Sunday, April 18, 2021

Peak Cellars: rising Lake Country star

Photo: Winemaker Stephanie Stanley
Peak Cellars is a winery in Lake Country that opened in 2017 as The Chase Winery. A trademark dispute led to a name change. Whatever the name on the label, the winery is a rising star as a white wine producer, notably of Riesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner. The winemaker is Stephanie Stanley.
She is a Kelowna native who graduated at the top of the class from Brock University in 2003. Fluent in German, she had developed her interest in wine as a youth while working in Germany. “I was working in a restaurant in the Pfalz area and there were wine festivals every weekend, every other weekend,” she told me in an interview. “Working in the restaurant, I just loved the social aspect of it and just loved the whole industry. It brought people together. It was a good lifestyle. I realized there is some kind of science involved in it and that’s where I figured I could apply my science skills.” After graduating from Brock, she returned to Kelowna to work with Howard Soon at Calona and Sandhill Wines. Beginning in 2015, she has also done several vintages at Wither Hills Winery in New Zealand.
In a recent Zoom interview and tasting, she discussed her wines. “In keeping with the classic style of the house, we are, for the most part, making all our wines dry,” she began. “You can get nice intensity and concentration with the right viticulture; and the things we are doing at the winery to drive the flavour intensity. We don’t find we need to keep natural sugar back to help lift and enhance any textural or aromatic profile.”
Several wines have been inspired by Alsace. “I have had a passion for Alsace for 20 years or more,” Stephanie says. The white blend called Fieldling, first released from the 2018 vintage, was created by Adrian Baker, the original winemaker at Peak Cellars. It is a field blend of three varietals, which are fermented together. Stephanie describes the wine as “Adrian’s Tribute to Marcel Deiss” a legendary Alsace winemaker. The 2020 version of this wine will be released under a new name: Goldie White. There will also be a Goldie Red. Both get their names from the winery’s location on Goldie Road. The winery’s dry Gewürztraminer also mirrors the Alsace style that Stephanie admires. The winery’s Pinot Gris, full or intense tropical fruit flavours, is typical of quality mainstream Okanagan Pinot Gris.
One of the most exciting whites in the winery’s portfolio is the Grüner Veltliner. There are about a dozen producers in the Okanagan with this Austrian varietal. The first, and still one of the best, is from Culmina Estate Winery. However, an established Okanagan style has yet to emerge. Peak Cellars, which released 680 cases from the 2019 vintage, may be the winery to define the general style. The 2019 wine won a platinum award at a Seattle wine competition. “I think that, at four acres, we have the largest single planting of Grüner in the valley,” Stephanie says. “We have the most northerly planting in the Okanagan. We harvested almost 17 tons of it this year. At 17 tons, we will produce close to 1,100 cases in 2020.”
Riesling is another variety that gets a lot of attention at Peak Cellars. “Riesling is my desert island wine,” Stephanie says. “If I had to pick one wine to be marooned with, it would be dry Riesling.” Peak Cellars will soon have four different Rieslings in its portfolio, including a traditional method sparking wine yet to be released.
Here are notes on current releases.
Peak Cellars Pinot Gris 2019 ($18). The fruity aromas lead to flavours of peach mingled with apple and the slightest hint of oak. 90.
Peak Cellars Fieldling Block 26 2019 ($24). This is a field blend, with 53% Pinot Gris, 32% Riesling and 15% Gewürztraminer. The wine presents a rich palate, with savoury flavours of citrus, pear and stone fruit. It has a fresh and spicy finish. 91.
Peak Cellars Gewürztraminer 2019 ($18). This is an Alsace-inspired wine; about 30% was fermented on the skins to dryness. The wine delivers tropical fruit aromas of lychee and dragonfruit. The palate echoes the aromas, with added flavours of lychee and grapefruit. The finish is dry. 90.
Peak Cellars Grüner Veltliner 2019 ($24). This excellent wine could be fresh from a leading Austrian producer, with the classic notes of white pepper in the aroma and mingled with the flavours of apples, peaches and pineapples. The finish is lingering and intense. 92.
Peak Cellars Riesling 2019 ($22). This wine earned a platinum award at last fall’s Lieutenant Governor’s wine awards in the Okanagan. It is a superbly balanced dry Riesling with considerable intensity. It has aromas and flavours of citrus with the classic notes of petrol on the nose and palate. 92.
Peak Cellars Chardonnay 2018 ($30). This complex and satisfying wine begins with aromas of vanilla and baked spiced apples, leading to flavours of pear and citrus mingled with spice and vanilla. The wine was aged 10 months on the lees in French oak barrels (20% new). The finish is persistent. 92.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sandhill Rosé is back

Photo: Sandhill's Sandy Leier
You know that spring has arrived when wineries begin releasing their rosé wines. At Sandhill Wines, Sandy Leier has been making acclaimed Provence-style rosé for several vintages. Sandy succeeded Howard Soon, the veteran Sandhill winemaker, when he retired. Where Howard made single vineyard wines only, she has extended the portfolio to include “terroir driven” wines with fruit from several vineyards that supply Sandhill. Sandy was born in Vancouver and grew up in Kelowna where she prepared for a winemaking career with a degree in chemistry from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. She joined the Andrew Peller winemaking team in 2006. Before taking over Sandhill, she was the lead winemaker for both Calona Vineyards and Wayne Gretzky Okanagan.
Provence style rosé has come to mean pale, occasionally delicate, always dry and refreshing. The Sandhill rosé is a wine in search of a picnic or a luncheon on the deck. Whether made in this style, or in a more robust style, rosé wines have become very popular. Some wineries are releasing them in significant volume. Bartier Bros., for example, has just released 3,000 cases of its delicious 2020 rosé.
Sandhill has produced 6,000 cases of its rosé. After all, the winery has the entire marketing muscle of Andrew Peller Ltd. behind it, making sure the rosé has good distribution. The package – a clear bottle shaped somewhat like a bowling pin – adds to the wine’s shelf appeal. This is a blend of 65% Gamay Noir and 35% Merlot. Here is a note on the wine … and a toast to all the other pink wines we will see this spring.
Sandhill Rosé 2020 ($20 for 6,112 cases). The wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry, raspberry and melon. It is crisp and balanced to finish very slightly off-dry. 90.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Bartier Bros. opens for the season

Photo: Michael Bartier (credit Shari Saysomsack)
It says something about the popularity of rosé wines that a small producer like Bartier Bros. made almost 3,000 cases in the 2020 vintage. Located just off Black Sage Road between Oliver and Osoyoos, the winery is operated by brothers Michael and Don Bartier. Michael began making wine for the label in 2009. In 2015, after buying grapes for several years from the Cerqueira Vineyard, the brothers were able this vineyard and build a winery there. Michael believes that the terroir of the vineyard – an ancient gravel bar – gives a special minerality to the wines. “Every vintage, the wines are fresh, fruity and minerally,” Michael says. “That limestone ends up in every glass of our wine.”
The Bartier Bros. tasting room opened daily, starting the Easter weekend. This year, the winery offers visitors three choices: a 90-minute tour and tasting, including either a selection of chocolate or charcuterie for $30 a person; a 45-minute seated tasting on the winery’s outdoor patio for $15; or a selection of four wines at the tasting bar for $10 a person (waived with the purchase of $30 worth of wine). In all cases, reservations are recommended.
Here are notes on four current releases.
Bartier Bros. Rosé 2020 ($17.99 for 2,981 cases). The blend is 52% Chardonnay, 42% Gewürztraminer and just 6% Merlot. This is just enough Merlot to have the wine its fashionably pale hue. This is delightfully refreshing wine, with aromas of citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of wild strawberry. 91.
Bartier Bros. Merlot 2019 ($22.90 for 390 cases). By aging this wine 14 months in neutral French oak, the winery achieved the best of both worlds: the benefit of barrel aging to soften the tannins but without obscuring the bright fruit. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry, blueberry and cassis, with hints of plum on the lingering finish. 91.
Bartier Bros. Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre 2019 ($41.99 for 275 cases). This wine was aged 14 months in neutral French oak after fermentation and maceration averaging 22 days. The result is a complex and brooding red, with aromas and flavours of pepper, blackberry and cherry with an earthy finish. 92.
Bartier Bros. The Orchard Row 2019 ($36.99 for 209 cases). The blend is 47% Cabernet Franc, 24% Gamay Noir, 24% Pinot Noir and 5% Syrah. After fermenting in one-ton open-top fermenters, the wine was aged 14 months in neutral French oak. The wine begins with bright floral aromas of raspberry and blackberry. On the palate, it delivers rich flavours of plum and cherry. 92.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Remembering Chris Jentsch

Photo: Chris Jentsch
The sudden death on April 2 of Okanagan winery owner Chris Jentsch at age 58 has shocked and saddened the wine community. If anyone was larger than life, it was Chris. Amber Jones, the first on-site winemaker at C.C. Jentsch Cellars, once told me in an interview that Chris was “a very gung-ho person, for sure. It is nice to work with someone who is so hands-on. He gets his hands dirty and he gets right in there. That makes you feel like you have a team mate.”
A self-described entrepreneur, Chris was born in Kelowna in 1963, a third-generation Okanagan fruit grower. He became an independent apple grower in the 1980s. He built his first packing house in 1989 and rebuilt it after fire destroyed it in 1991. When apple prices collapsed in the mid-1990s, he converted his orchards to cherries. “We were in a golden time for cherry exports, with a 63-cent Canadian dollar,” Chris told me when I first interviewed him in 2013. “Cherries were getting airfreighted to Taiwan.” In 1999, Chris planted his first vineyard, 19 acres on the Golden Mile, just south of the Tinhorn Creek winery. He sold it five years later to pursue a much larger project—replacing his cherry trees with vines after overplanting led to a cherry surplus. “That was hard because we were ripping out highly productive cherry blocks that were picture perfect,” Chris told me.
In his gung-ho style, Chris jumped in with both feet. Between 2005 and 2008, he planted 65,246 vines on a superb 19.4-hectare (48-acre) plateau on the Golden Mile. Once the vines produced, he sold grapes to several wineries, including Andrew Peller Ltd. He operated this vineyard for his own winery and his clients until 2018, when he sold it to the Phantom Creek Estates winery. He continued to farm three smaller vineyards in the South Okanagan. Peller had been his major grape client. Their decision to reduce their grape purchases triggered Chris’s decision to develop his own winery in 2012. The first vintage was made off-site while his fruit packinghouse, located on the Golden Mile, was converted to winemaking. “Winemaking in its basic form is not rocket science,” Chris told me in 2013. “Then there is the marketing. What I don’t like is pretentious people. This is what I don’t want to be part of. I don’t want to open a wine shop. I want trucks backed up. But that part of it is part of it.”
It was his luck that the packinghouse had survived the massive Testalinden Creek mudslide on a Sunday afternoon in June 2010. It destroyed Chris and Betty Jentsch’s home and sent Betty and her daughter running for their lives. Chris, who was not home, was understandably outraged. The slide resulted from the failure of an old dam at the top of the hillside. The property around the dam was leased by lawyer and rancher Ace Elkink who blamed wrongly for the sad state of repair of the dam. Shortly after, however, Chris encountered the rancher at the Penticton airport where a physical confrontation ensued. Matters ended up before a provincial court judge who dismissed the assault charge but put Chris on probation for a year. As Amber said, Chris was a “gung-ho guy.”
The wines at C.C. Jentsch Cellars have been very good. At the first Judgement of B.C. tasting in 2015, the top Syrah was a Syrah from C.C. Jentsch. Then two years old, the little-known Okanagan winery achieved instant recognition. The flagship Meritage red at Jentsch is called The Chase. Several years ago, Dennis O’Rourke, who was developing two wineries in Lake Country, decided to call his smaller winery Chase. This time, Chris hired a good trademark lawyer to defend his brand. Eventually, O’Rourke renamed the winery Peak Cellars.
Chris Jentsch was a force to be reckoned with. He will be missed by his peers, even those he tangled with during his eventful life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Frind releases its Premier wines

Photo: Markus Frind
With the first release of red wines, West Kelowna’s Frind Estate Winery has immediately established itself as one of the Okanagan’s premier producers. The line will strike some as an insider joke: the winery brands its top reds as “Premier” wines. There appear to be two reasons for that. Premier is a word often designating top-quality, as these wines most certainly are. Secondly, the winery has been built on a lakefront property once owned by the late Bill Bennett, a former Premier of British Columbia.
Here is an excerpt from my 2020 book (with Luke Whittall), Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
The experience here begins with arrow-straight tree-lined driveway leading to the rambling taste room beside Okanagan Lake. This is a property with history. For more than 50 years, it belonged to the Bennett family: both W.A.C Bennett and his son, Bill, served as premiers of British Columbia. In the fall of 2017, when Markus Frind began planning a major winery, he purchased the 5.5-hectare (13.5-acre) Bennett property because it is strategically on the Westside Wine Trail which is travelled by thousands of wine lovers each year. For several years, Markus expects to sell the Frind wines primarily from this wine shop.
This property is the tip of the iceberg of one of the Okanagan’s most ambitious wineries. Markus also owns about 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of vineyard land that is being developed so that it can be farmed, in large measure, with self-driving machinery. If this succeeds, it will represent a breakthrough of precision agriculture amid Okanagan vineyards – by a winery owner whose initial success was in technology, with a dating web site called Plenty of Fish. 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 web site’s success was explosive: by the second year, it was generating monthly revenues of $200,000 a month. Markus sold the site at its peak in 2015 for $575 million.
By then, he already had a summer place near the Westside Wine Trail and was a patron of the wineries. After reviewing wineries that might be for sale, he decided he had to start his own to achieve the scale of a major producer. Just before buying the Bennett property, he 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 a gulley and sculpt the slopes so that 80% can be planted. He also owns twice as much undeveloped land near Vernon, along with small vineyards in the south and central Okanagan. And the driveway to the tasting room sweeps by a 2.4-hectare (six-acre) block of Maréchal Foch. The major varieties Frind is planting are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Meunier – and Regent, a cool-climate German red hybrid new to the Okanagan. Typical of Markus, he is making a bold statement by planting 30 hectares. Eric von Krosigk, Frind’s veteran winemaker, suggests that Regent produces wines recalling full-bodied Italian reds.
Here are notes on the wines. The symbol of a pinecone used to separate the text appears on most bottles.
<i>Frind Big White 2019> ($20.99). The blend is 30% Gewürztraminer, 27% Kerner, 16% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Chardonnay, 7% each of Pinot Blanc and Viognier and 5% Schönburger. The wine was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of peach, pineapple and tropical flowers. On the palate, there are flavours of melon, apple and peach. The bright acidity leaves a crisp, refreshing finish that is persistent. 90.
Frind Brut N.V. ($24.99). This is a traditional method sparkling wine, a blend of 76% Riesling and 24% Chardonnay that was 15 months on the lees before being disgorged. This is a delicious bottle of bubbly – fruity on the nose and on the palate, with flavours of pear and citrus. It is creamy on the palate, with moderate acidity, but just enough to give the wine a refreshing and crisp finish. 90.
Frind Premier Merlot 2019 ($32.99). The fruit is from the Frind-owned Rock Pile vineyard near Oliver. The wine was aged 10 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak cigars. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and blueberry mingled with a slight toasty oak note. Those elements are echoed in the generous flavours of black cherry mingled with cassis and framed by silky tannins. 92.
Frind Premier Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($37.99). The fruit is primarily from the Rock Pile Vineyard. The wine begins with lovely aromas of cassis leading to flavours of black currant and cherry. There is a hint of leather and licorice on the finish. The tannins are firm but supple. The oak is imperceptible in this appealing, fruit-driven wine. 92.
Frind Premier Cabernet Franc 2019 ($34.99). The fruit is primarily from the Rock Pile Vineyard. The wine was aged 10 months mostly in neutral oak; a small portion was aged in new French oak cigars. The aromas deliver notes of blackberry, cherry, red currant and even a suggestion of red licorice. The brambly flavours are bright and expressive, mingling red currant and cherry, with a hint of spice on the finish. 90.
Frind The Premier 2019 ($39.99). The blend is 52% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.5% Syrah and 1.5% Regent. The wine was aged 12 months in French and American oak. This is a dark and brooding wine, beginning with aromas of plum, fig and earth that are echoed on the palate. The wine will age well for several more years but should be decanted for current consumption. 92.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Painted Rock's 2018 Red Icon and friends

Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner
The wines from Painted Rock Estate Winery have never disappointed this reviewer, nor – I suspect – any of Painted Rock’s customers. This was one of the producers included in my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The text focussed specifically on the winery’s flagship wine, called Red Icon. The text provides insights in why that wine, and all of the others, are among the Okanagan’s best.
Here is an excerpt from the book: Few Okanagan wineries are as greatly influenced by Bordeaux consultant Alain Sutre as John and Trish Skinner’s Painted Rock Estate Winery. Alain’s advice to them covers the full scope of winemaking, from viticulture and barrel selection to blending the winery’s flagship Red Icon. “I will tell you how Alain found me,” says John. “Alain heard about me from the nursery in Bordeaux. I had contacted the nursery directly because I wanted to get very specific clones. A year later, Alain showed up at the vineyard one day when we had just planted. He introduced himself and said, ‘I love what you have planted here, but no one in the Okanagan knows how to blend these clones.’ That was the beginning of the journey.” John needed such expertise to fully realize his wine-growing ambitions. Born in 1958, he had been a successful Vancouver investment adviser. His growing passion for wine triggered a decision to retire from the investment business at 50 and take up wine-growing. In 2004, after a careful study of potential vineyard sites, he bought a 24-hectare (60-acre) former apricot orchard near the Skaha climbing bluffs. The site was shaped to produce an ideal southwestern vineyard exposure that he began planting in 2005.
He had a clear vision for his wines. “This journey is not about making a Bordeaux blend,” he told Alain. “This is about making an Okanagan wine with clones I sourced from Bordeaux.” Alain, he discovered, was on the same page. The consultant has had a hand in making Okanagan wines at other distinguished producers including Osoyoos Larose and, latterly, Culmina Family Estate Winery. To date, Alain has blended every vintage of Red Icon. The blending decisions reflect the strengths of the Painted Rock vineyard in any given vintage. “Our 2012 Red Icon is kind of an inverted Bordeaux blend because it leads with 31% Malbec,” John says. “It’s Okanagan.” The blends vary from year to year and are somewhat unorthodox, with higher percentages of both Malbec and Petit Verdot. In most Okanagan red Meritages, Petit Verdot is a minor portion of the blend, bringing a touch of spice. Not so at Painted Rock. “I have never tasted a Petit Verdot like this,” Alain once said, advocating that the variety play a significant role in the blend. The varietals all have roles to play. The Cabernets provide structure; Merlot fleshes out the mid-palate; Malbec brings bright flavour notes. “Petit Verdot,” John says, “is the attack and the finish.” While the components move around from vintage to vintage, Red Icon is united in style year after year by its harmony, as John discovered when tasting a vertical of the first five vintages. “Those five wines, all different blends, were all quite similar because they were complete wines,” he explains.
Here are notes on current releases.
Painted Rock Merlot 2017 ($34.99). This wine, which was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new), is age-worthy but is already drinking well. It begins with aromas of black cherry, plum and mocha. On the palate, it delivers flavours of dark cherries, plums, black currants and spice. The finish is long. 92.
Painted Rock Syrah 2018 ($39.99). This is a rich, bold wine with aromas of fig, dark plum and black pepper. Those are echoed on the palate, mingled with dark fruit flavours, cracked black pepper and a hint of earthiness. 93.
Painted Rock Red Icon 2018 ($59.99). The blend is 56% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec and 8% Petit Merlot. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). 94.