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.

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