Monday, December 21, 2015

Kamloops Wine Trail stars

Photo: Privato owners Debbie and John Woodward

Last June, the four wineries near Kamloops established the Kamloops Wine Trail. It is an initiative to attract wine tourists to an emerging wine region.

Emerging is the right word. Harper’s Trail Estate Winery and Privato Vineyard & Winery began selling their wines in 2012. They have been followed since by Sagewood Winery and Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery.

Four wineries make for a leisurely day of wine touring. Indeed, two Kamloops-based companies – Tasteful Excursions and Divine Tours – operate winery tours for those who prefer to taste and swallow, rather than taste and spit.

I would encourage enterprising wine tourists to venture a bit further afield after their Kamloops tour. Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet is a spectacularly scenic drive two or three hours west of Kamloops. The winery’s new tasting room is as impressive as the wines.

Heading east from Kamloops on the TransCanada Highway brings one to the Shuswap wine region. It is another scenic region anchored around Salmon Arm and its amenities. The wineries are all small and unpretentious. Their appeal includes tasting rooms usually staffed by family members.

In this blog, I want to comment on just two of the Kamloops wineries that have differing philosophies regarding their wines and vineyards. The contrast is part of the appeal of the Kamloops Wine Trail.

Privato owners John and Debbie Woodward have a vineyard and tasting room on sunbathed slope beside the North Thompson River. The property, a half hour drive north of downtown Kamloops, is one of the more northerly vineyards in British Columbia planted to vinifera. In 2010, they planted 1.2 hectares (three acres) of vines, with mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with one row of Maréchal Foch.  The latter appears to have been insurance against the risk of hard Kamloops winters. So far, I have not encountered a Privato Foch, however.

Privato is focussed on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so far with grapes sourced in the Okanagan. John is the winemaker of record but Jacqueline Kemp, a top flight New Zealand-trained winemaker, is his consultant and mentor. The 2012 Pinot Noir they made was a double gold medalist at this year’s All Canadian Wine Championships.

Going forward, Privato is producing several tiers of Pinot Noir, with the top tier designated Woodward Family Collection. Under this tier are two from the 2013 vintage; they are labelled Tesoro and Fidele and are made from different vineyards. Visitors to the Privato tasting room this fall may have had a sneak preview of these two.

The winery also has a Grande Reserve Pinot Noir is also under the Woodward Family tier but is only produced in exceptional years. “We do not have a 2013 but may have a 2014,” Debbie Woodward told me this fall. “We will continue with a regular Pinot Noir under the Privato Collection tier.”

The fascination of Monte Creek Ranch, about a 10-minute drive east of Kamloops, is also the varietals the winery works with. But in contrast to Privato, Monte Creek has planted winter-hardy Minnesota hybrid varieties in part of its 35-acre vineyard. With varietal names like Marquette, La Crescent and Frontenac, these are the first plantings of these hybrids in British Columbia. There also is a block of Maréchal Foch.

The winery also has an excellent south-facing slope on the north side of the Thompson River. Here, the winery grows Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

As well, Monte Creek buys some Bordeaux varieties from growers in the Okanagan. Thus, the wines here can be Okanagan blends, blends from several regions or Minnesota hybrids. No other tasting room offers this range.

The Monte Creek experience includes a visit to a grand, new tasting room that was opened this year. The architecture blends so-called Mission style (including a bell tower) with designs echoing local barns. This winery, after all, is also a working ranch.

“A large custom chandelier in the main tasting room,” the winery says on its website, “integrates the design elements of Ranch with Winery: aluminum ‘lassos’ swirl around a set of acrylic ‘spurs’ that hang from acoustic panels made of cork.”

These wineries, and their Kamloops partners, should be on your list for the 2016 touring season. Meanwhile, here are notes on some wines.

Privato Woodward Collection Pinot Noir 2012 ($32.95). This wine begins with aromas of ripe cherry and gently toasted oak, leading to flavours of cherry and strawberry with a touch of mocha and spice on the finish. The texture is firm but develops silkiness with time in a decanter. 91-91.

Privato Woodward Collection Chardonnay 2013 ($25.99). The vibrant, fruit-forward Chardonnay begins with aromas of citrus mingled with toasty oak. On the palate, there are flavours of tangerine and nectarine. The wine’s bright acidity gives it a crisp and lively finish. 91.

Monte Creek Ranch Riesling 2014 ($16.99). The wine begins with fruity aromas of citrus and kiwi. On the palate, there is a tropical medley of flavours, including lime and kiwi. The 23 grams of residual sugar give the wine a plump texture while the bright acidity leaves a finish that seems almost dry. 90.

Monte Creek Ranch Chardonnay 2014 ($16.99). The winery’s notes refer to “matchstick” aromas, along with more conventional aromas. I suspect that is a touch too much sulphur; no damage done because it blows off. Sniff deeper and you find the notes of oak (think hazelnut) and apple. On the palate, the wine is rich in texture with the hazelnut and apple reflecting in the flavours. 89.

Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up White 2014 ($14.49). This is an aromatic blend of 75.5% Frontenac Blanc, 13.5% Viognier and 11% La Crescent. It has aromas of honey, citrus and melon that are echoed on the refreshing palate, with layers of fruit. As with the Riesling, the significant residual sugar plumps the texture while the bracing acidity gives the wine a crisp, tangy finish. 90.

Monte Creek Ranch Frontenac Gris 2014 ($14.99). This grape variety was developed in Minnesota for terroirs quite different from sun-soaked Kamloops. I will bet there is no Frontenac Gris in Minnesota anywhere close to the ripeness of this wine. The grapes piled on the sugar in the Kamloops sun (the alcohol is 14.7%) but the variety retained its bracing acidity. Gold in hue, the wine has aromas of honey, ripe cantaloupe and apricot jam. All of this bold, jammy fruit is repeated on the palate. The finish is off-dry but the 10 grams of acidity ensure a refreshing finish. 88.

Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up Red 2014 ($15.50). The blend is 46.5% Merlot, 43.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Frontenac Noir and 3% Marquette. The wine begins with aromas of bell pepper, cherry, blackberry and currant. Those flavours, along with some green notes, are echoed on the lean palate. 87.

Monte Creek Ranch Cabernet Merlot 2014 ($18.49). The wine has aromas of cherry and black currants, with a hint of exotic spice. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. There is a touch of dark chocolate and cola on the finish. 89.

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