Monday, December 28, 2020

Intrigue Wines debuts its first reserve wine

Photo: Roger Wong Lake Country’s Intrigue Wines opened in 2009, making a name as a producer of reliably made affordable wines. The surprise among the current releases is the winery’s first reserve wine, a $45 red Bordeaux blend. Had the wine been available a few years ago, I would have included Intrigue in my 2017 book, Icon. This is definitely a wine that can be collected for cellar aging. I have no idea why Roger Wong, one of the founders of Intrigue, waited until 2018 to make this wine. He has been making a comparable Red Meritage since the 2009 vintage at Gray Monk Winery where he made wine with nurturing Intrigue. In 2018, he was winding up his employment at Gray Monk. At the same time, he and his partners were undertaking a major expansion at Intrigue. The Reserve Red is notable also because, like the Gray Monk Meritage, the grapes all were sourced in the South Okanagan. Many of the other Intrigue wines are produced from fruit grown in the North Okanagan where the vineyards rarely grow varieties needed for big reds. Here are notes on the wines. The sparkling wines are also released in 200 ml splits, just right for one person.
Intrigue Social Bubbly 2019 ($20 for 2,000 cases). The blend is 31.2% Pinot Gris, 23.9% Pinot Blanc, 20.5% Gewürztraminer, 11.9% Kerner, 8.4% Chardonnay, and 4.2% Ehrenfelser. This is an off-dry frizzante style wine. Its active mousse creates a creamy texture on the palate. The wine is fruity, with aromas and flavours of apples and peaches. It is balanced to finish crisply. 90. Intrigue Social Bubbly 2019 ($7 for 2,280 cases of 200 ml bottles). This is similar to the previous wine.
Intrigue I Do 2019 ($20 for 2,537 cases). This frizzante wine is made with 52% Riesling, 29% Gewürztraminer, 15% Merlot, 2% Pinot Gris, 1.7% Kerner, and 0.6% Ehrenfelser. The wine has a delicate rose petal hue and aromas of strawberry and raspberry echoed on the palate. The bubbles give the wine a creamy texture. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 89. Intrigue I Do 2019 Bubbly ($7 for 2,280 cases of 200 ml bottles). This is similar to the previous wine.
Intrigue Social White 2019 ($15 for 5,605 cases). This is blend of 60% Riesling, 35% Gewürztraminer, 3% Muscat Canelli, 1.1% Kerner, 0.5% Chardonnay and 0.4% Ehrenfelser. The aromatics are appealing, with notes of a bowl of tropical fruits on the nose and palate. The underlying spice lingers on the finish. The wine is balanced to finish crisply. This is very good value. 88.
Intrigue Chardonnay 2018 ($17). This may be sold out, to be succeeded by the 2019 vintage. This is a fruit-forward Chardonnay, with only a portion fermented in French oak. The hint of oak adds complexity and mingles with notes of pear, apple and citrus. 88.
Intrigue Social Rosé 2019 ($17 for 3,776 cases). The blend is 37% Riesling, 25% Pinot Gris, 15.4% Gewürztraminer, 12.2% Merlot, 8.2% Rotberger, 2% Pinot Noir, and 0.2% Malbec. Light rose-hued, the wine begins with aromas of strawberry jam. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit flavours including Honeycrisp apple and raspberry. It is balanced to dryness. 88.
Intrigue Reserve Red 2018 ($45 for 430 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 8% Syrah and 5% Merlot, all sourced around Oliver. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak. This is the first reserve wine from Intrigue. It begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and licorice which are echoed on the intense flavour palate. Like any collectible young red, this wine benefits from decanting. 92.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Quails' Gate champions Foch

Photo: Ferdinand Foch Both the late Harry McWatters and Gray Monk Winery founder George Heiss disparaged the Maréchal Foch grape variety by saying it has not been exported from France: it has been deported. That does an injustice to the variety, judging by the quality of Foch wines made every year at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. The Stewart family claims to have been the first to plant Foch in the Okanagan. Some history is in order. Eugene Kuhlmann, a plant breeder in Alsace, created Maréchal Foch in the 1911 at the Colmar research station. This was at a time when the French plant breeders were crossing vinifera with North American species in a search for varieties that could withstand the phylloxera and the oidium mould threatening Europe’s vineyards. When the variety was commercialized in 1921, it was name to honour Maréchal Ferdinand Foch who had been a leading general in the French army during World War 1, ending the war as Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces. Many of these hybrids were imported by Ontario and New York vineyards either before or just after World War II because they were more disease resistant than vinifera and made better wine than the old labrusca varieties. Most of the hybrids were pulled out after the 1988 vintage. They were judged of insufficient quality to make wines of international standard compared with vinifera grapes. As well, growers had learned how to nurture vinifera successfully. The late Richard Stewart, whose family now operate Quails’ Gate, planted Foch in 1969 on the vineyard near Westbank. For some reason, it was not pulled out in 1988 – a good thing, as it turns out. Stewart also planted Pinot Noir in 1975. It was one of the first Pinot Noir plantings in Canada. It eventually set Quails’ Gate on the road to becoming one of the country’s leading Pinot Noir producers, with at least eight clones in the vineyard. As a wine, Pinot Noir is the polar opposite to Maréchal Foch. To get back to Foch, Quails’ Gate in 1994 hired a new winemaker, Jeff Stewart, from Australia (now the owner of La Frenz Winery on Naramata Road). He brought a Shiraz-maker’s mentality to the Foch and, in the 1994 vintage, made a dense and concentrated red that the winery released as Old Vines Foch. It became a cult wine and has never lost that following. The dramatically improved quality of the wine compared with virtually every Foch that preceded it had much to do with how the grapes were grown. Left to its own devices, the Foch vine (and other red hybrids) will produce easily ten tons of grapes an acre. That was why most Okanagan red table wines in the 1980s were thin and light. However, when the yield is reduced to something sensible, perhaps four tons an acre, the resulting wines have weight and flavour. The Quails’ Gate advantage with Foch is a combination of good viticulture and mature vines, which limit yields naturally. The winery’s Old Vines Foch Reserve is made with grapes from those 1969 plantings. Its Old Vines Foch is made with grapes from 30 plus-year-old vines in an Osoyoos vineyard that also escaped being pulled out. Here are notes on the wines.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2018 ($25.99). This wine was aged in oak barrels for 19 months after fermentation in stainless steel, with nine days skin contact. The colour is quite dark. On the nose, there are aromas of spice and plums: think of a figgy pudding! The palate is generous, showing flavours of cherry and plum. 90.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2018 ($46.99). This wine was an astonishing 19 days on the skins during fermentation – astonishing because the grapes are dark, with red flesh. This wine, which is quite dark in colour, was aged for 20 months in American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, vanilla and black olives. Those are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of coffee and dark fruits. There is a touch of oak on the lingering finish. 92.
Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2017 ($26.99 for 375 ml). Dark in colour, this wine seems a cross between a ruby port and a tawny port. It begins with rich aromas of fig, plum and dark fruit, which is echoed on the palate. The texture is generous and warming and the finish lingers. 90

Friday, December 18, 2020

Noble Ridge offers free shipping

Photo: Leslie and Jim D'Andrea of Noble Ridge On its website, Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery, based near Okanagan Falls, currently offers free shipping to major centres for orders of as few as six bottles at a time. It is, of course, not the only winery offering deals on shipping wine to online purchasers. Many wineries began doing it in the spring when, due to the pandemic, winery visits were not allowed. When the restrictions were relaxed in June, some producers discontinued free shipping. Late this fall, I have noticed some resuming this incentive to its customers, as some restrictions again have been imposed on visiting wineries. I single out Noble Ridge’s free shipping because it applies to three recent releases that are already quite affordably priced. In a note accompanying the release of the wines. Noble Ridge’s chief executive, Leslie D’Andrea, writes: “We believe that wine, when consumed responsibly, can offer great relief and aid in these crazy times.” She adds that the winery “a surprising but encouragingly busy summer and fall season. Our guests came out in force, spending time enjoying Noble Ridge wine in our picnic and outdoor tasting areas with their family and friends.” Many Okanagan and Similkameen wineries were surprised at the success of summer and fall wine visits and sales, considering the three months of restrictions they weathered. And they are all anticipating a more normal 2021. Here are notes on the good value wines from Noble Ridge.
Noble Ridge Stony Knoll Chardonnay 2019 ($22.99 for 626 cases). The wine was fermented 94% in stainless steel tanks and 6 in one-year-old barrels. A fruit-forward Chardonnay, it begins with apple, pear and citrus. The palate delivers flavours of apple and pear framed with good minerality. The finish is crisp. 91.
Noble Ridge Reserve Pinot Grigio 2019 ($19.99 for 807 cases). The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented cool in stainless steel. The wine has aromas and flavours of apples, pears and melon. The bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing vibrancy. The finish lingers. 91.
Noble Ridge Meritage 2018 ($21.99 for 1,165 cases). The blend is 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were fermented after a three-day cold soak. The wine was aged 12 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American, and 20% new). The aromas of black cherries, currants and raspberries are echoed on the palate. There are hints of cedar and chocolate as well. 91.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Fort Berens does Lillooet proud

Photo: Fort Berens winery at Lillooet Fort Berens Estate Winery was included the first time in the Okanagan Wine Tour Guide that Luke Whittall and I released this spring. The winery, of course, is in Lillooet, at least a three-hour drive from the Okanagan. The reason for adding the winery to the guide is that wine touring has long since expanded beyond the Okanagan. During the first five edition, the Tour Guide gradually expanded to include all wineries in the British Columbia interior. The drive to Lillooet, whether from Kamloops or from Whistler, is a great scenic road trip. The reward at the end of the drive is a winery with very good wines and with excellent food services. Here is an excerpt on Fort Berens from the Tour Guide. I have taken to reproducing excerpts because the book was released in later April when, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no one was touring wineries or looking for a thorough wine touring guide. With a flair for history, Dutch immigrants Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek named their winery after an 1859 Hudson’s Bay Company trading post that was never completed. In contrast, their $7.5-million winery, completed in 2014, anchors one of British Columbia’s newest wine regions. Trained in economics and finance at the University of Groningen, the couple left high-powered careers in the Netherlands to become wine growers. “One of the primary reasons why we chose to start a vineyard was that we could not foresee ourselves working in a corporate environment and having kids,” Rolf says. They arrived in the Okanagan in 2008 with two young children. They found the cost of Okanagan-vineyard land prohibitive. On the advice of viticulturist Richard Cleave, they leased property at the edge of Lillooet and planted 8 hectares (20 acres) of vines in 2009. The vineyard was not entirely a shot in the dark. BC Electric Company planted grapes in the late 1960s on its experimental farm near Lillooet, managed by Robert Roshard. In 2005 his daughter, Christ’l Roshard, then Lillooet’s mayor, planted a small test plot of vines to kick-start economic diversification. Two years later, the provincial government and the BC Grapegrowers’ Association launched a multiyear viticultural trial at five vineyards near Lillooet. With the encouraging results from this project, Rolf and Heleen undertook a large-scale planting of vinifera. When that succeeded, they doubled the vineyard in 2018 and 2019. Fort Berens bottled wine from the 2007 and 2008 vintages they had purchased—the owners needed something to sell when the winery opened—and sourced grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen while waiting for their vineyard to produce. Lillooet has proven well suited for grapes. The growing season is as hot, if not hotter, than Osoyoos. The wide diurnal swings between hot days and cool nights result in full-flavoured grapes with good acidity. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling and even Cabernet Sauvignon and Grüner Veltliner are successful here. With its excellent wines and its restaurant, Fort Berens is giving Lillooet the economic lift that Christ’l Roshard was seeking in 2005. Four other vineyards and a second winery have since been established in the Lillooet region. A two-hour drive north of Whistler, Lillooet (population 2,300), dramatically sited beside the Fraser River, no longer is too remote for wine touring. Here are notes on the current releases.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2019 ($20.99 for 663 cases). Seventy-five percent of this wine was fermented in stainless steel; the rest in French oak barrels. The wine was barrel-aged for seven months. The result is an appealing fruit-forward Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of apples, pears and pineapples. The oak portion adds a touch of butter to the flavour palate. The finish is crisp and fresh. 90.
Fort Berens White Gold 2018 ($29.99 for 248 cases). This is a reserve Chardonnay from a special block on the winery’s Lillooet vineyard. The wine was fermented in French oak barrels, primarily with natural yeast. It begins with aromas of vanilla. Butter and stone fruit. On the palate, the wine is rich and creamy, with flavours of ripe apples and peaches mingled with subtle notes of oak. 92.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2018 ($28.99 for 904 cases). Half the grapes were fermented as whole clusters to promote carbonic maceration. The result is a wine with bright, expressive fruit aromas and flavours – aromas and flavours of raspberry, cherry and blackberry. Light chilling accentuates the vibrant fruit. The finish is long. 91.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 247 cases). The fruit was fermented with wild yeast and the wine was aged 14 months in barrel. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum, blackberry and cherry. With good intensity on the palate, the wine delivers layered flavours of cherry, blackberry and black currant. The finish is persistent. 93. Fort Berens Meritage 2018 ($27.99 for 2,159 cases). This is a blend of 68% Merlot, 30% Cabernet
Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Grapes were sourced in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys as well as the estate vineyard. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged about a year in French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of cherry, plum and chocolate. Rich in texture, it delivers flavours of plum, black currant and dark cherry with touch of vanilla and mocha. 91.
Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 330 cases). This is a blend of 57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery took considerable pains to build complexity into this wine. A portion of the Cabernet Franc was passimento style (partly air dried). While 75% of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc were crushed, the remainder was left as whole clusters. The Cabernet Sauvignon portion had 48 hours of cold maceration before being crushed and fermented. This portion also was aged in American oak. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, raspberries and cherries. The long, ripe tannins contribute to the rich texture. There are flavours of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, with a lingering spice on the finish. 92-93.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Winery Dogs calendar: a competition and a cause

Those who visit wineries may have noticed how many wineries have friendly dogs. Victoria writer Troy Townsin spotted that in 2006 when he was signing his books at Okanagan wineries. It gave him an idea for a great fund-raiser. Every year since 2007, he has photographed and produced his attractive Winery Dogs of BC Wall Calendar. The proceeds from selling the calendars have yielded more than $10,000 for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Another cause has been added for the 2021 Winery Dogs calendar: It will also raise funds for the Cure Blau Syndrome Foundation. The explanation, which follows shortly, is rather sad. But first, I want to announce a contest to allow two of the readers of this blog to win a calendar, which sell for $15. Troy has set aside two calendars for this competition. I would like readers to send in short anecdotes about their pets to my email address, which is I will publish some of the best in a future blog. And I will toss all names in a hat, pull out two and have calendars sent to you. Everyone else can go to Troy’s website,, to purchase calendars. He ships them world-wide. I can recommend these calendars highly. Troy is an excellent photographer and his calendars are very well produced. I came to know Troy and to appreciate his calendars when we were both judges at the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence in Wine. Until a few years ago, the judging panel met at Government House in Victoria for a few days every summer. We tasted and judged at least 500 of the best wines from British Columbia and have awards to the 12 to 15 of the very best. The seven-person judging panel was expert and also collegial to work with. Troy was one of the best. And the rest of us also looked forward to working with him because he brought a Winery Dogs calendar for each of us. With about 30 dogs featured in each calendar (more than one to a page, depending on the image), this calendar has special appeal to dog lovers. During the last four years, Troy had his young daughter, Lexi, assist in setting up some of the photographs. Her role was to get the dogs to look at her and Troy while he taking the photographs. It was, as she once said, “the hardest job of all.” Sadly, her life was taken last October by Blau Syndrome, a genetic inflammatory disease so rare that, according to the MedicalNewsToday website, it affects one child in a million. “The earliest symptom is usually granulomatous dermatitis, a type of skin inflammation that causes a continuous rash,” the website says. “The rash may be scaly or form hard lumps under the skin. It may develop on the arms, legs, and torso.” The rash can develop around the first year of age. The other effects of the disorder are increasingly more damaging to the patient. “Lexi was the inspiration and original founder of the Cure Blau Syndrome Foundation, a non-profit that her parents started to search for a treatment and a cure,” Troy writes. “The work is continuing to honour her legacy and to fund research into treatments for the inflammatory condition.” In the 2021 calendar, Lexi is pictured along with several of the winery dogs she coaxed into posing for Troy’s camera. I would urge my readers to consider this calendar. The causes it supports have a great deal of merit. For those wishing to compete for a calendar, the deadline is December 21, in order to give Troy time to get the calendars in the mail.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Painted Rock's wine club members are first in line

Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner Painted Rock Winery began producing small lot wines several vintages ago. These are outstanding expressions of the varietals growing in the winery’s Skaha Bench vineyard. They are released first to the Painted Rock wine club. Because the production usually is just a few hundred cases of each, the wines sell out quickly. Several of the wines reviewed here are sold out. Of course, that is the point of a wine club. It is a rare winery in British Columbia without a wine club to lock in sales and loyal fans. In a year like 2020, wine club sales may well have made the difference for wineries when wine touring was not allowed for about three months in the spring. Painted Rock, of course, has become well established since making its first vintage in 2007. Proprietor John Skinner told the wine club this fall that 2020 “has been a year of growth and change for Painted Rock.” The pandemic did interfere with many of the winery’s usual marketing efforts this year. John told this to his wine club: “In response [to COVID-19] we cancelled our visit to ProWein in Düsseldorf, the launch of the Okanagan Wine Initiative wineries in Singapore in March, and our annual Canada Calling event in London.” He continued: “With great sadness, we also had to cancel all weddings and celebrations that were scheduled to take place at Painted Rock this summer. Instead, my daughter Lauren with a wonderful, socially-distanced, safe, and fun picnic option on our lawns with picnic lunches from The Bench Market. And we are offering charcuterie by La Cucina. Both are amazing local businesses that we are so proud to work with.” Like many other wineries, Painted Rock also asked visitors to reserve tastings online and in advance. “It has really enabled us to pay close attention to you, our valued guests, and pace visits to that everyone can relax and enjoy safely,” John writes. “We hope you found the process simple and user-friendly.” Here are notes on the wines. Painted Rock Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($39.99 for 225 cases; wine club exclusive). This is 77%
Syrah and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. The varieties were fermented separately and aged 18 months in oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of black cherry and cassis, leading to flavours of dark berries with a hint of pepper and chocolate on the finish. It is generous on the palate. 92.
Painted Rock Malbec 2018 ($44.99 but sold out). Sadly, only 170 cases of this magnificent wine were made. It is dark, with the floral aroma classic to this varietal, mingled with cassis and plum. It is rich on the palate with flavours of dark cherry and blackberry mingled with mocha and spice. 93.
Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($39.99 for 305 cases; but sold out). This is an elegant, powerful example of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). Aromas of vanilla, red currant, blackberry and dark cherry jump from the glass. There are layers of cherry, other dark fruits along with leather and dark chocolate on the palate that carry through to a long finish. 93.
Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2018 ($44.99). The winery has just a single three-acre block of Cabernet Franc. Twenty-five days on the skins, which twice-daily punch-downs during most of that time, has give the wine a satisfyingly concentrated texture. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). It begins with appealing brambly red fruit aromas. The spicy black currant, blackberry and plum flavours mingle with hints of chocolate and cedar on the finish. 92.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Sébastien Hotte becomes winemaker at Harper's Trail

Photo: Sébastien Hotte For the first time since it opened in 2012, Harper’s Trail Estate Winery near Kamloops will have a fulltime winemaker on site. The winery has just announced that Sébastien Hotte has been appointed winemaker and vineyard manager. Harper’s Trail has been relying on consulting winemakers, primarily Michael Bartier, the talented co-owner of Bartier Brothers near Oliver. A consulting winemaker still will be involved with Harper’s Trail – Pascal Madevon, a veteran Okanagan winemaker, has been retained to work with Sébastien. The winery, which made its initial vintages at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, has been well-served by its consultants. As an example, at the All Canadian Wine Championships this summer, Harper’s Trail won two gold medals and one silver for wines it submitted, Owned by Kamloops business couple Vicki and Ed Collett, Harper’s Trail has a 100-acre property on the north shore of the Thompson River. The vineyard grows Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Born in Québec, Sébastien began his career as a sommelier after graduating from the École Hôtelière des Laurentides. “Like a lot of French Canadians, I moved out to British Columbia for the mountains and ended up enjoying wine,” he told me several years ago. His sommelier training “offered me opportunities to travel overseas. I lived in Japan, worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Here, I have lived in the Kootenays, in Whistler and in Tofino [where he worked at the Wickaninnish Inn].” He began a gradual switch to winemaking while still working as a sommelier. Sébastien began taking Washington State University courses and learning on the job with several Okanagan wineries, including two vintages with winemaker Anthony Buchanan at Eau Vivre Winery at Cawston in 2014 and 2015 and a six-month internship at CheckMate Artisanal Winery in 2016. Then he moved on to become Anthony’s assistant winemaker at Desert Hills Estate Winery for at least two vintages. Then he joined Ricco Bambino, the urban winery in Kelowna, as winemaker, finishing the 2018 wines and making the 2019 vintage. “I found them,” Sébastien told me last year. “I was sitting at Mile Zero, the wine bar in Penticton. I was talking to the people working there and said I was considering moving. I liked Desert Hills but I was looking to just go up the ladder. If you are assistant winemaker and the winemaker is going to be staying there for a while …” He was told that Ricco Bambino was looking for a winemaker. He applied and got the job. However, that job began to evaporate when Ricco Bambino sold its vineyard south of Okanagan Falls and put the Kelowna winery on the market. In May this year, Sébastien told me: “I have been hired as the Technical Director for a project in Romania called Alira winery, which coincidentally is located on the Danube in the Dobrogea region. The hiring was done prior to the Covid-19 outbreak but due to the situation I cannot 100% confirm it will still happen. Winemaking is considered an essential service and travel is allowed for work, so I might get lucky and be able to fulfill my commitment for them.” As it turned out, the pandemic ruined that opportunity for him – but Harper’s Trail has opened a new opportunity for Sébastien that includes working with one of the Okanagan’s most seasoned winemaking consultant. Born and trained in France, Pascal Madevon came to Canada in 1981 as the inaugural winemaker for Osoyoos Larose. After 10 vintages there, he moved to Culmina Family Estate Winery for several years before launching his career as a consulting winemaker. His clients have included One Faith Winery, French Door Estate Winery, Four Shadows Vineyard & Winery, Liber Farm & Winery and now Harper’s Trail. “Sébastien brings with him a low interventionist idealism and emphasis on crafting terroir driven wines,” Harper’s Trail said in a news release. “He will assist the winery in its journey to organic grape growing and farming with attention on soil health utilizing local biodiversity as well as continuing the Harper’s Trail way, of an environment that is herbicide and pesticide free.”

Monday, November 23, 2020

Blue Mountains elegant R.D. sparkling wines

Photo: Blue Mountain's vineyard This year, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars is offering two wine packages for the holidays, with free shipping until December 6. One is a 12-pack, including sparkling wines, for $440 and the other is a six-pack of sparkling wines exclusively for $240. Details can be found on the winery’s website. Three of the sparkling wines have just been released. These wines confirm Blue Mountain’s status as one of the Okanagan’s leading producers of bubble – if not the leading producer. The wines are every bit as fine as many Champagnes but are not as expensive. I can think of no better way of toasting in the New Year – and toasting the increasing number of vaccines against COVID-19 that will might allow the 2021 holiday season to be more normal than this year. Here are notes on the latest trio of Blue Mountain sparkling wines. Note that this are all “R.D.” wines – which means they have been recently disgorged after a period aging on the lees.
Blue Mountain Brut Rosé R.D. 2016 ($40). The blend is 67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay. This elegant wine was aged 30 months on lees in the bottles in which secondary fermentation took place; and aged a further 12 months before release. It presents in the glass with an appealing bronze/pink hue and active bubbles. The fruity aromas (strawberry) mingle with hints of brioche. The flavour recalls apple and the texture is creamy. 92.
Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs R.D. 2012 ($50). This wine, made with 100% Chardonnay, aged six and a half years on the lees and then a further 12 months prior to release. Both the aroma and the palate display the toasty and nutty notes acquired on the lees. The wine still has citrus notes on the palate. There is a fine mousse, a creamy mid-palate texture and a crisp finish. 93.
Blue Mountain Reserve Brut R.D. 2012 ($50). The blend is 65% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir. The wine also was aged six and a half years on the lees and a further year in bottle before release. It has aromas of citrus and brioche that are echoed on the palate. There is a lingering finish of apple and citrus, ending crisp and clean. 92.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Bartier Bros. - it's all about the terroir


                                                     Photo: Winemaker Michael Bartier


Michael Bartier, the winemaker and co-owner at Bartier Bros. winery, has a definite house style that expresses clearly in the winery’s current releases.


Every wine is made to showcase the purity of the fruit. Wood flavours never cover the fruit flavours, because the wines are aged just in stainless steel or in neutral oak barrels. These wines are all about expressing the terroir of the Black Sage Bench (or Summerland in the case of the Gewürztraminer).


For some background in the winery, here is an excerpt from The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which I released earlier this year with co-author Luke Whittall.


The wine-industry verity that “it’s all about the dirt” is nowhere more obvious than at Bartier Bros. The winery’s 14½-acre Cerqueira Vineyard produces wines with complex flavours with a spine of minerality. The vineyard is on the Black Sage Bench’s gravel bar where the last glacier, as it was retreating 10,000 years ago, laid down a calcium-rich layer of gravel. The vineyard was planted in the early to mid-2000s with Sémillon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. It began selling fruit to Township 7 when Michael Bartier was the winemaker there.


“I loved the grapes and coveted the property,” Michael says. When the Cerqueira family’s contract with Township 7 ended, they offered it to Michael and his older brother, Don, when Michael began making wine for the brothers’ label in 2009. Subsequently, the brothers bought the vineyard.


They were both born in the Okanagan Valley, Donald in 1958 and Michael in 1967, the sons of an accountant, and initially pursued careers outside of the valley. Don, an Alberta oil-industry executive, planted a small Gewürztraminer vineyard at Summerland in 2010. Michael, after getting a degree in recreational administration and working five years with a Victoria wine agency, returned to the Okanagan to start his winemaking career at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards in 1995. Over the next two decades, he made wine at Township 7, Road 13, and Okanagan Crush Pad, as well as providing consulting work with other wineries. The brothers began selling their wines in 2011 and established their winery and tasting room after buying the coveted Cerqueira Vineyard in 2015.


The vineyard’s mineral content makes it singular. “All our rocks are crusted white [with calcium], and the small feeder roots from the vines are ‘hugging’ those rocks,” Michael says. “Every vintage, the wines are fresh, fruity, and minerally . . . That limestone ends up in every glass of our wine.”

Here are notes on the wines.


Bartier Bros. Muscat 2019
($17.99 for 242 cases). With just 10.5% alcohol, this is a light, even delicate, wine with spicy aromas and flavours recalling rose petals. While there is a hint of sweetness, the acidity gives the wine a crisp and clean finish. A delicious wine, so good that you may not want to share the bottle. 91.


Bartier Bros. Gewürztraminer 2018 ($18.99 for 273 cases). Fermented cool and aged in stainless steel, this is a wine with a floral aroma and flavours of spice
and peach. There is a hint of residual sugar nicely balanced with moderate acidity. 90.


Bartier Bros. Chardonnay 2019
($22.99 for 233 cases). This is a wine for those who prefer Chardonnay to be lean and fruit forward. The wine was fermented cool and was aged on the lees for six months in stainless steel. It begins with aromas of apples and lemon. On the palate, the texture is surprisingly generous, supporting flavours of apple, peach and pear. The finish is persistent. 91.


Bartier Bros. Sémillon 2019 ($19.99 for 471 cases). Fermented cool and aged six months in stainless steel, this dry white has aromas and flavours of apple, apricot and honeydew melon. 90.


Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2018 ($25.99 for 701 cases). This wine had 19 days of skin contact and was aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. It shows the brambly characters of the variety – aromas and flavours of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry. 91.


Bartier Bros. Illegal Curve 2018

($25.99 for 237 cases). This is 93.5% Merlot and 6.5% Cabernet Franc. The wine is a bright expression of fruit. The Merlot portion was aged nine months in stainless steel. The Cabernet Franc was barrel-aged but the oak is imperceptible in the flavours of cherry and raspberry. 90.


Bartier Bros. Merlot 2018
($22.99 for 941 cases). This wine had 19 days of skin contact during fermentation and was then aged 13 months in neutral French oak barrels. The result is a Merlot where the fruit aromas and flavours – cherry and blueberry – are bright and intense. There is a note of minerality to give the wine a good backbone. 91.


Bartier Bros. Syrah 2018 ($29.99 for 634 cases). This wine was fermented in  one-ton open-top fermenters and in a five-ton oak tank with 10% whole clusters. There was 18 days of skin contact and 17 months aging in neutral French oak barrels. The signature notes of black pepper are on the nose and the palate, mingled with flavours of blackberry, black cherry and fig. 92.


Bartier Bros. Orchard Row 2018 ($36.99 for 134 cases). This unusual blend was conceived as the house wine at Bartier Bros. until they were convinced to release it. The blend  is 33% Gamay Noir, 33% Pinot Noir, 17% Cabernet Franc and 16% Merlot. After long skin contact (19 to 23 days), the wine was aged 15 months in neutral French oak barrels. It has aromas and flavours of plum, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry with a hint of spice and leather on the finish. 91.


Bartier Bros. The Goal 2018
($36.99 for 24 cases). The winery’s flagship red, this is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc. The grapes went into one-ton open-top fermenters, macerating for 26 days. On pressing, the wine aged 17 months in neutral French oak. There are aromas of cassis, black cherry and mocha which are echoed on the bold palate, supported by long, ripe tannins. The finish just goes on and on. 93.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

BC's 2020 vintage: great but scarce


                    Photo: Jeff Martin of La Frenz Winery



Here is a tip: when British Columbia wineries begin releasing their 2020 wines next year, stock up.


The quantity of the 2020 wines will be significantly lower than recent vintages but the quality will be among the best in this decade.


Don’t take my word for it. Here is what Jeff Martin, owner of La Frenz Winery, says about the 2020 vintage:


“The critical ripening months of September and October were a total surprise with next to no rainfall, continuous sunshine and temperatures often in the 20's,” he wrote in an email. “This was simply textbook perfect ripening conditions. 2020 was a stellar harvest of excellent quality and the wines produced will rate in the top 3 years of the past decade, if not higher.” 


This stands in contrast to the problematic 2020 wines that will becoming from California, Oregon and perhaps even Washington State. The enormous forest fires in the western United States disrupted the normal ripening and likely also resulted in a lot of wines with smoke taint.


While vintners have figured out how to mitigate smoke taint in wines, it is better not to have it in the first place. On that score, British Columbia was lucky: 2020 was a very moderate forest fire season here. And the dense pall of smoke from the American fires did not persist over our vineyards long enough to cause problems.


The 2020 season in the Okanagan and Similkameen started wet and cool. That made for a smaller fruit set than usual. As a consequence, the grape harvest was reduced and thus the quantity of wine will also be reduced. But the grapes that were picked generally were of top quality.


The Summerland Research Station tracks the growing degree days every year. In 2020, the accumulation for Osoyoos was 1,616 GDD. That is a comfortable seasonal average. It compares to a high this decade of 1,764 in 2015 (the hottest year since 1998) and a low of 1,348 in 2011 (the coolest year in two decades).


Growing degree days measure the sunlight and heat the vines get to mature the fruit they are carrying. The 2020 number is excellent.


Here is what Graham O’Rourke, a viticulturist and co-owner of Tightrope Winery on Naramata Bench, says of the vintage:

“After a slightly slower start than what can be expected as average, we had a brilliant year. The humidity was higher than normal in June and the beginning of July but once the heat came on the weather could not have been better. Here on the Bench there was only one day where temperatures reached 40 degrees. The majority of the days were in the high 20's or low 30's, perfect for grapes. This weather continued into September which allowed very good balance between Brix and Acids for the harvest, which started the third week of September with Pinot Noir Rose fruit and Pinot Gris. Harvest was cut short last week with below freezing temperatures but all in all a very good season.”


Yet another vintner singing the praises of 2020 is Michael Bartier, co-owner of Bartier Brothers on the Black Sage Bench.


“Bud dissections over the winter showed no significant winter damage; all primary buds were healthy,” he writes. “Cool, wet weather in the spring led to a delayed bud burst about 7 – 10 days behind typical (Apr. 7 for Chardonnay). Heavy rains during blossom interrupted pollination, leading to a very poor fruit set.  This became a defining feature of the vintage, with eventual yields being down 20-30% from typical.”  


Michael continues: “Typical hot and dry weather resumed in July and August, allowing ripening to catch up from the delayed start.  Smoke generated from the infamous western United States wildfires drifted north to our region, at one point giving us up to 134 hours of uninterrupted heavy smoke cover.  This was a scare for smoke taint flavours; however subsequent lab testing for these compounds showed low levels.  The local wisdom is that the smoke, having travelled so far, was low in ash solids which dropped before getting to us.  The ash is what will affect the grapes, and eventually the wine, so we’re happy not dealing with this. 


“Harvest was affected by lack of available transient labour due to the Covid-19 pandemic; resulting harvest costs were high.  First frost was recorded in colder areas on Oct. 16, and a significant snowfall on Oct. 23.  Vineyards in close proximity to the heat sink of Okanagan Lake were not affected by either of these events, though by this time, most of the harvest was done.”

“The warm, sunshine-soaked August and September was the ideal climate to advance ripening with great flavours developing on the vine,” agrees Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. “September was full of luminous, dry days which ensured full physiological ripeness.”,


“The grapes from this harvest were really nicely balanced,” writes Rolf de Bruin, co-owner of Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet. “They had a fair amount of acidity and good sugar levels, so we anticipate a new vintage of wines that are fresh, clean, and beautifully fruit-forward. As we look forward, we are very optimistic about our 2020 vintage.”

But Rolf has the same observation as Graham. “Cropping levels were lower than in prior years, with some varietals coming in with yields 20-40% lower than normal. Lower cropping levels meant we had less fruit to work with, and ultimately, we anticipate that this will be one of our smallest crops ever, similar to our 2017 yield.” 

 Judging from the comments from Zac Brown at Alderlea Vineyards near Duncan, the Cowichan Valley vintners had a somewhat more challenging year – but one that turned out fine at the end. 

“April and May were warmer than average and we saw bud break a week earlier than the previous three years,” Zac writes. “Early June saw average weather before turning horrible from mid-month into early July. We experienced a large amount of rain and cooler than average temperatures for weeks. Bad weather in June typically impacts the fruit set in the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir and 2020 was no exception. We saw a reduction of yield in those two varieties by 10 and 15% respectively. July and most of August saw much improved weather with hot days advancing fruit maturity. Early September through us a wild card: smoke from American fires in the upper atmosphere caused problems. What would have otherwise been hot clear sun was obscured by smoke for a week.

“The impact of this was the longest, most drawn out veraison I have ever seen,” Zac continues. “We let everything hang for 10-15 days longer at Alderlea than any year since 2013. The result? Our whites came in with normal sugar levels and textbook acid levels. The reds saw slightly lower sugar levels and higher acid levels than 2019, however well within the expected range. Overall, I’m happy with the vintage so far.”


That sums it up for British Columbia’s wineries: good to great wines but just not enough of them. Buy early.









































Monday, November 9, 2020

Stag's Hollow's ancient Italians



                                            Photo: Winemaker Keira LeFranc


Keira LeFranc, the fulltime winemaker at Stag’s Hollow Winery since 2018, should be the envy of some of her peers.


She gets to make wine from interesting varietals that are rarely seen in the Okanagan. These include Albariño, a Spanish and Portuguese white; Tempranillo, a Spanish red; and two Italian reds, Dolcetto and Teroldego.


As well, she gets to work with Pinot Noir from two different vineyards, and with mature Merlot dating from 1993 when the founders of the winery grafted Merlot onto hybrid vines in the estate vineyard.


With the exception of Tempranillo, all of these varietals have been on display in Stag’s Hollow’s releases this fall.


These are not always easy wines to review. I do not have a lot of benchmark tastings of Italian wines against which to compare Teroldego and Dolcetto. Even if I did, that might not help because the terroir of Okanagan Falls, where the vineyards are located, bears limited comparison to that of northern Italy.


Albariño is a varietal that I am more comfortable with, having tasted a fair number of Spanish wines over the years. It was also the house white when my wife and I took a river cruise in Russia in 2014. The wine was so delicious that we drank it every day for about 10 days. This fall, when my wife and I were marking an anniversary in our favourite restaurant, we ordered the Stag’s Hollow Albariño from the wine list and were equally pleased with it.


(One other Okanagan winery, Terravista Vineyards, also produces an excellent Albariño from its Naramata Bench Vineyards.)



To understand Teroldego, I resorted to Wine Grapes, the authoritative book by Jancis Robinson (and two colleagues), which was published in 2012. “Teroldego is a very old variety from Trentino in north-east Italy, where the wine was first mentioned on 18 January 1480 in Gagnolo … in a sales contract,” the authors write. They cite DNA work to suggest the varietal is an “uncle/aunt” of Syrah.


They continue: “Wines are deeply coloured, lively and fruity … When yields are restricted and grapes reach full maturity … the rich black-cherry fruit is well-supported by ripe tannins, the acidity is mouth-watering rather than eye-watering …” That pretty much nails the Stag’s Hollow Teroldego.


The variety was nearly extinct when a few Italian winemakers rescued it in the latter years of the 20th century. It has gained a foothold in California and, now, in a few other vineyards around the world including Australia.


I also looked up the grape in another authoritative source: Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata, published in 2014. He says Teroldego is “the most important red grape variety of Trentino.” For many years, the wine has been used a bulk blender because its dark colour and its perfume can add character to lots of blends.


“Over the last thirty years, however, Teroldego production has improved immeasurably and very fine wines are here to stay,” D’Agata writes.


One applauds Stag’s Hollow for producing another fine example of Teroldego from its Shuttleworth Creek vineyard, which is just at the southern edge of Okanagan Falls. It is, unfortunately, a very modest planting because the winery only has released 96 cases from the 2018 vintage.


Dolcetto vines are also planted in Shuttleworth Creek. This is another ancient Italian variety planted in Piemonte (northwest Italy). According to D’Agata, the acreage has been declining because the varietal is being displaced by higher value varietals such as Barolo. The only other producer in the Okanagan with Dolcetto is Moon Curser Vineyards.


“… It remains a difficult variety to grow as the buds are fragile and break easily,” D’Agata writes. “What’s more, it grows low to the ground, requiring backbreaking vineyard work. It has poor vigor, and tends to give scrawny vines.” And he goes on to diss Dolcetto for several more sentences.


That does not mean it is necessarily a poor choice for the Okanagan. “… To my surprise,” D’Agata writes, “I have found the variety does very well in slightly warmer New World microclimates … The key is large day-night temperature differentials.”


Shuttleworth Creek is one of Stag’s Hollow’s two vineyards. It just a mile or so south of the estate vineyard. However, the soil and other conditions governing terroir are different. This showed up in the differences between the two Pinot Noirs.


Here are notes on current releases.



Stag’s Hollow Albariño 2019 ($24 for 340 cases). The wine was fermented primarily on

concrete, with some in second-use oak barrels. It spent six months aging on the lees with frequent stirring to build texture. It has appealing tropical fruit aromas (guava, mango and grapefruit) leading to flavours of melon, pineapple and guava with a hint of herbs on the finish. Bright acidity leaves the wine refreshing. 91.


Stag’s Hollow Shuttleworth Creek Pinot Noir 2018 ($27 for 470 cases). This wine is a
blend of six Dijon clones, with clone 115 taking the lead at 39%. The clones were all fermented and aged separately (13 months in French oak) before the final wine was assembled. The result is a wine of considerable charm, with aromas of cherry, raspberry and spice leading to vibrant flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The texture is silky and the finish is persistent. 92.


Stag’s Hollow Stag’s Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018
($22 for 385 cases). The fruit
for this wine comes from 26-year-old vines. This wine is made with equal parts Clone 115 and 667, co-fermented and aged in French oak. The more masculine structure reflects the maturity of the vines. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry. On the palate, there are notes of cola and bright berry flavours. The wine merits cellaring for several more years. 91.


Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto 2018 ($24 for 658 cases). This a joyful wine – perhaps Italy’s
answer to Beaujolais. It is fruity and bright, both on the nose and on the palate, with flavours of cherry and cranberry, and with soft tannins. 90.


Stag’s Hollow Teroldego 2018 ($42 for 91 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with

aromas of spiced dark cherries and mocha. With breathing, the texture develops a pleasing fullness. The wine delivers flavours of plum and cherry with bright acidity. Decanting is a must to help the wine open and display the flavours and aromas. 90-91.


Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Merlot 2017 ($35 for 130 cases). This is a cellar-worthy red which will get better and better over the next decade. It also has 2.4% Cabernet Sauvignon and
2.4% Cabernet Franc in the blend. The wine was matured 18 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of cassis, blackberries and dark cherry. The wine is rich on the palate with flavours of dark cherry, chocolate and spice. 92-94.