Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Maverick adds a sparkling wine

Winemaker Bertus Albertyn

The best day for visiting Maverick Estate Winery’s tasting room is Friday.

The reason: that is the only day when Ella, the winery’s excellent new sparkling wine, is open for tasting.

There is an alternative if you arrive any other day. Just buy a bottle and keep it for New Year’s Eve.

The tasting room, by the way, is just beside the highway half way between Oliver and Osoyoos. An elegant and tastefully designed facility, it opened last year, giving much needed access to the first rate wines in the Maverick portfolio.

The winery is operated by winemaker Bertus Albertyn, his physician father-in-law Dr. Schalk De Witt and their spouses. Bertus and Schalk are both from South Africa.

Bertus, born in 1978, earned his enology degree at Stellenbosch University and worked at a large wine cooperative before joining family-owned Avondale as winemaker.  He came to the Okanagan early in 2009 when Elzaan, his wife and Schalk’s daughter, began to practice medicine in Osoyoos. He was Burrowing Owl Winery’s winemaker until mid-2013, when he left to concentrate on Maverick.

Maverick’s 7 ½ acres vineyard had been planted in 2011. The winery also owns 48 acres of raw land near the Osoyoos Larose vineyard. Planting is scheduled to begin next year.

Meanwhile, Bertus and Schalk are getting the brand established. “The most important thing about wine is that you have to sell it,” Bertus says.

Bertus seems to be covering all the bases with a portfolio that begins with sparkling wine and ends with a port-style wine. Bertus says that his model Champagne is Billecart-Salmon, which makes an excellent pink Champagne. This prestigious family-owned Champagne house is a great producer to aspire to.

Here are notes on current releases.

Maverick Ella 2013 Brut Rosé ($35). The winery has produced about 6,000 bottles of this sparkling wine. It is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. It presents itself beautifully in the glass, with a salmon pink hue and fine, persistent bubbles. On the palate, the wine is toasty with light notes of strawberry. The texture is creamy and the finish is dry. This is a very elegant wine. 92.

Maverick Origin 2014 ($17). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc with a dash of Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of spice and citrus leading to intense flavours of spice and grapefruit, with good weight on the mid-palate. The finish is dry and very long. 91.

Maverick Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($19 for 500 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime and peach. These are echoed in the tropical fruit flavours. The wine also has an herbal zest on the long finish. 92.

Maverick Pinot Gris 2014 ($19 for 550 cases). This variety, which Bertus regards as a fine stand-in for the Chenin Blanc he once made in South Africa, was fermented with natural yeast; a quarter was fermented in neutral oak barrels and the rest in stainless steel. It begins with a bold aroma of ripe apple, citrus and melon and goes on to deliver flavours of apple, melon and banana. It has good weight and a dry finish. 92.

Maverick Rubeus 2013 ($25 for 500 cases). This wine was formerly called Rubicon. The name was changed in this vintage to avoid a trademark dispute with a South African producer of a red also called Rubicon. The blend here is 35% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot. After gentle foot stomping, the grapes were co-fermented in 3,400 litre wooden vat, then aged in older oak for 18 months. The result is a generous wine that begins with aromas of blueberry and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and black currant with hints of tobacco and white pepper. 93.

 Maverick Syrah 2013 ($32 for 200 cases). These grapes were also crushed by foot, fermented in a vat and then aged 18 months in older oak barrels. This is a bold red, with the pepper on the nose and on the finish framing flavours of black cherry, deli meats, black olive and tobacco. 91.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Class of 2015: Black Market Wine Co.

Black Market's Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk

The name of this winery describes the relationship that the owners, Calgarians Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk, have with Okanagan wines.

“We travel a fair bit between the valley and our home in Calgary,” Rob says. “We are always ‘smuggling’ wine across the border because you can’t bring back more than two bottles, or whatever the interprovincial rule is.”

The name also fits because Black Market is a virtual winery without a physical presence (so far) in the Okanagan. Black Market is a client of BC Wine Studio, an incubator winery at Okanagan Falls.

“We’re kind of an underground winery,” Rob suggests. The two wines released so far are sold primarily through Black Market’s web site.

This is a couple with a passion for wine who are astute enough to keep the day jobs that pay the bills while the brand gets established. Michelle is an airline flight attendant and Rob is an accountant and business evaluator.

Both were born in Winnipeg (Rob in 1971, Michelle in 1974) and they met while at university. Their interest in wine took off after they joined a wine tasting group run by a fellow student who subsequently became a winemaker in the Napa Valley.

“We would get together probably once a month; there were usually six or seven of us,” Rob recalls. “We would each kick in $20 and he would pull five or six bottles from his stash. He had this massive map of the world and every bottle had a story to it. It was from here; it tastes like this because of the soil or because of the sun. And we were hooked ever since then.”

After university, they lived three years in Japan, working as English teachers and fostering a love of travel that has never left them. Fortunately, Michelle’s career makes it easier to travel.

“It was a defining experience for us,” Rob says about the three years in Japan. “We travelled a lot. Michelle has travelled her whole life; not so much me. We travelled a lot while we were living in Japan and we continue with that mentality. We go somewhere far flung at least once or twice a year now.”

They have even found wineries in improbable places. “We have taken our three kids to Kenya a few times; my sister lived there,” Michelle says. “There is one winery and we found it. They let us in. It took a lot of convincing.”

They have wanted their own winery for some time. Rob’s judgment as a business evaluator guided the hard-headed decision to start with Black Market under the tutelage of BC Wine Studio before risking a lot of capital on land and buildings.

“From my perspective, the best way to manage the risk of moving into a fairly crowded market is to get the market space first and work backwards,” Rob explains. “We have still invested a sizeable amount of money in this but not the sort of thing is going to ruin you.”

On the various custom crush options now available in the Okanagan, they chose Mark Simpson and BC Wine Studio because they are allowed to be fully involved.

“I am making wine with Mark,” Rob says. “We work in the vineyard. We work at all sorts of stuff just to learn and gain a feel of the whole process. That’s what is really important to us.” This is vital on-the-job experience.

“It’s critical to our future success,” Rob says. “We do intend to move out on our own in a few years.”

Meanwhile, Rob is working through the viticulture and enology program at Washington State University. He has previously completed a sommelier program and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s advanced course.

“I can’t get enough of learning about wines from around the world,” Rob says. “I think it is important as a winemaker and someone who is about to start selling wine.”

The virtual winery model gives Rob and the Michelle to work with a broad range of varietals since, at this time, they are not locked into their own vineyard. “If we find a great parcel of something and make some fantastic wine from it, that’s great,” Rob says.

In the 2014 vintage, for example, they made 150 cases of Syrah to their repertoire. (The wine is not yet released.) “I have a pretty strong belief that Syrah is going to find a great home in this valley,” Rob asserts. “It is a wine I personally enjoy drinking. It is a varietal I have studied in my viticulture program. It is just perfectly suited for the right sites in the valley.”

The Secret Society white blend likely will change from vintage to vintage, depending on available grapes. In the current vintage, they are working on a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend.

“I am essentially making wines that I like to drink, and hoping there are other people with a similar taste,” Rob says. “I think there probably will be. We just have to find them.”

Here are notes on current releases.

Secret Society White 2014 ($22 for 125 cases). The blend is not disclosed on the label, likely to underline the mystique suggested by the name. But here it is: Gewürztraminer (50%), Ehrenfelser (45%) and Chardonnay (5%). The Ehrenfelser was aged six week in acacia barrels. A dry aromatic white, the wine is crisp and dry, suited to food. It has herbal aromas and flavours, along with a hint of grapefruit. 89.

The Syndicate Red 2012 ($30 for 100 cases).  The blend is Merlot (40%), Petit Verdot (29%), Cabernet Franc (26%) and Malbec (5%). Each varietal was aged in French oak (50% new) for 18 to 21 months before the final blend was assembled. This dark red (that’s the Petit Verdot for you) begins with floral and red fruit aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, cherries and cranberries, with complexing notes of leather and tobacco. The excellent structure suggests this wine will age well. 90.

The Syndicate Red 2013 ($30 for 120 cases but not yet released).  The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (37%), Merlot (36%), Cabernet Franc (23%) and Petit Verdot (4%). The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes notes of mint to the red fruit aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant and blueberries with hints of coffee and chocolate. The texture is concentrated. 90.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bartier Brothers opens for business

Photo: Bartier Brothers wine shop (courtesy of the winery)

Bartier Brothers Vineyards & Winery has now opened its tasting room and visitors centre on its Black Sage Road vineyard.

The winery started life at Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland but moved this year to the 14.5-acre Cerqueira Vineyard after winemaker Michael Bartier and his brother, Don, acquired the property. They have been buying Cerqueira grapes for at least five years and are convinced that the terroir has special qualities for the production of premium wines.

“We want people to see and taste first hand that wine pedigree comes from farming in rocks – in our case the rocks of the Black Sage Gravel Bar,” Michael said in a news release.

He argues that all of the wines from this vineyard had distinctive minerality derived from the mineral rich glacial till beneath the vineyard’s top soil. The vines, which are between seven and 16 years old, have put their roots down into the gravel, to access the limestone mixed in with the soil.

Excavation done during the tasting room construction enabled the brothers to examine the soil closely. They will be able to do more geological detective work next year when a separate building will be constructed for wine making.

The vineyard slopes downhill from Black Sage Road to Ryegrass Road (the new name for what used to be called Road 9). The winery’s address is 4821 Ryegrass Road.

The so-called Black Sage Gravel Bar is distinctly different from the vast expanse of sand in the soils about Black Sage Road. The likely explanation is that the cobbles and gravel were dropped by a retreating glacier while the sand was the beach of a glacial lake.

In his long winemaking career, Michael has made or tasted wine from both sides of the road. And he is willing to argue that the wines from his site are distinctive.

“I know that the character from our wines,” he says. “It tastes minerally to me. That is coming, I believe, from that calcium carbonate which is covering our rocks down deep.” He ferments with indigenous yeasts, in part to let the terroir shine through the wines clearly.

But, he cautions about minerality and wine: “Science has not proven this.” Visitors to the tasting room need to decide for themselves.

The brothers are both natives of Kelowna. Don became an accountant in Calgary in 1978, where he pursued an oil industry career. Influenced by Michael’s passion for wine, he planted the Lone Pine Vineyard, a two-acre block of Gewürztraminer in Summerland, several years before the brothers collaborated on their initial vintage in 2010.

Michael (right), who was born in 1967, has a 1990 degree in recreational administration at the University of Victoria. “I wasn’t interested in the recreational field,” he admitted later. “By the time I realized that, I was too far along in my degree to stop those studies.” On graduation, he spent five years selling wine.

Returned to the Okanagan in 1995, he briefly considered becoming a rock climbing guide until taking a job at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards (now See Ya Later Ranch). He was quickly promoted to assistant winemaker. He began taking winemaking courses and, in 1998, did a vintage at the Thomas Hardy Winery in Australia. Since 2002, he has honed his craft at Stag’s Hollow, Township 7 and Road 13 and finally at Okanagan Crush Pad where he was senior winemaker until the end of 2014.

He left to focus on Bartier Brothers (along with a modest handful of wineries that rely on his consulting services).

The Bartier Brothers wine shop is a smartly designed modern structure nestled comfortably amid the vines.

“The Okanagan is a wine region in the desert,” Don is quoted in a winery news release. “It’s important for us to feature shade prominently in our design.”  The building design achieves this with large overhangs, timber arbours, and a cooling breezeway, while remaining bright, open, spacious, and contemporary.

Cerqueira Vineyard, which the brothers contracted for several years before acquiring it, is planted to Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sémillon. The latter variety, planted in 1999, is the oldest planting here.

Here are notes on the wines I tasted during a recent visit.

Bartier Brothers Gewürztraminer 2012 Lone Pine Vineyard ($18.90 for 211 cases). This wine is balanced to finish crisply, with aromas and flavours of spice, grapefruit, lemon and apple. The volcanic soils of the Summerland vineyard have contributed a backbone of minerality. 90.

Bartier Brothers Sémillon 2013 Cerqueira Vineyard ($19.90 for 640 cases). This is a dry and crisp wine with aromas and flavours of apricots, including dried apricots, and with a spine of minerals. Giving the aging ability of this varietal – Michael last year enjoyed a 2002 Sémillon he had made – this wine should be cellared. 90.

Bartier Brothers Syrah 2012  Cerqueira Vineyard ($26.90). Aromas of plum jam pull one into the wine. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black currant and blueberry with a touch of pepper on the finish. The texture is rich and generous. 92.

Bartier Brothers Merlot 2012  Cerqueira Vineyard ($26.90). This wine is firm and concentrated with aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. There is a slate-like minerality on the finish. 91.

Bartier Brothers Cabernet Franc 2012  Cerqueira Vineyard ($N.A.). This wine immediately marks Bartier Brothers as a leading exponent of this varietal. The wine has aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant and cherry. The texture is concentrated and the finish is long. 91.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Small Guys wineries pack a punch

Photo: Small Guys vintners Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose

Some time ago, I heard the scary statistic that 80% of the sales of British Columbia wines are made by the three largest wine producers.

That leaves the other 320 producers (including fruit wineries) scrambling for 20% of the sales, if those figures are correct. Even if those figures are not entirely accurate, they are close enough to indicate how competitive the wine business is.

In the last two years, a number of the smallest producers have come together to host “Garagiste North: The Small Guys Wine Festival.” They are trying to grab some attention and move from under the shadow of the Big Three. The total production of all of these wineries would hardly fill a tank at Jackson-Triggs or Mission Hill.

The second of this year’s two festivals is being held Sunday at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna. There will be 21 wineries.

I attended the first festival in Vancouver in June, which featured 28 wineries including two from Vancouver Island. Most of those wineries are at the Kelowna event.

I was struck by the number of wineries in the room in June. The number of wineries in British Columbia in 1994, when I completed the first edition of The Wineries if British Columbia, totalled 35. They would have filled either venue at which the Small Guys have been pouring this year.

The explosion of new wineries has been nothing short of stunning; and it is not slowing down. There are two wineries at the Kelowna festival that I have never even heard of: Nighthawk Vineyards and Phasion Estates Winery, both in Okanagan Falls. (Phasion is a virtual winery being incubated by Mark Simpson’s BC Wine Studio, which is also at the Small Guys festival.) These are the only three whose wines I have not tasted this year.

The development of new wineries has vastly outpaced the number that has failed. That speaks to the loyalty of wine consumers in British Columbia and also to the generally high quality of the wines being produced.

The appeal of the Small Guys is that, if you can find them, you are usually dealing directly with winegrower. And you are getting wines that are unique.

Here is a taste of some of the Small Guys wines I have tasted this year:

Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, Osoyoos. Andrew Stone and Terry Meyer Stone produce two wines totalling about 250 cases. Anarchist Mountain Elevation Chardonnay ($26) is a complex Burgundian-style Chardonnay (90 points). Anarchist Mountain Wildfire Pinot Noir 2013 ($35) is a bright, juicy wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry (90 points).

Bella Wines, Naramata. Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose produce about 500                 cases and sell it from a secluded tasting north. Just follow Naramata Road north of the village and watch for the signs. They make just sparkling wines. My favourites are the two 2013 Sparkling Rosé Brut Natural wines, each $24 and each 91 points. His 2014 Methode Ancestrale Rosé ($40) is unlikely to be poured at the festival but it is an excellent example of unique winemaking from a Garagiste. Another 90 point wine, it is made the way sparkling wine was made before Dom Perignon got involved.

Black Cloud Winery, Penticton. Bradley Cooper and Audralee Daum produce about 450 cases, all Pinot Noir. The flagship is Cumulous Nimbus 2013 ($45) and the entry level wine is Fleuvage 2013 ($25), scored 91 and 90 points respectively.

Black Market Wine Co. is another winery being incubated by BC Wine Studio. It is owned by Calgarians Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk. Production is about 180 cases and includes a solid 90 point Bordeaux red, Syndicate Red 2012 ($30). An equally fine 2013 is in the wings.

Corcelettes Estate Winery, Keremeos, is operated by Charlie Baessler and his family. The Small Guys program understates the production as 738 cases – it is quickly heading for 2,000 plus. I reviewed the wines in a recent blog. The standout, at 92 points, is Corcelettes Menhir 2013 ($32 for 205 cases).

Daydreamer Wines, Penticton. An 1,100-case producer, it is operated by Rachel and Marcus Ansems. Marcus, who got his Master of Wine last month, routinely makes 90 point and higher wines. This include Daydreamer Pinot Gris 2014 ($20) and Daydreamer Jasper 2013 ($25), a very good Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend.

Deep Roots Winery, Naramata, was opened last year by the Hardman family. I have been impressed (90 plus) by the Gamay 2014 ($24 but sold out), the Syrah 2013 ($34) and the Malbec 2013 ($28).

Giant Head Estate Winery, Summerland, was opened this summer by Jinnie Lee and John Glavina. I have blogged on this winery as well. My favourite wine was Giant Head Blanc de Noir 2014 ($32), scored 90 points.

Krāzē Legz Vineyard & Winery, Kaleden, at five years of age, is one of the more established of these Garagiste wineries, with a production of about 2,000 cases. One of the 90 point wines here is Skaha Vineyard Impulsion 2012 ($24).

Lariana Cellars, Osoyoos. Owners Dan and Carol Scott produce just two wines, both excellent. I scored the Lariana Cellars Viognier 2014 ($23) at 93 and its red partner, Lariana Cellars Twelve 2012 ($44.90) at 91.

Lock & Worth Winery, Penticton, sells about 700 cases from the same building that houses the Poplar Grove Cheese Co. The winery has two 92 point wines at the previous Garagiste North tasting, the Sémillon 2013 and Square One Cabernet Franc 2013, both $30.

Marichel Vineyard and Winery, Naramata. Richard Roskell, who opened this winery, specializes in Syrah. His current release, Syrah 2010, $40, is a surprising good Syrah from a cool vintage.

Nagging Doubt Winery, Kelowna. Rob and Abbey Westbury was incubated by BC Wine studio but now are on their own property in East Kelowna. At the spring festival, they had two wines that I scored 92 points: Viognier 2013, which seems to be sold out, and The Pull 2013 ($29.90), a Bordeaux red blend.

Niche Wine Company, West Kelowna. James and Joanna Schlosser produce about 500 cases. They will certainly have the only Maréchal Foch Black Sheep ($25), one of the varieties grown on their high elevation vineyard. It is a 90 pointer.

River Stone Estate Winery, Oliver. Ted and Lorraine Kane make about 1,700 cases, most of which score 90 points or better. My favourites include River Stone Pinot Gris 2014 ($19.90) and River Stone Stones Throw 2013 ($23.90), a red Bordeaux blend.

Roche Wines, Penticton. Dylan and Pénélope Roche make artisanal wines reflecting their training in France. At the earlier Garagiste festival, they had a terrific Rose 2014, made with 93% Zweigelt and 7% Schönburger. They made 185 cases but it might be sold out now.

vinPerdu Cellars Inc., Oliver, was opened this summer by the Coulombe family. I posted a blog on this winery recently. It has distinguished itself by the warm reception given tasting room visitors. My favourites (both 90 points) are vinPerdu Gamay Noir 2014 ($27.90) and vinPerdu Compass 2013 ($29.90), a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend.

Hester Creek releases The Judge

There seems to be a growing trend for wineries to restrict the distribution of their special wines to their wine clubs and/or the winery tasting rooms – perhaps with an allocation to favoured restaurants.

Hester Creek Estate Winery has now done this with its icon red, The Judge 2012 and with its 2013 Syrah Viognier.

If I put on my commercial hat, I get the strategy. The most profitable sales are those made direct to consumers.

However, you need to be a dedicated consumer. Wine club members typically need to commit to buying six or 12 bottles. Or you need to head out to the fall wine festival in the Okanagan (where you can also take in Hester Creek’s garlic festival on October 3). Or you can see if you can find a restaurant with the wine, in which case The Judge will set you back about $100.

I can’t argue with the winery’s strategy but I do express some concern about the lack of accessibility to special wines for the average consumer. A colleague tells me he has seen The Judge in a private wine store (which he did not name). You just might get lucky.

Having said that, other Hester Creek wines are widely available. This winery has improved its wines immensely since it was taken over in 2005 by Prince George businessman Curt Garland.

Under winemakers Rob Summers and Mark Hopley, his assistant, a distinctive house style has emerged. The red wines in particular are full of flavour, have appealing aromas and supple tannins. That is as true of the $20 blend called Character as it is of The Judge.

The Judge 2012 is the sixth vintage of this flagship red. It has become a favourite wine for collectors of Okanagan icon red wines. I was able to taste a vertical last year with the winemaker. It is a delicious and complex red. The winery recommends aging it up to eight years. I think it might go 10 years but the house style - soft, round tannins – might limit the longevity. On the other hand, you can open the bottle now and enjoy it for dinner.

Here are notes on the wines.

Hester Creek The Judge 2012 ($45). This is a dark, concentrated wine beginning with aromas of black cherry, plum and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate, vanilla and cedar. The texture is rich and elegant with a long, long finish. Retasted on the second day after being opened, the wine was even more generous and satisfying. 93-95.

Hester Creek Syrah-Viognier 2013 ($25 for 500 cases). This is a bold wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, coffee and chocolate and with notes of black pepper. The flavours just fill the mouth. The soft tannins give the wine a generous texture. 91.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stags Hollow releases 2014 Grenache

By coincidence, Stag’s Hollow Winery released its third Grenache on the same weekend that Pope Francis arrived in Cuba.

What’s the connection?

Tasting this fantastic wine immediately reminded me of some of the great Cuban cigars I enjoyed when I was still smoking (and when I could afford Cuban cigars). Pope Francis is incidental to this story. I doubt that someone with just one lung even smokes.

The 2014 Renaissance Grenache from Stag’s Hollow has rich, spicy and smoky aromas that climb from the glass and waft about the room like the aromas of a good cigar. On the palate, flavours of sweet tobacco mingle with fruit cake and red liquorice.  The wine totally seduced me – just as Cuban cigars once seduced the English writer, Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling authored one of the most famous lines about cigars: “A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke.” You have to look up his poem, The Betrothed, to see the context. The poem, hardly his best piece of writing, has numerous references to Havana.

I might change the line now and write: A cigar is only a cigar but the Renaissance Grenache is a drink.

The release date of the wine, of course, had nothing to do with the Pope’s visit to Cuba. It was released for International Grenache Day, the third Friday in September. Stag’s Hollow released the Okanagan’s first Grenache in the 2012 vintage. I seem to have missed the 2013, which is still available on the winery’s website.

A reader of my blog recently found a bottle of the 2012 in her cellar and asked how long to cellar it.

Stag’s Hollow recommends drinking the 2014 over the next five years. Judging from that, the 2012 should peak in 2017.

There are not many plantings of Grenache in British Columbia. The variety has the reputation of being excessively winter tender, probably because some of the Okanagan plantings were done shortly before 2009. The early October freeze in 2009 and several subsequent hard winters savaged a lot of young plantings, including several of Grenache.

Perhaps it is too early to close the book on this variety. According to the Grenache Association: “It’s the most widely planted red grape in the world and responsible for the velvety, voluptuous mouthfeel that people love in wine; but it rarely gets the credit it deserves because it’s often used in blends.”

The variety, a staple in Spanish reds, is also known as Garnacha Tinta. The detailed discussion of the variety in the massive Jancis Robinson book, Wine Grapes, is under that name. Robinson (and her co-authors) writes that the variety is “relatively early budding but late ripening, so has to be grown in fairly warm climates.”

The Okanagan certainly has a warm climate but, with a risk of spring frost and a season-ending frost in October, Grenache is perhaps a tight squeeze for the growing window.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, has a particular enthusiasm for Grenache that began in 2006 when he helped plant a small block in the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton. The 2014 Grenache is made with grapes from that vineyard and from the Hearle Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. (In 2012, Dwight had some Similkameen Grenache to pair with the Kiln House fruit.)

The quality of the wine reflects the pains Dwight took in making it. Whole berries went into one-ton fermenters; 40% of the ripest stems were added. Fermentation began with cultured yeast after a three-day cold soak. After 10 days, the wine was pressed into second-fill French barrels (300 litre hogsheads) and aged six months on the lees. After racking, three per cent of Syrah was added. The cuvée was bottled unfined and unfiltered in the late summer of 2015.

The packaging is sophisticated.  The closure is a crystal plug made by a Czech glass producer, Vinolok. Judging from the website, the closure was only developed several years ago.

This is an elegant solution to avoiding cork taint. Stag’s Hollow believes that the wine under this closure will maintain “varietal freshness for many years.” Indeed, it would be a delight to come back to this wine in a few years and find it still bursting with its current youthful charm.

Here is a note on the wine.

Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Grenache 2014 ($40 for 65 cases). This is a wine with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and cloves. Those are echoed in the flavours, along with fruit cake, red liquorice, rich sweet tobacco and a pinch of black pepper. The texture is ripe and generous. The wine is seductively delicious. 94

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Saxon Winery hires Tom DiBello

Photo: Saxon Winery owners Jayne and Paul Graydon

The big news at Summerland’s Saxon Estate Winery this vintage is that Tom DiBello has agreed to make the wines.

Tom is also the winemaker at Sage Hills Estate Winery, another Summerland winery and one with which Saxon has had a co-operative winemaking arrangement for several vintages.

It is a sensible arrangement that allows the wineries, both based on organic vineyards, to rationalize equipment and staff costs over a larger volume of wine.

Saxon is owned by Paul and Jayne Graydon who bought the winery in 2012 when it was known as Hollywood & Wine. The previous owners, Neil and Betty Massey, had begun planting an organic vineyard in 2001 in a secluded valley west of Summerland. They opened the winery in 2007, selling it five years later when they recognized it was more work than they wanted as a retirement project.

The Graydons are half their age. They came to Canada from Britain in 2003 with Paul pursuing a career in technology based in Calgary until he and Jayne set up a wine import agency. He came across Hollywood & Wine when he was looking for Okanagan wines to represent. That led the couple to buy the winery and move to the Okanagan.

The winery’s original name had been inspired by Neil Massey’s work as a truck drive and equipment manager for film production companies working in western Canada.

The name, Saxon, comes from the Graydon family’s original home in Kent in Britain. The Anglo-Saxons settled the area after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Winemaker DiBello (right) should help Saxon anchor the style of its wines. Hollywood & Wines products were on the rustic side. The Graydons are working at developing consistency in a portfolio that has had the fingerprints of several winemakers before Tom DiBello.

A winemaking graduate of the University of California at Davis, Tom made his mark in the Okanagan during the 10 years (to 2010) when he was the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery. Since then, he has consulted with several Okanagan and American wineries. He made the initial Sage Hills vintage in 2012.

In 2013, Sage Hills and Saxon employed South African Danny Hattingh. When Danny moved to Fort Berens Estate Winery, his place was taken by Andrea Lea, a Summerland native trained in Australia. This summer, she moved to Chaberton Estate Winery, succeeding Barbara Hall, now at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

Ironically, Tom DiBello made the 2013 vintage at Burrowing Owl before resuming his consulting career.

No doubt, winery owners like Paul Graydon will hope that winemaker musical chairs settle down for a while.

Here are notes in Saxon’s current releases:

Saxon Gewürztraminer 2014 ($15.99). An off-dry wine, this begins with aromas of rose petal spice and grapefruit. The flavours are intense, with notes of grapefruit, lime and nectarine. 88.

Saxon Pinot Grigio 2013 ($13.99). The wine has aromas of citrus and pear, leading to flavours of pear and apple. The texture is juicy and refreshing. 88.

Saxon English Rose 2014 ($15.99). This cleverly-named rosé is a blend of Pinot Gris and Leon Millot. The latter is a dark red variety but enough Pinot Gris has been blended in to give the wine a strawberry blush. The wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry, including stewed strawberries. The texture is fleshy and the finish lingers. 89.

Saxon Four Play Red N.V. ($17.29). This is Saxon’s big red; a blend of Leon Millot, Merlot and Pinot Noir from the 2014 vintage plus Cabernet Sauvignon from 2014. This bold wine has earthy aromas, along with plum and vanilla. It delivers big plum and black cherry flavours. 90.

Saxon Unoaked Merlot 2013 ($17.29). As one expects from an unwooded Merlot, the fruit flavours are bright and the texture is on the lean side. There are aromas and flavours of blackberry and black currant with a touch of coffee, dark chocolate and pepper. 88.

Saxon Pinot Noir 2013 ($22.99). This light-bodied wine is a cheerful quaffer with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry with a hint of oak. 88.

Saxon VIP 2010 Fortified Red Wine ($24.99 for 500 ml). This port-style wine was made, surprisingly, from Pinot Noir grapes. The wine was aged two years in French oak and then fortified with brandy made from Maréchal Foch. The medium dark colour is appropriate for a port-style wine. It has aromas of vanilla and fruit cake that are echoed on the flavour. In another time, one would have enjoyed this with a fine cigar. Dark chocolate and fruit cake will do. 90.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Blasted Church may be leading you astray

Photo: This might offend you if you have a religious thin skin.

A few weeks ago, a man who only identified himself as a “Christian” called me to complain about a Blasted Church wine called Jesus Murphy.

“That’s blasphemous,” he kept insisting.

He had already vented to the manager of a Liquor Distribution Branch store and he was letting off more steam to me. It was suggested that, as a wine writer, I could do something to get Blasted Church Vineyards to, well, repent.

Fat chance of that! This is a winery with a portfolio that includes Bible Thumper, Cross to Bear, Holy Moly, Nothing Sacred, OMG, Swear to God and Amen.

These are all the inventions of Brandever, the Vancouver design and marketing agency that helped the new owners of Prpich Hills rebrand in 2002 as Blasted Church Vineyards. That was a great success.

The name was inspired by a church in nearby Okanagan Falls that had been moved there in 1929 from Fairview, a mining ghost town. The movers had to loosen the nails in the beams with a small charge of dynamite.

Many of the Blasted Church labels include a caricature of a preacher performing various activities. For example, he is blessing two mixed race couples on the label of Mixed Blessings.

The preacher on Jesus Murphy looks exasperated enough that you can imagine him cussing. Preachers are human, after all.

I don’t know whether my caller actually bought the wine. It is exclusive to the Liquor Distribution Branch and is listed in 144 stores, which means Blasted Church is contributing to alleged profanity across the province. Even more alarming to my caller will be the news that when the LDB sells all of the 2012 Jesus Murphy, it will begin selling the 2013 vintage. It is already up on the LDB website.

My caller will really blow a fuse if he comes across the new Lost Inhibitions series of wines from Church & State. There are dozens of provocative labels also designed by Brandever. Two of the milder examples: Namaste Bitches and This Is Effing Epic. I am told the wines are selling at one helluva pace.

Here are notes on some Blasted Church wines:

Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Sold out; only 437 cases were produced). I wish I had encountered this delicious wine earlier in the season. The wine begins with lovely tropical aromas of lime, guava and peach, which echo on the luscious palate. The wine has a crisp and lively finish. 90.

Blasted Church Mixed Blessings 2014 ($16.50 for 850 cases).  This wine also is labelled Viognier because that variety is 90% of the blend. The wine is completed with seven per cent Ehrenfelser and three per cent Pinot Gris. The wine begins with aromas of peach and apricot. These are echoed in the flavours. The wine has a spine of minerality that enhances the rich weight on the palate. The finish is crisp. 90.

Blasted Church Jesus Murphy 2012 ($16.99 for 1,300 cases). This wine is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec and 12% Merlot. The wine was aged 24 months in French and American oak, 30% of it new.  It has aromas of cassis and black cherry with generous (but not too much) oak. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry and bell pepper. It is a medium-bodied red, quite pleasantly quaffable. 88.

Blasted Church Syrah 2013 ($23 for 1,823 cases). The wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry and vanilla. The texture is ripe and generous with appealing red fruit and pepper on the mid-palate and the finish. The good natural acidity gives the wine refreshing and lively appeal. 90. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Corcelettes begins to increase its portfolio

Photo: winemaker Charlie Baessler

One of the rarest white grape varieties in British Columbia is Chasselas, which happens to be the major white in Switzerland.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery has an old planting by chance. The nursery supplying vines when the vineyard was planted originally in the 1960s mixed up the order and sent Chasselas instead of a white hybrid. The error was fortunate. Today, those grapes are blended with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc to produce the winery’s most popular wine.

There was another small planting of Chasselas in a vineyard near Duncan on Vancouver Island. The owners planted Chasselas because they had lived in Switzerland before coming to Canada. They opened a winery called Echo Valley but sold the property five or six years ago and returned to Europe. I have no information on what became of those vines.

St. Hubertus Estate Winery, whose owners are Swiss, has been a consistent exponent of Chasselas, as you might expect.

The fourth modest planting is in the Similkameen near Cawston. This vineyard was the original location of Corcelettes Estate Winery, which opened 2013. Urs and Barbara Baessler, who established the vineyard, are also Swiss. The winery carries the name of their family farm in Switzerland.

Charlie Baessler, their winemaker son, blends Chasselas with Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer to produce an excellent wine called Trivium. In 2014, he also made a small batch of single variety Chasselas. It is an excellent white but not enough was made for a general release. Friends and family get to enjoy it.

The Baesslers came to Canada in 1978 to grow wheat, not to make wine. For many years, they ran a grain farm in Manitoba as well as a buffalo farm in Wyoming. When they had had enough of Prairie winters, they moved to an organic garlic farm in the Similkameen Valley in 2007.

In the meantime, Charlie was completing a science degree at the University of Lethbridge. On graduating, he accepted a job in 2008 with Lawrence Herder, then the owner of Herder Vineyards. The next year, he took a job in the vineyards and cellar at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery where he developed his skills as a viticulturist and winemaker.

Once they recognized they had a winegrower in the family, the Baesslers in 2010 planted one hectare (2.5 acres) of grapes on their farm. These vines, along with fruit from purchased grapes, enabled them to begin making wines in 2011. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon subsequently were planted at a nearby vineyard. The initial intent was to produce between 1,000 and 1,500 cases of wine.

That changed in 2015 when Corcelettes took over the larger Herder winery and moved the production there. Herder had 2.6 planted hectares (6.5 acres) with another hectare to be planted in 2016. The varieties grown here (Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir)
significant expand Charlie’s repertoire and the future production volume.  

Charlie is even thinking of reviving Josephine, formerly the flagship red at Herder.

“It’s still in the cards,” he said recently, responding to questions I sent him. “I’m excited to have Petit Verdot and Malbec on the farm now. Working towards the greatest Bordeaux blend you have ever put in your glass is my goal. My strongest skill set is the vineyard and the result of these efforts will determine what Sku's and blends we focus on.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Corcelettes Trivium 2014 ($18 for 370 cases). This is a blend of 50% Chasselas and 25% each of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. The blend came about because the original Corcelettes vineyard near Cawston grows those three varieties in those proportions. I have no information on whether the three are co-fermented. The blend is effective, beginning with aromas of spice and herbs with a touch of citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of green apple and white peach. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Corcelettes Gewürztraminer 2014 ($18 for 221 cases). This wine is one of what the winery calls its “Vineyard Accolade Edition,” meaning the grower gets credit on the back label. These grapes are from the Second Chance Vineyard near Cawston. The wine has superb varietal definition, with aromas and flavours of spice, lychee and pineapples. The tropical fruit flavours are luscious on the palate, leading to a long, dry finish. 90.

Corcelettes Oracle 2014 ($24 for 150 cases). Made with Zweigelt grapes from the LadyHawke Vineyard at Keremeos, this wine presents itself with a vibrant pink hue. It has aromas of cherry and cranberry leading to flavours of cherry, strawberry and gooseberry. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.

Corcelettes Syrah 2013 ($27 for 220 cases). This is the first release of Syrah from the winery’s Middle Bench Vineyard near Keremeos. The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, black cherry and plum. The pepper carries through to the palate, giving a lift to the earthy and meaty flavours. There is a lingering finish of peppery black cherry. The tannins are long and ripe. 91.

Corcelettes Menhir 2013 ($32 for 205 cases). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. The wine begins with aromas of herbs and black cherry. There are generous red fruit flavours on the palate – black cherry, plum – with notes of mocha, tobacco and, ever so slightly, bell pepper. The texture is rich and ripe. 92.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Class of 2015: vinPerdu Cellars

 Photo: Catherine Coulombe and father Ray Coulombe

vinPerdu Cellars
5381 Highway 97,
Oliver, BC, V0H 1T0
T  250.498.2234
When to visit: 11 am – 6 pm daily

Despite its name, this new family-operated winery is hiding in plain sight behind its large highway-side sign.

If the branding is a little unusual, you should know that the owners, Ray and Wendy Coulombe, previously had successful careers in marketing and advertising.

With the help of two daughters, they are now pursuing a retirement career with their own winery for a reason similar to many peers: the lifestyle.

“It is for wine but it is mostly for the lifestyle,” Ray says. “At my age, I am not interested in making money. I am interested in making a successful and respected little winery, which I will leave to my children. And I will have a lifestyle to go with that dream.”

Ray was born in Edmonton in 1945, the member of a pioneering family. His grandparents, Delphis and Marie-Claire, moved from Quebec in 1901 to a homestead near Edmonton. Ray’s father, Frank, after operating a barbershop and pool hall, moved his family to Vancouver when Ray was 10.

“We always drank wine,” Ray remembers. “When I was a kid, it was always homemade stuff – a white and a red. The white was dandelion wine and the red was made with saskatoons. But there was always wine at the table.” The wines improved in Vancouver because the family had moved to a house with both fruit trees and grape vines in the back yard.

Ray’s ability as a writer and artist earned him a scholarship to an arts college in California. When he approached an advertising agency in Vancouver, he was advised to go to Toronto, with its greater opportunities. There he joined Maclaren Advertising in 1968; he was soon transferred to Montreal - much to his delight.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw in Montreal,” he recalls. “Compared to Toronto, Montreal was full of colour. There were people on the streets at every hour. There were sidewalk cafes and people talking. Always next to them was a bottle of wine.”

He spent the rest of his business career there, first as creative director at Maclaren (Wendy joined as art director) and then with his own agency. That business was closed in 2001. Now drawn back to the West, Ray and his wife looked for a community in which to retire and found a house with a five-acre vineyard just south of Oliver in 2009.

The vineyard needed a lot of work before it could produce quality fruit. “We were the perfect victims to take this on because my wife and I were looking for a hobby,” Ray laughs. “We persevered and eventually we got grapes that were producing nice flavours.”

The next step soon suggested itself. “We were in that house, looking onto that vineyard below, and I thought there should be a winery at the highway,” Ray says. “If my grapes taste good, that’s what we will do.”

He arranged to have wine made from his grapes in 2013. The winery was built in 2014. The area occupied by the winery and tasting room replaced a struggling Merlot block that had been planted in a frost pocket.

The vineyard now has Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay Noir. The style of the debut wines is deliberately fruit-forward with supple and easy-drinking tannins. The winery’s Gamay is a good example.

“I couldn’t wait to start this winery for the reason of the Gamay alone,” Ray says. “I saw it very much to be in the Beaujolais style – not a heavy red, not sitting in the barrel forever. Since we are talking fruit forward, this would be lightly touched in oak. It is all fruit and should be chilled a bit for summer drinking.  Instead of having a white wine on the back porch, you can have nice ‘Beaujolais’ from the valley here that isn’t heavy.” 

Ray and Wendy’s two daughters (and their partners) also have become involved in vinPerdu. Catherine, who formerly had a catering business in Montreal, now manages vinPerdu’s wine lounge and is mentoring with a winemaking consultant. Nathalie, who has become a vineyardist, is an artist and displays her excellent work in the tasting room. One of the strong appeals of this winery is the warmth of the Coulombe family, one or other of which usually is on hand to greet visitors.

Here are notes on the wines.

vinPerdu Pinot Gris 2014 ($20.90). This is a crisp and refreshing white with aromas and flavours of citrus, honeydew melon and apples. 90.

vinPerdu Chardonnay 2013 ($27.90 for 89 cases). This is the peaches and cream style. The 12 months on lees in French oak have given the wine an appealing texture. The wine has citrus aromas and tropical flavours with a hint of butterscotch and very subtle oak. 90.

vinPerdu Gamay Noir 2014 ($27.90 for 101 cases). This is a juicy, refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of strawberries and cherries. The silky texture adds to the charm. 90.

vinPerdu Cabernet Franc 2013 ($28.90 for 108 cases). Light ruby in hue, this wine again has silky tannins that underline the drinkability style of all the wines. There are aromas and flavours of raspberry and blackberry with a touch of oak from the 12 months the wine spent in barrel. 89.

vinPerdu Compass 2013 ($29.90 for 67 cases). This is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot. It has aromas and flavours of black currant, cherry and blueberry. The juicy texture and the savoury fruit flavours underline the house style: wines that are accessible. 90.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

CedarCreek's Icewine and friends

The 2014 white wines from CedarCreek Estate Winery are among Darryl Brooker’s final vintage at CedarCreek.

As has been reported before, he has now become the senior winemaker at Mission Hill Family Estate following the 2014 purchase of CedarCreek by Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl.

Darryl made five vintages at CedarCreek. He demonstrated astonishing versatility, making topnotch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and excellent Bordeaux reds that included a Cabernet Sauvignon fermented in an amphora. His Pinot Noir Block 2 2012 was judged the best Canadian red wine in this spring’s Decanter Wine Awards.

With the current releases, he goes out on a high that even includes an Icewine, a dessert wine that CedarCreek has produced from time to time but not regularly.

Darryl is being succeeded at CedarCreek by Alexis Moore, a Nova Scotia native with an impressive résumé covering 16 vintages. She sent the last 10 years with a New Zealand winery, specializing in Pinot Noir.

Here are notes on the wines:

CedarCreek Gewürztraminer 2014 ($15.99 for 2,500 cases). The wine begins with aromas of orange marmalade, pineapple and ginger. On the palate, there are flavours of orange rind. The wine, with good weight on the palate, is balanced to finish dry. There is a hint of warmth from the alcohol on the finish. 89.

CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2014 ($17.79 for 7,220 cases). This is a textbook Pinot Gris. Its complexity benefits from the winemaker’s decision to barrel ferment 13% of the blend in new French oak (the rest is fermented in stainless steel). The barrel-fermented portion adds good mid-palate weight. The wine begins with citrus aromas, leading to flavours of citrus, green apple, pear and melon. The finish is crisp. A fine skein of minerality weaves through the wine. 91.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 ($22.90 for 460 cases). The winery has Riesling vines in its vineyard that now are 25 years old. In recent vintages, pains have been taken with that block to produce exceptional Riesling. The winery’s notes suggest that the aroma of this wine recalls lilies. It is a starting idea but I will agree with someone’s nose on that. When you dig beyond the blossoms, there are also notes of lemon; a year or two of bottle age will release classic notes of petrol. On the palate, there are flavours of lime mingled with minerality. The lively acidity is balanced exquisitely with residual sugar, with the result that the wine has a crisp and dry finish. By all means, cellar this wine for a few years. 92.

CedarCreek Platinum Viognier 2014 ($27.49 for 630 cases). The winery pulled out all the stops to make this wine. The ripe fruit (alcohol is 14.6%) was fermented for 35 days in three separate lots. One-third was fermented in a concrete egg, one-third in a foudre (large oak cask) and one third in neutral oak barrels. The consequence was three flavour components, all with good weight and texture, to blend into the final wine. The wine begins with aromas of honeysuckles, wild honey and apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot that persist on the lingering finish. The wine has the almost imperceptible spine of tannin so typical of Viognier. That’s why the variety sometimes is called the white wine for red wine drinkers. 92.

CedarCreek Platinum Riesling Icewine ($52.99 for 220 cases of 500 ml bottles). The grapes for this wine were picked at -12C on the night of November 29, 2014. It took the winery three days of gentle pressure in a new basket press to extract the intensely sweet juice, which was then fermented in neutral French oak. Unusual for Icewine, it was also aged five months in neutral oak. The finished wine has 242 grams of sugar per litre balanced with a bracing acidity of 12.9 grams. (Some perspective: the Riesling has 8.2 grams of residual sugar and nine grams of acidity.)

The wine is packaged in a squat bottle with a reseal-able glass stopper. That is a good feature with an Icewine. You are unlikely to consume a bottle at a sitting. You can, in fact, have a glass and then leave the bottle in the fridge, dipping into it from time to time over the next few weeks or months. Icewine remains fresh for a long time.

This wine, lightly gold in colour, begins with intense aromas of honeyed, ripe pineapple. On the palate, there are rich flavours of ripe peaches and ripe pineapples. The bracing acidity keeps the wine bright, with a clean tang on a finish that persists forever. 95.