Monday, March 28, 2016

Vancouver Island comes to town 2016

Photo: Salt Spring Island winemaker Paul Troop

For the second consecutive year, wine agent Richard Massey of Massey Wines & Spirits organized a tasting at Edible Canada in Vancouver for wineries from Vancouver Island.

It is a rare opportunity for these wineries, so long out of sight and out of mind, to penetrate the biggest wine market in British Columbia.

To be sure, some have made considerable ground on their own. Often, their websites reveal their products already are listed in wine shops in Vancouver and in the interior. But usually, the products are just in a few stores and seldom in VQA stores. For reasons explained only by internal wine industry politics, many island wineries dropped out of VQA a decade or so ago, believing – rightly or wrongly - that the British Columbia Wine Institute was not doing much to promote island wines.

The consequence? As I say, out of sight, out of mind. And that is a pity because the island (including Salt Spring and Pender Island) has had three good vintages in a row. As the notes below show, there are numerous interesting wines from the region. I spent close to five hours at the tasting and got around to all but three producers.

Here are notes on the ground I covered. Some prices are tax included, some are tax excluded. Life is too short for me to harmonize pricing; and some producers do not even have prices on their websites. Why not? How do you expect to sell?

Alderlea Vineyards was opened in 1998 by Roger and Nancy Dosman on a vineyard northeast of Duncan. Roger is renowned for precision of his viticulture and for his winemaking. He has been something of an elder statesman and mentor to some other Cowichan Valley producers.

Alderlea Bacchus 2014 ($16.49). This has long been one of the island’s most reliable examples of good winemaking from this aromatic grape variety. The wine is crisp and refreshing, with aromas of herbs and lime and flavours of grapefruit. 88.
Alderlea Clarinet 2012 ($19.49). Years ago, when Roger began releasing this full-bodied red, Maréchal Foch still had a poor reputation among consumers. So he gave the wine a proprietary name “because it tastes too good to be called Foch” in his famous quip. Think of a Claret with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and fig. 90.

Averill Creek Vineyard is marking its 10th anniversary of opening this year. It is operated by Andy Johnston, a former doctor, and his spouse, Wendy. He calls Pinot Noir the winery’s raison d’ětre but he also grows other varieties well on his 40-acre south-facing slope.

Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2015 ($15 for 1,900 cases). This is a textbook example of the “Grigio” or Italian style of Pinot Gris. The wine is light and refreshing, with aromas and flavours of citrus, melons and apples. The finish is crisply dry. 90.
Averill Creek Gewürztraminer 2014 ($18 for 538 cases). The wine has intense aromas of rose petals and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, lychee and melon. It is crisp and dry on the finish. 88.
Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2011 ($22 for 475 cases). Extreme low cropping enable Andy to make one of the island’s better Pinot Noirs in the very cool 2011 vintage. This is a medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavours of cherries. It has silky tannins and an appealing touch of spice on the finish. 88.
Averill Creek Foch Cab 2012 ($18 for 775 cases). The winery likes to call this Cowichan Claret, a useful description except that Canadian wineries no longer are permitted to use European terms. The wine is a blend of 60% Maréchal Foch, 15% each of Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre, and 10% Merlot. And the wine does recall Claret, with its aromas and flavours of blackberry, black cherry, black currant, with a touch of chocolate on the fruity finish. 89.
Averill Creek Cowichan Black NV ($18 for 375 ml; 1,150 cases). This is a lusciously ripe and full-bodied expression of blackberries. The wine has a surprising 60 grams of residual sugar but, with good acidity and 18% alcohol, it is well-balanced. This is a wine for chocolate and a good cigar. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Winery & Vineyard was opened in 1993 by Hans Kiltz and his wife, Evangeline. When Hans, a former veterinarian, reach retirement age, the winery was put on the market. Four years ago it was purchased by Paul Brunner, a mining industry executive, and his wife, Cristina. Last year, they opened a dramatically designed winery and tasting room, turning this formerly low-key winery into a must-visit for wine tourists. Bailey Williamson, the winemaker, crafts solid wines from the estate vineyard and – for the winery’s Quill label – with purchased grapes.

Blue Grouse Bacchus 2014 ($20 for 120 cases). This has been one of signature varieties at Blue Grouse. It is a crisp and tangy white with aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit. 88.

Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2015 ($20). Fifteen percent of this wine was fermented in barrel to add a touch of complexity. The wine has aromas and flavours of pear, melon and apple. The juicy texture reflects the ripeness of the 2015 vintage. 89.

Blue Grouse Quill Pinot Noir 2014 ($N/A). This is a firmly structured red with aromas and flavours of cherry and cranberry. 88.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2014 ($24). The mature vines in the estate vineyard yield complex and intensely flavoured Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. There is a spicy note on the finish. 90.

Cherry Point Estate Winery was in 1994 the third winery to open in the Cowichan Valley, south of Duncan. Xavier and Maria Bonilla have operated the winery since 2009. Xavier is a native of Colombia. He benchmarks the style of Cherry Point wines – at least the reds – on Rioja wines he admires.

Cherry Point Pinot Gris 2014 ($24). There is 10% Pinot Blanc in this blend, adding to structure and weight. Crisp and dry, the wine has aromas and flavours of apple and pear. 89.

Cherry Point Ortega 2014 ($27.90). An aromatic wine with a light straw colour, this wine has flavours of citrus and apricot with a touch of spice on the finish. 90.

Cherry Point Pinot Noir Reserve 2012 ($27.90). Boldly oaked (two years in barrel), this is very much in the Rioja style. Flavours of vanilla mingle with plum and cherry. If this tastes more like Tempranillo than Pinot Noir, that’s intentional. 88-90.

Cherry Point Bête Noir Gran Riserva 2013 ($24). This is a blend of Agria and Zweigelt. The winery says this is “reminiscent of the Rioja region” – perhaps in the sense that it is dark and muscular, with flavours of black cherry, tobacco and dark chocolate.

Cherry Point Cowichan Blackberry NV ($24 for 375 ml). Cherry Point was the winery that pioneered what was once called Blackberry Port. The berry flavours are ripe and luscious, with 18% alcohol to add substance and warmth. 88.

Emandare Vineyard was not at the tasting. These notes are from a recent tasting done by owners Mike and Robin Nierychlo at Marquis Wine Cellars. Located near Duncan, Emandare opened just last summer after Mike and Robin took over a 6.5-acre producing vineyard and gave it much needed tender loving care.

Emandare Siegerrebe Gewürztraminer 2014 ($23). This is 80% Siegerrebe, 20% Gewurz, fermented in stainless steel with wild yeast and left six months on the lees. The wine begins with herbal and spicy aromas, leading to flavours of lime and grapefruit. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.
Emandare Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($28 but sold out). This may be the island’s only Sauvignon Blanc; certainly at 14 years, it is the oldest block. It has aromas and flavours of lime, melon and herbs. A touch of residual sugar gives it a mellow texture. 88.
Emandare Rose 2014 ($23 but sold out). This was a field blend of 55% Cabernet Libre, 26% Tempranillo, 13% Malbec and 6% Carménère.  It is a robust and juicy rosé with notes of cherry and strawberry. 88.     
Emandare Maréchal Foch 2014 ($23). The bright berry flavours in this wine – cherry, blueberry and cranberry – recall more of a Loire red than the red hybrid one often gets with this grape. The wine was fermented with wild yeast partly in neutral French oak puncheons and partly in insulated food-grade bins. Twelve months aging in neutral French oak polished the tannins and the texture. 89.
Emandare Pinot Noir 2014 ($N/A). This wine has not yet been released. The juice was fermented with wild yeast in 500 litre neutral French oak puncheons and aged a further 11 months in neutral French oak barrels. The wine is fresh and lively with aromas and flavours of cherries. The tannins are still evolving toward a silky texture. 88-90.

40 Knots Estate Winery at Comox has been owned since 2014 by two energetic former business couples, Brenda Hetman-Craig and her husband, Layne Robert Craig. The wines are made by Matt Dumayne, the chief winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad. Matt’s talented hand shows in the excellent quality of the 2015 wines that 40 Knots showed in Vancouver. The 2015 vintage was one of the best on Vancouver Island, producing well-balanced grapes with tons of fruit flavours.

40 Knots Ziggy Siegerrebe 2015 ($19.90 for 211 cases). This crisp and refreshing white, with aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit, is one of the best examples of this sometimes overly aromatic grape. This wine is well-balanced and dry, and not over the top. 90.
40 Knots Whitecaps 2015 ($18.90 for 888 cases). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Auxerrois, Siegerrebe and Chardonnay. The wine is juicy and refreshing, with aromas and flavours of melon and apples. 90.
40 Knots Uncloaked Chardonnay 2015 ($18.90 for 133 cases). A very clean and fruit-focussed wine, this has flavours and aromas of apples and peaches. 90.
40 Knots Pinot Gris 2015 ($18.90 for 280 cases). Here is another crisp and refreshing white, with aromas and flavours of pear, apples and melons. It has good weight on the palate. 90.
40 Knots Ortega 2015 ($19.90 for 133 cases). Very slightly off-dry, this wine has notes of honey and flavours of ripe honeydew and mango. 90.
40 Knots L’Orange Schönburger 2015 ($29.90 for 590 bottles). The bronze hue of this “out of the box” wine comes from fermenting the grape, a white variety, on the skins. The wine also was aged on the skins, picking up colour and tannin. The wine is rather exotic with aromas of bay leaf and cumin and flavours of nuts and nutmeg. 88-90.
40 Knots Rosé 2014 ($18.90). The winery made 278 cases in 2015 but still was pouring the previous vintage. Made with Gamay and Pinot Noir, it is a refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. 88.
40 Knots Stall Speed Leading Edge Viognier 2015 ($N/A). Stall Speed is the winery’s designation for wines made from purchased fruit. This is a classic Viognier with aromas and flavours of apricot around a firm backbone of minerals and tannins. 89.

Garry Oaks Winery on Salt Spring Island was opened in 2003 by Elaine Kozak and Marcel Mercier. Marcel, who is an environmental scientist, manages the vineyard while Elaine, a former economist, makes the wines.

Garry Oaks Gewürztraminer 2014 ($25). This is a dry, food-friendly wine with rose petal and spice aromas and flavours of grapefruit. The wine is medium-bodied with a lingering spicy finish. 88-90.
Garry Oaks Pinot Gris 2014 ($25). Full on the palate, this wine’s minerality adds to its heft on the palate. There are aromas and flavours of melon, pear and apple with a hint of spice on the dry and lingering finish. 89.
Garry Oaks Zweigelt 2014 ($27). This is a delicious full-bodied red with aromas of red fruits and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, mulberry and fig with pepper on the finish. 90.

Salt Spring Vineyards has been operated since 2002 by Joanne and Devlin McIntyre. Both are doctors who moved the Salt Spring Island to pursue a love of sailing as well as a love of wine. Paul Troop, their winemaker, also owns a vine nursery on the island.

Salt Spring Vineyards Karma 2012 ($25.99). This is a traditional method sparkling wine made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with two years on the lees. The wine has a creamy texture, with toasty aromas and fruity flavours. 88.
Salt Spring Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014 ($14.99). About half of this is barrel-fermented for additional complexity. It has aromas and flavours of pear and apple. 88.
Salt Spring Vineyards Evolution White 2014 ($17.39). This is a blend of Petit Milo and Epicure, white varieties developed by Swiss plant breeder Valentin Blattner. It is a crisp and refreshing white with notes of green apple, melon and pear. 89.
Salt Spring Vineyards Millotage 2014 ($17.39). This is a blend of Foch and Pinot Noir. Just four months aging in oak enhanced the structure of the wine but left its lovely cherry flavours and aromas in the central role here. 88.
Salt Spring Vineyards Blackberry Dessert Wine ($15.99 for 375 ml). The wine fills the mouth with ripe blackberry flavours. The wine is medium-bodied with a lingering sweet berry flavour. 88.

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse is based on a Saanich Peninsula orchard of cider apples. Open since 2007, this is where Medicine Hat native Kristen Jordan applies the cider-making training she first acquired in Britain. Most of the ciders are packaged elegantly in 750 ml glass.

Sea Cider Flagship ($N/A). This effervescent cider was fermented slowly with Champagne yeast to produce a crisply dry cider with tangy apple flavours. An added feature is that no sulphur has been added to this product. 88.
Sea Cider Kings & Spies ($N/A). The cidery compares the style of this cider with 8% alcohol to frizzante Prosecco. Made with heritage apples, it has crisp apple aromas and flavours. A touch of apple juice was blended with the finished cider to balance the lively acidity. 88.
Sea Cider Pippins ($N/A) This is a crisp, slightly effervescent cider with a refreshingly sharp bite and with intense flavours of apples and pineapple. 90.
Sea Cider Bittersweet ($N/A) The Bittersweet apple is a staple for making English ciders. This sparkling cider is slightly off-dry with apple flavours recalling a very good slice of apple pie. 90.
Sea Cider Bramble Bubbly ($N/A). This sparkling cider, with a vibrant pink hue, is a brilliant blend of apples and blackberries. It has luscious flavours – crisp apple modified by jammy blackberry. 90.
Sea Cider Rumrunner ($N/A). This cider is gently effervescent. It gets its bronze hue and its rich flavours from having been aged six months in rum-soaked Bourbon barrels. The original product was aged in Screech barrels when those were available from Newfoundland. The cider is 12.5%, semi-dry and has flavours reminiscent of molasses and brown sugar. 91.

Sea Star Vineyards & Winery. Two years ago, this winery replaced Morning Bay Vineyards on Pender Island. It is run by owner David Goudge and his winemaker, Ian Baker. Ian was formerly a partner at Mistaken Identity Winery on Salt Spring Island, one of the wineries missing from the recent Vancouver tasting. Sea Star has not released its 2015 wines although David was handing out a price list while we tasted the remaining 2014s. I reprint my reviews of these impressive wines from last spring while eagerly awaiting the 2015s.
Sea Star Stella Maris 2014 ($19.15 for 338 cases). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega and Schönburger.  The wine is aromatic, with herbal spice and aromas of pear and apricot. All of that is reflected on the palate. The wine dances lightly across the palate and finishes with persistent fruity flavours. 90.
Sea Star Siegerrebe 2014 ($15.75 for 325 cases). This won gold at the recent Northwest Wine Summit. Aromas of honey, rose petals and grapefruit jump from the glass. The sweet fruit on the nose leads one to expect an off-dry wine. Big surprise: it is balanced toward dryness, with flavours of grapefruit. There is a hint of spice on the finish. The wine is so exquisitely balanced that the inherent grapey flavours of this variety are kept well in check. Siegerrebe can be cloying when sweet. Not this one; this is clean and refreshing. 92.
 Sea Star Ortega 2014 ($15.75 for 520 cases).  A silver medalist at the Northwest Wine Summit, this wine begins with lovely tropical fruit aromas, including guava, grapefruit, and lime mingled with delicate spice. On the palate, it is a bowl of tropical fruit flavours along with crisp apple notes. The acidity is fresh; the wine is once again exquisitely balanced, with a refreshing and long-lasting finish. 92.
Sea Star Blanc de Noir 2014 ($17.47 for 520 cases). This wine won a gold medal and was judged the best rosé at the recent Northwest Wine Summit. The Pinot Noir grapes for this rosé are from the Clam Bay vineyard. The wine presents with a delicate pink hue and with appealing aromas of strawberry and rhubarb. That fruit is echoed on the palate, where the wine is crisp and refreshing. The texture is luscious even though the wine is balanced toward dryness. 92. 
Sea Star Encore 2013 ($21.75 for 470 cases).  This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been aged months in new and used French oak. The wine is still bright and youthful; I decanted the wine as recommended by the winery. It begins with aromas of red currants and noticeable oak. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, prune, chocolate and liquorice. Because the oak has not finished marrying with the fruit, this wine will benefit from another year of bottle aging before being opened. (At the recent tasting, it was evident that the wine had developed while still have the structure to age several more years.) 90.

Tod Creek Craft Cider is now in its second year of sales. The cidery, operated by Chris Schmidt, is on Prospect Lake Road near Victoria, in a renovated dairy barn. The surrounding pastures are destined to grow cider apple trees. Chris brings creative touches to his cedars.

Tod Creek Tod Cider (Available in a four-pack of 473 ml cans). Tangy and lightly effervescent, this delivers refreshing aromas and flavours of apples. It is crisply dry on the finish. 88.
Tod Creek Mala-Hop ($7 for 500 ml). Here is a cider for IPA lovers. The hops in the blend add a smoky bitter note to the apple flavours. 90.
Tod Creek Coastal Blue (N/A). This was on tap at the tasting. This is a delicious cider with blueberry juice adding colour and flavour to compliment the apple flavours. 90.

Venturi-Schulze Vineyards was opened in the Cowichan Valley in 1993 by Giordano Venturi and Marilyn Schulze, former teachers who opted for the wine grower’s lifestyle in 1988. The winery has a reputation for wines that are creative and original. Daughter Michelle has joined them in the business.

Venturi-Schulze Primavera 2013 ($20.10). This is a blend of Schönburger, Ortega and Chasselas. As the proprietary name suggests, the wine has the freshness of a spring morning with hints of melon and a touch of sweetness. 90.
Venturi-Schulze Long Shot 2013 ($25.10). This is a blend of Pinot Gris and Kerner.  It is a crisply dry white with aromas and flavours of citrus and green melon with a hint of herbs. 90.

Venturi-Schulze Cut-Cane Siegerrebe 2014 ($25.10). The name refers to the winery’s unusual production method. “The canes bearing the fruit, clipped to the trellis wires, were cut from the vine and the fruit was allowed to dehydrate and concentrate in the vineyard before harvest,” the winery explains. The result is an exotically aromatic wine with lime and grapefruit flavours. There are spicy herbs on the dry finish. A tour-de-force. 91.
Venturi-Schulze Pinot Noir Three-O-Four 2014 ($28). . It is a concentrated but silky wine with strawberry and cherry aromas and flavours. 91. 

Marilyn Schulze explains the name: “Our 2014 Three-O-Four Pinot Noir was so named because it was entirely stainless steel fermented and bottled without any oak whatsoever – a first for us. The grade of stainless used in winery tanks is 304 (usually referred to as three-oh-four rather than three-zero-four). It was made from a block of our original planting of Pinot Noir consisting of just two of our 5 clones, with the vines now 28 years old. We had made a small experimental batch of “virgin” Pinot Noir (no oak, no malolactic fermentation) back in 1992 from these vines and we wondered how the fruit from the old vines would be expressed. In other words, how much of the character of the wine was terroir driven and how much was a result of the influence of the oak. The rest of the wonderful 2014 Pinot Noir has been oak aged and is ready now to bottle. The 2015 is in barrel now and we are thrilled with it, too.”

Venturi-Schulze Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60.10). This is a bold and intense wine from a vintage hot enough to produce 14.9% alcohol.  The wine was aged two years in Nevers oak. It has deep cherry and plum flavours with spice on the complex finish. 92.

Vigneti Zanatta Winery the original Cowichan Valley winery, opening in 1992. The winery explains its history thus: “We are proud to hold the title of “First Family of Vancouver Island Wine.” Vigneti Zanatta is the result of serendipitous circumstance. When family patriarch, Dionisio (Dennis) Zanatta came to Canada in the 1950s from his home in Treviso, Italy, he did not intend to pioneer the burgeoning industry that has affirmed our region as Canada’s “Wine Islands” in recent years. Dennis was simply inclined to do what he loved, and, being Italian, that just happened to be making exceptional wine. After acquiring a working dairy farm in the Glenora region of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, Dennis was inspired by the similarities in climate between his new home and his old [to plant a vineyard].” The winery, now operated by his daughter, Loretta and her spouse, Jim Moody, specializes in sparkling wines.

Vigneti Zanatta Fantasia Brut NV ($N/A). This wine is made in the traditional method but with Cayuga grapes, a white New York hybrid. The wine is aged on the lees for at least three years. The result is a creamy, toasty sparkler with apple flavours. 88.
Vigneti Zanatta Brut Tradizionale 2009 ($N/A). This classy and elegant wine is made primarily with Pinot Noir with a minor volume of Chardonnay. Also made in the classic Champagne method, the wine is refreshing and crisp with hints of apple on the palate. 90.

Vigneti Zanatta Damasco NV ($N/A). This is a light, dry and slightly aromatic blend of four white varieties. 88.

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