Thursday, January 8, 2015

40 Knots gets a flying start

Photo: 40 Knots owners Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig

Whether it was good business or a stroke of luck, Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig, her husband, bought 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery last summer just as one of the best vintages ever was ripening in the Comox Valley.

“Our 2014 is going to be excellent,” Brenda told me by email last week. Matt Dumayne, their winemaker, “has used such words as ‘stellar’. The heat units for the 2014 vintage gave us some great brix numbers earlier than normal for the island, translating into great balance and very brilliant skins. Our farming practice is a focus on smaller batch, very high quality, so some of our bottle numbers will be smaller. We harvested 33 short tons this year.”

She added: “We are going to bottle the Siegerrebe varietal from our vineyard on its own. We are very excited as the aromas and flavours are remarkable.”

Judging from those comments and from the winery’s current releases, the new owners are off to a flying start. That is an intentional pun: Layne is a pilot, an occupation he juggles with managing the cellar at 40 Knots.

The winery was opened in 2011 by Bill Montgomery, a former towboat company owner who planted a sizeable vineyard near Comox in 2007 and 2008. The 18 acres include Auxerrois, Siegerrebe, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Gamay Noir.  He put the winery on the market a year after opening when he discovered that it involved an overwhelming amount of work.

The wines in the initial release, two whites from 2009 and two reds from 2010, showed promise. However, the 2010 and 2011 vintages were very challenging on Vancouver Island, unless one was focussing on sparkling wines. The previous winemaker recognized this and made a terrific bubbly, part of the current release.

Fortunately for the Craigs, the weather turned around in 2012. The wines they inherited, which were finished and bottled by Matt, reflect the better vintages. Based on these wines, we should all look forward to the 2014s from 40 Knots. That Siegerrebe, for example, will be released under the label, Zeggy. That is also the nickname for their vineyard dog, a whippet called Siegerrebe.

The Craigs are a business couple from Fort St. John who wanted to buy and operate a family business. To make up for their lack of wine industry experience, they are using consulting services from Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland. New Zealand-trained Matt is Crush Pad’s senior winemaker.

The Craigs recognized that the Comox terroir will not grow a complete range of the varietals they might want for their portfolio. (Bill Montgomery discovered the limitations of that terroir when he had to give up on the block of Merlot he had planted.)

The Craigs have split their portfolio into two labels. Estate-grown wines are always released under the 40 Knots label. But when they release wines from Okanagan fruit, those will be labelled Stall Speed.

“We wanted to be very transparent to our consumer and have chosen not to mix grapes from different vineyards,” Brenda says.

It is noteworthy that the winery’s labels are smart and the packaging is contemporary. With the exception of the port-style wine, all still wines are under screw caps. The sparkling wines are closed with crown caps.

Here are notes on the current releases.

40 Knots Spindrift Brut 2012 ($29.90). This is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Gris in the cuvée. The wine gives an active display of fine bubbles in the glass. It has toasty/bready aromas from its time on the lees. On the palate, the wine is creamy with subtle flavours of lemon. The finish is crisp. 89.

40 Knots Spindrift Soleil Rosé 2011 ($29.90). This is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Gris and a splash of Maréchal Foch in the cuvée. The wine begins with an appealing rose petal hue and active bubbles. The bready notes of lees aging mingle in the aroma with hints of strawberry. There are flavours of raspberry that linger on the finish. 91.

40 Knots Reserve Chardonnay 2012 ($20.90). This Chablis-style wine is a subtly oaked Chardonnay; the oak expresses itself with a hint of coconut mingled with the citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and lemon. The lively acidity gives the wine a crisply clean finish that lingers. 89.

40 Knots  Pinot Gris 2012 ($18.90). The wine begins with aromas of apples, peaches and citrus. On the palate, it is crisp, tasting of apples and grapefruit, with an intriguing hint of anise on the finish. 88.

40 Knots  Whitecaps 2013 ($18.90). This is a blend of Pinot Gris and Schönburger. It begins with a fruity aroma of pears. On the palate, the wine has flavours of lemon and herbs. The finish is clean and crisp. 88.

40 Knots Rosé 2012 ($18.90). A blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir, this wine has a lovely rose petal hue. It begins with aromas of strawberries, leading to flavours of strawberry, cranberry and cherry. There is a slight hint of residual sugar – just the right amount to lift the flavours and the aromas. This is a refreshing rosé. 89.

40 Knots Pinot Noir 2012 ($22.90). Light ruby in hue, the wine begins with lightly oaked aromas mingled with hints of raspberry. The wine is appropriately silky in texture. The flavours are savoury and earthy with a touch of cherry and spice on the finish. 88.

40 Knots Stall Speed Meritage 2013 ($29.90). Made with Okanagan grapes (Naramata Bench), this is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine begins with aromas of black currants and blackberries, leading to flavours of black currants, cola, dark chocolate with a spine of minerality. The wine is drinking well now but will reward you if you cellar it another four or five years. 90.

40 Knots Stall Speed Merlot Icewine 2013 ($49.90 for 375 ml). The Merlot grapes are from a Kelowna vineyard. The wine begins with an appealing dark rose petal hue. Dramatic aromas of strawberries and cherries explode from the glass. The wine delivers generous flavours of strawberry and raspberry jam. There is just enough acidity to refresh the palate. 90.

40 Knots Safe Haven 2012 ($20.90 for 375 ml). This port-style wine is made with Vancouver Island Maréchal Foch, fortified to 18% with grain alcohol. The aromas and flavours recall a nice slice of fruit cake, with moderate sweetness. The finish lingers on the palate. A wedge of blue cheese would be a perfect companion. 90.

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