Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Baillie-Grohman Winery makes fast start

Photo: Baillie-Grohman's Bob Johnson

Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery in Creston has made a fast start since opening in 2010.

“In 2013 we produced 4,200 cases and in 2014 6,200 cases,” says Bob Johnson, who owns the winery with his wife, Petra Flaa.  “Our long term plan was to produce 4,000 to 6,000 depending on the season and the sales, so we are mature from the production point of view.”

The vineyard, which they began planting in 2006, has now grown to 17.5 acres, on the way to 23.5 acres. Half of that is dedicated to Pinot Noir, the signature variety for this winery. This spring the winery is releasing its first Reserve Pinot Noir.

Bob and Petra are former Calgarians who decided on a lifestyle change a decade ago. She had previously been a technology company manager who transformed herself into a good vineyard manager. Bob was a reservoir engineer with Sproule & Associates, an oil industry consulting firm. He retired from that company in 2013 to accelerate Baillie-Grohman’s wine marketing.

A New Zealand winemaking connection has been crucial to quality of the Baillie-Grohman wines. When the winery first advertised for a winemaker, no experienced Canadians applied.

“We had some very junior applications but we weren’t willing to bet the farm on someone who had a little bit of education and no experience,” Petra says. Like the neighbouring winery, Skimmerhorn, Baillie-Grohman recruited an experienced  New Zealand winemaker to come to the northern hemisphere during what is the off-season for southern hemisphere winemaking.

Since the first vintage at Baillie-Grohman in 2009, the wines have been made by Dan Barker (right), the owner and winemaker of the Moana Park Winery in Hawkes Bay. Among other kudos on his resume, he was New Zealand’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2003.

Dan’s presence also inspired Wes Johnson, the proprietor’s son, to take up winemaking. Last fall, he completed his Bachelor of Science in Oenology in Napier, N.Z., where he also apprenticed with Moana Park. He has now joined Baillie-Grohman as assistant winemaker. 

In addition to Pinot Noir, the Baillie-Grohman vineyard grows Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Schönburger and Kerner, varieties that will mature in this relatively cool (compared to the Okanagan) climate.

The winery also buys Okanagan grapes to produce the big reds that cannot be grown in Creston. Bob has arranged to buy Merlot and Cabernet Franc from a grower in Osoyoos.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Baillie-Grohman Chardonnay 2012 ($25 for 169 cases). There are Chardonnay lovers who lament that boldly oaked Chardonnay seems out of fashion. Well, this is a wine for you. Barrel-fermented and aged in French oak (25% new), this wine has a good interplay of fruit and oak flavours. It has aromas of citrus and oak, leading to buttery flavours of baked apple and nectarine. 88.

Baillie-Grohman Récolte Rouge 2013 ($17 for 235 cases). The blend is not disclosed but the flavour suggests that Pinot Noir is the backbone for this juicy quaffer. It recalls Beaujolais with aromas and flavours of Byng cherries and with soft, supple tannins and a medium body. On the finish, there is a hint of spice and mocha chocolate. 88.

Baillie-Grohman Merlot 2012 ($22.50 for 653 cases). Because the Creston region is too cool for Merlot, the winery sources these grapes from vineyards near Osoyoos and in the Similkameen Valley. This is a dark wine with aroma of black currants and spice, leading to flavours of black cherry, liquorice, chocolate and coffee. The long ripe tannins give the wine a chewy, generous texture. 89.

Baillie-Grohman Cabernet Franc 2012 ($27 for 250 cases).  The grapes were sourced from an Osoyoos vineyard growing exclusively for Baillie-Grohman. The wine is delicious, beginning with aromas of blackberries and raspberries. The bramble flavours are lively, with notes of black cherry, blackberry, ripe raspberry and red liquorice. 90.

 Baillie-Grohman Pinot Noir 2012 ($25). The wine begins with aromas of ripe raspberry and cherry which are echoed in the flavours. Medium-bodied and juicy in texture, the wine is bright and vibrant. I would suggest cellaring this for a year. 88-90.

Baillie-Grohman Pinot Noir Reserve 2012 ($45 for 98 cases). This is the winery’s first reserve Pinot Noir, made by selecting the best barrels from the 40 barrels of Pinot Noir made in the 2012 vintage. Three clones went into this wine – 115, 667 and 777. The wine was aged in French oak (30% new). It has also had almost 18 months of bottle age before its official release in April. Even so, this remains a vibrant and youthful wine with dramatic aromas and flavours of black cherry and raspberry. I would suggest cellaring this until 2017. 91.

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