Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Maverick's introspective Bertus Albertyn

Photo: Bertus Albertyn

It is a bit surprising to discover that getting into a rut is one of winemaker Bertus Albertyn’s fears.

Bertus is one of the proprietors of Maverick Estate Winery, whose tasting room is on the highway, midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. He recently hosted me to a tasting of his wines which, in my view, are among the best in the Okanagan. I was struck that someone making such stellar wines can be so candidly self-critical – although that may explain the quality of the wines.

“The biggest scare to me is the longer you make wine, the more you think you can make wine,” Bertus said. “That is the biggest fault you can have. It is like tasting only your own wine. You get very narrow. We drink a lot of our own wine, but when we go out to buy wine, we may not even buy wines from the Okanagan. We will ensure that we get a bit of a broader view; that we don’t get stuck in tunnel vision. It is the same concept. You make wine and you get very confident in your process and you forget to evaluate it at some point.”

A few years ago, BC Tree Fruits asked Bertus to develop the products for its Broken Ladder brand of apple and pear cider. Bertus welcomed the assignment because it prodded him to rethink making both wine and cider. The Broken Ladder ciders turned out to be excellent; so good in fact that Bertus also introduced a line of apple cider for sale in the Maverick tasting room.

“This cider process makes you re-evaluate everything,” Bertus says. “You re-evaluate why you are doing this. You have to start thinking again about your process. I would do it again and again.”

This introspective ability is remarkable because Bertus already is well-trained and experienced after making wine in South Africa, France and, since 2010, in the Okanagan.

Bertus, who was born in 1978, holds an enology degree from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. On graduating, he started working at a large wine cooperative there before joining family-owned Avondale in 1994 as winemaker.  He came to the Okanagan early in 2009 when Elzaan, his wife (and now also an owner in the winery), established her medical practice in Osoyoos.

Schalk De Witt, Elzaan’s father, is also a doctor, having moved to Canada in 1990. While he practices in Edmonton, he has been enamored with the Okanagan Valley for many years. In 2006 and again in 2009, he bought two parcels of land in the south Okanagan for vineyards. The winery was developed after his daughter married a winemaker.

“When Bertus came into the picture, obviously, that was the way to go,” Schalk told me a few years ago. “There is more profit in making wine than in selling grapes.”

Bertus converted the 2009 purchase, then a highway-side organic farm, to a 7 ½-acre vineyard. While doing that, he also worked as the winemaker at Burrowing Owl Vineyards. He left there in 2013 to concentrate on Maverick. The winery now produces about 5,000 cases a year and is on the way to 8,000 cases.

The 2006 purchase, a 48-acre parcel, is still unplanted. “It is always good to have a bit of land in reserve,” Bertus says. “You can’t change that quickly, so if the market changes, it is good to have a little bit of land somewhere so that you can plant for the market.”

Currently, the market is buying everything that Bertus produces. Several of the whites released in spring are now sold out. However, he has refilled the pipeline with other wines, including a sparkling wine, several reds and a port-style wine.

Here are notes on the wines.

Maverick Ella Brut Rosé 2014 ($35 for 500 cases). This is a traditionally bottle-fermented sparkling wine, a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. Such a cuvée would not be uncommon in Champagne.  This wine spent 16 months on the yeast lees. The result is a wine with toasty hints in the aroma and on the palate, along with flavours of apple and strawberry. The extremely fine bubbles give the wine a creamy texture. The finish is crisp and dry. 92.
Maverick Pinot Gris 2015 ($19 for 530 cases). This wine was fermented 75% in stainless steel, 25% in used French oak. Barrel fermentation contributes to the wine’s full texture while the stainless steel preserves the aromas and flavours of apples and pears. The wine has a refreshing finish. 91.

Maverick Chardonnay 2015 ($26.50 for 185 cases). All of Maverick’s wines are fermented with wild yeast. In the case of this Chardonnay, the ferment stopped when there still was about four per cent of residual sugar. That may account for a deliciously atypical Chardonnay – a fruit-forward wine bursting with aromas and flavours of peach, lime, lemon and grapefruit. There is also a hint of oak, for the wine was fermented in and aged six months in new French oak. 92.

Maverick Pinot Noir 2014 ($29 for 500 cases). This wine reflects Bertus’s style of winemaking: keep it simple and keep it traditional and let the vineyard shine through. The grapes are fermented in an open top vat, punched down as needed over 30 days, then aged nine months in French oak (25% new). The result is a dark, fleshy wine, with aromas and flavours of spicy cherry and with what Bertus calls “meaty, charcouterie undertones … This is the Pinot Noir style I like.” So do I. 91.

Maverick Rubeus 2014 ($25 for 650 cases). This wine started out as blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, all fermented together. In 2014 the blend was 50% Syrah, seven percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and, for the first time, 35% Merlot. The reason: Merlot ripens more consistently in the Maverick vineyard and that is important for effective co-fermentation. This wine has aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry and blueberry with a hint of black olive and chocolate on the lingering finish. 93.

Maverick Bush Vine Syrah 2014 ($32 for 185 cases). The Syrah vines grow on terraces at the top of the Maverick vineyard much like Syrah in Hermitage: each vine is supported by its own bamboo pole. The grapes are whole-bunch fermented in open top vats and aged 18 months in French oak barrels (three- and four-year-old). The ripe and concentrated wine begins with a hint of pepper in the aroma, along with aromas of cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, fig and Black Forest cake with a lingering spicy finish. 93.

Maverick Fia 2014 ($30 for 333 cases of 500 ml bottles). This port-style wine starts by co-fermenting 60% Syrah and 40% Merlot in a bin for three or four weeks. Then fermentation is stopped by adding grape spirits on the skins and then pressing the fortified must. The wine, which now has 18% alcohol, is aged for 20 m0nths in French oak barrels. This bold and generous wine coats the palate with delicious flavours of plum, black cherry, licorice and chocolate with what the winery calls a “dry, spicy farewell” on the finish. The wine is drinking well now but has the structure to age another five or 10 years. 93.

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