Monday, August 31, 2020

Blue Mountain releases 2018 Pinot Noirs

Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt Mavety

Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars has been a leading producer of Pinot Noir in the Okanagan since 1991.

For many years, the winery produced just an estate Pinot Noir. In time, as the vines and the winemaking matured, a Reserve Pinot Noir joined the portfolio. Beginning with the 2017 vintage, the winery also released three single vineyard block Pinot Noirs along with the other two.

The winery is about to release all five of its Pinot Noirs from the 2018 vintage. Those  who were very impressed with the 2017 single vineyard block wines will be completely swept away by the exceptional 2018s.

 I tasted these wines with a friend who has great affection for Pinot Noir and deep knowledge about the varietal. He shared my excitement for the single vineyard block wines. He wondered why Blue Mountain, since it has been growing Pinot Noir for more than 30 years, had waited until last year to release what would be Grand Cru wines if the Okanagan were Burgundy.

Last year, Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety told me that the decision to bottle single vineyard block wines in the 2017 vintage was the culmination of at least a decade of experience with the Blue Mountain vineyard. 

“As our understanding of the vineyards and the wines we are making from specific blocks emerged, we had three blocks we could isolate as three unique personalities,” Matt says.  “We definitely have differences in the soils here. One of the blocks in particular is different, based on the soil. But quite often, we find the topography is what is giving us a significant difference in the sites.”

Wine from these blocks was already part of the estate and reserve blends. In order not to strip quality from those, only small bottlings – about 1,800 bottles each – have been released as single block wines. When the wines are lined up side by side, the differences are evident.

“Our customer may have a preference one way or another, but we are not ranking them,” Matt says. “There is an order in which they are poured but not necessarily an order of one, two and three.”

Each block has been named in an attempt to telegraph the personalities of the wines. Block 9, a vineyard block just under a hectare in size with undulating terrain and multiple exposures, is now Wild Terrain. Block 14 is Gravel Force because the soil is a mix of gravel and clay. Block 23’s name, River Flow, is suggested by the sandy soils.

The winemaking is similar for all of these wines. The grapes are harvested by hand, de-stemmed and lightly crushed into open-top fermenting tanks. Fermentations are done with wild yeast. The maceration period is 14 to 18 days with light pump-overs and cautious punch-downs of the cap.

At the end of fermentation, the wine is drained to tank and the remaining pomace is gently pressed. The wine settles for three to seven days and is then decanted into French oak. Portions of the reserve Pinot and the three single vineyard block wines age in barrels ranging from new to four years old. The wines age on their fine lees, which contributes a richness to the texture.

All the wines were bottled in March 2020 and have had six or so months in bottle before release.

Treating the grapes the same way allows the terroir to shine through. The difference between the estate Pinot Noir and the reserve appears to reflect blending of wines from the best barrels. The personalities of the single vineyard block wines clearly reflects the terroir of those specific sites.

Here are notes on the wines.

Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2018 ($35). Made with four clones of 12-year-old vines, this is a bright Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherries and baking spice. The texture is silky. 90.

Blue Mountain Reserve Cuvée Pinot Noir 2018 ($45). This wine, which is significantly richer on the palate, is made with four clones of fruit from vines that range in age from 21 years to 34 years. It begins with aromas of cherries, blueberries and dark fruits. The wine is savoury with flavours of cherry and plum and a hint of earthiness on the lingering finish. 93.

Blue Mountain Gravel Force Block 14 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). Made with two clones (115, 667) from 31-year-old vines, this is a wine with power. The winery calls it “brooding.” It is rich and full of dark fruit flavours and has what Burgundians would call forest floor on the finish. 95.

Blue Mountain River Flow Block 23 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). This is made from clones 113 and 144; the vines are 26 years old and grow in sandy loam. The wine begins with voluptuous aromas of cherry and spice leading to seductive flavours of cherry and ripe raspberry. 95.

Blue Mountain Wild Terrain Block 9 Pinot Noir 2018 ($55). The vines here, clones 115 and 667, are 21 years old. The block’s topography is described as variable and extreme. The texture is firmer than its partners. The spice notes that mingle with dark fruits on the nose and palate recall hints of orange peel. It is a surprising untamed but pleasing character. 94.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Camelot's 2019s are expressive wines

 Photo: Camelot owner Robert Young with wine director Julian Samoisette (right).

Tucked away in East Kelowna, Camelot Vineyards Estate Winery has kept a low profile since opening in 2009.

In recent years, the wines made by Julian Samoisette, Camelot’s wine director, deserve a second look – or perhaps a first if this label still is not on your radar screen.

The four samples sent recently were accompanied by Julian’s excellent narrative on the wines and the vintage. I am reproducing most of it here.

“A bumper crop of Gewürztraminer [in 2019] allowed me to skew our White Knight blend a little more heavily towards that varietal than I have in the past,” Julian began. “After the cool finish to 2018, and the resulting low alcohol of that vintage, we really let this past year’s Gewürztraminer hang on the vine to get all the sun it could. I really wanted to fatten up this blend and achieve some real mouthfeel, along with the beautiful perfume that always comes along with Gewurztraminer. For a few different reasons, the Riesling addition is very slight compared to previous years. I expect it'll still please a crowd, but it is definitely a welcome deviation. from previous vintages.”

The 2019 Riesling is the first release of this varietal in five years.

“The wet weather last September led to some loss due to rot, but the fruit we did get was of great quality, so I wasn't deterred in showcasing it in the bottle,” Julian wrote. “As much as I do enjoy bone-dry Riesling, a touch of residual sugar goes a long way in offsetting the high acid and helps make the varietal a little more user-friendly, so that's the style I pursued with this wine. The early response to it has been positive, which is great to hear because I really believe people's perception and appreciation of Riesling is improving with exposure. They definitely have their options [among the wineries] in Southeast Kelowna. We're all too happy to add to the bench's great reputation for the grape.”

There is so much Pinot Gris in the market that it is hard to make one distinctive enough for consumers to remember it, Julian believes.

“After three or four vintages of experimentation, I believe I've found the Pinot Gris profile I've been searching for,” Julian writes. “I've been aiming for a more expressive aromatic profile for our Pinot Gris, and with the help of a yeast I've been using the last few years, I think I've finally got it. We also reduced the cold soak time from 20 hours to 14, which obviously resulted in a much lighter, almost straw-colored hue in the bottle. Despite the higher alcohol compared to 2018, I find the 2019 Pinot Gris actually lighter in flavor, which I think works better than previous years. hence the constant tinkering with the process in the cellar. Hopefully this can be the one that sticks out!”

The final wine in the current release is a wine that Camelot chooses to call Ruthless Rosé, in honour of Robert Young's mother Ruth,  now 87.

“For the third season in a row, we've used some of our Pinot Noir to make our Ruthless Rosé,” Julian writes.

“While I loved the bright pink hue of our previous two rosés, I wanted to see a lighter color in the bottle this time around. Maybe not the pale orange of Provence, but definitely scaled back a touch. Along with reducing the maceration time, I decided to add a little Gewurztraminer to the final product as well. I'd done the same but with  Riesling the previous two years to add acidity.  I found the Gewürztraminer added a bit of perfume and weight to the finished wine. Just like the other new releases, I've tried to make the new vintage different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to be recognizable to our long-time customers.”

He ended his narrative with a reference to an upcoming red wine release.

“We currently have 2019 Pinot Noir in the barrel and are hoping for an early October release,” Julian wrote. “We're pretty excited because it's been a couple years since we've made a full-blooded Pinot Noir. I know our customers are definitely thirsty for one so we're very much looking forward to having it available in the fall.”
Here are my notes on the wines.

Camelot White Knight 2019 ($17.90).  Spicy on the nose, this is a fruity blend predominantly made with Gewürztraminer. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, Mandarin orange and ripe peach, with a lingering finish. 91.

Camelot Estate Riesling 2019 ($21.90). Somewhat retained on the nose, this Riesling needs more bottle age to reveal its potential. Not a bad thing – Riesling is like that. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and apple. The balance is spot on – just enough residual sugar to flesh out the texture while leaving a bright finish. 90.

Camelot Pinot Gris 2019 ($19.90). This wine is a bowl full of tropical fruit, including banana, guava and stone fruits. The texture is fleshy and the finish just goes on and on. This is a very good Pinot Gris indeed. 92.

Camelot Ruthless Rosé 2019 ($19.90). The wine presents with a delicate pink hue. It has aromas of strawberry and watermelon. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and watermelon, with a rich texture and a dry, lingering finish. 91.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Bordertown embraces Cabernet Franc

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill

The fourth most widely grown red wine grape in the Okanagan is Cabernet Franc.

In the 2019 vintage, it accounted for just under 12% of total red grape production. Cabernet Franc was marginally behind Cabernet Sauvignon. The most widely grown red, of course, is Merlot at 37% of the production in 2019, followed by Pinot Noir, at 17%.

The acreage of Cabernet Franc likely is limited because many winemakers thought of it as a blending grape, rather than a varietal to be rolled out on its own. Tinhorn Creek was an early champion of Cabernet Franc as a varietal. Mission Hill, on the other hand, did not release a Cabernet Franc on its own until three years ago. John Simes, the former winemaker, kept the grape for his excellent blends.

Judging from the large volume of Cabernet Franc made by Bordertown Vineyards in 2018, the variety has picked up a new champion in this Osoyoos winery operated by Mohan Gill.

Jancis Robinson, in her authoritative Grape Vines, describes Cabernet Franc as the “fragrant, well-structured parent of Cabernet Sauvignon”.

“Canada’s relatively short growing season means that Cabernet Franc can be ripened more easily that Cabernet Sauvignon in some areas,” she writes.

That was the reason that Tinhorn Creek in 1994 planted Cabernet Franc and Merlot but not Cabernet Sauvignon when initially planting its Diamondback Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Cabernet Sauvignon ripens about a week later than Cabernet Franc. Tinhorn creek has planted the varietal since because the growing seasons have become warmer.

There is no doubt that Cabernet Franc is well-suited for the South Okanagan. In addition to Bordertown, the Gill families at Gold Hill have elevated the place of Cabernet Franc in their portfolio.

The grape produces lively, full-flavoured red wines that are often described as “brambly” because of the exuberant red berry aromas and flavours. Bordertown’s 2018 is an excellent example.   

Here are notes on that wine and other new releases from Bordertown.

Bordertown Gewürztraminer 2019 ($20 for 100 cases). The wine begins with aromas of spices and herbs which carry through to the flavours. The dry finish sets the wine up to be enjoyed with food. 90.

Bordertown Viognier 2019 ($22 for 135 cases). The wine begins with aromas and flavours of pear, pineapple and apricot. The moderate alcohol (12.1%) and good acidity make this a refreshing wine with a dry finish. 90.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc Rosé 2019 ($23 for 675 cases). Fashionably pale, the wine begins with aromas of wild strawberries. It delivers juicy flavours of strawberry and watermelon, with a lingering dry finish. 91.

Bordertown Merlot 2017 ($25 for 865 cases). The wine begins with aromas of dark fruits mingled with vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, blackberry and even raspberry. The long ripe tannins flesh out the texture of this medium-bodied wine. The finish is persistent. 91.

Bordertown Cabernet Franc 2018 ($23 for 4,200 cases). This wine begins with classic brambly aromas mingled with cassis and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of dark fruits (black cherry, fig) along with notes of tobacco and dark chocolate. The tannins are ripe but the firm texture marks this as a wine for decanting now or for aging five to seven years. 93.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Mirabel has opened its tasting room

Photo: Dawn and Doug Reimer in front of new Mirabel winery

A dinner guest who recently helped me taste a pink sparkling wine from Mirabel Vineyards sad that the wine took her back to fond memories of a summer once spent at Montpellier in the south of France.

That is in the heart of pink wine country. But it speaks well of any wine if pleasant memories come alive while drinking it.

Mirabel Vineyards launched several years ago as a virtual winery. This summer, with its brand reputation solidly established, this Kelowna winery completed an on-site winery and tasting room.

Doug and Dawn Reimer, the owners, have also hired their own winemaker: Kyle Temple, formerly assistant winemaker at Tantalus Vineyards. Previously, they had relied on various (excellent) consultants.

One immediate consequence of having an onsite winery and an in-house winemaker is that it is costing the Reimers a little less to make and sell their wines. Mirabel wine pricing has become a little more competitive.

For more background on Reimer, here is an excerpt from my recently-released Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (now in the bookstores at $25).

In 2005, Dawn and Doug Reimer moved to Kelowna in search of a site for their dream home. The property they bought overlooks a golf course and the city. But the apple trees on the slope spoiled the view for Doug until he planted Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay later). He decided to launch Mirabel Vineyards after several leading Okanagan wineries produced stunning wines from his grapes. “We were waiting to see what this terroir would really produce,” Doug says. “If it produced something we were excited about, then we want to take ownership and put our name on it.”

The Reimers are Winnipeg natives. Doug, who was born in 1955, is a member of a renowned trucking family. His father, Donald, started Reimer Express Lines in 1952 with one truck. A successor company, Reimer World Corporation, now employs 3,000 in Canada. “We have always loved wine, but that is not how I got interested in growing it,” Doug says. “When we bought the property, we had such a beautiful piece of property, but we thought we could do more than grow apples and pears. They don’t pay very much, and they don’t look that good.”

Doug has a singular focus. “We are trying to establish what will be a superior Pinot Noir in all of Canada, and knock down some doors in Oregon as well,” Doug says. “I love Oregon Pinot Noir. I have done extensive travelling in the Pinot Noir areas in Oregon. Maybe that is where our love started. We love the Burgundians as well. I did not want it to taste like Okanagan. I wanted it to taste like ‘world level,’ although people talk of sense of place.”
Here are notes on the current releases.

Mirabel Chardonnay 2018 ($28 Sold out). This is a textbook Chardonnay of great refinement and very restrained use of oak. The citrus aromas mingle with hints of vanilla. The palate delivers bright, fresh flavours of apples and peaches. 92.

Mirabel Rosé of Pinot Noir 2018 ($21 for 168 cases). Fashionably pale, the wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The wine has a charming delicacy. 90.

Mirabel Blanc de Noir 2016 ($42 for 116 cases). Refreshing and crisp, the wine is festive in the glass with delicate pink hues and active bubbles. It delivers flavours of apple, raspberry and watermelon (and triggers memories of a summer in France). 92.

Mirabel Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($32 for 150 cases). Elegant and pretty, this wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The texture is silken. 92.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gold Hill cements relationship with Val Tait

Photo: Winemaker Val Tait with Gold Hill's Navi Gill

The long relationship between Gold Hill Winery and Val Tait came to full maturity this summer when she joined the winery as both its winemaker and its viticulturist.

Val is a legend in the Okanagan. Born in 1964, she has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in integrated pest management. She started working at the Summerland research station on plant viruses and then developed her independent consulting business with grape growers in the early 1990s as new vineyards were being planted. “I was lucky to get in on the industry when it was starting to grow,” she told me once in an interview.

She was a partner in Calliope Vintners, a virtual winery launched in 1999. The label is now owned by Burrowing Owl Estate Winery which bought it after two of the partners moved to New Zealand and Calliope closed.

In 2013, Val joined Bench 1775 Winery. She was the winemaker, viticulturist and general manager there until this spring when she and her partner, Ian Sutherland, left to establish their own brand, 2house Wines.

“For almost 20 years I have been making wine from a family of growers located in Osoyoos – Sant and Gurbachan Gill,” Val says, explaining how the relationship has developed between her and the owners of Gold Hill.

“The Gill brothers have been residents of the Osoyoos area since the 1980s. My husband Ian Sutherland and I first met them when they sold their home orchard to Poplar Grove [formerly owned by Sutherland] and then replanted that orchard to vineyard,” Val continues. “A year later I designed the new home vineyard for the Gill brothers that was to become Gold Hill Winery.”

 Val adds: “As soon as fruit was produced on this site, the Gill brothers sold fruit to many well-known wineries [including Bench 1775] and many of those wines went on to receive significant domestic and international awards and accolades.”

Soon after the Gold Hill winery opened in 2011, it won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence for its debut Cabernet Franc 2009. Until this year, Philip Soo, a well-known consulting winemaker in the Okanagan, has been making the Gold Hill wines.

Val is taking over at the same time when a second generation of Gills, including Simon Fraser University graduate Navi Gill, are joining the family business.

“It has been my immense pleasure to be able to join the Gold Hill team and to be able to have access to the impressive fruit that is being produced from the 75 acres farmed by the Gill Brothers,” Val writes.

“Future developments will see Gold Hill Winery focus on Cabernet Franc from different vineyard blocks from Osoyoos south, Osoyoos north and a new Black Sage vineyard. Current wine production is at 3,000 cases and growth will be capped at 8,000 cases.”

It remains to be seen how Val will impact the house style at Gold Hill. The Gill Brothers have always grown grapes for maximum flavours, letting the alcohols fall where they may. Invariably, the Gold Hill reds have been among the biggest and boldest in the Okanagan, with alcohol levels of red table wines sometimes approaching 16%. Usually, the wines are so substantial and rich in flavour that they carry the alcohol.

Here are notes on some current releases.

Gold Hill Chardonnay 2019 ($19.99). This is an unoaked Chardonnay, fermented cool in stainless steel. It has aromas of apple and peach. On the palate, there are flavours of apple with a hint of pineapple, all supported by a spine of minerality. The wine is bright, dry and refreshing. 90.

Gold Hill Rosé 2018 ($19.99). This is a Cabernet Franc rosé, made by bleeding juice from a tank. Several years ago, the juice was left on the skins for two days inadvertently, producing a dark-hued rosé. When the winery made a more conventional, lighter-hued rosé the following vintage, it got such kickback from customers that the winery has returned to the dark style. This is a robust, dark rosé with aromas and flavours of plum, cherry and strawberry. I have to say that, while I like lots of colour in rosé, the house style here is a step too far. 88.

Gold Hill Cabernet Merlot 2017 ($24.99). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It is a rich and satisfying wine, beginning with aromas of cassis and blueberries. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry compote and chocolate. 92.

Gold Hill Merlot 2013 ($34.99). This appears to be sold out; the winery’s website now shows the 2014 vintage, arguably an even better vintage than 2013. If this wine is in your cellar, you have a typically bold Gold Hill wine, with aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry and blueberry. 91.

Gold Hill Cabernet Franc 2015 ($34.99). This wine is all about power: 15.9% alcohol with bold aromas and flavours of blackberry, black cherry and spice. There is noticeable heat on the palate. 89.

Gold Hill Grand Vin 2014 ($64.99). The blend is Merlot 33.4%, Cabernet Franc 22.2%, Cabernet Sauvignon 22.2% and Malbec 22.2%. The alcohol is a robust 15.9%, once again signalling that this is a full-flavoured red. It has aromas of spice, black currants and cherries, leading to flavours of black cherry, black currant, chocolate and vanilla. 94.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Blue Mountain plays it safe

Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt and Christie Mavety (Chris Stenberg photo)

Earlier this year, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars announced that it would not open its tasting room this summer to safeguard the staff from any exposure to the corona virus.

My first reaction was to think: Déja Vu all over again. This winery famously had a policy of visits by appointment only for roughly its first 20 years. For the last decade or so, Christie Mavety and her brother, Matt (the winemaker) have opened the wine shop every summer.

However, their decision this summer makes sense to me. I have yet to visit any Okanagan wineries myself this year. As a senior, I am reluctant to take any unnecessary risks. Therefor, I should not expect others to take risks in this challenging summer.

Not that I have to take risks.  Blue Mountain (and some other wineries) voluntarily send their new releases for review. I have a good grasp at what many producers are doing and I have been able to conclude that, based on the white and rosé wines, the 2019 vintage is a strong one.

Wineries this year made it easy for their consumers to buy the wines. Virtually every winery offered free shipping and discounts from mid-March through to the end of June. Some extended free shipping into August. When the figures are available later this year, they will show that the sales volumes were excellent.

For Blue Mountain customers who go the Okanagan, the winery offers a curbside service, loading wines into the car. There also are online sales, so far with free shipping.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2019 ($25). The wine has aromas and flavours of apples and stone fruit crisply wrapped around notes of minerality. A portion was fermented in neutral oak and aged five months on lees. The wine is dry, with a generous texture on the palate. 91.

Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2019 ($25). Eighty percent of this wine was fermented in a variety of neutral oak barrels and aged on the lees for five months. The remaining 20% was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The aroma mingles pear and citrus with lively flavours of stone fruit and apples. The finish lingers. This is an elegant and complex Pinot Gris. 92.

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($25).  Nine-two per cent of this wine was fermented in a variety of neutral French oak vessels with the rest fermented in stainless steel.  Most was aged five months on the lees to the benefit of the wine’s texture. The style is reminiscent of Sancerre. There are aromas and flavours of herbs, lime and grass. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 92.

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut 2016 ($28). A traditional method sparkling wine, this is a blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 43% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Gris. The wine was aged on the lees for 24 months and has had close to 10 months bottle age prior to release. There are aromas and flavours of brioche, apple and pear. The active mousse gives a creamy texture on the palate. However, the finish dry. 92.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Township 7's rosé converts this consumer

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I frequently complain of rosés being “fashionably pale.”

The rosé released this summer by Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott is fashionably pale. But I will not complain about this one. It makes up for a lack of colour – although the wine is delicately pretty – with a satisfying mouthful of flavour. It is one of the best Okanagan rosés I have had this year.

So why am I a sourpuss on the colour of rosé? I drink rosé with my eyes as well as with my palate. I want the wines to look pretty in the glass.

However, if the wine has plenty of flavour, I can live with paleness. Just don’t expect me to enthuse about wines when the insipid hue is matched with an insipid flavour. A little more skin contact would have given the wine more stuffing even if the hue is darker than a Provence rosé.

There is an argument for making sure rosé has defined flavours. We have now begun to drink rosé wines year-round and with a wider variety of food. All-season rosé needs the flavours and textures to compliment food.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want a rosé to be almost as dark as a red table wine (and I have seen a few like that this year). That is over-doing it.

Mary’s rosé from Township 7, even if fashionably pale, has hit the sweet spot. I could drink it year-round.

Here are notes on all of Township 7’s current releases.

Township 7 Muscat 2018 ($26.97 for 140 cases). This wine, made with Orange Muscat and Muscat Blanc grapes, just revels in its aromatics. It begins with intense aromas of orange blossoms and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of orange and lemon, with a lingering note of grapefruit rind on the dry finish. 91.

Township 7 Gewürztraminer 2018 ($26.97 for 348 cases). Complex winemaking was employed for this wine, beginning with six hours of skin contact to extract aromas and flavours. After the grapes were crushed, a portion of the juice went into six neutral French oak barrels and fermented with wild yeast. The rest of the juice was fermented cool in stainless steel. The result is a wine with a luscious texture and good aromatics. It begins with aromas of ginger and lychee. On the palate, there are flavours of peach, apple and pear. Dry on the finish, the wine delivers lingering notes of tropical fruits. 91.

Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($19.97 for 988 cases). The wine, which is 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Sémillon fermented in stainless steel, begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. The palate echoes the aromas. There also are flavours of passionfruit. The finish is crisp and zesty. 90.

Township 7 Pinot Gris 2019 ($19.97 for 428 cases). This wine was fermented very cool in stainless steel, preserving the purity of the variety. It has aromas and flavours of nectarine and pear. 90.

Township 7 Rosé 2019 ($24.97 for 600 cases). Fashionably pale in the Provence style, this is a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Syrah. Most of the fruit was co-fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of watermelon and strawberry. There is a surprising amount of flavour on the palate, given the delicacy of the hue. There are notes of strawberry, rhubarb and watermelon. On the finish, the wine is dry and refreshing. 93.

Township 7 Pinot Noir 2018 ($35.97 for 668 cases). The fruit for this wine – clones 115 and 667 - is from the Remuda Vineyard in Okanagan Falls. The winery fermented the fruit slowly (11 days), with pump-overs twice daily. The wine was then aged 12 months in French oak barrels. The wine shows some power, with aromas than mingle dark cherry with toasted oak notes. It is fleshy on the palate, with flavours of cherry and spice punctuated with forest floor notes on the finish. 91.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Noble Ridge champions Chardonnay

Photo: Noble Ridge's Jim and Leslie D'Andrea (courtesy Noble Ridge)

One of the least successful of my wine books was Chardonnay and Friends: Varietal Wines of British Columbia.

It was the title, I believe, that doomed it to be a slow seller. The book profiled most of the wine varietals then being produced in British Columbia.

But the book was published in 1998, in the midst of the Anything but Chardonnay hysteria. Heavily oaked Chardonnay wines from Australia and California had turned consumers off.

Once I was at a book signing where an individual came along, looked at the book and walked away after sniffing that he did not drink Chardonnay. I did not have a chance to suggest he might drink one or more of the 45 other varietals profiled in the book.

The book might have sold much better if titled Pinot Gris and Friends. Pinot Gris was then on the way to becoming the most widely grown white in British Columbia.

But I am happy to report that Chardonnay has hung on, becoming the second most widely grown white grape in British Columbia. It seems that most consumers have gotten over their Chardonnay aversion. That likely is because there now is a vast array of Chardonnay styles on offer, including unoaked. And where oak is used, the application of oak is far more subtle than it once was.

Even though my book fell flat, I never stopped consuming Chardonnay. In fact, I like Chardonnays that have spent some time in barrel.

Among Okanagan wineries, one of the most accomplished champions of Chardonnay is Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery. This is the fine Okanagan Falls winery owned by Jim and Leslie D’Andrea.

This spring, Leslie sent me three of their Chardonnays, all from 2017 and all with some well-handled oak. Reviews should have been published before now. However, so many other samples came along as well this spring that these three were overlooked at  the back of the cellar. The Noble Ridge website leaves me thinking that some of these wines may still be available.

Here are my notes:

Noble Ridge Reserve Chardonnay 2017 ($28.99 for 355 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged 14 months in French oak barrels (20% new). The wine was not allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, resulting in a bright, fresh citrus aromas and flavours. However, the oak and the fruit on the palate give the wine a creamy note. The finish is long and complex. 92.

Noble Ridge Powers Vintage Chardonnay 2017 ($38.99 for 94 cases). This wine is one in a series of wines honouring noble causes and individuals. This wine is a tribute to Richard Powers, a University of Toronto business professor who has promoted the Noble Ridge wines to friends and acquaintances there. This is an elegant barrel-fermented wine that blends apple and marmalade aromas and flavours with butter on the rich palate. 92.

Noble Ridge King’s Ransom Chardonnay 2017 ($49.99 for 113 cases). King’s Ransom designates the best of the best. This is a barrel-fermented wine that was 14 months in new French oak. Only half was allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. The wine has richly concentrated aromas and flavours – citrus, stone fruit and butterscotch mingle with toasty oak. This bold wine has a long, long finish. 94.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Frind Winery bets on Vernon

Photo: Aerial view of Frind vineyard property near Vernon

Frind Estate Winery owner Markus Frind recently planted Cabernet Sauvignon in a vineyard at the northern end of Okanagan Lake, just west of Vernon.

This is undoubtedly the northernmost block of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Okanagan. The majority of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are either near Oliver and Osoyoos or next door in the Similkameen Valley. Indeed, Markus owns a 10-acre near Osoyoos and a 14-acre vineyard near Oliver where he grows Cabernet Sauvignon, among other varieties.

But, based on data from his own weather stations, he believes he has found a Vernon area vineyard site where south-facing slopes are exposed to sunlight all day and where the heat of the sun is amplified by reflections from the lake.

“I have got 900 acres up there,” Markus says. “I started buying about two years ago. I have 23 weather stations up there and I also have access to historical data, going back 17, 18 years. The entire area is 50 to 100 growing degree days warmer than the Summerland Research Station.”

The property has been pasture and orchards. Sagebrush grows on much of it, one of the clues that this is warmer than other Vernon area land. The other clue, Markus says, is that grass starts growing in March when there is still snow on other slopes.

“When I was up there on March 1, the hillsides were green and the vegetation had not even started popping out in West Kelowna,” says Markus. His winery opened last year on the western shore of Okanagan Lake, south of Quails’ Gate and below Mission Hill Family Estates.

 He also draws confidence from the history of successful grape-growing at 17 ½-acre The Rise Vineyard, which abuts his property. Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer, some planted as early as 2005, grow here. The original owners planned a winery here, integrated with a luxury housing development. The housing development slipped into creditor protection and then different ownership in 2010. Plans for a winery were shelved.

The vineyard, however, has continued to sell grapes to other wineries, a number of which have produced award-winning wines. In recent years, there has been speculation that vines will be pulled out for the construction of more housing.

Markus Frind (left) is definitely focussed on wine, after previous successes as an internet entrepreneur. Born in Germany in 1978, Markus was just four when his parents, descended from generations of farmers, moved to a 485-hectare (1,200-acre) farm at Hudson’s Hope in northeastern British Columbia. After high school, Markus studied business and computer science at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Then he had a series of technology jobs until, early in 2003, he created Plenty of Fish on his home computer. The dating web site’s success was explosive: by the second year, it was generating monthly revenues of $200,000 a month. Markus sold the site in 2015 for $575 million.

That success (along with other business successes) have given him the capital to finance his major ambitions in the B.C. wine industry.

In the fall of 2017, he purchased the 5.5-hectare (13.5-acre) lakeside property that had been owned for more than 50 years by the Bennetts of political fame. It is strategically located on the Westside Wine Trail. Part of the Bennett mansion has been turned into a large tasting room.

The wine shop is accessible from the beach, from the lake and from the tree-lined driveway bordering a six-acre planting of Maréchal Foch vines.

Just before buying the Bennett property, Markus purchased 121 hectares (300 acres) of raw land on a hillside northeast of Kelowna. Advised that just 10% was suitable for vines, he deployed heavy equipment to fill in gulleys and sculpt the slopes so that 80% can be planted. The property is currently under development.

“We have vineyards all over the place,” Markus says. “We will be up to 700 acres planted in the next couple of years.”

Fourteen acres of Pinot Noir was planted last year on the Vernon property. In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon planted this year, he believes there are sites there where Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and other varieties can be grown. (The entire acreage, however, is not suitable for vines.)

The property has slopes of up to 25%, stretching due south towards the lake. There is little risk of early spring frosts nor of early fall frosts. The weather stations have logged growing degree days averaging around 1,450 a year, spiking in some areas close to 1,500.

“Chances are we might fail but I am pretty sure we will get either of the Merlot, the Cabernet Franc or the Cabernet Sauvignon right – if not all of them,” Markus says. “It is incredibly hot there. It is even hotter than Naramata.”

The winemaker at Frind is Eric von Krosigk, a veteran Okanagan winemaker. Here are notes on current releases.

Frind British Columbia Chardonnay 2018 ($25.99). Silver medal at Chardonnay du Monde. The unoaked wine begins with citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of apple with a hint of mandarin and butter. The finish is crisp. 91.

Frind Premier Chardonnay 2018 ($37.99). Silver medal at Chardonnay du Monde. This unoaked wine begins with aromas of nectarine and apple, echoed on the luscious palate, along with flavours of peach and mandarin orange. 93.

Frind Viognier 2018 ($23.99). Rich in texture, the wine begins with aromas of herbs and minerals. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apricot. The finish is dry. 90.

Frind Pinot Noir Cuvée 2018 ($29.99). This wine was aged 12 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and vanilla. These are echoed on the palate and lead to a spicy finish. The texture is silky. 90.

Frind Big Red 2018 ($22.99). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in French and American oak. The wine begins with aromas of black currant and blackberry. On the palate, flavours of black cherry and black currant mingle with a hint of vanilla. 90.

Frind Syrah 2018 ($44.99). Dark in colour, the wine has aromas of dark cherry mingled with black pepper. On the palate, the pepper supports earthy dark fruit flavours. The finish is quite persistent. 91.