Sunday, August 25, 2019

Lariana Cellars now boasts a wine club

Photo: Lariana's Carol and Dan Scott

Lariana Cellars, a boutique winery in Osoyoos, has started a wine club.

That may not strike you as earth-shattering news because almost every winery in British Columbia now operates its own wine club.

The significance of this wine club is that Lariana does not make much wine but it is all exceptional. Fans of this winery have had to be fast on their feet to get the wines on release. Belonging to the wine club moves them to the front of the line.

To be sure, this is not a winery with a high profile. Owners Dan and Carol Scott opened the winery in 2013 on a vineyard planted in 2007.

The winery is located on the American/Canadian border just east of the customs and immigration buildings at the Osoyoos border crossing. Visitors need to be alert lest they get into the lineup for the United States rather than making a left toward a vineyard. The winery is a few hundred yards further on.

The Scotts have lived in Osoyoos since 1989 when they moved there to take over a campground Carol’s parents had established two decades earlier. The recreational vehicle sites, which they still operate, occupy the lakeside half of the 10-acre property. The vineyard, which replaced apple and cherry trees in 2007, occupies the top half.

Planting vines was Carol’s passion. Her father, Larry Franklin, had been a major investor in a vineyard on Black Sage Road where Carol spent several summers.  “It was kind of a dream to plant grapes,” she says. “I finally convinced Dan and we cleared the land. It was a new tractor that convinced him.” 

They planted Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. When the hard winters of 2008 and 2009 mortally damaged the Syrah, that variety was replaced with 2,500 Carménère vines. Now, they purchase Syrah for Lariana’s red blend.

The Scotts produce less than 1,200 cases a year in a plain Jane winery with a modest tasting room (appointments recommended). They invested instead in top flight equipment, including the California-made concrete egg in which Carol and Lariana’s consulting winemaker Senka Tennant make Lariana’s exceptional Viognier.  Count me among those who believe this is simply the best Okanagan Viognier.

The winery’s flagship red, usually anchored with the vineyard’s ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, changes its name every year because the wine is named simply for the vintage. The first release was Twelve; succeeded by Thirteen and so on. Adding ten to the name should give you the year when the wine is peaking.

Lariana is about to release the Sixteen as well as the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. Here are notes on these and on wines released earlier this summer.

Lariana Viognier 2018 ($25.90 for 393 cases). This wine was fermented 75% in concrete, with the remainder fermented in a French oak barrel and in stainless steel. It is wonderfully floral on the nose, with notes of honeysuckle and tangerines. The palate is rich with bright acidity and flavours of apricots, peaches. The finish is persistent. 93.

Lariana Carménère 2016 ($49.90). This Bordeaux red varietal, produced just by a handful of Okanagan wineries, is already sold out. The wine has the classic aromas of pepper, black cherry and plums. These are echoed on the palate with a hint of raspberry enlivening the palate. The tannins are ripe, giving the wine a polished texture. 93.

Lariana Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($49.90 for 196 cases). This wine is about to be released. It begins with generous aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, layers of black cherries and black currant mingle with spice and chocolate. I scored this 93 when I tasted it from the barrel a year ago. The time in bottle since then has made the wine even better. 95.

Lariana Fifteen ($44.90 for 565 cases). The blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 17% Carménère. Already released, this is a bold, even voluptuous, red. It begins with aromas of black cherry and plum, leading to flavours of black cherry, fig, blackberry and chocolate. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (35% new) and shows lovely polished tannins. 94.

Lariana Sixteen ($44.90 for 491 cases). Soon to be released, this is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah and 9% Carménère. The wine was aged 17 months in French oak (35% new). The wine begins with a hint of cedar on the nose, along with aromas of plum and black licorice. On the palate, the wine is richly layered, with flavours of plum, fig, spice, chocolate and leather. 94.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kitsch Wines releases in 2019

Photo: Kitsch winemaker Grant Biggs

Trent and Ria Kitsch, who opened this winery in 2016, clearly know how to run successful businesses.

The capital for Kitsch Wines was generated by selling the SAXX brand of men’s briefs. They had launched that brand in 2006 and grew it to the point where a major distributor took it over.

This year, they acquired property which will enable them to double the Kitsch vineyard. The capital for that came from the sale of a cannabis company which, like SAXX, was nurtured to the point where a bigger player took it over.

Meanwhile, the winery, located in northeast Kelowna, is just barreling along. Production in the 2018 vintage exceeded 5,000 cases. That volume supports a full-time winemaker, a viticulturist and a marketing team, along with the two female Mexicans in the vineyard.

There is no secret to the success. Grant Biggs, the winemaker, gets well-grown fruit and turns it into very good wine. I have been impressed with every Kitsch vintage so far.

Grant was born in 1983 in Port Alberni. “My grandfather, I think, is the reason by I pursued a career in wine,” Grant says, referring to Italian-born Elio Navé. “He used to order grapes from California – Zinfandel and Muscat – and we would make wine in the basement together when I was growing up.” His interest in wine grew when he worked in Victoria restaurants, before becoming a cellar worker in the Okanagan, first at Mr. Boucherie Vineyards and then at Tantalus Vineyards. He came to Kitsch in 2015, armed with training from the University of California and a touch for making crisply refreshing wine.

The first time I interviewed Trent and Ria, I found the story of a winery financed by men’s briefs so entertaining that I usually repeated it when I was recommending the wines. When I recommended Kitsch to the food and beverage manager of a major Kelowna hotel, he laughed and showed me the waist band of his briefs. He was wearing SAXX. And he also added Kitsch wines to the hotel’s very good wine list.

I have now met many males who swear by SAXX. Given the volume the winery achieved in just three years, there are also consumers who swear by Kitsch wines.

Here are notes on recent releases.

Kitsch Block Party 2018 ($21 for 481 cases). This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris and 5% Pinot Noir.  The grapes were co-fermented. This is a delightfully bright and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of apples and peaches. 91.

Kitsch Pinot Gris 2018 ($22 for 481 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and was taken off the gross lees quickly in order to preserve a prickly freshness. It is a fruit basket of aroma and flavour, with a dry, crisp finish. 92.

Kitsch Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($N/A for 478 cases). The grapes for this pretty wine were crushed by foot, a time-honored way of delicate treatment of Pinot Noir. The wine appeals with aromas and flavours of strawberry. 91.

Kitsch Esther’s Block Riesling 2018 ($25). This wine is balanced toward a dry finish. A light petrol aroma mingles with citrus notes. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon and lime with a backbone of minerality. This wine will cellar well. 92.

Kitsch Maria’s Block Riesling 2018 ($25). This wine, with 16.5 grams of residual sugar, is balanced to off-dry. The residual sweetness lifts the tropical fruit aromas and flavours and supports a lingering, juicy finish. 92.

A footnote on those vineyard names. Esther is Trent’s mother and Maria is Ria’s name (and a name used by other members of the Kitsch family). The blocks are given individual designations because the soils and aspects are quite different. As a result, the wines are distinctive.

Kitsch Chardonnay 2017 ($24). This wine was fermented in stainless steel, not allowed to undergo malolactic ferment, and aged six months in neutral oak. The wine is fresh with aromas and flavours of apples and pears. 91.

Kitsch 7 Barrel Chardonnay 2017 ($35 for 169 cases). This is a lush barrel-fermented wine (fermented with wild yeast). It was aged 10 months in French oak barrels (69% new). It begins with aromas of orange, ripe apple and vanilla. On the palate, the fruit shows pineapple and marmalade notes. 93.

Kitsch Pinot Noir 2017 ($N/A for 312 cases). This may also be sold out. It is a pretty wine with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry and with a silken finish. 91.

Kitsch 5 Barrel Pinot Noir 2017 ($69 for 123 cases). The wine was made entirely with free-run juice and was fermented with natural yeast. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of spice and cherry. On the palate, the texture is fleshy with dark fruits. Soft, ripe tannins give the wine a velvet finish. 93.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

CedarCreek wines are the bees' knees

Photo: CedarCreek winemaker Taylor Whelan 

This summer’s media release from CedarCreek Estate Winery consists of six exceptional wines.

The winery has designated them all as “Platinum” – the winery’s term for its reserve wines. It is not a designation that CedarCreek uses idly, but keeps just for its best wines.

Always a strong producer, CedarCreek has become even better since it was acquired in 2013 by Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estates. Among other changes, the CedarCreek vineyards are transitioning to organic practices (as are all the vineyards owned by von Mandl).

One of those practices involved introducing bees to the winery’s Home Block Vineyard – with a startling result in the 2016 vintage. Winemaker Taylor Whelan takes up the story:

“Grape vines are self-pollinating, but bees help with the promotion of wild flowers, beneficial plants (such as crimson clover and mustard), and beneficial insects. The bees happily worked our site over the summer. I had kept bees in an amateur capacity in the past and was thrilled to now have around a million of the little ladies working for us.

“But there was a side benefit that we didn’t expect. As our harvest dates for Pinot Noir approached, we were hit with a lot of rain. This can be devastating in a Pinot vineyard as the delicate skins can split, resulting in infection and reduced quality. And splitting did happen across our Pinot blocks – 2 and 4 included.”

Then Taylor and his viticulturist, Kurt Simcic, noticed something that Taylor had never seen.

“Our fruit was absolutely covered in honey bees – hundreds of thousands of them – and they were methodically cleaning the fruit which had split, removing the sweet grape juice from the skins. For them it was a quick sugar hit, but for us it was life-saving as it greatly reduced the chance we would have a botrytis infection and be forced to pick early.

“Ultimately, the bees’ hard work gave us at least another seven days on the vine without disease pressure and allowed us to wild ferment the wines without concern for fruit health.”

Indeed, the 2016 Pinot Noirs are as good as any I have tasted from CedarCreek.

The winery is far along in becoming organic. The transition will be complete with the 2019 harvest. Taylor promises to deliver CedarCreek’s first organic wines next year.

Here are notes on the current releases.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Ehrenfelser Block 9 ($29.99 for 268 cases). Fruit salad in a glass is the phrase that comes to mind with this wine. CedarCreek has always taken pains to produce it in that style. Most of the wine was fermented in stainless steel but 11% was fermented in neutral oak and spent four months on the lees. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and mandarin orange. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit flavours including nectarine, peach and orange. A touch of residual sugar broadens the texture. The finish just won’t quit. 92.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Border Vista Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99 for 429 cases). Fifty per cent of this wine was fermented in stainless steel. To give the wine more texture and length, 40% was fermented in foudre and 10% in concrete. The wine begins with aromas of lime, peaches and herbs. On the palate, the lime and lemon mingle with herbal notes. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

CedarCreek 2017 Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 ($34.99 for 412 cases). This is an elegant and complex Chardonnay. It was fermented with wild yeast in French oak and aged 10 months on the lees in barrel. However, the oak is very subtle. The wine shows great fruit purity, with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and nectarine. 93.

CedarCreek 2018 Platinum Pinot Noir Rosé Block 1 ($29.99 for 759 cases). CedarCreek dedicated all of Block 1 Pinot Noir for rosé. There were two picks: an early one to get the herbaceous notes, along with grapefruit and watermelon; and a second pick to get strawberry from the riper fruit. The wine is fashionable pale, the fruit having spent just an hour on the skins before being pressed. The wine has delicate aromas of strawberry and watermelon, leading to delicate flavours of grapefruit and strawberry. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.  

CedarCreek 2016 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 ($54.99). The wine begins with almost floral aromas of spice and cherries. It is full on the palate, with savoury and juicy flavours of cherry and plum mingled with spice. 93.

CedarCreek 2016 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 4 ($54.99). Fruit from 21-year-old vines accounts for the rich depth of flavour in this wine. The grapes were fermented with natural yeast. Aromas of plum and cherry are echoed on the palate. There is dark, earthy fruit on the lingering finish. 93.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Harry McWatters Remembered

Photo: Harry McWatters

For the celebration of the life of Harry McWatters on August 9, I was asked for some remarks on his incredible career in wine. This is a copy of what I said. It was an honour to do this.

Harry McWatters should be remembered as a man who was always looking beyond the horizon.

He joined Casabello Wines in 1968 when there were just five or six wineries in British Columbia – and one of those, the original Mission Hill – was sliding into bankruptcy. It was hardly an auspicious time to start a career in wine. But Harry had a vision and he made it happen, dramatically. Someone who had crossed swords with him once said to me that Harry wanted to squash the small wineries. If that was indeed so, it was one of his few failures. Today, there are about 350 wineries in British Columbia and many others under development.

There were numerous ways in which Harry helped make that happen.

The wine industry began to emerge when government allowed estate wineries in 1978. I suspect that Harry had a hand in structuring the estate winery policy because he always had good political connections. You get very little done in the wine industry if the politicians are not on side. Harry understood that and provided critical political leadership to the industry.

Sumac Ridge was one of the earliest estate wineries. The winery was the platform for many of Harry’s innovations in the industry, one of which was Steller’s Jay, the first British Columbia sparkling wine made in much the same way that Champagne is made. Harry loved sparkling wine more than any other wine. He said that was what he drank while deciding what wine to have with dinner. Always a great showman, Harry learned how to saber a bottle of bubbly and did it often. It certainly helped popularize sparkling wine. Today, it is a rare winery that does not make bubble.

Harry was an early proponent of vinifera grapes. Sumac Ridge had to use hybrid grapes for its first wines because very little other fruit was available. But Sumac Ridge never planted a single hybrid. And in 1993, after most of the hybrids were pulled out, Sumac Ridge planted about 100 acres of vinifera, mostly Bordeaux reds, on Black Sage Road. At the time, it was the largest single block of Bordeaux reds in British Columbia and it proved to be a huge success. This was an example of Harry seeing over the horizon.

Another example: Harry was a founding chair of the British Columbia Wine Institute in 1990. This was not the first wine industry association in British Columbia. At least two previous associations had fallen apart. If the third had also collapsed, I am not sure we would have much of a wine industry. The Wine Institute succeeded because Harry recruited top-flight staff.

Harry also was the founding proponent for the VQA program. It made Harry a controversial figure in the industry. A number of producers refused to join VQA, either because they refused to pay the fees or, as one producer said to me, the VQA standards were too low. I agreed with him, but that was not the point. Before VQA there were no British Columbia wine standards of consequence that consumers could trust. The credibility that British Columbia wines have today started with VQA.

VQA was just one of the actions Harry did t0 promote British Columbia wines. In the early 1980s, he helped launch the annual fall wine festival. You might recall that it was originally named Septober before it became the Okanagan Wine Festival. The festival achieved two things. It attracted consumers to visit the wineries. And the medals award in competition raised the profile and the sales of the wines.

Harry seldom missed a chance to raise the profile of British Columbia as a winegrowing region. For example, he was instrumental in getting the Society of Wine Educators annual conference to come to Vancouver in 1986 for the first time.

He was a partner in getting private wine store licenses that allowed several early estate wineries get their wines to market well before there were VQA stores. His partners were Gray Monk, Gehringer Brothers and Divino. The relationship that Harry had with Joe Busnardo, Divino’s founder, tells me that Harry could get along with anyone. Joe could be ornery. Harry once told me that “if you were swimming down the river, you know Joe would be swimming up. And if the river changed directions, so would Joe.” Yet Harry respected Joe because, like Sumac Ridge, Divino planted only vinifera grapes.

Harry was looking over the horizon when he talked the Meritage Association in California into letting not just Sumac Ridge but other Canadian wineries to use the Meritage term. It meant we stopped called our Bordeaux blends Medoc or Graves. Long before that practice became illegal, Harry recognized that Canadian wine would never be taken seriously if the wineries continued to use European place names.

Harry was looking over the horizon when he helped others get started. For example, he helped Gwen and Corey Coleman gain experience by working in his wineries before they opened Township 7 in 2004. At the time, Corey said to me: “I don’t know who else you could think of to be a better tutor than Harry as far as marketing and sales go. He’s the king.”

There is a long list of wineries that have used Harry as a consultant, including Fort Berens Estate Winery at Lillooet. That winery has transformed Lillooet and added an important new wine growing region in British Columbia. Rolf de Bruin, the co-founder of Fort Berens, says that Harry encouraged they consider Lillooet when Rolf and his wife found Okanagan land just too expensive. “I never really figured out how Harry discovered Lillooet, but he did tell me once that he had a long history with the area” Rolf told me. That was likely because Sumac Ridge’s first Chardonnays were made with grapes from the Bill Drinkwater’s Basque Vineyards near Ashcroft. Unfortunately, a brutal mid-November freeze killed most of the vines. Harry also encouraged Pat Bell, the Minister of Agriculture to support the subsequent grape-growing trials in Lillooet that proved grape-growing is viable there.

I don’t know what other marketing advice Fort Berens took from Harry – but the winery does produce a Meritage.

Contrary to what some have said, Harry did not take credit for everything. At his instigation, the Wine Festival Society launched the Founders Award. This was perhaps the only award that Harry did not get. Previous winners usually are asked to nominate candidates. I tried to nominate Harry once. He was quick to decline because of the apparent conflict of interest.
To be sure, Harry at times was ahead of his time.

Two examples: Pinnacle was the first $50 table wine from an Okanagan winery. Sumac Ridge put the first blend together in 1997 and released it in 2000. When I noticed three vintages gathering dust on the shelf of my local VQA store, I asked Harry how Pinnacle was doing. Well, he said, it has reduced the price resistance for Sumac Ridge’s $25 Meritage. Consumers decided that two bottles of Meritage were a better deal than one bottle of Pinnacle. Ultimately, Constellation Brands discontinued Pinnacle table wine – just in time to watch the competitors roll out one $50 wine after another.

The other example was Valley Wine Merchants, which Harry opened in Vancouver in 1989 with a shop called Winery On Broadway. It offered bulk wines to pubs and restaurants in stainless steel containers; it also let consumers bring in their own containers and fill them with wine. The business closed in 1991. Twenty years later Vancouver Urban Winery re-introduced bulk wine for restaurants in steel containers. This time, the restaurants bought in.

When you look as far over the horizon as Harry did, you will be taken in by the occasional mirage. It did not happen very often with Harry, however.

Finally, many of Harry’s peers commented on his ability to get around the myriad of regulations whenever they threatened to hold back the wine industry. When Sumac Ridge was founded, wineries were not allowed to operate restaurants. Harry cleverly established Sumac Ridge on an operating golf course. The club house put Sumac Ridge wines on its list and remained open for both golfers and visitors to the winery. Five or six years later, wineries finally were allowed to serve food.

Harry had a favourite saying about dealing with inconvenient regulations. I expect he used it when he presented himself at the Pearly Gates: “Forgiveness is easier than permission.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mission Hill releases Ben Bryant's first Okanagan wines

Photo: Mission Hill Chief Winemaker Ben Bryant

The 2018 Okanagan vintage was the first in Canada for Australian-born Ben Bryant, who had joined Mission Hill Family Estates that summer as chief winemaker.

Judging from the 2018 wines among the current releases, he did not put a foot wrong. In fact, the result of the recent National Wine Awards indicate how well the winery is performing. Mission Hill was named the winery of the year.

The wines reviewed here include wines from earlier vintages made by Darryl Brooker, the former chief winemaker and now Mission Hill’s president.

These are all premium wines. The reserve wines are limited production wines from estate fruit. The Terroir Collection wines are made with the top three per cent of hand-selected fruit from the estate vineyards.

These are only part of Mission Hill’s extensive portfolio. Anthony von Mandl, Mission Hill’s owner, manages about 1,000 acres of Okanagan vineyard through a company called Sebastian Farms. His winemaking team gets to work with a large selection of well-grown fruit.

Ben Bryant was already a senior winemaker in Australia when Darryl recruited him, after wooing him for nearly a year. He clinched the recruitment by flying Ben and his family to the Okanagan in the winter of 2017.

“In my career, I have been fortunate enough to make wine in some of the most stunning regions across the globe,” Ben wrote this summer. “But when my wife and I first visited the Okanagan Valley, we were immediately swept off our feet. Even under blankets of snow, I could tell that this was a very special place within the world of wine.”

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

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

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

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

This summer, Ben wrote: “Having now completed my first vintage here, I can honestly say that I am excited to be here as the Chief Winemaker at Mission Hill in this valley that has so much potential.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2018 ($21.99). The wine begins with a hint of spice and pear in the aroma. That carries through to the palate, which also delivers favours of peach and citrus. The finish is crisply dry, with a suggestion on anise on the lingering finish. 92.

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($21.99). The wine begins with aromas of lime and gooseberry. On the palate, herbal notes mingle with lime, gooseberry and tropical fruits. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 92.

Mission Hill Reserve White Meritage 2018 ($21.99). This is a crisp, refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lime mingled with hints of stone fruit. 91.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon 2018 ($30).  This is 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon aged in a combination of French oak barrels and stainless steel. On the nose, herbal notes mingle with grapefruit. The bright palate offers a medley of lime and grapefruit, with a mineral backbone focussing the flavours. This is a dry, complex wine with a persistent finish. 93.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($45). This wine was aged 16 months, 90% in French oak and 10% in clay. It begins with aromas of citrus mingled with butter and vanilla. It delivers flavours mandarin accented with bright citrus and spicy oak. The finish is quite persistent. 92.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Bluebird Passage Viognier 2018 ($30). This is a delicious Viognier, beginning with aromas of stone fruit and continuing to flavours peaches and apricots. The wine is at once bright and rich, with a touch of almonds on the persistent finish. 93.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection John Simes Vineyard Riesling 2018 ($30). Classic for a young dry Riesling, this wine is still developing in the bottle. It has aromas and flavours of citrus mingled with notes of the lees. Give this time to let the fruit emerge and take the austere edge off the dry finish. 90-92.

Mission Hill Reserve Rosé 2018 ($21.99). Fashionably pale in the glass, this crisp, dry rosé has aromas and flavours of watermelon, strawberry and raspberry. 90.

Mission Hill Brigadier’s Bluff Terroir Collection Rosé 2018. ($30). This is 73% Merlot, 16% Syrah and 11% Cabernet Franc. The eye of the partridge hue in the glass is appealing. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and watermelon. The texture is mouth-filling while the finish is crisp. 91.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($27.99). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherries and blueberry jam. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of cherry and strawberry mingled with subtle oak spice. The texture is full and the rich flavours persist on the finish. 91.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($36.99). Ripe and full-bodied, this wine begins with aromas of black currant and black cherry. On the palate, the black currant and cherry flavours mingle with chocolate. 92.

Mission Hill Reserve Meritage 2017 ($26.99). This wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, flavours of dark fruit mingle with spice and oak. Long ripe tannins give the wine a fullness in the mouth and a lingering finish. 92.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

C.C. Jentsch Small Lots are a big deal

Photo: Chris Jentsch

C.C. Jentsch Cellars is hard to miss. It is located in a refurbished packing house beside Highway 97, more or less midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. And there is a large parking lot.

It is worth stopping in. The wines in its Small Lots Series, while priced aggressively, are among the most interesting in the Okanagan. Those currently on offer are from the 2015 and 2016 vintages when the wines were made by Amber Pratt and by Matt Dumayne, the senior winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad. He was called on when Amber went on maternity leave (she has since moved on to Moraine Vineyards).

Here is an except on C.C. Jentsch from my forthcoming edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

On a Sunday afternoon in June, 2010, the Testalinden Creek mud slide, triggered when an old dam broke, roared down the mountain. It destroyed Chris and Betty Jentsch’s home and sent Betty and her daughter running for their lives. (Chris was not home.) But the slide missed the nearby Jentsch packing house, a modern building just beside the highway. That bit of good fortune enabled Chris to turn it into a winery in 2013.

A self-described entrepreneur, Chris, who was born in Kelowna in 1963, is a third-generation Okanagan fruit grower. He became an independent apple grower in the 1980s. He built his first packing house in 1989 and rebuilt it after fire destroyed it in 1991. When apple prices collapsed in the mid 1990s, he converted his orchards to cherries. “We were in a golden time for cherry exports, with a 63 cent Canadian dollar,” Chris recalls. “Cherries were getting air freighted to Taiwan.”

In 1999, Chris planted his first vineyard, a 7.6 hectare (19-acre) on the Golden Mile, just south of the Tinhorn Creek winery. He sold it five years later to go to a much larger project – replacing his cherry trees with vines after overplanting led to a cherry surplus.  “That was hard because we were ripping out highly productive cherry blocks that were picture perfect,” Chris says.

In his usual style, Chris jumped in with both feet. Between 2005 and 2008, he planted 65,246 vines on a superb 19.4-hectare (48-acre) plateau on the Golden Mile. Once the vines produced, he sold grapes to several wineries, including Andrew Peller Ltd. He operated this vineyard for his own winery and his clients until 2018, when he sold it to Phantom Creek Estate Winery. He continues to farm three smaller vineyards in the south Okanagan.

The first C.C. Jentsch vintage was made in 2012 at Okanagan Crush Pad. Chris opened his winery with 300 cases of Viognier, 120 cases of Gewürztraminer, 550 cases of Syrah and about 900 cases of a Meritage blend called The Chase. The winery’s reputation is based on its Syrah, its Meritage and an array of small lot wines.

Here are notes on current releases from the winery.

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Blanc de Noirs 2018 ($22.90 for 189 cases). This is a Merlot rosé. Twenty-four hours of skin contact has given this a deep rose petal hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry jam, followed with flavours of strawberry and cherry. A touch of residual sugar gives the wine a creamy texture. 90.

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2016 ($31.90 for 817 cases). This wine was aged 16 months in French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of deli meats, leather, smoke, pepper and plums, all of which are echoed on the rich figgy palate. 91.

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Merlot 2015 ($35.90 for 224 cases). This wine was barrel-aged for 17 months in French and American oak. It is a big, ripe wine typical of the vintage, with aromas of black cherry and mocha which are echoed on the palate. 90.

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Malbec 2016 ($49.90 for 157 cases). This wine was aged 13 months in Hungarian and American oak barrels. It begins with the classic floral aromas of the variety, along with black cherry and vanilla. There is more rich cherry on the palate. 92.

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Cabernet Franc 2015 ($49.90 for 222 cases). This wine, which was aged 16 months in French and American oak, reflects the vintage, with 15.1% alcohol carried well by the brambly aromas and flavours. Spice, black cherry and chocolate mingle with blackberry and raspberry. 92.

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($49.90 for 205 cases). The wine begins with aromas of black cherries, cassis and spice. The fruit flavours and the texture are bold: flavours of cassis, cherry, blackberry mingled with chocolate and coffee. The wine has long ripe tannins. The finish lingers. 93.