Monday, June 22, 2015

Class of 2015: Singletree Winery

Singletree Winery
5782 Mt. Lehman Road,
Abbotsford, BC, V4X 1V4
Telephone: 778.808.6333

When he was 15, Garnet Etsell bought a blueberry farm in Richmond.

That tells you that he is a farmer by avocation. Now, he and his family have opened the Fraser Valley’s newest winery on the same property where the Etsell’s also produce about a million kilograms of turkey a year.

“That is what enables us to do the wine,” Garnet says with a chuckle.

Singletree Winery, managed by Andrew Etsell, Garnet’s son, has just begun selling its four debut wines from a tasting room at 5782 Mt. Lehman Road in Abbotsford. The tasting room currently is open from 12 noon to 5:30 pm Wednesay through Sunday (Friday through Sunday in winter).

Fraser Valley wine tourists should already be familiar with this road. Vern Siemens opened Mt. Lehman Winery in 2009 at 5094 Mt. Lehman Road.

These wineries are both in the bucolic countryside a short distance north of the Trans-Canada Highway. Both have vineyards which, on clear days, have views of Mt. Baker.

The quality of the Mt. Lehman wines was recognized after the winery in 2011 won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in wine with a 2010 Viognier.

Singletree has set out to match that level of performance by engaging winemaker Matt Dumayne to make its wines, at least for several vintages, at the Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland.

Garnet Etsell, who was born in Vancouver, got his first university degree in animal science and initially operated a dairy business. When the economics of that were not appealing, he got a degree in business administration and then became a chartered accountant.

“I said to my wife, Debbie, I have always wanted to farm,” he says. “If I didn’t have a commercial operation by the time I was 45, that was going to be it. Just before I turned 45, we bought our first commercial turkey operation.”

The turkey business is on a 67-acre property that the Etsells bought in 2001. This land has been farmed since the 1870s. “It has been a dairy farm, a vegetable farm, a soft fruit operation, a turkey operation and now a vineyard,” Garnet says. “We have the remnants of the old orchard.”

One of their sons joined his father in this business. Andrew decided to get a diploma in horticulture with the intent of establishing another agricultural business, perhaps a plant nursery, on the property.

He had to do a practicum to complete his program and arranged to do it at Mission Hill Family Estate in the Okanagan.

“He came back, having fallen in love with the wine industry and said that we should get involved with wine,” Garnet says. “Debbie and I were already interested and it did not take a lot of arm twisting.”

They began planting vines in 2010. They now grow about 10 acres of grapes and they lease a 1.5-acre Siegerrebe vineyard near the Abbotsford International Airport.

Except for a few experimental rows of Pinot Noir, the Singletree vineyard is planted entirely in white varieties: Siegerrebe, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a small block of Grüner Veltliner and a large block of Sauvignon Blanc. Not all of these plantings are in production yet.

“At our location, we will be growing all of our whites,” Garnet says. “We don’t have the heat units down here to grow really good reds. We will source all of our red grapes from the Okanagan. We will have an offering of reds because there are people who do like reds.”

The current release from Singletree includes a 2013 Pinot Noir with grapes sourced in Summerland. The winery has 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Merlot from Osoyoos and a 2014 Pinot Noir from the Naramata Bench in barrel.

“Right now, we are dependent on Matt Dumayne and his contacts to source the fruit for us,” Garnet says. “As time goes by, we hope to develop relationships with growers, so we can actually have some influence in terms of how those grapes are grown.” 

Singletree is launching with 600 cases of wine from the 2013 vintage and 800 cases from the 2014 vintage. The winery plans to grow as its vineyard matures and as consumers get to know the label.

The winery’s name has a fine agricultural ring. A singletree is part of a working horse’s harvest that is positioned at the animal’s shoulders and anchors straps used in pulling a buggy or a plough.

Here are notes on the wines.

Singletree Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($22 for 90 cases). Lively flavours of lime and grapefruit mingle with oak. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Singletree Siegerrebe 2013 ($22 for 313 cases). The wine begins with a fragrantly aromatic aroma and delivers flavours of peach, lychee and lime with a hint of spice on the finish. The texture is juicy. 90.

Singletree Farmhand White 2013 ($20 for 95 cases). This is a blend of 64% Sauvignon Blanc and 36% Pinot Gris co-fermented, with 75% aged six months in neutral oak.  The wine has flavours of citrus and apples on its lively a fresh palate with herbal notes on the finish. 90.

Singletree Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 200 cases). Light-bodied and lean, this wine has aromas and flavours of strawberries with savoury notes on the finish. 88.

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