Sunday, March 6, 2016

Six wild ferment wines from Bartier Brothers

Photo: Tasting room at Bartier Bros. (credit Lionel Trudel)

The current wine releases from Bartier Brothers Winery comes with an updated media kit about Michael and Don Bartier, the owners, and their philosophy about wine.

“Don’t try to copy Napa, or Bordeaux, or Burgundy; make Okanagan wine,” the brothers advise.Those places make beautiful wines, but they’re different from what the Okanagan gives, and they don’t have the privilege of working with Okanagan grapes.”

That should put Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in its place!

Actually, one has to admire the brothers for their self-confidence and for the confidence they have in the Okanagan. Their Cerqueira Vineyard south of Oliver does not have Romanée-Conti’s 1,000 years grape-growing heritage but who is to say what is in the future. I am not suggesting that the Bartier Brothers have set the bar that high for themselves, at least not yet.

As for the here and now, one still afford the wines from the Cerqueira Vineyard. It has been a long time since you could say that about Romanée-Conti.

Michael is a well-known figure in Okanagan wine with more than 20 years of experience. I first met him in 1994 at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards, under awkward circumstances. I had had an appointment to interview the HMV winemaker. When I announced myself at the winery, there was a lot of awkward shuffling until Michael, the assistant winemaker, was produced. As I learned later, the winery owner and the winemaker had parted company abruptly in a falling out still not healed.

But Michael gave an excellent interview – as he has on every occasion since when I have met him. His journey to his own winery (in partnership with brother Don, an accountant) has involved a number of stops along the way. After Hawthorne Mountain, he made wine at Stag’s Hollow Winery, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, Road 13 Vineyards and Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. As the Bartier Brothers media kit sums it up: “He quickly made a name for himself: first as a maker of white wines, earning two Canadian White Wine of the Year titles within three years, and then as a maker of red wines with several consecutive Lieutenant Governor’s awards for his red wines.”

The first vintage of Bartier Brothers was made in 2009. While the brand was getting established, the brothers were busy tying up ownership of the Cerqueira Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Michael had identified the property some years earlier and bought fruit for his various employers. When the owner retired, he and his brother exercised their option to buy the vineyard. A tasting room was opened last summer at the property’s new address on Ryegrass Road.

All the Bartier wines now are estate grown. The Gewürztraminer comes from a small vineyard at Summerland owned by Don. The rest are from the Cerqueira Vineyard.

The vineyard, planted between 1997 and 2008, is 13.7 acres in size. The varieties grown there are Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Semillon.

The media kit describes why Michael believes that the Cerqueira Vineyard is special.

“The site of this vineyard was a cataclysmic flood plain from an event about 10,000 years ago, when a burst glacial dam deposited a lot of glacial debris on the valley bottom very suddenly. This glacial till is highly mineralized, especially with a great deal of calcium. Since the dam burst, rainwater has been percolating through the soil, leaving a limestone precipitate crust on all the stones through its deep profile. Vine roots seek out these stones for the small amount of water to be found on this rough crust surface. It is controversial to say that these vines are ‘feeding’ off these minerals, but that’s exactly what we believe is happening and it shows in the minerality of the wines vintage after vintage.”

I don’t want to push the parallel too far but there obviously is something special also in the soil and terroir of Romanée-Conti (or any other top vineyard).

Here are notes on the current releases. It is worth noting that all the wines have been fermented with wild yeast and the reds are unfined and unfiltered.

Bartier Bros. Semillon 2014 ($20 for 649 cases). This wine has aromas and flavours of lime and lemon. It has bright acidity, giving the wine a crisp and refreshing finish. The spine of minerality that defines the texture clearly reflects the Cerqueira soils. 90.

Bartier Bros. Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19 for 282 cases). The wine is made with fruit from brother Don’s Lone Pine Vineyard at Summerland. The vineyard sits on the flank of extinct Giant’s Head Volcano, benefitting from the volcanic elements in the soil. The wine seems surprisingly delicate (alcohol of 10.6%), with a rose petal aroma. The tropical flavours seemed a little mute, making me wonder if the wine was not just going through a phase. Some wines do that. The wine was more expressive on the second day. 88.

Bartier Bros. Chardonnay 2014($27  for 248 cases). Michael’s wine of the year awards were both earned with Chardonnay, a variety he has some affinity for. A portion of this wine was fermented in two-year-old barrels and a portion was fermented in stainless steel. Thanks to the wild yeast, the fermentation was slow, lasting seven weeks. Both lots were left on the lees before being blended. This wine was also more expressive on the second day, with aromas and flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. I wonder whether this wine is best decanted. 90

Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2013 ($30 for 347 cases). This wine is emerging as one of the Okanagan’s go-to Cab Francs. It is a delicious wine with aromas of cherries and blackberries leading to bright brambleberry flavours and long, elegant tannins. The wine has aged 15 months in neutral French oak. 92.

Bartier Bros. Merlot 2013 ($27 for 451 cases).  This wine begins with aromas of cassis, cranberry and cherry which are echoed in the flavours. The wine has good weight and a firm (not hard) texture. It has a long, spicy finish. The wine benefits from being decanted. 90.

Bartier Bros. Syrah 2013 ($27 for 258 cases). This is certainly a wine that should be decanted. We tasted it over two days, giving its disciplined structure a chance to show an underlying richness. There is pepper in both the aroma and on the finish, along with flavours of plum and chocolate. 90-91.

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