray has put some excellent wines in bottle.

The tasting room features a shaded deck overlooking the vines. In increasing number of visitors are stopping for a glass of wine and a few slices of fresh bread.

It brings to mind Edward Fitzgerald’s famously translated quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

 "A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

If you relax with your book of poems on the Platinum Bench deck, these are the wines:

Platinum Bench Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This is a delicious wine, with rich aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and baked apples. 90.

Platinum Bench Chardonnay 2012 ($25). One-third of this wine was in new oak; one-third in neutral oak and one-third in stainless steel. The result is a crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay with citrus and tangerine flavours. The buttery and oak notes serve as a subtle background. 90.

Platinum Bench Rosé 2013 ($20). This wine is made with juice from Merlot and Gamay grapes. The wine shows cherry and strawberry aromas and flavours with a touch of white pepper on the dry finish. 90.

Platinum Bench Gamay Noir 2013 ($20). This medium-bodied wine has spice and cherry aromas and flavours. It is a very quaffable red. 90.

Platinum Bench Merlot 2012 ($25). The wine has good concentration and ripe tannins, with aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry. 90.

Platinum Bench Cabernet Franc 2012 ($25). This wine is just brimming with brambleberry aromas and lively red fruit flavours. 90.

Platinum Bench Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($25). This wine shows the vintage, with minty aromas, red cherry flavours and a lean texture. 88.

Platinum Bench Platinum Red 2011 ($30). This wine shows how Merlot helps fill out a 2011 blend. This wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Gamay Noir. There are aromas and flavours of black currant and cherry. The texture is more generous than the solo Cabernet. 89.

Platinum Bench Meritage 2011 ($35). This is another illustration of good blending making a wine better than its parts might have been. All five Bordeaux reds are in this blend. It has a firm, age-worthy texture, with aromas of black currants, black cherry, cola and coffee. 90.

Platinum Bench Syrah 2012 ($N/A). This is an elegant Syrah with aromas and flavours of spicy black cherry supported by hints of deli meats and a touch of pepper. 91.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Class of 2014: Stable Door Cellars

 Photo: Scott Robinson (l) and Dave Tebbutt

One of the newest of Penticton’s wineries, Stable Door Cellars opened so quietly this spring that you may have missed it.

It is not that owners Dave Tebbutt and Scott Robinson are hiding their lights under a bushel. They only have limited quantities of two white wines and no tasting room in the stable that will be a character winery once renovations are finished.

Tastings are by appointment, and may remain so for a few years as the partners build volume. But the winery is worth a visit even now for its good whites. Besides, you can always talk baseball. The partners are fanatic fans of rival teams who insisted on wearing their ball caps for a photo.

Dave’s love of tasting wines, notably Bordeaux wines, was perhaps the trigger for this vineyard. He is a Vancouver native with degrees in engineering and accounting who moved to Penticton in 1997 with his wife, Susan, a doctor.

In Vancouver, Dave and one of his best friends “kind of went through the world together, drinking wines,” Dave says. They teamed up to buy the stable and the surrounded property at the edge of Penticton. They planted four acres of grapes in 2008 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Viognier). When the friend got too busy for the vineyard, the Tebbutts acquired his interest. “We’re still good friends,” Dave hastens to add.

To prepare for operating a vineyard, Dave took the viticulture course at Okanagan College in 2005. That’s where he met Scott, who was taking the winery assistant course. 

Scott is a New Westminster native for whom winemaking is a second career. A 1995 graduate of Simon Fraser University in kinesiology, he was a designer of orthotics, with several patents to his name. “It was very rewarding work but I didn’t see myself doing it forever,” he says.

In 2003, he and his wife, Danielle, took time off to travel in Australia and New Zealand. “I toured wine regions when I was down there,” he says.  “What really stood out was when we spent time in Margaret River. It is quite a magical place. I went to some wineries there and I thought this is something I might come back to.”

He already had a good knowledge of wines. While at university, he had also managed a wine store in Delta. “I started going to trade tastings and was responsible for buying wines for the store,” he recalls. “That’s what started my interest in wine.”

He resumed clinical work on orthotics when he and Danielle returned to Canada early in 2004. But Scott now began to look for opportunities in the wine industry. That led to working in the cellar at Township 7 Winery as he was finishing the winery assistant program.  “I really enjoyed that course,” he recalls. “It stimulated my thirst for more schooling.”

After three vintages at Township 7, Scott went to New Zealand to work the 2007 vintage with the Kim Crawford winery.  The following year, he enrolled in the master’s winemaking program at Adelaide University. When he came back to Canada in the spring of 2009, he immediately landed a winemaking job at the widely admired La Frenz Winery.

His professors at Adelaide had asked him if he wanted to continue his master’s research to a doctorate. “I said no, I have to go into the real world,” Scott recalls. But in 2013, after four vintages at La Frenz, he decided to return to research.

“I was going back to work on a PhD,” he recounts. “I was already accepted and I was going to work with my supervisor from Australia with whom I had done my master’s.” The plan was to combine that with the teaching he had taken on in the Okanagan College wine program. 

“Dave was taking a microbiology course that I was teaching last February,” Scott says. “We just got to talking and that was the launching pad for this idea. I wanted to make a bit of wine – I wanted to make some Riesling somewhere in additional to studying.  Dave wanted to start up this winery and I wanted a place to make wine.”

The winery was incorporated in May, 2013, and Scott put his PhD project on the shelf. “Doing this has brought me back to the reason I began making wine in the first place: small batch winemaking and attention to detail that I just want to focus on; experiment with fermentation regimes; all kinds of things. I have lots of ideas.”

In the 2013 vintage, Stable Door made about 90 cases of Viognier, 180 cases of Riesling and about 300 cases of a Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend (for release in 2015). Plans for a 2013 Pinot Noir were abandoned after those grapes were seriously damaged by that season’s plague of wasps.

The partners don’t intend to stay that small. Dave believes the capacity of the winery is about 5,000 cases. He and Susan have purchased another 10 acres nearby for future planting. Stable Door also has begun to contract grapes from select growers.

The Riesling, for example, is from a Naramata Bench grower who previously had sold to La Frenz. “I am a Riesling guy at heart,” Scott says. “That is my favourite white — just the versatility of it, the styles you can make, the fact that it really reflects site.”

The current releases:

Stable Door Riesling 2013 ($22). The wine appeals with aromas of peach and grapefruit and delivers refreshing flavours of lime and grapefruit. The wine is exquisitely balanced, with enough residual sugar to flesh out the texture and enough acidity to give the wine a crisp finish. 90.

Stable Door Viognier 2013 ($23). This wine begins with floral and white peach aromas, going on to honeyed flavours of apricot, pineapple and apple. The full texture is the result of fermenting half the wine in barrel, with lees stirring. The fresh acidity gives the wine a lively, fruity finish. 90.

Stable Door Cellars
475 Upper Bench Road
Penticton, BC V3S 0A1

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brad Cooper's Township 7 farewell

Photo: Winemaker Bradley Cooper

This summer, the fans of winemaker Bradley Cooper will be drinking his final vintage for Township 7 Vineyards and Winery.

Brad, who had been with Township 7 for nine vintages, has just joined Serendipity Winery at Naramata.

While there has been no reason given for his decision to move on, Township 7 came under new (silent) ownership earlier this year. It is possible that the new owners are not as comfortable as the previous owners with a winemaker who also has his own label.

Brad and his wife, Audralee Daum, own a label called Black Cloud and make Pinot Noir only. In her news release, Serendipity owner Judy Kingston pointed wrote: “As Cooper's exclusive label, Black Cloud Pinot Noir will also find a new production home at Serendipity but remain a private label managed by himself and Daum.”

After an earlier career as a photojournalist, Brad became involved with the Okanagan wine business in 1997. “I started out in the wine shop at Hawthorne Mountain [now See Ya Later Ranch],” he says. He had briefly considered a different career change by taking a greenskeeping courses at Okanagan College. It was full; that turned out to be a stroke of luck because Brad spotted the newly-offered winery assistant program in the same catalogue.

“I did the winery assistant program in 1997-1999,” Brad says. ‘I worked the crush of 1998 [at Hawthorne Mountain] and have not looked back from the production side since then.”

He also grabbed opportunities to pile up experience. “I was going to get laid off anyway for the winter of 1998-99, so in the spring of 1999, I went to New Zealand and worked a vintage there, 3 ½ months, with Vidal in Hawke’s Bay.”

In 2002, he left Hawthorne Mountain to join the winemaking team at Mt. Baker Vineyards in Washington State. He returned to the Okanagan in time for the 2003 vintage at Stag’s Hollow and then joined Township 7 in 2004.

At Serendipity, he takes over from Richard Kanazawa who also has his own label and whose ambitions were also tolerated by Serendipity, but not by several of Richard’s previous employers. Richard has now leased a vineyard and is getting a license for Kanazawa Wines.

Township 7 has not announced who is taking over from Brad. Mike Raffan, the former Township 7 owner and still the general manager, has been working through a number of resumes from winemakers in Washington State, Ontario and the Okanagan.

Here are notes on the current Township 7 releases. Some of the limited production wines are offered only to the Township 7 wine club.

Township 7 Pinot Gris 2013 ($19.99 for 148 cases). This wine is 85% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewürztraminer, the latter to pop the spice in the peachy aroma. Cool-fermented for 14 days in stainless steel, this is a crisply fresh white with flavours of pear, apple and green tea. 89.

Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($19.99 for 738 cases). This is the crisp herbal Sancerre style of this varietal. It begins with aromas of citrus, gooseberries and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit and grapefruit zest, apple and sage. 90.

Township 7 Gewürztraminer 2013 ($19.99 for 158 cases). The wine begins with an alluring aroma of sage and spice, leading to elegant and concentrated flavours of lime and grapefruit. The touch of residual sugar lifts the fruit and fills out the texture while the fresh acidity balances the wine. The finish is dry and refreshing and the spice lingers ever so long. 92.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2012 ($20.99 for 328 cases). A gold medal winner at the All Canadian Wine Awards, this wine begins with toasty and buttery aromas of apples. The wine clearly has been aged in good oak barrels. The citrus and pear flavours mingle with toffee and a hint of fig on the finish. 90.

Township 7 Reserve Chardonnay 2012 ($25.99 for 58 cases). This is a bit more of everything compared with the regular Chardonnay. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak and went through malolactic fermentation. The wine has a rich buttery texture, with aromas of fig and caramel and with flavours of orange and baked apple. The toastiness of the oak gives the wine a smoky note on the finish. This would be an interesting wine to age if the closure were real cork, not synthetic. 90-91.

Township 7 Rosé 2013 ($16.99 for 128 cases). The winery set out to make a dry Provence style rosé, starting with a light hue. The surprise is the varietal mix here: Chardonnay 60%, Gewürztraminer 20%, Pinot Gris 14.5% and Merlot 5.5%. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry, leading to flavours of strawberry and cantaloupe. The texture is fuller than the hue suggests. The finish is dry, with a hint of cranberry. 89.

 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($26.99 for 518 cases). The grapes for this wine, which also has 15% Merlot in the blend, came from the Blue Terrace Vineyard at Oliver. The wine, which was aged 28 months in French and American oak, begins with a dark hue and with aromas of vanilla and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, black cherries, black olives and coffee. The finish is persistent. The firm texture – the winery calls this “robust tannins” – suggest this cork-finished wine will benefit from cellaring another six or seven years. The wine is unfiltered and decanting is recommended. 90.