Wednesday, September 30, 2020

River Stone's Corner Stone and friends

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane (courtesy of winery)

River Stone Estate Winery’s flagship wine is a Bordeaux red blend called Corner Stone.

It was one of the wines chosen for my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The wines were selected for overall quality and also for their potential to age gracefully in a cellar. The object of the book was to encourage readers to buy a few bottles of a favourite wine, or two, each year, and to develop a vertical.

Corner Stone ticked off those boxes. It was, and remains, reasonably priced for a collectible top quality wine.

The following except from Icon tells the story of that wine.

Ted Kane had Corner Stone in mind back in 2003, when he began planting the River Stone vineyard on Tucelnuit Drive, just outside Oliver. In the French tradition, he planted Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—in the proportions he believed he needed for his blend.

“I knew at the beginning it was going to be a Merlot-forward, Right Bank Bordeaux style because of our cool-climate growing conditions,” Ted says. “Merlot is the most reliable ripener as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, which I knew would be the last to ripen.” Consequently, Merlot was the biggest block on the well-drained south-facing slopes. Subsequent experience led him to increase the planting of Cabernet Franc, another reliable ripener. He also replaced five rows of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot in order to grow the full suite needed for a Bordeaux-type blend.

Ted says some have drawn parallels between Corner Stone and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc, although in the latter’s vineyard, Cabernet Franc takes the lead, followed by Merlot. While he does not mind the compliment inherent in that comparison, Ted says that Corner Stone is made in the New World style, closer to reds from California or Chile. “I wanted to produce wines that had concentration and weight,” he says. “I also found after a short time in France that what I didn’t want was the astringency that was still there after year six on some of the wines.”

Ted, who was born in Edmonton in 1962, began making wines from tree fruits when he was 19. Even as he began a career as a respiratory therapist, he was obsessed with wine-growing. “I built a small greenhouse by my house in Edmonton,” he says. “I bought grapevines from Eastern Canada and propagated and grew them, just so I could learn pruning and trellising and irrigation techniques.” By the late 1990s, while his wife, Lorraine, was completing a medical degree, Ted was anxious to find an Okanagan property before, in her words, “it was all gone.” Good properties were still available in 2001, when they found 3.8 hectares (9.5 acres) of raw land near Oliver, on a hill beside the Okanagan River. They moved there in 2002, planting a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) vineyard while Lorraine began a family medicine practice.

After selling grapes for several years, Ted took advantage of the superb 2009 harvest to make River Stone’s debut vintages. He was mentored in his first vintage by a consulting winemaker, New Zealand–trained Jacqueline Kemp. She remains on call when another palate is needed, but Ted is now comfortable in his ability to grow grapes and make wine.

The individual varietals are fermented in small lots that are aged separately in French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months. By blending time, Ted has identified the best barrels of each varietal. Wine not needed for Corner Stone is blended into Stones Throw, which, in the French tradition, is made for earlier consumption. He also bottles modest volumes of single varietals, offering them in the wine shop and to his wine club.

Perhaps the most notable of these single varietals is the Cabernet Franc, which grows very successfully in the River Stone vineyard. “If I knew back when I planted what I know now, I would have planted more Cabernet Franc,” Ted admits. Much like Cheval Blanc.

Because Ted makes more wines than just Corner Stone, here are notes on the winery’s current releases.

Riverstone Pinot Gris 2019 ($20.90 for 258 cases). Very slightly off-dry, the wine delivers a fruit bowl of flavour: peaches, pears and apples. The texture is full and the finish lingers. 91.

Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($21.90 for 555 cases).  This is a delicious Sancerre-style of Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas and flavours of lime, lemon and herbs. The bright acidity, well balanced with a bit of residual sugar, leaves the palate refreshed. 91.

Riverstone Cabernet Franc 2018 ($31.90). The wine, aged 14 months in French oak, begins with classic aromas of blackberry and red currant. On the palate, the flavours are redolent with dark berries including cherries and blueberries. The texture is full and ripe and the finish is long. 91.

Riverstone Merlot 2018 ($25.90). This wine was aged in French oak barrels (33% new) for about 18 months. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla. On the palate, it delivers flavours of black cherry, black currant and plum. The wine benefits from decanting. 91.

Riverstone Stones Throw 2017 ($29.90). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged 14 months in French oak (33% new). The wine benefits from being decanted. That opens the berry aromas and the ripe texture. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant mingled with chocolate and vanilla. 92.

Riverstone Corner Stone 2017 ($38.90). This is 33% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in French Oak barrels (33% new).  The wine is elegant and complex. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry ands blueberry. Rich on the palate, it delivers flavours of black cherry and black currant with  a note of chocolate and vanilla on the finish. 94.

CheckMate scores with sit-down tastings

Photo: Winemaker Phil McGahan

Like most wineries, CheckMate Artisanal Winery’s tasting room is open primarily for tastings by appointment, with walk-ins accommodated only if there is space.

This practice has become ubiquitous as wineries seek to control tasting room traffic as a way of safeguarding customers against COVID-19. It seems to be working well. I am not aware that any winery has been the source of a virus outbreak this summer.

CheckMate winemaker Phil McGahan thinks wineries may continue tastings by appointment when the pandemic is behind us. “From a staffing point of view, it helps you plan your day,” he says.

The winery does seated tastings only, charging $35 for six wines (refundable with wine purchases). The sommelier-led tastings last about 45 minutes. CheckMate reports it has more tasting room traffic this year than previously.

“We probably average about 35 people a day,” Phil says. “With sit-down tastings, people are probably buying twice as much as with stand-up tastings.”

The likely explanation: participants in seated tastings spend more time with the wines and are better able to compare the wines.

CheckMate produces just Chardonnay and Merlot. The wines are among the most expensive in the Okanagan – but they are among the very best. I have twice awarded 100 points to consecutive vintages of the winery’s Little Pawn Chardonnay.

CheckMate is one of the jewels in Anthony von Mandl’s Okanagan wineries. (Others include Mission Hill Family Estate, Martin’s Lane Winery, CedarCreek Estate Winery, Road 13 Vineyards and Liquidity Wines.)

CheckMate was created after Anthony in 2012 purchased an exceptional Chardonnay vineyard on the Golden Mile. At the same time, he bought the neighbouring former Domaine Combret winery, a 19-year-old property which had recently closed as a winery. The attractions were the mature Chardonnay blocks (now more than 45 years old) and a winery with a good location. During the last several years, the Combret winery has been completely rebuilt.

Trial lots of CheckMate wine were made, but not released, in 2012. The first CheckMate vintage released to consumers was 2013. Phil chooses the grapes from five or six of the best vineyards Mission Hill has in the south Okanagan and applies disciplined, cutting edge winemaking. Fermentation is almost entirely with wild yeast. The wines are all aged in premium French oak barrels.

A pop-up tasting room was opened several years ago at CheckMate so that wine tourists could taste the exceptional wines they had been reading about. This summer, the pop-up room was discontinued. Tastings now are held in the winery.

Here are notes the three Chardonnays and two Merlots scheduled for release this fall.

CheckMate Capture Chardonnay 2017 ($90). The fruit for this wine is from the Border Vista Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. Some 67% was fermented with wild yeast. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak barrels (46% new). This is a wine of delicate beauty, with aromas of peach and citrus. The palate delivers flavours of citrus, mandarin orange and stone fruits. There is a hint of minerality, with a lingering finish. The oak is very subtle, framing the clean and focussed fruit flavours. 95.

CheckMate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2017 ($125). The fruit for this wine is from mature vines in the Dekleva Vineyard beside the winery, considered CheckMate’s Grand Cru site. Again, 67% is fermented with wild yeast. The wine is aged 16 months in French oak (44% new). The wine is notable for its texture: a bony frame supporting long-term aging. It begins with aromas of citrus, notably orange peel. On the palate, there are flavours of stone fruit, with minerality on the back of the palate that expresses itself as wet stone. 93-95.

CheckMate Queen’s Advantage Chardonnay 2017 ($85). The fruit is from the Combret Vineyard on the Golden Mile, also near the winery and also with mature vines. Some 87% was fermented with wild yeast and the wine was fermented 16 months in French oak (46% new). The wine creates an immediate impression of richness, both in the buttery, fruity aromas and on the palate, with flavours of orange and stone fruit. 96.

CheckMate Opening Gambit Merlot 2016 ($85). The grapes are from the Osoyoos East Bench, fermented entirely with wild yeast with extended skin contact. The wine was aged 21 months in new French oak. It begins with aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry mingled with herbal and spice notes. The tannins are polished, with a firmness that will support cellaring. 95.

CheckMate Black Rook Merlot 2016 ($85). The fruit for this wine is from the Black Sage Bench, fermented with wild yeast and given extended skin contact. The wine was aged 21 months in new French oak. Aromas of black cherry and blackberry bound from the glass. The palate is lush and inviting, with flavours of black cherry, chocolate and licorice. The finish is persistent, with notes of sage and spicy oak. 96.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Church & State releases ready to drink wines

Photo: Church & State winemaker Arnaud Thierry

Most wine samples for review are wines of the current vintage or, at most, the previous vintage.

The wines – especially the whites in spring – are often too young to drink. Try enjoying a nine-month-old Riesling! An experienced reviewer will just have to figure out how the wine might show with sufficient time in bottle.

Church & State Winery does reviewers a favour by releasing its wines when they are more mature. I queried this when I found myself with a number of their 2017 whites. There had been a change of ownership a few years ago, and a revolving number of general managers. Perhaps there had been an interruption on the marketing of the wine? But I am assured that is not the case. They are just releasing wines when they are ready to drink.

Most wineries will say they all do that. Some think wines can be released when they are young, if only not to tie up capital. A California winemaker once parodied the old Paul Masson slogan, “No wine before its time,” by adding “When the banker calls, it’s time.”

I have not met the current owner of Church & State. In fact, a former general manager flatly refused to give me his name, so I have no clue as to his banking relationship.

Here is more background on the winery, with an excerpt from my recently published Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

While Church & State originated on Vancouver Island, it planted roots firmly in the Okanagan when it opened its Coyote Bowl winery in 2010. Crisply modern, gleaming with stainless steel and glass, this Robert Mackenzie–designed winery is set dramatically on a plateau commanding a panorama of vineyards and mountains. The real drama here is in the glass, with bold, ripe wines expressing the terroir of the South Okanagan.

The Brentwood Bay winery opened in 2002 as Victoria Estate and was near failure two years later when it was purchased by Kim Pullen, a former tax lawyer with a knack for turning businesses around. The key to putting Church & State back on its feet was securing good Okanagan grapes through developing or leasing 44.5 hectares (110 acres) south of Oliver. At first, grapes were transported to Vancouver Island for processing, until the winery moved production to a leased South Okanagan packing house, adding the Coyote Bowl facility for premium barrel-aged wines. Still open, the Brentwood Bay vineyard specializes in making sparkling wines.

Church & State’s objective is to produce 10,000 to 12,000 cases a year, 65% of it red wine. The wine portfolio is built largely around the Bordeaux red varieties and the Rhône whites (Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier) that thrive in South Okanagan vineyards. By 2017, the winery’s growth had outrun the initial objectives. Church & State were producing 35,000 cases, a volume that required it to scramble for exports as well as domestic sales.

Finally, Kim and his son, John, decided to scale back. Church & State was sold to Sunocean Wineries and Estate, a Vancouver company operated by a Chinese businessman. The Pullens have opened a much smaller winery called Second Chapter.

      Church & State also has chosen to focus more tightly on producing about 12,000 cases a year from its vineyards. Winemaker Arnaud Thierry, who was born in Normandy and trained in Champagne, had extensive experience in France before moving to the Okanagan in 2017 with his wife, also a winemaker.

Here are notes on the wines.

Church & State Frizzante Muscat 2017 ($20.69 for 929 cases). The wine begins with a delicately fruity aroma. It delivers flavours of peach and citrus on the palate, with a touch of spice on the finish. The active bubbles add to the wine’s easy drinkability. 90.

Church & State Sparkling Pinot Gris 2017 ($25.29 for 916 cases). This is a fresh and lively wine with aromas and flavours of apples, pears and citrus. The mousse is active and the bright acidity adds to the refreshing, dry finish. 91.

Church & State Pinot Gris 2017 ($22.99 for 987 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pears and ripe apples. It is full on the palate, with flavours of stone fruit and a touch of alcoholic warmth on the finish. 88.

Church & State Viognier 2017 ($27.59 for 457 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apricot and mango. It is full on the palate, with flavours of ripe apricot and ripe peach. Again, a touch of warmth on the finish. 89.

Church & State Roussanne 2017 ($34.49 for 354 cases). The wine is light gold in hue. The tropical fruit aromas bound from the glass – mango and guava. The flavours echo the aromas. The texture of this wine is luscious and the finish is persistent. 91.

Church & State Marsanne 2017 ($34.49 for 224 cases). The wine has aromas of almonds and ripe pears. On the palate, there are flavours of almond, vanilla and pear. 90.

Church & State Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($22.99). The wine begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. On the palate, the lime and herb flavours are intense and the finish is persistent. The style recalls a fine Sancerre white. 91.

Church & State Coyote Bowl Chardonnay 2017 ($35.64). Lightly gold in hue, this wine has aromas of vanilla, butter and citrus. Rich in texture, it has flavours of marmalade mingled with butter and vanilla. The wine is mature and seems to be drinking at its peak. 91.

Church & State Cabernet Franc 2017 ($36.79 for 1,000 cases). The wine was aged 12 months in oak.  Dark in colour, the wine begins with rich aromas of dark cherries, plums and figs mingled with vanilla. The berry flavours are vibrant on the palate – blackberry, black currant – with a hint of black licorice on the finish. 92.

Church & State Merlot 2017 ($36.79 for 1,000 cases). The wine was aged 12 months in oak. The colour is as deep as the night sky. It begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherry, blueberry and vanilla. It is firm on the palate, delivering flavours of black currant and dark chocolate. There is a note of wet slate on the finish. This wine should be decanted. 91.

Church & State Meritage 2017 ($36.79 for 1,250 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and blueberry. On the palate, the long, ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. It has flavours of dark fruit mingled with vanilla, mocha and tobacco. The finish is very long. 92.

Church & State Coyote Bowl Syrah 2016 ($60.94). The wine is almost black in colour. It begins with aromas of fig, plum and vanilla. Bold and generous on the palate, it delivers ripe flavours of blueberry and fig mingled with oak. 90.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Alderlea shows off Vancouver Island terroir

Photo: Alderlea's Zachary Brown (courtesy of winery)

The excellent wines of Alderlea Vineyards near Duncan are seldom available in wine stores elsewhere in British Columbia. The winery makes just 2,000 cases a year and has an established clientele on Vancouver Island, mostly restaurateurs.

These wines are worth seeking out. Made with fruit from one of the most mature island vineyards, these are a fine expression of the Vancouver Island terroir.

Alderlea’s 7 ½- acre vineyard was established, beginning in 1992, on a sunny, south-facing slope, with growing conditions influenced by a nearby lake and by the rain shadow created by Mount Prevost, several kilometers to the west.

The original owner was Roger Dosman (left), who, in a lifestyle choice, switched careers from operating an autobody repair business to viticulture and winemaking. “I used to make money fixing cars,” he told me once. “Now I make a living. There is a big difference.”

His vineyard was always managed meticulously. The vines were so neat that they looked like cadets from a military school. The fruit quality was good and, as a result, the wines were solid.

Roger sold Alderlea in the spring of 2017 to Zachary Brown and Julie Powell (right), who were also making a lifestyle choice after 20 years in health and safety and human resources careers, respectively. They had long nurtured a dream to have their own winery. As their careers took them around the world, Zac (as he terms himself) never missed opportunities to spend time with winemakers (in Austria, Australia and Quebec), learning how to make wine.

After looking at wineries in Canada and abroad, they settled on Vancouver Island, Zac having grown up in Port Hardy. He may also have recognized that, because of climate change, Vancouver Island is not as marginal for viticulture as it was in the 1990s. The current wines reflect this: ripe flavours and appropriate levels of alcohol.

While Roger Dosman taught them how to prune the vines when they first took over the business, they were alone in the deep end during their first vintage.  “In our first vintage, he was here for 20 minutes to pick up the mail during harvest,” Zac laughs.

The wine quality has remained consistently high. Here are notes on the current releases. The three Plaid wines, made under a second label, are what Zac calls “our wine of the people.”

Alderlea Bacchus 2019 ($21.38). The winery’s estate-grown Bacchus is one of Vancouver Island’s most mature plantings of this aromatic varietal. The lemon and lime aromas jump from the glass and are echoed in zesty flavours. On the finish, the wine is crisp and dry. The clarity and focus of this wine is exceptional. 91.

Alderlea Valerie 2019 ($23.10). The wine is named in memory of winemaker Julie Powell’s mother. It is a blend of 80% Ortega and 20% Viognier. This is an inspired blend, with the Viognier bringing complexity. The wine begins with aromas of apples and stone fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of pear and apricot, with a hint of spice. The finish is dry. 91.

Alderlea Pinot Gris 2019 ($23.10). Judicious skin contact has given this wine an appealing light rose hue. The wine begins with aromas of peach and nectarine. On the palate, there are flavours hinting of pink grapefruit. The texture is full and the flavours persist on the dry finish. 91.

Alderlea Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($24.25). The wine begins with aromas of green apple, lime and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and gooseberry, with lively herbal finish recalling Sancerre. The flavours are intense and the finish goes on and on. 92.

Plaid White N.V. ($18.50). This is designed for easy drinking, with aromas of peach and flavours of apple and citrus. 88.

Alderlea Rosé 2018 ($24.25). This is a boldly dark rosé made with Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libré grapes. It begins with dramatically fruity aromas. On the palate, there are bright flavours of cherry and cranberry. 88.

Plaid Pink N.V. ($18.50). Beginning with a vibrant pink hue, the wine has aromas of cherry and plum that are echoed on the palate. This is fruity and playful pink wine, with a dry and refreshing finish. 88.

Plaid Red N.V. ($18.50). The wine is dark. It begins with earthy and smoky aromas typical of the Blattner hybrids in the blend. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry and black cherry mingled with tobacco and chocolate. 89.

Alderlea Merlot 2017 ($25.98). This is from one of the very few – perhaps the only – Merlot block on Vancouver Island. Dark in colour, it has aromas of black currants mingled with French oak. The tannins are firm, but not hard, and the wine will age well. The flavours echo the aromas. 90.

Alderlea Clarinet 2017 ($24.25). This dark and expressive wine is made with Maréchal Foch grapes. Alderlea’s previous owner gave it a proprietary name because, as he said, “it is too good to be called Foch.” It is a very good red, indeed, beginning with aromas of spice, plum, fig and dark red fruits. The flavours are intense, showing spice and red berries. The soft tannins gave the wine a generous texture. 91.

Alderlea Matrix 2015 ($24.25). This is a blend incorporating Cabernet Foch. It begins with aromas of blackberry and black olive mingled with cassis. The fruit flavours are rich, with notes of black currant, black cherry, black licorice and coffee. The structure is firm and the wine should continue to improve in bottle over the next five years. 91.

This wine was released originally under the label, Fusion. A savvy businessman, Roger Dosman had registered the trademark. A few years later, the big Argentinian wine producer, Familia Zuccardi, entered the Canadian market with a similarly-named wine. Sensibly, Roger chose not to fight them legally. Rather, he sold them the brand and rechristened his wine as Matrix.

Alderlea Hearth 2008 ($29.43) for 375 ml).  This is a fortified barrel-aged port-style wine. It begins with classic vanilla and dark fruit aromas of a late-bottled vintage port. Just smelling the wine transported me to memories of port and sherry aging cellars. The flavours are rich, with notes of vanilla, chocolate and strawberries. The flavours persist on the palate. 91.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Monte Creek is on a roll

 Photo: Erik Fisher, Monte Creek Ranch general manager

Monte Creek Ranch Winery, the largest producer in the Thompson Valley appellation, did exceptionally well at the All Canadian Wine Awards this summer.

Nine Monte Creek wines brought home medals (mostly gold). The winery’s 2018 Riesling Reserve was named the best white wine in the competition. The All Canadian Wine Awards, now 40 years old, takes place each summer in Prince Edward County in Ontario. This year, almost 800 wines from across Canada competed.

“I couldn’t be more of proud of our winemaking and viticulture teams,” said Erik Fisher, Monte Creek’s general manager.  “It takes a tremendous amount of focus and precision to make great wines. I see the dedication on a daily basis but this recognition is a testament to the skill and hard work that goes into making a wine this special.”

The winemaker is Galen Barnhardt. “The 2018 Thompson Valley Reserve Riesling is crafted from fruit grown on our two vineyards here in the South Thompson valley,” he says. “Riesling is well adapted to our hot summers and cold winters here in the South Thompson, and we feel the future is bright for this variety in our region.”

For background on the winery, here is an excerpt from the recently published Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Monte Creek Ranch Winery, set dramatically high above the Trans-Canada Highway, takes its name from a nearby community, now almost a ghost town, whose peak notoriety was in 1906 when the bandit Bill Miner held up a train for the last time. The winery has memorialized the event with two wines called Hands Up. Now the largest wine producer in the Thompson Valley sub-appellation, Monte Creek Ranch Winery has a capacity to make 54,000 cases a year set. It all started in 2007 when Gurjit Sidhu, a Fraser Valley blueberry grower and nursery man, bought a 365-hectare (900-acre) ranch east of Kamloops for a new blueberry farm. When he learned blueberries do not thrive in the Thompson Valley’s near desert, he decided to grow grapes.

Consultants advised against planting vinifera because the winters are colder here than in the Okanagan. So, beginning in 2010, Monte Creek planted British Columbia’s first major block of winter-hardy Minnesota hybrid grapes. These include Marquette, La Crescent, and three members of the Frontenac grape family, varieties that were unfamiliar to British Columbia consumers. Subsequently, Monte Creek concluded that the vinifera risk had been overstated and planted Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The vineyard blocks, which are on either side of the Thompson River, total 30 hectares (75 acres).

Monte Creek, which had its first vintage in 2013, also purchased grapes from the Okanagan. The increasingly tight supply of those grapes led Monte Creek in 2018 to acquire 37 hectares (92 acres) of raw land in the Similkameen Valley. The property is on the southwest flank of the Similkameen River, just east of Keremeos.

Monte Creek is taking advantage of the cool site’s northeastern exposure to plant a significant block of Pinot Noir, a varietal of rising importance in the winery’s portfolio. Pedro Parra, a Chilean viticultural consultant who has advised several Okanagan producers, helped Monte Creek explore the soil profile. “There is a considerable amount of limestone in some of those rocks, which we think will go a long way to producing premium-quality Pinot Noir,” says Erik Fisher, the winery’s general manager.
Here are notes on a selection of Monte Creek wines.

Monte Creek Riesling 2018 ($19.99). The wine has begun to develop a hint of petrol in the aroma. On the palate, it has intense flavours of lemon and grapefruit rind mingled with petrol. The finish is dry, and lingering. Gold at the ACWA. 90.
Monte Creek Chardonnay 2018 ($19.99). The wine has aromas of citrus with a hint of buttery vanilla. The palate echoes the aromas. The texture is rich and the finish lingers. Gold at the ACWA. 88.

Monte Creek Rosé 2019 ($18.99). This wine is made with Marquette and Frontenac Noir grapes. The colour is as dark as Beaujolais, which may upset the Provençal rosé fans. The aromas and the flavours are as bold as the colour: plums, cherries and raspberries. 90.

Monte Creek Cabernet Merlot 2017 ($21.99). This won a silver at the ACWA. It is a very good value red, made with 69% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry which are echoed on the palate, along with vanilla and blueberry. The palate is rich. 91.

Monte Creek Sparkling Wine 2019 ($21.99). The grapes for this Charmat method sparkling wine are La Crescent and Frontenac Blanc. The wine has aromas and flavours of honey, citrus and white peach. 88.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Time Winery is back on its feet

Photo: Time's Christa-Lee McWatters

When Abbotsford businessman Ron Mayert and his wife, Shelley, took over Time Winery and Evolve Vineyards this summer, the inventory included well-made wines from the 2016 to 2018 vintages.

There do not appear to have been any wines made in 2019, likely because the winery’s balance sheet did not support purchasing grapes last fall. Christa-Lee McWatters, the daughter of the founder, the late Harry McWatters (who died in July, 2019), had no choice but to solicit a purchaser for this Penticton winery. The Mayerts closed the purchase in July, and have retained Christa-Lee as the general manager.

Harry’s winemakers had been Graham Pierce and Nadine Allander. Both have since moved to other wineries, but they left solid wines in the Time and Evolve inventory. Some, released before the business was in trouble, have been released once again. They are drinking well, perhaps even better with an extra year in bottle.

Winemaker Lynzee Schatz, who joined Evolve last summer, has taken over as the winemaker at Time and Evolve this vintage.

Clearly, the business did not get in trouble over the quality of the wines. There was too much debt and that was aggravated by the pandemic lockdown for several months earlier this year.

The Mayerts, who have other successful business, have injected new capital and have now re-opened the wine shop and the food services at Time.

Here are notes on the wines.

Time Viognier 2018 ($22.99). The wine begins with aromas of mandarin orange, ripe pineapple and apricot. These tropical fruit flavours are echoed on the palate, along with a hint of vanilla. The finish is fresh and lingering. 89.

Time White Meritage 2018 ($25) This is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon. The lime and lemon aromas mingle with notes of vanilla. On the palate, the wine is rich in texture, with herbal and buttery notes supporting the tropical fruit flavours. 91.

Time Fourth Dimension 2017 ($35). The blend is 45% Merlot, 29% Syrah, 16% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in barrel. Dark in colour, the wine has aromas and flavours of cassis, cherry and blackberry. The texture is smooth and the finish has lingering hints of spice and dark fruits. 90.

Time Syrah 2016 ($34.99). The wine begins with aromas of blackberries and cherries. Big and soft on the palate, it delivers flavours of plum and cherry with an appealing note of black pepper on the finish. 91.

McWatters Collection Meritage 2017 ($34.99).   The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged in small French oak casks for 15 months prior to bottling.  It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry, blackberry and spice, which are echoed on the palate. Long ripe tannins give this elegant wine appeal for drinking now but potential to age another five to seven years. 92.

Evolve Effervescence NV ($19.99). This is a Charmat method sparkling wine, with 70% Pinot Blanc and 30% Chardonnay.  An easy-drinking wine, it competes well with the popular Prosecco wines that seem ubiquitous. 88.