Monday, November 6, 2017

Steller's Jay Brut: still a rose by another name

Photo: Jason James in the Stellers's Jay cellar

Steller’s Jay Brut, one of the pioneering sparkling wines in the Okanagan, has a slightly new name: Mountain Jay Brut.

There is no reason to be alarmed. It still is the same great wine it has always been.

There is an obscure regulatory reason for the change in name. The communications spokesperson for Steller’s Jay explains: “It was given a new name because of new rules set by the BC Wine Authority that no longer permitted Steller’s Jay to call its product "Steller’s Jay Brut” which could imply “brut" as a production method instead of a wine name. Because loyal Steller’s Jay customers were familiar with the name “brut”, Steller’s Jay was able to rename the product under new labelling rules allowing a proprietary name, thus Mountain Jay Brut was born.”

I can’t say I understand that. Brut is a style of dry sparkling wine but Steller’s Jay Brut surely was registered as a wine name  long before the BC Wine Authority even existed. Apparently, the producers of Steller’s Jay were given the idiotic option of listing the varietals in the wine on the front label.

I wonder what the regulators will require of Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars. Blue Mountain Brut has been in the market almost as long as Steller’s Jay. In fact, Blue Mountain even has a Reserve Brut.

I included Steller’s Jay this spring in Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. Here is an excerpt which provides background on the wine.

Steller’s Jay Brut, a Champagne method sparkling wine, emerged from sparkling wine trials begun in 1985 by Sumac Ridge Estate Winery founder Harry McWatters and his winemaking team. That vintage was not released. It was said that Harry drank it all. He is a great lover of sparkling wine, often saying that is what he drinks while deciding what wine to have for dinner.

The first commercial Steller’s Jay Brut was a blend of 1987 (85%) and 1985 (15%) wines. The cuvée was 70% Pinot Blanc, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir. The wine, which was named in honour of British Columbia’s official bird, was released in July, 1989 after just two years on the lees. Some subsequent vintages have benefited from three years en tirage.

The cuvée has always included Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pinot Blanc, while not a traditional sparkling wine varietal, contributes subtle fruitiness to the wine. The proportion was reduced to about 40% of the cuvée as more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir became available. The wine is balanced to have a crisp and fairly dry finish. A typical blend has 10-12 grams of residual sugar and seven to nine grams of acidity per litre. The wine is made in the traditional style of Champagne. The wines for the cuvée are fermented to dryness. The wines are blended, then bottled with a dosage of sugar and yeast, undergoing a second fermentation in heavy bottles capable of containing six or so atmospheres of pressure. The time spent aging in bottle and on the yeast lees creates the fine bubbles and the toasty aromas typical of fine sparkling wine.

Over the wine’s first two decades, Steller’s Jay Brut grew in volume to about 10,000 cases a year, with a quality that has made it among the most awarded of Canadian sparkling wines.  As a result of its success, this former flagship of Sumac Ridge was promoted in 2013 to a stand-alone brand.

The wine continues to be made at Sumac Ridge and by winemaker Jason James. Here is a note on the new release.

Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut 2014 ($25 plus tax). The cuvée is 38% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Blanc and 28% Pinot Noir. The touch of brioche in the aroma carries through to the flavour, where there also is a hint of apple and citrus. The 14.5 grams of residual sugar, well balanced with acidity, gives the wine a creamy texture. The finish still leans to brut-style dryness. 92.

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