Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grüner Veltliner has champions in B.C.

Photo: De Vine's Natalie Windsor in wine shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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