Monday, October 29, 2018

Laughing Stock Portfolio and friends

Photo: Laughing Stock's David Enns

This fall, Laughing Stock Vineyards three wines. Two are superb and one left me confounded.

First, the two I found superb. Portfolio is the winery’s iconic red. I am fortunate to have a few 10-year verticals in my cellar. The wine no longer is easy to get, unless you join the wine club. The individual on whose orders I was piggybacking let his membership lapse this year, sadly for me.

The superb white is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay. It will also be hard to get because only 317 cases were produced.

The wine that I have trouble with is a Syrah that was fermented in a clay amphora. I have no doubt this wine will sell out, if it is not already sold out, to those consumers who like “natural” wines. Every wine has its champion.

Let me quote the winery’s notes on how winemaker David Enns made this wine.

“This small cap release is a tribute to how wine was made in ancient times,” the note begins. “Using a hands-off winemaking approach, this is our fifth year of working with two 500 litre terracotta clay Amphorae. The result is a wine that challenges you to define it to a specific region or style.

“The 2017 Amphora Syrah project is in its second year with a blend of 91% Syrah and 9% Viognier. At harvest, we placed whole berry Syrah grapes in our two Amphorae and left them fully untouched for eight months. After 10 days, the natural wild ferment began at a low temperature and slowly progressed for five weeks. The hands-off approach resulted in slower extraction from the grape skins, while the tannin worked as a natural antioxidant.”

In previous vintages, David made Viognier Roussanne wine in the Amphorae. He switched to Syrah in 2016 and again in 2017 and extended the time in clay from five months to eight months. At that point, the wine is pressed off with a basket press and bottled.

My palate prefers conventionally-made Syrah. However, this bottle will create a sensation and likely controversy at your dinner table.

Laughing Stock was acquired in 2017 by Arterra Wines, the national producer owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. To the best of my knowledge, none of the other Arterra wineries in the Okanagan produce anything quite this edgy.

Here are notes on the wines.

Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2017 ($28.99 for 312 cases). This was fermented in oak barrels (15% new) but the oak is subtle and well integrated. The wine begins with aromas citrus and brioche leading to flavours of apple and pear. The wine is fresh and elegant with a lingering finish. 92.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2016 ($49.99 for 3,300 cases). This is a blend of 51% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine announces itself with powerful aromas of black cherry, plum, spice and vanilla. On the palate, layers of dark fruit fill the mouth. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a polished texture, with ability to age 10 or more years. 94.

Laughing Stock Amphora Syrah 2017 ($49.99 for 100 cases). First, here is the winery’s description: “This beautiful deep blue-violet coloured wine has vibrant aromas of anise and ripe mixed berries. The palate is silky with raspberries baking spices, and warm mocha.” I thought the wine also had aromas and flavours of chocolate, plum and fig with a hint of licorice on the finish as well as an earthy note. On re-tasting the opened wine over several days, I found that intense sweet fruit flavours also developed. Clearly, the wine needs to be decanted. I won’t even try to score this wine. I did not like it on first opening but I did like it by the fifth day.

As for food pairing, the wine’s robust flavours call for game meats.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Blasted Church updates its labels – again

Photo: Blasted Church winemaker Evan Saunders

For the third time since Chris and Evelyn Campbell bought the winery in 2002, Blasted Church Vineyards has revised its labels.

The winery, which is near Okanagan Falls, originally was called Prpich Hills, after the surname of the founder. The Campbells retained the Vancouver label guru, Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, to come up with a new name.

He suggested Blasted Church. The inspiration was an Okanagan Falls church (still in use) which had been moved in 1929 from Fairview, the abandoned mining town near Oliver. The movers set off some dynamite in the church to facilitate taking it apart for the move.

Beauregard and his team at Brandever Design retold the story on the winery’s labels, with a series of lively caricatures. The labels were an instant hit with consumers, propelling Blasted Church to success.

In 2010, the winery decided to refresh its labels. The new generation of labels still were story-telling caricatures but the art was bolder and more sophisticated.

The third generation Blasted Church labels are more painterly. They seem inspired by Baroque and Renaissance painters, with some Vancouver scenery for good measure. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc is a female nude that the 16th Italian artist might have posed on Wreck Beach, which is in the background.  

The new labels spotlight the wines of Evan Saunders, who took over in mid-2017 as the senior winemaker at Blasted Church. He has begun to tweak the style of the wines – notably whites which are lower in alcohol and fresher in flavour. He has also begun to push the envelop, notably with small lot reds fermented and bottled in clay.

Born in Manitoba in 1984, Evan took a microbiology degree at the University of Victoria, originally to prepare for medicine until an interest in wine took over. In 2011, he went to Brock University for a diploma in grape and wine technology. He returned immediately to the Okanagan and spent three years at Osoyoos Larose before moving to Blasted Church in 2014 as assistant winemaker.

“The first wine I started drinking consistently at University of Victoria was Hatfield’s Fuse,” Evan says, referring to a popular Blasted Church white blend. “I walked into a wine store. The colours [on the label] were bright and it caught my eye. It is a funny coincidence that I ended up here.”

The larger volume wines at Blasted Church remain consistent in style, compared with previous years and previous winemakers. Evan suggests this is largely because the vineyard sources have been relatively constant. The winery’s grapes come from a 40-acre estate vineyard on the east side of Skaha Lake. The winery also contracts grapes from about 60 acres, mostly in Oliver and Osoyoos.

“I probably tend toward a fresher style,” Evan says of his winemaking. “I do a little earlier picks to get a really vibrant acidity. A little fresher, a little less residual sugar, on the whites especially.”

With the red varietals, he likes longer hang time, long maceration time and more intense pump overs and cap management. “I am just focussing on the vineyards, to try to bring out everything that I can.”

“And I have done a lot of work on the barrel program, trying to match coopers and forests and grain and toasting to specific vineyard blocks, learning what works together the best,” he adds. In 2015, he began fermenting some small lot wines in barrels.

The small lot wines he ferments in clay eggs are the edgiest (and most expensive) wines now released by Blasted Church. The winery underlined the uniqueness of its 2016 Sacrosanct Cabernet Franc by bottling 120 bottles in clay bottles produced by the Italian manufacture of the amphora. It is almost sold out at $125 a bottle. Some 35 cases also was bottled conventionally.

Here are notes on some current Blasted Church releases.

Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($24 for 660 cases). This wine, which has six percent Sémillon in the blend, includes a 20% barrel-fermented portion. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of lime, grapefruit and herbs. The bracing acidity focusses the refreshing tropical fruit flavours. 91.

Blasted Church Unorthodox Chardonnay 2017 ($19 for 500 cases). This unoaked Chardonnay is made from the aromatic Musqué Clone. The wine begins with tropical and spicy fruit aromas leading to flavours of melon and apple on a crisp and dry palate. 90.

Blasted Church Gewürztraminer 2017 ($18 for 700 cases). Dry and food-friendly, this wine has classic aromas of rose petal and lychee. The moderate alcohol (12.9%) gives the wine a lightness and elegance on the palate, with flavours of melon and orange. 90.

Blasted Church Viognier 2017 ($22 for 500 cases). This wine includes the first harvest from the Viognier block planted several years ago on the estate. The wine has aromas and flavours of stone fruit. There are also hints of pineapple and quince on the finish, along with a spine of tannin to give discipline to the structure. 91.

Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017 ($35 for 48 cases). The Sémillon in 2017 was so good that two barrels were set aside for this small lot wine. It is rich on the palate, with flavours of mango, guava and orange peel. 91.

Blasted Church Cabernet Franc 2016 ($31 for 491 cases). This wine – only the second Cabernet Franc varietal released by the winery – begins with classic brambly aromas (raspberry, strawberry and sage). On the palate, there are flavours of blackberries and spice which persist on the long finish. 92.

Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($32 for 487 cases). This is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon with 11% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and sage, followed by notes of chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of peppers. The tannins are long and ripe. 92.

Blasted Church Cross of Bear 2015 ($40 for 200 cases). This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged 22 months in new French oak barrels. The rich flavours have soaked up the toasty oak very well. There is spice and cassis on the nose, leading to flavours of blackberry, plum and black currant. The ripe tannins support a long and generous finish. 93.

Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2015 ($45 for 202 cases). The blend is 40% Merlot, 38% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is a bold wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, chocolate and coffee. This wine also aged 22 months in barrel, about two-thirds new. 95.

Blasted Church Holy Moly 2015 ($40 for 225 cases). This is 100% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, the wine begins with floral fruit aromas supported by leather. On the dense palate, there and flavours of fig and plum and dark chocolate. 94.

Blasted Church Sacrosanct 2016 ($125 for clay-bottled wine, $65 for glass bottles). This is a Cabernet Franc fermented with wild yeast in an amphora, where it remained nine months on the skins before the wine was pressed off the skins. The wine is quite fruity – think black currant jam – with a voluptuous texture. 94.

Blasted Church Small Blessings Be Fruitful 2017 ($65 for 36 cases). This wine (fermented in a clay egg with wild yeast) is a blend of 42% Teroldego, 42% Lagrein and 16% Syrah. The former two varietals are Italian grapes from a Similkameen vineyard. The wine has aromas and flavours of tar, dark fruits and chocolate with an earthy finish. The wine is so unusual that I can’t begin to score it. Suffice it to say, it will create a sensation at someone’s dinner party, especially if paired with game.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Culmina by the numbers

Photo: Culmina winery

Several years ago, Culmina Family Estate Winery began releasing small lot wines in what it calls a number series.

These are the special wines that keep both winemakers and wine club members excited: winemakers because they get to craft pet projects; wine club members because they get to taste something rare and unusual.

In this fall’s release, the special wine is called No. 005 Süsser Riesling 2017. Those who know some German will understand that this will be a slightly sweet wine, such as you might find from a top German estate.

The trick to make sweet Riesling wines is the balance – enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and vibrant on the palate. Sweet wines lacking acid are flabby and boring. This wine is not.

No. 005 is made with clone 21B Riesling grown on the high-altitude vineyard that the winery calls Margaret’s Bench. The altitude preserves the intense flavours of the varietal, along with the acidity. The grapes for this wine were picked on October 17, 2017, indicating they had lots of hang time. Fermentation was entirely in stainless steel.

The wine was 48.3 grams of residual sugar. What stops the wine from seeming too sweet is that the acidity is 8.43 grams per liter. The wine might even have done with a few more grams of acid.

The combination of acidity and sugar will enable the wine to age as gloriously as well-made Riesling will. The winery says the aging potential is eight to 10 years.

Here are notes on No. 005 and its companions in the current Culmina release.

Culmina Decora Riesling 2017 ($21). The wine begins with aromas of citrus. On the palate, there are citrus and stone fruit flavours with a fine spine of minerality. The finish is crisp and dry. The fruit flavours linger. 90.

Culmina No. 005 Süsser Riesling 2017 ($26). This wine is modelled on the great off-dry German Rieslings. It begins with aromas of citrus and peach. The residual sugar lifts both the aroma and the luscious fruit flavours. The bright acidity and the minerality balance the sweet notes. The finish lingers. 92.

Culmina Dilemma Chardonnay 2016 ($34). Here is a Chardonnay to give Burgundy a run, beginning with complex aromas of fruit and oak. The wine has rich weight on the palate with flavours of citrus and apple mingled with lightly toasted oak. Bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing finish. The structure will support aging this wine for several more years. 92.

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2016 ($23). This is a blend of  five Bordeaux varietals (percentages unavailable). It has aromas and flavours of black currant, black cherry and vanilla. As the wine opens up, there are also flavours of plum and chocolate. The long ripe tannins give the wine a mouth-filling texture. Terrific value. 91.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

JoieFarm's wines get a lift from the kitchen

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble

Heidi Noble, the proprietor at JoieFarm Winery, says her winemaking was re-invigorated this fall by here experience this summer, working with the winery’s two in-house chefs.

JoieFarm took its food service up a notch or more when Heidi, a trained chef herself, took her turn in the kitchen with chefs Brian Skinner and Lina Cascheto. The service was called Le Comptoir at Joie Picnique, a step beyond the excellent wood-fired pizzas the winery has had for several years.

For Heidi, the experience illuminated how her wines could be paired with various menus. And she encourages consumers to recreate Old World recipes and pair them with her European-inspired wines.

The JoieFarm wines, in fact, have always been food friendly wines, with just the right structure and acidity to flatter whatever is on the plate. This is especially so with the exceptional “En Famille” reserve tier.

Here are notes on current releases. All are from the 2016 vintage, one of the best in the last two decades.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Riesling 2016 ($27.90 for 381 cases). This wine could also be called “Old Vines) because the grapes are from the 1978 planting at what is now St. Hubertus Vineyards. The richness of old vines is immediately apparent on the nose, where notes of petrol mingle with lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, lime and ginger framed with honeyed notes. The residual sugar is 17 grams but is nicely balanced with acidity. The mouth-filling flavours persist on the very long finish. 92.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($35 for 279 cases). This wine is made entirely with Chardonnay Musqué, a spicy clone. The wine presents in the glass with a light gold hue. The barrel-fermented wine was aged 10 months in oak, with regular lees stirring. The texture fills the mouth. It has aromas of melon, peach, with an herbal note that Heidi – who is a chef – calls drawn butter. The flavours are complex – baked apple, buttery but also briny. 92.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Gewürztraminer 2016 ($27.90 for 404 cases). The wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice and lychee. On the palate, the wine has a rich, oily texture and flavours of ripe apple and quince. On the finish, there is a hint of ginger and very slight alcoholic warmth, as you might experience with a top notch Alsace Gewürztraminer. 91.

JoieFarm Gamay 2016 ($19.50 for 615 cases). Dark in hue, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and a hint of toast (the wine was aged 10 months in oak – some new barriques, first-fill puncheons and a large neutral oak cask). On the palate, the cherry and blackberry flavours are savoury. Silky tannins lead to a fresh, juicy finish. 91.

JoieFarm PTG 2016 ($25.90 for 714 cases). This is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay Noir, a blend inspired by Burgundy.  The wine was aged 10 months in a combination of new and neutral oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice. That carries through to the flavours, along with plum. The wine has savoury, earthy notes on the finish. 91.

JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2016 ($26 for 670 cases). Rich in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherry and tar. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and raspberry, with savoury notes mingling oak and fruit on the finish. 90.

JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($40 for 474 cases). Dark in colour, with intense aromas where cherry mingles with vanilla and chocolate, this is a powerful Pinot Noir. It has flavours of raspberry and cherry with hints of chocolate and coffee. The complexity of this age-worthy wine starts with the use of four clones. The wine was aged eight months on oak (40% new, 60% neutral). 93.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Black Market finds a home of its own

Photo: Black Market's Rob Hammersley 

Within weeks of buying a Kaleden vineyard for his Black Market Wine Co., Rob Hammersley had a sign at the gate, 198 Spruce Avenue, announcing a planned 2019 opening.

It is a sign of how anxious he and Michelle Shewchuk, his partner, are to graduate from virtual winery status to a land-based winery. Black Market has made its wines since 2012 at BC Wine Studio, a custom crush facility at Okanagan Falls. It was a way for getting into wine production without committing too much capital.

When Black Market had established its brand, the owners, who had been looking for vineyard property almost two years, were ready for the next step. Kaleden was high on their list of locations.

“We rented a house here for a vacation, eight or nine years ago,” Rob says. “Since then, we have been in love with Kaleden. It’s like the last frontier in the Okanagan. If you think of the regions where there are vineyards and good potential, everything else is already fairly well built out. It’s a fantastic area for growing grapes – one of the best in the area.”

They have named the property Conviction Ridge Vineyard. “We finally have the conviction to do this,” Rob says. Currently residents of Calgary, Rob and Michelle are making plans to move to the Okanagan next year. Now that they have to farm a 4½ acre vineyard, commuting from Calgary no longer will be an option.

Michelle is an Air Canada airline flight attendant (and will continue with her career) while Rob, an accountant and business evaluator, expects to become a fulltime grape grower and vintner next year.

Both were born in Winnipeg (Rob in 1971, Michelle in 1974) and they met while at university. Their interest in wine took off when they joined an informal wine tasting group. After university, they worked three years in Japan as English teachers. There, they fostered a love of travel that has never left them. “It was a defining experience for us,” Rob says. “We travelled a lot. Michelle has travelled her whole life; not so much me.”

They have wanted their own winery for some time. Rob’s judgment as a business evaluator guided the hard-headed decision to start with Black Market under the tutelage of BC Wine Studio before risking capital on land and buildings. “From my perspective, the best way to manage the risk of moving into a fairly crowded [wine] market is to get the market space first and work backwards,” Rob explains.

The retired owner of what is now Conviction Ridge Vineyard was a long-time grower for Gray Monk, (as are numerous other Kaleden vineyard owners). The vineyard was planted about 35 years ago, initially entirely with Bacchus. About 20 years ago, half was grafted to Merlot. A small block of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris is about five years old.

Rob had never before made wine with Bacchus but, after picking the brains of other Bacchus producers, quickly figured out how to fold the varietal into his portfolio. An early pick is destined for a traditional method sparkling wine. Most of the rest – he did sell some fruit – is likely to be added to Black Market’s top-selling white blend, Secret Society.

Because he did not take over Conviction Ridge until August, Rob had not time to convert one of the buildings on the property for wine processing. He made the 2018 vintage at BC Wine Studio.

“If all goes according to plan, we will have a new building next year,” Rob said last month. “All of our equipment is either here already or en route. We ordered in May and April. At one point, we thought we would be able to do production here this year.”

By securing a license for Black Market’s winery and tasting room, Rob expects to achieve a significant improvement in his winery’s economics.

“Our first vintage was 200 cases. Last year, we produced just over 1,000 cases,” he says. “This year it will be about 1,600 cases. There will be significant growth every year once we have a tasting room to generate some volume. Our goal is that this facility would produce in the 5,000 – 6,000 case range.”

He will continue to purchase grapes, since Conviction Ridge does not grow most of the varietals Black Market has in its portfolio. For example, the vineyard’s Merlot is only one of the varietals required for The Syndicate, the winery’s Bordeaux red blend. Similarly, he needs to buy Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc for Collusion, the winery’s white Bordeaux blend.

“As far as reds go, Syrah is where my passion lies,” Rob says. During his enology course, he did a research paper comparing growing conditions of Côte Roti in the Rhône with the Okanagan. He concluded that the wide temperature range between the Okanagan’s hot days and cool nights help make Okanagan Syrah distinctive.

Black Market’s portfolio is tightly focussed. Rob is tempted to add a Gewürztraminer because he has a good source of fruit. And when he finds an exceptional barrel or two in a vintage, he produces small lots which are offered first to Black Market’s wine club. Current examples are a 2017 Sémillon (100 cases only) and a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (not yet released).

Here are notes on Black Market’s wines. The wines are available on line. As well, the winery's website lists the numerous wine stores and restaurants that carry Black Market.

 Black Market Sémillon 2017 ($26). Barrel-fermented in neutral oak, this is a concentrated dry white with aromas and flavours of citrus and a backbone of minerality. 90.  

Black Market Collusion 2017 ($24). This is typically a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon. Aged in barrels for five months, it is a crisp wine with aromas of lime and lemon. That is echoed on the palate, along with herbal notes that give the wine great complexity. 91.

Black Market Secret Society 2017 ($22). The blend has varied over the vintages but the profile has been similar: a dry white aromatic wine. This vintage is about 60% Gewürztraminer, with Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc. It begins with aromas of rose petals and spice. It is juicy on the palate with tropical fruit flavours. 90.

Black Market Syrah 2016 ($35). This begins with aromas of black cherry. On the palate, the deli meat flavours mingle with black cherry and pepper. The firm texture indicates that this wine should be cellared a few more years. 90-92.

Black Market The Syndicate 2015 ($30). The blend is 31% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Petit Verdot. Perhaps the latter varietal defines this wine, give it a dark colour, a dense texture and a floral aroma. There is also a note of cassis and black cherry on the nose. On the palate, the black currant and cherry flavours mingle with fig, spice and vanilla. 91.

Black Market The Syndicate 2016 (tank sample). This is a blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine has the plumpness of ripe Merlot and the brambly aromas and flavours of Cabernet Franc. There are also flavours of cherry and blueberry with a touch of mocha on the finish. It is different from the previous vintage but is equally interesting. 91.

Black Market Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Est. $40). This wine has aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry, dark chocolate and tobacco. Firm and rich in texture, this wine will blossom with another five years in the bottle. 91-93.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Township 7 nails down premium vineyard

Photo: Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott

This summer, Township 7 Vineyards made one of the most significant announcements in its history: it bought the 12-acre Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver.

The vineyard, which was planted in 2000, has supplied Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc to Township 7 throughout the history of both the winery and the vineyard. That vineyard has become increasingly critical to Township 7 which has been expanding in recent years. Its prior vineyard holdings were small.   

Township 7’s modest vineyard holdings were a consequence of the winery’s history. It was established on a five-acre Langley vineyard where the original winery opened in 2001. The second winery opened in 2004, just outside Penticton, and has a postage stamp vineyard. For most of its history, Township 7 has relied on fruit from growers in the Okanagan. The increasing competition for grapes from growers threatened to cap the winery’s growth. Now, it has assured access to premium fruit from Blue Terrace.

The winery founded by Gwen and Corey Coleman. In 2006, they sold the winery to former restaurateur Mike Raffan (and a partner). In 2014, the winery was acquired by Ge Song, a Beijing businessman, who has retained Mike as Township 7’s general manager.

“In 2014, he approached us with a deal he said we could not refuse,” Mike says. “We accepted it. We had taken the winery from 3,500 cases a year to 7,000, and we needed to grow it again. It had to go another level up or it would stall out, because if you are just doing the same thing, you actually fall behind.”

The year before, Township 7 had embarked on a rebranding program that included smart new labels and, more important, taking control over its distribution channels.

“We identified that we needed to run this company to control what we can control,” Mike says. “We went on a mission of direct to consumer sales because we control our relationship with the consumer.” The portfolio now includes eight to 10 wines available just to members of Township 7’s wine club.

The new owner not only endorsed the strategy. He has invested in an expansion which gives Township 7 a capacity of 12,000 cases.

He also backed the recruitment in 2014 of winemaker Mary McDermott, who had been a senior winemaker making premium and sparkling wines in Ontario for Andrew Peller Ltd. She has had a profound impact on the quality of the wines.

One reason has been the relationship she has cultivated with Township 7’s growers.

“We have signed long term contracts with growers and we really to work with them,” Mary says. “It is becoming more of a family business for us. I go visit my growers all the time. I am available for them all the time if they have any questions. That’s what this business is all about.”

She has also accelerated Township 7’s sparkling wine program, with at least two other bubblies soon to join Seven Stars, the winery’s original traditional method sparkling wine. This program also salvages the fruit from the Langley vineyard which, for several years, was relegated to an annual grape stomp.

“Between 2006 and about 2012, we invested in the vineyard and tried to improve things,” Mike says. “At the end of it all, in 2012, I threw my hands up and said, we get what we get. If it has to all go to the grape stomp, it will. Then Mary came in and said ‘Give me some time. I can deal with this’.”

“I went to Mike,” Mary confirms, “and I said we can make a really good sparkling wine. To me, the conditions were similar to Ontario. In the Fraser Valley, we are not getting a lot of sugar. I usually pick grapes in Langley for sparking wine at about 19 Brix. That means about 10% alcohol and that is exactly what we are looking for in sparkling wines. And the acidity is maintained.”

The first Langley estate sparkling wine, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, was made in 2015 and is due to be disgorged in 2020. “It is fantastic,” Mary says. “It will be a spectacular wine.”

Here are notes on current releases from Township 7.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($18.97 for 298 cases). Crisp and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with a light herbal note. 90.

Township 7 7 Blanc 2017  ($18.97 for 588 cases). This is a blend 50% Gewurztraminer, 28% Pinot Gris, 11% Viognier, 7% Riesling and 4% Muscat. The wine is refreshingly spicy. A touch of residual sugar supports the aromas and flavours of pear and apple. The finish lingers. 90.

l"> Township 7 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Blue Terrace Vineyard 2017 ($26.97 for 348 cases). Fermented and aged seven months in barrel, this wine announces itself dramatically with aromas of lime, gooseberry and grapefruit with herbal notes. Those lead to intense flavours of tropical fruit, with a refreshing, tangy finish. 92.

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 Rosé 2017 ($18.97). This is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 19% Pinot Noir, 8% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. The wine has an attractive salmon pink hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb, leading to a bowlful of fruit flavours on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Township 7 Seven Stars 2015 ($29.97 for 533 six-bottle cases). Made with Chardonnay, this elegant traditional method sparking wine begins with a vigorous mousse. It has aromas and flavours of citrus and brioche. On the palate, the wine dances lightly and is refreshing on the finish. 92.

Township 7 Cabernet 2016 ($27.97 for 328 cases). This is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and mocha, echoed on the palate along with coffee and tobacco notes. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 91.

Township 7 Merlot 2016 ($24.97 for 1,038 cases). This wine is made with grapes from both Blue Terrace and the Front Yard Vineyard (which adjoins the Penticton winery). A portion of the wine was fermented in a 5,000-litre oak fermenter, an example of the new tools owner Ge Song has provided his winemaker. The wine is rich and concentrated, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and vanilla. 91.

Township 7 Reserve Merlot Blue Terrace Vineyard 2015 ($39.97 for 125 cases). This terrific wine was available to the wine club only and now is sold out. It is a plush, satisfying wine, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, black currant and vanilla. 92.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Coolshanagh releases its fifth Chardonnay

Photo: Coolshanagh proprietors Skip and Judy Stothert

With its fifth vintage of Chardonnay, tiny Coolshanagh Vineyard confirms it is one of the premier Chardonnay producers in the Okanagan.

The release of 750 cases of the 2016 vintage is the largest release so far from this Naramata Bench producer. There will never be much because Coolshanagh has just 10 acres of vineyard, almost a quarter of which is more recently planted Pinot Noir. The first vintage of Pinot Noir was 2015 – a miniscule 27 cases. Production of that doubled in 2016.

Coolshanagh is a boutique winery operated by Skip and Judy Stothert. The wines are available on the Coolshanagh website (and in some high-end restaurants). There is no tasting room of wine shop. The vineyard, seven kilometres north of Naramata Village, is at the north end of Naramata Road, just past the Chute Lake turnoff.

The Stotherts bought the 52-acre property in 2003 because they wanted acreage with views of Okanagan Lake and also with privacy. There was no intention to plant vines initially. “We bought the property just to retire,” Skip says. 

Skip is a retired businessman. The company he founded is now called Green Roads Recycling. It is a road paving company with a difference: it renews paving with a moving train of equipment that scoops up the old pavement and melts it and mixes that with the new pavement that is laid down immediately.

“We moved here in 2003,” Skip says. “My sons were taking over the business and I got bored. I researched grape varieties. I knew I wanted to do Chardonnay and I wanted to do Pinot Noir.”

He had grown up in a household with wine on the table. His father, Win Stothert, ran an international engineering company. “My dad was in the Opimian Society, so I grew up drinking Burgundian Chardonnays right from the get-go, when I was about 10 or 11,” Skip says. “And there also was Burgundian Pinot Noir.”

Trees were felled, land was prepared, and the first hectare of Chardonnay was planted in 2004. Since then, the vineyard has been quadrupled with the planting of more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  For viticulture advice, Skip has tapped the experience of Okanagan Crush Pad vineyard managers as well as Pedro Parra, the Chilean terroir consultant used extensively by OCP.

Between 2008 and 2011, Coolshanagh Chardonnay grapes were sold to Foxtrot Vineyards. Then in 2012, Skip and Judy decided to launch their own label. The target, when Coolshanagh is at full production, is to release about 1,500 cases of Chardonnay and 300 cases of Pinot Noir annually.

The wines are made for Coolshanagh by OCP’s winemakers, with input from Skip, who has a clear idea of the style he wants for Coolshanagh. He does not want to make a California-style Chardonnay. He wants an age-worthy wine in the style of a white Burgundy.

The 2016 Coolshanagh Chardonnay began by picking on advice from Pedro Parra. “Each block of Chardonnay is hand-picked at a different time, with the first picking taking place in mid-September and the last in early October, 2016,” according to the technical notes for the wine. “Each section was treated differently to optimally express each vineyard location.” The lots were ultimately blended and bottled without fining or filtration.

While OCP ages most of its wines entirely in concrete, about one-third of each Coolshanagh Chardonnay spends about 11 months in oak (mostly neutral). “To me, Burgundian wine has oak in it,” Skip says. “Even Chablis is moving into using some oak.”

The Stotherts are content with OCP and are not planning to build their own winery. “Maybe if one of the granddaughters wants to build it,” Skip says. “I have a wine building down here and it could be done. But that means we could not do all of the travelling we want to do.  That is what it comes down to.”

A note on the winery name. Coolshanagh is a Celtic word that translates as “a meeting place of friends.” For the Stotherts, it had an excellent ring to it for their property. The name has been used by Judy’s family, which has roots in Scotland and Ireland, for several generations to identify their various homes.

A note on the wine.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2016 ($36.90). This elegant wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with very subtle oak, bright acidity and a spine of minerality. The flavours are fresh and focused, supported with good texture. 93.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Thornhaven Estate: a tasting

Photo: Thornhaven proprietors Jack and Jan Fraser

Late this summer, Danny Evanishen, the veteran tasting room manager at Thornhaven Estates Winery in Summerland, offered to send a sample a sample of the winery’s platinum award Syrah 2015.

I agreed but I also asked him to include a few other wines. Given the daunting number of wineries in the Okanagan, I had not been able to visit Thornhaven in some time.

That seems like a strange omission. Given what I wrote about the winery in the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, this is clearly one of my favourite wineries. Here is an excerpt:

With its Santa Fe architecture, the Thornhaven winery is an Okanagan jewel. Tucked away behind Summerland’s Giant’s Head Mountain, the adobe-hued winery is at the top of a slope covered with about 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of vines. The patio affords postcard views, but the best view is from the bottom of the undulating vineyard, preferably when the late afternoon sun paints a golden tint on the winery and the hillside behind it.

The vineyard was planted by Dennis Fraser, a former grain farmer from Dawson Creek who sold his farm, almost 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres), in 1989 and then began converting a Summerland orchard to vines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Meunier). Winemaking began here in 1999, with Fraser planning a modest tasting room in the basement of his home. Then, a farmer’s habit of thinking big took over and he built a picturesque winery.

The winery was purchased in 2005 by Dennis’s cousin, Jack Fraser, who was changing careers after 24 years working in overseas oilfields (mostly in Libya). Thornhaven is now managed by Jack and his wife Jan, a lively tasting room personality. Son Jason, who mentored with consultant Christine Leroux, is the winemaker.

Now making about 5,500 cases a year, Thornhaven has a portfolio of 13 to 15 wines. The Gewürztraminer is a flagship wine. This is one of the few Okanagan wineries with a varietal Pinot Meunier. The winery also offers an unusual Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend because the varieties are interplanted in the vineyard. The grapes are picked and fermented together, yielding a delicious wine tasting of peaches and citrus. Jack Fraser has a simple explanation for the consistency of the award-winning wines: “The main thing is that the grapes come from nearby vineyards.”

In addition to the estate vineyard, Thornhaven gets grapes from another 10 acres of  winery-owned Summerland area vineyards. The varietals even include Syrah, a grape not often found in the Summerland vineyards. Thornhaven must have a small block. The winery made just 90 cases of the award-winning 2015 wine.

The wines are excellent. I continue to stand by my view that the Gewürztraminer is the flagship wine here.

Here are my notes.

Thornhaven Gewürztraminer 2017 ($18). This delicious wine begins aromas of spice, rose petals and lychee, which are echoed on the palate, along with a touch of lime. A full-bodied wine, it is balanced toward dry with just enough residual sugar to give it a fleshy texture. 93.

Thornhaven Brooklyn’s Blend 2017 ($16). This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay begins with aromas of melon and apple mingled with lime. On the palate, there are luscious tropical fruit flavours of mango, peach and pear. 90.

Thornhaven Infusion Frizzante 2017 ($N/A). This sparkling wine is a blend of  Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Riesling. It presents in the glass with a light blush hue and with a lively mousse. The aromatics are fruity and the flavours recall strawberry and ripe apple. 91.

Thornhaven Rosé 2017 ($16). The winery describes this as a “robust patio wine.” Cherry-hued and rich on the palate, it has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Syrah. 90.

Thornhaven Pinot Noir 2016 ($19). This oak-aged wine begins with aromas of toasty oak mingled with cherry. On the palate, it has flavours of strawberry and cherry. The wine has a silky texture and a medium-bodied palate weight. 90.

Thornhaven Syrah 2015 ($30). This elegant and medium-bodied wine begins with aromas of plum, black cherry and fig. This is a dry wine with a palate of sweet fruit – cherry, blackberry, plum, a hint of licorice and pepper. 92.