Thursday, May 12, 2016

Class of 2015: Ciao Bella Winery

Photo: The Fiume family (l to r): Antonio, Roberto, Olivia and Sharon

Ciao Bella Winery
3252 Glencoe Road
West Kelowna, BC, V4T 1M2
T: 778.754.3443

The Italian heritage of this winery, which opened last fall, is expressed even in the winery’s “unofficial mascot,” in the phrase of co-proprietor Roberto Fiume (with his wife, Sharon). It is his sports car, a 1977 Alfa Romeo Spider.

The heritage also informs the style of the wines and the labels: Pinot Nero for Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio for Pinot Gris.

Among Okanagan wineries, Roberto is better known as Robert Fiume, the partner in Kelowna-based Capri Insurance Agencies. There he has developed the insurance coverage that many wineries have taken to protect their assets.

Roberto was born in 1969 in Yellowknife. It is perhaps an improbable locale in which to develop a passion for wine. Roberto inherited the passion from his parents, Luigi and Melina, who immigrated to Canada in 1956 from the Naples region of Italy. Luigi spent the next 25 years working in the Con gold mine, a Yellowknife landmark in production from 1938 to 2003.

“In Yellowknife, the Italians there would get together and get grapes shipped up,” Roberto recalls. “We grew up making wine in Yellowknife. There was this big chunk of bedrock under our house. In one side, my dad dug it out and made his wine cellar.”

When Luigi finished his career at the Con, he and Melina opened Luigi’s Pizzeria and Deli, still remembered fondly by Yellowknife oldtimers. They sold the business in 1956 to move to the Okanagan (the pizzeria is still in business under different ownership, as Bruno’s Pizza).

Luigi and Melina moved their family because, as Roberto puts it, “30 years in the North was enough. It was time to move to warmer climes!” They settled in the Okanagan because it “reminded them so much of their homeland. The fact it was, and still is, a fruit basket greatly appealed to them.”

Roberto completed his education in Kelowna with an Okanagan College diploma in business management that set him on the path to become a partner in the insurance agency in 2001. In parallel with that, he also became a grape grower.

The family settled on property in West Kelowna’s Glencoe district in 1983, buying a property four years later across the road that was the area’s original vineyard. With the help of his family, Roberto pulled out the hybrid vines in 1989. He began replanting in 2000 with Pinot Noir. Currently, he grows five acres of Pinot Noir and he has just added a quarter acre of Pinot Gris.

“I put every post in the vineyard and I dug every hole,” Roberto says proudly.

Until he decided to produce wine under his own label, Roberto sold his grapes to other wineries, notably to Arrowleaf Cellars. The first vintage, just three wines from 2014, are now available in Ciao Bella’s charming tasting room. For those bringing a picnic, the Fiume family has provided comfortable and shaded seating, including a table that doubles as a chess board. It is a game enjoyed by Roberto and his 15-year-old son, Antonio.

Ciao Bella’s wines – the Pinot Grigio is made with purchased grapes - are made by Jim Faulkner, the veteran winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery. Jim developed an interest in wine during years he spent managing night clubs. He started his winemaking career in the cellar at CedarCreek Estate Winery, moved to Summerhill and then Church & State before joining Mt. Boucherie in 2009.

The style of the wines emerged from Roberto’s desire to mirror his interpretation of Italian wine. “We tried to keep it true to the Italian style,” he says. “Italian wines keep a bit of their fruit but they can also be dry at the same time. That is what I asked Jim to make.”

Ciao Bella has come out of the gate with award-winning wines. The Pinot Rosé won silver in the BC Wine Awards.

The 2014 Pinot Nero, which was released in February this year after aging 12 ½ months in French oak, now has an impressive award: Best of Varietal Pinot Noir at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

The Ciao Bella labels also do homage to Roberto’s heritage by employing original and very charming photographs of his parents in their youth in Italy just before emigrating.

Here are notes on the wines.

Ciao Bella Pinot Grigio 2014 ($16.95). The wine is clean and fresh with aromas and flavours of pear and apple. There is a buttery note on the finish, without taking anything away from the fruity elegance. 88.

Ciao Bella Rosé 2014 ($17.95). The vibrant hue and the abundance of fruity aromas and flavours come from giving the juice 48 hours contact with the crushed Pinot Noir. There is cherry and strawberry on the nose and on the palate. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.

Ciao Bella Pinot Nero 2014 ($19.95). The comparatively light colour is deceiving. This wine is full on the palate, with silky tannins. It has flavours of strawberry with a surprising hint of chocolate on the finish – probably reflecting the four new oak barrels that the winery used along with first-use French oak. Bottom line: this is a very pretty wine. 90.


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