Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sandhill’s impressive new digs in Kelowna

 Photo: Winemaker Howard Soon in Sandhill's new barrel room

When the Sandhill Estate Vineyard was developed on Black Sage Road (between 1994 and 2000), two areas were left without vines so that a winery could be built one day.

Since its launch in 1999, the Sandhill wines have always been made at the sprawling Calona winery in downtown Kelowna.

The Black Sage Road winery plans remained dormant. The company that previously owned Calona and Sandhill was short of money. The soundly financed Andrew Peller Ltd. bought Calona and Sandhill in 2005 but found other priorities, including investment in vineyards.

This summer, a brilliant compromise emerged. Instead of a winery in the country on Black Sage Road, Sandhill has been housed in downtown Kelowna, in a spectacular new wine shop attached to the venerable Calona building. Master winemaker Howard Soon continues to make the wines in dedicated quarters in the Calona winery.

The breathtaking tasting room – there are few to match its grandeur in the Okanagan - shows off the wines to great advantage. To consumers, it does not matter that the tasting room is not actually on a vineyard.

A special tasting bar includes a massive interactive screen with stunning views of all the Sandhill vineyards. There is even a view of an old vine in profile, with roots spreading deep into the soil. This is better, in fact, than being in the vineyard where you would never get to see a 12-foot-deep profile of roots and soil unless you brought your own backhoe.

With Sandhill, such detail about the vineyards is fundamental to understanding the wines. Sandhill makes only single vineyard wines. Currently, the winery farms or buys grapes from six specific vineyards. Because Howard never combines grapes from several vineyards in a Sandhill wine, those wines express the terroir of their individual sites.

To experience that, you could taste the winery’s two Pinot Gris wines side by side. One is from the King Brothers mature vineyard just north of Penticton. The other is from Peller’s young Hidden Terrace Vineyard at Covert Farm north of Oliver.  

I have recently tasted the two Cabernet Merlot 2012 wines side by side. One is made with grapes from the sandy Sandhill Estate Vineyard on Black Sage Road; it is a rich and jammy wine. The other is from grapes grown on the extremely rocky Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley; it is a firm and mineral-laden wine.

Here are notes on wines tasted recently with Howard in the Sandhill tasting room.

Sandhill Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Hidden Terrace Vineyard ($17.99 for 2,765 cases). The wine begins with aromas of gooseberry, lime and green tomato, leading to flavours of lime and grapefruit. The texture is vibrant and the finish is refreshing. 88.

Sandhill Pinot Blanc 2013 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($16.99). Half of this wine was barrel fermented in French and American oak, which may account for the fullness of texture and the hint of butter on the palate. The wine begins with aromas of pear and apple and delivers flavours of apple, pineapple and spice. 89.

Sandhill Chardonnay 2013 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($17.99 for 2,820 cases). Half of this wine was fermented in French oak and aged nine months on the lees. That was done for richness and complexity. The other half was fermented in stainless steel, preserving the vibrant fruit and acidity. Malolactic fermentation was not allowed. The wine begins with aromas of apple and citrus, with a hint of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apple, tangerine and toasty oak. 89.

Sandhill Single Block Chardonnay 2012 Sandhill Estate Vineyard Block 11 ($30 for 125 cases). The vines on sunbathed Block 11 were planted in 1997 and now produce ripe (14% alcohol) and richly flavoured Chardonnay. About 60% of this wine was fermented and aged eight months in new French oak. The wine begins with alluring tropical fruit aromas and delivers juicy flavours of tangerine and ripe apple. There is an elusive lemon note on the finish that recalls lemon meringue pie. The finish goes on and on. 91.

Sandhill Cabernet Merlot 2012 Vanessa Vineyard ($19.99 for 5,700 cases). This wine is 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines in this Similkameen vineyard grow, as Howard notes, “in rows blasted out of the rock.” This wine was aged 13 months in American oak. It is still a wine with grip. The black currant flavours are underlaid with minerality – a smoky, slate character with dark fruit and dark chocolate. 89-90.

Sandhill Cabernet Merlot 2012 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($19.99). This is a ripe, juicy wine with aromas of cassis and vanilla. On the palate, it delivers flavours of black currant, black cherry, with spice and chocolate on the lingering finish. 90.

Sandhill Pinot Gris 2013 Hidden Terrace Vineyard ($18.99 for 4,872 cases). The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with both mineral notes and bright acidity forming a spine. One is not in the habit of decanting white wines but it might be considered. A day later, the second half of the bottle expressed more fruit and a fuller texture. 88-90.

Sandhill Syrah 2012 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($19.99 for 2,268 cases). This wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, spice and white pepper with a pleasant touch of oak on the finish. The texture is generous. 90.

Sandhill Syrah 2012 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($40 for 12 barrels). Here is a rich, full-bodied wine with aromas of black cherry and vanilla. Those are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of plum. There is a hint of black liquorice on the finish. 91.

Sandhill Single Block Merlot 2011 ($40 for six barrels). This is from Sandhill’s Block C1. The wine begins with alluring aromas of plum, cassis, blueberry and vanilla, and echoes this cornucopia of fruit flavours on the palate. The silky tannins add fullness to the texture. 91.

Sandhill Two 2011 ($35 for 13 barrels). This is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc. A wine with a generous texture, this begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and tobacco. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, vanilla and mocha. This is an elegant wine, ready to drink now but with the potential to age well a few more years. 92.

Sandhill Malbec 2011 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($35 for seven barrels). This is sold out. Those who have it in their cellars are fortunate indeed. It begins with the classic perfumed aroma of Malbec (violet, raspberry and spice) and goes on to deliver flavours of currants, blueberry and lingonberry. 91.

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