Saturday, May 30, 2020

Stag's Hollow at 25

Photo: Winemaker Keira LeFranc

Stag’s Hollow Winery celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

This Okanagan Falls winery was founded by Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger who remain involved even after the winery was purchased last year by Eric Liu (who also owns Bench 1775 Winery on Naramata Road).

The pandemic lockdown, which began in March and is now easing, should not put too much of a damper on the winery’s anniversary celebrations this summer. Stag’s Hollow, like most wineries, offered free shipping to its customers during the past two and a half months. Customers also have been able to arrange to pick up wines in the parking lot.

The customers will welcome the gradual opening of the wine shop. Some of the wines, notably the excellent and limited volume Sauvignon Blanc, are available only at the wine shop.

These releases, all from 2019, demonstrate the sure hand of Keira LeFranc, the full-time winemaker here since 2018. Here is a brief biographic note that was posted when she assumed that position.

“Keira LeFranc grew up in the Okanagan, and got her start in the wine industry in our tasting room as her summer job in 2012, Showing an interest in the cellar side of things, after completing a science degree in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity to join our vintage team on the crush pad in 2013.

“Now more passionate about wine and winemaking, Keira spent 2 years training and working as a sommelier in Australia. However she discovered she missed getting her hands dirty in the cellar. So again, she joined our vintage crew in 2015, and then left to complete a Postgraduate Diploma of Wine Science in New Zealand. We are happy to have her back permanently, working hard in the cellar to help create our wines.”

Here are notes on the wines.  

Stag’s Hollow Pinot Gris 2019 ($26 for 490 cases). This is the winery’s first Pinot Gris. To distinguish it from the ocean of Pinot Gris in the market, winemaker Keira LeFranc decided to make it in what the winery calls “a rich and textural, off-dry Alsatian style.” She succeeded brilliantly. The wine begins with appealing aromas of pear, white peach and citrus. The palate is indeed rich, with flavours of pear, apple and honeydew melon. The wine has a lingering finish with a hint of spice. 92.

Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($22 for 123 cases). This is a dry, zesty wine with aromas and flavours of lime and gooseberry mingled with savoury herbs. The wine is especially notable for the intensity of flavour and the persistent finish. 92.

Stag’s Hollow Muscat Frizzante 2019 ($22 for 305 cases). The blend is 49.7% Muscat Ottonel, 45.3% Orange Muscat and 5% Riesling. With 10% alcohol and delicate bubbles from being carbonated, this wine is light and refreshing. It begins with aromas of spice. On the palate, the flavours mingle spice with citrus and nectarine. This is such a delicious wine, and it goes down so easily, that you need to buy more than one bottle. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Rosé 2019 ($24 for 483 cases). This is 65% Syrah and 35% Zweigelt. The Zweigelt is new to this blend; the winery now has access to that varietal from a Similkameen vineyard. The wine presents in the glass with a delicate pink hue. It begins with aromas of raspberries and strawberries. Those berries are echoed on the intensely flavoured palate mingled with watermelon and a hint of pepper. The finish is dry. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Blanc de Noirs 2019 ($25 for 235 cases). Fashionably pale in the glass, this wine is 76.8% Pinot Noir, 18.2% Gamay Noir and 4.6% Zweigelt. It begins with aromas of cherry, strawberry and peach. The texture is surprising, and pleasingly. Full, with flavours of strawberry and apple. The finish is dry. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Simply Noir 2019 ($22 for 860 cases). The blend is 63% Gamay Noir, 28% Pinot Noir, 5% Zweigelt and 4% Dolcetto. Here is a very drinkable red wine with soft tannins that suggest the wine will benefit from a slight chill. It has aromas and flavours of bright red fruit including cherries. The finish is dry. 90. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

David and Cynthia Enns are back

Photo: Cynthia and David Enns

David and Cynthia Enns, the power couple on the Naramata Bench when they owned Laughing Stock Vineyards, are back with a tiny Pinot Noir winery called 1 Mill Road Vineyard.

The first wine, a 2018 Pinot Noir priced at $48 plus tax, will be released in June, 2020, to those who have their names on the winery’s online mailing list. There are only 400 cases. Partial proceeds from the sale will go to the Food Coalition, a partnership between Vancouver restaurants and local farmers to support the needy impacted by COVID-19.

David and Cynthia sold Laughing Stock in 2017 to Arterra Wines Canada. They had launched that winery in 2003 and, for a number of years, also ran a successful financial consulting firm on the side. They exited that business with the growing success of Laughing Stock where the production in recent vintages approached 12,500 cases.

1 Mill Road, the name of the winery, is taken from the address of the property, located at the northern edge of the village of Naramata. David and Cynthia bought the five-acre property in 2012, planted vines in 2013, and moved there in 2016, after having a house built.

“We went looking for a property, mainly to move away from the winery property because we were trying to get some balance in life,” Cynthia explains.

1 Mill Road’s vineyard, which is on a bench about 50 feet above Okanagan Lake, was  a former organic pear orchard that was semi-abandoned when they bought it. They planted a little more than 1 ½ acres of Pinot Noir vines, all clone 115. It was their strategy to keep their fingers in the wine industry but with a less onerous commitment than Laughing Stock had become.

“When we sold Laughing Stock, we knew we wanted to keep working with this little vineyard,” says Cynthia, who is the grape grower. “We stare at that vineyard from our dining room table. It is very immediate, more so than at Laughing Stock, the way we experience the vineyard. It is small enough that I have been able to tackle the farming without too much difficulty.”

The winery’s 2018 release was made at Laughing Stock and was then transferred to 1 Mill Road when David had completed a production facility there. At 1,000 square feet, it is – they believe – the smallest commercial winery in British Columbia. David equipped it with the best of modern winemaking equipment, scaled to the winery’s production.

The production facility is not at the vineyard but nearby, in a former packing house in the village. The packing house has been renovated and turned into what David calls the Naramata Wine Vault. Currently, seven other wineries rent storage space (and there is a waiting list).

David and his industry supporters are also planning to develop a shared tasting room here for a number of wineries. While that would not be permitted under current regulations, David and his partners, backed by the British Columbia Wine Institute, are negotiating with government to have shared tasting rooms allowed.

David has been making Pinot Noir for about a dozen years, and always with clone 115, sometimes regarded as the go-to clone for solid Pinot Noirs.

“At my heyday at Laughing Stock, I was doing 60 or 70 ferments each vintage, which came down to 12 or 15 wines,” says David (referring a portfolio of multiple varietals). “To get back to making 500 cases and doing one wine is just a fantastic opportunity to focus.”

The challenge, however, is to build in complexity when making a small volume from a single vineyard. At 1 Mill Road, this is resolved both in the vineyard and in the wine making.

The vineyard undulates slightly toward the lake, meaning the grapes do not all ripen at the same time. At harvest, pickers pass through the vineyard several times.

In the winery, David has four fermentation vessels, with the primary ones being two vats from a cooperage in Burgundy. “Basically, the 2018 had four different types of treatments, all hand-punched down, all temperature controlled,” David says. “I re-assembled the wine post-ferment.”

The 2019 vintage, which is now aging in barrel, was made at the facility at the Wine Vault. A barrel sample shows that the wine is as promising as the 2018, if not even better.

David believes that the terroir of the vineyard brings a subtle earthy backbone to the wines. He came to that conclusion because he started working with these grapes from their third leaf and now knows what to expect.

David and Cynthia are also looking for a small additional source of Naramata Bench Pinot Noir, if only to bulk up the production at 1 Mill Road. Wineries usually are required to produce a minimum of 500 cases.

Here is a note on the first release.

1 Mill Road Pinot Noir 2018 Home Block ($48 for 400 cases). The wine presents in the glass with a light and delicate hue and aromas of raspberry and blackberry. Elegant and silky on the palate, the wine has flavours of cherry and strawberry with a hint of earthiness on the finish. 91.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Quails’ Gate releases Richard’s Block Pinot Noir

Photo: Richard Stewart (courtesy Quails' Gate)

It was sad and nostalgic that one of the wines released this spring by Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2018.

Richard Stewart, the family patriarch honoured by this wine, passed away early in May at the age of 94. He was, as the winery explains, “instrumental in bringing Pinot Noir to the Okanagan Valley in 1975.” The Richard’s Block has been in the Quails’ Gate portfolio for several vintages and, fittingly, is one of the best Pinot Noirs from a winery renowned for that varietal.

Here is the winery’s announcement on May 14:

This week the Stewart family quietly celebrates the life of their father Richard “Dick” Stewart, who passed away at the age of 94.

Dick was born in Kelowna on April 8, 1926, one of four children to Dick Snr and Mary (Whitworth) Stewart. Growing up in a family that embraced others, generosity and support were values Dick upheld his entire life in the community, with his family and at the winery.

After graduating UBC with a double major in agriculture and commerce, he worked in father’s business Stewart Brothers Nursery for ten years before venturing out on his own.  A natural visionary, Dick purchased the former Allison Ranch property on Boucherie Road, West Kelowna in 1956 to fulfill his keen interest in grape growing. He proceeded to plant experimental grape varieties at the site which would go on to produce world class wines.

Dick believed in the potential of this region and was a driving force in its development. He was a founding member of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers and member of the Grape Growers' Marketing Board where he subsequently became its chairman. Interested primarily in grape growing, he encouraged his son Ben to establish Quails' Gate Winery in 1989.

Never afraid of new ideas, Dick believed in putting his nose to the ‘grindstone and his shoulder to the wheel’. He was intensely proud that all his children became a part of making the winery successful. He loved to wander the vineyards, Wineshop and offices at Quails’ Gate visiting with guests and he fondly referred to the staff at Quails’ Gate as his extended family.

Dick had a passion for his hometown and felt a deep responsibility to his community giving back and participating in many boards and committees over his lifetime.
 He was a major builder of the wine industry in the Okanagan. I interviewed him at length in the mid-1990s and included a brief profile in The British Columbia Wine Companion. The book was published in 1996 and is now out of print. There are some additional details on his life.
Here is an excerpt:

Stewart, Richard: A member of a family prominent in Okanagan agriculture almost since the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Stewart first planted grapes in 1961 on  property now part of the Quails' Gate vineyards. As well, he formed a partnership with Calona Wines to establish Pacific Vineyards, which leased land from the Westbank Indian Band for a vineyard and bought land south of Oliver for a second vineyard. "We believed there was room for growth in the wine industry," Stewart recalled later.

Initially he planted what were then considered the established varieties -- such North American labrusca grapes as diamond, Campbell's early, sheridan and patricia. A nursery in Seattle, one of his suppliers, misidentified a shipment of  what should have been 10,000 diamond vines. Stewart discovered when the vines were growing that he had been shipped chasselas, a vinifera vine that produces far superior fruit than diamond. "We left them in," Stewart chuckled.

In 1964 he and Joe Capozzi (in the latter's private aircraft) flew to grape-growing areas in Ontario and New York state to choose varieties for the initial Pacific Vineyards plantings the following year.  At Gold Seal Vineyards in New York, one of the early vinifera growers, they found that the previous winter had devastated the vines. That convinced Stewart and Capozzi to play it safe, planting the more hardy hybrid varieties, including de chaunac, chelois, verdelet and maréchal foch. After managing Pacific Vineyards for several years, Stewart sold his interest to Calona Wines and concentrated on developing the vineyard near Westbank that now supports Quails' Gate.

Stewart was a founding member in 1961 of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers (with Frank Schmidt and Martin Dulik), set up to lobby government for favorable policies. He was not an original member of the Grape Growers' Marketing Board but soon joined this price-negotiating body and subsequently became its chairman. 

Here are notes on the Richard’s Block Pinot Noir and the other Quails’ Gate releases this spring.

Quails’ Gate Chasselas-Pinot Gris-Pinot Blanc 2019 ($18.99 for 23,000 cases). As the volume indicates, this is one of the winery’s most popular wines. The 2019 vintage is drier and crisper than earlier vintages, to the considerable benefit of the wine. The aromas of peaches, apples and pears are echoed on the fresh, zesty palate. The moderate alcohol (12%) adds to the drinkability of this delicious wine. Winemaker Ross Baker says:  “I am making a wine that you will want to come back to  for another glass.” 91.

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2019 ($17.99). The wine begins with delicate aromas of lychee and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of white pear, cantaloupe and spice. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine is off-dry even with minimal residual sugar. 88.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2019 ($17.99). The wine begins with aromas of citrus, apple and stone fruit. On the palate, the bright acidity lifts the flavours of lemon and lemon. This wine should be cellared until next spring to allow a full flowering of its flavours. 90.

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2019 ($24.99 for 3,216 cases). This is 87% Chenin Blanc, 9% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of lime, quince and apple. Quite dry, the wine has flavours of citrus and stone fruit with a spine of minerality. 90.

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc Clone 220 2018 ($39.99 for 186 cases). The fruit was fermented 90% in a 1,700-litre concrete egg (new to the winery), the remainder in stainless steel. The wine was aged nine months in the egg. Whether it is the winemaking or the extra year in bottle, the immediate impression on the nose is of richness. There are aromas of apricot and flavours mingling stone fruit, vanilla and a hint of anise. There is good weight on the palate. 92.

Quails’ Gate Rosé 2019 ($17.99). This wine is a blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It is fashionably pale with aromas of strawberries and raspberry. These are echoed in the flavours. With 12% alcohol, the wine is light and fruity. 88.

Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2018 ($64.99). The four clones in this wine were all vinified separated in stainless steel, with the grapes benefitting from 16 days of skin contact. The resulting blend was aged 13 months in French oak (62% new). The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and raspberry mingled with toasted oak. On the rich palate, dark fruit is nicely integrated with oak. 93.

Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2017 ($69.99 for 347 cases). The name of this wine is a tribute to Richard’s wife, Rosemary, whose maiden name was Boswell. This is very likely the most northerly-grown Syrah in the Okanagan. The vines grow in a very warm block on the estate vineyard. The whole berries were pumped over for three weeks while in the fermentation tank, extracting rich aromas and flavours. This big, satisfying wine has aromas of black cherry, fig and plum mingled with white pepper. These are echoed on the palate, along with blueberry, chocolate and oak. 93.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

CedarCreek planting major new vineyard

Photo: CedarCreek winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Estate Winery was already one of the Okanagan’s premier wineries in 2013 when it was acquired by Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estates.

The investments he has made since are taking CedarCreek to an even higher level. Taylor Whelan, the winemaker, has just released some of the best wines that have ever come from CedarCreek. And there is more to come.

CedarCreek’s original vineyard is 50 acres. Vines there were planted as long ago as 1991 and as recently as 2013.

Last year, the winery bought another 100 acres adjacent to the Home Block, as the original vineyard is now called. In a recent newsletter, Taylor said:

“The new site shows significant promise with interesting and undisturbed soils. … The new site begins on very light sandy loam at around 490 meters (nearly 200 meters above the lake), and as it reaches it maximum height at 550 meters, we find an amazing amount of granite in the soils, both flakes and chips, which have been weathered from the hills above, and rounded cobble deposited by glacial runoff streams. These stones bring an exciting element to what will be one of the highest vineyards in the Okanagan.”

The site is being planted over three years. This year, 25 acres of Sauvignon Blanc is being planted. “Planting across a variety of slopes, gravels and sand, we expect bright intensity and green characters and significant variability which is hard to find in Okanagan Sauvignon Blanc,” Taylor writes.

As well, a small block of Chardonnay is being planted this year.

In 2021, significant blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are to be planted. In 2022, a block of Riesling will be planted on a warmer south-facing slope, along with a little more Pinot and perhaps some Gamay Noir and Grüner Veltliner.

“In addition, we will continue to build the complexity and biodiversity of the property,” Taylor continues. “Plans are in the works for vegetable gardens to supply Home Block restaurant. We will relocate and expand our chicken flock. Finally, we are bringing grazing animals onto the property. Scottish Highland cattle are a hearty and stout breed of cow which we will use to graze the vineyards in the spring and fall as well as provide us with valuable manure for continuing our exploration of viticultural practices beyond organics.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

CedarCreek Home Block Sparkling Brut NV ($24.99). This is CedarCreek’s first sparkling wine – and what a wine! It is made with Muscat Ottonel, an aromatic variety. Winemaker Taylor came up with an extraordinary single fermentation technique to capture the delicate aromatics in the finished wine. Fermentation started in the conventional manner for a table wine. But when 35 grams of natural sugar remained, the wine was transferred to a Charmat tank. Here, carbon dioxide was captured to give the wine bubbles. Fermentation was stopped with 8.5 grams of residual sugar, delicately balanced with perfect acidity. This is the cleanest, freshest ancestral method sparkling wine I have ever tasted. It is bursting with tropical fruit. With just 10% alcohol, it is light and ever so refreshing. 93.

CedarCreek Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($18.99). Move over, New Zealand, for an Okanagan Sauvignon Blanc that mirrors the best of Marlborough. The zesty aromas and flavours of lemon, lime and grapefruit are lively and refreshing on the palate. It is bone dry. 92.

CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2019 ($18.99). This wine was fermented 93% in stainless steel and 7% in neutral oak. That touch of barrel ferment, along with three months on the lees, give the wine a rich texture. It has aromas and flavours pears, apples and peaches. 92.

CedarCreek Pinot Noir 2018 ($26.99). This wine was fermented with wild yeast in small stainless barrels and in concrete. It was aged 14 months on the lees in French oak barriques. It begins with toasty aromas mingled with cherry leading to savoury herbal flavours of cherry and blackberry. The wine has good weight and texture. 91.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir ($54.99). This wine was fermented in concrete and aged 12 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of cherry and plum mingled with toasted oak. The flavours echo the aromas, with a long finish of red fruit flavours. The texture is elegantly silky. 93.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir ($54.99 for 743 six-packs). This wine was fermented in concrete and aged 12 months in French oak. It begins with an appealing aroma of dark cherry mingled with toasted oak. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, plum and spice with bright red fruit on the persistent  finish. Another outstanding Pinot Noir. 93.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Blue Mountain's two reserve whites

Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt Mavety

Two first-rate 2017 reserve white wines have recently been released by Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars.

In ordinary times, the wines would merit a visit to Blue Mountain to taste and to purchase. These are not quite ordinary times: tasting rooms are closed by suggestion of, and perhaps by order, of the provincial health officer.

To those with long memories, there is some irony in applying this to Blue Mountain. For the better part of two decades, the tasting room was open by appointment only, much to the disappointment of those who showed up without an appointment.

In spite of what some people thought, the policy was not there because the owners wanted to be curmudgeons. This is a family-run winery that did not have staff to man a tasting room each season. When more family members joined the business during the past decade, the wine shop has opened for visitors during the wine touring season.

So far this year, precautions against the COVID-19 virus have kept all winery tasting rooms closed. Some limited openings are anticipated in June or July. Perhaps the tasting rooms will operate close to normally by the fall wine festival (if there is one).

The current status, however, is laid out clearly on the Blue Mountain website:

To Our Valued Blue Mountain Supporters,
Due to the current and ongoing health situation, our tasting room will remain closed until further notice. We will continue to evaluate the situation surrounding COVID-19 and post any further updates on our website.  We hope to have further information late June.
Your support continues to mean a lot to us.  For those of you who would like to pick-up their wines from the winery we are now offering curbside pick-up.  We do require the following steps to be taken if you would like to take advantage of our curbside pick-up:
  • All orders must be processed ahead of time.
  • Please provide 48 hours notice prior to pick-up.
  • When you arrive at the gate please pull off to the side of the road and open your trunk so we can load your wine safely. Please call upon arrival (250) 497-8244.
It is our utmost importance to keep yourself and our employees safe so please stay in your car and we will do the heavy lifting for you!
Please do not hesitate to reach out and call the winery, (250) 497-8244 or email at

Here are notes of the two current releases that you should considering ordering and picking up:

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2017 ($28). Think of a complex, full-bodied Pinot Gris from Alsace (at twice the price). Winemaker Matt Mavety begins with grapes from 31-year-old vines. The fruit is fermented with wild yeast in stainless steel (70%) and a selection of oak vessels (30%). The latter portion was aged sur lie for eight months. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and pear that are echoed on the palate, where the flavours mingle subtly with oak. A touch of spice picks up the persistent finish. 92.

Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay 2017 ($30). Seventy percent of the fruit for this wine was fermented with wild yeast and aged 10 months in French oak (new to third fill). The wine begins with appealing aromas, with citrus and peach mingled with butter. The citrus and fruit flavours are fresh on the palate (only 20% of the wine was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation). This is an elegant Chardonnay with a lingering finish. 92.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rust Syrah trio and friends

Photo: Rust winery with deliberate corrosion

The current releases from Rust Wine Company illustrate how this Oliver winery is operating under its new owners.

The releases included three Syrahs, all from 2017 but each from a different vineyard.

“The main focus for our winery will be single vineyard, single varietal wines,” tasting room manager Kane Morgan told me last summer. “The idea is to make them identically and to use the same viticultural techniques, so that what jumps out of the glass is strictly terroir.”

Previously, the winery was known as Rustico Farm & Cellars. It had opened in 2009. The onsite manager was Bruce Fuller and his backers were the Gidda brothers, who then owned Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery.

However, a bitter falling out between the brothers ended with Mt. Boucherie being auctioned by a receiver in 2015. Vancouver businessman Sonny Huang took over the winery. He has since expanded Mt. Boucherie.

Rustico was closed for a renovation both of the winery and of the 10-acre Golden Mile Vineyard and for a rebranding. The winery was clad in a steel made deliberately to acquire a patina of rust. The labels are created from photos – often supplied by customers – of rusty objects. It is a lot more effective than it sounds.

“When we opened up, we had no money for label designs,” Kane told me last summer. “So all of our labels are photographs we took of rusty things. We started telling people at the tasting bar to take an image if they ever see anything rusty and we will throw it on a label and give them a free case of wine and a photo credit. One gentleman sent us about 20 images, which are all fantastic. We told him we have to spread the love around. So he comes to us with all these pieces of his artwork to sell in the winery. He happens to be a local gentleman who specializes in rusty vehicles and old worn out doors. For our purposes it works really well.”

 While Rustico’s wines had been made at Mt. Boucherie, Rust hired a winemaker of its own last year: Ryan DeWitte, who had spent four vintages at Leaning Post Winery in Niagara.

He has the resources to make terroir-driven wines because Mt. Boucherie owns 200 acres of vineyards spread throughout West Kelowna, Okanagan Falls and the Similkameen Valley.

There has been an effort to minimize the duplication of the portfolios of the two wineries. Rust makes Gamay and Gewürztraminer; Mt. Boucherie does not. The decision was driven in part by the fact that those are two varieties grown at Rust. The Gewürztraminer vines are some of the oldest in the Okanagan. Rust also has Zinfandel in its vineyard.

None of those three were in the spring release. But it did include three single vineyard Syrahs. Here are notes on the wines.

Rust Pinot Grigio 2019 ($18). This wine was fermented on the skins in stainless steel and with natural yeast. The skin contact has imparted a faint blush and perhaps more body than one would expect with a Pinot Grigio (but not if the label were Pinot Gris). The aroma recalled, at least for me, chocolate covered cherries. On the palate, there are flavours of cantaloupe. 88.

Rust Chardonnay 2019 ($22). The grapes, which are from Okanagan Falls, were fermented in stainless steel with natural yeast. The resulting wine is reminiscent of Chablis: crisp, fruit forward, with citrus and green apple on the palate. 90.

Rust Rosé 2019 ($22). The wine is made with grapes from the first harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the estate’s South Rock Vineyard in 2016. (This variety replaced a block of Chancellor). The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. The hue is vibrant and dark. The aromas and flavours display intense notes of cherry. The wine is so fruity as to seem sweet – but it is a bold, dry rosé. 89.

Rust Syrah 2017 Similkameen Valley ($37). The grapes are from the winery’s Lazy River Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. During fermentation, the must was punched down twice daily and the wine was aged 16 months in French and American oak (40% new). There are aromas and flavours of cherry, plum and cola mingled with vanilla. 90.

Rust Syrah 2017 Ferreira Vineyard Black Sage Bench ($40). The grapes were punched down twice daily in small totes during fermentation and then aged 16 months in French and American oak (50% new). This is a bold Syrah, with aromas and flavours of dark fruit mingled with pepper. The finish lingers. 93

Rust Syrah 2017 South Rock Vineyard Golden Mile Bench ($37). The grapes were punched down twice daily in small totes and then aged 16 months in French and American oak (38% new). A wine with a concentrated texture, it begins with aromas of figs and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of figs, plums and other dark fruits accented by spice. 92.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Winemaker Graham Pierce joins Kitsch

 Photo: Winemaker Graham Pierce

Veteran winemaker Graham Pierce has joined Kitsch Wines as general manager and winemaker.

Kitsch is a Kelowna boutique winery that opened in 2016 and that has made a name for itself with its Rieslings and Pinot Noir wines.

Graham takes over from Grant Biggs, a Vancouver Island native who decided earlier this year to take time away from winemaking.

Graham, who grew up in Horseshoe Bay, started his career initially working in Vancouver restaurants. About 2000, he moved to the Okanagan to be the culinary director at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. That is where he developed an interest in winemaking and viticulture. After studying winemaking at Okanagan University College, he joined Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery where, in 2003, he was named head winemaker.

In 2008 he moved to Black Hills Estate Winery. He took over from the legendary Senka Tennant after the founders of Black Hills sold the winery. Graham was able to expand the Black Hills portfolio. He also took Nota Bene, already a cult wine, to an even higher level of quality.

In 2018, he joined the late Harry McWatters as the director of wine at Time Winery in Penticton.  

In its announcement, Kitsch says: “His passion for winemaking and viticulture paired with a love of culinary arts and hospitality makes him a natural and exciting fit to work with the expa dinb team at Kitsch Wines.”

Kitsch is owned by Trent and Ria Kitsch, an entrepreneurial couple with an unusual background for the wine business. Initially, they began a business in 2006 to develop and market innovatively designed SAXX briefs. Five years later, when the business was proven, they sold it to a well-resourced manufacturer.

“We had an exit strategy,” says Ria, who has a business degree. “It was essential that if it was going to be big, it get into the hands of people that could make it big, because that wasn’t us. So we sold the brand, and that allowed us to pursue our Okanagan dream of planting grapevines and starting the winery.”

On property in northeast Kelowna owned by Trent’s family, they planted 12.7 acres of vines. The largest planting is Riesling; the other varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. The vineyard occupies a plateau, with a panoramic view to the south over the city and Okanagan Lake. In 2019, they acquired a nearby cherry orchard where they will 14 acres of vines, primarily Pinot Noir, in 2020.

They are also planning to build a winery this year, moving production from a former three-car garage that has served them for five years but will be too small to handle additional planned production.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sandhill Rosé 2019 lifts the spirits

Photo: Winemaker Sandy Leier

Sandy Leier, the winemaker at Sandhill Wines, has delivered the perfect rosé from the 2019 vintage to lift our spirits at this time.

I always identify rosé wines with the arrival of spring. Most of them are released in the spring and most have the freshness that is unique to the weather in springtime. After a month and a half of self-isolating, nothing brightens the day like a refreshing rosé.

The 2019 vintage has delivered wines with bright acidity and good flavour at relatively low alcohols. That may be especially beneficial if the reports are correct – that alcohol consumption is higher than usual among those who self-isolate. The 2019 wines will not cause inebriation as readily as those of the previous four or five vintages.

The Sandhill Rosé 2019 has 12.7% alcohol, with 6.2 grams of acidity per litre and an imperceptible 6.2 grams of sugar per litre. To my palate, the wine tastes dry.

It is a blend of 81% Gamay Noir, 13% Merlot and 6% Sangiovese. Sandy fermented each variety separately, cool and with a strain of yeast that enhanced the aromas. A portion of the Gamay grapes received just enough skin contact to impart a delicate coral/rose petal hue, but not that pallid hue that has been fashionable in recent years.

The wine is beautiful. It is packaged elegantly in a clear bowling pin-shaped bottle. It also looks great in the wine glass.

Sandhill Rosé 2019 ($20). The wine sells itself on eye appeal alone and backs that up with aromas of cherry and strawberry. On the palate there is a fruity dance of cherry, watermelon and pink grapefruit. 91.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Schönburger and friends from Black Widow

Photo: Dick Lancaster

Black Widow Winery is one the few producers with a Schönburger in its portfolio.

The vine was already planted in this Naramata property, along with Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, when Dick and Shona Lancaster bought it in 2000. Rather than replace the somewhat obscure Schönburger, Dick has continued to make a wine with it, as well as to use it in one of the winery’s popular white blends.

Because the wines usually have a spicy perfume, I had always assumed that one of the parents is Gewürztraminer.  I got a surprise when I looked the variety up in Wine Grapes, the authoritative guide by Jancis Robinson and two colleagues.

Schönburger was developed in 1939 at the Geisenheim Research Station in Germany. The plant breeder crossed Pinot Noir with something called Pirovano I. This in turn is a cross of Chasselas Rose and Muscat of Hamburg; the latter explains the spicy notes.

The variety was authorized only in 1980 for commercial use. It appears it is more widely planted in England than in Germany. It arrived in the Okanagan even before it was commercially authorized, courtesy of Helmut Becker, who was the one of the senior scientists at Geisenheim.

To quote from the report of the Becker Project, as the viticulture trials were called:

“During 1976 Prof. Helmut Becker … toured British Columbia vineyards at the request of Andrés Wines.” Walter Gehringer, who had been a student at Geisenheim, was then a winemaker at Andrés and instigated the invitation to Becker.

Becker “visited many sites, including Mr. George Heiss’ vineyard at Okanagan Centre in the Okanagan valley. Obviously impressed, he offered a collection of German grape cultivars from Geisenheim for evaluation.”

Some 33 varieties were evaluated. In 1984 the Association of British Columbia awarded a contract for the tissue culturing of the six most promising whites in the Becker trial. One of them was Schönburger. Among the wineries that included Schönburger in their portfolios were Gray Monk (founded by the Heiss family) and Gehringer Brothers.

The previous owner of the Black Widow vineyard was Brian Karrer. Dick Lancaster reports that the Schönburger vines, which are self-rooted, came from Lanny Martiniuk, the legendary propagator of grape vines in the Okanagan. Lanny started propagating plants just as the Becker project was being wound up. Naturally, Stoneboat Pinot House run by the Martiniuk family, has a Schönburger in its portfolio as well.

Here are notes on the current releases from Black Widow.

Black Widow Pinot Gris 2019 ($22.90). This wine begins with aromas of pear mingled with a hint of almond. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe pear and ripe apple with spice on the finish. Both the texture and the flavours are rich. The complexity of this wine was enhanced with skin contact and a modest, but crucial, oak ferment on a portion. 91.

Black Widow Oasis 2019 ($22.90). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Schönburger. It begins with aromas of melon, peaches and spice. On the palate, it is a luscious bowl of fruit – peaches, ripe pears and lychees. The wine has good weight and a long finish. It is balanced toward dryness. 92.

Black Widow Dry Gewürztraminer 2019 ($22.90). At last – wineries are liberating Gewürztraminer from residual sugar. The result is a crisply dry and fresh white wine with a spicy aroma and with flavours of grapefruit and stone fruit. There is good weight on the palate. The wine is elegant and polished on the finish. 91.

Black Widow Schönburger 2019 ($26.90). This wine is slightly off dry, with aromas and flavours of tropical fruits including ripe pineapple, pears and apples mingled with a spicy undertone. 91.

Black Widow Rosé 2019 ($24.90). This wine is made with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The pale rose petal hue gives the wine eye appeal. It has aromas of raspberry and cherry, leading an abundance of fruity flavours: raspberry, apple and red plum. The bright acidity of the 2019 vintage gives the wine a refreshing finish. 91.

Black Widow Sparkling Web 2019 ($24.90). This is a delicious frizzante style of sparking wine, refreshingly fermented to total dryness. It begins with spicy aromas, leading to flavours of citrus and tropical fruits. The finish is crisp, with bubbles that dance on the palate. 90.

Black Widow Phobia 2018 ($31.90). This is 50% each of Syrah and Merlot, barrel-aged for 17 months. It begins with aromas of dark cherry and black pepper, leading to flavours of raspberry and black currant with a hint of black pepper. The wine has long ripe tannins. 91.

Black Widow Red Back 2018 ($34.90). This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. It announces itself dramatically with aromas of plum, cherry, blackberry, toasted oak and coffee. The aromas are echoed richly on the palate, with a hint of chocolate in the finish. 92.