Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rocky Creek's Wild Blackberry for a Duchess?


Photo: Mark and Linda Holford

Recently, another Vancouver journalist copied me on correspondence he had had with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

He has gotten into the habit of sending her a birthday card, having discovered that the Royal Family often responds with a card of thanks. This year, he included a gift, a copy of my 2011 book, John Schreiner’s BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide.

The Duchess replied that she would study the book (as unlikely as that seems to me).

A gift with more impact would be been a bottle of blackberry “port” – considered by many as the iconic wine produced on Vancouver Island. I believe the Royals have been known to enjoy a drop, although probably not fortified blackberry wine. So for next year, I would recommend sending a bottle of Rocky Creek’s Wild Blackberry.

To fill in some background, here is an excerpt on this Cowichan Valley winery from my Tour Guide.The olive trees planted here in 2010 are the latest step on Mark and Linda Holford’s remarkable career path from Sarnia’s refineries to artisanal wine growers on Vancouver Island.

Mark Holford, who operates this winery with wife Linda, is the third generation in his family to make wine at home. In 2005, he realized a long-held dream when he turned winemaking into his profession.

 “Ever since I was in my early teens, I helped my dad make wine,” Mark recounts. “He did a lot of amateur winemaking and my grandfather in England did a lot.” That skill made him popular at university when he agreed to make wine and beer for his friends as well. It dawned on his that this “could be something I could do as an occupation.”

Born in Deep River, Ontario, in 1968, Mark is a chemical engineer with a master’s degree in environmental engineering. He met Linda in Calgary, her hometown, when he was completing a co-operative studies assignment with an oil company. She is an engineering technologist with management skills gained in the oil industry. They spent two and a half years in Sarnia where Mark worked in the Shell petrochemical plant.

“But we always wanted to come to Vancouver Island,” says Linda. “When we were in Calgary, we wanted to get a job [here] and an opportunity happened first in Sarnia.” In the fall of 2001 Mark and Linda were vacationing in Victoria, where Linda’s retired parents lived, when he found a position at the pulp mill at Crofton. They bought a home nearby in Ladysmith. Plans for a winery were put on hold because there was no room for a vineyard on their suburban street. Then they discovered they could get a commercial license and make wine with purchased grapes. Rocky Creek opened in 2005, making 600 cases with grapes from a vineyard at Chemainus and with purchased wild blackberries. Their first release was a port-style blackberry wine – which also won the winery its first medal.

Linda and Mark, who continues to work as an environmental consultant, soon figured out that small wineries are more profitable with a land-based license (because government takes much less in taxes and charges). In the winter of 2008 they moved to a three-hectare (7½-acre) farm in the Cowichan Valley, on a property almost back to back with Venturi-Schulze Vineyards.

In their own Cowichan Valley vineyard, they had planted Maréchal Foch, some of Valentin Blattner’s Swiss hybrids, and almost a hectare (2½ acres) of blackberries. The cultivated blackberries are required by the regulations for land-based wineries, however ridiculous it is to plant more blackberries, given the abundance of wild blackberries on Vancouver Island. Mark has made a trial lot of sparkling blackberry wine and expects to increase that production.

It will be a few years before Rocky Creek can make olive oil. Five trees were planted in 2010 (Mark and Linda already had two). “After we make sure they survive our winters in Cowichan Bay, we will get more,” Mark says. “We would like a small grove of 30-40 trees.  Production is not likely for at least five years.” 

Here are notes on current releases.

Rocky Creek Winery Siegerrebe 2015 ($20). This wine begins aromas of honey, pear and spice. On the palate, it tastes of lime, grapefruit and lychee with an herbal touch on the finish. The finish is crisply dry. 88.

Rocky Creek Winery Pinot Gris 2015 ($20). A short amount of skin time has given a pale salmon hue and accentuated the fruity aromas.  On the nose, there are notes of peach, ripe pear and ripe apple. It has tangy citrus flavours and a crisp, dry finish. 88.

Rocky Creek Winery Robin's Rosé 2015 ($20). Made with Pinot Noir, the wine presents in the glass with a strawberry pink hue. On the palate, its crisply dry with flavours of strawberry and cranberry.  This is modelled successfully on the rosés of Provence. 90.

Rocky Creek Winery On The Mark NV ($20). This is a blend of Cabernet Foch and Maréchal Foch, with a touch of Tempranillo. The wine has smoky aromas along with black currant and blackberry; this are echoed on the palate, along with notes of cherry and spice. 88.

Rocky Creek Winery Wild Blackberry NV ($25 for 500 ml). This Port-style wine (16% alcohol) was a double gold winner this year at the All Canadian Wine Championships. It has intense aromas and flavours of blackberries and is rich on the palate. 91.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Poplar's Grove's take on summer drinking

Photo: Poplar Grove winemaker Stefan Arnason

In its current releases, Poplar Grove Winery celebrates the season with six wine that have the fresh and fruity appeal summer dining attracts.

It is a touch ironic that five of these wines were grown in 2015, one of the hottest summers in the Okanagan, but are being consumed the subsequent year when summer has been so reluctant to come.

It is not the end of the world. Restaurant patios switch on the propane heaters while the rest of us slip on sweaters. Cool weather is no reason to stop enjoying wine.

One of the first wineries on the Naramata Bench, Poplar Grove was founded in 1993. Several years ago, it moved from its original location to a mountainside vineyard. The new winery is sited to give it a dramatic view over the city of Penticton and Okanagan Lake.

The view is especially appealing for patrons of The Vanilla Pod restaurant, which shares the facility with Poplar Grove’s elegant wine shop and barrel cellar.

The secret is that most of Poplar Grove’s winemaking takes place 100 yards or so down the hill, in the big metal-clad building that also houses Monster Vineyards and its tasting room.

Monster Vineyards was founded in 2006 and now makes about 5,000 cases a year. The mandate here is the production of value-priced wines. Stefan Arnason, the winemaker for both Poplar Grove and Monster, crafts sophisticated and ageworthy wines for the former and accessible wines for the latter.

Here are notes on his recent craftsmanship.

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2015 ($17.30). Here is a textbook Okanagan Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of apples and citrus, leading to flavours of pear and nectarines. The wine is crisp and refreshing on the finish. 90.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs 2015 (Sold out). This sophisticated dry rosé is made with 40% Malbec, 38% Merlot and 22% Syrah. The juice was bled from tanks of those reds without much skin contact, a common technique also called saignée. The wine was fermented coolly to capture the fruity aromas and flavours. The wine has aromas of strawberries, leading to flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and raspberry. The almost imperceptible touch of residual sweets is balanced with brisk acidity, giving the wine a tangy finish. 91

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2015 ($19.05). The wine begins with aromas of tangerine and apple, leading to lush flavours of cantaloupe, ripe pear, and guava. Twenty per cent of this was fermented in French oak and the wine was aged lightly in oak. The fruit flavours remain front and centre with a toasted nut flavour punctuating the finish. 92.

Monster Vineyards Rosie 2015 ($19.90). The wine is made with juice from Malbec, Merlot and Syrah grapes with little skin contact. This refreshingly effervescent pink wine begins with fruity raspberry aromas. On the palate, the layers of flavours of raspberry, strawberries and watermelon are intriguing, leading to a spicy finish with a hint of red licorice. The wine is balanced toward a crisp, dry finish. 90.

Monster Vineyards Rosé 2015 ($15.90). Another saignée rosé, this is 54% Malbec, 28% Merlot and 18% Syrah. Slightly off-dry, this is a big mouthful of cherry and strawberry flavours. 90.

Monster Vineyards Monster Cabs 2013 ($19.90). This is 42% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a juicy, fruit-forward red, soft in texture. It has flavours of black cherry, blueberry and vanilla. 88.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tasting River Stone wines with visitors

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane

Once again this summer, a neighbour had a house guest from New York who knows wines and is curious about British Columbia wines.

Once again, we organized a tasting for him and several other neighbours around an interesting Okanagan winery. Last year, it was Moon Curser Vineyards of Osoyoos. This year’s choice was River Stone Estate Winery of Oliver.

It is a privilege for a wine reviewer to taste and rate these wines in the company of knowledgeable palates who bring other insights to what is in the glass. On this evening, I benefitted from the assistance of five other palates. Several of the tasters now want to buy some of the wines they have tasted.

For background on River Stone, here is what I wrote in John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Like any serious wine lover, Ted Kane would like to taste Cheval Blanc, a legendary Bordeaux red with an astronomic price tag. The difference between Ted and the rest of us is that he has the grapes to make a wine in that style. Cheval Blanc is primarily a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which Ted grows along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. “This site is great with Cabernet Franc,” he says of his vineyard. “At some point, I am going to make a Cabernet Franc Merlot blend, just to see what it can do. I like that Cheval Blanc idea.”

He worried – needlessly, as it turned out – that there might be no more good vineyard sites available before he and his wife, Lorraine, then a medical student, bought this riverside property in Oliver in 2001. Born in Edmonton in 1962, Ted was so focussed on wine growing that he grew grapes in a greenhouse there just to learn how. They moved to Oliver in 2002, planting a three -hectare (seven-acre) vineyard while Lorraine, now the mother of three, began a family medicine practice.

River Stone’s well-drained property has ideal slopes to the south, the southeast and the southwest. The vineyard is planted in the French tradition, in the proportions Ted wanted for Corner Stone, the Merlot-dominant flagship blend that the winery launched with the 2009 vintage. “My Bordeaux blend is transitioning a bit,” he says after experience gained in subsequent vintages. “My blend is still Merlot driven but Cabernet Franc is equal to or greater than the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Cabernet Franc does better on my property than Cabernet Sauvignon.” Recently, he grafted Petit Verdot onto a small block of Cabernet Sauvignon, not so much for viticultural issues but to grow all five Bordeaux reds for the 450 or so cases of Corner Stone made every year.

River Stone’s wines all are estate grown, with the minor exception of Splash!, the refreshing summer white that includes Viognier from a neighbour.  “The vineyard is where it starts out and what carries us from season to season,” Ted says. “The best grapes make the best wines. I wanted to see where that was going to take us.”

River Stone Pinot Gris 2015 ($19.90). One member of our tasting group (a Francophile when it comes to wine) said this wine, with its ripe flavours and slightly warming alcohol, reminded him of Alsace. That is a high compliment, considering that Alsace produces benchmark Pinot Gris wines. This wine begins with aromas of peach and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of pear. It is a generous wine with good weight and with a dry finish. 90.

River Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($19.90 for 117 cases). Our Francophile taster compared this to Sancerre in style, with its herbal notes on the nose and palate, along with flavours of lime and lemon. There is also a flinty note on the finish. The wine has so much power in the glass than one wants to call it “thespian.” 92.

River Stone Malbec Rosé 2015 ($19.90 for 215 cases). This is a dark-hued rosé with intense and luscious flavours of raspberry and cherry. The winemaking technique sets out to extract colour, red berry aromas and flavours by letting the grapes (60% remain whole) to cold soak on their juice for 24 to 48 hours. After pressing, the wine is then fermented in stainless steel. This is a robust rosé (13.8% alcohol) that calls for salmon on the grill. 90.

River Stone Cabernet Franc 2014 ($27.90 for 150 cases). This is a bold and rustic (in a positive way) red, with brambly red fruit aromas. There are flavours of blackberry and black cherry with a touch of plum and tobacco and subtle notes of oak. 90.

River Stone Stones Throw 2013 ($24.90). The blend is Merlot (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (11%), Petit Verdot (7%) and Malbec (4%). One might think of this as a little brother to Corner Stone, except for the lengths the winemaker goes to in making it. The grapes are essentially fermented as whole berries (only 20% are crushed) after three to five days of cold-soaking. The berries are fermented in small totes and tanks to increase the juice to skin ratio. The finished wine ages 14 months in French oak (33% new). The wine begins with aromas of black currant, vanilla and tobacco, leading to smoky, brooding flavours of plum and black currant. Our tasters attributed the brooding note to the Petit Verdot in the blend. 91.

River Stone Corner Stone 2012 ($31.90 for 339 cases). This is Merlot (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Cabernet Franc (14%), and Malbec (8%). The winemaking protocol is similar to that for Stones Throw. The wine’s 18 months in French oak (33% new) and further time in bottle has polished the tannins and added flesh to the texture. Dramatic aromas of plum, cassis and vanilla lead to flavours of black cherry, coffee and chocolate. While this is drinking well now, it will just get better with another five years in the cellar. 94.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Steller's Jay releases Sparkling Gewürztraminer

Photo: Jason James in the Steller's Jay cellar 

Since establishing Steller’s Jay as a sparkling wine brand on its own, Constellation Brands has slowly expanded the portfolio.

With the release of a Sparkling Gewürztraminer, there are now three sparkling wines under the Steller’s Jay label, including the original Cuvée and a Sparking Shiraz, released last year.

Sparkling wines from Gewürztraminer are comparatively rare. It is a variety that drops acidity as it ripens – but acidity is important in a good sparkling wine. However, Jason James, the Steller’s Jay winemaker, obviously saw to it that the grapes for his sparkling wine were picked before they were super ripe. This wine, which did its secondary fermentation in bottle like Champagne, has enough acid to give it a refreshing finish.

Jason did not make this a clone of the very popular Sumac Ridge Gewürztraminer table wine, which has often been an off-dry fruit bomb. The sparkling version is made with wonderful restraint and delicacy.

Steller’s Jay formerly was a star in the portfolio of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery (also owned now by Constellation Brands). It was the first premium quality British Columbia sparkling wine made by the classical method. The first vintage of  Steller’s Jay Cuvée was 1987.

The development of classical sparkling wine in British Columbia dates from trials started in 1983, by Gary Strachan when he was at the Summerland Research Station. Soon after arriving there from Ontario in 1977, he noticed the wineries all complained that British Columbia grapes were excessively acidic. "Why don't we exploit that and make sparkling wines?" he asked himself.

Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters soon involved himself with Strachan's research project, which was funded by a grant from the National Research Council. To a degree, they were re-inventing the wheel. After all, Dom Perignon, who died in France in 1715, generally is credited with figuring out how to retain bubbles in wine. However, the French, understandably, have had a long tradition to keeping to themselves the technical nuances of making Champagne. "There were lots of books about Champagne but they didn't give you the technical background in how to make it," Strachan found.
Winemaker Harold Bates, who had acquired sparkling wine experience with T.G. Bright & Co. in Niagara Falls, helped in the first year of the Summerland trials. In the second year, technical assistance was provided by Eric von Krosigk, a Vernon native who was just completing winemaking studies in Germany that included apprenticeship with a sparkling wine producer. (Subsequently, Eric became the winemaker at Summerhill Winery, the producer of Cipes Brut and other sparkling wines.)

After several trial lots of sparkling wine had been made at Summerland, Sumac Ridge committed to commercial quantities of sparkling wine, with the first major release being made July 1991, on the winery's tenth anniversary. The wine, blended from pinot blanc, pinot noir and chardonnay, is Steller’s Jay Cuvée, named for the raucous blue-feathered creature that is British Columbia's provincial bird.

 In the years since then, Steller’s Jay Cuvée has established itself as one of British Columbia’s top sparkling wines, with a consistent string of awards. For many years, the wine was made by Mark Wendenburg who preceded Jason James as the Sumac Ridge winemaker.

The Sparkling Shiraz released last year was actually the second release of a wine in that style by Steller’s Jay. The previous release was in 2006.

This is a bottled-fermented sparkling wine (like Champagne). Jason James, the winemaker who made it, is quoted as saying: “This is a very special wine with a lot of depth and complexity. Only premium grapes were selected and blended to produce this special sparkling wine. The base Shiraz was treated like a red wine; harvested at 24 brix and fermented on the skins. As a result, there is more tannin than in a normal sparkling.”

This style of wine has been produced for many years in Australia. The Liquor Distribution Branch used to list several examples. There are none in its product catalogue now, which speaks to the limited popularity of this novel style of sparkling wine.

Here is a note I did last year on Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz.

Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz NV ($25.99 for 1,000 cases). Open this wine carefully to avoid having the energetic magenta-coloured bubbles frothing all over the table cloth. With its deep colour and its bubbles, this is a spectacular wine in a Champagne flute. The flavours are intense, starting with black cherry and going on to chocolate, coffee and spice. The wine is technically dry, with its 25 grams of residual sugar balanced with modest acidity. The texture is plush and rich. This is a tour de force. 90-92.

And here is a note on the Sparking Gewürztraminer, which is available just at the winery.

Steller’s Jay Sparkling Gewürztraminer NV ($21.79 plus tax). As remarked above, the delicacy and restraint show up with floral and citrus aromas. There is a hint of lychee and peach on the palate. The wine is very slightly off-dry (18 grams of residual sugar) but balanced so well that, helped by the fine bubbles, the finish is dry. 91.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lang Vineyards is back in the game


Photo: General manager Mike Lang

There is no doubt that Lang Vineyards, one of the original farm gate wineries in 1990, is back on its feet. Its iconic Farm Reserve Riesling was judged the best white wine at the 2013 All Canadian Wine Awards.

More recently, at the 2016 All Canadians, Lang won gold for its 2015 Viognier and 2015 Pinot Gris while the same Viognier and the 2014 Farm Reserve Riesling won gold at this year’s Northwest Wine Summit.

And you will find a long list of other awards on the winery website.

Why would I write that it has found its feet again? A brief reminder of the winery’s history.

The winery was founded by Günther and Kristina Lang, who had moved from Germany in 1981, buying a four-hectare (10-acre) property with a vineyard and an exceptional view. The winery had an enviable reputation when it was purchased in 2005 to anchor the Holman-Lang winery group. By the time Holman-Lang went into receivership five years later, the fine reputation had taken quite a hit.

Lang Vineyards was purchased in 2010 by a Chinese mining executive called Yong Wang. He has revived the brand and he put a Lang back into the winery by naming Mike Lang, Günther’s nephew, as the general manager.

Mike has had to deal with a parade of winemakers before the musical chairs stopped last year when reliable Robert Thielicke moved to Lang from JoieFarm. I was not surprised to find that the wines from the 2015 vintage are very well made.

I have lost track of who made the wines in 2014. Whoever it was also did well, especially with the Farm Reserve Riesling, always the most prestigious wine in the Lang portfolio.

Here are notes on the wines.

 Lang Vineyards Bravo White 2015 ($18). This is slightly off-dry blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Schönburger and Muscat. It begins with aromas mingling floral notes, spice and fruit, followed by spicy peach on the palate. The Muscat varieties here leave a spicy finish that persuades the palate this is a dry wine. A great summer wine. 90.

Lang Vineyards Viognier 2015 ($21). This wine begins with rich aromas of banana and ripe apricot. On the palate, the mouth-filling flavours are luscious, with notes of apricot and peach and a touch of hazelnut on the finish. This is a dry Viognier with personality! 91.

Lang Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015 ($19). This wine presents in the glass with a light golden glint. It is a richly textured wine in a style recalling ripe Alsace Pinot Gris, with aromas and flavours of ripe pear, ripe peach and ripe apple. The finish is dry and persistent. 90.

Lang Vineyards Farm Reserve Riesling 2014 ($18). The grapes for this flagship Riesling comes from 35-year-old vines. The complex aroma here is more properly described as marmalade rather than petrol because of the intense fruit. On the palate, the fruit flavours are bright and also concentrated, with notes of lemon and green apple backed up by a spine of minerals. 92.

Lang Vineyards Sparkling Pinot Noir/Meunier 2015 ($21). This strawberry-hued wine is celebratory with a full head of effervescence. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry and it has a crisp, refreshing finish. 89.

Lang Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25). The aromas are dramatic and expressive: dried cherries, blackberries and plums with a touch of mocha. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and black currant. There is a pleasantly rustic earthiness on the finish. 90.

Lang Vineyards Maréchal Foch 2014 ($20). Almost black in colour, the wine begins with the aromas of the variety – a mix of dark plum, chocolate and rare steak. Full on the palate, the wine tastes of figs, plums and blueberries. 89.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Liquidity's winemaker is passionate about Pinot

 Photo: Winemaker Alison Moyes

Liquidity Wines, which opened in 2012, has raised the visitor wine experience among the Okanagan Falls wineries with a wine shop that includes one of the most elegant restaurants in wine country.

Now the winery is turning it up another notch by offering private VIP tastings of its recently released reserve wines.

If that happens to be out of your budget, the experience at the regular tasting bar is very good, in part because the talent and focus of winemaker Alison Moyes.

“Pinot Noir is my baby,” she told me last year. “Pinot Noir is where my heart is.”

Pinot Noir winemakers are like that. Grant Stanley, who is now at 50th Parallel Estate Winery, once told me that he thinks of Pinot Noir 80% of the time. Yet his other wines taste like they get his full attention as well. The same is true of Alison’s wines at Liquidity.

“I was born and grew up in Ontario, in Scarborough where I went to high school. I moved to Nova Scotia when I was 18 to go to Dalhousie to study microbiology,” Alison told me in an interview. “While I was doing that, I was working at a restaurant. The owner was opening up a new high end wine bar. He was doing sommelier training and offered a course for the staff.  I was a part of that and I just fell in love with it. He saw I had potential and he helped me through my sommelier certification in Halifax. Upon finishing, I would be the new sommelier at his wine bar. I managed that program for two years and then my science background called to me.”

She went to Brock University to study winemaking. She came to the Okanagan in 2008, working with Osoyoos Larose on what was supposed to be a temporary work term. But as soon as she finished her thesis at Brock, she returned to the Okanagan as the winemaker at Stoneboat Vineyards in 2010.

“I had fallen in love with the Okanagan,” she said. “It is an amazing grape growing region. Ontario has a lot of fantastic wines as well but it seems like a lot more work to achieve it.”

 Stoneboat has Pinot Noir in its portfolio but Liquidity, which she joined in 2015, has a more ambitious Pinot Noir focus. That includes estate Pinot Noir, reserve Pinot Noir and a super-reserve called Equity.

Alison’s winemaking approach is remarkably detailed. A typical example emerges from the production notes for the winery’s 2015 Viognier. “Harvested on September 29th and September 14th respectively, a combination of Viognier fruit from our Allendale Vineyard and from the Similkameen Valley was almost entirely whole cluster pressed and cool fermented in stainless steel. Several small 300L stainless steel fermentations were performed in this way. The remaining 6% of the fruit was crushed and partially skin fermented, before pressing off and completing fermentation. The finished wine was racked off and carefully blended, selecting only the most premium lots for this wine.”

Her production notes for all of the other Liquidity wines, including the Pinot Noir, show equally detail-oriented winemaking.

Here are notes on the current Liquidity wines.

Liquidity Pinot Gris 2015 ($18 for 1,078 cases). This is a juicy, refreshing wine with peaches and pears both on the nose and on the palate. 90.

Liquidity White Blend 2015 ($18 for 616 cases). This refreshing wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine delivers aromas and flavours of tropical fruits along with melons and ripe pears. 90.

Liquidity Viognier 2015 ($25 for 565 cases). This wine begins with tropical aromatics, leading to aromas and flavours of apricots and peaches. The texture is generous. 91.

Liquidity Chardonnay Estate 2014 ($26 for 374 cases). This was fermented in barrel, primarily with wild yeast, and aged in barrel for 11 months. The oak is very well integrated, adding a hint of toast to the core of citrus, pineapple and peach flavours. 91.

Liquidity Pinot Noir Estate 2014 ($26 for 910 cases). This wine was made with five clones that were harvested and fermented separately before being blended. There are aromas of raspberry and cherry leading to a medley of dark berry flavours finished with a hint of spicy oak. 90.

Liquidity Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 ($42). A selection of the best barrels, this wine has rich flavours of cherry, plum and pomegranate set against smoky forest floor aromas. The texture is silky. 92.

Liquidity Pinot Noir Equity 2014. ($56 for 95 cases). This is not just the best barrels but also the two best clones (115 and 667). The wine begins with aromas of lilacs and cherries. There are rich flavours of strawberry, cherry and cassis. The texture is velvet. This wine has been aged 11 months in oak (30% new). The wine is profound and elegant. 95


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tightrope Wines express Naramata terroir

Photo: Tightrope's  Graham and Lyndsay O'Rourke

Tightrope Winery is just in its third year of sales but, judging from its expansive wine shop, it is getting its share of visitors to the Naramata Bench.

The wines here have impressed wine critics from that start. If this winery still is new to you, here is what I wrote in John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

The seed for Tightrope Winery was planted in the decade that Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke spent working in bars and restaurants at the Whistler ski resort. The jobs supported their skiing, Graham’s fly fishing and shared meals in fine restaurants.

“The thing about Whistler is that you get spoiled because there are so many fine dining restaurants for such a small town,” Lyndsay says. “You get a lot of chance to go out and try nice wines with good food.” Graham agrees. “My wine experience all started with really good wine,” he says. “I did not grow up drinking Baby Duck and the box wines.”

 Both were born in 1971. Lyndsay, whose geologist father, Grenville Thomas is a diamond explorer who is in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has a University of Windsor business degree. Graham, the son of an accountant, grew up near Sarnia and learned to fish during summers in a family cottage on the river. His love of the outdoors led to a University of British Columbia degree in wildlife management.

They moved to the Okanagan in 2003. Immediately drawn to the vineyard lifestyle, they both took Okanagan College courses in grape growing and winemaking. To further improve their skills, they both went to Lincoln University in New Zealand for honours degrees in those disciplines. The studies paid off quickly. When they returned, Graham joined Mission Hill for six years as a vineyard manager before, with a partner, setting up his own vineyard consulting firm. Lyndsay became the winemaker for Ruby Blues Winery from 2009 through 2014.

In 2007, the couple bought a four-hectare (10-acre) Naramata Bench property with a million-dollar view over the lake. They planted about three hectares (seven acres) of grapes -- Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. They made the first 900 cases of Tightrope wines in 2012, using the Ruby Blues winery until they built their own winery in 2014.

They avoided place names and animal names for their winery, coming up with Tightrope, an evocative term for them. “It represents the balancing act you go through when you make wine, from decisions in the vineyard, depending on the season, to decisions in the winery and winemaking,” Lyndsay explains. “All of those variables have to be balanced.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Tightrope Viognier 2014 ($25). This wine has aromas and flavours of stone fruit. The spine of minerality adds to the weight and texture. The flavours carry through to a crisp and tangy finish. 91.

Tightrope Riesling 2015 ($23). Overnight skin contact help develop the citrus and tangerine aromas and flavours. The wine has good minerality and bright acidity, leading to a crisp and dry finish. 91.

Tightrope Pinot Gris 2015 ($21). This is a refreshing juicy wine with aromas and flavours of apples and pears. There is good weight on the palate. 90.

Tightrope Tip-Toe 2015 ($22). This is a blend of 25% Riesling, 24% Viognier, 18% Gewürztraminer and 16% Chardonnay. The winery as made 545 cases of this summer-drinking blend, a medley of citrus, Apple and melon flavours. 90.

Tightrope Rosé 2015 ($25). This is primarily Pinot Noir with 5% Barbera. This is a dry rose with bold mouth filling flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The tangy note on the finish enhances the freshness of the wine. 92.

Tightrope Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). The wine presents in the glass with good colour and with deep cherry aromas. On the palate, the cherry mingles with raspberry. The texture is youth fully firm en route to becoming silky. 91.

Tightrope Syrah 2014 ($35). This wine is made 100% with Naramata fruit but has as much personality as a South Okanagan Syrah. It begins with aromas of red fruit and pepper leading to flavours of plum mingled with deli meats and spice. 92.

Tightrope Vertigo 2014 ($40 for 150 cases). This is a blend of 58% Merlot, 27% Barbera and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 10 months in French and American oak (50% new).  It begins with aromas of black currants, leading to flavours of black and red currants. The spicy finish has a touch of pepper. 92.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bench 1775: wines that match the setting

Photo: Bench 1775's Val Tait

Almost every winery on the Naramata Bench has a superb view over vineyards and Okanagan Lake.

Few can match Bench 1775 Winery with its expansive patio. The winery, once known as Soaring Eagle, was renamed in 2013 to Bench 1775, its address on Naramata Road. The winery thus is hard to miss.

On an idyllic morning this summer, I shared a corner table on the patio with general manager and winemaker Val Tait, tasting through most of the current wines. The wines hold up to the view.

Val, a noted viticultural consultant in the Okanagan, joined the winery in 2013, partnering with Jim Stewart, one of the former owners. The winery was sold the following year to low profile immigrant investors who maintained Val in her role, recognizing her immense depth of experience.

Born in 1964, she has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in integrated pest management. She started working at the Summerland research station on plant viruses and then developed her independent consulting business with grape growers in the early 1990s as new vineyards were being planted. “I was lucky to get in on the industry when it was starting to grow,” says Val.

At Bench 1775, she has reorganized the winery and quickly upgraded viticulture. “We have to be impeccable in the vineyard,” she vows. “It’s such a beautiful site and it has such great potential.”

The 7.5-hectare (18.5-acre) vineyard’s remarkable features include a lengthy private beach on Okanagan Lake. “There are very few wineries in the world that are on the water,” Val says. “It is like we are working on a vacation site.” Indeed, one of the privileges to members of the Bench 1775 wine club is access to the beach.

It is worth noting that a number of the wines reviewed below are available just to wine club members. Even if a dip in Okanagan Lake does not appeal, the wines should. "I am trying to make wines that do not have an abrupt finish," Val says.

Here are my notes:

Bench 1775 Chill 2015 ($17.90 for 1,640 cases). This is a blend primarily of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. The wine begins with herbal aromas that continue to aromas of melon and pear. These fruits and the herbs are echoed on the palate, along with a hint of grapefruit. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.

Bench 1775 Pinot Gris 2015. ($19.90 for 1,685 cases.) This delicious wine is packed with fruit aromas and flavours, including citrus, peach and pear. Four per cent Gewürztraminer in the blend pops the aromas. The texture is full and juicy. 90.

Bench 1775 Sémillon 2015 ($19.90 for 75 cases). This is a dramatic white wine, bursting with tropical aromas and flavours including melon and cantaloupe. There is a hint of olives on the complex finish. 92.

Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($24.90 for 880 cases). There is 10% Sémillon in this blend. The wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime, leading to lime and herbs on the finish. 91.

Bench 1775 Muscat 2015. ($19.90). Three clones of Muscat are combined in this lovely aromatic wine, delivering spicy citrus aromas and flavours and finishing with spicy herbs. The wine is dry. 91.

Bench 1775 Viognier 2015 ($24.90 for 180 cases). This wine has 10% Gewürztraminer and 5% Pinot Gris in the blend. The wine begins with stone fruit aromas. On the palate, the texture is creamy, with flavours of ripe apricots. The finish is very long and generous. 91.

Bench 1775 Glow 2015 ($19.90 for 360 cases). This copper-hued rosé is 70% Malbec and is filled out with Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromas and flavours of cherries and raspberry are intense. This wine, with its dry finish, is a food wine. 90.

Bench 1775 Groove 2014 ($19.90). Here is a soft juicy red that can be chilled for summertime drinking. Made primarily with Malbec and Cabernet Franc, it is a bowl full of cherries with vanilla on the finish. There seems to be a touch of sweetness. 88.

Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014 ($25.90. This silky wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry with hint of vanilla. 90.

Bench 1775 Malbec 2013. Dark in colour and rich on the palate, this begins with aromas of Violets and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of plum and cherry that move on to earthy flavours of dark fruit. 92.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc Malbec 2014 ($25.90) This is an inspired 50/50 blend of these two varieties. The wine begins with a bold aroma of blackberries and violets, and goes on to deliver layers of bramble fruit flavours and a spicy finish. 93.

Bench 1775 Merlot 2013. A Merlot with good concentration of bright fruit, this has aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry. 91.

Bench 1775 Syrah 2013 ($27.90 for 370 cases). Juicy, almost jammy in its richness, this wine has aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry. 90.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc c. 214 2013. Only the Bench 1775 wine club can buy this superb red ($28).  It is a big, ripe wine with layers of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and mulberry. 92.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 ($26.90). This is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc. The fruit flavours are boldly ripe. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant, mulberry. 92