Like every other Osoyoos winery this summer, Mohan Gill’s Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery, will be enduring a challenging year, thanks to the Nk’Mip Creek wild fire.
To be sure, the fire has been raging on the far side of the valley, well away from Bordertown’s vineyards and winery. Unless fire breaks out on the west side of the valley, the major impact likely will be a reduction in the number of wine tourists this month in the tasting room. After all, the mayor of Osoyoos has advised tourists to stay home so the hotels are free to receive evacuees.
While the fire caused sporadic closure of various Osoyoos and Black Sage Bench winery tasting rooms, many have once again re-opened their tasting rooms. For example, a consider this recent positive email from Phantom Creek Estates winery: “I’m getting in touch on behalf of Phantom Creek Estates to let you know that despite the recent wildfires and evacuations, the winery is back open and every member of the team is safe,” a winery spokesperson wrote.
Bordertown has been pro-active. On its website, the winery wrote: “Last Friday, we arranged for Paul Johnson of Global News to include Bordertown as part of his Okanagan wildfires segment. Many tourists had planned to come to Osoyoos for recreational, vacation-type experiences which were likely compromised by the fires and smoke. The fires definitely impacted wineries and tourism.” However, the winery’s tasting room supervisor gave an interview to Global, reassuring viewers that the wine shop is still open for business.
For those who have postponed visits to Osoyoos, the wines of Bordertown and the other fine Osoyoos wineries are generally available in private wine stores and BC liquor stores.
Bordertown, which is located beside the highway at the northern edge of Osoyoos, has grown steadily since producing 3,000 cases of wine in 2013, its first vintage. In the 2020 vintage, Bordertown made 10,000 cases of wine, with a plan to reach 40,000 cases a year when all of Mohan’s 100-plus acres of vineyards are producing.
Here are notes on some of the current releases.
Bordertown Desert Sage The White 2018 ($N/A). This is a blend of Grüner Veltliner and Muscat with a small percentage of Gewürztraminer. This aromatic wine has aromas of white raisins mingled with herbal notes. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apple, pear and honeydew melon. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.
Bordertown Living Desert White 2018 ($18). This complex wine is a blend of 32% Muscat, 28% Riesling, 21% Grüner Veltliner, 10% Gewürztraminer and 9% Pinot Gris. The wine begins with aromas of pear and apple mingled with spice. The palate is a veritable fruit salad, with flavours of stone fruit, apple and citrus. The finish is dry and lingering. 90.
Bordertown Pinot Gris 2019 ($20). The wine begins with aromas of pear and guava. On the palate, the texture is rich, with flavours of pear and citrus. The wine is dry, with a persistent finish. 91.
Bordertown Living Desert Red 2017 ($27 for 995 cases). The blend is 28% Syrah, 22% Cabernet Franc, 22% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is quite an expressive wine, with aromas and flavours of cassis, cherry and blueberry with additional notes of smoked meat and chocolate on the palate. The tannins are soft, the texture is generous and the finish, with a touch of white pepper, is persistent. 91.
Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($33 for 600 cases). This is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, with plenty of grip; it benefits from decanting. It has aromas of black currant, mint and cherry. The mint mingles on the palate with dark berry flavours. 90.
Bordertown Merlot 2018 ($25). This wine begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry and cherry. These are echoed in the sweet fruit flavours on the palate, along with an intriguing hint of tobacco. The silky tannins lead to a long finish. 91.
It is a winemaking tradition to turn Chardonnay into a “noble” wine by fermenting it in French oak, or at least aging it in French oak.
I have no problem with that. Chardonnay lends itself as a canvass upon which creative winemakers paint wondrous wines. Consequently, unoaked Chardonnay does not get a lot of time in the sun.
A case in point in the covering letter from Stephanie Stanley, the winemaker at Peak Cellars Winery in Lake Country, with the samples she released in late spring. There was a full paragraph on Riesling and another full paragraph on Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris but not a word on her unoaked Chardonnay.
As my review indicates, this is easily the finest unoaked Chardonnay from any Okanagan winery this year. You might consider ordering a case of this wine, to be enjoyed during these warm summer evenings. I will bet there is a bottle or two on Stephanie’s table this summer.
I can understand why her letter devoted space to the three other white varietals that Peak has. These are important varietals in the vineyards; and they also are well made wines.
“Many of you may already know that I am a bit of an acid-hound when it comes to food and wine,” she writes. “I also happen to love Riesling, so it should come to you as no surprise that we released a Dry Riesling as well as a 100% Riesling Sparkling wine made by the traditional method. As such, we now have four different styles of Riesling, a remarkable tribute to the King of white grapes.”
The Peak’s vineyards are blessed with several soils and exposures, meaning that the grapes from each block are sufficiently distinctive that differing wines can be produced.
“We really began to explore and exploit the variations with the 2020 vintage,” she wrote. “Why limit yourself to only one style of Pinot Gris or Riesling when you can make many? … At Peak Cellars, there is a wine for everyone.”
Including those of us who love unoaked Chardonnay when it is done this well!
Here are notes on the wines.
Peak Cellars Sparkling Riesling NV. ($38). This is a traditional method sparkling wine that was only one year on the lees. Hence, the delicate fruit aromas and flavours - think lemon and lemon zest – that command the centre of attention. 92.
Peak Cellars Goldie White 2020 ($22). This is a co-fermented field blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. The wine begins with appealing aromas of spice, pear and citrus. On the palate, there are tangy flavours of green apple and lychee with savoury herbal notes on the crisp finish. 90.
Peak Cellars Sun Kissed Pinot Gris 2020 ($30). My companion taster described this as a wine “with a big loud voice.” With a pale blush hue, the wine presents well in the glass. It has aromas of apple and melon which jump from the glass. There is more apple on the palate, along with a medley of fruit flavours. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.
Peak Cellars Unoaked Chardonnay 2020 ($24). This is the best unoaked Chardonnay in the Okanagan from the 2020 vintage. Floral aromas mingle with apple and pear. The palate delivers a basket of fruit, including peach, apple and citrus. Bright acidity accents the wine’s refreshing appeal. 93.
Peak Cellars Gewürztraminer 2020 (na). This has subdued aromas of spice with flavours of lychee and stone fruit. 88.
Peak Cellars Broken Granite Gewürztraminer 2020 ($30). This is a weighty Alsace-style wine, beginning with aromas of spice and orange zest. The palate has a slightly oily texture, with flavours of ginger mingled with mandarin orange. 90.
Peak Cellars Riesling 2020 ($24). The wine begins with a fresh squeeze of lemon on the nose. There is more fresh lemon on the palate, along with lime, green apple and mineral notes. The finish is tangy but well-balanced. 90.
Peak Cellars Terraces Dry Riesling 2020 ($30). This a complex Riesling that begins with elusive aromas. With time in the glass, notes of lemon and pineapple emerge. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon and orange zest. The finish is quite dry. The wine is structured to age and still be drinking well in 2030. 93.
Peak Cellars Block 11 Riesling 2020 ($28). The aroma signals an intense wine, with aromas of lemon meringue. There is good weight on the palate, supporting flavours of peach, lemon and apple. The finish goes on and on. 92.
Peak Cellars Grüner Veltliner 2020 ($24). This needs several more months in the bottle to allow the subdued aromas to develop. The wine delivers a medley of savoury fruit flavours, with a crisp finish. 91.
Peak Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($24). The bright coral hue is quite lovely in the glass. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry and strawberry compote. On the palate, it delivers flavours of strawberry, cranberry and rhubarb. The finish is bright and refreshing. 90.
Peak Cellars Pink Granite Rosé 2020 ($30). This is also made with Pinot Noir. The hue is slightly more subdued but still attractive in the glass. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries that are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of red apples and a hint of cranberry. The finish is dry and crisp. 91.
Photo: Foxtrot owners Douglas Barzelay and Nathan Todd
Foxtrot Vineyards, the legendary Naramata Bench producer of Pinot Noir, now has a second label: foxly wines.
“There is a little mischievous fox on our label, the less serious counterpart to the bear,” Foxtrot co-owner Nathan Todd says, referring to the dancing bear on Foxtrot’s labels.
“It is the little brother; it is always misbehaving; not following the rules the way that Foxtrot is … the rules the way we set them out,” Nathan says. “Foxtrot is sort of classical and foxly is kind of rock and roll.”
Nathan and partner Douglas Barzelay, a New York collector of fine Burgundies, bought Foxtrot in 2018 from the founder, Torsten Allander. The new owners have set out to extend the portfolio with value-priced wines, but in a way that protects the premium image of the Foxtrot brand.
“Foxtrot is not going to make any compromises with its direction, which is to make single vineyard wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Nathan says. “We’re a Burgundy house in that regard.”
He continues: “When we want to expand and do more, and access a different market, there are not too many options. I wanted to do a Pinot Gris. Foxtrot should not be doing a Pinot Gris. That’s not what it is born to do. So we came up with a second label. You’re are going to get something that is of the same artisanal calibre but with more of a wink and a nod. We know this is different.”
A foxly rosé was released last year. The currant releases include a Pinot Gris, another rosé, a Pinot Noir and two wines that were in barrel when Nathan and his partner took over.
“We included a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir that we thought was very good but not quite making grade for Foxtrot,” Nathan says. “The wines needed to be drunk. They are just not $50 and $70 bottles of wines. It would have been disingenuous to label them as Foxtrot, in my opinion. They have a home in foxly.”
There is no recent vintage of Chardonnay in the foxly range. “I cannot find many Chardonnay sources, and I would like to,” Nathan says. “For now, we still have just got estate-grown Foxtrot Chardonnay. Before my time at Foxtrot, the winery had grapes from the Coolshanagh Vineyard, which now has its own label. The winery also had grapes from the Four Shadows vineyard, which is now making its own wine. Every time you find a good vineyard, somebody gets the idea they should start to open their own winery.”
Nathan and Douglas have re-connected with the Henricsson Vineyard, nearby on Naramata Road, from which Foxtrot had been buying Pinot Noir several years ago for a single vineyard Pinot Noir.
That relationship was interrupted when Peter Henricsson began making wine for his own label. In 2019, he decided to reduce the volume for his label. Foxtrot bought the equivalent of 70 cases of wine, still in barrel, and are finishing it to re-instate a Henricsson wine under the Foxtrot brand. Nathan also bought grapes from Henricsson in 2020 and intends to do the same this vintage.
Here are notes on the wines.
foxly Pinot Gris 2020 ($20.99). Fermented in stainless steel, the wine begins with fresh aromas of citrus mingled with peach and apple. On the palate, the wine delivers a refreshing fruit bowl of peaches and apples with a touch of lemon and spice on the lingering finish. 91.
foxly Chardonnay 2016 ($28.99 for 162 cases). This wine was aged 11 months on the lees in French oak (30% new) and then another two years in bottle. The result is a lean wine with buttery notes on the aroma and palate. There are flavours of citrus and apple. 88.
foxly Rosé 2020 ($22.99). Fashionably pale, the wine floral aromas lead to flavours of wild strawberry and watermelon. It is refreshingly crisp and dry. 90.
foxly Pinot Noir 2018 ($22.99 for 250 cases). Grapes from both the Okanagan and the Similkameen were purchased for this wine. This is a pleasant, light-bodied Pinot Noir that could be called “guzzable.” The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry, mingled with clove and nutmeg spices. The amiable personality benefits with a little chilling. 88.
foxly Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 ($28.99 for 250 cases). This wine was made with fruit from the estate vineyard at Foxtrot Vineyards. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of cherry and cedar, leading to flavours of cherry and mocha mingled with earthy forest floor tones. 87.
Foxtrot The Waltz Pinot Noir 2018 ($47). The Waltz is a blend of Pinot Noir from the Naramata Bench, Summerland and the Similkameen. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak barrels (30% new) on the lees, with the original vineyard blocks kept separate until blending just before bottling. This is an elegant and pretty wine, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry mingled with spice and mocha. The silky texture gives the wine a luxurious texture. 91.
Photograph: Hester Creek general manager Mark Sheridan
Hester Creek Estate Winery is rolling out new labels and separating its wines more clearly into tiers of price and quality.
“It has been eight, nine years, even more, since we have done a package refresh,” Hester Creek general manager Mark Sheridan says.
The label update has been two years in the making, including the time it took Hester Creek to decide who would handle the redesign.
“We wanted to find somebody we felt was a fit,” Mark says. “We settled on a company from Portland, Oregon, called Fine Design Group Inc. One of the owners, Ken Fine, has his own vineyard and his own wine label. Not only does he understand design; he also understands the wine industry.”
Fine Design has many notable clients in the United States but Hester Creek is the company’s first Canadian client.
Fans of Hester Creek wines will find the label change is subtle and even understated. “We are not trying to totally change our look,” Mark says. “It has to reflect who we are. We are a humble, modest but confident company and we want the labels to reflect that.”
The labels maintain a family resemblance. “We did not want to go from one end of the spectrum to another with our labels,” Mark explains. “We wanted some commonality, particularly with the Foundation series because it is in multiple channels and has to be recognizable to our customer who has already built a loyalty to Hester Creek. The name Hester Creek is in a font and a label position similar to previous packaging.”
The popularly-priced Foundation Series wines include Character Red, Character White, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris; rosé; Select Vineyards Cabernet Merlot and Select Vineyards Merlot.
“What we are trying to represent in that label is what makes Hester Creek unique: our old vines and our historic estate,” Mark says. The vineyard was established in 1968 by Joe Busnardo and, at the time, was the single largest vineyard in the south Okanagan dedicated entirely to vinifera grapes.
The old vines give Hester Creek a significant advantage when it comes to make to quality wines. “We are fortunate to have this 53-year-old vineyard at our disposal,” says Mark Hopley, the senior winemaker (below) “For a winemaker, it is the best tool in the world.”
“We tried to focus on that in the label with the slogan Our Roots Run Deep,” Mark Sheridan says. “They run deep in the community. They run deep in our site, in our old vines, in our history.”
The next tier is called the Source Collection. It includes Hester Creek’s Old Vines Merlot, Old Vines Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Trebbiano, the first release of Old Vines Pinot Blanc and the second release of Old Vine Brut, a traditional method sparkling wine.
The Storied Series is the successor to the tier that Hester Creek formerly called Terra Unica wines.
Mark Sheridan explains: “Each wine tells a story, whether it reflects viticulture technique, or something unique from a winemaking perspective. We have five wines in this series: a Sémillon, a Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon … and Joe’s Block, the so-called Italian Merlot. It is from those old vines. And we also have a Pinot Bianco.”
The Viognier, as an example, is made with grapes from a vineyard, the Stone’s Throw Vineyard on Black Sage Bench, operated by the Fournier family, long-time growers for Hester Creek. Details on the label identify the vineyard, show the vines and even gives the vineyard’s elevation above sea level.
“These wines are available in our wine shop and to our wine club,” Mark Sheridan says of the Storied Series. “Every label is unique. Rich Tuscan colours coming through with the commonality of the name that ties in the small lot wines in the series.”
Top of the range are two iconic reds in the Origin tier: The Garland, a Cabernet Sauvignon-anchored blend named for Curt Garland, the owner of the winery; and The Judge, a Merlot-anchored blend the winery has made every year since 2007.
The packaging for the new release is what Mark Sheridan calls minimalistic. “We felt that less is more with this package,” he says. “You don’t need to overstate it. The Judge is a brand in itself now. That is why we made it front and centre on the label.”
Even with these icons, the new packaging was not used as an excuse to raise the prices.
“I always use the expression that I want to shear the sheep; I don’t want to skin it,” says Mark Sheridan. “I want that consumer to come back again and again.”
Here are notes on one wine from each tier.
Hester Creek Ti Amo 2020 ($19.99 for 1,000 cases). This Prosecco-style wine is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon. “The goal on this was for make a fruit-forward wine, not bone dry,” winemaker Mark Hopley says. “We whole-cluster pressed; picked early; and did long ferments in stainless steel.” The wine begins with floral and spicy aromas, leading to flavours of citrus and ripe pear. The bubbles give it a creamy texture. 89.
Hester Creek Old Vine Brut 2018 ($34.99 for 300 cases). This is a traditional method sparkling wine made with Pinot Blanc and aged 24 months on the lees. Mark Hopley says: “We decided to use Pinot Blanc, for several reasons. It is not a fruit bomb. It has that structure. And it is from Block Four, with 53-year-old vines.” The wine has aromas and flavours of brioche, citrus and green apple. This is an elegant and refreshing wine, the rival of a fine grower Champagne. 93.
Hester Creek Viognier 2020 ($19.99 for 330 cases). While cluster pressing and a long, slow ferment yielded a wine delivering bright fruit. It has aromas and flavours of stone fruit and honeysuckle. 92.
Hester Creek The Judge 2018 ($43.99 for 1,500 cases). This is 37% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged 24 months on barrels (75% French oak, 25% American). The wine is harmonious and elegantly polished, beginning with appealing aromas of spice, vanilla and black cherry. The texture is concentrated, with flavours of black cherry and mocha. The finish is persistent. 95.