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.