Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hester Creek wines: why the style stands out

Photo: Hester Creek winemaker Robert Summers

Fans of Hester Creek Estate Winery should always drink the occasional toast to Joe Busnardo.

He is the Italian immigrant who, in 1968, first planted this superb piece of property on the Golden Mile south of Oliver. Not only did he identify great terroir when no one in the Okanagan had even heard of terroir; he planted vinifera grapes exclusively when the valley was full of hybrids.

No winery would give him a premium for the vinifera grapes, so he let the grapes hang for the birds. Eventually, he opened Divino Estate Winery here. It was renamed Hester Creek after he sold the property in 1996, to move to Vancouver Island. It has been owned since 2004 by Prince George businessman Curt Garland, who also deserves a toast for the way that he and his team are realizing the potential of Joe’s terroir.

A gleaming modern winery and tasting room replaced the rustic former Hester Creek winery. A suite of luxury villas on the hillside above the winery provide visitors with first-rate accommodation that has been lacking so long in Oliver, a community stuck until recently in a non-development time warp.

One of Hester Creek’s advantages, aside from the soil and the exposure, are its blocks of mature vines (some dating from Busnardo’s plantings), which give winemaker Robert Summers outstanding fruit year after year. But to give Garland’s team credit as well, the viticultural practices of his crew are among the best in the Okanagan.

There is also a technical reason for the appealing style of Hester Creek’s reds. Invariably, the wines have big ripe tannins that support tons of flavour without ever being “grippy.” The wines age well but that usually are drinkable right of the gate.

The secret: this is the only winery in the Okanagan with Ganimede fermenters made by an Italian company of that name. These tanks capture the carbon dioxide gas generating by fermentation and, instead of venting it, recirculates it through the must. Bubbles of gas gently break up the cap of skins; the cap is also submerged all the time in the wine. This avoids extracting hard tannins.

Hester Creek reds all have long, ripe tannins. Almost all of them have a generous texture, making for early drinkability for wines that still have the capability to age a reasonable time. The texture allows keen tasters to distinguish the Hester Creek style from other Okanagan reds.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Hester Creek Character White 2016 ($17.95 for 3,000 cases). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Trebbiano, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sémillon.  The wine begins with aromas of apples and peaches, with an accent of herbs. On the palate, it is a bowl of fruit flavours with a dry and lingering finish. 89.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Riesling 2016 ($22.95 for 86 cases). The Terra Unica label is limited to the wine club. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and apples. It delivers a basket of fruit flavours, including lime, apples and peaches. With bright acidity, the wine is balanced to finish dry. The moderate alcohol (11.5%) keeps the wine light and refreshing. 91.

Hester Creek Chardonnay 2016 ($24.95 for 467 cases). This wine was fermented and aged sur lies for eight months in French (75%) and American oak barrels. It begins with citrus aromas delicately mingled with hazelnut. On the palate, flavours of mandarin orange mingle with butter and lightly toasted oak. 91.

Hester Creek Selected Barrels Merlot 2016 ($19.95 for 2,200 cases). The wine begins with jammy aromas of cassis and black cherry. Plump in texture, the wine delivers flavours of spicy cherry and black currant that lingers on the palate. 89.

Hester Creek Selected Barrels Cabernet Merlot 2016 ($19.95 for 3,500 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was aged six to eight months in French and American oak. This is an accessible, easy drinking red with aromas and flavours of cherries. 87.

Hester Creek Character Red 2016 ($20.95 for 4,000 cases). This is a blend of Syrah, Italian Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine was aged six to eight months in French and American oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of figs and black cherry mingled with a hint of pepper and vanilla. It is generous on the palate, with flavours of black cherry, plum, pepper and vanilla. It has the trademark soft, ripe tannins in the Hester Creek style. The wine is thoroughly delicious. 90.

Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2015 ($26.95 for 1,111 cases). The wine was aged 15 months in barrel (60% American, 40% French). The wine begins with almost perfumed aromas of cassis, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and fig with a hint of pepper on the finish. 90. 

Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Block 3 Reserve 2014 ($28.95 for 1,000 cases). This wine was aged 12 to 16 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). Aromas of raspberry jam and red currants spring from the glass. The vivid flavours of cherries and blackberries are intense. It finishes with spicy red berries that persist. The tannins are firm but not hard. 93.

Hester Creek Merlot Block 2 Reserve 2015 ($28.95 for 556 cases). This wine was aged 16 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). Dark in colour, the powerful wine has aromas of black cherry and cassis mingled with vanilla. The flavours of cherry, plum and mocha are intense and the texture is concentrated, with long ripe tannins. 93.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Petit Verdot Malbec 2015 ($32.95 for 88 cases). This blend of 85% Petit Verdot and 15% Malbec was also made just for the wine club. The grapes were co-fermented in the Ganimede tanks. Densely dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum and black cherry mingled with notes of oak. The wine has a distinctly brooding mineral backbone with the taste of slate supporting flavours of black olives, figs, plums and dark chocolate. Because of its slightly grippy tannins, the wine benefits from decanting. 93.

Hester Creek The Judge 2014 ($45) This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of black cherry, mulberry and vanilla mingled with toasty oak. On the palate, a compote of black cherry and blackberry fill the mouth. The long, ripe tannins give the wine early accessibility while supporting five to seven years of further aging. 94.

Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2016 ($18.95 for 450 cases at 200 ml). The grapes are from 49-year-old vines. The wine’s honeyed aromas of apricot and ripe apple are enticing and echoed in the flavours. The wine’s 67.3 grams of residual sugar are so well balanced by the acidity (7.15 grams) that the finish is clean and refreshing. A delicious dessert wine that lingers and lingers. 91.

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