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.


Sam The Wine Teacher said...

Excellent summary John. I hope to see you in Kelowna this weekend.

Unknown said...

Thank you John! This perfectly describes what Garagiste is and why our festival is so unique. It is so inspiring and fun to be a part of the excitement brought by these new winemakers entering the wine industry with their great passion and energy.The Garagistes are grateful for your interest and support.