Monday, February 6, 2017

One Faith Vineyards at Vancouver International Wine Festival

 Photo: One Faith proprietor Bill Lui

For most attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year, the "must" discovery among the 60 BC wineries there will be Bill Lui’s One Faith Vineyards.

This is a small but very fine producer on Black Sage Road that aspires to nothing less than to be an Okanagan First Growth – at least symbolically since the Okanagan lacks Bordeaux’s system of classified growths.

One Faith Grand Vin, at $165 a bottle, will be the most expensive Okanagan wine at the festival (and one of the most expensive wines in the room). And Bill will be pouring three vintages of the wine at his table, along with his $50 second wine, a Bordeaux red blend called Certitude.

The lineup at the One Faith table should be deep. These are limited production wines among the best ever produced in the Okanagan. The skeptics who doubt an Okanagan wine is not worth this much money can decided for themselves – and can compare them with premium-priced imported wines on the floor.

One Faith launched in December 2014 with Grand Vin 2012. I am surprised to see it is to be poured at the Festival because only 144 cases were made. To be sure, the price ensures that wine would hardly fly off the shelf: One Faith wines are marketed in boxes of three priced at $495 a box.
I presume the Festival liquor store, which ordered 20 cases, will break the boxes into lots of one bottle. I also expect the wines will sell out quickly, given the sophisticated and well-heeled collectors who attend the festival.

Until now, One Faith has been a “virtual” winery, making its wine in a custom crush facility. The good news is that Bill now has a 10-acre vineyard at 4644 Black Sage Road. A winery is under design, with plans for a tasting room in an underground barrel cellar by 2019.

Now 58, Bill was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Canada. He has been a Canadian citizen since 1977 and has a degree in environmental science from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Much of his previous business career, which he describes as merchant banking, was in Taiwan and China. In China, he managed a company that made medical instruments. After taking it public and selling his interest, he retired to Vancouver, in part to be with his school-age children and to look after aging parents.

With time on his hands, he began studying the wine industry. “I am working for my daughter,” he laughs. [His daughter is 13.] “I don’t want her to see I have nothing to do. I want her to see I have a focus in business, so she can tell her schoolmates about it, that her dad is a winemaker.”

He is not a winemaker in the technical sense, although he has taken a number of courses from the University of California. It would be more accurate to call him a winegrower who has employed several topflight consultants to make the wines.

When Bill decided to create a winery, he retained Vancouver wine educator and consultant James Cluer MW for guidance on grape sources and winemakers. Grapes for the initial vintages were obtained from the Sundial and Saddle Ridge vineyards on Black Sage Road. The sale of both vineyards last year was one reason that Bill bought his own vineyard as well as lining other sources of premium grapes.

James Cluer helped Bill recruit the immensely talented Anne Vawter(right), the winemaker who made the One Faith vintages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. She and her husband, Cameron, both are consultants for blue ribbon Napa wineries. Last year, they also became consulting winemakers the new Phantom Creek Estates, the winery under development at the Black Sage Road vineyards formerly owned by Harry McWatters and Richard Cleaves.

“My interest in wine came through my uncle who ran a beer and wine distributorship in the Seattle Tacoma area,” Anne says. “He introduced my father to good wines. We lived in Walla Walla. My father would find wines and go on wine lists. I was one of his children that enjoyed tasting the wines with him, even when I was little.” She acted on his suggestion that she go to the University of California to study winemaking.

Because Phantom Creek, a large and ambitious project, will compete directly with One Faith, Anne severed her relationship with One Faith. Her role at One Faith has been taken over by Jacqueline Kemp, a New Zealand working in the Okanagan. She blended the 2014 One Faith wines and made them in 2015 and 2016.

Bill Lui has also engaged Pascal Madevon, the former Osoyoos Larose winemaker and now a consultant, for advice on viticulture and one winery design.

Anne appears to have defined the style of One Faith in her three vintages with Bill. The wines are bold and full-flavoured with an elegant polish, some of which is due to her technique of fermenting the reds in barrel. (She did the same in her first vintage at Phantom Creek last year, with equally effective results.)

Bill, of course, set the bar high for his winemakers when he began to refer to his wine as an Okanagan First Growth. “First Growth for me is what all my friends are used to,” he explains. “A lot of my friends are in Hong Kong and they drink a lot of First Growths. They hardly drink any Canadian wine. They were born with French wine. A lot of people criticised me when I called my wine First Growth. I try not to use First Growth very much now, but I hope I can be a First Growth of the Okanagan in time.”

He is confident his wines can hold their own in the big leagues. Last fall, he took a table to introduce his wines at a major trade show in Shanghai. Many consumers ignored his table until the word got around that the wines were special.

“In the afternoon, a pack of people came to my booth to taste my wine,” Bill recounts.  “There was a great reception there. People didn’t believe Canadians have good red wine.”

Here are notes on the three vintages of One Faith that will be available at the wine festival.

One Faith 2012 Grand Vin ($495 for a box of three). The wine is a blend of 45.4% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24.6% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged between 20 and 22 months in French oak. The wine begins with deep and complex aromas of cassis, vanilla, spice and dark cherry. On the palate, there are layered flavours of black cherry, plum, cassis, chocolate and tobacco. It is a sveltely polished wine with long, silky tannins. The wine is drinking well now but will continue to improve in the bottle for five to eight years. 95.

One Faith 2013 Grand 
Vin (Price not finalized). The winery made 250 cases of this wine. The blend is 77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec. Aromas of black cherry and vanilla bound from the glass as a prelude to the medley of sweet fruit on the palate: flavours of blueberry, black cherry and black currant. The long ripe tannins polish the wine’s long, elegant finish. 95.

 One Faith 2014 Grand Vin (not released). This wine, not yet tasted, is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. “I think the 2014 is a stunning wine,” Bill says.

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