Wednesday, May 4, 2016

50th Parallel raises profile of Central Okanagan

Photo: 50th Parallel Winemaker Grant Stanley

The challenge to 50th Parallel Estate’s winemakers – Grant Stanley and his assistant, Matthew Fortuna – is to make wines as grand as this destination winery.

The latest releases indicate that they are holding up their end.

The winery is owned primarily by Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel. Grant became a partner when he joined 50th Parallel three years ago.

He works in a gleaming new gravity-fed winery 10,000 square feet in size, backing onto a 61-acre vineyard. An expanded hospitality centre to open next year completes the spectacular architecture on this property. The owners had to built a destination winery because 50th Parallel might strike some wine tourists as being off the beaten path.

In fact, it is not. It is an easy 15 minutes from either Vernon or from Kelowna International Airport. 50th Parallel is one of six wineries in Lake Country – six and counting. A seventh winery, O’Rourke Family Vineyards, is under construction not far from 50th Parallel, with plans to open a tasting room next year.

The 50th Parallel winery was designed primarily with Pinot Noir in mind. The gentle handling that grape requires is quite appropriate for the rest of its portfolio: aromatic whites and Chardonnay.

In 2015, Grant and his team had to deal with the same conditions that faced their peers further south in the Okanagan, but also missed some.

“Further south, the Okanagan Valley experienced long periods of degraded air quality with intense smoke and ash particles heavy in the air from late July to the middle of August,” 50th Parallel said in a comment on the vintage. “The smoke was created by massive forest fires in Washington State and near Oliver and Osoyoos. 50th Parallel vineyards were very fortunate, however, as our Central Okanagan vineyard location is directly north of the fire zone by over 100 kilometres. This distance, combined with favourable wind directions and a later harvest period, saved our fruit from being immersed in the smoke and from any effects of smoke taint.”

As I read that, it occurred to me that was last year. There have been serious forest fires in the North and Central Okanagan in the past. One hopes it will not happen again but the trees in the hills above the vineyards get tinder dry in these unusually hot summers.

The heat also has its benefits. “The long, hot and dry summer [of 2015] created healthy and disease-free growing conditions for the entire season,” the winery’s commentary continues. “The resulting harvest was early … Fruit was disease-free and nearly perfect in appearance from all vineyards and the cluster weights were 15% lower than what was expected.

“The lower yield can be attributed to the drought-like growing conditions that lowered the residual water volume of the actual grapes. This resulted in fabulous and intense ripe flavour concentrations in the berries, and an excellent natural balance of acid and sugars.”

Here are notes on the wines. Two are from 2014, also a solid vintage.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2015 ($19 for 1,814 cases). The style here is off-dry and crowd pleasing. The wine begins with bold spicy aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of pink grapefruit and quince. The 12 grams of residual sugar contributes to a juicy texture and an easy drinkability. 90.

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2015 ($19 for 3,100 cases). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and peach. On the palate, the wine is rich and presents a medley of fruit, including peaches, pears and fresh figs. 91.

50th Parallel Riesling 2015 ($19 for 498 cases). This wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime, leading to flavours of lemon, lychee and nectarine. A touch of botrytis adds a note of honey and sweet fruit to the palate. The texture is juicy, in part thanks to 10 grams of residual sugar. However, the sweetness has been nicely balanced with bright acidity. 90.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2014 ($32). This wine begins aromas of with peach and citrus set against toasty oak notes. It presents a medley of tropical flavours with a lingering note of tangerine and butter on the palate. In a word: delicious. 91.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 ($19 for 820 cases). Delicate rose petal in hue, this wine has aromas of strawberry and flavours of strawberry and cherry. 88.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2014($29 for 3,194 cases; plus 190 magnums). This elegant wine begins with aromas of spiced cherry and strawberry, fruit that is echoed on the silky palate. The flavours are supported by toasty oak. The finish lingers. 92.

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