Now celebrating its 21th anniversary, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery’s time in the industry has spanned the (so far) golden age of British Columbia wine.
When the original Township 7 winery opened in Langley in 2001, the VQA program was two or three years old in British Columbia; and there were perhaps 50 wineries.
Today, there are 350 wineries with so many under development that 400 is possible. The VQA program now is mature while a series of new sub-appellations are drilling down to an understanding of terroir wines barely contemplated 20 years ago.
Township 7 consists of two of those wineries. The initial winery in Langley is now dedicated to the production of sparkling wines. The much larger winery at the start of the Naramata Bench makes a full range of table wines.
There have been three sets of owners at Township 7 and each has been better resourced. Businessman Ge Song, who acquired the winery in 2014, has made major investments to expand the Okanagan winery and upgrade the equipment. In 2018, he allowed the winery to purchase the 12-acre Blue Terrace Vineyard near Oliver, securing total control over a vineyard from which Township 7 has been buying fruit almost from the beginning. The winery also sources fruit for other excellent growers in the South Okanagan, as well as from the winery’s Naramata home vineyard.
The current owner also has supported the winery in critical personnel decisions. Mary McDermott, a superb winemaker, was recruited from Andrew Peller Ltd. in Ontario in 2014. She has had a major impact on the quality of wines. And it was her idea to devote the Langley vineyard to sparkling wines.
A few years ago, Township 7 added bench strength by hiring Ryan McKibbon as assistant winemaker and vineyard manager. He is a graduate of Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture program. His expertise includes organic and biodynamic grape growing.
He did a vineyard internship focussed on organic and biodynamic viticulture at Felton Road Wines in New Zealand. He has worked with other organic/biodynamic producers including Hidden Bench Winery on Ontario, Crystallum Wines in South Africa and Phantom Creek in the Okanagan.
Judging from the four wines released this spring. Township 7 is going from strength to strength. Here are notes on the wines.
Township 7 Provenance Series 7 Blanc 2019 ($20.97 for 825 cases). This is a blend of 60% Gewürztraminer, 15% Viognier, 12% Pinot Gris, 11% Riesling and 2% Muscat. It goes without saying that this is a complex and delicious dry white wine. It begins with floral aromas mingled with notes of pear and spice. The richly textured palate has flavours of peach, pear and citrus. 91.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Viognier 2019 ($27.97 for 648 cases). The fruit, sourced from two warm sites at Osoyoos and Oliver, was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and seven oak barrels (one new). The wine begins with aromas of apricot, grapefruit and vanilla, leading to flavours of apricot and passionfruit. Bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing and lively finish. 91.
Township 7 Provenance Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($29.97 for 998 cases). This wine includes two per cent Merlot. The fruit has a 14-day maceration and then, after fermenting, was aged 18 months in barrels (predominantly American). It begins with aromas of black cherry, blueberry, mocha and cassis, all of which is echoed on the palate. The long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying finish. 91.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve 7 2018 ($38.97 for 766 cases). The blend is 50.5% Merlot. 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17.5% Cabernet Franc. Here is a stunner! It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currant and spice, leading to rich and powerful flavours of plum, black currant and vanilla. 94.
Black Hills was the first winery to plant Carménère in the Okanagan. It remains one of three or four wineries growing this venerable Bordeaux red varietal. The wine is virtually exclusive to the Black Hills wine club, where it has acquired a cult following, deservedly so.
The varietal was saved from near extinction in Chile. It once was widely grown in the Médoc. Wine Grapes, the massive and authoritative book by Jancis Robinson (and two colleagues) has an extensive entry on the grape’s history. It was “largely abandoned in Bordeaux after the phylloxera invasion of the 1870s because of its poor fruit set and consequently unreliable yields,” the book says. “There were just 21 hectares in France in 2008.”
Carménère vines were planted in Chile in the mid-nineteenth century from vines that has come from France before phylloxera invaded the French vineyards. Chile is believed still to be free of phylloxera, although viticulturists today would know how to deal with it.
The Carménère vines in Chile were interplanted with other varietals, primarily Merlot. The variety did better there than in France because the growing season is longer and drier than in Bordeaux. Robinson et al says Chilean growers recognized that Carménère was different from Merlot and they called it Merlot Chileno.
In the early 1990s, a French ampelographer identified Merlot Chileno as Carménère. This was confirmed by DNA analysis and in 1998, authorities in Chile recognized the variety officially as Carménère.
Ross Wise MW, who joined Black Hills as winemaker in 2019, had never made Carménère before in his winemaking career. He was not a fan of the varietal before that. On his Master of Wine examination, he was asked to name two grape varietals he would banish from the earth. He named Torrontes, Argentina’s ubiquitous grapey white, and Carménère, because he does not like the plump, alcoholic style often produced in Chile. He became a Carménère convert after tasting the wines at Black Hills.
Several years ago, Black Hills treated its wine club members to a vertical tasting of every vintage of its Carménère, except the first (there is none in the winery’s library now). The style here is neither plump, nor alcoholic. The alcohol in the finished wine hovers around 12%.
“Carménère used to be really popular in Bordeaux and now it is not,” Ross told the audience at the vertical tasting. “They did not replant it because it is a really low-cropping variety and they couldn’t make much money with it. But the good thing about really low-cropping vines is they have much more power and concentration. From a winemaker perspective, they are fantastic. From a business perspective, it is harder to justify. But I am a winemaker, so that’s fine.”
Black Hills planted Carménère in 2001 at the suggestion of Rusty Figgins, the Washington state consultant who worked with Senka Tennant during the early Black Hills vintages. Carménère was just being planted in Washington at the time. Black Hills had a three-quarter-acre unplanted block in its vineyard. Rusty had the winery plant Carménère as an additional blending component for Nota Bene, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend.
As the demand for its Carménère has grown, Black Hills has increased its plantings – moderately. In 2008, 2 ½ acres of Chardonnay was grafted over to Carménère. Two more acres were planted in 2012, and about 2 ½ acres more in 2016.
The winery’s current releases include a 2018 Carménère and a 2019 Chardonnay. Here are notes on the wines.
b>Black Hills Chardonnay 2019 ($29.90 for 1,217 cases). This is a luscious wine with buttery aromas mingled with citrus. The palate is packed with fruit flavours – peach and apple – mingled delicately with vanilla and butter. 91.
Black Hills Carménère 2018 ($59.99 for 605 cases). The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, cherry and red licorice. On the palate, there are flavours of red berry fruits mingled with pepper, with a lingering earthy finish. 92.
John Glavina, the owner of Summerland’s Giant Head Estate Winery, finds himself juggling two brands: Giant Head and Canyonview. There is a story here.
Giant Head is the name of the winery that he and Jinny Lee, his partner, opened in 2015 on a vineyard that they had begun planting in 2005. The winery is named for the extinct volcano that is Summerland’s most prominent landmark. It is also a great name for a winery. Considering that there are at least five other wineries clustered around the volcano, it is a surprise that the name was available in 2015.
Once they started making wine, John and Jinny also struck up a friendship with Krimo Souilah, an Algerian-born winemaker who then owned a Summerland vineyard that he called Canyonview. It produces very good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and John began buying some of the grapes in 2016.
Krimo left France in 1978 and resumed his winemaking career in the Napa Valley with Clos du Val Winery. He changed careers 20 years later and began selling wine barrels as a representative of a French cooperage. He first came to the Okanagan in 2003 to sell barrels. When he concluded this was an important emerging wine region, he purchased a property near Summerland where he planted three clones of Pinot Noir, along with some Chardonnay.
Krimo called the vineyard Canyonview because, from his trailer at the edge of the property, he had a view of the Kettle Valley trestle that spans the canyon. He did think of developing a winery but, with a business based in the United States, that proved impractical. For a number of years, Krimo sold his grapes to Okanagan producers. Okanagan Crush Pad Winery made several vintages of Canyonview wines until Krimo decided not to convert his vineyard to total organic production.
By then John Glavina and Krimo had become friends. “I love Krimo,” John says. “He taught me so much about winemaking.” The friendship extended to a handshake agreement that John would buy the Canyonview Vineyard over a period of years. Giant Head began buying the grapes to make wine (with Krimo helping make the wines). And John registered the Canyonview brand.
Then, in 2018, Ron Kubek, one of the owners of Lightning Rock Winery (south of Summerland), purchased the vineyard. “Krimo got a really good offer from Lightning Rock and sold it,” John says. “We were surprised. We were expecting to get grapes from Krimo in 2018. But it was his property and he could do what he likes.”
The Canyonview Vineyard is about 10 acres in size. Since Giant Head has just two acres of Pinot Noir, John has scrambled to replace the lost Pinot Noir. Waters & Banks Vineyard, another Summerland grower, began to supply a small amount of Pinot Noir, along with some outstanding Sauvignon Blanc.
The current offerings from Giant Head include several vintages of Pinot Noir from the Canyonview Vineyard as well as several vintages Waters & Banks Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Going forward, it seems that the Canyonview label will be reserved exclusively for premium wines.
While these wines are available at the winery, the travel restrictions might require consumers to order from the winery’s website – until the world returns to normal.
Here are notes on the wines.
Giant Head Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($19.91). This wine is made with fruit from the Waters & Banks Vineyard. It has assertive aromas and flavours of lime and gooseberry with an herbal note on the lingering finish. 90.
Canyonview Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($N/A). This is an elegant and refined wine, beginning with aromas of lime and lemon. The palate delivers flavours of lime and meyer lemon mingled with herbal notes. 91.
Canyonview Pinot Noir 2019 ($N/A). This is youthfully bright, with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. The wine will benefit from another few years of bottle age. 89.
Giant Head Pinot Noir 2018 ($39.04). This is a bright wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and black raspberry. With breathing, it develops a juicy, silky texture. 90.
Giant Head Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 ($47.74). This is a bold, dark Pinot Noir that benefitted from time in new oak barrels. It has aromas of plum and cherry. Full-bodied, it delivers a medley of flavours including cherry, plum, blackberry, mocha and even a hint of red licorice. 91.
Canyonview Pinot Noir 2017 ($47.74 for 540 cases). The deep colour signals a wine of rich intensity. Aged 18 months in French oak, the wine has aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and spice. The silky texture adds to the elegance of the wine. 93.
Canyonview Pinot Noir 2016 ($65.13 for 575 cases). This is perhaps the most Burgundian of the Pinots with the hint of “barnyard” on the nose and palate, likely reflecting lees contact. There are intense flavours of plum and cherry; and the texture is full. 91.
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.
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.