Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Stag's Hollow adds to its portfolio

 Photo: Stag's Hollow Winery owners (photo courtesy winery) 

Stag’s Hollow Winery has always had a fairly large portfolio of wines- and that is the way the owners like it.

“You know us,” laughs Linda Pruegger, who owns Stag’s Hollow Winery with husband Larry Gerelus. “We can never go a vintage without making a new wine.”

New next spring, there will be a 2018 Blanc de Noirs from Stag’s Hollow. It is made primarily with the winery’s Ritter Clone of Pinot Noir, with a little Gamay Noir. The wine, which shows a slight blush, is being aged in oak and is getting regular lees stirring to build texture. About 200 cases will be bottled.

The winery’s penchant to be different has been aided its Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard. This 18-acre property just north Okanagan Falls was acquired in 2011. To date, 10 acres has been planted, with about three more plantable acres remaining.

Shuttleworth Creek is just two km north of the winery’s estate vineyard. The two properties have begun to produce enough fruit that Stag’s Hollow is about 85% self-sufficient. The two vineyards are quite different aspects, giving the winery the option to grow a wide variety of grapes.

Shuttleworth Creek grows two Spanish varietals, Albariño and Tempranillo; two Italian varietals, Dolcetto and Teroldego; six clones of Pinot Noir and a small block of Vidal. This spring, Stag’s Hollow planted Syrah here as well.

“Our goal is to make rosé from the Syrah vines,” Linda says.

The winery’s current releases include an Albariño from Shuttleworth Creek, a Pinot Noir from the estate vineyard, and a Syrah from the grower-owned Amalia Vineyard near Osoyoos.

Here are notes on the wines.

Stag’s Hollow Albariñ0 2017 ($18.90). This wine begins with appealing aromas of citrus and melon with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and tropical fruits around a spine of minerality. The finish is crisp. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Pinot Noir 2016 ($21.99). In the technical notes accompanying the wine, Stag’s Hollow notes that the wine is “slightly more masculine” than its Pinot Noirs from Shuttleworth Creek. That reflects the fact that the estate vineyard, a sunbathed bowl, is the hotter of the two vineyards.  Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with earthy notes. The palate is juicy, with flavours of cherry and good acidity to keep the fruit bright and lively. The texture is silky. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2016 Amalia Vineyard ($25.99). The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, fig and plum. There is a big gob of sweet fruit on the generous palate, with the flavours echoing the aroma. 92.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Noble Ridge's 2015 King's Ransom Cabernet is a stunner

Photo: Noble Ridge's Leslie and Jim D'Andrea

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery has two remarkable vineyards in Okanagan Falls. The one at the winery’s tasting room is a rounded peak, with grape vines on all four exposures.

The result: fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon on one slope, fabulous Pinot Noir on another, and terrific fruit for sparkling wine on a third.

Retired lawyer Jim D’Andrea and his wife, Leslie, purchased this 25-acre hilltop in 2001. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay were already planted. They added Pinot Noir (for sparkling wine) and Pinot Gris. In 2006, they purchased an existing vineyard across the road.

Whenever the vineyards yield superlative fruit, the winery makes an ultra-premium wines that are released under the label, King’s Ransom.

This fall Noble Ridge released its first King’s Ransom Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage. If ever there was a vintage to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon in the Okanagan, it had to be 2015. This is an expensive wine but it is also one of the best Cabernets ever from the Okanagan.

Earlier in the fall, the winery also released some reserve wines, with the head of a lion on each label. Think of them as the King’s pride of lions.

The most recent release also includes the 2015 vintage of “The One” – the winery’s                     traditional method sparkling wine. At the recent Judgement of BC tasting, where six BC sparkling wines were matched against six imported sparkling wines, The One was judged number two among the BC wines and fifth overall.

The bottom line: Noble Ridge is delivering very high quality wines.

Here are notes on the wines.

Noble Ridge Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($N/A for 233 cases). This wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak, begins with aromas of peach and citrus. It is rich, even creamy, on the palate with flavours of butterscotch, hazelnut and marmalade. 91.

Noble Ridge The One Brut Sparkling Wine 2015 ($39.90 for 324 cases). This is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The wine was 28 months en tirage. It is delicious, with notes of brioche on the nose and palate, along with subtle flavours of apple. The wine has two grams of residual sugar, just enough to support a generous texture on the palate. 92.

Noble Ridge King’s Ransom Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($109.90 for 170 cases). The bold and concentrated wine begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and plum. On the palate, there are layers of dark fruit – black cherry, mulberry, black currant. The finish is enriched with flavours of dark chocolate, leather and cigar box. It is imperative to decant this wine so that it can express its power. The ripe tannins give it a generous texture. 95

Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2015 ($34.90 for 670 cases). This is 77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, two per cent each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This wine, which was aged 14 months in French and American oak, was double-decanted. It has aromas of black currant, black cherry and chocolate, which are echoed on the palate along with notes of chocolate and tobacco. 93.

Noble Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($34.90 for 648 cases). This is a dark and muscular Pinot Noir that was aged 14 months in French oak (20% new). It has aromas and flavours of plum and cherry with a toasty note on the finish. Decant this wine. 91.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Moon Curser's love affair with slightly obscure varietals

Photo: Moon Curser's Chris Tolley

There is a view that far too many grape varietals are grown in the Okanagan Valley. Chris Tolley, the co-proprietor of Moon Curser Vineyard in Osoyoos, would differ.

“I love the diversity,” he says. “I love the affirmation that this valley is capable of doing a wide variety of wines. I have not been the champion of that but it is turning out that way. Maybe we do one of these varieties better than anywhere else in the world.”

The Moon Curser portfolio is unusually rich with varietals that would not be considered mainstream for the valley. Such as Arneis, Dolcetto, Tannat, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and Carménère. Coming soon: Nebbiolo.

There is a nod to mainstream varietals such as Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. And this spring, the winery planted a new 10-acre property in west Osoyoos that includes three acres of Merlot. In 2005, when the first vines were being planted by Moon Curser, Chris planted Merlot because he thought that he could always buy it. Today, Merlot, along with many other varietals, is short supply, forcing vintners to grow their own.

Chris’s viticultural choices have made for challenging grape growing but also for a very interesting wine portfolio.

Take Arneis, which Chris grows, along with Dolcetto, because he has roots in northern Italy, where that white varietal produces crisp and fragrant table wines.

“In Italian, Dolcetto means little sweet one, where Arneis apparently is little rascal,” Chris says. So far, he has produced three vintages of Arneis – and each one ripened at a different time.

The 2016 vintage ripened in September while the 2017 ripened in early November. “If I had that much drama with every variety, I probably would not be in this business,” Chris laughs. “In the end, the 2017 made a very interesting varietally correct Arneis. I quite like it. It has a lot of structure to it.”

Take Tannat, best known for the robust reds made with the varietal in Uruguay and in the south of France. The unusual chemistry of the grape challenged Chris with stuck fermentations when he first made it, something since mastered.

The next challenge was how to use the rustic red in a blend. After trying a number of varietals, he took the suggestion of his wife, Beata, to make a Syrah/Tannat blend. (Both owners trained as winemakers in New Zealand.) That now comprises the blend of Moon Curser’s flagship red, Dead of Night.

“Beata and I blind-tasted blends for Dead of Night two years in a row,” Chris says. “We don’t even bother blind-tasting the Tannat blends now. It is always going to be a Syrah blend. Originally, we tasted other Tannat blends and we always picked the Syrah. They seemed to marry quite well – although the appellation system in France would not allow that.”

The winery does release a modest volume of Tannat on its own, mostly to satisfy the curiosity of tasting room visitors. “We do a pretty nice Tannat compared to other places that do Tannat,” Chris believes. “It is nice to have a variety we do world class, even if it is an alternative variety.”

Then there are Chris’s adventures with Touriga Nacional, the great Portuguese red varietal. An Osoyoos neighbour with Portuguese roots decided to plant some vines. With no viticultural experience, he canvassed the possibilities with Chris and settled on Touriga because it is a Portuguese varietal.

“He put lots of fertilizer on the plants,” Chris says. “The vines grew like crazy. When winter came, they were still green. The first frost came and they all died right down to the ground.”

Not quite all; enough survived that in 2011, about two barrels of wine were produced from what had once been a two-acre vineyard. When an effort to replant did not succeed, the neighbour sold the vineyard to Chris in 2012. Never one to back away from a challenge, Chris salvaged cuttings, had them propagated and planted them in a different vineyard. He made his first significant volume of Touriga Nacional in 2016 – a wine so good that it won a platinum medal this fall at the Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards.

Carménère is another varietal grown just by a handful of B.C. wineries. It was grown widely in Bordeaux pre-phylloxera but, because it is a late ripener, was not replanted often in France after phylloxera. The varietal did thrive in Chile, which has no phylloxera, and has been revived during the past 25 years. Black Hills Winery and Moon Curser were the first Okanagan wineries to plant it.

Moon Curser is also among a handful growing Tempranillo, a Spanish varietal that is not quite as challenging as the other non-mainstream varietals. “All it cares about is heat,” Chris has found. “If you get a cool fall, it gets to a certain ripeness and just sits there.” In a cool vintage like 2011, Tempranillo wines were light. Most subsequent vintages have produced bigger, richer Tempranillo.

Moon Curser does pretty well with varieties that are grown more widely in the Okanagan, such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Here are notes on Moon Curser’s current releases.

Moon Curser Arneis 2017 ($22.99 for 344 cases). The wine begins with aromas of papaya, honeydew melon and citrus leading to a medley of flavours echoing the nose. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. 91.

Moon Curser Afraid of the Dark 2017 ($20.99 for 797 cases). This is a blend of 45% Viognier, 40% Roussanne and 15% Marsanne.  The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit. On the palate, the wine delivers robust flavours of apricot and nectarine. 91.

Moon Curser Dolcetto 2017 ($24.99 for 387 cases). This unwooded red begins with aromas of plums, cherries and cloves. These are echoed on the palate, along with notes of blackberry. The texture is round and juicy. A little chilling is called for to enhance the wine’s exuberant freshness. 90.

Moon Curser Carménère 2016 ($39.99 for 407 cases). This wine begins dramatically with aromas of cherry, black pepper and a medley of cooking spices. On the palate, the wine is rich with flavours of cherry, mulberry and spice. 93.

Moon Curser Tempranillo 2016 ($30.99 for 287 cases). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry, cherry and plum leading to flavours of cherry, plum and leather. The finish is generous and savoury. 92.

Moon Curser Touriga Nacional 2016 ($39.99 for 303 cases). A bit of a tour de force, this complex red begins with aromas of violets, fennel and cherry, with more dark fruit on the palate along with fig and chocolate. Long, silky tannins give the wine a generous texture. 94.

Moon Curser Syrah 2016 ($25.99 for 924 cases). The wine welcomes with aromas of plum, black cherry, vanilla and black pepper. The aromas are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of fig, plum, licorice and pepper. The wine is full-bodied. 93.

Moon Curser Malbec 2016 ($30.99 for 388 cases). The wine begins with intense and floral aromas of blueberry and mulberry leading to flavours of blueberry, plum, black cherry and a hint of oak. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a luscious, mouth-filling finish. 93.

Moon Curser Border Vines 2016 ($25.99 for 1,412 cases). This is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Carménère. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, black currant and blackberry, followed by flavours of black currant, leather and spice on the firm finish. 92.

Moon Curser Petit Verdot 2016 ($30.99 for 189 cases). In the glass, this wine presents with the classic, almost black hue of the varietal. It is a dense, concentrated wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry, spice and slate. This wine should be decanted or cellared a few more years; at this stage, it still has plenty of grip. 92.

Moon Curser Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($39.99 for 289 cases). This wine begins with aromas of cassis and mint. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and coffee. Long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 92.

Moon Curser Dead of Night 2016 ($39.99 for 380 cases). This is a blend of 50% each of Syrah and Tannat. Full-bodied and deep in color, the wine begins with aromas of plum and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, fig, leather and licorice. This is a bold wine drinking well now but with the structure to cellar for 10 more years. 95.

Moon Curser Tannat 2014 ($39.99 for 121 cases). This wine is available only to wine club members and in the tasting room. Concentrated and bold, it has aromas of plum, chocolate and coffee leading to a medley of dark fruits on the palate. 92.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Time Winery for New Year's Eve

Photo: Time proprietor Harry McWatters

To cap its first full year in downtown Penticton, Time Winery plans to be open for New Year’s Eve this year. It is what you can do when you are an urban winery.

Time is operated by industry icon Harry McWatters and his family. Originally, the winery was going to be on Black Sage Road. Harry was about a year into construction when that property was acquired for Phantom Creek Estate Winery, which expected to open next year.

Never at a loss for a back-up plan, Harry in 2015 purchased a four-screen movie theatre which had recently closed in Penticton. After an extensive renovation, the building reopened this year. It now features a full-service restaurant encompassing a long wine-tasting bar, the locale for the New Year’s party.

Harry, the founder and former owner of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, has a history with what was formerly the Pen-Mar Theatre.

“I came here in 1957,” Harry recounted in an interview in 2017. “I was 12 years old. I brought a date for a Saturday afternoon matinee. For a couple of years, we would come up here [from Vancouver] as a family for peach festival. We met this family and I took their young daughter to a matinee. It cost 25 cents for admission, soft drink and popcorn for both of us.”

Harry also has a history with urban wineries in Penticton. His first winery job (in sales) was in 1968 with Casabello Wines, then a major producer with a winery on the city’s Main Street. After Casabello was folded into the Jackson-Triggs Winery, its Main Street property was redeveloped with retail stores. By that time, Harry had moved on to found Sumac Ridge in 1980 with partner Lloyd Schmidt.

Sumac Ridge was acquired in 2000 by Vincor International. Harry stayed on for another eight years until stepping down to pursue consulting opportunities. Eventually, he launched wines under the McWatters label and then, because he still owned a Black Sage Road vineyard, he launched Time.

In 2018, Harry has been celebrating his 50th vintage in the Okanagan wine industry. I asked him what some of the memorable vintages have been.

“Probably the most memorable, not necessarily for the positives, was 1981,” Harry recalled. “It was a really, really challenging vintage. We froze on the 28th of September. It was a very cool late summer. The next day, the leaves started to shrivel and fall. Picking was easy. But it is also the vintage when Lloyd Schmidt got his hand caught in the crusher. He and I were doing all of the crushing. He got his hand in the crusher and took the end off two fingers.”

The 2017 vintage is also memorable. The quality of the fruit was excellent and Harry planned to do the entire first crush in the Time winery that fall. That plan was frustrated by development and construction delays. As usual, Harry found a backup.

“We made 14,000 cases of wine,” Harry says. “We did most of it at Okanagan Crush Pad. At one time, we had wine stored at 10 different places, between our warehouse and some rented facilities and Evolve [Time’s sister winery near Summerland].”

However, the 2018 vintage was done in the new winery. By coincidence, the fermentation room formerly was the theatre to which Harry took his date those many years ago.

Harry has a top-flight winemaking team working with. In June, Graham Pierce (left), the former winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery, took over as director of winemaking at time. His right hand is Nadine Allander, formerly a winemaker at Poplar Grove Estate Winery.   

The 12,000-square-foot former theatre has a capacity to produce about 25,000 cases a year, with bottled wines stored offsite. If Harry is around, chances are that he will take guests on a tour.

Here are notes on current releases.

Time Riesling 2017 ($22.99). The wine begins with aromas of citrus lightly mingled with petrol. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and lemon. The palate is refreshing and the finish is crisp. 92.

Time Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($22.99). This is a barrel-fermented wine. The oak is very well integrated, supporting aromas of lime, peach and pear. 90.

Time Meritage White 2017 ($25). This wine begins with aromas of honeydew melon, pear and citrus. These are echoed in the flavours, which are framed subtly with oak (a portion of the wine was barrel-fermented). 92.

Time Viognier 2017 ($22.99). The wine has the classic aromas and flavours of stone fruits and apples. The flavours are fresh and vibrant with lively acidity. 91.

Time Rosé 2017 ($22.99). This wine begins with aromas of cherry and grapefruit. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and strawberry. It has a lingering and dry finish. 90.

Time Cabernet Franc 2016 ($24.99). This wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, blackberry, black currant and chocolate. The brambly flavours linger on the rich palate. 92.

Time Merlot 2015 ($24.99). This plump, full-bodied Merlot reflects the ripe 2015 vintage. It appeals with aromas and flavours of black cherry and cassis. 91.

Time Meritage Red 2016 ($29.99). This blend of Bordeaux varietals begins with aromas of red berries including currants and cherry, along with a note of spice. All of this is echoed on the palate of this elegant and polished wine. 92.

McWatters Collection Meritage 2016 ($29.99). This Meritage is bold, with aromas and flavours of cassis and black cherry, along with a note of vanilla. The long, ripe tannins give this wine a mouth-filling texture. 92.

Time Chronos 2013 ($85). This is a bold, concentrated red blend with seven varietals. Only 100 cases have been released. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and dark chocolate. 95.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Mission Hill's new chief winemaker, Ben Bryant

Photo: Winemaker Ben Bryant

Ben Bryant, an Australian winemaker with an exceptional resumé, has joined Mission Hill Family Estates as chief winemaker.

There has been no formal announcement even though he arrived in the Okanagan in August. It seems with everything else on its plate, the winery decided to sit on the announcement until the Vancouver International Wine Festival in February.

Ben succeeds another Australian, Darryl Brooker, now Mission Hill’s general manager, who in turn succeeded John Simes who retired in 2014 after running Mission Hill’s cellar since 1992. 

“I found Ben through contacts in Australia,” Darryl says. “It took me a year to convince him to come.” He succeeded after flying Ben and his wife to the Okanagan. Here, Ben was swept away by the Okanagan’s beauty, the winemaking opportunities and the passion of Mission Hill’s owner, Anthony von Mandl.

“To me, it is endless opportunity that is untapped,” Ben says in an interview. “There is a fair element of personal challenge to come and put the place on the map. It is about the wine. You never find a region where you have two regions in one. You have the classic Bordeaux varieties in the south and then you have the Burgundian varieties in the north.”

As well, the Bryants “have a young family and we want to expose them to international places. They lived in Asia with us. Canada is a country that is very similar to Australia in terms of societal values.”

The 2018 vintage in the Okanagan got him off on the right foot. “Super impressed,” Ben says. “It was such a mild growing season that everything was able to ripen naturally. The Cabernet Sauvignon is an example: there is no green, there is no herbaceousness. There is a leafiness. Everything has amazingly fresh acid structure. There is a brightness and a purity to the fruit. It is the perfect vintage to start.”

Darryl draws a parallel between Ben and John Simes, who is now retired. When Mission Hill recruited John in 1992, he was already the senior winemaker with New Zealand’s largest winery. Ben, who is about to turn 40, has risen rapidly through the winemaking ranks in Australia and had become the chief winemaker in Australia for Pernod Ricard Group.

On his LinkedIn profile, Ben writes: “Pernod Ricard Winemakers is the global brand owner and distributor of premium wines from multiple countries of origin, including Jacob’s Creek, Wyndham Estate and St Hugo (Australia), Brancott Estate and Stoneleigh (New Zealand), Campo Viejo (Spain) and Graffigna (Argentina).”

He does not come from a winegrowing family. “We were originally a farming family,” Ben says. “I left school and sort of fell into wine because I liked the agricultural side of it. I was offered a job and never left. I was in Mudgee at the time, working in the cellar. At the end of vintage, I was offered a job. I thought it was too good and I never left.”

Ben was profiled in a 2017 wine article by Wine Australia:

“Ben grew up on a farm close to Mudgee, one of Australia’s most exciting cool climate wine regions. From a young age, whenever Ben wasn’t at school or working on the family farm, he was working in one of the local vineyards pruning, picking or whatever other seasonal work needed to be done. At first, he did it for extra cash to spend after school but soon a passion for working the land emerged. Rather than heading to university straight from school, Ben got work as a cellar hand for a vintage at Poet’s Corner in Mudgee.”

Then he enrolled in the wine science program at Charles Sturt University, where he graduated in 2005. He had joined Orlando Wines (a predecessor to Pernod Ricard) where he became the chief winemaker at Wyndham Estate in 2010, moving on to a senior marketing role in 2013.

That same year, Pernod Ricard sent him to Hong Kong for an 18-month stint as a brand development manager. He returned to Australia in the fall of 2014 as chief winemaker for the Pernod Ricard group, including Jacob’s Creek.

In 2015, Huon Hooke, a leading Australian wine writer, characterized Ben in these words: Huon Hooke in 2015: “There’s something about Ben Bryant that reminds me of his predecessor at Jacob’s Creek, the great Philip Laffer. The new chief winemaker has something of Laffer’s demeanour, a no-nonsense, let’s-get-on-with-it kind of approach. Serious but calm; precise in his language; thoughtful but quick in his responses.” 

It is clear from that background that Mission Hill has landed a chief winemaker with both extensive technical experience as well as business experience.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Township 7's wines keep impressing

 Photo: Winemaker Mary McDermott in Township 7's cellar

The wines at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery have gone from strength to strength since 2014, when Beijing businessman Ge Song bought the winery in 2014.

He brought the resources to expand the winery to a capacity of 12,00
0 cases; to buy a major Oliver vineyard; and to update the equipment in the winery.

He pulled all of this together by hiring winemaker Mary McDermott, a talented winemaker from Ontario. Township 7 had been making good wines before that but Mary has raised the bar significantly.

Here are notes on this fall’s releases.

Township 7 Muscat  2017 Rock Pocket Vineyard ($17.97 for 78 cases; wine club only). This wine begins with delicate ginger and rose petal notes. The dry palate delivers flavours of orange peel. The crisp finish is lingering. 91.

Township 7  Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($18.97 for 548 cases). Fermented in stainless steel, the wine begins with lime and stone fruits, leading to flavours of lime, guava and quince. The finish is crisp with lingering herbal notes. 90.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2017 ($20.97 for 648 cases).  Half of this wine was fermented in new 1,000-litre oak fermenter. The other half was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of apple with subtle accents of vanilla. The flavours echo the aromas. There is also a rich buttery note on the finish. The commendable restraint on the oak means the wine delivers fresh fruit flavours. 91.

Township 7 Viognier Raju Vineyard 2017 ($24.97 for 498 cases). The Raju Vineyard is near Osoyoos. Some 30% of this wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak barrels; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. Both the aromas and the flavours are intense, recalling peaches, apricots and passionfruit. The wine has good weight on the palate but the bright acidity maintains appealing freshness. 93.

Township 7 Reserve Pinot Gris 2017 Estate Vineyard ($26.97 for 148 cases). This wine was fermented in neutral oak and in barrel a further five months. It begins with appealing fruity aromas – peach, ripe apricot – that lead to flavours of pear and melon, with a hint of spice on the finish. The texture is generous and the finish is long. 91.

Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($27.97 for 788 cases).  The grapes for this are from the Blue Terrace Vineyard at Oliver which has supplied Township 7 since 2000. This was the vineyard which the winery purchased this summer. The wine, which was fermented in 5,000 litre oak fermenters, begins with aromas of black cherry and black currant mingled with toasty oak. On the palate, the flavours echo the aroma, with bright berry notes on the finish. The tannins are long and ripe.  90.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mirabel Vineyards releases 2016 Pinot Noir

Photo: Mirabel proprietors Dawn and Doug Reimer (courtesy of the winery)

Mirabel Vineyards, which has just released its 2016 Pinot Noir, is transforming from a virtual winery to a land-based winery.

The winery, based on a vineyard in northeast Kelowna, has just received its license. Proprietor Doug Reimer plans a production facility at the property, along with an appointment-only wine shop. Going forward, the wines will be made by David Paterson, the winemaker and general manager at Tantalus Vineyards.

“We will continue to produce only small lots of each of our wines but in doing so, we want to bring them up to yet another level,” Doug says. “We have worked hard this year in identifying different blocks within the vineyard and will now be able to work each one a little differently, creating more complexity in the wines.”

Mirabel, which has also launched its own wine club, produces wines only from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, including a Pinot Noir rosé and, coming next year, a sparkling Pinot Noir. 

Mirabel Vineyards is operated by Doug Reimer and his wife, Dawn. The winery came about after the Reimers, members of a leading Canadian trucking family, purchased this Kelowna property in 2005 to build their dream home. The property is on a sun-bathed slope above the Harvest Golf Course and, at the time, was an apple orchard.

They cleared the apple trees to make room for a vineyard, having decided that vines are more attractive that trees. They had consultants analyze the soils and recommend grape varieties.

“We lucked out,” Doug says. “It is a fabulous property and a fabulous piece of soil. It is only six acres and that is all we can plant.”

In 2006, they planted most of it with three clones of Pinot Noir. The final one and a half acres were planted with Chardonnay in the spring of 2018.

For a number of years, the Reimers sold their Pinot Noir grapes primarily to Meyer Family Vineyards and to Foxtrot Vineyards, two of the Okanagan’s leading Pinot Noir specialists. It gave the Reimers the opportunity to assess what could be produced from their fruit. The first Pinot Noir from Mirabel was made in 2015 and subsequently was released at $70.

“We wanted to produce something that was going to be awesome,” Doug says. “With six acres, we can only do the best with what we have. We are only going to produce the best.”

Until now, the Mirabel wines were made for the Reimers at Okanagan Crush Pad winery and by OCP winemaker Matt Dumayne. OCP operates a custom crush and winery incubator business.

David Paterson, who joined Tantalus in 2009, is a Canadian-born, New Zealand-trained winemaker. Tantalus, also on a vineyard in East Kelowna, is renowned for Riesling but has a rising reputation for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Here are notes on two recent releases.

Mirabel Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017 ($30). This wine is packaged in an unusual but attractive bottle with a glass stopper. The wine begins with a delicate rose petal hue and aromas of strawberry and raspberry. It has surprising weight on the palate, with flavours of strawberry. Fresh acidity gives the wine a clean, refreshing and dry finish. 92.

Mirabel Pinot Noir 2016 ($70 for 450 cases). This elegant and deeply flavoured wine has aromas and flavours of cherry with touches of raspberry, spice and very subtle oak. The freshness of the palate reflects the 2016 vintage, an excellent one for Pinot Noir. The seductive flavours and the silky texture linger and linger. The good acidity gives this wine the ability to cellar well, if you can keep your fingers off it. 96.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Road 13 purchased by Anthony von Mandl

Photo: Road 13 Vineyards and winery

Road 13 Vineyards has been acquired by Anthony von Mandl, adding to a stable of premium wineries that includes his Mission Hill Family Estates.

This was disclosed on Friday by Darryl Brooker, the general manager of Mission Hill. Mick and Pam Luckhurst (right), the founders of Road 13, have decided to retire from winery operations.

This is part of rationalization that has been taking place among the Okanagan’s major wineries. In 2017, Andrew Peller Ltd. acquired Gray Monk Estate Winery, Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery and Black Hills winery, while Arterra Wines purchased Laughing Stock Vineyards.

In all instances except Black Hills, the transactions involved long-time owners ready to exit the wine industry.

The Road 13 acquisition includes 50 acres of vineyards in the Golden Mile sub-appellation as well as a major processing facility in the southern Okanagan. Until now, all of the Mission Hill group’s processing has been done in the north Okanagan, with the exception of that done at the small CheckMate Winery. The latter winery is a neighbour to Road 13.

The Road 13 acquisition does not include the 100-acre Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. It will continue to be run by Mick Luckhurst and two partners. Brooker expects to continue getting grapes from Blind Creek.

According to Brooker, it will be “business as usual” at Road 13. Joe Luckhurst, Pam and Mick’s son, is expected to continue as the winery’s manager and Jeff Del Nin continues as the winemaker.

Road 13 opened in 1998 as Golden Mile Cellars and was purchased by the Luckhursts in 2003 in what was a fairly dramatic change of lifestyle.

Mick, who was born in Port Alberni in 1950, was a lumber broker, a real estate developer and a building supply owner. Manchester-born Pam, a former flight attendant, has long been Mick’s business partner. They were on a summer-long sabbatical to the Okanagan from Edmonton, where they had sold a business, when the wine industry appealed to them.

The original Golden Mile winery building was designed to resemble a 17th Century Bavarian castle and was making only 1,000 cases of wine annually. Under Mick’s aggressive management, it was expanded dramatically.

The Luckhursts changed the name of the winery to Road 13 in 2008, much to the relief of neighbouring wineries in what has since become the Golden Mile sub-appellation.

Road 13 has benefitted from a series of talented winemakers in the cellar, including the late Lawrence Herder. He was succeeded by Michael Bartier. When Michael left in 2010, he turned the cellar over to Jean-Martin Bouchard, a Sherbrook native. J-M, as he calls himself, studied hotel management but, when restaurant jobs fostered a love of wine, he went to Australia in 1998 to study wine science at Charles Sturt University. Two years ago, he was succeeded by Jeff Del Nin, formerly the winemaker at Church & State and Burrowing Owl Winery, who is also Australian-trained.

It was J-M who espoused the Blind Creek Vineyard. He considered it to be one of the best vineyards in Canada and incorporated the fruit in many of Road 13’s premium reds.

Road 13’s Castle Vineyard on the Golden Mile includes some of the oldest Chenin Blanc vines in the Okanagan. The winery produces both an Old Vines Chenin Blanc and a sparkling Chenin Blanc. This is one variety not grown in any of the vineyards owned by Sebastian Farms, von Mandl’s vineyard company.

Brooker notes there is no significant overlap between the Road 13 portfolio and the portfolios of von Mandl’s other wineries. In addition to Mission Hill, von Mandl also owns CedarCreek, CheckMate and Martin’s Lane Winery. As well, he controls a portfolio of other labels, among them Prospect Winery.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

CheckMate releases 2015 Chardonnays

 Photo: CheckMate's Phil McGahan

CheckMate Artisanal Winery has now released five Chardonnays from the 2015 vintage.

It was a challenging year because it was a hot year. However, Phil McGahan, the winemaker at CheckMate, achieved very well-balanced wines of remarkable freshness, with a quality that supports the prices.

“It was quite a warm year,” Phil says of 2015. “It was very important to pay attention to the picking. You had to balance the fruit flavours and ripeness against the acidity, and pick accordingly. It was one of those years with Chardonnay that if you waited until it tastes good on the vine, you have left it too late. We had to make a call predicated on the acidity as well as the fruit character. By doing that, we managed to keep freshness in the wine.”

These wines are the third vintage of Chardonnay released by CheckMate and cement the winery’s reputation as one of the best, if not the very best, producer of Chardonnay in the Okanagan. The winery makes just two varietals, the other being Merlot.

The CheckMate winery is midway between Oliver and Osoyoos, at the location of the former Antelope Ridge Winery. Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl purchased the winery and a portion of its vineyard in 2012. More crucially, he also purchased a neighbouring vineyard. Here, the mature vines included the Dekleva clone from which Mission Hill in 1992 made the legendary award-winning Chardonnay that put the winery on the map.

Control of these vineyards with their 40-year-plus vines triggered the launch of CheckMate and the making of wines that eclipse anything made here before. The Antelope Ridge winery was refreshed with state-of-the-art equipment. This summer, a further expansion enlarged the cellar and completed the necessary renovation.

Phil McGahan, the winemaker, is a soft-spoken Australian. Born in 1969, he initially became a lawyer before getting his winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University. During his studies, he worked the 2005 harvest at the prestigious Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma. “Once I graduated, I came back [to California] as an assistant winemaker,” Phil says. He was soon promoted, become one of the winery’s three winemakers. 

He was ready to move to the Okanagan in 2012 when von Mandl recruited him, giving him the responsibility to redevelop the Antelope Ridge winery and to craft world-class wines. “I was at a point when I could have stayed in America, got my green card and hope to advance; or I could take chance,” Phil says. “For me, this has been an amazing experience.”

At CheckMate, he is able to work with a range of cooperage that includes concrete, barrels (all French oak) and larger French oak foudres. He uses the latter for aging Attack, one of CheckMate’s most appealing Chardonnays.

“The foudres give that more reductive environment for the wines, so you get reductive notes – gunflint and a sea salt character on the nose,” Phil says during a tasting at the winery. “More Asian fruits, like lychee and tropical fruit characters. On the palate, I get a mixture of Indian and Asian spices, almost a cardamom character and then that salinity as well.”

He adds: “I have a soft spot for The Attack. It is quite unique. It is a wine that begins reductive in style but, when you have it in bottle, it opens up to be quite rich.”

Here are notes on Attack and its friends.

CheckMate Queen Taken 2015 ($125). The intensity of this wine reflects that the grapes are from vines that are 43 years old. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and peach. The palate is generous, with flavours of orange and stone fruit around a spine of minerality. Bright acidity gives the wine a vibrant personality. 94.

CheckMate Queen’s Advantage 2015 ($85). The fruit for this wine comes for the Combret Vineyard adjacent to the winery, with vines believed to have been planted in the early 1970s. The wine begins with intense aromas of tropical fruits that are echoed on the rich and satisfying palate. Some 43% of the grapes were fermented with indigenous yeast. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak (48% new). 94.

CheckMate Knight’s Challenge 2015 ($85). The fruit for this wine comes from a vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. The wine has complex aromas that mingle brioche and citrus. On the palate, there are herbal notes and flavours of mandarin orange with buttery notes. There is minerality on the dry finish. 93.

CheckMate Attack 2015 ($115). This marvelous Chardonnay was aged in a foudre which perhaps accounts for its mouth-filling fruit. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and spice. On the palate, the spice mingles with tropical fruit and leads to a long, savoury finish. 96.

CheckMate Capture 2015 ($90). The grapes for this wine, all Dijon Clone 76 Chardonnay, are from the Border Vista Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. Some 64% of the wine was fermented with indigenous yeast. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak (34% new). Production: eight barrels. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and orchard blossoms. On the palate, flavours of apple, citrus and peach mingle with a buttery note. The finish is fresh and lingering. 94.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Blue Mountain bubbles for the 2018 holidays

Photo: Blue Mountain toasts the vintage

In the fall of 2010, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars celebrated its 20th vintage by hosting an extensive tasting of its reserve wines.

The wines in the tasting included a 1994 Reserve Brut R.D., which means recently disgorged. If my files are correct, the winery released its next R.D. sparkling wine from the vintage of 2004. Happily, the winery has begun to release is classy R.D. wines with some regularity now.

Blue Mountain has produced an excellent sparkling wine every year since the winery was founded in 1991. For many of those years, the production volume was too limited (or sold too quickly) to allow the winery to hold back a portion each vintage for extended aging on the lees.

In recent years, the winery has been able to do that. The result is a series of sparkling wines that stand side by side with Champagne.

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, the winery’s bread and butter sparkling wine, spends two years on the lees before being disgorged, bottled and released. Wines made in this style are typically crisp and fresh. At $28 a bottle, this wine represents outstanding value for its quality.

The R.D wines necessarily are more expensive, reflecting the additional years these wines are aged. The reward for tying up capital for another five to eight years is the enhanced complexity that the wines develop from extended lees contact.

Currently, the winery has three R.D. releases available.

Blue Mountain Brut Rosé 2014 R.D. ($33). The base for this wine is 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay. After secondary fermentation in the bottle, the wine aged 30 months on the lees before being disgorged in the fall of 2017. The dosage is 10 grams of residual sugar per litre – just enough to add flesh to the texture while retaining a crisp finish. With its pink hue and fine bubbles, the wine gives a fine display in the glass. The aroma is fruity. Creamy on the palate, the delicious wine delivers flavours of strawberry and brioche that coat the palate and linger on the finish. 93.

Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs 2010 R.D. ($40). Made with Chardonnay grapes, this wine, after its secondary fermentation, remained seven years on the lees, to be disgorged in August 2017. It is finished in the brut style, with almost no sugar in the dosage. In the glass, the wine has a fine and vigorous mousse. It has brioche aromas and flavours, with hints of lemon and green apple and a crisp finish. The elegance of this wine is quite striking. 92.

 Blue Mountain Reserve Brut 2010 R.D. ($40). This is 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. This wine has had six and a half years on the lees before being disgorged in the fall of 2017. In the glass, the mousse is fine and active. The wine has aromas of citrus and toast, going on to delicate fruit and brioche on the palate. The finish is lingering. The wine has the classy elegance of Champagne. 92.