Photo: Black Hills winemaker Graham Pierce
Since the first vintage of Black Hills Nota Bene in 1999, the anchor of the blend has almost always been Cabernet Sauvignon.
That speaks volumes for quality of that varietal from this site. The vines were first planted in this Black Sage vineyard in 1996. Cabernet Sauvignon generally ripens a few days later that either Merlot or Cabernet Franc, the two other Bordeaux grapes in the Nota Bene blend. However, if the grapes are grown carefully, as they are at Black Hills, Cabernet Sauvignon yields ripe flavours, along the structure that makes Nota Bene age-worthy.
The 2014 vintage one of the best red wine vintages ever in the Okanagan. Assistant winemaker Tamara Feist suggested to Graham Pierce, the winemaker, that Black Hills should release, for the first time, a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.
“We have thought about doing a straight Cabernet for a number of years,” Graham says. “Often times, I don’t want to pull out a bunch of our best wine. I want to put it all the best wine into Nota Bene. It rarely makes sense to pull some wine out of there.”
In 2014, however, a good deal of top-rate wine was produced. “Tamara, my assistant, said, ‘Why don’t we just bottle the one barrel?’” Graham recalls. “One barrel is not going to make a big difference either way.”
So a choice lot of Cabernet Sauvignon was selected. It went into a new French oak barrel for two years. It was then bottled and aged another year in bottle before release.
There are obviously not many bottles of this wine: just 23 cases, priced at $100 a bottle. It will be available primarily to the Black Hills wine club.
Unfortunately, Graham and Tamara did not produce a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in 2015.
“We will look at doing it again,” Graham says. “At this point we have not earmarked anything going forward; maybe from something we have in the cellar right now. From 2016, we still have those wines and we have not yet bottled them. We might look at doing something from that vintage.”
He also describes the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon as a trial balloon. “We want to see what happens in the market. It seems to me, trying the wine so far, it was a great idea. If we have great success, we will be more likely to do it again.”
So far, just a handful of Okanagan producers have released wines in the $100 range. Fairview Cellars Iconoclast, which is a Cabernet Sauvignon, is $130. Mission Hill Oculus, a Bordeaux blend, is $135. Martin’s Lane Winery has $100 Pinot Noir while CheckMate, a sister winery, offers most of its Chardonnays at $100 and up.
What makes the Black Hills Cabernet Sauvignon worth $100?
“I didn’t price the wine, of course,” Graham says. “Wine pricing for me is difficult because I am not a marketing guy. But there are a lot of wines out there at this price point as well. If any of those other wines are worth $100, this certainly is. Single vineyard, 24 months in barrel, a year in bottle. It has all of the quality hallmarks. It is from this awesome estate vineyard. The wine is delicious. It is one of the top wines we have ever produced here, that is for sure.”
For those whose budget is more limited, Black Hills also will release an excellent 2016 Chardonnay next spring at $30.
Here are notes on the wines.
Black Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($29.90). This elegant wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple, with a touch of butter and vanilla. The refreshingly bright fruit flavours are framed very subtly by the oak, in a flavour balance that is close to perfection. 92.
Black Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($100). This wine was doubled decanted and then half a bottle was set aside until next day, simulating how the wine might taste in another three to five years. The wine opened up wonderfully, starting with aromas of cassis and oak. On the palate, there were layers of flavour, starting with dark fruits and finishing with notes of cocoa and coffee. The fully ripe tannins gave the wine a rich and generous texture. 95.