Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women call the shots at Bench 1775

Photo: Bench 1775 general manager and winemaker Valeria Tait

Recently, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce asked me to moderate a panel on women involved in our wine industry.

The speakers were Elaine Triggs of Culmina Winery, Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and Ann Sperling of Sperling Vineyards. They were chosen from a surprising long list of women who make the wheels go round at many British Columbia wineries.

The sold-out lunch (followed by a wine tasting) was such a success that the chamber is considering hosting a second one next year.

Another name to throw in the mix is Bench 1775 Winery. If you check this Naramata Road winery’s website, you will discover that no fewer than eight awesomely-qualified women calling the shots.

The only other Okanagan winery run exclusively by women (to the best of my knowledge) is Cana Vines Winery, operated by Mindy Elgert and her daughter Lisa.

The team at Bench 1775 is headed by Valeria Tait. She wears three hats: viticulturist, winemaker and general manager. She is an industry veteran. 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,” Val told me a few years ago.
She became a partner at Bench 1775 in 2013 and, after the winery ownership changed the following year, she was given her currant portfolio of responsibilities.

The other members of the Bench 1775 team are:

·       Sonja Lloyd in charge of quality control. She has a doctorate in microbiology from Washington State University.

·       Julia Cannings is the tasting room manager. She is a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in English and French literature.

·       Andrea Duckett is the manager of the Bench 1175 wine club.

·       Tina Ma is the internati0nal sales manager. Born in China, she has a master of business administration from New York State University.

·       Simone Ardiel is the lead cellar hand. She is a graduate of the winery and viticultural program at Niagara College.

·       Pamela Moodie is the accounting manager. She has a degree in urban planning and is a certified general accountant.

·       Leanna Liu is the marketing and social media manager. Born in Beijing, she has a bachelor’s degree in screen writing from the Communications University in China and master’s degree in digital media management from Northwestern University in the U.S.

All I can say is wow! The coffee breaks at Bench 1775 must be more like college seminars. One thing for certain: these eight are making excellent wines.

Here are notes on recently released wines.

Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014 ($24.90.) This silky, yet muscular, wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and strawberry with hint of mocha. 90.

Bench 1775 Groove 2014 ($19.90). Here is a soft juicy red made for easy drinking. Made with Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, it is a bowl full of cherries with vanilla on the finish. 88.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc clone 214 2013. ($27.90). Only the Bench 1775 wine club can buy this superb red.  It is an elegant 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. The tannins are still firm and the wine should be decanted or cellared a few more years. 92

Bench 1775 Malbec 2014 ($25.90). A wine club only release, this complex red combines fruit from the Similkameen Valley with fruit from the Okanagan. In her notes on the wine, Val says that the Similkameen portion results in a more intense wine because the soils in that valley are “much bonier and drier” that those of the Okanagan. This dark wine begins with aromas of plum and mulberry, going onto to a robust palate with flavours of black cherry, plum and fig. On the finish, there are hints of cola and dark chocolate. 92.

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