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.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

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