Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Class of 2016: Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards

Photo:FFV's Gordon Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards
697 Highway 97S
Peachland, BC, V0H 1X9

Among the memorable experiences in wine touring, visiting the cellar of a sparkling wine producer is near the top of the list.

Starting September this year, what promises to be the Okanagan’s best sparkling wine cellar tour will begin welcoming the public at Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards south of Peachland. The former Greata Ranch Vineyards winery is completing a spectacular redevelopment to accommodate a new 8,000 case winery, a little more than half  of it sparkling wine. The underground cellars will accommodate 120,000 bottles of bubbly.

This week, months in advance of opening its wine shop, Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards (FPV) is releasing its first table wines. The winery’s debut sparkling wine, 380 cases from the 2012 vintage, is completing aging and will be released this fall when the tasting room opens.

The winery, based on a 40-acre lakeside vineyard south of Peachland, was operated from 2003 until the spring of 2014 as Greata Ranch Vineyards by Gordon Fitzpatrick and his father, Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, who then also owned CedarCreek Estate Winery.

Early in 2014, CedarCreek was purchased by Anthony von Mandl, the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. The Fitzpatricks, who had not expected von Mandl’s offer, had been planning a $2 million renovation to CedarCreek. Instead, they turned their attention on Greata Ranch.

We have always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon, who had also been CedarCreek’s president. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. We had a wine shop and a second label, Greata Ranch, but it never got the attention it deserved. I wanted to see what we could do by giving Greata its own personality.”

The Fitzpatricks have a long and emotional relationship with Greata Ranch.
“I used to come up here with my Dad,” Senator Fitzpatrick says, recalling when his father came to buy Greata fruit for the Oliver packing house which he managed. “This was a big beautiful peach orchard. At one time Greata was the largest single orchard in the Okanagan Valley. A large portion of the orchard was planted in peaches.”

The FPV Rosé is labelled The Pink Mile in an allusion to how Greata Ranch looked in its glory days as an orchard when the peaches were in blossom.

The property is named after George W. Greata, a British immigrant who arrived in the Okanagan in 1895. After securing water rights and building an irrigation line from a nearby creek, Greata planted the first apple trees in 1901.

The orchard flourished under the subsequent owners, the Long family. A 1949 article in the Family Herald and Weekly Star reported that the orchard's average annual crop totalled 485 tons of cherries, pears, apricots, plums and peaches; and the packing house also handled 25,000 cases of apples from the area each year.  The enterprise run by the Long brothers was a major business in its time, with about 75 full-time employees and a dock on the lake from which produce was transported to railhead.

The year after they sold it in 1965, a very cold winter decimated the orchard. The ranch passed through several owners and uses before becoming a derelict property with squatters’ cabins on the shore. Senator Fitzpatrick bought it in 1994, cleaned it up and planted the vineyard in 1995.

During the past 20 years, most of the grapes – notably Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – ended up in CedarCreek wines. A decade ago, as part of a real estate development project, a few vintages of Greata Reserve Chardonnay and Reserve Pinot Noir were produced before both the luxury housing proposal and the reserve program were shelved.

Since the sale of CedarCreek, the Fitzpatricks have turned their full attention on recreating Greata Ranch as a producer of premium sparkling wine.

“With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was,” Gordon says. “They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

The initial vintages of sparkling wine were made by Darryl Brooker, then the CedarCreek winemaker and how chief winemaker at Mission Hill. He was assisted by Taylor Whelan, who made the 2014 and 2015 still wines for FFV. He had just settled in as the FFV winemaker until this week, when he was appointed CedarCreek’s winemaker. Gordon is currently recruiting a replacement for FFV.

Taylor (below) was born in 1985 in Campbell River. With a biology degree from the University of Victoria, he set out to be a marine biologist until he discovered that this career was not about “swimming with whales, but in real life, sitting in front of a computer, running statistics.”

Looking for a career he was more passionate about, he studied winemaking at Brock University and got a job in 2009 at Hillebrand winery, a Niagara on the Lake winery with a major sparkling wine program. His boss was Darryl Brooker, who moved to CedarCreek in 2010.

Taylor followed Darryl to CedarCreek in 2012 after acquiring additional winemaking experience in New Zealand and Australia. Taylor is interested specifically in cool climate grape varieties and in sparkling wine.

“The winery I worked at in Tasmania was one of the foremost sparkling producers down there, Bay of Fires,” Taylor says. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to work at Hillebrand as well, because of the Trius sparkling program. It is the biggest in Canada and relatively well established.   So sparkling is a large interest of mine.”

“Production of sparkling wine in BC is limited,” Gordon says. “Last year, total sales of BC sparkling wine were only 28,000 cases. We think there is a really good niche for it.”

Taylor had already begun to stamp a style on FFV, making wines that are fresh and with good fruit. 

“A lot of people would say that is a character the Okanagan wines have already,” he says. “We are trying to stay true to that. For still wines, it would be the same. The idea is to showcase the site. It is a cool, bright, high acid site with bright fruit flavours and tightly wound characters.”

The FFV winery is being developed to provide a major hospitality program, in part because the business plan calls for selling much of the production at the cellar door. Gordon’s research included touring close to 30 sparkling wine producers in Champagne and in California.  

“We will offer in depth tours that will focus primarily on sparkling wine,” Gordon says. “The whole winery has been designed with that tour in mind. You will start in the gathering room; then step out these doors and across to the vineyard; and walk along the vineyard rows to talk about what is special about this site and why is ideal for sparkling; and talk about viticultural practices.”

Each tour, limited to perhaps 12 persons, will last from an hour to an hour and a half. Video stations in the cellar will show those steps in the production process not always being done live.

“Then we come back up the stairs and come back into this very nice gathering room, where we will do the tasting,” Gordon says. “The tasting will be done either by Taylor or myself. It will be hands on.”

For those not interested in a cellar tour, there will be tasting bars and lounges with food service. Beginning in 2017, teams of chefs will prepare lunches and, on several evenings, dinner.

“It is not just a wine brand,” Gordon says of FFV. “I want to create a little bit of a lifestyle brand as well. That is why there is emphasis on what we are going to be doing on site, and the restaurant and the food, and the way we present. I want to see if we can cross over and create what I call luxury at play.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Fitzpatrick Interloper Gewürztraminer 2015 ($18.50 for 566 cases). The models for this wine included the great wines of Alsace. The wine is bold, with aromas and flavours of spice, lychee, grapefruit and grapefruit rind. About 20% of the wine was fermented in barrel and perhaps that accounts for the fleshy texture.  Taylor says: “This is the one wine that I am relatively unapologetic about being big and intense, and not afraid of residual sugar.” 91.

Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2015 ($18.50 for 444 cases). The winemaker’s objective with this white variety – a star in the CedarCreek portfolio – is to make another powerful, aromatic wine. The wine begins with an appealing fruity aroma (peach and stone fruit), leading to flavours of apricot, peach and ripe apple. The finish is slightly off dry. 91.

Fitzpatrick Big Leap Chardonnay 2014 ($24.50 for 345 cases). This elegant wine is fermented in French oak barrels (seven percent new). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and peach. On the palate, there are flavours of tangerine and apple with a very slight hint of oak. While the wine has good weight, the bright acidity gives it an appealing clarity and freshness. 93.

Fitzpatrick Pink Mile Rosé ($18.50 for 344 cases). This is made with Pinot Noir. Light rose petal in hue, the wine has aromas of strawberry and flavours of strawberry with twist of orange rind. There is a hint of residual sweetness on the finish. 90.

1 comment:

Canadian Max said...

Looking forward to try them out on our winetour 2016 from Switzerland. What a surprise, Gord's back :-)