Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lariana Cellars: have you heard of them?

Photo: Lariana's Dan and Carol Scott

Unless you have read this blog regularly, you probably have not heard of Lariana Cellars. I run into people all the time who admit that to me.

Perhaps it is a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” To find the winery, you need to drive toward the Canada-US border crossing at Osoyoos. If you get caught up with American Immigration, you have gone too far.

Just a few yards this side of entering the presumptive Kingdom of Trump, turn left at Second Avenue and follow it as it winds by the eastside of the border buildings. Bear left again and watch for the winery on the north side of the street, at 8310 2 Ave, Osoyoos.

I would also suggest calling ahead for an appointment (250.498.9259). This is a very small winery run by Carol and Dan Scott and they are likely to be engaged in their other business, a 75-unit recreational vehicle park on Osoyoos Lake. But they are a friendly and accommodating couple.

That may sound like a lot of trouble, but it is well worth it. Lariana’s Viognier is, arguably, the best in British Columbia. The two red wines are also impressive, and worth the price.

Here is an except from John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide  to provide a little more background on the winery.

The winery name is a tribute to Larry and Anna Franklin, the parents of Carol Scott, who owns this winery with her husband, Dan. Larry Franklin was a shareholder in Shannon Pacific Vineyards, a large Black Sage Road vineyard until it was broken up after the 1988 vine pull out. During one vintage, Carol was assigned to keep the starlings away from the grapes with a bird gun. In another vintage, she helped pick grapes. She also hauled grapes to the family home in Burnaby where her father made wine.

Those experiences planted the seed for this winery even as the Scotts, both born in 1963, pursued careers in Burnaby. Don is a millwright while Carol has been a travel agent. They moved to Osoyoos in 1989, taking over a campground that her parents had established in 1968. The recreational vehicle sites, which they still operate, take up the lakeside half of the four-hectare (10-acre) property. The vineyard, which began to replace apple and cherry trees in 2007, occupies the top half.

Planting vines was Carol’s passion. “It took a few years to get Dan on board,” she admits. “It was kind of a dream to plant grapes. I finally convinced Dan and we cleared the land. It was a new tractor that convinced him.” They planted Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. When the hard winters of 2008 and 2009 mortally damaged the Syrah, that variety was replaced with 2,500 Carmenère vines. Now, they purchase Syrah for Lariana’s red blend.

The Scotts, who intend to limit production to about 1,200 cases a year, built a plain Jane winery with a modest tasting room. They invested instead in top flight equipment, including the California-made concrete egg in which Carol and consulting winemaker Senka Tennant make Lariana’s Viognier.  Stainless steel tanks are half the price but whites made in concrete eggs – several larger Okanagan wineries have them – show richer texture.

Here are notes on the three current releases.

Lariana Cellars Viognier 2015 ($25 for 215 cases). This is fermented in the winery’s 1,800-litre concrete egg (and in one neutral French oak barrel). It begins with fruity aromas, including a surprising but pleasing note of pineapple and rhubarb. On the palate, the flavours are lush and tropical, with notes of lychee and peach. The wine is refreshing, dancing lightly on the palate, with absolutely no heat from the 14.3% alcohol. This is a tour de force, a benchmark for Okanagan Viognier. 93.

Lariana Cellars Carménère 2013 ($40 for 120 cases). This wine is new in the Lariana portfolio. This wine has been aged 20 months predominantly in French oak. The fans of Okanagan Carménère will appreciate this swaggering example, with peppery aromas and flavours surrounding the plum, black cherry and prune notes. The wine is savoury, with long ripe tannins and a persistent finish. 92.

Lariana Cellars Thirteen 2013 ($45 for 555 cases). The blend is 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 12% Carménère. The wine begins with aromas of cassis lightly touched with mint. On the palate, the flavours are savoury and earthy, with notes of black cherry, black currant and black coffee, mingling with peppery dark chocolate and polished tannins on the finish. 92.

A note on the name of the wine. This is Lariana’s flagship red; it is named for the vintage. The previous release was Twelve and the next release will be Fourteen.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Stag's Hollow champions Vidal

Photo: Stag's Hollow winemaker Dwight Sick with proprietor Larry Gerelus

New Zealand has its signature white in Sauvignon Blanc.

Whenever I taste the white that Stag’s Hollow Winery called “Tragically” Vidal, I wonder whether Vidal could have emerged as a signature table wine in Canada if the wine industry has explored its applications beyond Icewine.

The Okanagan Falls vineyard that Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger bought in 1992 already was growing Vidal. At the time it was a widely planted French white hybrid. It was winter hardy and productive. It made better table wines that other white hybrids and it has been discovered as a perfect Icewine variety.

Larry and Linda were not interested in making Icewine. As well, they could see that most of the Okanagan’s Vidal vines had been pulled out in 1988. So in 1995 they grafted over 80% of the Vidal block to Chardonnay. They took referring to what was left as Tragically Vidal.

Not so fast, said consumers, who were just getting into the Anything But Chardonnay funk. Vidal table wine flew off the shelf in the Stag’s Hollow wine shop much faster than Chardonnay. Larry and Linda got the hint. Many of the Chardonnay grafts were removed and productive Vidal vines were restored.

Then Larry and Linda hired Dwight Sick, a former airline flight attendant who has become a superb winemaker on his second career. Dwight has taken Vidal to another level with winemaking and blending steps to give the wine complexity. Most of the grapes were fermented slowly at cool temperatures to preserve the fruity aromas and flavours. About 4.5% of the wine in the 2015 blend was fermented separately on the skins, punching up the flavour and the texture. Finally, he blended 10.5% Orange Muscat into the final blend.

It is anything but tragic to take that much trouble with a wine.
As these notes indicate, he also took just as much trouble with other wines. Here are notes on three current releases.

Stag’s Hollow Tragically Vidal 2015 ($16.99). The spicy tropical fruit just jumps from the glass. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit flavours, including pineapple, pear, lychee and pink grapefruit. The finish is remarkably persistent. There is residual sugar in the wine, so well balanced with fresh acidity that the finish seems dry. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Cabernet Franc 2013 ($24.99). This wine begins with aromas of blackberries, vanilla and smoky oak, leading to concentrated and brooding flavours of brambleberries, black cherries and dark chocolate. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo 2013 ($25.99). Tempranillo is the leading red variety in Spain. The style of this wine, with bold oak that is still under control, seems inspired by Rioja. There is a hint of blackberry and black cherry on the nose, leading to savoury flavours of black cherry. There is a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. 91. 

Class of 2016: Little Engine Wines

Photo: Steven and Nicole French

Little Engine Wines
851 Naramata Road
Penticton, BC, V2A 8V2
T. 250.493.0033 

Since the “anything but Chardonnay” remains well entrenched, it would seem a risky proposition to launch a winery with a major commitment to that varietal.

Except that Little Engine Wines, which opened its Naramata Road tasting room late in June, is offering some of the best Chardonnay in the Okanagan. In fact, Little Engine’s entire portfolio is, arguably, the most impressive yet from a new British Columbia winery.

Why? Perhaps because the winemaker is Scott Robinson, the former winemaker at La Frenz Winery and a former partner in the short-lived Stable Door Cellars.

“He was our first fulltime employee,” says Steven French, who owns this winery along with his wife, Nicole. “Scott is an absolute perfectionist. He is so meticulous. We loved the taste of his wines. That is why we followed Scott. We could go out and court any winemaker, but we knew what we wanted from a taste perspective.”

The winery and the tasting room are in a newly-completed structure just south of Red Rooster Winery. In contrast to the mini-chateau style of Red Rooster, Little Engine’s winery is designed to look like large barn that has been part of the landscape for some time.

Chardonnay dominates the six-acre vineyard beside the new winery. That variety also grows in an eight-acre vineyard nearby, on a former apple orchard just below the site of Steven and Nicole’s new home. But for the ravine that splits the property, they could walk from the house to the winery.

There is room for additional vines on the winery vineyard. There also are plans for a stand-alone tasting room in a few years, with windows that will frame views over vines and Okanagan Lake.

For Steven and Nicole, Little Engine is a career change from the energy business in Alberta. Both were born in 1969: Nicole in London, ON, and Steven in Winnipeg.

“We finished university [in London] and moved to Calgary and stayed there for over 20 years,” Steven says. “I had a great career. I was in oil and gas. I am a finance guy.” Latterly, he was an executive with Secure Energy Services Ltd.

They bought Okanagan property in 2011, initially so that their athletic sons could go to the hockey school in Penticton. The decision to launch a winery was triggered by a long-time interest in wines. “We enjoy good food and good wine,” Nicole says.

“We started becoming wine collectors more than a decade ago,” Steven says. “And we started doing wine tastings with groups.”

The winery fulfils another ambition. “I wanted to create something that is tangible,” Steven says. “I wanted to have a mark.”

That determination lies behind the winery’s name. “A friend and I back in Calgary were trying to decide what the name should be,” Steven says. “I am all about tenacity and never giving up. He said, ‘You should have in your tasting room that story book, The Little Engine That Could.’ Little Engine was born.”

The winery’s labels, crafted in consultation with Vancouver design guru Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, suggest the intent to reach high. Each label has a ladder reaching for a stylized moon.

“The ladder is what it takes to reach for the moon,” Steven says. “Our family motto is ‘Dreams don’t come true; dreams are made true.’ If it takes a ladder to get there, don’t give up. It is just like the little engine that could.”

Getting a foot on the ladder meant hiring a winemaker like Scott Robinson (right), a laconic vintner with an uncanny resemblance to former hockey player Trevor Linden.

Scott started his professional life as a kinesiologist with a 1995 degree from Simon Fraser University. He also managed a beer and wine store in Delta while in university. In 2003, when he and his wife, Danielle, went travelling in the southern hemisphere, he took the opportunity to visit wineries.

“We spent two weeks in Perth and drove through the Margaret River region” [in Australia], Scott told me several years ago. “I thought I could park it here and never leave. It is quite a magical place. I went to some wineries there and I thought this is something I might come back to.”

When they returned to Vancouver in 2004, Scott went back to kinesiology but began working part time with Langley’s Township 7 Winery.  The following year, he moved to the Okanagan, dividing his time between kinesiology, winery work and winery assistant courses at Okanagan College. He did three crushes at Township 7, teaming up with other winemakers there.

In 2007, he arranged to do a vintage at the Kim Crawford Winery in New Zealand. “Just before I left to go there,” Scott said, “I inquired at Adelaide University, and sent off my transcripts; mentioned that I had done this course up here and that I had some practical experience, to see if that would get me into the master’s program.” He was accepted at the Australian wine school early in 2008.  He was thinking of staying in Australia when he the opportunity to return to the Okanagan in 2009 to make wine at La Frenz.

“This is a place I really wanted to work,” Scott told me in 2009. “This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

When he left La Frenz after the 2012 vintage, Scott intended to go back to Adelaide University for a doctorate. Instead, he agreed to become the winemaking partner in Stable Door Cellars in 2013. Unfortunately for Scott, but fortunately for Little Engine, the partnership collapsed in 2015. Scott was quickly snapped up by Little Engine.

The Little Engine wines can be called bold. “When Scott, Nicole and I started talking,” Steven says, “we said when it comes to reds, we want something that is big. There are a lot of Pinot Noirs in the Okanagan that, in my opinion, are very subdued. We said to Scott, if we are going to make a Pinot Noir, we want big. And we will reflect that in our Merlots and Cabernets and blends.” Scott is on the same page as the owners.  

The Little Engine wine portfolio – about 30% of which will be Chardonnay – has three tiers: Silver, Gold and, for ultra-premium wines, Platinum. The winery has opened with about 2,500 cases. The target is to grow to 5,000 or 6,000 cases and to sell most of it from the cellar door.

Here are notes on most of the current releases.

Little Engine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($28). This is a wine with lush tropical aromas and flavours. There is lime and grapefruit on the palate. The wine has a generous texture with enough acidity to highlight bright fruit. 91.

Little Engine Chardonnay 2015 Silver Label ($33). By fermenting half of this in barrel and half in tank, the winemaker has retained bright fruit on the nose and palate – citrus, ripe apple and guava. The tropical flavours are framed subtly with buttery and toasty oak. 92.

Little Engine Reserve Chardonnay 2014 Gold Label ($55). This complex and ageworthy wine spent 16 months in French oak. Regular lees stirring added bready notes to the citrus aroma, as well as a rich texture. On the palate, the marmalade and guava flavours are framed with oak. The vibrant acidity allows the wine to show a freshness and a fruitiness that rides on top of the oak. 93.

Little Engine Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 Gold Label ($55). Dark in hue, this is a bold Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of plum and cherry. There is appealing spice both in the aroma and on the finish. The ripe tannins give this a silky texture. 92.

Little Engine Merlot 2015 Silver Label ($35). This elegant but full-bodied wine begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry and mulberry. On the plush palate, there juicy flavours of plum, blackberry and raspberry. The red and black fruit on the finish is quite persistent. 92.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Pascal Madevon hangs out the shingle

Photo: Consultant Pascal Madevon

Winemaker Pascal Madevon had not made white wines for about 20 years when he joined Culmina Family Estate Winery in 2013. There, in addition to several excellent reds, he began making acclaimed whites from Chardonnay, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

The most recent release from Culmina is the Dilemma 2014, a very elegant Chardonnay which is reviewed below.

All of this white winemaking speaks well for Pascal’s latest career move. He has just launched Pascal Madevon Signature Ltd., a wine consultancy, with Culmina as his first client.

His news release says that the consultancy will advise Canadian wineries regarding terroir, vineyard management, winemaking, and the marketing of red, white, and rosé wines.

"The potential, the spirit of a wine emerges from its terroir, but there is also an important human element that drives a wine's final creation," Pascal said in the release. "I am eager to work with passionate proprietors and winemakers who, like me, are looking to unleash the true signature of each and every wine."

Trained in France, Pascal came to the Okanagan in 2001 as the initial winemaker for Osoyoos Larose Winery. He was impressed by the quality of the grapes the terroir produces, so much so that he has become a Canadian citizen, underlining his commitment to Canadian wines.

“I am very surprised by the quality of the wine here because it is a very young industry,” he told me in 2003. “If I compare it to the Médoc, except for the classified growths, there is very nice wine here.”

Before Groupe Taillan (owner of Osoyoos Larose) sent Pascal to Canada in 2001, he briefly managed Château La Tour-Carnet [a fourth growth].  Before that, he spent 11 years at Château La Tour-Blanche, a cru bourgeois of Médoc. Before that, he worked at Château Laffitte-Carcasset in Saint-Estèphe.

He was born in Paris in 1963. He decided to take up studies in agriculture after specializing in mathematics in high school.  

“I like to be outside, I like nature,” Pascal once told me in an interview. “That’s why I chose agriculture. And I chose wine because my grandfather had a very small vineyard in Burgundy, in Aloxe-Corton. From that, it was the beginning. I studied in Bordeaux. I am a technician in viticulture and enology, and a graduate in enology from Bordeaux. It was important for me to do viticulture to understand all the system. When you are only an enologist, you know only enology. I wanted to know everything about wine.”

 When he was studying, many of his classmates were the sons of winegrowers. “Me, I am a Parisian, I knew nothing,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to drive a tractor. Now, I never go on a tractor – but I know how it works. My advantage is to know everything. That is important.”

He also found time to write two books. One is a hardcover called Le Livre du Vin. The other, Les Vins de France, is a paperback, of which 25,000 copies were sold.  

Pascal’s attention to detail has always been remarkable. The entire Osoyoos Larose vineyard, about 70 acres, was laid out on his computer in small blocks that reflected the soils and the productivity of the vines. The image looked much like a crossword puzzle.

He also made it a practice to take photographs regularly in the vineyard, not only to monitor its progress over the season but to compare the vineyard from year to year.

When he took over the vineyard at Culmina, it was already laid out in computerized detail. It may be one of the most technical vineyards in the Okanagan.

And there is no doubt of his winemaking ability. Here is a note on the Culmina release.

Culmina Dilemma 2014 ($34). This is an elegant and restrained Chardonnay. It beings with aromas of citrus. On the palate, the fruit flavours are pristine, with notes of lemon and orange framed by subtle toasty oak. There is a hint of spice on the finish. The texture is rich with fresh acidity to give the wine ability to age. 94.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lieutenant Governor's Excellence in Wine Awards 2016

Photo: the 2016 LG award winners

A record 506 wines were entered this year in the 2016 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines.

In keeping with the rigor in which the competition is judged, 12 wines were singled out for awards from among the 46 excellent wines that made it into the final round. One winery owner has been quoted as saying this is like winning the Stanley Cup. It is an apt comparison, considering that award was established by a Governor General.

The wine award was established in 2003 by The Honourable Iona Campagnolo when she was Lieutenant Governor. It was continued by her successors, The Honourable Steven Point and the current incumbent, The Honourable Judith Guichon. All British Columbia producers of grape wines are eligible to enter.

A slight amendment of the judging procedure last year improved the rigor of the competition, assuring that the best wines were winners.

The judging team was enlarged and three panels were established. In the first round of judging, each panel tasted about a third of the wines, narrowing down the selection of wines for the semi-final round.

For the semi-final round, the judges regrouped into two panels. These refined the selection to 46 wines for the final round of judging. Inserting the semi-final round of judging is new since last year.

Thus, the winning 12 wines were tasted twice by all nine judges, and three times by some judges. There was unanimity or strong majorities for the winners.

This year, the winning wineries are all in the Okanagan. They include both repeat wineries and four first time winners.

As has become customary, the Lieutenant Governor will present the awards at each winery. This year’s tour, however, has been moved to the first week of September. In previous years, the tour took place in the last week of July.

Here are the winners.

Bordertown Vineyard & Estate Winery Living Desert Red 2013 ($25). The winery’s notes: “This signature blend is comprised of the finest blocks of Cabernet Franc and Merlot on the estate which were cropped low and meticulously farmed. Various lots were aged separately in a combination of new and seasoned French oak barrels. It showcases aromas and flavours of red and black fruits, dark chocolate, sandalwood, and the wild herbs that grow amongst this region’s vineyards.”

Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 ($39). The winery’s notes: “Lovely ripe cherry aromas are sprinkled with strawberry, violets and coffee. The satin palate is well balanced with dark spice on the finish.  After whole berry fermentation the wine was aged 9 months in a combination of French and American Oak. The Result is a wine with a gorgeous texture that will please the Pinot Noir enthusiast.”

Gold Hill Estate Winery Meritage Family Reserve 2013 ($40.99). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc. Tasting notes: “The wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherry. The flavours are complex and bold, featuring black currant, plum and a hint of blueberry. The tannins are polished and the wine is elegant.”

Hester Creek Estate Winery Syrah Viognier 2013 ($24.95). The winery’s notes: “Lifted aromas of white and black pepper, a wisp of smoke and dark berry are underpinned by the subtle violet and lavender perfume of the Viognier. The palate is an exotic blend of dark fruit, tobacco, smoked meat and freshly ground coffee.”

Intersection Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 ($24.90). The winery’s notes: “Long, even ripening late into October produced this elegant wine with generous berry fruit, herbal/mineral notes and fine tannins. Aged 12 months in French and American oak. Clarified by time and gravity, it remains unfiltered. Bold and rich in its youth, this wine will gain in complexity over several years.”

Kismet Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 ($29.90). Tasting notes: “This elegant wine is notable for its long silky tannins. It has aromas and flavours of black currant, plum, cherry and dark chocolate.”

Lunessence Winery & Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2014 ($54 for 200 ml): The winery’s notes: “Grapes were picked and pressed on November 30, 2014, at 43.5 brix. Picked at -16C during an ice-cold but sunny day. The final yield was 15% which underlines our commitment to focus on quality, not quantity. The wine was fermented in a stainless steel tank for 120 days. The flavour profile in this is true to the essence of the varietal, extracted through long and careful pressing at temperatures close to -20C. The wine is a rich golden hue with a bouquet of ripe apples and mandarin. Residual sugar is 310 grams per litre.”

Okanagan Crush Pad Winery Haywire The Bub 2014 ($29.90). The winery’s notes: “The Bub is bottle fermented and aged using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes gown on cool vineyard sites in Oliver and Summerland. A fresh and lively wine with nice warm bread aromas and a crisp green apple finish, which is a shining example of what the Okanagan does best - crisp, fresh, and delicious. The Bub is proudly made by Okanagan Crush Pad’s sparkling winemaker, Jordan Kubek, who recommends pairing it with soft cheeses, fresh oysters, or enjoying it purely on its own.”

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($40.11). The winery’s notes:There are intense aromas of ripe orchard fruit, butterscotch, spice and toasty oak on the nose. The palate is very complex with flavors of baked apple, pear and peach complimented with spice, vanilla and brioche. The mouth feel is opulent, creamy and full bodied. We suggest pairing with seafood such as lobster and crab. Fresh BC halibut and creamy pasta dishes are also recommended as are soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert.”
Red Rooster Winery Reserve Merlot 2012 ($25). The winery’s notes: “Garnet colour with a 'Rooster' ruby red rim.  An intriguing bouquet of sweet cherry, cedar chest, cigar box and baking spice.  This is a medium to full-bodied Merlot with velvety tannins and food-friendly acidity.  Fruit flavours of cherry and plum dusted with baking spice caress the palate.  The juicy lingering finish shows notes of red berries, cherry and spice.”    
Ruby Blues Winery Commune Viognier 2015 ($25). The winery’s notes: “In this Viognier we have grapes from the two winery sites. Now the fruit lives under one roof in one bottle... in a commune. Beautiful fragrance of spring blossoms and tropical flavors with a hint of citrus. Pairs perfectly with lobster, mussels, scallops or crab meat.”

St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Riesling 2014 ($16.75). Tasting notes: “The wine displays the classic hint of petrol on the nose and in the flavour. On the palate, notes of lemon and lime mingle with minerality. The wine is balanced to finish dry.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

BC wineries storm the All-Canadian Wine Championship

In a show of either self-confidence or aggressive marketing, British Columbia wineries entered two-thirds of the wines at the recent All-Canadian Wine Championships.

A total of 1,322 wines were entered in the ACWC, the oldest of the national wine competitions. British Columbia wineries accounted for 807 of the wines entered. Ontario wineries entered only 368 wines.

And British Columbia wineries took two of competition’s five trophies for best wines in their categories.

The wine judged to be the best white in the competition was Arrowleaf Cellars Dry Riesling 2015. This wine from a Lake Country vineyard is a tremendous value, at $16 a bottle, for a wine of this quality.

The best red wine in the competition was judged to be Deep Roots Winery Syrah 2014, a $34 wine from a Naramata winery that has begun to earn a reputation for Syrah.

The top sparkling wine in the competition was judged to be Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling 2011 from Angels Gate Winery in Ontario.

The top Icewine was judged to be a 2014 Cabernet France Icewine from Magnotta Winery, also based in Ontario.

The top fruit wine was an iced apple wine from a Quebec producer, Cidrerie du Minot.

Following is the list British Columbia producers winning best of show awards – in effect, double gold medals.

The complete results are at

The ACWC is now in its 36th year. The wines were adjudicated over three days by 17 judges from across the country, including five from British Columbia.

Congratulations to all the winning producers.

Bench 1775 Winery Whistler Riesling Icewine 2014

Bench 1775 Winery Bliss Icewine 2014

Bench 1775 Winery Viognier 2015

Black Widow Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Black Widow Winery Hourglass 2014

Blue Grouse Estate Winery Quill Red 2014

Cassini Cellars Nobilus Merlot 2013

CC Jentsch Cellars Small Lots Malbec 2014

CedarCreek Estate Winery Estate Merlot 2014

CedarCreek Estate Winery Meritage 2013

Deep Roots Winery Chardonnay Unoaked 2015

Forbidden Fruit Winery Caught Apricot Mistelle 2014

Forbidden Fruit Winery Flaunt Sparkling Plum 2015

La Frenz Winery Liqueur Muscat NV

Moraine Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 2015

Quails' Gate Estate Winery Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014

Robin Ridge Winery Cabernet Franc 2013

Rocky Creek Winery Wild Blackberry NV

Ruby Blues Winery Commune Pinot Gris 2015.

Silverside Farm & Winery Tayberry Wine 2015

SpierHead Winery Pinot Noir Cuvée 2013

Stag's Hollow Winery & Vineyard Syrah 2013

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013

SummerGate Winery Riesling 2015

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2015

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ancient Hill champions Baco Noir

Photo: Ancient Hill owners Richard and Jitske Kamphuys

When Richard Kamphuys and his wife, Jitske, opened this winery in 2011, they were wise enough to ignore a piece of free advice I offered them.

The winery is on a cool hillside east of Kelowna International Airport. Richard made appropriate choices for his 15-acre site in 2005 when he replaced an orchard with grape vines.

The single largest block is a winter hardy red French hybrid called Baco Noir. My advice: give it a proprietary name because “you will never get more than $18 a bottle if you release it as Baco Noir.”

Ancient Hill’s Baco Noir sells for $25 a bottle and is the most popular wine in the tasting room. It was easy to confound my prediction: Ancient Hill arguably makes the best Baco Noir in British Columbia. To be sure, there are not many other producers – but is an excellent wine and worth every penny.

To fill in the back story, here is what I wrote about the winery in my most recent edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. The proprietary name I suggested to Richard was The Rittich. The except tells why that name resonated with me, if not with Richard.

This splendid Robert Mackenzie-designed winery overlooking Kelowna International Airport returns viticulture to where it began in the north Okanagan when the Rittich brothers planted grapes near here in 1930. Natives of Hungary, Eugene and Virgil Rittich concluded that vinifera grapes could succeed and wrote a book (British Columba’s first wine book) on how to grow grapes and make wine. Severe winters that occurred periodically doomed those pioneering trials in the Ellison district, as it was known.

The modern-day pioneers are Richard and Jitske Kamphuys (rhymes with compass) who came from Holland in 1992 and bought an apple orchard. Richard, who was born in 1963, completed an advanced economics degree at the historic Erasmus University in Amsterdam before deciding he wanted a rural lifestyle for himself and his family.

He considered growing grapes as soon as he and Jitske, a former doctor’s assistant, bought the orchard but was put off by general pessimism at that time about the future of British Columbia’s wineries. The previous owners, encouraged by the Rittich trials, planted grapes on the hillside in 1944, abandoning the vineyard when the hard 1949-1950 winter killed many of the vines and even some apple trees. About 40 of those ancient vines, probably Okanagan Riesling, still survive.

Richard and Jitske replaced the orchard in 2005 with 27,000 vines over about six hectares (15 acres). They have chosen mid-season ripening varieties: Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Lemberger, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. The biggest block, more than a quarter of the vineyard, is Baco Noir, a winter-hardy red French hybrid. “I should have had more Baco Noir and less Zweigelt,” Richard says. He has begun to plant Baco Noir among the Zweigelt vines, easing into a vineyard transition.

“That hybrid seems suited to this area,” he believes. “It came through in a lesser year as well as in a good year.” To make the point, he pours a glass of Baco Noir from 2010, a cool year. The wine is full-bodied with rich flavours of plum and chocolate. The visitors to Ancient Hills’s baronial tasting room almost always favour Baco Noir.

Ironically, Richard did come up with a proprietary name for a blend of two reds, Zweigelt and Lemberger. The wine is called Lazerus. I don’t know how that name is working for him – but he is now planning to make individual red varietals as well from those two.

He can afford to expand is focussed portfolio a bit but he will never have a list as long as some of his peers. Ancient Hill produces a total of 2,500 cases of wine. “I have no desire to get to 10,000 cases,” Richard says.

Here are notes on current releases. Prices do not include tax.

Ancient Hill Pinot Gris 2014 ($15.65). This wine is crisply fresh, with aromas and flavours of pear. The wine, which finishes dry, has good weight on the palate. 90.

Ancient Hill Gewürztraminer 2013 ($16.52). The wine begins with aromas of spice and lychee. Rich and full-textured, it has flavours of lychee and grapefruit. It is balanced to dryness. 90.

Ancient Hill Rosé 2014 ($14.78). This is a blend of 74% Zweigelt, 12% Gewürztraminer, and 7% each of Baco Noir and Pinot Noir. The ruby-hued wine has appealing aromas of red berries with a hint of red licorice. A touch of spice lifts the flavours of currants and cranberries. The finish is dry. 90.

Ancient Hill Lazerus 2011 ($14.78). This is a lean, spicy red with aromas and flavours of cherry and red berries. There is a hint of chocolate on the finish. 88.

Ancient Hill Pinot Noir 2012 ($17.39). The aromas of raspberry and cherry are echoed in the flavours of this medium-bodied wine. This is a touch of spice on the finish. 89.

Ancient Hill Baco Noir 2012 ($21.79). Almost black in colour, this wine is robust and rich, with aromas of plum and flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The soft, ripe tannins give the wine a rich velvet finish. 91.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Class of 2016: Pipe' Dreams Estate Winery

Photo: The vineyard at Pipe' Dreams

Pipe' Dreams Vineyard and Estate Winery
168 Sportsman Bowl Road
Oliver, British Columbia

The name of this winery comes from a question that John Ness, the owner, asked himself when launching the project: is it a big dream, or just a pipe dream?

The quality of the wines answers the question. When the tasting room opens (soon), the offerings include one of the best Grüner Veltliner wines made in BC.

The list of Grüner Veltliner producers still is short. The first in the Okanagan to make  wine from the leading Austrian white grape was Culmina Family Estate Winery three vintages ago. Culmina set the bar high with its wine, called Unicus, and Pipe' Dreams has risen successfully to the challenge.

Pipe' Dreams, which offers four other wines, is a short drive north of Oliver and west from Highway 97. There is a sign on the highway but, when I visited recently, no sign yet at the winery. However, Sportsman Bowl is a road that dead ends at a shooting range. Turn around and look for a flat vineyard on the north side of the road.

A big man with a friendly personality, John (left) was born in 1947 in Winnipegosis and grew up in Vancouver. His family usually vacationed in the Okanagan every summer with friends who lived there.

“I would spend a week cliff diving with the other kids,” he remembers. “I always loved it here. I always thought we should move here but we never did.”

When he finished Grade Twelve, his main interests were skiing and surveying. “Around 1968, I was offered a job at Jasper on a professional ski patrol,” he says. “I was in the Canadian National Ski Patrol, going every weekend.” 

In the summer, he took a surveying course. “I was offered a job and I really loved surveying out in the bush. So I gave up my ski patrol career.”

“I surveyed from 1968 to 1975,” John continues. “Then I started with Nova Corp., surveying pipelines. About 1980 I went into construction management in the pipeline area. That’s what I have been doing every since: construction management, looking after quality specifications, inspection staff, that kind of business.” He is currently involved with one of the proposed liquefied natural gas projects.

Throughout his career, he has been based either in Edmonton or Calgary, where he still has a residence. But the lure of the Okanagan never went away.  

“We would come here skiing,” he says.  “And I had a motorcycle back then. I would come  here in the summer and ride through and then go back to work. I loved the place. I always thought this is where I should be.”

He began looking for property about seven years ago. As he became more serious, he engaged consulting winemaker Mark Wendenburg to help him screen properties. He bought the winery property late in 2009.

Nothing was being cultivated there at the time. “I thought I will do some grapes,” John says. He planted the available 3.4 acres in 2011.

Deliberately, he chose varieties outside the mainstream of Okanagan plantings: Grüner Veltliner, Kerner, Gamay Noir and Zweigelt. “I did not want to have the same kind of grapes as everybody else,” John says. “I didn’t want to do Merlot because everyone does Merlot.” As it happens, he now leases a one-acre block of Merlot from a neighbour.

He continues to keep Mark Wendenburg to advise him on viticulture and winemaking, recognizing that the consultant’s experience is invaluable to the success of Pipe Dreams. John’s only winemaking experience involved making kit wine – and his last 200-bottle batch froze in poor storage.

Mark, who established his own wine consulting company since 2010, is an Okanagan veteran. He dates his introduction to the wine industry from 1980, when he and his late father, Chris, planted the five-acre family vineyard near Penticton.

He is best known for his 18 years as winemaker at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. He left that winery in the spring of 2010 to consult, with Blasted Church Vineyards his first major winery client.

Mark (right) was born in Penticton in 1961, shortly after his parents arrived in Canada. They had owned agricultural land in Germany’s Harz Mountains until the East German government relieved them of their property.

After helping plant the family vineyard near Penticton, Mark went to Germany in 1982, apprenticing with wineries in three regions, and earning a winemaking diploma at the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Enology in Franconia.

On returning in 1987, he started working at the T.G. Bright & Co. winery near Oliver. (now Jackson-Triggs). In winter of 1988, Mark did a crush at the Nobilo winery in New Zealand; the following winter, he did the crush at S. Smith & Sons in Australia (better known as Yalumba).

In between those assignments, he resumed working at Brights. He also became involved in a sparkling wine project that had been launched in the Okanagan by California’s Schramsberg Cellars with Inkameep Vineyards and what is now Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars. One of his bosses at Brights told him to choose between Brights and the sparkling wine project. Mark chose the sparkling wine project.

After that project wound up in 1991, Mark joined Sumac Ridge which was just getting its Steller’s Jay Brut sparkling wine launched. Sumac Ridge had begun handcrafting the wine in 1987 but production was insignificant until Mark came on board. Steller’s Jay is now one of Canada’s best traditional method sparkling wines.

A walk through the Pipe' Dreams winery reveals Mark has a modern facility well-equipped to make sound aromatic whites and solid reds. The first vintage from this vineyard was made in 2014 – only 500 cases. Production tripled last year, reflecting the vineyard’s rising production.

The Grüner Veltliner is one of the most interesting wines here, if only because there still are few examples in BC. Currently, the other wineries with this varietal, in addition to Culmina, include Bordertown Winery and Vineyard in Osoyoos and de Vine Vineyards in Saanich. Soon to join this elite group is Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet which made trial lot in 2014 from its 25 Grüner Veltliner vines. The wine is so promising that more vines will be planted.

Mark made the first Pipe' Dreams Grüner Veltliner quite simply, without skin contact or oak aging. “Especially at the beginning, I just wanted to see how the varietal shows itself in British Columbia,” he says. “I have visited the Wachau in Austria. The Grüners there can be very acidic, very aggressive wines. I did not think that is what they would be like here, just because of the climate.”
It turns out he was right. Here are notes on the wines.

Pipe' Dreams Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($29). This is a crisp and fresh wine with aromas and flavours of peaches, nectarines and melon. It has good weight in the palate and has a slightly tangy finish. 91.

Pipe' Dreams Kerner 2014 ($29). This is a bold, even full-bodied, white with 14.7% alcohol but with such fruit intensity that the alcohol is not evident on the juicy palate. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and peach and delivers flavours of peach and apple. There is just a hint of sweetness on the finish. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Gamay 2014 ($29). The wine begins with aromas of cherries. On the palate, there is a generous medley of bright red berry flavours with a hint of pepper. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Zweigelt 2014 ($32). The dark colour heralds a bold red, with red berry aromas and spicy plum and cherry on the palate. The spice continues on the finish. 91.

Pipe' Dreams Merlot 2014 ($29). Lean and medium-bodied, the wine has aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are bright, fruity flavours of lingonberry, blueberry and black currant. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Merlot Reserve 2014 (not released). This is a bold, concentrated Merlot, with aromas of vanilla and black currant and flavours of plum, black currant and spice. 92.