Thursday, May 31, 2018

Class of 2018: Bottega Wine Studio

 Photo: Winemaker Daniel Bontorin

Bottega Wine Studio is the among the new labels to emerge this year in the Okanagan, a virtual winery launched by winemaker Daniel Bontorin and his partner, Kristine Little.

For several years, they have made rosé wines under the Seven Directions label. That brand remains but folded under the Bottega umbrella.

Bottega is Italian for the studio of a master artist, which signals Daniel’s winemaking ambitions.

He launched Seven Directions in the 2012 vintage to produce just rosé.

“We started out as a virtual winery with no brick and mortar building,” he says. “We considered doing other reds and whites under the Seven Directions brand. But we were known for being the only rosé specialist in Canada, and we wanted to keep it that way. From day one we talked about making single vineyard rosés exclusively. Rosé has always been one of my favourite wines to make. People got to know Seven Directions only as rosé.”

The Bottega brand has been created for other white and red table wines, to avoid diluting the Seven Directions image.

Daniel’s rosé-making pedigree goes back to the 2005 vintage when he made Vaïla, the outstanding rosé at Le Vieux Pin. That wine, along with rosé from JoieFarm Winery, started the renewed interest in a wine style made embraced by the majority of wineries.

Born in Surrey in 1976, Daniel kicked around at several jobs in the Okanagan, including importing motorcycle parts, until 2000 when he recognized that the real future was in wine. After courses at Okanagan University College, he worked in the cellars at several wineries including Fairview Cellars, Domaine Combret, Hillside and Hester Creek. Then he did a vintage in northern Italy.

He returned  to join LVP for the 2005 vintage. Subsequently, he has become a successful consultant. His major clients currently include Volcanic Hills (under whose license Bottega and Seven Directions are released) and Bordertown Vineyards.

“Bottega isn’t just a label,” Daniel says. “I am looking to make higher end wines from both red and white varieties. I am trying to find the best grapes and make the best representation of those varieties in the styles that I like.”

The varieties currently released or maturing in the cellar include Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Viognier. “We started out with Viognier because my wife likes Viognier,” Daniel says. “And Merlot is one of the varieties I have done very well with.”

He and Kristine have a long-term plan to turn Bottega into a land-based winery. “My vision is, once we have our own place, is to have a custom crush place for other winemakers to come in and make their brands, similar to how we started out.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Seven Directions Pinot Noir Rosé Tractor and Vines Vineyard 2017 ($22.90 for 270 cases). The wine presents in the glass with the fashionably pale hue of a Provence rosé. It begins with aromas of strawberries, rhubarb and a medley of tropical fruits, all of which is echoed on the juicy palate. A hint of residual sugar lifts the aromas and flavours and adds weight. 91.

Seven Directions Cabernet Franc Rosé Fruitvale Ridge Vineyard 2017 ($20 for 444 cases). The wine displays a delicate pink hue and has aromas of wild strawberries and rhubarb. There is considerably more power on the palate than the hue suggests, with flavours that echo the aroma. The juicy, creamy texture ends with a dry finish. 90.
Bottega Viognier 2016 ($23.90 for 1,580 bottles). This wine begins with fragrant floral aromas that evolve in the glass to show citrus and apricot. On the palate, the wine has flavours of white peach, pear and apricot. Good acidity keeps the wine vibrant with a crisp finish. 91.

Bottega Merlot 2015 ($55 for 600 bottles). This is something of a tour de force – a bold, rich wine with great intensity. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and plum with a hint of liquorice. On the palate, there are flavours of plum and fig mingled with a medley of spiced dark fruit. This is an age-worthy wine. 92-94.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Class of 2017: Seaside Pearl Farmgate Winery

Photo: Seaside Pearl's David Zimmerman

David and Allison Zimmerman, who opened Seaside Pearl Farmgate Winery in May 2017 near Abbotsford, are practical people.

Allison once operated a shop called Seaside Pearl on the beach at White Rock. Since she still owned the name, she and David simply transferred it to their new winery.

The winery, of course, is some distance from the seaside. But it is one of three wineries in a cluster in Abbotsford’s Mount Lehman district. David believes the cluster will become larger because several small vineyards in the area also are considering opening wineries.

The two other wineries currently operating nearby are Mt. Lehman Winery, which opened in 2009 and Singletree Winery, which opened in 2015. Both are on Mt. Lehman road while Seaside Pearl’s location at 5290 Ohlund Road is just east of Mt. Lehman Road.  

The three wineries all are within five minutes of each other, making for a very convenient afternoon of wine touring a beautiful rural setting. On a clear day, the views extend across the valley, with Mt. Baker prominent among the mountains.

The Zimmermans moved from the Ocean Park district of South Surrey in 2011, choosing to settle on acreage in the Mount Lehman district. Both have portable skills. David, who was born in Vancouver and who grew up in Kamloops, trained as a tool and die maker at the BC Institute of Technology and then moved on to mining. Latterly, he and several partners have a gold property in northern BC. Currently, they are recovering placer gold but plan to drill the property.

Allison was born in Trinidad and Tobago but has lived in Canada since she was 13. She is an entrepreneur with expertise in sales and real estate.

“We always wanted to be on some acreage,” David says. “We kept looking and we found this place, because our daughter is into horses, and we have some horses here. Then we had all this land out front and no agricultural status for farm tax status. We have always been interested in wine and grapes, so we decided to plant grapes.”

At the time, Fraser Valley vineyard development was being promoted by David Avery, who had opened an Abbotsford area winery in 2002. He and a partner were promoting the planting of hybrid vines that had been developed in Switzerland and were said to be suited to the growing conditions of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island.

David Zimmerman was one of the property owners who ordered vines from David Avery. On a field in front of the current wine shop, David Zimmerman in 2012 planted a large block of a white hybrid called Petit Milo. On a small plot behind the tasting room, he planted a red hybrid called Cabernet Foch.

Then David Avery’s winery, called Lotusland, failed, stranding growers like the Zimmermans who had expected to sell their grapes to Lotusland. So the Zimmermans, eminently practical, took the next step and fulfilled an ambition to have their own winery.

They recruited consulting winemaker Mark Simpson. While he made an early vintage at his BC Wine Studio custom crush facility in the Okanagan, the Zimmermans turned a portion of the farm’s rambling stables into a processing facility and a barrel room. With an eye to future tasting events, the high-ceiling barrel room has been equipped with chandeliers above a long, sturdy table. The effect is rustic baronial.

The tasting room at Seaside Pearl is a separate building, styled to resemble a chapel (left). It is a cozy room but the winery’s picnic license and its barrel cellar both have the capacity to handle overflow crowds.

The wines, made from both Fraser Valley and Okanagan grapes, are released under labels celebrating the rich history of the Fraser Valley.

For example, there is a red blend called Landing Road. The winery explains the name is inspired “by one of the scenic roads that wander through the Fraser Valley’s stunning Wine Country. Early settler Sam Lehman built a network of trails surrounded by rich farmland. The trail leading from the wharf at Lehman’s Landing was called Landing Road.”

There is a Sam & Isaac Pinot Gris. The winery explains: “Sam and Isaac Lehman arrived on the banks of the Fraser River in 1873. Upon arrival they were quickly enamoured with the beautiful surroundings and the potential of the fertile land. Sam and Isaac set to work clearing the land and building a wharf for a riverboat to have access to the farming riches of the area, now called Mount Lehman.”

The sparkling wine is called Daffodils because the flowers were an early crop in the area. Charlotte, as the Petit Milo is called, was the wife of a horticulturist who encouraged daffodil growing.

Clearly, the Zimmermans have become immersed in the lore of the Mount Lehman regions.

David Zimmerman took me through a tasting of reds in the barrel cellar that were not bottled at the time of my visit. These include an excellent 2016 Landing Road Red Blend and solid 2017 reds – Cabernet Foch, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. The wines merit a second visit when they are released.

Here are notes of the current releases.

Charlotte Estate Petit Milo 2016 ($22). This white has aromas and flavours of citrus and guava. It manages to have a plump mouthfeel but also a crisp and dry finish. 90.

Fraser Gold Chardonnay 2016 ($27). This unoaked Chardonnay is made with Okanagan grapes. It begins with aromas of citrus leading to flavours of apples. The finish is crisp. 88.

Matsqui Prairie Gewürztraminer 2016 ($25). Slightly off dry, this wine has aromas and flavours of spice and lychee, with a fleshy texture and a long finish. 90.

Sam & Isaac Pinot Gris 2016 ($22). This wine has aromas and flavours of pear and apple, with a spicy note that creates a dry, zesty finish. 89.

Daffodils Sparkling White Wine 2017 ($25). A carbonated sparkler, this is a blend of Petit Milo, Chardonnay and Muscat. The latter variety adds a spice note to the citrus flavours and aromas. 90.

Lover’s Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($35). This is a ripe and rich wine, with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant, black cherry and chocolate. 90.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

JoieFarm's Heidi Noble celebrates "normal" vintage

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble (courtesy of the winery)

Heidi Noble, the winemaker and owner of JoieFarm, exults that the 2017 vintage was a return to normal for the Okanagan. That allowed her to make wines that are universally aromatic and refreshed with crisp, lively acidity.

“After a string of four hot and early vintages,” she writes, “the 2017 vintage was far more typical: beginning with a cool spring, moving on to a hot summer and ending with a long, cool harvest period, allowing for extended hangtime for ripening.”

She continues: “The result is a ‘cooler’ profile; exemplified by an intense core of ripe of ripe fruit electrified by juicy acidity. These wines are a classic example of our ‘cool climate, lake-moderated desert’ terroir.”

In the last year, Heidi also learned a few new tricks as a winemaker after attending a technical conference on cool climate Chardonnay in Niagara last summer.

“I chose to hyper-oxidize all my press pan juice, in particular our Chardonnay, to great effect,” she writes.

Hyper-ox is a Burgundian technique of “pre-oxidizing” grape juice prior to fermenting it. “The process is meant to fix volatile flavour and colour compounds so they cannot further oxidize and change as the wine ages,” Heidi explains. “This must treatment allows finished wine to achieve an intense colour, express itself and open up much earlier.

“Further to this, hyper-ox allows winemakers to refrain from adding sulphur to unfermented must,” she adds. “I use an extremely low sulphur regime in the winery as it is; with hyper-ox, I only make two small additions – once after the second post-ferment racking and a small top-up before bottling.”

She credits these techniques in part for the fact that the 2017 wines are intensely aromatic and full of flavour on release. She believes the wines will develop more intensity in bottle over the next few months.

Here are notes on the wines.

JoieFarm Pinot Blanc 2017 ($24.90 for 376 cases). This could easily be labelled “old vine.” The grapes are from vines planted in 1978 at the St. Hubertus Vineyard in East Kelowna. This wine has a moderate alcohol of 11.6%. It begins with an aroma of freshly sliced apples. On the palate, the flavours of apple mingle with a backbone of minerals and a bright, refreshing acidity. The finish is dry. 91.

JoieFarm Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($24.90 for 655 cases and 46 kegs). JoieFarm leases and farms the two vineyards – one south of Penticton and one on the Naramata Bench – that grow this Chardonnay. The wine begins with aromas of fresh pineapple and lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apple with a robust backbone of minerals, alcohol and lively acidity. 90.

JoieFarm A Noble Blend 2017 ($25.90 for 5,779 cases plus 102 kegs). As the production volume indicates, this is one of the winery’s most popular wines.  It is a blend of 49% Gewürztraminer, 32% Riesling, 9% Pinot Auxerrois, 6% Pinot Blanc and 4% Muscat. The wine has tropical aromas of spice and guava which are echoed on the rich and juicy palate, along with flavours of lychee and grapefruit. The finish is crisp. 92.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Muscat 2017 ($27.90 for 401 cases). This wine was elevated to reserve status because the vines are now 10 years old and are producing more intensely-flavoured fruit. The wine begins with a dramatic aroma of spice, citrus and peach, leading to intense flavours of lime and lemon, punctuated with the classic grapey flavours of the varietal on the finish. The wine finishes dry. The moderate 11.4% alcohol keeps the wine light and refreshing. 91.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Gewürztraminer 2015 ($N/A). The wine begins with an appealing light gold hue in the glass, followed by rich aromas and flavours of lychee and grapefruit. The wine is full on the palate with a dry finish that just won’t quit. This is very much in the style of a top Alsace Gewürztraminer from the likes of Trimbach or Hugel. 93. 

JoieFarm Rosé 2017 ($23.90 for 3,573 cases). This is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. The wine presents in the glass with a dark colour resulting from soaking the juice on the skins for two days. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherries and cranberries, with bright acidity to give it a lively finish. There is just 1.1 grams of residual sugar. The winery acknowledges that this is “the driest Rosé we have ever made and the perception of sweetness comes from the ripe, full-flavoured fruit.” Frankly, the wine would have benefited from a bit more natural sugar. 88.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quails' Gate small lot wines spice up the portfolio

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

The most popular white wine at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, year in and year out, is Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris.

In 2017, winemaker Nikki Callaway and her team produced a stunning 18,300 cases of this wine. That is more than the total production of most Okanagan wineries.

As amazing as that number is, another interesting trend has emerged at Quails’ Gate. Nikki is adding small lots wines to the portfolio, perhaps for those looking for wines somewhat more exclusive that Chasselas and friends.

“Basically, it stems from me saying I have a tank or a few barrels of wine that are too good to go into the big blend,” Nikki says. “It could be new vineyard blocks coming on board, really impressive barrels or ferments, new winemaking styles we are trying, etc.”

Well received, these wines sell quickly from the Quails’ Gate wine shop and to members of the wine club. Some are also allocated to specific Vancouver restaurants, no doubt including restaurants that pour Chasselas by the glass all summer long.

Quails’ Gate has several blocks of Chasselas, a white vinifera variety associated with the white wines of Switzerland. The oldest block at Quails’ Gate was planted in 1963 and it was an accident. When Richard Stewart was developing the vineyard, he ordered, among other varieties, a labrusca grape called Diamond, then widely grown in Ontario and New York State. The nursery erroneously sent Chasselas vines.

A few years later, a French viticulturist who was visiting the Stewart vineyard correctly identified the vines as Chasselas. It was a fortunate mistake. Unlike Diamond, wine from Chasselas, if somewhat neutral, does not have the offensive aromas and flavours of labrusca.

The lucky Stewarts went on to plant more Chasselas in 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1989. The vineyard map I am looking at may be out of date. It would surprise me if all that Chasselas was retained but a good acreage is still in production.

Grant Stanley, the winemaker who preceded Nikki at Quails’ Gate, solved the somewhat neutral personality of Chasselas by adding Pinot Gris and later Pinot Blanc to the blend

“I can’t recall the year of the addition of Pinot Gris to the label,” Grant says. “We had been adding Pinot Gris to the blend for some time until the quantity reached a percentage that it had to be declared as multi varietal. Chasselas really has very little to offer in aromatics, so the Pinot Gris gives the blend some lovely pear aromas.”

The blend scored a home run.

“It’s funny, we could not slow down sales of that wine,” Grant says. “The liquor board was begging for more every year. I was making 12,000 cases in 2012.” That was his final year at Quails’ Gate. 

The brand has continued to flourish. At the same time, Nikki has added a number of small lot wines to the Quails’ Gate portfolio. In the current spring release, there are three. 
The Orchard Block Gewürztraminer is made with grapes planted in 1989 on a former orchard at the corner of Boucherie Road and Mission Hill Road.

The Shannon Pacific Viognier’s vineyard is not identified in the winery’s technical notes but it certainly is not the Shannon Pacific. That vineyard was planted in the 1960s on Black Sage Road by Richard Stewart in partnership with Calona Vineyards. The label is meant to memorialize that partnership. After the 1988 vine pull-out, the vineyard was sold as raw land, to be replanted a few years later by Burrowing Owl Winery, Sandhill Wines and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

The delightful Lucy’s Block Rosé is named for Lucy May Whitworth, a grandmother of the Stewart brothers. The grapes are from a new Stewart vineyard in East Kelowna, called Westpoint Vineyard.

Kudos to the winery for adding these and other small lot wines to its portfolio. They add spice to what is already a good portfolio.

Here are notes in the new releases.

Quail’s Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.99 for 18,300 cases). This is 60% Chasselas, 22% Pinot Blanc and 18% Pinot Gris, cold-fermented separately before being blended. The wine begins with aromas of melon and apple with undertones of lime and pear, all of which are echoed on the palate. This is a refreshing, easy-quaffing white looking for a warm summer’s day. 90.

Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc 2017 ($19.99 for 3,000 cases). This wine begins with aromas of quince, pear and apple. It has a lively palate with bright, refreshing acidity and with flavours of lemon and melon. There is a good spine of minerality and the finish is dry. 91.

Quail’s Gate Dry Riesling 2017 ($16.99 for 3,600 cases). The racy acidity gives this wine a tangy and refreshing impact on the palate. There are aromas of lime and green apple that are echoed in the flavour, along with notes of minerality on the dry finish. The balance here between 7.8 grams of acidity and 7.5 grams of residual sugar creates an intriguing tension on the palate. I would recommend cellaring this for a year or two at least. 91.

Quail’s Gate Gewürztraminer 2017 ($16.99 for 5,900 cases). The wine begins with rose petal spice and lychee. The flavours include lychee and grapefruit with a light spice note on the finish, which is just off-dry. 90.

Quail’s Gate Orchard Block Gewürztraminer 2017 ($21.99 for 550 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a single vineyard that was planted in 1989. The aroma of lychee and ripe peach mingled with spice promises a rich wine; and the flavours deliver a bowl of tropical and stone fruit. 92.

Quail’s Gate Shannon Pacific Viognier 2017 ($23.99 for 1,030 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apricot and peach. Richly textured, the wine delivers flavours of apricot and mango with a hint of almond on the long finish. 91.

Quail’s Gate Rosé 2017 ($16.99 for 8,500 cases). The wine presents with a delicate salmon pink hue. The aromas of raspberry are echoed on the palate, along with notes of strawberry and cherry. The finish is crisply dry. 90

Quail’s Gate Lucy’s Block Rosé ($24.99 for 550 cases). This is 85% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir. The wine has a light rose petal hue and a delicate wild berry aroma. But the juicy weight and the mouth-filling flavours of strawberry and raspberry quite take one by surprise. This is a lovely, elegant rosé. 92.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Black Widow's wines showcase the 2017 vintage

 Photo: Black Widow's Dick Lancaster

For my book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries, I chose a premium red blend called Hourglass as the iconic or collectible wine for Black Widow Winery.

That is not among the winery’s spring releases. As one would expect with a spring release, most of the wines are white (but with two fine reds).

On tasting the whites and the rosé, I learned two things:

·       The 2017 vintage wines are excellent.
·       And winemaker Dick Lancaster, who operates this winery with his family, get astonishing mileage from aromatic grape varieties.

For some background on the winery, here is text from John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

In the summer of 2000, while looking for a getaway cottage with a few vines, Dick and Shona Lancaster saw this property on Naramata Road. At three hectares (seven acres), it was bigger than they were looking for but, with producing vines and a panoramic view of Naramata Bench and the lake, it was too good to turn down. “Classic up-selling,” Dick says of the realtor. “And as soon as we got a vineyard, the goal was to set up a winery.”

Born in Toronto in 1953, Dick grew up in Montreal and picked up an interest in wine from his father, Graham, a long-term Air Canada’s food services manager. Dick began making wine from wild grapes while still in high school. A three-month tour of European wine regions in 1976 sealed that interest. In Vancouver, where he and Shona lived from 1970 until moving to the Okanagan a few years ago, Dick was an award-winning home winemaker for more than 25 years.

You could call Dick a polymath, given all the skills he has acquired. Starting in biology, he earned a master’s degree. Disillusioned by the lack of well-paying jobs, he took a real estate course, then sold cars and became district manager for a leasing company. Then he got a master’s degree in business administration and finally qualified as an accountant. From 1992 until 2008, he was a vice-president with Imasco Inc., western Canada’s largest stucco manufacturer. Naturally, Black Widow’s gravity-flow winery, which he designed, in finished in tawny-hued stucco. “How can I not use stucco?” he laughs.

The vineyard already had Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Schönburger when the Lancasters bought it. In 2001, they added Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, selling grapes until launching Black Widow in 2006. “We like wines that have some real flavour and character to them, and that comes from really ripe grapes,” Dick says.

The winery is named after the indigenous desert-dwelling spider that is, fortunately, so shy it is seldom seen. The insect should be avoided because the bite (only females bite) is highly venomous.

The spider has inspired many of the labels for the wines. Here are notes on the current releases.

Black Widow Pinot Gris 2017 ($23 for 505 cases). Made with estate-grown fruit, the juice was allowed to soak on the skins and then was fermented cool; some 15% was barrel-fermented in new French oak. That expresses itself only in the wine’s luscious texture. The aromas and flavours – pear, peach and apples – fill the mouth. The finish, with a hint of citrus, is refreshing. 91.

Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2017 ($25 for 125 cases). This is a full-flavoured Alsace style fermented dry, and it is all the more interesting for that, especially for those of us who find off-dry Gewürztraminer somewhat boring. This wine has aromas and flavours of spice, lychee and grapefruit, with a lingering finish. 92.                                                                                                           

 Black Widow Oasis 2017 ($23 for 460 cases). This is a blend of Schönburger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, all fermented separately in stainless steel. The wine has aromas of spice and grapefruit leading to flavours of peach, pear and grapefruit. The wine is aromatic but the finish is dry. 91.

Black Widow Muscat Ottonel 2017 ($25 for 105 cases). This wine is made with grapes from the Carpenter Vineyard, also on the Naramata Bench. It has delicate rose petal spice aromas. The initial delicacy of flavours shows remarkable intensity on the palate even though the wine is just 12.2% alcohol. The wine is finished just off-dry. 90.                      

Black Widow Sparkling Web 2017 ($24 for 230 cases). This is the winery’s second vintage of a dry, frizzante-style blend of Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. It is a versatile wine: the bubbles make it festive while the dry finish makes it a good luncheon wine. The spicy tropical aromas and flavours are appealing. 90.

Black Widow Rosé 2017 ($25 for 60 cases). Made with Syrah and Merlot, this rosé has that rich dark cherry hue which, alas, is going out of fashion. But if the intent is to make a full-flavoured rosé – as was obviously the intent here – the juice needs serious skin contact. This wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry compote, with a lot of fruit sweetness on the palate. 90.

Black Widow Phobia 2016 ($29 for 400 cases). This wine is 60% Syrah and 40% Merlot, aged in barrel for 17 months. Dark in colour, it begins with an almost jammy aroma of plum and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry, cassis with a hint of black pepper. 92.

Black Widow Red Back 2016 ($34 for 105 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot aged 17 months in barrel. It begins with aromas of mint and cassis. On the palate, the fruit flavours are vibrant, with notes of black currant. This wine expresses itself best when decanted and allowed to breath for several hours. 92.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Fort Berens is about to plant second Lillooet vineyard

Photo: The vineyard at Fort Berens

Now that spring has finally arrived, Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery can begin planting what it calls its north vineyard.

To be planted over two seasons, it will add 18 acres of vineyard, essentially doubling the acreage the winery has under vine. It confirms the success of the risk undertaken in 2009 when Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, the founders of Fort Berens, pioneered viticulture at Lillooet.

“The expansion of the vineyard reflects our confidence in the Lillooet area growing region our determination to produce wines from our estate and from grapes from other vineyards in the Lillooet region,” they said in a recent note on the winery’s website. It also represents their anticipation that Lillooet is about to be recognized as a sub-appellation under the VQA rules.

This spring, Fort Berens will plant five acres of Cabernet Franc and four acres of Merlot. Next year, the winery intends to plant 3.5 acres of Riesling, another two acres of Merlot, two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5 acres of Grüner Veltliner.

The winery has just released two whites and a rosé from the 2017 vintage. “In a lot of ways, this was one of our most challenging vintages,” Rolf writes in a letter accompanying the wines. “After a few abundant vintages, we are now dealing with a smaller vintage. As farmers, we have to deal with the impact of the fluctuations in seasons and other new challenges. … [But] we are very proud of the quality of this vintage.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Fort Berens Riesling 2017 ($17.99 for 864 cases). This wine is slightly off dry but well-balanced, with a full texture and lingering flavours. It begins with aromas of lime and apple, leading to flavours of citrus and apple. The wine has almost 28 grams of residual sugar, which gives it a fleshy texture, but the eight grams of acidity offset the sugar and creates a pleasing tension on the palate. This wine is drinking well but it will age very nicely and develop even more complex flavours and aromas. 91.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.99 for 824 cases). The grapes are 80% from the estate vineyard and 20% from a Similkameen vineyard. Fifteen per cent of the juice was fermented in barrel with wild yeast; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with rich aromas of pineapple and mango. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe cantaloupe, pineapple and pear with a touch of minerality. The barrel-fermented portion as well as the 10.5 grams of residual sugar give the wine mouth-filling texture. 90.

Fort Berens Rosé 2017 ($17.99 for 658 cases). This is made with 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes were cold-soaked for three days before being pressed, to achieve the delicate rose petal hue. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of wild strawberries and raspberries. Just a hint of natural sweetness gives the wine a juicy texture. This is a wine with languid summer picnics written all over it – a delightful and satisfying rosé. 91.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bonamici Cellars opens tasting room

Photo: Bonamici's Philip Soo and Mario Rodi

Bonamici Cellars is about to open a wine shop south of Okanagan Falls to complete its journey from virtual winery to land-based winery. There is a soft opening the first weekend in May but the official opening is scheduled for May 17, to run into the long weekend.

The shop is at 2385 Rolling Hills Road, on a property the owners of Bonamici acquired in 2016. It is in a burgeoning region for wine touring. Noble Ridge Vineyards and Liquidity Wines are just up the road while Blue Mountain Vineyards, Stag’s Hollow Winery, Wild Goose Vineyards, Meyer Family Vineyards and Synchromesh Wines are in the neighbourhood.

The winery is called Bonamici – Italian for good friends – because owners Philip Soo and Mario Rodi are old friends with shared passions for wine.

Mario, who was born in 1957 in northern Ontario, was just 12 when he started helping his immigrant Italian father crush grapes for the family’s wine. Philip was born in Vancouver in 1969, the son of immigrants from Hong Kong who were just discovering what little wine culture there was in Canada at the time. “We had family celebrations but they never encouraged kids to drink,” Philip remembers. “I was 12 or 13 when my first sip of alcohol, Baby Duck, was at a Christmas party.”

It seems that was enough to get Philip interested. After getting degrees in microbiology and food engineering, he was offered jobs at a pharmaceutical firm and a company that produced gourmet salads but, having been a good amateur beer maker while in college, he took a job with a manufacturer of beer kits “because it was in line with my hobby.” Subsequently, Andrew Peller Ltd. bought this company along with a wine kit company. Philip was then promoted to Peller’s winery in Port Moody in 2000. When the winery closed five years later, he moved to the Okanagan to become a consulting winemaker after turning down an offer to work at Gallo Brothers in California.

Mario spent about 20 years in food and soft drinks sales before joining Peller in 1995 as general manager of Wine Experts, as the kit company was called. He and Philip, who reported to him, became close friends. Mario left Peller in 2009. Deciding to stay in the wine business, he proposed Bonamici to Philip. “He is a great winemaker,” Mario says. “I focussed on the sales and marketing for my entire career. I thought this might be an opportunity for us to get together and build something great.”

Taking advantage of a great vintage in 2012, they bought grapes from Philip’s favourite growers and contacted space in an existing winery to make about 1,000 cases of wine. Two wines were released initially, a red blend and a white blend.

Operating as a so-called virtual winery gave Bonamici several years to establish its brand.  Bonamici has offered award-winning wines, even while working in another winery’s facilities. It was, in fact, the only virtual winery to win a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence.

The partners spent the virtual years in developing their own winery. In 2016, they bought the 4.25-hectare (10.5-acre) property on Rolling Hills Road.  “We have a wonderful southern sloping aspect,” Philip says. “It gets full sun from morning to night.”

They planted one acre each of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris last year. This year, they are planting another two acres: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. Four acres remain to be planted, likely with red varietals.

“We are especially excited about the Sangiovese,” Mario says. “This is being grown specifically for our Belviaggio red blend which we will continue to model after the Super Tuscans.”   

The Bonamici label, designed by Hired Guns Creative of Nanaimo, celebrates the friendship by depicting two individuals floating along in the gondola under a balloon. An added touch is the capsule which repeats the balloon motif.

“The label is a metaphor for two friends on the journey of building a great wine company,” Mario says. “It is an adventure for the two of us.”

This is the most charming new wine label from an Okanagan winery in some time. The charm triggered a spontaneous smile when I first saw it in 2013. It continues to have the same effect.

Here is a note on some of the current releases.

Bonamici Pinot Grigio 2016 ($16.50). The flavours are spicy and rich, with notes of pear and ripe apple. 88. 

Bonamici Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2016 ($19.25). This inspired blend is 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Viognier. It begins with herbal aromas recalling Sancerre whites but with the backbone and structure and stone fruit flavours of Viognier. The finish is crisp and tangy 90.

Bonamici Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22). This is 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc; and the wine is nearly sold out. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and brambly, dark fruit. 90.

Bonamici Belviaggio 2014 ($30.50). This is 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah and 10% Malbec, aged in oak for 15 months. The wine still has a firm, age-worthy texture. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry and plum mingled with a touch of pepper. 91.