Photo: Winemakers Randy Picton (l) and Justin Hall (credit Jacquie Tremblay/Deeper Image Photography
One of the Okanagan’s most successful winemakers, Randy Picton, is retiring at the end of June, 2021, as senior winemaker at Nk’Mip Cellars.
His successor is Justin Hall, who once said he had “bugged” Randy for three months before being given a job in the winery in 2004. He worked his way into the top job by mentoring with Randy while studying viticulture and enology at Okanagan University College and Lincoln University in New Zealand. That career path somewhat mirrored Randy’s own career.
“It has been a good run,” Randy says, “but much like when I left the forestry industry, I feel like the timing is right: get out while you still enjoy what you are doing but ahead of the time when it becomes ‘a job’. I've been very fortunate to have worked in the industry for 25 years - and in particular the last 19 years, being able to contribute to the success of Nk'Mip.”
Born in 1958 in Saskatchewan, Picton cycled through a variety of jobs after getting a Business Administration Diploma from Mount Royal College in Calgary. His experience in the forest industry included several seasons as a tree planter.
When that became too physically demanding, he spotted the potential of the Okanagan wine industry and enrolled at Okanagan University College in 1995 in its newly launched winemaking program. At the same time, he took a job in the cellar at CedarCreek Estate Winery where he mentored under Kevin Willenborg and Tom DiBello, two University of California trained winemakers who once worked at CedarCreek.
“I started at CedarCreek for part of the 1995 vintage, just as I was going through the co-op program at OUC,” Randy once told me in an interview. “1996 was a horrible vintage. It was October 17 that was our first picking date of the year. We were picking Auxerrois, which should be picked at the beginning of September. And it was snowing. We had 300 tons still to bring in, and a very antiquated facility at the time. The fact that we got it all in was a miracle in itself.”
Randy not only survived that rough introduction to the wine industry; he thrived in it. He was twice in charge of winemaking at CedarCreek during extended periods when the winery was between senior winemakers. Under Tom DiBello’s direction, he was put in charge of making Pinot Gris and Icewine.
He was recruited for Nk’Mip, which had been formed as a joint venture between the Osoyoos Indian Band and Vincor Canada (now Arterra Wines Canada). It was the first aboriginal winery in North America. Soon after Randy began making the wines, Nk’Mip was winning major awards. In one vintage there, he made an Icewine so fine that I scored it 100 points.
It is a unique relationship in the wine industry between the Band and Arterra. The majority of Arterra’s vineyards are on land leased from the Osoyoos Indian Band. Most of Arterra’s wines are made in the sprawling winery just north of Oliver, also on land owned by the Band. Arterra markets most of Nk’Mip’s wines in the same channels in which it sells its other brands.
Because the Nk’Mip winery is jammed to capacity, there has been pressure to make some of Nk’Mip’s wines in the much larger Oliver facility. So far, that seems to have been resisted. “I have dug my heels in, saying this is Nk’Mip – we’re different,” Randy told me a few years ago. “We’re a joint venture with Arterra but we are an Osoyoos Indian Band winery and we are making the wines in an Osoyoos Indian Band facility and that is what we want to continue to do.”
He adds: “What is nice about this winery is that we are so tied to the land. 100% of the grapes for these wines are grown on Osoyoos Indian Band land. It is an important part of our mandate.”
The superb fruit available to Randy from the estate vineyard and from the legendary Inkameep Vineyard north of Oliver has enabled Randy to premiumize the Nk’Mip portfolio over the years. The best example is Mer’r’iym, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux red blend, first made in the 2008 vintage.
Randy had already begun creating a premium tier of wines designated Qwam Qwmt, which means achieving excellence in the language of the Osoyoos First Nation.
“2008 was the first year that we had a chance to work with all five of the classic red Bordeaux varietals,” Randy told me. “Other wineries had their iconic red blends. We thought this was our opportunity, now that we had all the varietals that we think we need.” Several years ago, the winery also added a White Mer’r’iym to its portfolio.
The name of the wine, also from the Osoyoos Band’s language, is pronounced mur-eem and means marriage – “the perfect union of varietals.” It also sets up Randy’s standard witticism about the wine’s ageability. “I tell them that Mer’r’iym means marriage, and like any good marriage, it should probably last seven to 10 years” he says. He and his wife, Lynele, have been married since 1981.
While Randy retires at the end of June, he expects to be involved in the 2021 vintage to ensure a smooth transition in the Nk’Mip cellar.
A member of the Osoyoos Indian Band, Justin Hall completed studies at the South Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver while also working at band’s golf course. When that shut for winter, he set his sight on getting a fulltime job at the winery.
A winery-issued biography of Justin recalled that search. “… Hall ‘bugged Randy once a week’ for three months until Picton finally told Hall there was a job for him. And so, in January 2004, Hall joined Nk’Mip and was rewarded for his persistence with the glamourous tasks of cleaning equipment and hoses. It didn’t matter – within a month, Hall was hooked and knew this was the job for him.”
He soon enrolled at Okanagan University College. He also gained more experience by doing a crush at an Australian winery then owned by Vincor. Subsequently, he completed a 10-month program on cool climate viticulture and winemaking at Lincoln University in New Zealand.
Randy’s mentorship of First Nations talent extends beyond Justin. The veteran cellar supervisor at Nk’Mip cellars is Aaron Crey, a member of the Cheam Indian Band in the Fraser Valley. He joined Nk’Mip cellars just before vintage in 2003.
Randy leaves an impressive legacy of fine wines and commendable human resources policies. If I owned a winery, I would sign him up as a consultant.
Jeff Hundertmark, the winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, is fortunate to have access to grapes from 200 acres of vineyards in both the Okanagan and Similkameen.
Not many winemakers have such options. Jeff certainly makes the most of the opportunity, whether it is to make single appellation wines or blends from several appellations. The reserve Syrah, reviewed here, combines fruit from both the Similkameen and the south Okanagan.
The winery also gives Jeff and his cellar crew opportunities to innovate with grapes from the estate vineyards as well as from purchased fruit, for wines released under the “Modest” label. Except for the prices, there is nothing modest about these wines.
The current releases under the Modest label even includes an orange wine, made by fermenting Pinot Gris on the skins to total dryness. This was, by far, the most difficult wine to rate. Even though this is a very well-made wine, the style always divides the room. You should not try drinking orange wines alone if it is the only bottle you have. It takes three or four consumers and a good charcuterie platter to get the best from orange wines.
The Modest wines all come with slightly cheeky labels. La graves robber, for example, is inspired by the Graves region in Bordeaux renowned for dry white blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. “We robbed this style and made it our own here in B.C.,” the winery explains.
Now that travel restrictions have eased in British Columbia, one can schedule a visit to the new Mt. Boucherie tasting room in West Kelowna.
“In 2020, following 20 years of running from a modest tasting room, the winery opened the doors to a brand-new luxurious wine experience centre,” Mt. Boucherie says on its website. “The 15,000 square-foot building features a dining lounge, tasting room and multiple private event facilities with some of the best views in the valley.”
Here are notes of some of the wines that can be sampled or purchased there.
Mt. Boucherie Pinot Gris 2020 ($21.99). This wine, which was fermented cool in stainless steel, begins with aromas of pear and peach. The palate is fleshy with flavours of peach and citrus. 90.
Mt. Boucherie Rosé 2020 ($22.99). This is a field blend of Zweigelt, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir from the estate in West Kelowna. The skins were cold-soaked for 18 hours and the wine fermented spontaneously with indigenous yeast. The rose petal hue is appealing. The wine has aromas of strawberry and watermelon. There is a hint of spice on the palate from the Gewürztraminer along with flavours of orange and strawberry. The wine is dry with a persistent finish. 90.
Mt. Boucherie Pinot Noir 2019 ($24.99). The grapes for this wine are from Mt. Boucherie’s Lazy River Vineyard near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley. It is a medium-bodied wine with aromas of cloves, black cherry and cigar box which are echoed in the flavours. The wine was aged in French oak (20% new). The finish lingers. The firm texture suggests the wine should be aged a few years. 90.
Mt. Boucherie Merlot 2018 ($24.99). This wine was aged six months in French and American oak (25% new). This wine includes fruit from both the south Okanagan and the Similkameen where the winery has vineyards. This delicious wine begins with aromas of black cherry, blackberry and vanilla. The palate delivers spicy flavours of dark red fruit including black currant and cherry. The tannins are long and supple. 91.
Mt. Boucherie Reserve Syrah 2018 ($44.99). This is a bold red, with fruit both from the Similkameen Valley and from Osoyoos. The wine was aged in French and American oak (25% new). It begins with aromas of dark cherry, plum, chocolate and black pepper. On the palate, there are meaty flavours of fig and black cherry mingled with black pepper. 92.
Mt. Boucherie Summit 2018 ($64.99). The specifications for this magnificent wine are not yet on the winery’s website. The previous vintage was Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec, aged a total of 24 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and blueberry mingled with cassis. Fine, polished tannins give this wine elegance and length. It has sweet flavours of dark fruits that persist on the long finish. This wine is worth every penny of the price. 95.
Modest la graves robber 2020 ($26.99). This is 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon aged in neutral oak puncheons. It begins with aromas of herbs and lime. The flavours show notes of lime and green apple. The finish is dry and refreshing. 90.
Modest the elder vicar 2019 ($21.99). This is a co-fermented blend of Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling, with skin contact during fermentation. The wine has a rich and spicy aroma and lively spicy fruit on the palate – guava, apricot. The fruit is so intense that the finish recalls a late-harvest wine. 90.
Modest no. 4 orange 2020 ($26.99). This is a skin-fermented Pinot Gris, with a golden pink hue. The aroma is complex, with hints of herbs and orange peel. The palate delivers intensely dry flavours of tea. 88.
Modest the eye of the partridge 2020 ($24.99). This rose is made with Pinot Noir. The lovely hue referenced in the name comes from an eight-hour cold soak on the skins. The wine has aromas of strawberry and watermelon, echoed refreshingly in the juicy flavours. The finish is dry. 91.
Modest by jove 2019($29.99). This is a Sangiovese from Black Sage Road, with five percent of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the blend. It begins with aromas of spice and cherry. The palate is intriguing – hints of smoked meat mingle with the cherry. 91.
Modest little green red 2018 ($N/A). This is Petit Verdot from Osoyoos – classically dark in colour with smoky dark fruit aromas. The wine is bold on the palate, with flavours of black currant and fig mingled with spicy and earthy tones. 91.
These wines represent the second vintage made at Play by Stephanie Bryers.
Formerly the assistant winemaker at Culmina Family Estate Winery, she joined Play early in 2019. She is bringing consistency to the portfolio of this Penticton winery after its earlier shaky start.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Skaha Lake, the winery is owned by Calgary hotelier Stagewest Hospitality which includes dinner theatres in many of its hotels. The winery, which opened with wines from the 2014 vintage, is supported by the 12-acre estate vineyard as well as with purchased fruit.
Stephanie was born in Ontario in 1988. She acquired a passion for wines while working in a wine shop and taking sommelier training.
“I decided I did not want to work in restaurants and pour wine,” Stephanie says. “I liked the idea of making it. We always had a couple of days [in sommelier training] where we would go to a winery and do a couple of punch downs for the fun of it, or help on the bottling line. I liked that so much more, so I went to school.” A 2015 graduate of Niagara College, she made wine in New Zealand, Portugal and Ontario before coming to the Okanagan.
The wines reviewed here include six from the core portfolio and four from the winery’s value-priced “Spotlight” series.
Here are notes on the wines.
Play Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($21.99 for 230 cases). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit. It is crisp and dry, with flavours of lime and grapefruit around a spine of minerality. 89.
Play Viognier 2020 ($21.99 for 200 cases). This wine is distinguished from the Spotlight Viognier by being made with techniques giving the wine a lush style. Some 35% was fermented in oak barrels; another 11% in stainless steel barrels. Four months battonage on the lees occurred with 46% of the wine. The wine has aromas of apricot mingled with oak. The texture is rich, with a spine of minerality. 90.
Play Saignée 2020 ($25.99 for 350 cases). This is 50% Merlot, 22 Syrah, with the rest of the blend undisclosed. This is made in the dry, Provence style that is fashionably pale in the glass. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry. The palate is fleshy with flavours of strawberry and peach. 90.
Play Cabernet Franc 2019 ($32.99 for 210 cases). The wine shows dark, spicy fruit aromas. On the palate, the flavours mingle black currant and fig with earthy notes on the finish. The wine has been aged on French oak for 16 months. 88.
Play Merlot 2019 ($28.99 for 234 cases). This wine was aged for 16 months in French oak. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, the concentrated texture supports flavours of black currant, blackberry and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate. 91.
Play Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($28.99 for 145 cases). This wine aged 16 months in French oak. It has aromas of spice and red berries. A hint of spice (white pepper) shows in the flavour along with notes of cherry and black current. While pepper is not typical in a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is appealing all the same. 90.
Play Spotlight Sémillon 2019 ($18.99). Think of a white Graves! The wine is lean and dry, with aromas and flavours of citrus. Some 56% was aged eight months in French oak. 88.
Play Spotlight Viognier 2020 ($18.99). The winery’s Viognier block was picked in two passes, a week apart, with the earlier pick retaining the acidity that gives this wine freshness. The wine has aromas and flavours of apricot with a hint of pineapple. The finish lingers. 90.
Play Spotlight Malbec 2019 ($22.99). Aged 16 months in French oak, this wine begins with bright aromas of spice and plum. These are repeated in the flavours where bright, floral fruit flavours mingle with a hint of vanilla. 90.
Play Spotlight Merlot 2020 ($22.99). Aged in French and American oak, this is a soft and quaffable Merlot with aromas and flavours of blueberry, black cherry, and black tea. 90.
Only a few weeks after announcing the tasting room would not open this season at Blue Mountain Vineyard, there has been a happy change of heart, coinciding with the lifting of the travel restrictions. Blue Mountain’s many fans can once again visit their favourite winery.
“We are pleased to announce that the Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars tasting room will open by reservation for the season on Thursday, July 1, 2021,” winery said in a recent email. “We are looking forward to reconnecting with you in person, particularly as this year marks the winery’s 30th anniversary, and we have a lot to celebrate!”
The tasting room will be open from noon to 4 pm, Thursday through Saturday. “Health and safety continue to be our top priority, so we will be limiting groups to a maximum of 4 people,” the winery said. “Masks will be required indoors. Reservations are required for in-person visits to the tasting room. The $10 per person tasting fee will be reimbursed with the purchase of 1 or more bottles.”
I am not sure how one would enforce a mask policy at the same time as guests are tasting wine but I am sure Blue Mountain will figure it out.
One of the wines available for tasting is the winery’s 2019 estate Chardonnay, made with fruit from vines that are between 13 and 30 years of age. There are five clones in the blend.
Typical of the Blue Mountain style, winemaker Matt Mavety has gone to some lengths to produce a complex wine that would do any good Burgundy estate proud. The fruit was all hand-harvested. Whole clusters were pressed to assure purity of the juice, which was then fermented with indigenous yeasts. Fermentation took place in French oak barrels (new to three-years old). The wine was aged 17 months in barrel on fine lees. The wine was blended in March, bottled in April and released in May.
The winery suggests the wine can be aged four to six years.
Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2019 ($28). The wine begins with aromas of citrus with a touch of vanilla and a hint of the buttery character imparted by malolactic fermentation. The palate is rich, with flavours of citrus, apricot and spice mingled subtly with oak and toasty lees notes. The finish is very long. 91.
In its two Okanagan Falls vineyards, Stag’s Hollow Winery grows the mainstream varietals but also nurtures several varietals rarely found elsewhere in the Okanagan.
The winery’s spring release includes two table wines made with Tempranillo, the Spanish red varietal, and one made with Dolcetto, the Italian red. (The winery also has another Italian red, Teroldego, and a Spanish white, Albariño.)
Stag’s Hollow winemaker Keira LeFranc demonstrates the versatility of Tempranillo by releasing two different styles. One is a conventional barrel-aged full-bodied red. The other, dubbed Joven or young, is made to be light and fresh. Both are appealing.
The Dolcetto rosé will infuriate those consumers and critics who have climbed on the Provençal bandwagon in recent years to praise anaemic-looking rosé. This wine, which is quite spectacular in the glass with its vibrant magenta colour, takes its inspiration from the darker rosé wines of southern Italy. As the winery says on the back label: “This is not your Nonna’s Rosato.”
I applaud Keira. I also enjoy the pale rosé wines that are fashionable but I prefer a rosé to have great visual appeal as well as delivering great fruit. This one does that. Keira achieved it by crushing the grapes by foot before giving the crushed fruit five days of skin contact to extract colour and flavour. Then the wine was fermented in concrete and aged in stainless steel to preserve all the savoury fruit flavours.
Stag’s Hollow also bottled this wine in an attractive clear bottle. It should be hard to keep the wine on the shelf.
Here are notes on the wines.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto Rosato 2020($24 for 87 cases). This wine announces itself with an electric magenta hue in the glass. It delivers with assertive aromas – cherry, raspberry and pomegranate. There is more pomegranate on the palate, along with sour cherry. The finish is quite dry. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo Joven 2019 ($21 for 153 cases). The wine was aged about nine months in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There is three percent Dolcetto in the blend. This is a bright and refreshing wine, with cherry and blackberry aromas and flavours. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo 2018 ($28 for 344 cases). This wine was fermented in an open top fermenter and aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black currant and cherry. These are echoed on the palate, along with notes of red currant, chocolate and oak. With breathing, the tannins become silky. 90.