Monday, November 23, 2015

Black Sage Vineyard quartet of 2013 reds

Photo: Black Sage Vineyard winemaker Jason James

Several years ago, Black Sage Vineyard was spun off from Sumac Ridge Winery to become a standalone brand, beginning with wines from the 2010 vintage.

Constellations Brands, the owner of Sumac Ridge, wanted to raise the profile of the big reds from Black Sage Vineyard, and of Jason James, the winemaker.

“This new family of wines will showcase what happens when the right vines are planted in the right location,” Constellation wrote in a brochure describing the new brand.

Black Sage Vineyard, a block of 115 acres on the east side of Black Sage Road, was planted in 1993 by Sumac Ridge partners Harry McWatters and Bob Wareham. At the time, it was the single largest planting of Bordeaux red varieties in the Okanagan. At the time, conventional wisdom still questioned whether the vines would survive in the Okanagan.

Several years ago, after Harry retired from Sumac Ridge, the vineyard was divided. His half is now called Sundial Vineyard and he is building a winery there (it is his idea of retirement). The other half, along with the Black Sage name, stayed with Constellation.

In 2005 Constellation also developed a 45-acre vineyard nearby. It was originally called the Thorpe Vineyard but has since also been renamed Black Sage.

That was a fortunate viticulture decision. The original Black Sage Vineyard suffered serious damage in the 2008 and 2009 winters. The winters were hard and early. It did not help that a neighbouring vineyard had installed wind fans which shoved cold air onto slightly lower Black Sage Vineyard.

“Black Sage is extremely hot but also extremely cold in the winter,” says Troy Osbourne, the vineyard manager. “We tried to figure out whether we can fix it with earthworks, and how much would it cost, and is it going to work in the end. We realized it would not be viable. We would create one big flat area that still would be frost prone.  So the way to do it would be with wind machines. We had inversion towers on this property and we measured the inversion. On nights when we had a frost event, it was seven degrees warmer five meters above the ground than it was at one meter above the ground. You put up a wind machine; it is 10 meters in the air. It will mix the air and give three to five degrees of protection.”

As a result, the vines, protected with wind machines, are productive again, season after season, growing the fruit that made the Black Sage Vineyard name legendary in Harry’s day. The Shiraz in the group of new releases is from the 2005 planting.

One might have expected that the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages would not produce the bold and generous wines the terroir is known for. However, the 2010 Merlot had 14% alcohol. Even in cool years, this is a good piece of dirt.

The 2013 reds, which were released this fall, are from a warmer vintage. Even if the stated alcohol of the Merlot is 13.5%, this wine and its companions present very satisfying textures so typical of the 2013s..

And considering the good genes of this vineyard, the wines remain reasonably priced.

Here are notes.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2013 ($19.99 plus tax). This wine begins with aromas of plum, red fruit and vanilla. On the palate, the berry flavours are bright, almost jammy in their intensity. The tannins are round and soft. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013 ($20.89 plus tax). This is a classic example of this variety – bright and brambly, with aromas and flavours of plum, cherry and blueberry. The soft tannins add to the long and generous finish. 92.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($21.79 plus tax). This wine begins with aromas of raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and chocolate, leading to savoury flavours of cherry, red currant and vanilla. Again, the wine is generous with a lingering finish. 92.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2013 ($20.89 plus tax). This wine is available only in the wine shop at Sumac Ridge, and probably on line. It has the classic hint of pepper in the aroma and on the finish, along with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, vanilla and chocolate. 91.

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