Writer and wine columnist John Schreiner is Canada's most prolific author of books on wine.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Roche family celebrates 10 years in the Okanagan
Photo: Pénélope and Dylan Roche
It came as a surprise to learn that Roche Wines is marking the 10th anniversary since Dylan and Pénélope Roche arrived in the Okanagan in 2011.
They launched their label soon after arriving, methodically building a following for their wines before buying a vineyard and then building a winery in 2017.
They are not people who jump into business ventures without first making a thorough study. I first met them when they first arrived from France. They had tracked me down and we spent two hours talking about the British Columbia wine industry. I am sure I was just one of many people they spoke with before making the plunge into the Okanagan wine industry.
In my view, they have not put a foot wrong as they now produce some of the best wines in the valley.
Dylan was born in Vancouver in 1976, the son of a lawyer and a nurse. After getting a University of British Columbia degree in urban geography, he went to Burgundy in 2000 as a bike mechanic and cycling guide. His interest in wine flourished there. By 2003, he was enrolled in enology studies in Beaune.
“The desire to make that wine in the Okanagan for me came fairly soon after I started studying wine,” Dylan told me in a 2014 interview. “I was living in Beaune in Burgundy and one of my getaways was to drive three hours, under Mont Blanc, and into Piedmont and Verona. I would visit Alba and Valpolicella and Barbaresco and Barolo. They are all pretty close together and they are not far from Burgundy.”
During the decade he spent in Europe, he acquired an impressive amount of training and experience in wine, viticulture and winery management. That includes a diploma from Faculté d'Oenologie de Dijon. Between 2006 and 2008, he ran a wine education program at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac.
He also was the winemaker or assistant winemaker at several Bordeaux estates including Château Les Carmes in Haut-Brion. That was the estate of Pénélope’s family. She comes from five generations of winemaking and viticulture. The family estate was sold just before Dylan and Pénélope came to the Okanagan in 2010.
He and Pénélope actually met in New Zealand where both spent a vintage or two to broaden their experience. “She traveled to hone her skill as a ‘Vine Whisperer’ in Spain and then New Zealand,” is how they expressed it in a news release when they opened their winery.
Initially, they both worked as consulting winemakers. Dylan spent several years as the winemaker for Intersection Estate Winery near Oliver while he and Pénélope were establishing their own business.
They launched the Roche label in 2012 with 85 cases of Chardonnay. Beginning in 2013, Dylan and Pénélope began to extend their portfolio by purchasing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the 15-acre Kozier Organic Vineyard nearby on the Naramata Bench. In 2016, they took over the farming of the vineyard, which also grows Merlot, Gewürztraminer, and Viognier, a solid foundation for their portfolio.
Their winery and wineshop occupy an eight-acre property on Upper Bench Road that they nearly did not buy because of the grape varieties growing there – one acre of Zweigelt and three acres of Schönberger. “We hesitated,” Dylan told me. “Then a few months later, we said this is the perfect location, the perfect exposure, the perfect soil. It is just the two varieties that we were sticking on.” Neither had any experience with those grapes, which are not grown in Bordeaux. Zweigelt is a major red in Austria while Schönberger is an aromatic German white. But they adapted, blending the two into one of best rosé wines in the Okanagan. And they have planted small blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The metal-clad winery, which they built in 2017, fronts on busy Upper Bench Road. It is a practical, well-designed building, double-insulated to reduce energy consumption, and designed for a capacity of 6,000 to 10,000 cases. The compact tasting room is tucked into a corner with windows looking over the vineyard.
Here are notes on some current releases.
Roche Pinot Gris “Texture” 2020 ($21.90). The fruit for this wine is from the Kozier Organic Vineyard on the Naramata Bench. The wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. It begins with aromas of citrus and green apple which are echoed on the lively palate. The finish is crisp, with a laser-focused cleanness. 91.
Roche Pinot Gris “Tradition” 2018 ($28.90 for 420 cases). The fruit for this also comes from the Kozier vineyard. Juice from whole bunch pressing was fermented slowly (two months) in neutral French oak barrels. The wine remained in the barrels for eight months with limited lees stirring. The wine has aromas and flavours of pear mingled with subtle spice and oak. This is quite a complex white wine. 91.
Roche Rosé 2010 ($21.90). This is a blend of 92% Zweigelt and 8% Schönberger, fermented in stainless steel. The wine presents in the glass with a beautiful rose petal hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry, watermelon and pink grapefruit. The palate delivers juicy flavours of strawberry, red currant and pomegranate. The finish is dry and refreshing. 92.
Roche Pinot Noir 2019 “Texture” ($26.90). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged 10 months in neutral French oak. The wine begins with aromas of spice, cherry and notes of forest floor. The silky palate echoes the aromas with intense dark fruit leading to a lingering finish. 91.
b>Roche Nuances 2018 ($32.90 for 1,022 cases). This is 58% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (10% new). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry mingle with black currant, leading to a savoury finish. 90.
Roche Château 2017 ($49.90 for 258 cases). This is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The varietals were fermented separately and aged in French oak (40% new) for 18 months. The lots with the greatest depth and structure were blended. The wine is dark with aromas of cassis. The wine is firm on the palate (structured to age) with flavours of black currant, fig, leather and dark chocolate. 93.