Monday, April 29, 2019

Desert Hills releases fine 2018 wines

Photo: Jessie (left) and Randy Toor

Along with its peers, Desert Hill Estate Winery has begun releasing wines from the 2018 vintage.

“They are fantastic,” suggests winemaker Anthony Buchanan. “It was a real good vintage. Everything turned out well. There is lots of acidity and the wines are very well balanced.”

A recent tasting with him and Desert Hill’s principals confirmed that assessment. It also confirmed that the winemaking talents of Anthony, who has been at Desert Hills since late 2015, have raised the bar at this well-established winery on Black Sage Road.

The winery, which opened in 2003, is operated by twins Randy (the winery president) and Jessie Toor, born in 1964 in Punjab, brother Dave and Randy’s son, Rajen, who is becoming a winemaker.

The Toor family initially purchased an apple orchard on Black Sage Road in 1988, which they converted to vineyard in 1995. Today, they own five vineyards totalling 85 acres. They sell some of their production while making 12,000 cases a year for Desert Hills.

Anthony (left) once operated a Victoria hair salon before switching careers in 2010. Trained in winemaking and viticulture at Washington State University, he previously worked at Church & State Winery and Eau Vivre Winery & Vineyard before joining Desert Hills. He also produces small lots for his own boutique label, Anthony Buchanan Wines.

The impact he is having at Desert Hills ranges from innovations in the cellar to drier finishes on such whites as Gewürztraminer. This year, the winery is purchasing a concrete kvevri, a fermentation vessel based on the designs used for winemaking on Georgia. One object is to enhance the texture of the wines.

He has also tweaked the style of the Desert Hills Gamay Noir, the red for which the winery already has a stellar reputation. In Anthony’s view, previous vintages were too big due to practises in the vineyards.

“I found the wine too extracted and too ripe, too high in alcohol,” Anthony says. “The fruit profiles have been really nice but they have been too bold. To me, that is not Gamay.”

By picking the fruit a little earlier and by taking significant extra pains with the winemaking, he has achieved a more elegant wine.

“What happens is you get this fruit-driven, nicely balanced wine,” he says. “It has all the Gamay characteristics without being that light nouveau style. It expresses the fruit and the terroir. It has good acidity. That has been the focus – to bring it back to a Gamay style of wine while still keeping our customers happy.”

Here are notes on current releases from Desert Hills.

Desert Hills Pinot Gris 2018 ($21.90). This is a wine with remarkable purity of fruit, both in the aroma and on the palate. There are aromas and flavours of apple and citrus. The texture is generous and the finish persists. 91.

Desert Hills Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 ($19.90). This is a crisp wine with aromas and flavours of apple. There is a pleasant mineral note on the finish. 90.

Desert Hills Cactus White 2018 ($17.90). This successful blend has been in the winery’s portfolio for almost a decade. The blend for this vintage is Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. It begins with spicy aromas leading to a medley of fruit flavours, including lychee and honeydew melon. It is balanced to finish dry. 91.

Desert Hills Viognier 2018 ($24.90). This is a wine with aromas of apricot and peach. Stone fruit flavours dominate the honeyed richness of the palate. The finish is persistent. This is a superior South Okanagan Viognier. 93.

Desert Hills Gewürztraminer 2018 ($23.90). Here is a good dry Gewürztraminer with spice and ginger and lychee on the nose and palate. 91.

Desert Hills Helena Rose 2018 ($21.90). The blend is 66% Merlot, 34% Gamay Noir. The wine presents in the glass with an appealing pink hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cranberry, watermelon and rhubarb. The bright natural acidity makes the wine crisp and refreshing. 91.

Desert Hills Gamay Noir 2018 ($22.90). This fruit driven wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and plum. The texture is fresh with bright acidity. There is a spicy note on the finish. 91.

Desert Hills Merlot 2015 ($24.90). The wine has aromas of black cherry and cassis mingled with a hint of smoke. The earthy finish gives the wine a rustic personality. 89.

Desert Hills Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015 ($28.90). This is an intense and full-bodied wine with aromas of black cherry and blackberry. These are echoed on the rich and brambly palate. 93.

Desert Hills 2014 Syrah 2014 ($36.90). This is a classic full-bodied Syrah, with aromas of pepper and deli meats. The palate mingles meaty notes with figs, dark fruits and black pepper. 92.

Desert Hills Mirage 2014 ($36.90). This is the winery’s iconic red. It is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot and 5% of Syrah. This is a rich and satisfying wine with aromas of black cherry, plum and spice, echoed on the palate. The blend was put together by Anthony Buchanan who, for the first time, added Syrah to Mirage. It was a great idea. 94.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Class of 2019: Four Shadows Vineyard

Photo:  Four Shadows owners Wilbert and Joka Borrens 

Four Shadows Vineyards
250 Upper Bench Road South
Penticton BC V2A 8T1
T: 250-462-7725/250-462-7735

Wilbert Borren dreamed of owning a dairy farm when he came to Canada in 1988 to work at an Alberta dairy. The escalating cost of the required production quota put the dream out of reach.

Arguably, that is fortunate for the Okanagan wine industry. Wilbert and his wife, Joka (also from Holland), are opening Four Shadows Vineyard on May 1 on Upper Bench Road, the street in suburban Penticton already home to three other excellent wineries, and with a fifth winery under development.

Theirs has been a long journey to wine. What they once knew about wine can be summed up by the fact that they met in 1990 in an Irish pub in Red Deer. They have long since developed their palates. Last fall, they took, and passed, the level tw0 Wines and Spirits Education Trust course.

Wilbert worked on the Alberta dairy farm for five years until he decided in 1993 he had not emigrated to be someone’s employee. He and Joka bought a hog farm near Lacombe, Alberta, moving into an industry without quotas. They ran this business for 18 years while raising four sons.

“With a pig farm, every day of the week is the same,” Wilbert discovered. “This Monday is the same as next Monday.”

Tired of hog farming’s monotony and Alberta’s hard winters, the Borrens sold the farm in 2010 and moved to the Okanagan. They called on MOCOJO Winery owner Ken Oh, an acquaintance who had moved to a Naramata vineyard two years earlier from Lacombe, to begin researching opportunities in grape growing.

“I did agriculture college in Holland,” Wilbert says. “I am a farmer. Stepping into the wine business is a new game.”

They bid on several of the properties of the bankrupt Holman-Lang group of wineries and, in 2011, acquired the former Mistral Estate Winery, a 17-acre property with 12 acres of vineyard. Part of it had been planted in 1999. The upper part of the vineyard, on a slope almost too steep for tractors, was planted in 2009, the year before Mistral went into bankruptcy.

The Borrens set about restoring production on the vineyard (the upper part lacked trellises), helped by their four sons, who inspired the Four Shadows name. When Wilbert realized he might be over his head, he sought the guidance of vineyard consultant Graham O’Rourke until he mastered viticulture. Wilbert was soon selling grapes to such leading wineries as Foxtrot Vineyards, Ruby Blues Winery and Lake Breeze Vineyards. Synchromesh Wines has released a Four Shadows Riesling for several vintages.

When Synchromesh owner Alan Dickinson suggested a winery would be their next logical step, Wilbert and Joka began thinking about it seriously in 2016 and got a license for Four Shadows in 2017.

“After we bought this place and started growing grapes, it was never our intention to start a winery,” Wilbert says. “But then we were selling grapes [to wineries that] that were all making good wines. People started to ask why we were not making our own wine.”

To get the winery started on the right foot, the Borrens arranged to have the initial two wines – 450 cases of Merlot and 250 cases of Pinot Noir – made in 2017 by Lyndsay O’Rourke, the winemaker and co-owner of the nearby Tightrope Winery. When she could not take on the larger 2018 production for Four Shadows (1,500 cases), the winery engaged Pascal Madevon, the former winemaker at Osoyoos Larose and now a respected consulting winemaker.

Six varieties are grown in the Four Shadows vineyard: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zweigelt. Wilbert kept a third of his grape production in 2018 for the winery, selling the rest.

“We are starting small so we can just ease into it,” Joka says cautiously. “And we can expand if it goes well. If it doesn’t go well, we are not fully into it.”

The tasting room is the building that formerly as Mistral’s wine shop. Empty almost a decade, it has been renovated and smartly updated by the Borrens, helped by the skills of one son who is a carpenter. Another, a welder, created the winery’s steel sign.

The wines are being released initially in the wine shop. The volumes are so modest that drive-by tourists on busy Upper Bench Road are expected to buy most of the wines this summer.

Here are notes on the wines.

Four Shadows Chardonnay 2018 ($23). With 15% of this aged four months in new oak, there is just the right subtle note of vanilla and spice to frame the flavours of apple and ripe pear. 90.

Four Shadows Riesling 2018 ($23). This is an intensely flavoured dry wine with aromas of lime and jasmine. On the palate, there is lime, lemon, green apple and pear. 90.

Four Shadows Rosé 2018 ($21). Made with Merlot and Pinot Noir, this salmon-coloured wine has aromas and flavours of watermelon and strawberry. Bright acidity balanced with a hint of sweetness makes this refreshing and appealing. 91.

Four Shadows Pinot Noir 2017 ($28). This wine, which shows best with decanting, has aromas and flavours of cherry mingled with vanilla (the wine aged 10 months in barrel, 20% new). The wine is medium-bodied and elegant, with a spicy note on the finish. 90.

Four Shadows Merlot 2017 ($26). This is a generous wine, beginning with aromas of black currant and black cherry, which are echoed on the palate. 91.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Township 7 ups its bubbly offerings

Photo: Winemaker Mary McDermott

When winemaker Mary McDermott was recruited to Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, her resumé included extensive experience making sparkling wines in Ontario.

Township 7 has had a sparkling wine called Seven Stars in its portfolio since 1999. But with Mary’s expertise in the cellar, the winery has embarked on a significant expansion of its sparkling wines.

The current release includes Seven Stars Equinox 2015, a sparkling rosé, and Seven Stars Polaris, a sparkling Chardonnay.

Next year, the winery will release a sparkling Viognier in what it calls a pétillant naturel style. In 2021 the winery plans to release an ultra-premium sparkling wine made from grapes in its Langley vineyard. That wine will have spent five years en tirage.

“In the coming years,” Mary says, “we intend to continue this sparkling future and will be adding other bubbly to our Seven Stars universe.”

While the offerings of sparkling wines from Okanagan wineries is becoming crowded, that is only so among the lower price points – the wines surfing along on the Prosecco wave. Township 7 is positioning its sparklers along side Champagne. These are sophisticated wines that will compliment any special occasion.

The currant releases from Township 7 include a Syrah as well. A table wine, not a sparking Syrah (although we have seen several sparkling Syrahs from other Okanagan wineries). Who knows where Mary’s winemaking will take her?

Here are notes on the wines.

Township 7 Seven Stars Equinox 2015 ($48.97 for 2,166 bottles). This wine was made with organic Pinot Noir grapes from Sperling Vineyards in Kelowna. It was about 25 months on the lees. When it was disgorged, a small amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay table wines were added to give it even more complexity and flavour. In the glass, this is an elegant wine with a lovely pink hue and energetic bubbles. The aromas of strawberry and citrus mingle with a touch of brioche. The wine has a creamy attack and flavours of strawberry and apple. The finish is crisp and clean. 95.

Township 7 Seven Stars Polaris 2016 ($35.97 for 3,588 bottles). This is a Blanc de Blancs made from 100% Chardonnay. The wine spent about 18 months en tirage. This is also a sophisticated sparkling wine, beginning with aromas of citrus, Granny Smith apples and brioche which are echoed on the palate. There is a very active mousse which, again, gives the wine a creamy attack. However, the bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 92.

Township 7 Syrah 2016 ($35.97 for 298 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a Skaha Bench vineyard. The wine was aged 24 months in French and American oak (50% new). The rich fruit on the palate soaked up an amazing amount of oak; this is not over-oaked. The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, fig and vanilla. On the palate, there are the classic gamy flavours of the variety mingled with blackberry and black cherry. 92.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

CedarCreek navigates the 2018 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Taylor Whelan

Taylor Whelan, the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, had some timely help from Mother Nature in dealing with the 2018 vintage.

It shows in the crisp and clean 2018 wines just released by the winery.

The year began with above average growing degree days in the spring which triggered early budbreak. Just when it looked like the vines were motoring along to ripening prematurely, smoke from distant forest fires  screened a good deal of sunlight in August.

The impact was significant. The total growing degree days in August, 2019, were as low as the growing degree days in August, 2010, which was one of the coolest years in the Okanagan in several decades.

Ripening slowed down in August. Then the smoke lifted. The vines were bathed in sunlight through a long Indian Summer that brought the vintage to a perfect closure. The grapes came into the wineries with good acidity, thanks to the cool August, but with good ripeness and flavours, thanks to the long autumn.

The results are in the glass. Here are notes on five CedarCreek releases from 2018 and one from 2017. The score on the Riesling is a bit fudged because, as is so often the case with a young Riesling, the wine is still developing in the bottle.

CedarCreek Gewurztraminer 2018 ($18.99 for 1,276 cases). The wine opens up with aromas of pear and grapefruit mingled with herbs. A light touch of residual sugar rounds out the fleshy texture and the flavours of Asian pear. The herbal notes translate to a spicy and herbal finish. 9o.

CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2018 ($18.99 for 7,496 cases). There is a big mouthful of ripe fruit here. The wine begins with aromas of pear and apple. Those fruits are echoed on the generous palate. The finish lingers. 90.

CedarCreek Riesling 2018 ($18.99 for 1,615 cases). This wine has just 10% alcohol, reflecting the approach to Riesling taken by CedarCreek over recent vintages. The wine also has 20.6 grams of residual sugar and 10.7 grams of acid – a balance that gives the wine great ability to age. It begins with aromas of lime and lemon. On the palate, it shows intense flavours of grapefruit along with bracing acidity. Cellar this at least for a year. 90-92.

CedarCreek Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($18.99 for 870 cases). The wine is a delicate salmon pink, with aromas of strawberry and flavours of raspberry. The body is light but the wine has a lovely elegant finish. 90.

CedarCreek Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($18.99 for 872 cases). The wine is fermented 90% in stainless steel, 10% in concrete. Fermentation involves co-inoculations with two yeast strains intended to produce a zesty Sauvignon Blanc in the style of New Zealand’s Marlborough wines. The strategy was successful. The wine begins with aromas of lime and gooseberry mingled with herbal notes. These are all echoed on the palate, with good intensity. The finish is crisp and dry. 92.

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2017 ($18.99 for 1,391 cases). This wine was fermented with natural yeast in French oak barrels and foudres. A light note of vanilla and cloves greets the nose. The palate is rich, with flavours of citrus mingled with butter. 90.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Quails' Gate is 30, and expanding

Photo: Quails' Gate president Tony Stewart (courtesy Quails' Gate) 

This year is the 30th anniversary of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery.

The winery has come a long way from its start as a farmgate winery producing a few thousand cases. Today, Quails’ Gate flirts with producing 100,000 cases a year. The winery also is embarked on a major expansion on a 200-acre property in East Kelowna.

“The road from when we started to where we are today was a long one, with a lot of ground-breaking activities in the industry,” Quails’ Gate president Tony Stewart says. “There were only 14 wineries when we started.”  Today, there are more than 300 wineries in British Columbia.

Quails’ Gate is still very much the family winery that it was in 1989. The Stewart family came to the Okanagan from Ireland in 1906 and became leaders in agriculture.

“My dad [Richard] was a grape grower,” Tony says. “He started growing grapes in the 1960s. He also grew apples. He would sit around the dinner table and say, ‘We have to build our own packing house, so we could store apples and bring them to market at a different time and get a better price’. Then it would switch to, ‘Maybe we should have a winery.’ He would tell my brother, Ben, that he could make the wine.”

Tony had been working as an investment dealer. “I knew nothing about wine. But after working 10 years in vineyards, my brother was making homemade wine. With my dad’s encouragement, he started the winery.”

Ben [now a member of the B.C. Legislature] hired Elias Phiniotis, a trained winemaker, to ensure that Quails’ Gate got off on the right foot. Since 1994, when Australian Jeff Martin took over the cellar for five vintages, Quails’ Gate has almost always had winemakers from Australia or New Zealand, or trained there.

The current vice-president of winemaking is Susan Doyle, who was born in Tasmania. The resident winemaker is Ross Baker, a Canadian who has worked in New Zealand, and is a protégé of Nikki Callaway, the French-trained Canadian winemaker who ran the Quails’ Gate cellar for about six years before moving last year to Laughing Stock Vineyards.

Susan Doyle, who has spent most of her career since 2000 in California, is passionate about Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. At Quails’ Gate, she will oversee the development of the East Kelowna winery and the development of a serious sparkling wine portfolio.

The property in East Kelowna previously was operated as a plant nursery by another branch of the Stewart family. When that business closed, Tony and his siblings acquired it a few years ago. It is being planted with a large block of Pinot Noir and with the white varieties now grown on the estate vineyard on Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna. In the latter vineyard, some 26 acres of white varieties will be replaced almost entirely with red varieties.

The East Kelowna vineyard will be the largest in the area. “We have already planted 84 acres,” Tony says. “Another 30 is going in this year and another 15 next year. The final planted number will be around 165, 170 acres. The 40 acres that is suitable for Pinot Noir is still part of that slope that Tantalus is on.”

The new winery being planned for this property is expected to be ready to handle a vintage in 2022. That winery, which has yet to be named, will take some production pressure off the Quails’ Gate facility. “We will bring the capacity down at Quails’ Gate,” Tony says. “The quarters are very tight. We are crushing about 1,200 tons there now and we probably want to be about 700 tons.”

Here are notes on the current releases from Quails’ Gate. The wines were made by Nikki Callaway and Ross Baker.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2017 ($22.99 for 10,600 cases). The wine begins with aromas of citrus, baked apple, butter and vanilla. Those are echoed on the palate where subtle oak frames the lively fruit. 90.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2017 Stewart Family Reserve ($39.99 for 2,400 six packs). The wine presents with an attractive golden hue and aromas of orange and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is a rich vinous version of marmalade modified with buttery oak that supports luscious fruit. 93.

Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2017 ($ 44.99 for 685 six packs). The grapes are from two mature blocks at the estate vineyard. The wine was fermented and aged 11 months in French oak (a portion was new). The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit and toasted hazelnuts. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apples mingled with oak. Bright acidity gives the wine a fresh, bracing finish with a spine of minerals. This is a very complex Chardonnay that should be laid down to age in the manner of a fine Burgundy. 95.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2017 ($29.99 for 3,400 cases). You might call this the winery’s “fighting” Pinot, with a volume big enough for wide distribution. The wine begins with bright cherry notes in the aroma. On the palate, there is a medley of red berry flavours mingled with a hint of the French oak barrels in which it aged for 10 months. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($51.99 for 2,300 six-packs). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry. These red fruits are echoed on the palate along with notes of spice and an earthy undertone. The finish is savoury and long. 93.

Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2017 ($54.99 for 500 six packs). The fruit for this wine (clones 667, 117 and 115) come from the oldest vines in the Quails’ Gate estate vineyard. That likely accounts for the muscular intensity of this rich wine. It begins with aromas of spice and dark fruit leading to flavours of dark fruit mingled with savoury notes. Hints of forest floor add to the complexity. 93.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Foxtrot's new owners make the wines more accessible

 Photo: New Foxtrot owners Douglas Barzelay (l) and Nathan Todd

Just before Easter, the new owners of Foxtrot Vineyards are hosting a “retrospective” Vancouver tasting of the winery’s legendary Pinot Noirs.

This may be a first for a winery whose limited volumes usually have been on allocation to a lucky number of collectors and to high-end restaurants.

I can think of at least two reasons why this event – with invitations apparently limited to the trade – is happening.

Firstly, there are many good British Columbia Pinot Noirs being made than in 2004, when founder Torsten Allander launched this project. Noir. Foxtrot now competes with other first-rate producers, even if the Foxtrot quality easily holds its own.

Secondly, very few consumers and industry peers know who the new owners are and what their plans are. Both are impressive.

First, some background on the winery. Torsten, a retired pulp and paper engineer, came to wine growing in 2002 when he and his wife, Kicki (who died last year), retired to a 1.4-hectare (3.5-acre) property on Naramata Road planted entirely with Pinot Noir. Born in Sweden, he had come to Canada in 1973 for a career with NLK Associates Inc., a top pulp and paper consulting firm based in Vancouver and Montreal.

After selling the grapes for a few years, Torsten enlisted Lake Breeze Vineyards in 2004 on a three-year winemaking trial with his grapes. “I wanted to convince myself before I invested a lot of money in a winery that we can produce a top wine that can compete on a world level,” Torsten once told me.

The acclaim which the initial vintages received left no doubt about the quality of the Foxtrot Pinot Noirs. In 2008, Torsten and his winemaker son, Gustav, built a winery and cellar with the barrel capacity for 2,000 cases of wine. In 2012, Torsten bought an adjoining two hectares (five acres) of orchard, replacing the trees with Pinot Noir vines propagated from cuttings of Foxtrot’s clone 115 Pinot Noir.

Torsten sold this Naramata Bench winery last summer to Douglas Barzelay, a retired New York lawyer, and his partner, Nathan Todd, a former Calgarian who lives in New York.

Both are passionate fans of Burgundy wines. At a 2011 private dinner in Vancouver, a Foxtrot Pinot Noir 2006 was served to Barzelay and Todd along with several top Burgundies. It led them to explore the Okanagan, where after several visits, they bought an orchard next door to Foxtrot.  They asked Gustav Allander, Torsten’s son and the Foxtrot winemaker, to advise them on planting the vineyard, and then to make their wines. When they learned that Foxtrot was for sale, they bought the entire winery in 2018.

Barzelay is one of the world’s leading authorities on the wines of Burgundy. He is co-author (with journalist Allen D. Meadows) of a recently published book, Burgundy Vintages: A History from 1845. And he has tasted and made notes on nearly all of those vintages.

Barzelay was also an expert witness in 2013 trial of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. The case began five years earlier when Barzelay alerted a leading Burgundy producer to a Kurniawan wine auction catalogue listing wines that the New Yorker knew to be fake.  

One would think his is a difficult palate to impress. Clearly, the wines from Foxtrot have done so.

The partners have retained Gustav to make the wines. They dipped into their Burgundy connections to engage an eminent consultant, Véronique Drouhin, the head winemaker of the renowned Domaine Joseph Drouhin. “I learned a lot from her,” Gustav said after the 2018 vintage.

The 2.9-acre peach orchard initially purchased by Barzelay and Todd is being planted this spring. Half of the vines will be on their own roots and the other half will be grafted to rootstock to test Barzelay’s theory that own-rooted Pinot Noir might be better. The idea comes from his extensive experience at tasting Burgundy wines that were made before phylloxera forced vineyards to use rootstock.

“Doug’s book is the place to understand why he has this obsession with grafted vines as opposed to vines on their own roots,” Todd says. “Few people get to taste wines from ungrafted plants today. Doug will claim there is a definite textural difference. You can detect pre-phylloxera wines.”

The new owners will make it easier for consumers to get Foxtrot wines. For the first time since Foxtrot started selling its wines in 2007, the winery will open a tasting room on the Naramata Bench. Tastings will be appointment only.

Here are notes on current releases.

Foxtrot 2017 Chardonnay ($41). The fruit came from an Oliver vineyard with 30-year-old vines. This sophisticated wine, fermented in and aged in French oak barrels (30% new), has well-integrated flavours of citrus and green apple with very subtle oak. Bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing crispness. 91

Foxtrot 2016 The Waltz Pinot Noir ($44). A three-vineyard blend, this sensual wine begins with aromas of strawberry and raspberry leading to spicy notes mingled with cherry and strawberry. The texture is silky. 92.

Foxtrot 2016 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir ($54). This wine is made entirely with fruit from the estate vineyard. This seductively silky wine, which was aged 20 months in French oak (40% new), begins with intense aromas of cherry, strawberry and spice which continue on the rich palate with dark fruit flavours and spice. 95.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Aquilini Red Mountain wines are launched

Photo: Winery president Barry Olivier and marketing manager Samantha Stanway

The Aquilini family, better known as the owners of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, has just launched the first wines from Aquilini Red Mountain. That is their Washington State winery and it is destined to join the major leagues of wine producers.

The winery, which is soon to begin construction, is based on a 672-acre property in the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area), nor far from Walla Walla. Most of the property is planted, with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon comprising about 80% of the vines. The blocks are not contiguous but are grouped closely together.

The Aquilinis know what they are doing to make such a big bet on Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes,” says Samantha Stanway, the Aquilini director of marketing. “We find it is impervious to trends. We did a competitive analysis of the wines from all the neighbours there. All our favourite wines, and the style that the Aquilinis like to drink, were Cabernets … across the board.”

The neighbouring twelve wineries include such heavy hitters as Hedges Family Estate, Kiona Vineyards and Col Solare, the joint venture between the Antinori family from Italy and Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The winery project was launched when Francesco Aquilini asked Barry Olivier to help create a top-drawer winery. Barry was then president of a Vancouver wine agency called Liquid Arts Fine Wine and he had been guiding the wine purchases for Francesco’s personal cellar.

“They are big visionaries, so I joined the Aquilinis,” Barry says.

“Barry came on the 2010, right around the time of the Olympics, and they scoured the globe,” Samantha recounts. “They looked in Tuscany, in Australia, in the Okanagan, Napa, Sonoma. In 2013, Luigi Aquilini, Francesco’s father, found out about this land auction in Washington State at Red Mountain.”
The irrigation district had a parcel of raw land, with water rights, available for auction; and at least 4o different wineries showed an interest in what is acknowledged as superior terroir.

The Aquilini family saw the auction flyer on a Friday and moved fast. “By Monday, the Aquilinis were the biggest land owners in the AVA,” Samantha says. “They now own 30% of the AVA.”

“The Kennewick Irrigation District had this land and they had released it,” she continues. “It was such a rarity. Nothing had been planted on it before. The really special thing about it is that it came with rights to water.”

The project started by planting one-year-old vines in 2013. Since then about 600 acres have been planted, about 85% of the plantable acreage.  Cabernet Sauvignon makes up about 80% of the plantings. The other plantings include Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Even before their own vineyard was in production, the Aquilini family hired a top-flight winemaker to make wines with purchased Red Mountain fruit in the 2015 vintage.

“The Aquilinis are forward-thinking business people,” Samantha says, explaining the hurry to start making wines. “They don’t like you to sit there and twiddle your thumbs. You’ve got to be building something, getting some brand equity, getting some runway going. As a new producer, we are up against people who have had generations in the business. Every year that slips through our fingers is a year we don’t get back.”

The consulting winemaker is Philippe Melka. The Aquilini Red Mountain fact sheet says this about him: “Bordeaux-born, Melka apprenticed at Château Haut-Brion and Château Pétrus, then crossed the Atlantic to electrify the Napa Valley, working with icons like Quintessa, Bryant, Fairchild and Hundred Acre.”  The winery has a resident winemaker working under Melka’s direction.

The initial vintages are being made at a crush facility operated by the nearby Fidélitas Estate Winery. Construction is expected to begin this year on the Aquilini Red Mountain winery, sited in an abandoned quarry just right for a gravity-flow design.

“Fully scaled up, we want this to be a 10,000-case label, nothing more,” Samantha says. “We want to keep it very exclusive, made from the best grapes.”

Other labels also are under development to make use of the substantial production the vineyard will ultimately produce. A “second” label will be released later this year, made with 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The proposed label is Red MTN.

The limited volume of Aquilini Red Mountain in the debut vintages – starting at 500 cases – has been released initially in the Vancouver market. The wines are available in several leading private wine stores and are on top restaurant wine lists. The winery will  begin offering its products in the U.S. when it has more volume.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Aquilini Red Mountain Horse Heaven Hills Syrah Rosé 2017 ($23.49 for 300 cases). This crisp, dry rosé begins with aromas of raspberry and rhubarb which are echoed on the palate. 90.

Aquilini Red Mountain Family Blend 2015 ($29.99 for 350 cases). This is a blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Syrah, 28% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. This is an expressive and approachable wine, with the tannins polished by aging 28 months in new French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, cassis and vanilla. It is full on the palate, with flavours of black cherry mingled with spice and dark fruit. 92.

Aquilini Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($53.99 for 187 cases). This is a bold (15.8% alcohol) and concentrated wine, aged 28 months in new French oak. The fruit has soaked up the oak and carries the alcohol well. There is what the winery, correctly, calls “dark and brooding fruit” that includes black cherry and black currant. The finish is long, with notes of cedar, mushroom and spice. The wine is drinking well now but will age superbly. 94.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Rust Rosé 2018 in a magnum

 Photo: Magnum of Rust  rosé

The Rust Wine Co. has the answer for those who don’t get enough rosé from just a standard bottle.

Rust has just released its 2018 rosé in a magnum bottle (in other words, a two-bottle format). It is $34.99 a bottle and is available at

The special feature about this wine is that $5 from each sale goes to the B.C. Hospitality Foundation, supporting the BCHF’s charitable work within its industry. “We are proud to be part of the incredibly diverse hospitality industry that plays such an important role in this province,” says winery spokesman Jesse Harnden.

“We are grateful for the support we receive from the public,” says Dana Harris, the executive director of BCHF. “But support from within our own community is essential for us to deliver on our mission.”

That mission ranges from financial assistance to hospitality workers facing financial crises due to medical circumstances to scholarships for emerging talents in the hospitality industry.

Rust is a winery midway between Oliver and Osoyoos and operated for a number of years as Rustico. The vineyard at the winery is notable for its block of Old Vines Zinfandel. Those grapes were not used for the rosé, probably because a bottle of Zinfandel table wine commands a much better price than a rosé. Pink wine has become very popular – but not popular enough to get the big return that other table wine gets.

Through its sister winery, Mt. Boucherie, Rust has access to grapes from various other vineyards. This rosé was made with Merlot from the Lazy River Vineyard near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley.

This is a saignée rosé – in other words, some juice was drained (or bled) from a tank of crushed Merlot after the juice has spent 18 hours in contact with the skins. Consequently, this is not one of those fashionably wimpy rosés but a wine with enough colour to make a statement in the glass. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast.

Here is my note.

Rust Rosé 2018 ($34.99 for a magnum). The wine presents with hue of a red apple. There are aromas and flavours of orange zest and ripe strawberry with a hint of spice on the finish. The soft acidity gives the wine an easy quaffability. 89.