Thursday, February 27, 2020

Culmina scores with 2015 Hypothesis

Photo: Culmina's Golden Mile winery

Culmina Family Estate Winery was so named because it is the culmination of a career in wine for Donald and Elaine Triggs. They founded Culmina in 2007 and sold it in 2019 to Arterra Wines Canada. The career has come full circle.

Donald, who was born in Manitoba in 1944, began his career in 1972 with the winery arm of John Labatt. He left that a decade later to run the North American operations of a British fertilizer company. But in 1989, when Labatt sold its wineries, Donald led the team buying them and co-founded Jackson-Triggs. This became Vincor, which had grown to the world’s 14th-largest wine company by the time Constellation Brands (the largest wine company at the time) took it over in 2006.

Donald was not done with wine. A year later, he and Elaine began developing 56 acres of densely planted vines on three mountainside benches on the Golden Mile as the site of Culmina.

The three vineyard benches, each with differing soils and elevations, provide winemaking options. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the largest blocks, followed by Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. There is also 2½ acres of Grüner Veltliner, the Austrian white.

The well-equipped winery is perched on the mountainside, allowing the winemakers to move wine gently with gravity. The design also affords superb views over the valley from the wine shop.

Culmina was deeply influenced by the same French winemaking expertise that Donald had employed in the development of Osoyoos Larose Winery. Initially, that was a joint venture between Vincor and Bordeaux’s Groupe Taillan; now it is solely owned by the Bordeaux group.

Culmina tapped the expertise of Alain Sutre, the same Bordeaux consultant who helped get Osoyoos Larose launched, as well as Pascal Madevon, the initial winemaker at Osoyoos Larose.

In 2015, when Pascal opened his own consultancy, he was succeeded by another French-trained winemaker, Jean-Marc Enixon. It is hardly surprising there are Bordelaise fingerprints all over Hypothesis, Culmina’s flagship red blend.

When Donald and Elaine decided to retired last year, the sale of Culmina to Arterra had considerable symmetry for the Triggs family. Arterra’s wineries include the Canadian wineries that once formed the heart of Vincor in Canada. Jay Wright, Arterra’s president, formerly was a right-hand man to Donald at Vincor.

The two recently released reds indicate that Arterra has taken over some great assets.
Here are notes on the wines.

Culmina Hypothesis 2015 ($46). This is the flagship red from Culmina. It is a blend of 36% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Dark in colour and full on the palate, the wine begins with aromas of cherry and plum mingled with sage and cassis. The wine has flavours of dark fruit mingled with toasted oak, chocolate and spice. The long, ripe tannins lead to a generous and robust texture and a long finish. 93.

Culmina No. 006 Unfiltered  ‘Jeunes Vignes’ Malbec 2016 ($29 for 250 cases). The number wines from Culmina are special projects, usually offered just to members of the wine club. This name of this wine suggests grapes from young Malbec vines were used. That may account to the vibrancy of the wine. It has appealing floral and fruit aromas with flavours of cherry and blueberry with a hint of pepper. 92.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Covert Farms embraces regenerative farming

Photo: Gene Covert

In 2019, Gene and Shelly Covert took what they called “a deep dive into the world of regenerative farming” at family-owned Covert Farms, north of Oliver.

This farm, established in 1959 by Gene’s grandfather, is the base of Covert Farms Estate Winery, which opened in 2006. The quality of four currently released wines shows that the Coverts are good farmers. Their commitment to regenerative farming implies that they think there is more upside with even better farming practices.

In a recent newsletter, they explained regenerative farming. It “focuses on five key principles we apply to our 100 acres of vineyards and crop fields. These include minimal or no-tillage of the soil; preservation of the amour (plant residue) left on the soil surface; living plant root at all times possible; diverse crop rotation; and livestock integration.”

The Coverts have grown a lentil cover crop under the vines for many years. Last year, they switched to a robust cocktail of 13 different plants. “Research indicates that multi-species plantings create synergies that that improve drought resistance versus single species plantings,” the newsletter says. This “seems to bear some truth as these have been our most successful dry farmed plantings to date.”

Cows graze the cover crops in winter and the crop fields in summer. “A cow’s micro-biome is closely associated with healthy soil function.”

The newsletter continues: “We are seeing the benefits of this approach. By growing the plants we want in the vineyard, we have reduced our weeding expense by 70%, as well as our need for off-site compost by 50%. The expanded biodiversity seems to be paying dividends in reduced pest and disease pressure.”

The 2019 vintage in the Okanagan was especially difficult. “Mildew and bunch rot challenged many growers in the valley with the wet fall, while due to our use of regenerative practices and proactive management, we were spared any disease issues,” the newsletter continued. “The initial quality assessments of the 2019 fermentations indicates an exceptional vintage with rich flavoured whites and well integrated tannins in the reds.”

In 2020, the Coverts plan on fine-tuning the cocktail of cover crops. They also intend to add Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah to the vineyard. They also plan to offer dry-cured charcuteries from the pasture-raised livestock on the farm. 

Here are notes of four of the current Covert wines.

Covert Farms Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2018 ($23.80 for 156 cases). The blend is 69.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 30.5% Semillon. The wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The wine is, predictably, fresh and fruity, with aromas of citrus mingled with herbal notes. On the palate, there are flavours of Asian pear and citrus. 90.

Covert Farms Ancestral Sparkling Zinfandel 2018 ($31.80 for 97 cases). The reference is to the ancestral method of making sparkling wine – letting the wine finish fermenting in the bottle but not disgorging it. This wine has an acceptable haze to its rose-coloured hue. The big surprise was the vigour of the bubble when the bottle was opened. I advise opening this over the sink and pouring the first glass quickly – not that licking the fruity wine from the fingers was so bad. It tastes a bit like raspberry. The finish is dry. 90.

Covert Farms Amicitia 2016 ($29.80 for 950 cases). This is the winery’s flagship red blend. This wine is 37% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot and 1% Syrah. It begins with aromas of black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. The palate follows with rich fruit, cherry and nut flavours. The wine was aged 14 months in barrels. 91.

Covert Farms Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve 2016 ($58.90 for 214 cases). This wine was fermented for 27 days in open top fermenters with regular punchdowns by hand. It was then aged in French oak for 18 months. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and spice. These are echoed on the palate, along with hints of leather and red licorice. 92.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Bordertown's Petit Verdot at Vancouver Wine Festival

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill

A single varietal Petit Verdot wine from a British Columbia winery is a rare wine.

In the 2018 vintage (latest figures available), the production of Petit Verdot, at 270 short tons, was a mere 1.27% of red wine grape production. To put that into perspective, the most widely grown red is Merlot. At 7,957.5 short tons, it was 37% of red wine grape production.

That explains why few wineries make Petit Verdot on its own. Those that do include Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery of Osoyoos. This winery will be at the Vancouver International Wine Festival and may have a Petit Verdot at some of the public tastings. I am assuming it will be under the table, since it does not appear on the list of wines Bordertown will be pouring. That is not surprising: only 120 cases were produced in 2017.

I would advise asking for it anyway. You just might be lucky.

There are several reasons why so little Petit Verdot is grown. The main one is that, as Jancis Robinson observes in Wine Grapes, the variety is “late ripening – even later than Cabernet Sauvignon.” In BC, Cabernet Sauvignon comprised 2,926 short tons in 2018, or just under seven per cent of total red wine grapes.

BC growers have taken a chance on Cabernet Sauvignon because the variety is far better known than Petit Verdot, thanks the numerous varietal Cabernets from California, Australia and South America that are ubiquitous in this market.

For most producers – in Bordeaux as well as in BC - Petit Verdot is a blending grape that adds colour, volume and spicy to Bordeaux blends.

The Robinson book continues: “When fully ripe – not always easy to achieve in Bordeaux – Petit Verdot produces wines that are rich, deeply coloured, tannic and ageworthy, often spicy and with good levels of alcohol and acidity in the best sites. Today it generally plays a small part in the Bordeaux blend but in the nineteenth century … Petit Verdot was the dominant variety in the Queyries vineyards on the left bank of the Gironde …”

Petit Verdot is widely planted in the south of France. Acreage has been increasing in California and Australia and, according to the Robinson book, the variety “looks set for a very positive future in South Africa.”

It is unlikely to see much more acreage of Petit Verdot in the Okanagan or the Similkameen. The available sites for planting are limited; and vintages like 2019, when an early October freeze ended the ripening time for late varieties, discourage growers from taking risks with Petit Verdot.

However, we should be thankful that Mohan Gill, Bordertown’s owner, took a chance on Petit Verdot. Here is a note on the winery’s 2017 Petit Verdot.

It is worth observing that his vines are in a vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench, one of the warmest sites in the South Okanagan. In 2017, the grapes were picked on November 14 at a ripeness of 27 Brix. That is very late.

Bordertown Petit Verdot 2017 ($30 for 120 cases). The wine is characteristically dark as night in colour. (Someone once remarked that you could look at the sun through a glass of Petit Verdot.) It begins with aromas of plum, black cherry, blackberry and spice. The wine is generous on the palate, with flavours of plum, fig and black currants. Spice and dark chocolate linger on the long finish. 93. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Phantom Creek at the Wine Festival

Photo: Phantom Creek's imposing winery

A top priority winery table to visit at the Vancouver International Wine Festival in 2020 is Phantom Creek Estate Winery.

The Black Sage Road winery, which has its formal opening scheduled for this spring, is an emerging star among the 33 British Columbia wineries at the festival during the last week of February.

Festival attendees get an early opportunity to meet some of Phantom Creek’s principals and to taste some of the exceptional wines. The winery’s spectacular 45,000-square-foot winery on Black Sage Road in the South Okanagan will open to the public in April or May.

I was able to tour the winery at the end of October last year after most of the construction was completed and when the 2019 crush was underway. Festival attendees should visit the winery this spring and summer to experience Phantom Creek fully.

Industry gossip says that owner Richter Bai, a Vancouver-based Chinese businessman, has invested $100 million in the Phantom Creek project, including vineyards in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. I cannot confirm that but it would not surprise me, given the art and the cutting edge winemaking equipment in the winery.

 The imposing sculpture (above) of Helios, the sun god to the ancient Greeks, which greets visitors, was created in Italian marble by Emily Young, an artist described as Britain’s “greatest living stone sculptor.”

And that is just for starters. 

The VIP tasting room (above) is dominated by a glorious Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. He is an American artist with a considerable following.

In 2014, Mr. Bai identified wine growing as a prestige agriculture business for his family in Canada. He engaged wine educator James Cluer MW and the two spent much of 2015 touring prestigious wineries in France and California, getting ideas and educating Mr. Bai in winery operations. In 2016 he purchased the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road where the late Harry McWatters had started to build a showpiece winery.

Only the cellar was built before Mr. Bai acquired the property. Phantom Creek is significantly more impressive than what Harry had in mind. It is the grand spectacle in the South Okanagan, somewhat like Mission Hill Family Estate is the grand winery in the North Okanagan.

Mr. Bai was attracted initially to the property’s vineyard on Black Sage Road. Renamed Becker Vineyard, it is about 45 acres of mature vines with a proven track record for quality wines. He also bought the adjoining seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard, a grand cru site (if it were in France), growing exceptional Bordeaux reds and Syrah.

Subsequently, he has acquired and planted, or replanted, an impressive vineyard portfolio. These include:

·       The 44-acre Kobau Vineyard, a producing vineyard on the Golden Mile formerly owed by C. C. Jentsch Cellars.

·       The 15-acre Richter Vineyard on Black Sage Bench formerly owned by grower Pierre Hebting. Near the Phantom Creek winery, it has been largely replanted with Bordeaux red varieties and Syrah.

·       The 15-acre Ryegrass Vineyard, just down hill from Phantom Creek. A former orchard acquired in 2017, it is being converted to Syrah and Bordeaux reds.

·       The 62-acre Evernden Springs Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. It was acquired as raw land in 2017. Planting started last year. Pinot Gris and Riesling comprise the majority of the initial plantings, with some red varieties likely to follow.

Phantom Creek Estate’s first wines were made in 2016 by a team led by Napa Valley winemakers Anne and Cameron Vawter, along with Ross Wise, Phantom Creek’s first fulltime onsite winemaker. Ross left after the 2018 vintage to join Black Hills Estate Winery. He was succeeded in the cellar for the 2019 vintage by New Zealand winemaker Francis Hutt (left, photo credit Olaf Strassner).

A graduate of Lincoln University in Christchurch, Francis has made wine in New Zealand, Australia, Oregon and Burgundy, before he was headhunted by Phantom Creek.

“The thing that really made me leave my country and come here was the resources they are putting into the vineyards,” Francis told me when we chatted in the superbly equipped Phantom Creek cellar where he was making his first Okanagan vintage in 2019. “If I get good grapes coming in through the door, I can make good wine in a plastic bucket. I don’t need this equipment.”

Phantom Creek is committed to organic and biodynamic viticulture in all its vineyards. The guiding philosophy comes to Olivier
Humbrecht MW, (right), a leading Alsace winemaker whom Mr. Bai met when visiting wineries in Europe.  In 2017, Olivier also agreed to become Phantom Creek’s consulting white winemaker.

“This was our third vintage farming organically and biodynamically,” says Santiago Cilley, who joined Phantom Creek last year as chief executive officer. “It’s a journey. We are in the infancy of understanding organic and biodynamic viticulture. We are taking big steps quickly.”

Santiago has an impressive resumé, including nine years with Jackson Family Wines  in California. He moved from there to Chile. In South America, he met businessman and wine entrepreneur Alejandro Bulgheroni, who asked him to return to California to be president of Alejandro Bulgheroni Family Vineyards USA. 

Santiago has experience in sustainable viticulture. He regards organic/biodynamic viticulture was a greater challenge. “We cannot react to things,” he says. “We have to anticipate things before they happen because our tools are very limited to correct things in the vineyard. That is very good discipline. It keeps us all thinking what’s ahead rather that figuring out how we are going to solve problems.”

While the 2019 Okanagan vintage was surprisingly challenging for newcomer Santiago, he believes Phantom Creek harvested good quality fruit. “In difficulty, you can separate one group of producers from everyone else,” Santiago says. “If it was easy, we would all be making wine in our garages.”

Phantom Creek’s white wines are built around Olivier Humbrecht’s Alsace style. The winery has a cellar specifically designed for white wines. There are 22 Austrian-made oak ovals, each with a 3,500-litre capacity, neatly arranged in a humidity and temperature-controlled cellar.

“This room is specifically finished with brick walls,” says HJ Cha, a Phantom Creek brand ambassador. “There is a gap between the concrete wall and the brick wall. The space allows the room to breathe. It also acts as a barrier or buffer for temperature and humidity fluctuations. We keep an even and constant temperature and humidity throughout the room.”

The white wines – Riesling and Pinot Gris – are aged in these ovals. The vessels impart no obvious wood flavours to the wines but allow the wines to become rich in flavour and texture. The wines are allowed a long, cool ferment with wild yeast and will spend as much as 10 months on the lees before being bottled. Consequently, the whites are released a year later than similar varietals from other wineries.

A separate cellar for red wines (above) is equipped with 5,000-litre French oak casks, arranged under the press room so that gravity can be used to move the crushed fruit into the casks. As well, small-lot reds are fermented in standard oak barrels (heads are removed so that grapes can be placed in the barrels).

Fermenting in individual barrels is done partly of necessity. There are small blocks of vines in the various vineyards that produce fruit of high quality and individuality. The fruit almost demands to be vinified separately rather than being blended into larger lots. The small lot wines currently are offered first to members of Phantom Creek’s wine club.

Here are notes on some of the Phantom Creek wines. Those to be poured at the Festival are indicated with a *.

*Phantom Creek Riesling 2017 ($30 for 333 cases). This wine was made with grapes from an East Kelowna vineyard, fermented with indigenous yeast over four months. It was aged 10 months in stainless steel (with seven percent aged in neutral oak barrels). This wine is crisp and dry, with lime on the nose and palate and with a spine of minerality. The maturation on lees has added a hint of brioche to the aroma and flavour. 93.

*Phantom Creek Pinot Gris 2017 ($30 for 833 cases). The grapes were from two Okanagan Falls vineyards and were fermented with indigenous yeasts over seven months. Some 60% was aged 10 months in stainless steel; the rest was aged oak casks. The texture is luscious. The wine begins with aromas of pear and a hint of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe pear and apple with a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 92.

*Phantom Creek Viognier 2017 ($40 for 333 cases). The fruit for this came from a west Osoyoos vineyard. In subsequent vintages, the fruit has come from the winery’s Kobau Vineyard on the Golden Mile. This is an elegant and classic South Okanagan Viognier with aromas and flavours of orange blossom and stone fruit. The wine, after being fermented with wild yeast, was matured 10 months in stainless steel and oak casks. 92.

Phantom Creek Merlot Becker Vineyard 2016 ($55 for seven barrels). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, black currant and spice. Generous on the palate, the wine delivers savoury flavours of cassis and black cherry with herbal notes on the lingering finish. 91.

*Phantom Creek Becker Cuvée 2016 ($60 for 34 barrels). This is a blend of 39% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the generous palate, flavours of black currant and black cherry mingle with black coffee and licorice. The texture is full and the finish is long. 93.

Phantom Creek Block 1A Small Lot Syrah 2016 ($50 for three barrels). The fruit for this is from a tiny 0.78-acre block of Syrah in the Becker Vineyard. The wine has aged 20 months in French oak but still shows a firm structure. The wine has bold aromas of dark red fruit and delivers flavour of dark fruit, leather and tobacco with a hint of white pepper. 92. 

Phantom Creek Co-Fermented Small Lot 2016 ($75 for three barrels). The fruit for this wine comes from small blocks of Malbec (60%) and Petit Verdot (40%) from the superb Phantom Creek Vineyard. The wine, aged 20 months in French oak, begins with the spicy and floral notes of the Malbec. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and dark fruits, with a spine of minerality from the Petit Verdot. The finish is very long. 93.

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($75 for 4 barrels). Bold and savoury, this wine is rich with flavours of cherry, plum, fig and black pepper. 94.

Phantom Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Phantom Creek Vineyard 2016 ($80 for five barrels). This sophisticated wine begins with aromas of black currant leading to flavours of black currant, coffee and dark chocolate. The wine is dark and concentrated and clearly will cellar very well. It has already been aged 18 months in French oak. 95.

Phantom Creek Cuvée Phantom Creek Vineyard 2016 ($100 for 650 cases). This wine is 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Petit Verdot, 15% Malbec, 8% each of Syrah and Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. This is a bold, rich wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, black currant, plum and vanilla. It was aged 18 months in French oak. Long ripe tannins support the opulent texture and the persistent finish of this delicious wine. 96.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Hester Creek lubricates my discussion group

Photo: Hester Creek Winemaker Rob Summers

One tradition of a biweekly discussion group to which I belong is that we lubricate the conversations with a bottle or two of wine.

These are not formal tastings. Someone just brings an interesting (and reasonably -priced) bottle. It is enjoyed while we solve whatever are the current problems of the world.

It is a stimulating group. Several subscribe to The Economist. Most have lived or worked abroad before retiring. One or two still run adult education programs. All appreciate a nice glass of wine.

I took Hester Creek red wines to two recent gatherings. They were very well received, with a couple of my companions making note of the wines with the intent to purchasing them. The wines (including those reviewed here) appealed because their quality clearly over-delivered for the price.

A winery formerly with a spotty history, Hester Creek has been turned around dramatically since it was acquired by Curtis Garland. In 2006, he recruited veteran Ontario winemaker Rob Summers. Subsequently, he put in place a capable team to support Rob and to unlock the potential of the vineyard.

The Hester Creek vineyard is one of the best vineyards on the Golden Mile. It was planted originally by Joe Busnardo, beginning in 1968. While there has been a lot of replanting since, there remain some 50-year-old vines. That fruit produces wine of remarkable depth and flavour.

In addition to the vineyard, one of Hester Creek’s advantages is that its red wines are fermented in Italian-made Ganimede fermenters. This technology extracts good colour and flavour from the grapes but does it gently. Hester Creek reds are notable for their long, ripe and gentle tannins which make the texture approachable.

I am pleased to recommend Hester Creek to my discussion group – and to anyone else who trusts my palate.

Here are notes on current releases.

Hester Creek Selected Barrels Cabernet Merlot 2018 ($17.99 for 4.000 cases). This was one of the wines tasted at the discussion group. The wine is a blend of 49% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged eight months in barrel (50% American oak, 50% French oak). The wine displays the characteristic Hester Creek style: long, ripe tannins give the wine an approachable juicy texture. It has aromas of black cherry and mocha chocolate, followed by flavours of black cherry, plum, vanilla and chocolate. 91.

Hester Creek Selected Barrels Merlot 2018 ($17.99 for 5,000 cases). The delicious wine was aged eight months in barrel (50% American, 50% French).  It begins with aromas of blueberries and blackberries, leading to flavours of bright berry fruit (cherry and plum) with mocha and vanilla on the finish. 91.

Hester Creek Character Red 2018 ($18.99 for 3,780 cases). Another of the discussion group wines, this is a blend of 40% Merlot, 29% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot and 8% Malbec. The wine was aged six to eight months in barrel (50% American, 50% French). Dark in colour, it begins with spicy aromas of dark cherry and other dark fruit, mingled with hints of coffee and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry, plum and blackberry. The texture is round and satisfying. 90.

Hester Creek Reserve Merlot Block 2 2017 ($25.99 for 729 cases). This wine was aged 12 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). The wine’s rich aromas and flavours reflect the fact that the vines are nearly 50 years old. The fruit was fermented for 18 days in the winery’s Ganimede ferments to extract optimum aromas, flavours and colour. The aromas jump from the glass – chocolate, black cherry, plum. On the palate, the wine is bursting with flavours of black cherry, blueberry and plum jam. The texture is seductive and silky. 93.

Hester Creek Reserve Cabernet Franc Block 1 2017 ($25.99 for 1,680 cases). This is a remarkably expressive wine, beginning with aromas of plum and blackberry. On the palate, the concentrated texture reveals flavours of blackberry, plum and fig. The finish is persistent. 92.

Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2018 ($16.99 for 750 cases of 200 ml). The grapes for this wine were picked November 30, 2018, no doubt after being frozen nearly to Icewine concentration. The finished wine has 72 grams of residual sugar, with enough acid to keep the wine fresh and lively. It begins with aromas of honey, nectarine and ripe apple. Luscious on the palate, the wine presents a medley of orchard fruit flavours. The finish is persistent. Serve this with soft blue cheese. 90.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Clos du Soleil at Vancouver wine festival

Photo: Clos du Soleil's Michael Clark

An astonishing 33 British Columbia wineries will appear at the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year.

That is astonishing only because the theme this year is France, not British Columbia. But given the quality of the wines, it must have been hard for the festival to whittle the BC list down to just 33.

One of the wineries is Clos du Soleil Winery, one of the star producers in the Similkameen Valley. Opened in 2008, the winery was a venture of four professional couples with a shared admiration of Bordeaux wines.

Michael Clark joined the Clos partnership in 2012. Now he is the winery’s managing director as well as the winemaker. This is his second career. He was previously a banker and a bond dealer.

Michael, who was born in Cambridge, Ontario, in 1972, describes wine as “my number one passion literally before I could drink wine. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with wine. Champagne is for Breakfast – I read that book when I was probably 10 years old. I don’t know other children who love to read wine books.”

Initially, he set out on a career in theoretical physics with bachelor’s degree from Queens University and then a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia. Then he switched to finance with a master of business administration from UBC, where he also founded a campus wine tasting society.

“Then I worked in finance in Canada and in the U.S. and Switzerland, for about 15 years.” That included eight years with two Swiss banks where, while holding senior positions, he committed to winemaking by taking winemaking and viticulture courses there in 2010. He then gained experience by doing crushes at wineries in Switzerland and in Bordeaux.

In 2011, he enrolled in the rigorous winemaking program from the University of California at Davis. While still in Europe, he began researching British Columbia winemaking opportunities before making Clos Du Soleil his choice. Consulting winemaker Ann Sperling had made the first five vintages before handing over to Michael.

He is a very capable winemaker. Consumers who have not visited the winery itself have a chance to meet him at the wine festival.

Meanwhile, here are current releases.

Clos du Soleil Capella 2018 ($24.90 for 580 cases). This is 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Sémillon. The style seems inspired by Graves, not New Zealand. The wine was fermented primarily with wild yeast entirely in barrel (65% French puncheons, 35% stainless steel) and aged in barrel for nine months. It begins with herbal and citrus aromas. A weighty palate supports intense flavours of lime and lemon mingled with herbs. The finish is tangy. 91.

Clos du Soleil Syrah 2017 Winemaker’s Series ($29.90 for 213 cases). The grapes for this wine were fermented in small-lot open top fermenters for a month and then aged 16 months in French oak barrels (12% new). The wine begins with earthy aromas of dark fruits, leading to robust flavours of plum and fig mingled with sage and spice. 90.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2016 ($39.90 for 450 cases; large formats available). This wine is a blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec. The grapes were fermented on concrete tanks entirely with native yeasts. The wine was then aged in French oak barrels for 15 months. The final blend was made with the best barrels. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry and blueberry, leading to flavours of cherry, cassis and blackberry. The flavours show a youthful brightness now; but this is a wine that will benefit from cellaring. 92.

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2015 ($52.90 for 148 cases). The winery describes this as the “pinnacle of our portfolio.” No doubt about that – this is an exceptional wine made with the best grapes on the estate. It is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Each variety was vinified separately with native yeast and matured separately for 15 months in French oak barrels. The enveloping aroma is a medley of spice, cherry, blackberry and black currant. That leads to a full-bodied, complex wine with flavours of mint, black currant, blackberry and spice. The finish goes on and on and on. The texture is elegantly polished. 94.