Monday, July 6, 2015

Harry McWatters' Encore recruits winemaker Lawrence Buhler

Photo: Winemaker Lawrence Buhler

Harry McWatters appears to have landed a heavyweight winemaker for the collection of Okanagan wineries and labels under Encore Vineyards.

Encore is the holding company run by Harry (and several partners). It is the parent to McWatters Collection, Time Estate Winery and Evolve Cellars.

On August 1, Ontario winemaker Lawrence Buhler becomes Encore’s director of winemaking.

Encore’s announcement says that Lawrence (who has extended family in the Okanagan) has been involved in the wine industry since 1999. He is a graduate of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenological and Viticultural Institute. He has “more than 10 years of winemaking experience,” the announcement says. “In the past, he has worked with Peller Estates and Angels Gate in Ontario, as well as with Cape Mentelle in Australia.”

Most recently, he spent several years as the head winemaker at Colio Estate Winery at Harrow (near Windsor). Since making its first vintage in 1980, Colio has grown into one of Ontario’s largest wineries, producing about 500,000 cases a year. That includes 25 VQA wines, so-called “value” wines, bag in box wines and even flavoured wines.

Lawrence is unlikely to have to juggle as many products in the Okanagan.  Evolve owns and operates the 60-acre Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench in Oliver. A 25,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art custom wine production facility and winery is currently being constructed at the Sundial location. The Time and the McWatters Collection wines will be produced there.

Evolve Cellars opened in mid-May in the property that previously had been the now-closed Bonitas Winery, just north of Summerland. The wines currently available at Evolve were produced by Time.

Until now, the wines for the McWatters Collection and Time have been produced for Harry by winemaking consultants, including Brad Cooper and J-M Bouchard.

Lawrence takes over a portfolio of wines made from one of most mature vineyards on the Black Sage Bench. Sundial is part of 115-acre Black Sage Vineyard which was planted in 1993, largely to Bordeaux varieties.

When ownership of the vineyard was divided several years ago, Constellation Brands got half the vineyard and the Black Sage Vineyard name. Harry’s half was renamed Sundial.

Here is the current portfolio.

Time Chardonnay 2013 Sundial Vineyard ($27.99). Alcohol 13.9%. The wine begins with a lovely golden hue and aromas of orange marmalade mingled with butter and hazelnuts. On the palate, the wine is rich, with flavours of baked apple and citrus, touched with butterscotch and vanilla. This has the structure to develop further complexity with a few more years of cellaring. 91.

Time Sundial 2013 ($19.99). This is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It begins with aromas of melons, apples and herbal spice, leading to flavours of pears and apples. The wine has good weight, with a refreshing and lingering finish. 89.

Time Meritage 2012 ($29.99). This is 60% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Franc, with all the grapes from the Sundial Vineyard. The wine has aromas of black cherry with a hint of cassis and oak. The wine has a generous texture, with spicy flavours of black currants and notes of sage, classic for the terroir of the South Okanagan. The tannins are long. The wine is drinking well now if one decants it, but it has the structure to age. The winery says the wine could be aged until 2022. 90.

Time Syrah 2012 ($35). Dark in colour, this is a classic Okanagan Syrah with aromas of black cherry mingled with pepper and rare steak. It follows through on the palate with bold flavours of dark fruit, delicatessen spices and pepper. 91.

McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2013 ($30 for 490 cases). Alcohol 14.2%. This is an elegant wine, beginning with aromas of citrus and peach. On the palate, the marmalade flavours mingle with delicate butterscotch. The weight is rich and the finish just goes on and on. 92.

McWatters Collection Meritage 2012 ($25). This is 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot 20% and Cabernet Franc 12%. The wine, which was aged 15 months in French oak, has aromas of black currant, black cherry and vanilla. These are repeated on the palate, along some chocolate on the finish. The long ripe tannins still are firm enough to support cellaring the wine. It was delicious on opening but blossomed with sweet berry flavours when left overnight. 91.

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