Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tantalus Vineyard reviews: better late than never

Photo: Tantalus winemaker David Patterson

When Tantalus Vineyards sent me their releases for 2017 this spring or early this summer, I decided to wait a few months before reviewing them.

Bad idea if you were waiting on my reviews, which is not too likely. Tantalus sells easily on its reputation.

But here was my rationale for taking my time.

The flagship wines at Tantalus are made with Riesling grapes. Riesling takes its own sweet time to develop in bottle, so I decided to give the Rieslings a few more months to really blossom.

Then life happened. It took me longer than anticipated to get to the wines. I expect most of those wines are now sold out. Even so, I am still going to report on my reviews. The information may be useful of you happened to find some on a wine store shelf of in a restaurant. A little more time has helped soften the often bright acidity of these Rieslings.

Under the direction of winemaker and general manager David Patterson, Tantalus has firmly established itself as one of the Okanagan’s best and most focussed wineries.

David, who received his winemaker training at Lincoln University in New Zealand, credits tasting a 2008 Tantalus Riesling for firing his interest in the Okanagan. He was then working for a wine retailer in Vancouver after having worked vintages at wineries in Oregon, New Zealand and Australia.

“I tasted it and it was wonderful,” David said of the 2008 Tantalus Riesling. “I joined them for harvest in 2009. It was my stroke 0f luck that the winemaker at the time was Matt Holmes. I had worked with him in New Zealand. He was moving on. So instead of just working the vintage, I ended up becoming the winemaker in 2009.”

The Tantalus property, now about 75 acres in size, is one of East Kelowna’s historic vineyards, planted in the late 1920s by a pioneer grower, J.W. Hughes. He later sold the property to the Dulik family. They get the credit for planting Riesling there in 1978. When Eric Savics, the current owner, bought the property in 2004, he reduced the varieties being grown, developing a tight focus that included more Riesling, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

These are strong, terroir-driven wines. “For me, tasting those wines, it is always remarkable how consistent the palate is,” David says. “There are little variations but you can tell it is from the same property. It does not matter on the winemaker or the vintage. I think we always have a very consistent balanced palate.”

Here are notes on the recent releases.

Tantalus Riesling 2016 ($19.91). When I tasted this in July, I made a note that it should be cellared for another year. The wine is simply yummy, with floral aromas and with flavours of lemon and lime on the juicy palate. The bright racy acidity gives the wine great freshness, with 17 grams of residual sugar to balance the wine’s attack. 92.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2014 ($30.35). This wine is made from the 1978 planting of Clone 21B Riesling. Those vines deliver intensely concentrated aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of lemon and lime, with a complexing hint of petrol. The aromas are echoed on the palate, along with the distinctive mineral notes of this vineyard. The racy acidity gives the wine a dry finish; there is just enough residual sweetness to prevent the wine tasting austere. The finish goes on and on. This complex wine should peak in about 10 years. 94.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut 2014 ($34.70). Only 200 cases of this exceptional sparkling wine were made. It was disgorged after two years en tirage. The fine bubbles deliver aromas of citrus and brioche, followed by flavours of citrus and apple. The wine has a long, elegant finish with a touch of almond. 94.

Tantalus Blanc de Noir 2014 ($27.74). This traditional method sparkling wine is made with grapes from a 1985 block of Pinot Noir. The wine spent two years on tirage before being disgorged. Rose petal pink in colour, the wine’s fine bubbles create a lively display in the glass. The aromas and flavour recall strawberries and pink grapefruit. The bubbles create a creamy impression on the palate but the fresh acidity gives a crisp finish. 91.

Tantalus Juveniles Chardonnay 2016 ($17.30). This wine was made from the fourth harvest of a young Chardonnay block. Fermented with wild yeast, the wine is fresh and fruit forward, with aromas and flavours of lemon and green apples. 88.

Tantalus Chardonnay 2015 ($26.00). This style of this wine pays tribute to White Burgundy. The wine was fermented with natural yeast in French oak puncheons and barriques, 30% of which were new. The wine has aromas of citrus with a touch of vanilla. Full on the palate, it has flavours of lemon, apple and nectarine. The wine is elegant, with a refreshing focus of fruit on the finish. 92.

Tantalus Rosé 2016 ($19.09). This is 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier. Light pink in hue, the wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry, raspberry and pink grapefruit. The finish is crisp and dry; I might have preferred just a touch of residual sugar to fully bring out the charm of the wine. 90.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Roche Wines has a home on Upper Bench Road

Photo: Pénélope and Dylan Roche

Roche Wines, which opened its winery this summer on Upper Bench Road in Penticton, should encourage all ambitious young Okanagan vintners trying to figure out how to open their own wineries with limited resources.

Since I have not seen the books at Roche Wines, I have no idea whether some family money is backing up owners Dylan and Pénélope Roche. But I do know that this young couple, who moved to the Okanagan from France in 2011, have developed their business one methodical step after another. Other aspiring young vintners might look on Roche Wines as a case study.

Dylan was born in Vancouver in 1976, the son of a lawyer and a nurse, and got a degree in urban geography from the University of British Columbia. After college, he went to Burgundy in 2000 as a bike mechanic and cycling guide with Butterfield & Robinson. Exploring wineries in his free time inspired a passion for wine. By 2003, he was enrolled in enology studies in Beaune.

 That led to winemaking apprenticeships over the next five years in Côte d’Or, Chablis and New Zealand. He then became a wine educator and program director at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac from  March, 2006 to February 2008.

Dylan then became assistant winemaker at two estates in Péssac-Léognan and the winemaker at Château Bellevue de Tayac in Margaux in 2010, just before he and Pénélope decided on a winemaking career the Okanagan. Pénélope was born in France, with five generations of winemaking and viticulture behind her in the family estate, Château Les Carmes in Haut-Brion (which was sold just before the couple came to Canada). She also has formal winemaking training and experience in Spain, New Zealand and Australia.

While Pénélope worked as a consulting viticulturist in the Okanagan, Dylan became the winemaker at Intersection Wines, remaining there until early 2016.

They established the Roche label as a virtual winery with a small production of Chardonnay in 2012. Virtual wineries produce wine in existing licenced wineries. It is a way of getting into the business without investing in production facilities until wine sales justify it.

Roche Wines was an early member of the Garagiste wineries, a group of largely Okanagan wineries (many virtual) producing less than 2,000 cases a year. This year’s vintage is pushing Roche beyond that threshold. It has taken the couple about five years to grow from 85 cases of Chardonnay in 2012 to their own winery and vineyard.

Their search for a vineyard was confined largely to the Naramata Bench and to Okanagan Falls until they bought an eight-acre property with four acres of vines on Upper Bench Road in 2014.

“We had driven by this property a few times,” Dylan says. “It was on the market for a while [since 2013].” Because there was a meadow and a planting of Christmas trees near the road, “it was not an obvious vineyard from the road.”

The property was one-third of a block owned a veteran viticulturist named John Barnay, who had planted grapes about 2o years ago and still farms the adjacent block.

Initially, Dylan was lukewarm on the property because of the varieties in his four acres: one acre of Zweigelt and three acres of Schönburger. “We hesitated,” he said, after they first looked at the land. “Then a few months later, we said this is the perfect location, the perfect exposure, the perfect soil. It is just the two varieties that we were sticking on.”

Neither he nor Pénélope had experience with those two varieties. But they were impressed that the own-rooted vines were about 20 years old and very healthy. They bought the property and kept the Zweigelt and the Schönburger. The latter was under contract to another winery through this vintage, although Dylan kept enough back so he could learn the potential of Schönburger.”

“We talked about tearing out Schönburger and planting something else, probably Pinot Noir,” Dylan says. “But it is like adopting a puppy … you get fond of it. Pénélope is now protecting it.” However, they have planted an additional 1.75 acres of vines, two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Pinot Noir.

Dylan turns the Zweigelt, an Austrian red not well-known in this market, into an a very successful dry rosé. One of his secrets: a dash of Schönburger is blended into the wine to lift the aromatics.

Beginning in 2013, Dylan and Pénélope began to extend their portfolio by purchasing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the 15-acre Kozier Organic Vineyard on Todd Road, not far away on the Naramata Bench. They had become friends of owner Len Kozier and his family in 2012 while buying grapes for Intersection.

They continued to buy fruit after Len died suddenly early in 2013. Last year, the Kozier family turned over farming that vineyard to Dylan and Pénélope. “The vineyard has Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Viognier,” Dylan says.

The control of that grape supply and the opening of the Roche winery this fall is triggering a major extension of the Roche portfolio.

“We were limiting our scope when we were working for other wineries, just for time and logistics,” Dylan says. “We were at one white, one red and one rosé for a couple of years. In 2016, we added a few wines in anticipation of opening. By this time next year, we will be up to eight or nine wines. We don’t want to go much beyond that.” 

“We have continued with the Pinot Gris, the Pinot Noir and the rosé,” Dylan adds. “We have a second Pinot Gris, and a Schönburger. This fall, there will be two different Pinot Noirs. We also have Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the barrel. We haven’t forgotten that Pénélope is from Bordeaux.”  

The winery, a metal-clad building fronting on Upper Bench Road, is designed for a capacity of 6,000 to 10,000 cases. It is a practical, well-designed building, double-insulated to conserve energy consumption. The compact tasting room is tucked into a corner with windows that look over the vineyard. It is not a LEED building but the design principles reflect Dylan’s LEED thinking.

Here are notes on Roche wines.

Roche Pinot Gris 2014 ($25.90). This may be sold out … but it is a complex wine with intense fruit flavours and herbal/honeyed notes in the aroma. This makes the case for aging Pinot Gris. 92.

Roche Pinot Gris 2015 ($25.90). The winery released 236 cases this summer. The wine was fermented in neutral oak. It has good weight, with aromas and flavours of pears and a hint of vanilla on the finish. 92.

Roche Pinot Gris ‘Inox’ 2016 ($20.90). This tank-fermented and aged wine is crisp, with aromas and flavours of citrus, pears and apples. A nice spine of minerality adds to the weight and structure. 90.

Roche Arôme 2016 ($17.90 for 130 cases). This is the winery’s dry Schönburger, a crisply spicy and aromatic white that certainly makes the case for keeping the variety in the portfolio. The wine is exotic, with tropical fruit and herbal flavours. 91.

Roche Pinot Noir 2014 ($34.90). The wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with classic “forest floor” notes. Time in barrel have given this a toasty note. Flavours of strawberry and cherry dominate the palate. The texture is silky. 91.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Calliope Wines: quality at good value

Photo: Jim Wyse, owner of Burrowing Owl and Calliope

Recently, I shared some wines from the Calliope brand with a neighbour, telling him that the brand is owned by Burrowing Owl Vineyards.

He was impressed with both the quality and the prices, adding that he was not surprised, given the Burrowing Owl ownership. He had not known that.

And you would not know it by reading the labels on the bottle, where the ownership is identified as the Wyse family.

Burrowing Owl founder Jim Wyse bought the Calliope brand several years after the brand closed in 2005. (Calliope is the name of a small hummingbird that lives in southern B.C.). While the Wyse family always acknowledge their connection with Calliope, they have carefully differentiated the Calliope and Burrowing Owl labels.

The Burrowing Owl wines all are made from estate grapes, grown so well that the wines can command between $25 and $50 a bottle. And the wines are worth it.

Calliope wines, on the other hand, are made with purchased grapes or with fruit from young plantings. The wines, now sold across Canada, are priced at $20 and under in British Columbia. In terms of value for money, these wines over-deliver.

The Calliope brand was launched in 1999 by a partnership that included winemakers Ross and Cherie Mirko. They met in New Zealand when Ross, a Canadian, was completing winemaking studies there. They worked at various Okanagan wineries while trying to get the Calliope brand off the ground. Hampered by a lack of resources, they closed Calliope and moved to New Zealand, where both resumed their winemaking careers.

They struggled to sell the Calliope brand until Jim Wyse decided to buy it. A label named after a hummingbird was a big plus for Jim, a naturalist and a bird lover.

“My dad purchased it,” Jim’s daughter, Kerri McNolty, told me in 2011. “They were closing down and he thought the bird allusion was neat. He thought he would tuck it away and save it for some future date, when we have a brand that needs a name.”
That interview was done just as the brand was relaunched. It has become a national success.

Here are notes on current releases.

Calliope Viognier 2016 ($16.90). The wine begins with appealing aromas of peach, apricot with floral notes. The palate is rich, with flavours of stone fruits and vanilla (35% of the wine was fermented in barrel). The generous and bright flavours linger on the finish. 90.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($18.90). The wine begins with zesty aromas of grapefruit and lime, which are echoed on the palate, along with notes of herbs and spice. Good acidity gives the wine a crisp and refreshing finish. The finish is lingering. 91.

Calliope Riesling 2016 ($16.90). Typical of many Rieslings, this wine still needs more time in bottle to develop its complex aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of apples and pears with a touch of lemon. Bright acidity gives this dry wine a tangy note on the palate, with flavours of grapefruit zest. A spine of minerality defines the structure. This wine will reward anyone patient enough to cellar it until next year. 90.

Calliope Gewürztraminer 2016 ($16.90). This wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice, pear and lemon zest. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and ripe pear with a suggestion of ginger and spice. The slight amount of residual sugar is nicely balanced with acidity, but it adds flesh to the texture. 90.

Calliope Figure 8 White 2015 ($18.90). This is a complex five-grape blend: 38% Viognier, 25% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Gris, with Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc accounting for the remaining 13%. Each variety was processed and aged separately, with the Chardonnay fermented in barrel. The wine begins with aromas of apricot and vanilla. The wine is rich on the palate, with flavours of tropical fruits. Notes of marmalade and butter linger on the long and persistent finish. 91.

Calliope Figure 8 Cabernet Merlot ($18.99). This is a highly drinkable blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense aromas of plums, black cherries and raspberries jump from the glass. That potpourri of fruit is reflected on the palate, along with red currants, cloves and pepper. The long ripe tannins were polished by aging the wine in barrel (mostly three-year-old barrels) for 12 months. The fruit is  bright and the texture is juicy. 90.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Bordertown: a winery built on hustle and good wine

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill

Mohan Gill, the owner of Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery, seems to have the drive to expand his business in his bones.

When I first interviewed him in 2015, the recital of his life and career so far was suffused with energy and ambition. After telling me about his vineyards and the winery he was just opening, he added: “I have an orchard. When I have free time, I will also launch cider. The cider business is going well, too.”

The cidery was opened this summer!

The Bordertown winery and cidery is immediately north of Osoyoos. You cannot miss the grand highway-side buildings, including a tasting room with an entrance framed by stone-sheathed pillars. The winery was so fast out of the gate with quality wines that it won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence last year for its flagship red, a meritage blend called Living Desert Red.

The more recent releases show that the wine was not just beginner’s luck. These are well-grown wines.

Born in India in 1976, Mohan came to the Okanagan with his parents in 1993.  “I went to Oliver Secondary School,” he recounts. “Then I started working.”

He bought his first orchard (with an older brother) in 1996. He began delivering his own fruit to Vancouver buyers in 1999 with his pickup truck. He turned over fruit delivery to another agency in 2007 but he still packs cherries, peaches and apples under his own brand. His customers include several major retailers.

Mohan dipped his toe into viticulture by planting two acres of grapes in 2005. A quick study, he was comfortable enough with grape growing that he expanded to 20 acres in 2007. He has continued to increase his vineyard holdings. He now grows 38 acres of grapes at two Osoyoos vineyards and another 50 acres in a Peachland vineyard.

One of the winemakers buying his fruit encouraged Mohan to expand into wine production. He did not need much encouragement. He recruited consulting winemaker  Jason Parkes and Bordertown began making its first vintages in 2013.

The winery, now producing more than 10,000 cases a year, has just begun its fifth vintage with consulting winemaker Daniel Bontorin, (right) who took over the cellar several years ago, making the wines.  

“On this property, I am growing five different varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Viognier and Pinot Gris,” Mohan says, referring to the vineyard near the winery. He also has Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris and a block of Grüner Veltliner. The Peachland vineyard, a cooler terroir, is planted primarily in white varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.  He also grows Pinot Noir there.

The result is an extensive portfolio of wines. Here are notes on current releases.

Bordertown Pinot Gris 2016 ($N/A for 1,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and peach. The palate delivers stone fruit flavours, along with ripe pear and blood orange. The texture is generous and the finish is crisp. The flavours, with a refreshing hint of citrus, linger on the palate. 90.

Bordertown Living Desert White 2016 ($18 for 1,135 cases). This is a blend of 63% Pinot Gris, 27% Riesling and 10% Muscat. It begins with aromas of apple, pear and peach. On the palate, the flavours echo the aromas, with hints of tropical fruit. The refreshing finish is balanced well, with the acidity offsetting the residual sweetness that gives richness to the texture. 90.

Bordertown Muscat 2016 ($22 for 378 cases). This wine begins with delicate aromas of rose petals and spice. After that delicacy, the intensity of the flavours takes one by surprise. There are notes of nectarine and cider apples. The dry finish is punctuated with a light ginger spice. 91.

Bordertown Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($25 for 379 cases). The wine begins with aromas that blend citrus and herbal notes. On the palate, there are flavours of melon, pineapple and white peach. There is a hint of herbs and white pepper on the crisp, refreshing finish of this dry white. 91.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc Rosé 2016 ($23 for 378 cases). This dry rosé presents in the glass with pink hue that verges on orange. In fact, the wine will appeal to the growing number of orange wine fans even if this is fermented on the skins. It has aromas of watermelon and strawberry, leading to flavours of ripe apple and watermelon. 90.

Bordertown Merlot 2014 ($N/A for 434 cases). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, blueberry and plum, leading to vibrant bright berry flavours – blackberry and black currant. The wine is rich on the finish, with notes of black coffee and dark chocolate mingling with juicy berries. 90.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc 2015 ($24 for 1,800 cases). This bold, ripe red makes a great statement for Cabernet Franc from the South Okanagan. It begins with intense brambly, black cherry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, fig, mint and tobacco with a note of oak. Ripe but firm tannins assure that this wine will continue to improve in the cellar for five to eight years. 94.

Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($N/A  for 211 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of black currants, plums, figs, sweet tobacco and chocolate, all framed with well-handled oak. This harmonious medium-bodied wine lingers on the finish. 91.

Bordertown Syrah 2015 $30 for 122 cases). This wine presents in the glass with a deep midnight purple hue that is quite dramatic.  The aromas of plums and figs are equally dramatic. On the palate, this is a rich and generous wine with sweet berry flavours mingled with licorice, cedar and pepper. The finish is exceptionally long. 93.

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2014 ($25 for 980 cases). This is a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 to 18 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherry, vanilla and mocha. On the palate, it delivers intense red berry flavours mingled with dark chocolate. On the lingering finish, there is a delightful mix of savoury sweet fruit and herbs. 92.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

JoieFarm mastered the 2015 vintagew

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble

Several years ago, Naramata’s JoieFarm Winery adopted the term “En Famille” to designate its reserve wines.

The phrases recognize that good growers – and JoieFarm has a number under contract – are part of the wine growing family and should get recognition.

Heidi Noble, the owner and winemaker at JoieFarm, explains this in a note about the current releases. “The reserve program at Joie allows us to explore the history of the aromatic Germanic varietals of BC as individual, single estate vineyard expressions of these grapes,” she writes. She is also exploring ‘the potential of Burgundian varietals to excel in the cool-climate, lake-moderate desert of the Okanagan Valley.”

The reserve wines are, of necessity, carefully crafted small lot wines. Perhaps the best place to taste these wines is in JoieFarm’s new tasting room, which opened this spring.

“Over the past two years,” Heidi writes, “we have seen a dramatic increase in our Reserve “En Famille” wines. The tasting room gives us the opportunity to tell people about the growers, the vineyards and the special techniques with which these wines are made.”

The current releases are all from the 2015 vintage. Heidi writes that “2015 was hot and the earliest vintage on record in the Okanagan Valley. Considered a ‘winemaker’s vintage’, many critical choices were required along with the resolve and focus of our cellar team.”

The very early budbreak followed by weeks of hot, dry weather led to heavy crops that ripened early. At JoieFarm (and at other producers), extra crop was left on the vines to slow down the pace of ripening. At harvest, JoieFarm’s team did multiple picks, ‘making sure we were picking for acidity at lower brix while leaving enough hanging for more phenolic development and flavour.” That, Heidi adds, is “hard to achieve in an early vintage.”
She continued: “This created more ferments to manage and blend, but allowed us to make naturally balanced wines in both alcohol and natural acidity, which is the hallmark of JoieFarm’s winemaking. We earned our stripes in 2015.”

Here are notes on the wines.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Gewürztraminer 2015 ($28.90 for 441 cases). The model for this wine was an Alsace Grand Cru; and the wine is very well executed. It begins with intense aromas of lychee and spice, leading equally intense flavours of lychee and quince set against an unctuous texture. The wine is exquisitely balanced with 10 grams of residual sugar against 5.4 grams of acid. The 13.5% alcohol enhances the richness of the wine. 92.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($29.90 for 229 cases). The winery describes this as a careful barrel selection “from our most prized blocks at our Joie-run vineyard sites on the Skaha Bluff and the Naramata Bench. The wine was fermented in French oak primarily with indigenous yeast. The wine begins with aromas of citrus that  lead to a concentrated medley of fruit flavours - melon, white peach, citrus - around a spine of minerality. With imperceptible oak, this fruit forward Chardonnay is crisp and the finish lingers. 93.

JoieFarm En Famille Riesling 2015 ($27.90 for 430 cases). The style for this tangy and complex wine is the German Spätlese style. The trick is to use grapes from old vines (average age of 34 months) and to finish the wine with racy acidity (7.9 grams) balanced with good natural sugar (20 grams). That gives wonderful tension on the palate. The intense aromas and flavours of lime and lemon jump onto the palate and linger on the long finish. 92.

JoieFarm  Gamay 2015 ($25.90 for  324 cases).  The wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with toasty notes (the wine was aged 10 months on the fine lees in French oak). On the palate, the savoury cherry flavours are both rich and juicy, with a long finish. 90.

JoieFarm  PTG 2015 ($25.90 for 752 cases). This is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Gamay. The full-bodied wine was aged 10 months in a variety of French oak vessels (10% new). The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and toasted oak which are echoed on the palate. There is a note of spice on the lingering finish. 91.

JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2015 ($25.90 for 914 cases). This is a blend of three clones from three different vineyards. That is not for volume but for complexity, which also applies to how the wine is made. It is aged 10 months in a mix of large casks, puncheons and barriques. “This mix is intentionally larger format to provide a larger wine to wood ratio as not to overwhelm the delicate fruit profile of this Pinot Noir,” the winery notes explain. It begins with aromas of raspberry and cherry. Those aromas are echoed on the palate, mingled with spice and toasted oak. The wine is full-bodied. 91.

JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir 2015 ($39.90 for 437 cases). The wine blends nine clones from two vineyards. The wine was aged eight months in medium toast French oak barrels (20% new, 30% second fill, 50% neutral). Dark in colour and concentrated in texture, this is a powerful, almost brooding, Pinot Noir that will age well. Aromas of plum and cherry mingle with so-called forest floor spice. On the palate, the raspberry and cherry flavours are intense, giving way to notes of chocolate on the lingering finish. 93.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Black Sage Vineyards and Sumac Ridge wines

Photo: Winemaker Jason James

Historically, the Black Sage Vineyard wines were part of the portfolio of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

In 2012, Constellation Brands– which then owned Sumac Ridge – decided to carve out Black Sage Vineyard as a brand on its own, occupying higher price points.  Subsequently, Constellation sold its Canadian wineries to the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. The Canadian group now operates as Arterra Wines Canada.

The winemaker for both Sumac Ridge and Black Sage is Jason James. The current releases from the two brands showcase both the 2016 and the 2015 vintage. The latter, according to Black Sage publicists, was “one of the finest vintages in the last 100 years.” It certainly was a strong year for red wines.

First, some history that lies behind separating the brands. The Black Sage vineyard, originally about 115 acres, was planted in 1993 and 1994 by Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters. It was then the single largest block of Bordeaux varietals planted in Canada. That was seen as risky until the grapes enabled the winery to make award-winning wines. Those wines were generally released with the vineyard name on the label, selling at a premium compared to the other wines in the extensive Sumac Ridge portfolio.

The rationale for carving out the Black Sage brand was laid out by Constellation in 2012.  “Black Sage Vineyard and wines it creates have always been special,” the company explains. “People always remembered the Black Sage Vineyard wines AFTER they tasted them. Consumer research told us that customers were confused by Sumac Ridge’s multiple tiers and many products. Black Sage Vineyard wines were deemed a lesser quality mostly due to the complexity of the portfolio. We believe that Black Sage Vineyard wines are some of the best out there.”

Arterra continues to believe in the logic of unbundling brands.

As the price points indicate, the brands are positioned for different consumers, or for those who use price to determine what they drink on Tuesday nights and what they drink for Sunday dinner. The spread between the two brands is roughly $10 a bottle. But neither brand is expensive.

While the quality of both is good, the difference is noticeable on the palate. The Black Sage Vineyards wines are more intense, reflecting better-grown fruit from that legendary vineyard.

The Black Sage reds are all from the hot 2015 vintage. That accountants for the richness of the wine - that and the fact that the fruit is from mature vines.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Sumac Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13.99). The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas. On the palate, the zesty, grassy flavours include lime and lemon. The acidity is nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer 2016 ($14.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and lychee, leading to a palate of tropical fruit, including lychee and apricot, with a touch of ginger spice. The 10 grams of residual sugar make this a sure-fire crowd pleaser. I would have preferred it drier. 87.

Sumac Ridge Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The aromas of black cherry and cassis leap from the glass. On the palate, the wine is soft and juicy, with flavours of black currant, blueberry and black cherry that linger on the finish. 89.

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The flavours of blackberry and plum are framed by too much oak. Perhaps this was recently bottled and the oak has not yet integrated. 87.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($25.99). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and black currant jam. It is a bold wine, with soft ripe tannins. The savoury flavours include black cherry and blackberry. It is an excellent example of how good Okanagan Cabernet can be in a hot vintage. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2015 ($25.99). This wine, with a concentrated texture, begins with aromas of black current and blueberry which are echoed on the palate. This is an accessible Merlot with enough boldness and structure to cellar for several years. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25.99). The tiniest hint of smoke from the 2015 forest fires actually adds character to this lively with, with its brambly aromas and flavour. The wine, which has four per cent Merlot, was aged 15 months in barrels (70% French, 30% American). On the finish, there are toasty notes of blackberries and cherry. (For the record, the winery says ‘the vineyards along the Black Sage Bench were not affected” by smoke.) 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2015 ($28.99). This is a richly satisfying red, Dark on colour, it has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, white pepper and spice, with a touch of dark chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long and supple. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 ($25.99). This is a ripe and generous wine, with aromas and flavours of blackberry, raspberry and a medley of dark fruits. 90.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

50th Parallel will make sparkling wine

Photo: Curtis Krousel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krousel

Fans of 50th Parallel Estate Winery will cheer the news recently announced by this Lake Country winery.

The winery said: “Winemaker Matthew Fortuna is working with our vineyard team to harvest and press the first of the Pinot Noir grapes of 2017 for what will also be the first sparkling wine vintage ever produced at 50th Parallel, our 2017 Blanc De Noir! This cuvée will be produced in the traditional 'Methode Champenoise' using our premium estate Pinot Noir from our oldest vineyard, Block 1. The wine will be made in premium French oak, and will contain Dijon clones 115 and 777. This limited small release of 300 cases will debut in 2019 in our Restaurant with a small allocation reserved for wine club member purchase.

 That announcement alludes to other developments at 50th Parallel this year.

·       *  Matt Fortuna has taken over as winemaker, succeeding his long-time mentor, Grant Stanley (still a consultant to 50th Parallel).

·        * The restaurant is expected to open next year in the $5 million expansion being completed at the winery.

“The expansion includes an event space which can seat up to 200 people for banquets and weddings,” says Curtis Krouzel, who opened this winery in 2013 with his wife, Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel. “We are building the infrastructure that we need to support all of the destination tourism we are trying to attract here. We have a second to none facility. Now the idea is to bring people here the experience it.”

With a production of 16,000 cases planned this year fr0m a maturing vineyard, 50th Parallel would certainly benefit from wine tourism.

“We are trying to convince a few more of our neighbours to develop wineries,” Curtis says. “It would be great to have a few more of these orchardists have wineries, because they have beautiful properties and terroirs.”

To be sure, winery expansion is happening in Lake Country. O’Rourke Family Vineyards opened The Chase Winery this summer and will open its major winery just down the road from 50th Parallel in a couple of years. As well, a yet to be revealed winery is being developed for an unnamed owner by consultants James Cluer MW and Marcus Ansems MW.  

“It is so close to Kelowna,” Curtis points out. “You can be here in half an hour. We are away but we are not. Sparkling Hill Resort and Predator Ridge are developing so quickly. A lot of energy is coming. The road is all paved now. We now have tourists coming for the scenic wine route.

“Sheri-Lee and I started this with nothing, with friends and family investors,” Curtis continues. “Then we built our limited partnership in 2011. We realized we were developing a 60-acre property, not a 20-acre property. We have about 12 people in total, people we have gotten to know over the years. Some of them started with us in 2009, 2010.”

Curtis and Sheri-Lee are wine enthusiasts from Alberta. They spent 10 years searching for a vineyard property before discovering, as Curtis says, “this beautiful piece of property that seemed to be sitting predominantly idle.”  Jordan & Ste. Michelle Winery had grown grapes in the 1970s but the vines were pulled out in 1988.

The property is a sun-bathed slope stretching down to the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake. It is a bucolic 30-minute drive north from Gray Monk Estate Winery. Or as Curtis like to say, it is half an hour from Kelowna (or from Vernon).

“It was 61 acres [24.7 hectares],” Curtis says. “It was about three times the size of the project I intended but I had always wanted to do something fairly world class. So we set out on this mission to create a winery focussed on Pinot Noir.” Sixty-eight percent of the 16.6 hectares (41 acres) planted since 2009 is dedicated to Pinot Noir. The remainder is Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay

Born in 1975, Curtis grew up in Edmonton, earned a degree in engineering design technology and soon established his own company, designing plants for the oil and gas industry. With parents from the former Czechoslovakia and grandparents active in the Austrian wine industry, Curtis developed a passion for wine at the family table.  

Matt Fortuna (right) was born in 1981 in Niagara Falls. “Growing up in a wine region, I was exposed to wine,” he says. “I was working in one of the hotels in Niagara on the Lake. Pretty early on, I was exposed to good wine and I was exposed to a lot of Niagara wines.”

The turning point in his career came after he tasted a Pinot Noir from Oregon. “It was unlike anything I had tasted before, or smelled before,” he recalls. “It was beautiful, it was complex.  It was aromatic. That turned me on to the idea of Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs as something unique, and I tried to get myself here.”

He volunteered to do a vintage at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in 2007 and stayed for five years. At the time, Grant Stanley was the winemaker there.

“That is where I learned the ropes,” Matt says. “For the first three years I was side by side with Gary, the cellar master there. He taught me all my cellaring skills. I learned everything I could from him. And I developed a good relationship with Grant Stanley as well – a mentor, a long-time friend.” Grant joined 50th Parallel in 2013 and brought Matt with him.

“I learned a little more about stylistic winemaking when I was his assistant here,” Matt says. “Going forward, we are pretty fortunate to have Grant work with me through this year, consulting. I hope to adopt his stylistic approach in winemaking and continue the program he has developed here.”

Matt also took the winemaking course at Okanagan College and did a vintage in the Southern Hemisphere. “I was in Mornington Peninsula,” Matt says. “I worked with one of the pioneering wineries there, Moorooduc Estates. Dr. Richard McIntyre has owned it for 30 years, trying to recreate a little Burgundy in Australia. That was a really good experience for me.”

Matt points out that his surname, Fortuna, is Italian for luck. He comes from Italian stock. “There was always homemade wine on the table throughout my whole life,” he says.

Here are notes on the current wines.

5oth Parallel Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.90). This wine delivers gloriously focussed aromas and flavours of fruit, notably peach, citrus and lychee, with a backbone of minerality. The finish lingers and lingers. 91.

50th Parallel Riesling 2016 ($19.90). The winemaking technique involves whole bunch pressing and a long cool fermentation to preserve the fruit. The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime with herbal notes on the tangy, crisp finish. 91.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2016 ($19.90). The wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice and citrus, leading to flavours of lychee and spice. The 14 grams of residual sugar are carefully balanced with acidity, giving the wine good weight and a lingering finish. 92.

50th Parallel Rosé 2016 ($19.90). Forty-hours of cold-soaking the juice on the skins have given this a lively pink hue, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The wine is refreshing, with a dry finish. 90.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2015 ($35). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and vanilla, leading to flavours of buttery marmalade. The wine is fruit forward, with a delicate touch of oak. Good acidity gives this a crisp finish. 90.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2014 ($29). This wine begins with aromas of cherry and toasted oak that are echoed on the silky palate. This is an elegant and pretty wine. 91

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2015 ($29). The dark colour signals a bigger wine, reflecting the ripe 2015 vintage. It begins with aromas of red fruit and sage, leading to flavours of black cherry and strawberry. Still youthfully firm in texture, the wine has the structure to age gracefully for five or 10 years. 92.

50th Parallel Unparalleled Pinot Noir 2014 ($50). A selection of the 14 best barrels, this is a more of everything super-premium wine. The aromas are so rich and appealing that one lingers before tasting the wine. On the palate, there are flavours of toasted oak, black cherry and plum. This bold, concentrated wine will certainly blossom into a great bottle over the next 10 years. 94.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Quails' Gate 2015 reds do justice to the vintage

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

Every glass of wine from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery seems to call for a toast to Richard Stewart, the man who bought this outstanding West Kelowna vineyard site in the 1950s.

He is the father of Quails’ Gate president Tony Stewart and his older brother, Ben, who is better know for his interest in politics but is also involved with the winery.

The Quails’ Gate vineyard is on a long, southeast-facing slope of Mt. Boucherie. The slope catches the heat of the sun all season while the volcanic soils add complexity to the wines.

The flagship variety is Pinot Noir (the Stewarts were the first in Canada to plant a significant quantity of Pinot Noir). That is a cool-climate varietal that does well in the North Okanagan.

What always amazes me is this vineyard also succeeds with Bordeaux reds and Syrah, varieties that do well in the South Okanagan but, at least in theory, should struggle in the north. Generally, they do – except in this special sunbathed terroir.

Let me share a bit of history from my 1996 book, British Columbia Wine Companion, which is out of print.

Stewart, Richard (1926-): A member of a family prominent in Okanagan agriculture almost since the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Stewart  first planted grapes in 1961 on  property now part of the Quails' Gate vineyards. As well, he formed a partnership with Calona Wines to establish Pacific Vineyards, which leased land from the Westbank Indian Band for a vineyard and bought land south of Oliver for a second vineyard. "We believed there was room for growth in the wine industry," Stewart recalled later. Initially he planted what were then considered the established varieties -- such North American labrusca grapes as diamond, Campbell's early, sheridan and patricia. A nursery in Seattle, one of his suppliers, misidentified a shipment of  what should have been 10,000 diamond vines. Stewart discovered when the vines were growing that he had been shipped chasselas, a vinifera vine that produces  far superior fruit than diamond. "We left them in," Stewart chuckled.

In 1964 he and Joe Capozzi (in the latter's private aircraft) flew to grape-growing areas in Ontario and New York state to choose varieties for the initial Pacific Vineyards plantings the following year.  At Gold Seal Vineyards in New York, one of the early vinifera growers, they found that the previous winter had devastated the vines. That convinced Stewart and Capozzi to play it safe, planting the more hardy hybrid varieties, including de chaunac, chelois, verdelet and maréchal foch. After managing Pacific Vineyards for several years, Stewart sold his interest to Calona Wines and concentrated on developing the vineyard near Westbank that now supports Quails' Gate.

Maréchal Foch was also one of the first varieties planted at the Quails’ Gate vineyard. Perhaps the success of the Chasselas and then of Pinot Noir led the Stewart family to commit almost their entire site to vinifera grapes.

Except for Maréchal Foch. In 1994, Jeff Martin, then the winemaker at Quails’ Gate, made a big, rich red with those grapes. Without doubt, it was the best Foch made in the Okanagan to that time. The wine developed and has retained a cult following. Quails’ Gate makes an Old Vines Foch Reserve from the West Kelowna fruit and an Old Vines Foch from another old block of Foch the winery owns near Osoyoos. The survival of Foch as a winemaking grape in British Columbia is due largely to Quails’ Gate.

The latest releases from Quails’ Gate, which include two Foch wines, are all reds from the superb 2015 vintage. The current winemaker at Quails’ Gate is Nikki Callaway, Canadian-born and French-trained. She did not put a foot wrong in making any of these wines.

Here are notes on the wines.

Quails’ Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($34.99 for 1,900 cases). The wine presents with a deep purple hue in the glass. Aromas of cassis, mulberry, vanilla and tobacco jump from the glass. Rich and ripe on the palate, it has flavours of black currant, black cherry, leather and cocoa. 92.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2015 ($25.99 for 4,949 cases). Dark in the glass, the wine begins with aromas of cassis and blueberry. The ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture, supporting flavours of black cherry, black currant and dark chocolate. 91.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2015 ($24.99 for 3,500 cases). The wine begins with aromas of cherries, plum, deli meats and oak (it was aged 18 months in oak).  The aromas are echoed in the flavours. On the palate, the wine is noticeably dry, with firm tannins. 90.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2015 ($46.99 for 1,500 six-bottle cases). This dark wine simply envelops you with rich aromas of black cherry, dark plum, dark olives and toasty oak, all of which is realized in the flavours. The wine has a plump texture, with a finish where sweet fruit mingles with coffee on the long, rich finish. 93.

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2015 ($54.99 for 585 six-bottle cases). This wine, so named in honour of ancestors of the Stewart family, is sold exclusively at the winery. The wine, aged 18 months in French oak, is almost black in hue – the promise of a rich and ripe red. It begins with aromas of plum, blueberry and vanilla with a suggestion of white pepper. The wine is dense on the palate, delivering flavours of dark fruits mingled with leather and chocolate, supported by good minerality. There is a long, savoury finish. 93.

Quails’ Gate The Connemara 2015 ($59.99 for 240 cases). The wine is so named because Richard Stewart’s father, also Richard, insisted that Connemara was the most beautiful part of his native Ireland. This blend of 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc is also available just at the winery. By all means, make the trip. A restrained wine on opening, it develops with time in a decanter to show aromas of violets and cassis mingled with a whiff of oak. (The wine was aged 18 months in French oak.) On the palate, there are flavours of dark red fruit mingled with black coffee and tobacco. There is exceptional polish and elegance to this wine. It should be cellared for perhaps another 10 years. 94.