Thursday, October 31, 2019

Meyer Gewürztraminer and friends

 Photo: Meyer Family Vineyards owner JAK Meyer

Gewürztraminer is a wine that seems to be slowly falling out of favour, perhaps because too many in previous years were boring and sweet. Consumer palates have moved on.

It was a bit of a surprise, therefore, when a recent quartet of wines from Meyer Family Vineyards of Okanagan Falls included Gewürztraminer.

Meyer is well known as a producer of premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, the winery inherited a block of Gewürztraminer vines when JAK Meyer, the winery owner, purchased an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2008. Much of the vineyard has since been replanted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While some Gewürztraminer also was pulled out, JAK kept a block which, the winery says, was planted in 1994 with cuttings from Germany.

Hats off to JAK for that decision. Meyer now produces one of the Okanagan’s best Gewürztraminers. The wine is neither boring nor sweet. The downside is that Meyer made just 360 cases of it in the 2018 vintage, and the wine is now sold out. You may want to reserve some from the 2019 vintage.  The other three wines reviewed here still are available.

For some background on Meyer Family Vineyards, here is an except from my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.

The winery was launched by JAK Meyer and his partner, Janice Stevens-Meyer. It was a hobby initially. Born in Alberta in 1958, JAK had succeeded as an investment dealer and real-estate developer while becoming passionate about wine. 

With help from James Cluer, MW, then a Vancouver wine educator, JAK bought a 1.5-hectare (3.5-acre) Chardonnay vineyard that had been planted in 1994 on Old Main Road near Naramata. He engaged an architect to design a winery while arranging to have both the 2006 and 2007 vintages made by Michael Bartier, whose mastery of barrel-fermented Chardonnay is legendary.

“During blending [the 2006 Chardonnay],” recounts the notes on the vintage, “five French oak barrels stood out as being superior quality. Blended together, the five barrels created a truly special wine that demanded to be bottled on its own as a small batch or Micro Cuvée.” Ever since, the flagship Chardonnay from Meyer has always emerged from the best barrels, while also being a single-vineyard wine. Virtually all the Chardonnay from the Old Main Road vineyard is treated the same way: fermented in French oak and aged on the lees for seven or eight months before being bottled. Those barrels that do not rise to the Micro Cuvée standard are usually blended and bottled for the winery’s Tribute Series Chardonnay—also a fine wine that some collectors even prefer.

The winery was still something of a hobby, producing 600 cases of wine a year, when JAK began marketing the wines in February 2008. He discovered “how much work it is to sell the wine,” he recalls. “We realized that we will never make money at 600 cases. So we made the commitment to expand in the spring of 2008.” Before the year was over, JAK had taken over an uncompleted winery and vineyard in Okanagan Falls. The 6.5-hectare (16-acre) McLean Creek Road Vineyard, as it is called now, has been replanted largely with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Here are notes on the four recent releases.

Meyer McLean Creek Road Gewürztraminer 2018 ($15.75 for 360 cases). Behind this wine is detail-oriented winemaking. The first picking went into the press as whole bunches and was pressed gently. Subsequent picks were destemmed; the berries were slightly crushed and left 24 hours on the skins before being pressed. Both lots were combined for a long, cool ferment with wild yeast in both stainless steel and seasoned French oak barrels. The wine remained five months on fine lees. The wine begins with aromatic spicy aromas. It is full on the palate, with flavours of grapefruit and lychee.  The finish is dry with lingering spice. 91.   

Meyer Okanagan Valley Chardonnay 2018 ($17.49 for 1,600 cases). Think Chablis! This is a crisply refreshing and fruit forward Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of citrus leading to flavours of citrus, peach and apple. 91.

Meyer Stevens Block Chardonnay 2018 Old Main Road Vineyard ($24.45 for 350 cases). This wine comes from an acre of Chardonnay planted in 2006 with two French clones. Whole clusters were pressed gently, with the purest juice from initial pressing kept for this wine. A long cool fermentation with wild yeast lasted two months in stainless steel. The wine was aged six months on fine lees in older French oak. The result is an elegant wine with aromas and flavours of citrus, tangerine and peach. The finish is lingering. 93.

Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2018 ($22.71 for 2,600 cases). This is the winery’s entry level Pinot Noir, with fruit vineyards in Okanagan Falls, Southeast Kelowna, Naramata, Kaleden and Osoyoos. The grapes were pressed and left on the skins for a cold soak before fermenting with wild yeast. There was also a post-fermentation maceration before the wine was pressed into old French oak barrels for eight months. The wine begins with lively cherry aromas leading to cherry and raspberry on the palate. The wine is fresh and fruit forward. Even so, it will benefit from decanting. 90.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Amulet Wines: great package, great wines

Photo: Winemaker Dwight Sick

If the British Columbia wine industry handed out packaging awards, a sure winner would be Amulet Wines, a new label just released by winemaker Dwight Sick through Roche Wines of Penticton.

Each bottle is emblazoned with a simulated gold medallion surrounded by a crown of thorns and perched on the word, Amulet, in red. Since the glass is dark, both the medallion and the name of the brand stand out dramatically. This is a bottle that dominates the table.

The wines – a red and a white – are every bit as impactful as the package. These also are limited production wines made at the Roche winery and are being sold through the Roche website.

Dwight Sick, now the winemaker at Moraine Vineyards, began collaborating with Dylan and Pénélope Roche several years ago when Dwight still was the winemaker for Stag’s Hollow Winery.

“I am very excited about the release of Amulet as I have been visualizing and conceptualizing these wines for the past 15 years,” Dwight wrote in a covering letter with the samples.

Both wines are made with Rhone varieties – varieties comparatively rare in the Okanagan. This sets the wines apart from the mainstream, but in a positive way. These are not weird natural wines but wines with solid palate appeal that anyone would welcome to the table.

The weird bit comes, perhaps, in how the arresting label design is explained.

“The medallion on our Amulet bottles is a replica recast of the original hand-struck Gold Angel coin from the Elizabethan era,” the winery writes. “First appearing in 1470, the coin depicts St. Michael slaying an evil dragon. Rumoured to be Shakespeare’s preferred method of payment for his services, the gold coin was also frequently worn as an Amulet to ward off evil and bring good luck to those in its possession.”

Dwight continues: “This concept of good vs evil plays well with the style of our Rhone-inspired wines as, we believe, in order to be good, we sometimes must be a little bit evil.”

That should start a good theological debate over a glass or two of these wines. Here are notes on the wines.

Amulet White 2018 ($26.79 for 163 cases). This is a blend of 90% Viognier and 10% Marsanne. The grapes were whole clustered pressed. The juice underwent a long, cool ferment in French oak (14% new, 28% second fill and 58% neutral) and was then aged six months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit, honey and spice, leading to flavours of nectarine and apricot mingled with hints of oak. The texture is rich and the finish is dry. I would recommend decanting this wine to let it open fully in the glass. 91.

Amulet Red 2018 ($35.71 for 123 cases). This is 46% Grenache (from a Penticton vineyard), 28% Syrah and 26% Mourvedre (from vineyards on West Bench Osoyoos). Whole berries were left to cold-soak for five days. Then half of the most lignified Grenache stems were added and fermentation began with indigenous yeast. After 20 days, the wine went into French oak barrels (20% new, 80% neutral) and left there for seven months. The wine was also bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine begins with appealing aromas of black cherry, fig and spice. On the palate, there are robust flavours of black cherry, plum, black licorice, pepper and sage. The finish lingers. This wine also benefits with decanting. 93.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tasting wines with Severine Pinte

Photo: Severine Pinte, winemaker at Le Vieux Pin and LaStella

As a winemaker, Severine Pinte is like a jockey who rides several horses on the same day and delivers wins with all of them.

She makes the wines at sister wineries in the Okanagan. Le Vieux Pin near Oliver is focussed on Rhône varieties while La Stella near Osoyoos specializes in Merlot accented with Sangiovese in the manner of producers of Super Tuscan wines. The two wineries have the capacity to produce 20,000 cases of wine annually; and the wines are all exceptional.

“When people ask if I am ever going to go back to France, I say, no, I am happy here,” she told me in a 2018 interview. “The owners have given me the opportunity to grow. I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to build something like this in France.”

She was already a seasoned winemaker when she joined these two Okanagan wineries in 2010. She has a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from Ecole National Superior Agronomic in Montpellier, one of France’s leading wine schools. She got her first taste of British Columbia in the late 1990s as assistant winemaker at Domaine de Chaberton in Langley. She returned to France to work at a winery in Languedoc for nine years before coming back to the Okanagan.

Here, her ability is recognized by her peers. At least one major winery has tried to hire Severine for a Pinot Noir project.

“I would prefer to keep on making Syrah,” she told me. “I just love the aromas of Syrah and the way it evolves. And I like my wines to be a little bit structured. It is only possible because of all the work we do in the vineyard, making sure every plant is balanced.”

A major reason for the quality of her wines is that she gets very well-grown grapes both from the winery-owned vineyards and from the contracted growers.

“It was an education process [with growers],” she says. “When I first came in 2010, some growers said, ‘You are French, you are a woman. What are you going to tell us to do?’ I said nothing; we will just look at what you are growing. Then you will taste the wine and you will see for yourself whether your grapes are doing great stuff or not.”

In November, 2011, she hosted the growers to a tasting. “I brought in all the growers I buy from. We did a comprehensive tasting of all the terroirs and wines. And they saw what the grapes were bringing. I said, here the yield was a little higher and the wine lacks concentration; but here, it is perfect. So they saw the reason why we were asking them to do certain things in the vineyard. They all came on board. I have kept the same growers in the nine years that I have been here. We are hand in hand now and it works well.”

She now has well-equipped wineries in which to make the wines. When Enotecca Winery & Resorts, the owner, first built the two wineries, Le Vieux Pin has a 5,000-case capacity and LaStella was slightly smaller. A few years ago, Severine persuaded her owners to more than double Le Vieux Pin and to add state of the art equipment. She now has concrete vessels and large oak vats as well as more than 300 barrels (many of the red wines are aged in oak for about 18 months).

Here are notes on current and future releases from the two wineries.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018 ($29.99 for 1,713 cases). This is 51% Roussanne, 36% Viognier and 13% Marsanne. The wine begins with floral aromas that lead to flavours of nectarine and cantaloupe. The texture is fleshy and the finish is long. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Chardonnay 2018 ($N/A for 106 cases). The model for this wine is Meursault, a white Burgundy that the winemaker admires. The wine has citrus and apple aromas and flavours and almost imperceptible oak. It dances freshly on the palate. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Vaïla 2018 Rosé ($24.99 for 1,277 cases). Made from Pinot Noir, the wine has a pale hue in the style of a Provence rosé.  There are appealing aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry, with a crisp dry finish. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2017 ($44.99 for 378 cases). Firm in texture, the wine has aromas and flavours of pepper, plums and dark fruit and leather with a hint of the oak from been aged 18 months in French oak (24.5% new). 92.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2016 ($89.99 for 292 cases). This wine was aged in French oak barrels and puncheons (58% new). Full-bodied and rich on the palate, it begins with aromas of violets, spice, black cherry and plum. It presents complex flavours of blackberries, black cherries mingled with pepper. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2017 ($89.99 for 202 cases). This has not yet been released. This was aged 18 months in French oak. It is a full-bodied red, with aromas and flavours of deli meats, dark berries and a touch of pepper. 90-93.

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2016 ($69.99 for 250 cases). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and dark fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry with a lingering finish of sage and fruit. The blend is 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Syrah. The blend is inspired by an old Bordeaux practice, no longer permitted, of touching up a red wine with a dollop of Syrah. Happily, it is permitted in the Okanagan. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2017 (Not released yet; 200 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Syrah, and 12.5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is a concentrated red with brambly aromas and flavours mingled with blackberry and black cherry. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Merlot 2014 ($89.99 for 173 cases). This is a firm, concentrated wine, with aromas and flavours of black currant mingled with minerals. This is a wine with a long life ahead of it. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Merlot 2017 ($89.99 for 13o cases). Again, this is a wine with great concentration. It begins with aromas of black currant. On the palate, there are notes of cassis, plum, fig and spice. 93.

LaStella Vivace 2018 ($22.99). This a Pinot Grigio. The wine begins with aromas of citrus leading to flavours of citrus, apple and melon. The wine is vibrant and refreshing. 91.

LaStella Lastellina 2018 ($22.99 for 864 cases).  The wine is 66% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 4% Sangiovese. It begins with a lovely rose petal hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and watermelon. A modest amount of residual sugar gives it a fleshy texture; the finish, however, is dry. 91

LaStella Fortissimo 2017 ($30.99). The wine is 60% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 9% Sangiovese.  Full on the palate, the wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, blackberry and plum with a spicy finish. 92.

LaStella Espressivo 2017 ($49.99 for 390 cases). This is the winery’s other Tuscan blend, with more Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Merlot and Sangiovese. The velvety tannins give the wine almost a juicy texture, with aromas and flavours of cassis, cherry and blackberry. 93.

LaStella Allegretto 2017 ($59.99). This is 100% Merlot. The colour is almost black, signalling the dense and concentrated structure that was typical of the vintage. There are layers and layers of dark fruit on the palate. 93.

LaStella Maestoso 2017 ($89.90). This is also 100% Merlot, with fruit from the LaStella vineyard and from the Golden Mile. The wine is bold, plush and ripe, with aromas and flavours of cassis and black cherry and plum, with vanilla mingled on the palate. 93.

LaStella La Sophia 2016 ($100). This wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,  is an incredible powerhouse, with very concentrated flavours and texture. It was aged in barrel for 31 months simply to tame the wine. There are flavours of black currant, dark chocolate, fig, prune and licorice.  96.

LaStella La Sophia 2017 ($100). This is another stunning and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, beginning with aromas of cassis and iodine. On the palate, there are rich flavours of black currant, plum and black licorice. The finish goes on and on! 95.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mt. Boucherie opens wine experience centre soon

Photo: Mt. Boucherie winemaker Jeff Hundertmark

Better late than never: perhaps that is what they are saying at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery as they prepare to open their wine experience centre just as the 2019 wine touring season draws to a close.

“The new building is 15,000 square feet,” says Jesse Harnden, the general manager. “We are doing a restaurant and a wine experience centre -- something that shows off our wine a little better than the cabin that has been there for the last 20 years or so.”

Ground was broken on the new tasting room in the summer of 2018 and it was scheduled to take two years to complete it. Such was the complexity of the construction that the builders slightly overshot the targeted completion date. However, this $10 million building should attract visitors from day one. The quality of the wines should assure repeat visits.

Mt. Boucherie has had its ups and downs since it was opened in 2001 by the three Gidda brothers, Sarwan, Nirmal and Kaldeep. A few years later, Sarwan left the partnership to start Volcanic Hills Estate Winery just down the hill from Mt. Boucherie. Then in 2014, a rift between Nirmal and Kaldeep plunged the winery into receivership.

The receiver kept the winery running, soliciting bids for it in 2015. The successful bidder, a group headed by Vancouver businessman Sonny Huang, took over Mt. Boucherie on March 30, 2016. The management team he installed at the winery has been busy every since: rejuvenating the 200 acres of vineyards and acquiring new winery equipment and barrels.

In February this year, Jeff Hundertmark took over as chief winemaker from Jim Faulkner, Mt. Boucherie’s long-time winemaker. He and Jim had already been working together after Jeff was recruited in 2018 as winemaker at Rust Wine Co., a sister winery near Oliver. Most of Rust’s 2018 wines were made at the Mt. Boucherie winery.

Born in Saskatoon, Jeff came to winemaking after a long career in restaurants. “I became a sommelier in the mid-1990s,” he told me last year. “I was a sommelier at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. I became the restaurant manager and they said, with that, comes the cellar. I had to learn very quick how to identify all the different labels we had.”

He worked at other restaurants and, for three years, ran his own. “I fell in love with the whole aspect of wine, wine growing, winemaking,” Jeff told me. “I decided in my 40s it was time to go back to school and learn to be a winemaker. I was tired of wearing suits and ties.”

He started his winemaking career in 2007 in Niagara, first at Marynissen Winery and then at Stoney Ridge Estate Winery. He was attracted to the Okanagan after accompanying the Ontario Grape King on a tour of the valley. “For eight years, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out here.” He found a harvest job in the Okanagan in 2017 and then took over at Rust in early 2018

(After he moved to Mt. Boucherie, Rust recruited Ryan DeWitte, another former Niagara winemaker.)

Earlier this year, Mt. Boucherie also hired a new vineyard manager, Brett Thiessen, who came from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. He is charged with converting Mt. Boucherie to organic viticulture.

“We plan to move to more organic, more sustainable viticulture,” Jesse Harnden says. “The way the vineyards were treated over the last few decades is something we thought need to be upgraded a little. He has eliminated herbicides this year.”

Mt. Boucherie’s extensive vineyards in both the Okanagan and the Similkameen give its winemakers a lot of options. Operating a restaurant will provide an outlet for market testing of small lot wines.

“Because we have so much vineyard and different macroclimates within those vineyards, we could do different style wines and just see which works the best,” Jeff says.

Here are notes of some of Mt. Boucherie’s current releases.

Mt. Boucherie Sémillon 2017 ($17.99). This is a crisp but full-textured wine with citrus and green apple aromas and flavours.  

Mt. Boucherie Sémillon 2018 (N/A). This barrel-fermented wine likely is one of the small lots for the restaurant. The hint of spicy new oak adds complexity to the citrus aromas and flavours. 92.

Mt. Boucherie Pinot Gris 2018 ($19.99). This wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The texture is surprisingly rich. The wine delivers aromas and flavours of pear and citrus. 91.

Mt. Boucherie Gewürztraminer 2018 ($17.99). Spicy on the nose, this wine delivers flavours of ginger and lychee. The finish is dry. 90.

Mt. Boucherie Rosé 2018 ($21.99). The fruit in this wine is mostly Zweigelt, a variety that – at least in B.C. – makes some of the best rosé wines. With 22 hours of skin contact, the wine has an attractive rose petal hue. The floral aromas lead to flavours of strawberry. The texture is juicy, with good acidity to give the wine a dry finish. 91.

Mt. Boucherie Chardonnay Reserve 2017 ($29.99). This wine was barrel-fermented and aged 12 months in French oak (30% new). It has aromas of marmalade mingled with bacon fat. On the palate, the wine is rich with buttery citrus flavours. 92.

Mt. Boucherie Blaufränkisch 2017 ($27.99). Mt. Boucherie is one of the few Okanagan wineries to make a red from a grape that, like Zweigelt, is a stalwart of Austrian wines. The wine has a cult following among Mt. Boucherie’s fans. The wine begins with smoky and spicy aromas leading to flavours that mingle black cherry, cranberry and smoked meat. 91.

Mt. Boucherie Pinot Noir 2017 ($24.99). This is an easy-drinking red, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The fruit for this wine is from a Mt. Boucherie vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. Under the new ownership, the winery has also planted about 10 acres of Pinot Noir near Okanagan Falls. 90.

Mt. Boucherie Merlot 2017 ($24.99). This is a juicy with aromas of black cherry, plum and spice. The palate delivers almost jammy flavours of black cherry and black currant. 91.

Mt. Boucherie Merlot Reserve 2017 ($34.99). The fruit for this wine is mostly from the Similkameen. The wine has an appealing touch of mint on the nose leading to flavours of black cherry, blackberry and blueberry. It is rich and concentrated on the palate. 93.

Mt. Boucherie Syrah 2016 ($44.99).  This is a sensual Syrah, with aromas of delicatessen spices. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry and fig. Long ripe tannins give the wine a full texture. 93.

Mt. Boucherie Summit 2016 ($54.99). This is a blend of 51% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 3% Syrah. The fruit is from one Similkameen vineyard, one on the Golden Mile Bench and one near Okanagan Falls. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak (35% new). It begins with aromas of black currants and vanilla. On the palate there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, cedar and chocolate. 94.

Mt. Boucherie Contessa 2015 ($88.88). This limited release wine is a blend of 39% Merlot, 31% Syrah, 18% Zinfandel and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged 25 months in French oak (40% new). This ultra-premium blend gets brambly aromas and flavours from the Zinfandel, a firm backbone from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and a medley of dark fruits from all of the varieties. 92.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

One Faith Vineyards raises its profile

 Photo: One Faith proprietor Bill Lui

When Bill Lui started One Faith Vineyards in the 2012 vintage, he set a very high bar. “First-growth wines are what all my friends are used to,” he said. “I hope I can be a first growth of the Okanagan in time.”

Even though One Faith began releasing its wine in 2014, the winery’s profile has not been very high. That is being corrected. Bill has begun participating in the Vancouver International Wine Festival. He is also going to have a table at the 2020 festival. As well, he has engaged an agent in order to get the word out.

Samples of One Faith’s current releases arrived recently. Other than the perplexing pricing strategy - $20 whites vs reds at $50 and $150 – the wines are solid. Bill has the ship pointed the right way.

Bill entered the wine business by purchasing premium grapes from the Black Sage vineyard formerly owned by Harry McWatters and now owned by Phantom Creek Winery.  Anne Vawter, a distinguished consulting winemaker from Napa, made the first four vintages for One Faith. After she left, Bill turned to other consultants, including Pascal Madevon, the initial winemaker at Osoyoos Larose.

Bill also took courses in winemaking and viticulture to help manage the 10-acre vineyard that One Faith bought in 2016 on Black Sage Road where, in time, he will open a winery and tasting room.

One Faith is a significant career change for Bill. He was born in Hong Kong in 1959 and grew up in Canada. After getting a degree in environmental science from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, he returned to Asia to work in merchant banking and manufacturing. In China, he managed a company that made medical instruments. After taking it public and selling his interest, he retired to Vancouver, in part to be with his school-aged children and to look after aging parents. And, with time on his hands, he decided to become an Okanagan wine grower.

One Faith’s vineyard is planted primarily with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, along with small blocks of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Other fruit is also purchased from Black Sage growers. Bill’s target is to produce about 2,000 cases of premium wine annually.

His model is Bordeaux and its classified growth wines. The whites are made with the two major Bordeaux whites. Grand Vin, the flagship blend, is priced accordingly. In the fashion of the leading Bordeaux estates, One Faith also releases an excellent but lower-priced second label, called Certitude. Nor does the winery miss a chance to add to its portfolio when it has a few barrels of well-made wine that does not fit into its blends, such as the 2016 Malbec/Petit Verdot blend that was released last year.

Here are notes on the current releases.

One Faith Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2018 ($19.99). The wine begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. It explodes on the palate with flavours of guava, lime and gooseberry. Herbal notes linger on the dry finish. This is an elegant fruit-driven wine, exquisitely balanced. 92.

One Faith Blanc 2018 ($21.99). This wine is 79% Sémillon, 21% Sauvignon Blanc. It was fermented and aged in French oak (30% new) but the oak is very subtle. The wine has good texture, with aromas and flavours of melon, nectarine and apple mingled with vanilla. 91

One Faith Rosé 2016 ($19.99). This wine is crisply dry and light-bodied, with aromas and flavours of strawberry. The texture is generous but the flavours have begun to fade. 88.

One Faith Rosé 2018 ($19.99). A rosé with a robust hue, this is an unusual (for a rosé) blend of Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre. The wine begins with aromas of spicy cherries and plums that are echoed in the robust flavours. The wine is full-bodied for a dry rosé. 90.

One Faith Certitude 2016 ($49.99). This is 45% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 1% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine, which was aged 16 months in new French oak, begins with a dramatic cassis aroma that simply bounds from the glass. The palate is rich in fruit flavours – black cherry, black currant and blackberry. The tannins are long and supple. 92.

One Faith Certitude 2017 ($49.99). This wine is primarily a Cabernet Merlot blend. It was aged in French oak for 18 months. It begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and blueberry, leading to flavours of black cherry mingled with blackberry and raspberry. There is a hint of oak and spice on the finish. The tannins are long and firm. 92.

One Faith Grand Vin 2014 ($150 for 66 cases). This wine displays the classic concentration of the legendary 2014 vintage. The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. The wine was fermented and aged in new French oak barrels. Deep in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum, fig and black cherry. The palate is dense and earthy, with flavours of black currant and fig mingled with well-integrated oak. Decanting is recommended for this wine. 93.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fitzpatrick winery champions bubble

Photo: Gordon Fitzpatrick

Those who attended the Pinot Noir festival at UBC Okanagan this summer were greeted at the entrance by Gordon Fitzpatrick and glasses of sparkling wine from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards.

This Peachland winery, which only began making sparkling wine in 2012, has quickly established itself as one of the Okanagan’s leading producers of bubble. The winery confidently prices its reserve bubble to compete with Champagne.

For some background on the winery, here is an except from my newest book on Okanagan wineries, which will be released next spring.

The visitor experience at this winery, where about 100,000 bottles of sparkling wine are maturing in vaulted underground cellars, is meant to be “luxury at play.” The president Gordon Fitzpatrick or winemaker Sarah Baine often gives personal tours and tastings. The resort-like winery has a bistro and a patio where visitors relax with a glass of wine while taking in views of the vineyard or Okanagan Lake.

This is the second winery established here by the Fitzpatrick family. Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, Gordon’s father, purchased this lakeside property south of Peachland in 1994. Formerly a renowned orchard called Greata Ranch, it was redeveloped as a 16.2-hectare (40-acre) vineyard to supply the senator’s CedarCreek Estate Winery across the lake. From 2003 until 2014, the Fitzpatricks also opened Greata Ranch Vineyards winery here. The sale of CedarCreek in 2014 led them to focus entirely on Greata Ranch.

“We had always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon, who had also been CedarCreek’s president. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek, and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was. They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

The vineyard is a cool site planted to varieties well suited for the sparkling wines. The Greata Ranch winery was closed for three years to develop a new 8,000-case winery and to age an inventory of traditional bottle-aged sparkling wines. Gordon had begun the preparations in 2012 when he asked Darryl Brooker, then CedarCreek’s winemaker, to make the 380 cases of sparkling wine with which the new winery opened in 2017.

“It is not just a wine brand,” Gordon says. “I want to create a little bit of a lifestyle brand as well. That is why there is emphasis on what we are going to be doing on site, and the restaurant and the food, and the way we present. I want to see if we can cross over and create what I call luxury at play.”

Here are notes on some current releases.

Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2018 ($19.50 for 644 cases). Ehrenfelser is a variety that the Fitzpatrick family first championed at CedarCreek with fruit from the legendary Mannhardt Vineyard. The winery continues to get fruit from that vineyard as well as from its own estate. The wine was fermented cool in stainless steel. It begins with appealing aromas of peaches and nectarines; those fruits are echoed on the palate and accented with bright acidity. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Lookout Riesling 2018 ($18.50 for 431 cases). The numbers – 18 grams of residual sugar – suggest this would be a sweet wine. Instead, because the sugar is balanced well with bracing acidity, the wine is crisp and refreshing. It begins with aromas of citrus. It is bright and lively on the palate with flavours of Granny Smith apples and lemon. With just 10.5% alcohol, the wine dances lightly on the palate. 91.

Fitzpatrick Big Leap Chardonnay 2017 ($24.50 for 274 cases). This wine was fermented with wild yeast in a French oak barrel, and also aged 10 months in French oak (25% new). The use of oak is subtle and does not mask the remarkable purity of the fruit flavours. The wine begins with aromas of citrus, apple and a hint of butterscotch. This is echoed on the palate. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Elusive Pinot Noir 2017 ($24.50 for 248 cases). The grapes – clones 667 and 115 – are from a single block in the Greata Ranch vineyard. A quarter of the grapes went to ferment as whole clusters. Fermentation was with wild yeast. The wine was aged in French oak (20% new). Subtle use of oak means the wine has retained fresh, fruity aromas of cherries and strawberries with a touch of spice on the finish. The texture is silky. 90.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2015 ($42.50). This is a sophisticated sparkling Chardonnay, aged about 36 months on the lees. Crisp, dry and focussed, it has aromas of citrus and flavours of green apple mingled with brioche. The mineral backbone supports the crispness and the enduring finish. 93.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Reserve Blanc de Noir 2015 ($42.50). This is a very elegant sparkling Pinot Noir. It begins with aromas of apples leading to flavours of citrus along with biscuit and nutty notes from the 36 months the wine aged on the lees. The texture is creamy and satisfying. 93.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hester Creek's The Judge and friends

 Photo: Hester Creek's Curt Garland

Hester Creek’s Bordeaux blend, a wine called The Judge, was the wine I included in my 2017 book, Icon.

The purpose of that book was to highlight wines suitable for a collector’s cellar. I have held The Judge in high regard since its first vintage in 2007. Since the book was published, Hester Creek has thrown me a curve by releasing a second wine, called Garland, every bit as collectible as The Judge. Take your pick!

Here is an excerpt from the book that provides the back story to The Judge:

The Judge was born from winemaker Rob Summers’s determination to make an estate blend. Before joining Hester Creek in 2006, he had spent the better part of two decades making single varietals in the Niagara region for Andrew Peller Ltd. “I said, ‘We can do better, more complex wines if we do a blend,’” Rob argued. “But I was the varietal winemaker, and you don’t have a lot of choice when you are at a large winery.”

Hester Creek, with its old vines, gave him the opportunity to make estate blends. “As an estate, you have to have your iconic wine,” Rob believes. “Just because you have to have one.” A prototype blend for the Judge, made in the 2006 vintage, was never released because, in Rob’s judgment, more vineyard improvements were needed. Under the new ownership of businessman Curt Garland, Hester Creek was still recovering from its 2004 bankruptcy.

The 28-hectare (70-acre) Hester Creek vineyard dates from 1968, when Italian immigrant Joe Busnardo planted vinifera grapes exclusively. The so-called “Italian Merlot” he planted is now part of another of the winery’s red blends. Subsequent owners added French clones of the Bordeaux red varieties to the vineyard after Joe sold the winery in 1996.

Rob had recognized this as one of the best vineyards in the South Okanagan when he visited the Valley in 2002 as Peller’s national winemaker. By 2007, significant upgrades in the vineyard and the winery enabled Rob to make the first vintage of the Judge. It remains a blend of almost equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

The Judge is notable for its rich flavours and silky tannins. This reflects both the old vines and the winemaking technology in Hester Creek’s new winery, built in 2010. The winery’s Italian-made Ganimede fermenters extract flavour but not hard tannins by stirring the crushed skins with recirculated fermentation gas rather than with mechanical devices. “It is a very thorough mixing, but it is also very gentle,” Rob explains.

The Judge is crafted from select blocks of vines that are 15 or more years old. The winery’s award-winning Cabernet Franc and Merlot reserve wines come from the same blocks, but the best barrels are set aside for the Judge. The three varietals in the Judge age separately in barrels (75% French, 25% American) for 12 to 14 months before being blended and aged together for another year. For consistency of flavour and style, up to 15 percent of the previous vintage is added to each blend.

“I am trying to make a fairly big-style red that is approachable and yet complex enough to be interesting,” Rob says. “The fruit concentration and ripeness we get is pretty exciting.”

Late this summer, the winery released four wines including The Judge 2016. Because I have had my hands full completing another book on Okanagan wineries, I have been slower than usual to review new releases. The publisher now has the manuscript and I have time to catch up on the reviews.

The late summer releases also included the second vintage of Garland, a Bordeaux blend named for the winery’s owner. This wine is anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon and arguably is even a better wine for long term cellaring. The winery recommends aging either Garland or The Judge up to 10 years. I think Garland has the longer legs.

Here are notes on the wines.

Hester Creek Chardonnay 2018 Golden Mile Bench ($21.99 for 800 cases). The winery fermented 34% of this in French oak barrels (20% new) and fermented the rest in stainless steel. The wine was aged eight months in barrel. The oak is subtle and well-handled. The wine begins with aromas of citrus mingled with spice. On the palate, there are flavours of mandarin orange mingled with butter and vanilla. The texture on the palate is rich. 91.

Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 ($25.99 for 1,100 cases). This is 84% Syrah and 16% Viognier, co-fermented. The wine was aged 14 months in barrel (60% American, 40% French). It is a classic Okanagan Syrah, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, delicatessen meats and a touch of white pepper. Long ripe tannins gives the wine a fleshy texture. 91.

Hester Creek The Judge 2016 Golden Mile Bench ($43.99). The blend is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 24 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). The wine begins with complex aromas of cherry, plum and sage. The palate is rich and ripe, with flavours of black cherry, cassis, mocha and vanilla. The finish is very long. 94.

Hester Creek Garland 2016 Golden Mile Bench ($55.99 for 350 cases). The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% Merlot, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 5.5% Malbec, 3.5% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 18 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). The wine begins with aromas of blackberry mingled with cedar and leather. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry and blackberry. The polished tannins give the wine an elegant texture as well as the ability to develop well in the cellar. 95.