Writer and wine columnist John Schreiner is Canada's most prolific author of books on wine.
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Lake Breeze's Garron Elmes is now an old-timer
Photo: Lake Breeze's Garron Elmes
Garron Elmes, the president of Lake Breeze Vineyards, is now the longest tenured winemaker at the same winery in the Okanagan.
That is remarkable, not just because winemakers move around a lot but also because the ownership of Lake Breeze has changed several times since Garron arrived to do his first vintage there in 1995. “He is creative and consistent,” Gary Reynolds, a previous owner, once told me.
The winery was opened in 1996 by Paul and Vereena Moser, a Swiss-born couple who bought a Naramata Bench vineyard in 1994 after leaving South Africa, where he had run several manufacturing businesses. To make his wine, he recruited another South African, Garron Elmes. Born in 1972 in Capetown, Garron then was a young graduate from the agricultural college at Stellenbosch.
The Mosers sold the winery in 1998. The new owners tired of the wine business by 2001 and sold Lake Breeze to two business couples from Alberta, all high-powered financial executives. One of those couples, Drew and Barbara MacIntyre, then bought out their partners to become sole owners in 2011.
The MacIntyres not only kept Garron. They promoted him. And they invested to expand the winery and to secure additional vineyards, either by lease or by purchase. Lake Breeze now farms about 60 acres, all of it in the Naramata Bench and much of it contiguous to the winery. The winery also buys fruit from other selected vineyards, including one near Keremeos producing top flight Sauvignon Blanc.
“The philosophy when we started out with Paul Moser was well-priced wines that over-delivered for what you paid for them,” Garron says. “That has always been my philosophy.” Along with assistant winemaker Victor Costa, he has been taken the opportunity to expand the portfolio with premium and ultra-premium wines, without taking away from the quality of the “regular” wines.
In 2016, the winery crowned its portfolio with a $90 Merlot and a $60 Chardonnay under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label. At the same time, the winery expanded its Cellar Series of wines, inserting a more affordable premium tier between its regular range, priced between $19 and $24, and the MacIntyre Heritage wines.
“This is our third or fourth vintage making the Cellar Series,” Garron says. “We just wanted to do something, when we had a tier of wines that was small production, that it was what we thought was best of the best. We would put those under the Cellar Series label. All of the wines are named after different winds.”
For example, Alizé, French for trade wine, is 100% Roussanne. This is a varietal rarely seen on its own because it is usually blended with Marsanne and Viognier into what the industry calls a Rhône blend.
“We first made Roussanne in 2016,” Garron says. “I got some fruit and decided to make something different for our wine club. The wine turned out so well that, when that block of fruit became available the next year, we snapped it up. Of all the wines we make right now, this is probably my favorite out of the whites.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Lake Breeze Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($19). “I was shooting for a simpler style, a typical Chardonnay with green apple, a bit of pear,” Garron explains. “Nice crisp acidity. It is designed for early drinking. It falls in line with the style of the majority of our whites. Very little manipulation; just looking for pure fruit expression and balance.” This is a very crisp, focussed white which showcases the fruit. 90.
Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2019 ($22). Lake Breeze also produces one of the best Pinot Blancs in the Okanagan. It is rarely tasted side by side with the Pinot Gris, so as not to confuse consumers. This wine has aromas and flavours of pear, citrus and spice. For a bit of complexity, Garron gave skin contact to less than 10% of the fruit before pressing off the juice and fermenting it in stainless steel. 90.
Lake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($22). To achieve complexity and to add texture, Garron fermented about 20% of the wine on skins with wild yeast. This was blended later with the portion fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of gooseberry and spice; these are echoed on the palate, along with hints of lime and herbs. The finish is crisp and fresh. 91.
Lake Breeze Alizé 2019 ($25). The grape here is Roussanne grown at one of the highest elevation vineyards on the Naramata Bench. This lush wine delivers dramatic aromas of honeysuckle, guava and peach leading to layers of tropical fruit on the palate. 92.
Lake Breeze Aura 2018 ($35). This a Pinot Noir grown on the estate vineyard. The clone is uncertain. Paul Moser referred to it as the Geisenheim clone but Garron has not done the confirming (and expensive) ampelography. In any case, he thinks it makes a good Burgundian-style Pinot Noir with classic forest floor notes supporting the cherry aromas and flavours. 91.
Lake Breeze Mistral 2017 ($35). The grape here is Syrah grown on the Naramata Bench. The floral aromas lead to notes of plum and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry and fig mingled with black pepper. This is a well-structured wine with long ripe tannins and a lingering finish. 92.