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.

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