Thursday, July 9, 2015

C.C. Jentsch Cellars adds small lot wines

 Photo: Jentsch winemaker Amber Pratt

Grape grower Chris Jentsch launched C.C. Jentsch Cellars somewhat precipitously in the 2012 vintage when Andrew Peller Ltd. decided it did not need his 60 acres of grapes any more.

It was not a reflection on the quality of the fruit. Peller’s own substantial plantings had begun to produce more grapes.

Chris had been thinking of a winery but he had not had time to convert his fruit packing house into a production facility. So he arranged to have his 2012 wines made at Okanagan Crush Pad.

The new winery, on the highway midway between Osoyoos and Oliver, was ready for the 2013 vintage and for the new winemaker that Chris hired that summer.

Her name is Amber Pratt. Judging from the quality of the recent releases, she has put quite a positive imprint on this winery.

Born in Kamloops and raised in Victoria, she took an indirect path to winemaking, first training in horticulture at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. Just as she was getting her career launched, a pathogen forced the nursery she was working with to destroy its stock.

With time on her hands, Amber began taking professional courses on wine. “I was a novice wine drinker at the time, no stranger to labels like Yellowtail and Mateus,” she says. “And I took the first WSET course and then I took the second one - and I was just hooked.”

She moved to the Okanagan early in 2009 to enrol in Okanagan College’s winemaking and viticulture courses. She finished in June, a bit early to find a job in a wine cellar, so she went to work in the tasting room at Nk’Mip Cellars for the season.

That allowed her to research the industry and its wines. By fall, she was sending her résumé to select wineries. Michael Bartier, then the winemaker at Road 13 vineyards, offered Amber a job.

“I started with him in September 2009 on what I won’t even call a learning curve,” she laughs today. “It was vertical line straight up. I didn’t even know how to run a pump.”

In her second year there, Amber went France to visit wineries in the Loire that were making some of the varieties she was working with at Road 13, including Chenin Blanc. While there, she got an email offering her a cellar hand position at Black Hills Estate Winery. After a year in that position, she was promoted to assistant winemaker.

It is apparent that she is a quick study. “I have had the good fortune of working with people who are very free with knowledge and very willing to share their past experiences and what they knew,” she says. “I get asked all the time, is it really competitive; are you trying to keep your secrets? Grapes plus yeast equals wine! After that, there are no secrets.”

The move to C.C. Jentsch in 2013 promoted her to winemaker, with the opportunity to put her stamp on an emerging brand.

“I really like that owner is the grower,” Amber says. “The chain of communication is blessedly short. He is not living off in some location where he is hard to get. Chris Jentsch gets his hands dirty and he gets right in there. That makes you feel like you have a team mate.”

Both the 2013 and 2014 vintages produced good grapes, and lots of them. That has given Amber the opportunity to identify select lots for special treatment. The result has been the winery’s small lot series, wines that should turn heads.

Here are notes on the recent releases, along with the more affordable large volume releases.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Small Lot Series Chardonnay 2014 ($35.90 for 82 cases). Barrel-fermented and aged in new French oak for six months, this wine mingles the oak and nutmeg with citrus flavours and aromas. The bright acidity give this wine age-ability. The winery suggests cellaring this at least for a year. Good advice; time will give a seamless integration to the wine. 91.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Small Lot Series Viognier 2014 ($35.90 for 129 cases). The wine begins with lush aromas of nectarine, apricot and pineapple. Everything is echoed on the palate, including the sensually lush texture. The rich finish is persistent. 91.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Small Lot Series Malbec 2013 ($49.90 for 45 cases). Dramatic aromas of blueberries and violets just jump from the glass, leading to flavours of blueberries, blackberries and cherries, with a hint of vanilla.  There is a very long spicy and peppery finish. The 17 months oak aging has given this wine finely sculptured tannins. 93.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars The Quest 2014 ($17.90 for 363 cases). This is a blend of Chardonnay 61%, Viognier 27%, and Gewürztraminer 12%. With 13.8% alcohol, this is a robust wine, bursting with fruit aromas and flavours. On the nose, there is apricot and tangerine. On the palate, there are rich flavours of apricot, baked apple, ripe pineapple and tangerine. 89.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars The Dance 2014 ($17.90 for 337 cases). This dry rosé is intense in aroma and presents in the glass with a vivid colour. The flavours include cherry, blackberry and raspberry with a hint of pepper on the finish. The wine is 55% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Syrah, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. The 13.4% alcohol peaks through the intensity. 88.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars The Chase 2013 ($20 for 7,488 cases). This Bordeaux blend is the winery’s signature red blend. The winemaker calls it a “hidden gem” because of the value/quality relationship. This is a blend of 32.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32.5% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. The wine has a generous texture with soft, ripe tannins. There are aromas and flavours of black currants, red fruit, chocolate and vanilla. 90.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($16 for 1,062 cases). This is 43% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The little brother to The Chase, it is designed for current drinking. It has a juicy texture, with aromas and flavours of raspberry, cherry, blueberry and strawberry. 89.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Syrah 2013 ($29.90). This wine, dark in the glass, begins with smoky aromas of leather, deli spices and pepper. On the palate this is a bold, meaty wine with flavours of black cherry and black olives. There are appealing earthy and peppery notes. This wine is already piling awards at competition. 91.

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