Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bella Wines harmonizes with a bubbly quartet

In 2011, Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose launched Bella Wines, the first winery in British Columbia dedicated exclusively to sparkling wine.

The business plan has been to make the wines, at least until now, in someone else’s winery. That husbands their resources: better to spend the money on grapes, winemaking and marketing, getting the brand established before sinking the big bucks in a standalone winery.

They are evolving in that direction. This year, they settled on their own vineyard on the Naramata Bench.

Given their caution, it was a surprise this fall when they released, at the same time, four single-vineyard Chardonnay sparkling wines.

Only a modest volume was produced from each vineyard. I will think their banker might have advised them to blend a single sparkling Chardonnay. It would have made life simpler for Bella and, perhaps, made it easier to market the wine.

But it would have denied us the chance of tasting terroir. Each of these wines has its own personality. It is a great deal of fun to taste them side by side.

As the photo shows, the winery has minimized the cost of packaging four wines by using similar clear bottles and similar labels. Even so, each wine required its own label run, with the vineyard identified in fine print at the label border. The four back labels, while similar in design, have different content. And the wines have been released both in 750 ml and 375 ml bottles. The large bottles are $24 each and the half bottles are $15 each.

If you consult the Bella website, you will find that the winery is prepared to ship six packs for a minimal shipping charge of $10. Twelve-packs are shipped free anywhere in British Columbia.

Jay explained the rationale for the four vineyard quartet in a recent newsletter to Bella’s customers:

Why would a winery release an unprecedented four single vineyard sparkling chardonnays?  How are you supposed to taste the differences when the wines are all made with the same grape, in the exact same method?

I look at it like this: each vineyard is like a household and every household is different, even if everyone lives on the same street.  In each house the kids (grapes) are brought up relatively the same way, but as they grow they develop their own personalities.  Their experiences (weather and soil conditions) shape them into what they are today.  Each year (vintage) we are capturing a period based on what each household went through.  Now those kids have moved out (gone to the winery) and this is where it gets exciting (geeky winemaker) where I can gently coach each wine along to emphasize its personality.

By the tone of this story you can tell that I want to hear what each wine has to say.  Some people say you are tasting the difference of the "Terroir" but I believe we are experiencing an expression of the vineyard.  I do believe each vineyard has a voice and whether that vineyard is farmed organically or not, or whether it does or does not water, it still influences the personality of that vineyard.  That is why we call our line up of Sparkling wines "Vineyard Expressions".

What does this mean to you?  When you try the wines side by side you discover that each wine has a different personality and like people you connect better with some than you do with others.  This is the reason for my transparency in winemaking because as your palate becomes more educated (consume more) you will have certain preferences that you enjoy more than others and those preferences can be related to where the grapes come from.

This long winded explanation still comes down to simplest gut deciding factor - Do I like it?  I am confident enough to guarantee that one of the four sparkling chardonnays will become your favourite.

These are the four wines.

Bella Oliver-Westside Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (120 cases of 750 ml bottles and 95 cases of 375 ml bottles).  The grapes are from Secrest Mountain Vineyards, a high elevation vineyard northwest of Oliver. The winery calls this “our confident and bright little one.” I preferred this slightly above the others. It is a crisp and elegant sparkling with citrus and ripe apple flavours back with minerality. 90.

Bella Oliver-Eastside Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (50 cases of 750 ml and 10 cases of 375 ml). The grapes are from the Cerqueira Vineyard on Black Sage Road, southeast of Oliver. This wine has a creamy texture and seemed more exuberantly bubbly that the others. There are notes of yeast, citrus on the palate, along with hints of peach. The winery calls this “ambitious, young and edgy.” 88.

Bella Kamloops Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (55 cases of 750 ml and 20 cases of 350 ml).  The grapes are from the Harper’s Trail vineyard east of Kamloops. The winery calls this “intelligent, focused and unique.” It certainly is that. This is the toastiest wine on the nose and the palate, with marked minerality in the flavour and finish. I would like to see get more than the standard (for Bella) 11 months aging on the lees to see whether the Krug personality might develop. 87-89.

Bella Keremeos Sparkling Chardonnay 2013 (90 cases of 750 ml and 25 cases of 375 ml). These grapes are from Robin Ridge Winery’s vineyard. The winery calls this “an old soul who is very friendly,” a descriptor that I confess eludes me. The wine has a pleasing creamy texture with toasty yeast and crisp apple on the palate.  The crispness reflects the fact that this wine has the brightest acidity of this quartet. 88-90. 

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