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.

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