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.

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