Saturday, April 30, 2016

Class of 2016: Kitsch Okanagan Valley Wines

Photo: Trent and Ria Kitsch with the next generation

Kitsch Okanagan Valley Wines
3330 Nied Road
Kelowna BC V1W 4H5
T. 778.821.1955

This winery, which opened its tasting room in late April with some of the best debut wines from a new producer, owes much to an innovative brand of men’s underwear.  

The winery is owned by Trent and Ria Kitsch, members of a family that has been in the Okanagan for almost 100 years, prominent in construction and housing development. The owners, both Kelowna natives, bring a youthful energy to the wine business. Trent was born in 1979; Ria, who went to the same high school, was born three years later.

Tall and athletic, Trent was drafted from high school by the Colorado Rockies baseball team. That enabled him to play minor league ball in the United States while going to college on a scholarship. Deciding he had a better future in business than baseball, he finished his education at the elite Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

He considered going into the construction business with his father but first decided to develop an idea that had come to him in 2006 from his experience as a ball player. The design of men’s underwear had been static and the garments were not as comfortable as they could be. So with the help of a clothing designer, he developed what is now known as the SAXX brand.

“I helped him build the business,” says Ria, who has a business degree from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. She topped that up with business studies in Austria (including wine appreciation in Krems). After backpacking in South America, she returned to Kelowna. She met Trent – he had not known her in high school – and was impressed with his entrepreneurial ambition.

“I thought it was ambitious to go after a whole category that hadn’t changed,” Ria says. “With my business background, he suggested we could do that together. That sounded crazy but I had nothing else to do. I was going to go to graduate school but instead, I did a practical graduate school.”

They set out to build SAXX together, sometimes with unconventional marketing. “We hustled hard,” Ria says. “We did things guerilla style – opening a van door on the side of Robson street to tell people about SAXX and trying to sell for cash; kind of ambushing the Vancouver Marathon; different things to get noticed but stay on budget, which was minimal.”

By 2010, the brand had been established and was poised to grow internationally.

“We had an exit strategy,” Ria says. “For us it was essential that if it was going to be big, it get into the hands of people that could make it big, because that wasn’t us. We needed to prove the concept – that men would buy it and rebuy it at the price we valued it at. $25 a pair is expensive for underwear. So we sold [the company] and that allowed us to pursue our Okanagan dream of planting grape vines and starting the winery.”

As interim step, they established a home building company. One of the houses constructed by that venture for a Kitsch family member looks over the 12.7-acre vineyard that was planted in 2013 and 2014. The three-car garage attached to the baronial home has been converted into a winery and tasting room.

The winery and vineyard occupies a plateau in northeast Kelowna, with a panoramic view to the south over the city. Okanagan Lake stretches into the distance almost to Peachland.

“We were lucky in having some great soil to plant and people in the industry helping us to understand what to plant,” Ria says. They reached out for advice to another old Okanagan family, the Stewarts of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. That winery’s viticulturist offered valuable guidance on planting the four varieties now in the Kitsch vineyard.

The largest planting is Riesling, about five acres in two blocks. The other varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

For their winemaker in 2015, Trent and Ria recruited Grant Biggs, (right) who had spent the previous two years working at at Tantalus Vineyards. Before that, he had been an assistant winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Vineyards, had done a crush with a large New Zealand winemaker, and had enrolled in the distance learning program from the University of California at Davis.

Grant was born in 1983 in Port Alberni. He honed an early appreciation of wine while working in Victoria restaurants, where he took a professional sommelier course.

“My grandfather, I think, is the reason by I pursued a career in wine,” Grant says, referring to Italian-born Elio Navé. “He used to order grapes from California – Zinfandel and Muscat – and we would make wine in the basement together when I was growing up. I associated the fondest memories with the foods that grandma was cooking and the wine that my grandpa was drinking.” He adds that his grandmother is French.

“Baby Duck was my gateway wine,” Grant laughs. “Coming from a French and Italian family, 19 was a number. It wasn’t the legal drinking age. So on New Year’s Eve, I would get my little thimble of Baby Duck. I think I was 11 when I wanted more.”

His appreciation of wine has grown considerably since then. “I look at wine as a form of art,” he says – in a tasting room where art is prominent on the walls. “I know wine is a blend of science and art, but to me it is a beautiful piece of art.”

 “We have art here that is in our collection,” Ria says. “These are a little more contemporary in nature, a little more like street art. Our music is a little bit more soft electronic. We are just trying to be true to who we are without having any type of gimmick. We are here to fuse things that don’t go together all the time, like youthfulness and sophistication, or refinement but still approachability in our wines. That’s why we think people might be interested. It is pretty authentic. Hand-touched, small-batch, single-vineyard-bottled.”

Grant is remarkably meticulous in making wine. The vineyard’s two blocks of Riesling, planted in 2013, are about 100 metres apart in elevation. The grapes were picked on separate dates and were fermented separately, with differing techniques.

“The juice from one of the blocks was really clean,” Grant says. “I settled it really hard and did not take a lot of the lees into ferment. With the other block, I took a lot of lees and had a really heavy solids ferment. I used five different fermentation vessels [a pair of 2,000-litre stainless steel tanks, a neutral oak barrel and two glass carboys “just for fun”]. I think the barrel ferment adds a little bit to the body. I used VL1, a Chardonnay yeast, for the barrel ferment. I used a couple of nice aromatic yeasts for the two tank ferments.”

The Chardonnay grapes  were the first to be picked last fall in the Kitsch vineyard, on September 3, an early pick necessary to maintain the acidity in a hot vintage. Grant’s model was a wine with the freshness of Chablis, not with the boldness of what he calls a “California fruit bomb.”

“It was fermented in French oak; 40% was second fill and 60% was neutral,” Grant says. “I was hoping to achieve a gateway to Chardonnay. I did not want to mask the youthfulness of the fruit.” The wine had 50 days in barrel, with several lees stirrings and was then racked into stainless steel, with a blast of CO2 to keep the lees in suspension. “I wanted it to be more of a texture driven wine with a good backbone of acid, without going through malolactic fermentation.”

The Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir were made with fruit from a young vineyard in Lake Country. Grant deliberately sourced grapes from a young vineyard to avoid the contrast in style that would have occurred if he had used mature vines prior to fermenting the first harvest from the young Kitsch vineyard.

The other strategy here is to make single vineyard vines with grapes just from the north Okanagan – north of the Bennett Bridge, Grant says.

“I don’t want to source fruit from the south,” Grant says. “From here on, if there is any fruit to be had, it will all be from the north Okanagan. And that fruit will go into a single vineyard wine as well. I would never take that and put it in with any of our fruit. You need to feel that sense of place from our property.”

In 2015, the first vintage for Kitsch, the winery produced about 1,000 cases of wine, including 250 cases of Pinot Noir still in barrel.

“Very small batch; very special,” Ria says. “Every bottle is hand numbered and initialled by Grant.”

“We only made 12,000 bottles this year,” Grant says. “It was a casual evening job.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Kitsch Pinot Gris 2015 ($19 for 178 cases). Two-thirds of the grapes for this wines had 20 hours of cold soaking on the skins to bolster texture and flavour. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and pears. On the palate there are flavours of pear and ripe apple with a hint of anise on the finish. The texture is full and juicy, but with a clean, refreshing finish. 92.

Kitsch Chardonnay 2015 ($20 for 202 cases). This barrel-fermented wine begins with a lightly gold colour in the glass and with aromas of citrus and apple. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit ranging from melon to apple to pineapple and lemon. There is a very subtle note of oak on the finish. Good acidity gives this wine a bright and lively finish. 92.

Kitsch Riesling 2015 ($22 for 392 cases). This wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime, echoed on the palate. The flavours are surprisingly concentrated for fruit from young vines, with a vibrant tension created by balancing nine grams of acidity with 15.4 grams of residual sugar. This is good Riesling terroir because the young vines also contributed a spine of minerality. 92.

Kitsch Pinot Noir 2015 (barrel sample). While this wine likely will spend several more months in barrel, it already has a silky texture. There are aromas and flavours of cherry with a hint of toasty oak on the finish. This is a pretty Pinot Noir in a style sometimes referred to as “feminine.” 90-91.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Time Estate Winery goes downtown

Photo: Rendering of Penticton's Pen-Mar Cinema

Time Estate Winery’s decision to move into downtown Penticton is déjà vu all over again for Harry McWatters, the owner of Time.

Now a legend in the BC wine industry, Harry (right) began his wine career in 1968 in sales for Casabello Wines, a winery established in 1966 on Main Street South in Penticton. It was a substantial establishment with a show vineyard in the front yard and a big tank farm in the back. After Casabello was acquired by Cartier Wines – later Vincor – the tanks and the wines were moved to the Jackson-Triggs winery at Oliver. Production ended in Penticton in March 1994. The winery was demolished by the end of the year, to be replaced by a shopping centre.

The memory of Casabello has faded.  Andrew Jakubeit, Penticton’s youthful mayor, had not heard of Casabello when Harry briefed him on the plan to transform Time into an urban winery a few blocks from Penticton’s Okanagan Lake beach. That is understandable. The mayor moved to Penticton about the same time as Casabello closed.

Time is moving downtown from the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road after the recent sale of that property to a Chinese businessman.

The new location is the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre at 361 Martin Street. Landmark Theatres stopped showing movies there in 2012, moving to a larger and more modern theatre nearby.

The Pen-Mar was built in 1956. In another déjà vu moment, Harry recalls going to a Saturday afternoon matinee there that summer. He says he does not remember the movie but he does remember the girl who went with him.

It is a 12,000-square-foot building on an acre of land. The future winery’s footprint is actually larger than the winery that Harry had started to build last year at the Sundial Vineyard.

“It has four theatres,” Harry says. “Theatre one will be our fermentation hall; theatre two our barrel cellar; theatre three, which is a little bit smaller, will be used to store finished goods at this point – but we are finishing it for production. Theatre four, the smallest of the four – about 84 seats – will be kept and used for events.”

Ambitious plans are being made for the former theatre.

“We are doing a major renovation,” Harry says. “We are taking out the stairwell that goes up to the projection room. Our offices will be up on the mezzanine. The parking lot will be the crush pad for the time being and we will reconfigure that. We have room to expand right to the property line in the future. I don’t think we will need to do any expansion in the next few years, but we are taking that all into consideration now as far as our infrastructure, so we don’t have to replace things. We will be able to add some more capacity and expand the hospitality side a little more, too.”

Hospitality plans include a modest bistro along with a tasting room. The wine shop likely will remain open into the early evening.

“We are pretty excited about it,” Harry says. “It is a neat project.”

The early priority will be moving tanks and other winery equipment from Sundial to the former theatre. Additional tanks also are being ordered, to be in place for what looks like another early harvest in 2016.

The wine shop might be open as early as Labour Day, although Harry admits that is optimistic. “We are exploring the possibility of have a temporary setup, at least to be able to sell some wine. Our goal would be to be open for Wine Festival” at the beginning of October.

Moving downtown to a property without a vineyard means that Time will need to switch from a land-based license to a commercial licence. That has some impact on winery bookkeeping but the consumer will not see any difference.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Desert Hills hires winemaker Anthony Buchanan

Photo: Winemaker Anthony Buchanan

Six samples arrived recently from Desert Hills Estate Winery near Oliver, a solid producer whose wine are always anticipated.

It was only when I had tasted the wines and started organizing my notes that I discovered I had tasted and rated four of these in a blog last fall.

So I referred back to that blog to see if I had scored the wines any differently. Either the wines are consistent or I am consistent, but my scores were identical. Below, I repeat those four wines. The two samples not reviewed before are marked with a star.

Something else is new at Desert Hills: Anthony Buchanan, who had been the winemaker at EauVivre Winery in the Similkameen, has taken over from George Phiniotis, whose career was sidelined by an accident last year.

EauVivre outlined his biography in a 2013 announcement when they hired him: “Anthony is a graduate of the Professional Enology Certificate Program through Washington State University and the Winemaking program at Okanagan College. He has also completed Sommelier and WSET training as well as Vineyard Management training. He has worked at Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, Church & State Wines, Soaring Eagle Estate Winery and Paradise Ranch/Bench 1775 Winery.”

 “I love the wine industry,” Anthony was quoted as saying. “I love the artistic side and creating wines that people love to savour. I enjoy the challenge of constantly looking for ways to innovate and evolve the various winemaking processes.”

He should certainly have those opportunities in spades at Desert Hills. Proprietors Randy and Jessie Toor farm about 70 acres of prime vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. The wines are produced in a recently expanded winery, significantly larger than it was when Desert Hills opened in 2003.  

Here are notes on those six wines.

Desert Hills Gewurztraminer 2014 ($22.90 for 1,300 cases).  This wine has strong varietal definition, with aromas of ginger and orange marmalade. On the palate, the fruit flavours are intense, with spice and lychee. The texture is lush and the finish is quite persistent. The wine is balanced to finish dry. 90.

Desert Hills Viognier 2014 ($24.90 for 650 cases). The wine begins with appealing aromas of apricot and cantaloupe. The palate has intense fruit flavours that include honeydew melons, citrus and apples. The finish is crisp and refreshing. Fermenting this wine cool, at 15C, preserved the fruitiness. 90.

Desert Hills Gamay 2014 ($19.90 for 2,600 cases). Few wineries in the Okanagan have such a major commitment to Gamay Noir. Usually regarded as the junior partner to Pinot Noir, it produces some very drinkable wines. This is a bold, juicy red with aromas of black cherries. On the palate, there are ripe, spicy flavours of cherry and mocha. The finish lingers. 91.

Desert Hills Syrah 2011 * ($36.90 for 904 cases). Dark in colour, this wine begins with earthy, spicy and meaty aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of figs, plums, black olives and espresso coffee with a hint of black pepper on the finish. 90-91.

Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012 ($29.90 for 500 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant with hints of leather and tobacco. The wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak, has disciplined age-worthy tannins. Decant this for current drinking. 90.

Desert Hills Mirage 2011 * ($36.90 for 450 cases). This is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The individual wines are aged 18 months in French oak before being blended. The result is and elegant and complex wine with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and chocolate with a slight suggestion of bell pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and other vibrant red fruit, along with vanilla, chocolate, black coffee and licorice. The tannins are polished and the finish is long. 92.

Tantalus Vineyards new releases in spring 2016

Photo: Tantalus winemaker and general manager David Paterson

For Riesling lovers, the good news is that Tantalus Vineyard has just announced the release of both its 2013 Old Vines Riesling and its 2015 “regular” Riesling.

They are among a spring release of almost the entire portfolio from this East Kelowna producer. Other wines include two sparkling wines, two Pinot Noirs and a rosé.

My comments here focus on the Rieslings, for two reasons:

·       Tantalus is arguably the leading producer of Riesling in the Okanagan (although a rising number of other wineries are hot on this winery’s tail).

·       Tantalus Riesling wines can be recommended for purchase by anyone with the patience and the cellar to lay down these wines for a future vertical tasting.

In mid-February, Tantalus owner Eric Savics and David Paterson, his winemaker, hosted a 10-year vertical tasting of Tantalus Riesling wines. It spanned the vintages from 2005 to 2014. Every one of those wines, including the 2005, was alive and full of vibrant flavours and aromas.

This was a tasting of the winery’s “regular” Riesling, the one that sells for about $20 a bottle. It was not a tasting of the Old Vines Riesling, a $30 wine.

You might be hard-pressed to find another $20 Okanagan white still as lively at 10 years. The point is that this wine rewards you for cellaring it; and buying it does not break the bank.

Some definitions are in order. The Tantalus Old Vines Riesling is made from the small block of clone 21-B Riesling that was planted in the vineyard in 1978. There are perhaps just two other blocks of Riesling this old in East Kelowna.

The earlier vintages of the regular Tantalus Riesling (2005, 2006 and 2007) were made with Old Vines fruit. Eric redeveloped other parts of the vineyard after buying the property in 2003. Young Riesling plantings provided some of the fruit in 2008 and have dominated the wine ever since.

Both the regular and the Old Vines Riesling wines are dry. The regular usually has a touch more residual sugar, making the wine more accessible when it is young. The Old Vines typically is quite dry with bracing acidity. Old Vines is not released until it is two years old, just to let the acidity settle down.

In both of these wines, the acidity is what preserves the fruit and the aromas. When I tasted a 2005 Old Vines Riesling last year, it seemed to me that the wine would live to 2025. The current release, a 2013 Old Vines Riesling, also impresses me as a 20-year wine.

“There are a few other places in the world” where grapes have a comparable acidity, David says. “But the Okanagan is a beautiful place because we have this natural acidity. I have never worked at a place where you are wait for acid to drop enough so you can pick. You are accumulating flavours. Riesling does not usually pack on too much sugar. Even in the hot years, we have 12.6 alcohol rather than alcohol in the 14s. Every other place I have worked, Riesling is one of the first varieties to come in because it is too warm and the acid is dropping dramatically. Whereas Riesling is last off for us while we wait for that natural acidity to come down.”

At the vertical tasting, every vintage had lively acidity, even a hot vintage like 2009 which produced a slightly softer Riesling. The 2007 and 2008 vintages were preferred by many tasters – but none of the vintages let the side down. This underlines the collectability of these wines.

A bottle of Tantalus Riesling so impressed David Paterson – who was then working with a wine retailer in Vancouver – that he sought a job with the winery in the 2008 harvest. When Matt Holmes, the previous winemaker, left, David succeeded him in 2009.

David was born in Vancouver but grew up in New Zealand. He graduated in winemaking from Lincoln University in New Zealand and worked several vintages there, in Australia and in Oregon. Before returning to Canada, he was the production winemaker at Henschke Cellars, one of Australia’s leading family-owned wineries.

“For me, tasting these Rieslings, it is always remarkable how consistent the palate is,” David remarked at the vertical tasting in February. “There are little variations but you can tell it is from the same property. It does not matter on the winemaker or the vintage. I think we always have a very consistent balanced palate. The small variations have more to do with the weight of wine. That often comes from warm or cool vintages.”

The Rieslings from Tantalus are classic examples of terroir-driven wines.

“The pedigree of the site has proven itself year after year,” owner Eric Savics has written. “The unique soils of glacial lake bed silts give our grapes, and the resulting wines, a wonderful edginess and minerality which has become the hallmark of our Rieslings, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”

David, now the general manager of Tantalus as well as the winemaker, and Eric share an ambitious goal for the winery.

“For us, it is having a whole portfolio – sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, rosé, -- all coming off this one beautiful piece of property, rather than just Riesling,” David says. “The next 10 years is what we are really excited about. It is great to have come to where we are, but now as the vines mature past 10 years, we will see weight and maturity in the vines and the juice we get off them. We have an opportunity over the next little while to refine what we do and to produce some really world class wine, which is the only goal we have. It is good to be quite good in Canada. But our goal is to produce a full portfolio of single vineyard wines that always reflect the vintage and the terroir and stand up to anything from across the world.”

Here are notes on some of the current releases.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2013 ($34.70 for 150 cases). This is a crisply dry sparkling wine with aromas of lemon and lime and flavours of green apple and grapefruit. 90.

Tantalus Traditional Method Blanc de Noir 2013 ($27.74). This wine’s appeal begins with the lovely and delicate pink hue in the glass, along with the lively display of bubbles. The aromas are fruity and the palate offers a rich medley of flavours ranging from apple to red licorice. This is a delicious and festive bubbly. 92.

Tantalus Rosé 2015 ($19.04). This is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier. The wine is light and refreshing with a rose petal hue with delicate aromas and flavours of strawberry and cranberry and grapefruit. The finish is crisp and almost austerely dry. 88.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 ($30.35). The wine has begun to develop the classic petrol aroma of Riesling, along with notes of lime. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and grapefruit around a firm spine of minerality. The wine has good weight and a very long and profound finish. 93.

Tantalus Riesling 2015 ($19.91). The wine has intense aromas and flavours of citrus mingled with notes of spice and with lively acidity. 91.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Nine wineries meet Wildebeest

Photo: SOAHC winery's Kim McLaughlin and Jamie Fochuk

The Wildebeest Restaurant at 120 West Hastings in Vancouver has emerged as a funky but effective venue for wine tastings.

It seems especially suited to artisanal wineries. The nine producers at this year’s tasting included several scheduled to be at the much larger Garagiste tasting within the week, artisanal meaning much the same thing as garagiste.

The Wildebeest is a long, narrow room, which makes for cozy quarters around the tasting tables, all of which usually are arrayed against one wall. However, the people who attend these tastings are, for the most part, sommeliers and restaurant wine buyers, well indoctrinated in tasting room etiquette. In other words, these people do not belly up to a table and stay there, cutting off access to the wines and the principals (unlike the tasting room at the International Wine Festival).

There also is a constant ebb and flow of attendees during the three hours allowed for tasting. One can overstay a bit but not much because the restaurant needs to reset the tables for dinner. I did push it a bit but, for once, I touched base at every table.
Here are my notes. Prices usually are retail unless – where they end in odd cents- it is the so-called hospitality price, which excludes 15% tax.

Anarchist Mountain Vineyard is a tiny producer based on a three-and-a-half-acre vineyard that seems precariously perched on the side of Anarchist Mountain, overlooking Osoyoos. The vineyard was planted in 1985 by Anthony Dekleva. It is now owned by viticulturist Andrew Stone and his partner, Terry Meyer Stone. So far, their well-crafted wines are made by consultants in custom crush wineries.
Anarchist Mountain Elevation Chardonnay 2013 ($26). This is a pristine and focussed wine with lovely flavours and aromas of citrus and ripe apples that linger on the finish. Think of Chablis with weight. 90.

Anarchist Mountain Wildfire Pinot Noir 2014 ($35 for 70 cases). Andrew is so encouraged by the Pinot Noir on his site that he has replaced two of his three acres of Chardonnay with Pinot Noir. This wine begins with appealing aromas of raspberry and cherry that are echoed on the palate. Chris Carson, the winemaker who crafted this wine, fermented partially with whole clusters. He succeeded in creating a wine with a good backbone of long, ripe tannins. 91.

Anarchist Mountain Mayhem Merlot 2013 ($35 for 90 cases). Made by winemaker Mark Simpson with fruit for Anarchist’s 18-year-old Merlot vines, this is a bold and concentrated wine. It has 15% alcohol, balanced with rich flavours of black currant, plum, blueberry and chocolate. 90.

Fairview Cellars, named for the nearby mining ghost town, is where viticulturist Bill Eggert planted vines in 1993. His 6 1/2-acre vineyard, on a plateau overlooking the first hole of the Fairview golf course, grows primarily red varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for half the area. Bill’s reds are notable for their longevity. At the tasting, he poured a delicious 2008 Cabernet Franc, one of his library releases.

Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18.17). This is a Sauvignon Blanc in the Sancerre style, with an herbal aroma and with flavours of lime, lemon and herbs. The finish is tangy. 90.

Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18.17). What a vintage difference there is in the juicy and tropical 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. There is a delightful medley of peach and guava on the palate. The rich and generous texture reflects the hot 2015 season. 91.

Fairview Gusto Bianco 2014 ($15.05). This off-dry wine – 14 grams of residual sugar – is Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon. The wine, a crowd pleaser, has flavours of pink grapefruit and nectarine. 88.

Fairview Crooked Post Pinot Noir 2013 ($21.19). Crooked Post is the label Bill uses for Pinot Noirs blended with estate fruit and purchased fruit. This is a medium-bodied Pinot Noir with fresh wild strawberry aromas and strawberry flavours. On the palate, the texture is silky. 88.

Fairview Eagle Bluff Pinot Noir 2014 ($N/A). The fruit for this wine is all from Bill’s Vaseux Lake vineyard. The wine begins with a dark hue and spicy aromas of plum and strawberry, echoed in the concentrated fruity flavours. The long velvet tannins give the wine good weight. 92.

Fairview The Bear Premiere Series 2012 ($34.99). This is a powerful Meritage blend with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant, plum, black olive and chocolate. The texture is firm. This is a wine to be cellared. 91.

Fairview Iconoclast 2010 ($75.09). This wine – which retails for $100 with taxes – is the third vintage of Fairview’s ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an elegant and polished wine, with aromas of cassis and with flavours of mulberry and lingonberry. There is a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 93.
Orofino Vineyards was opened in 2005 near Cawston by John and Virginia Weber, former Saskatchewan residents who changed careers in 2001 when they took over a Similkameen Valley vineyard. Initially, they drew attention with Canada’s first winery built with straw bales (a second has just opened near West Kelowna). Now, they are much better known for premium quality wines.

Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($22). The wine has aromas and favours of petrol and lemon with a spine of minerality. The texture is concentrated and the finish is dry. This will develop well with age, as John showed by pouring a library wine, a 2007 Hendsbee Riesling. 90.

Orofino Scout Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($22). This wine is finished with a touch of residual sugar, softening the texture. On the nose and palate, there are aromas and flavours of lemon and peach. The fruit lingers on the palate. This is the one I would drink now while cellaring the Hendsbee. 90.

Orofino Celentano Vineyard Gamay 2015 ($23). This is a juicy and appealing wine, with gobs of cherry on the nose and the palate and with subtle hint of earth on the finish. 89.

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015 ($29 for 160 cases). Not only was this fermented with wild yeast but – a first for Orofino – it was fermented in a concrete vat. The texture of this wine is soft and rich, with aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry: a youthful fruit bomb. 90.

Orofino Red Bridge Red 2013 ($25). This wine is a departure from previous Red Bridge wines, which were all Merlot from a Kaleden vineyard. With this wine, Orofino is completing its focus on just Similkameen fruit. The wine also is a blend: 70% Merlot, 20% Syrah and five percent each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It is a delicious wine, with aromas of cassis, flavours of black currant and black cherry and a hint of cedar on the finish. The texture is generous. 92.

Orofino Beleza 2012 ($34). This is Orofino’s flagship red, a blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The wine is a powerhouse of almost port-like fruit that creates a rich, intense mid-palate. It begins with aromas of dark fruits and chocolate, leading to flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of sage on the finish. 93.

Pentâge Winery. which opened near Penticton in 2003, has a remarkable winery in a cave carved from bedrock. The winery is worth the visit just to see this feat of engineering by owner Paul Gardner. The wines are pretty interesting as well.

Pentâge Riesling 2012 ($19). Crisp and dry, this has aromas and flavours of petrol, along with flavours of lemon and green apple. 89.

Pentâge Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2012 ($21). This wine begins with aromas of lemon and gooseberry and delivers flavours of lemon and grapefruit. The wine has good weight, with a finish that is dry and that lingers. 90.

Pentâge Rosé 2014 ($17.30). This a rosé of Gamay and Zinfandel grapes. Those raised on off-dry white Zinfandels should note that this is a seriously dry rosé with spicy cherry and plum flavours. 89.

Pentâge Gamay 2013 ($21). Here is a lively red for Beaujolais lovers, with aromas and flavours of cherries and red berries. 88.

Pentâge Cabernet Franc 2012 ($N/A). Vibrant and brambly, the wine delivers aromas and flavours of blackberry and black cherry. The finish persists. 90.

Pentâge Haitus 2012 ($23). This is a blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 6% Tempranillo, 5% Zinfandel, 4% Malbec and 2% Pinot Noir.  The wine delivers complexity one usually does not see at this price: layered fruit aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and spice. 90.

SOAHC Estate Wines, a new biodynamic winery in Fruitvale (east of Trail), made its first ever appearance at a Vancouver tasting. (The name is “chaos” spelled backwards.) The vineyard has been planted since 2010 by Jamie Fochuk and his partner, Kim McLaughlin, with guidance in vine choices and winemaking from consultant Alain Sutre. Maturing vines enabled the winery to produce about 900 cases in 2015. Jamie brought along two promising tank samples of Riesling and Chardonnay from 2015.
SOAHC Riesling 2014 ($20.49). Tangy and dry on the finish, this wine has already begun to develop the classic petrol (marmalade if you wish) notes on the nose and palate. It has flavours of lime and grapefruit, with good weight. 90.
SOAHC Chardonnay 2014 ($20.49). This wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with the buttery notes from partial malolactic fermentation and subtle oak. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Synchromesh Wines, which opened in 2011, has made a name for its well-crafted Riesling wines. Owner Alan Dickinson offered six (!) at this tasting. He seems to have cherry picked some of the best Riesling vineyards on the Naramata Bench to complement his own Okanagan Falls vineyard.

Synchromesh Riesling 2015 ($14.69). This is a tangy wine whose bright acidity is modified by a welcome dash of residual sugar. The wine has aromas of lemon and lime, with flavours of lemon and crab apples. 90.

Synchromesh Riesling 2015 Drier ($14.78). The wine begins with aromas of lemon with a hint of nectarine, leading to flavours of lemon and lime and petrol. The acidity is bright and, as the label says, the finish is dry. 90.

Synchromesh Riesling Thorny Vines Vineyard 2015 ($19.09). This is a vineyard on the southern end of the Naramata Bench, planted with the renowned Clone 21B vines. It begins with aromas of lemon and apple and delivers honeyed flavours of lemon and lime. Vibrant acidity makes for a refreshing finish. 91.

Synchromesh Riesling Bob Hancock Vineyard 2015 ($19.09). This 3.5-acre vineyard at the north end of Naramata Bench is planted with self-rooted Clone 21B on gravelly loam. The wine has a fleshy texture and peach aromas and flavours with lemon on the finish. The acidity and the spine of minerals add complexity. 91.

Synchromesh Riesling 2015 Four Shadows Vineyard ($19.09). This vineyard is high up on the Naramata Bench. The bracing acidity is balanced with 52 grams of residual sugar. This is a wine with intensity and weight with aromas and flavours of grapefruit, apple and pineapple. The finish is very long and seems almost dry – a tour de force of winemaking. 92.

Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015 ($30.39). This is the estate vineyard with vines that are now mature. There is a whiff of petrol, even though the wine is young. The flavours are intense – lime, lemon, grapefruit and mango – with good acidity and a spine of minerality. 92-94.

Synchromesh Cachola Family Farms Cabernet Franc 2014 ($16.49). This is wine delivers lots of aroma and flavour with a juicy texture. There are notes of raspberry, cherry and spice. 90.

Terravista Vineyards is the Naramata Bench encore by Bob and Senka Tennant, former owners of Black Hills Estate Winery. The Terravista portfolio is dedicated just to white wines, including two Spanish varieties, Albariño and Verdejo, from the estate vineyard, and Rhone whites from the south Okanagan.  

Terravista Fandango 2014 ($24.90). This is the blend of the two Spanish whites. It is a fresh and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of lemon, honeydew melon, peach and apple. The finish is long. 91.

Terravista Figaro 2014 ($23.90). This is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. It begins with herbal aromatics and delivers stone fruit flavours with a hint of hazelnut. The finish is dry and austerely crisp. 91.

Terravista Viognier 2014 ($18.90). Crisp and firm, this wine has aromas of apricot and flavours of apricot, melon and lime, with a nice spine of minerals. 90.
TH Wines opened in 2012 as Tyler Harlton Wines. It still operates from an industrial park at Summerland. Tyler, a Saskatchewan native, could be described as a polymath. He also has a law degree from McGill but has a wide range of interests from hockey to organic farming. He produces interesting wines.

TH Wines Riesling 2014 ($26.99). Almost austere in its dryness, this wine delivers aromas and flavours of lime and petrol around a mineral backbone. 88.

TH Wines Viognier 2014 ($24.99 but sold out). Pity this is sold out. It has classic aromas and flavours of apricots and peaches with a spine of minerals. It has a crisp and dry finish. 89.

TH Wines Rosé 2015 ($22.99). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Salmon pink in hue, it has aromas and flavours of spicy cherry with a hint of red licorice. The finish is dry. 89.

TH Wines Pinot Noir 2014 ($32.99). This well-made wine has aromas of strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and plum. The tannins are silky. 90.

TH Wines Cabernet Merlot 2012 ($34.99). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. It has aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberry with spice and earth on the finish. 90.

Van Westen Vineyards was opened near Naramata in 2005 by Robert Van Westen, a member of a family that also grows incredible cherries. The winery is in a former fruit packing house. The tastings here are informal and friendly. All of the wines have names starting with V.

Van Westen Vino Grigio 2014 ($19.90 for 325 cases). This is Rob’s take on Pinot Gris – a crisply refreshing white with aromas and flavours of apple, pear and lemon. 90.

Van Westen Vivacious 2014 ($19.90 for 524 cases). This is Pinot Blanc, usually with a dash of Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of apples and green melon, delivering flavours of apple, pear and citrus. 90.

Van Westen Viognier 2014 ($24.90 f0r 174 cases). This is a textbook Viognier, beginning with aromas of apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and orange with a not of spice and ginger on the crisp finish. 91.

Van Westen Vixen 2014 ($19.90 for 73 cases). This is a spectacular late harvest wine (70% Pinot Blanc, 30% Pinot Gris) touched with botrytis. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of fruit mingling with sweet tobacco. On the palate, there are intense flavours of ripe pear and mango. The sweet finish is very well balanced with acidity, creating a finish that lasts and lasts. 92.

Van Westen Vicicle 2014 ($24.90 for 200 ml; 195 cases produced). Lush and tropical, this wine has aromas and flavours of marmalade, along with a medley of flavours that include baked pear and baked apples. 88.

Van Westen/Dibello Pinot Noir 2014 ($39.90 for 134 cases). This wine is a collaboration between Rob and his friend, winemaker Tom DiBello. Tom’s fingerprints are here with the fairly bold oak aromas. They mingle with strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavours. The palate is firm but evolving toward a silky texture. 89.

Van Westen Violeta 2012 ($34.90 for 92 cases). This is a Malbec. Full-bodied, it has aromas of blueberry and vanilla and delivers flavours of blueberry, plum, and blackberry with spice on the finish. 91.

Van Westen Vivre la Vie 2012 ($29.90 for 113 cases). This is Rob’s Merlot – a wine with a concentrated texture that frames the rich flavours of plum, black cherry and black currant. 92.

Van Westen Voluptuous 2012 ($29.90 for 341 cases). One of the winery’s flagship reds, this has always been a field blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, plum, black olives, dark chocolate and black coffee. On the finish, there is a note of spice and sage. 92.

Van Westen V 2011 ($34.90 for 426 cases). This is 49% Merlot, 24% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine is intense and complex, with aromas and flavours of black currant, black olives, dark chocolate and sage. Not yet at its peak, this is a wine that will cellar well for at least 10 years. 93.

Van Westen Vulture 2012 ($39.90 for 76 cases). This is Rob’s Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and plum and delivers flavours of spice, black currant, raspberry and milk chocolate.  92.

Monday, April 11, 2016

LaStella and Le Vieux Pin's new releases

Photo: Winemaker Severine Pinte

It is safe to say that winemaker Severine Pinte never has a chance to get bored.

She is the winemaker from two Okanagan wineries, Le Vieux Pin (LVP) near Oliver and LaStella near Osoyoos, both owned by Enotecca Wineries and Resorts of Vancouver.

The portfolios are dramatically different, as are the styles of the wines. “We want Le Vieux Pin to make wines of balance and finesse and restraint, and LaStella to make wines of lushness and exuberance and power,” says managing partner Rasoul Salehi.

Severine, a French-trained winemaker who joined the Enotecca group in 2010, works with different varieties at each winery. It is the sort of creative challenge that appeals to her.

“I like the challenge of having the two wineries,” she says. “I do have to think out of the hat, and really change my way to approaching the grapes and the final product. I joke that I turn my hat the other way when I switch wineries. I do approach the grapes in a completely different way. I won’t work the Merlot the same way I would work the Syrah.”

In an interview last summer, she told me: “I do think that the Okanagan is a great place to make wine. This is my sixth harvest here. There is huge potential. We have great soils, we have an exceptional climate in which to grow grapes. Yes, we can have winters that can be a bit cold but, other than that, we are pretty fortunate.”

The 2015 vintage was famously hot. Almost all wineries began the harvest in late August and certainly in September. The challenge was to being in grapes, which had matured to good flavours, before the acidity dropped too much. Some producers had to acidity wines, a practice not uncommon in hot regions.

According to Rasoul, the two Enotecca wineries avoided adding acid, with a few minor exceptions. “When you try the whites, they don’t actually cry 2015, because we picked ridiculously early,” he says. “Sauvignon Blanc was the first grape that came in, on August 17 or 18. We also picked the Chardonnay super soon.”

It was decided not to make a barrel-fermented premium Chardonnay in 2015 from the early-picked grapes because an oak-aged wine with comparatively low acidity might have been flabby.

“We did not want to wait and acidify,” Rasoul says. “So we made unoaked Chardonnay and we did not do malolactic fermentation. The Leggiero [unoaked Chardonnay] is 11.9% alcohol.”

The 2014 vintage was almost as warm. Winemaker Severine had to be equally nimble to produce wines to the standard expected by consumers of LVP and LaStella.

A case in point is Fortissimo, the winery’s Tuscany-inspired (because it includes Sangiovese) red. LaStella has produced this wine in every vintage since 2007. The wine is a blend primarily of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a volume of Sangiovese that varies with the vintage. In 2014, the blend has 21% Sangiovese, the highest ever, because the variety was critical adding needed acidity to the blend.

“I have never been to Italy,” Severine admits. “We often do tastings of wines from Italy, trying to see where we would like to fit in terms of style. But I don’t want to taste a wine and say, this is what I want to do. We can get inspired but I don’t copy. We do not need to copy other regions in the world. We cannot copy anyway. We don’t have the same climate and soil.”

The current releases from the two wineries are an exhibition of her confident and sur-handed winemaking.

Here are my notes.

LaStella Vivace 2015 ($21.99 for 1,240 cases). This is Pinot Gris but made in the light fruity style of Pinot Grigio, with just 12.8% alcohol. To preserve purity and freshness, the juice was not left in contact with the skins; nor did it sit on the lees. It has notes of lemon on the nose and on the palate and finish with crisp, tangy citrus flavours. 90.

LaStella Leggiero 2015 ($21.99 for 350 cases). Although a portion of this wine was fermented in a neutral puncheon, basically this is a refreshing unoaked Chardonnay, crisp with apple flavours, and lean and dry. The alcohol here is 11.9%, the result of picking early in a hot vintage. 90.

LaStella Lastellina 2015 ($20 for 715 cases). The rosé is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese.  The hue is a vibrant pink. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and plum, leading to refreshing sour cherry flavours balanced with a touch of residual sugar that gives the wine a juicy texture. 90.

LaStella Fortissimo 2014 ($29 for 1,374 cases). This is the winery’s bread and butter signature wine – a blend of 57% Merlot, 21% Sangiovese, and 11% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. One can consider this savoury wine an Okanagan version of a super-Tuscan wine. The Sangiovese brings cherry aromas and flavours that blend with flavours of black currant, saddle leather and mocha chocolate. The tannins are long and silky. 92.

LaStella Maestoso “Solo” Merlot 2013 ($89.90 for 188 cases). This wine will be released in the fall but it is already drinking well. It is a bold, rich Merlot with fruit aromas that bound from the glass and flavours that fill the mouth: plum, cassis, lingonberry and spice. 92.

LaStella La Sophia 2013 ($79.90 for 125 cases). This is a Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from the famed U2 block at Inkameep Vineyards. The aroma of cassis and mint candy thrusts itself from the glass. On the palate, there are complex flavours including black currant, deli spices and dark chocolate. It is an intense, big-boned wine with 15.1% alcohol, a structure that portends very good aging. 94.

Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($29.90 for 416 cases). Here is a white that is a match for fine Sancerre. It begins briskly with aromas of lime and herbs and continues just as briskly on the palate with flavours of lime, pink grapefruit and guava. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Petit Blanc 2015 ($18.50 for 790 cases). This is the winery’s entry level dry white, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Viognier. It has flavours of melons and apples with a savoury herbal note on the finish. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Roussanne 2014 ($29.90 for 50 cases). This is the first time that LVP has release a single variety Roussanne. It is an exceptionally complex white with aromas of herbs and tea. On the palate, there, the herbal notes are entwined with flavours of pear, hazelnuts, toasted cereal grain. The wine is dry, with good weight on the palate. The wine is sold almost exclusively to members of the wine club. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Vaïla 2015 ($21.99 for 780 cases). Made entirely with Pinot Noir, this rosé wine’s appeal begins with a vibrant hue. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry and has a zesty, dry finish. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Petit Rouge 2014 ($21.99 for 460 cases). This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a small percentage of Syrah. The wine has been barrel-aged (30% new) for 15 months. The wine begins with aromas of black currant and cherry. It has flavours of black currant, blackberry and hits of espresso coffee. 88.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2014 ($26.99 for 850 cases). Dark in colour, this wine begins with the classic note of black pepper on the nose. It has flavours of fig, plum, black olives, dark chocolate with a savoury, earthy note on the finish. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2013 ($79.99 for 267 cases). This wine was aged in barrel, but with no new oak to ensure nothing obscures the rich fruit flavours of fig and plum. The texture is concentrated. The wine will be released this fall; it is still developing in bottle. 92.

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2013 ($59.99 for 125 cases). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Syrah; aged 18 months in French oak (none new). The wine is sold just to LVP’s wine club and a handful of restaurants. It is a dense, concentrated wine with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant, coffee and dark chocolate.