Monday, August 30, 2021

Covert Farms: Is the quality in the farming?

Photo: Farmer and winegrower Gene Covert
The hallmark of these wines is the freshness and intensity of the fruit flavours. Perhaps it reflects the winemaking. No doubt, it also reflects the way in which the property is farmed. In 2019, owner Gene and Shelly Covert took what they called “a deep dive into the world of regenerative farming” at family-owned Covert Farms, north of Oliver. This farm, established in 1959 by Gene’s grandfather, is the base of Covert Farms Estate Winery, which opened in 2006. The quality of the current releases wines shows that the Coverts are good farmers. Their commitment to regenerative farming implies that they think there is more upside with even better farming practices.
In a newsletter a few years ago, they explained regenerative farming. It “focuses on five key principles we apply to our 100 acres of vineyards and crop fields. These include minimal or no-tillage of the soil; preservation of the amour (plant residue) left on the soil surface; living plant root at all times possible; diverse crop rotation; and livestock integration.” The Coverts have grown a lentil cover crop under the vines for many years. Several years ago,, they switched to a robust cocktail of 13 different plants. “Research indicates that multi-species plantings create synergies that that improve drought resistance versus single species plantings,” the newsletter says. This “seems to bear some truth as these have been our most successful dry farmed plantings to date.” Cows graze the cover crops in winter and the crop fields in summer. “A cow’s micro-biome is closely associated with healthy soil function.” The newsletter continues: “We are seeing the benefits of this approach. By growing the plants we want in the vineyard, we have reduced our weeding expense by 70%, as well as our need for off-site compost by 50%. The expanded biodiversity seems to be paying dividends in reduced pest and disease pressure.”
Here are notes on five current releases.
Covert Farms Chardonnay 2020 ($24.17). Fifteen percent of this wine was fermented in new French oak and aged on the less. The remainder was fermented in stainless steel. Lightly gold in colour, the wine begins with aromas of orange and apple mingled with vanilla and savoury herbs. Rich in texture, the wine delivers flavours of peach and apricot with clove. The finish is memorably long. 91.
Covert Farms Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2020 ($22.43). The wine begins with herbal aromas mingled with lemon and pineapple. Crisp on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of lime and herbs. The finish is persistent. 91.
Covert Farms Pinot Blanc 2020 ($20.70). The wine was fermented 90% in stainless steel, 10% in neutral oak (to add texture). A classic example of the varietal, the wine has aromas and flavours of apple and nectarine. The dry finish is ripe and savoury. 91.
Covert Farms Rosé 2020 ($22.49). This is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Syrah. The grapes were allowed 12 hours of skin contact and the juice was then co-fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry jam with a hint of cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and cherry, with a persistent, dry finish. 90.
Covert Farms Sparkling Zinfandel 2020 ($28.59). Fermentation of this wine started in a stainless steel tank and finished in the bottles. The wine has a delicate hue and just 8.9% alcohol. It is quite fruity on the nose. On the palate, there are flavours of fresh crabapples. Bright acidity gives the wine a tangy lift on the finish. 90.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Fitzpatrick: sparklers and friends

Photo: Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards winery and tasting room
It is no surprise to taste an exceptional sparkling wine among the current releases at Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards. This Peachland winery was developed to produce a portfolio crowned with sparkling wines. For background on the winery, here is an except from The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
The visitor experience at this winery, where about 100,000 bottles of sparkling wine are maturing in vaulted underground cellars, is meant to be “luxury at play.” The president Gordon Fitzpatrick or winemaker Sarah Bain often gives personal tours and tastings. The resort-like winery has a bistro and a patio where visitors relax with a glass of wine while taking in views of the vineyard or Okanagan Lake. This is the second winery established here by the Fitzpatrick family. Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, Gordon’s father, purchased this lakeside property south of Peachland in 1994. Formerly a renowned orchard called Greata Ranch, it was redeveloped as a 16.2-hectare (40-acre) vineyard to supply the senator’s CedarCreek Estate Winery across the lake. From 2003 until 2014, the Fitzpatricks also operated Greata Ranch Vineyards winery here. The sale of CedarCreek in 2014 led them to focus entirely on Greata Ranch.
“We had always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon, who had also been CedarCreek’s president. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek, and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was. They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.” The vineyard is a cool site planted to varieties well suited for the sparkling wines. The Greata Ranch winery was closed for three years to develop a new 8,000-case winery and to age an inventory of traditional bottle-aged sparkling wines. Gordon had begun the preparations in 2012 when he asked Darryl Brooker, then CedarCreek’s winemaker, to make the 380 cases of sparkling wine with which the new winery opened in 2017.
“It is not just a wine brand,” Gordon says. “I want to create a little bit of a lifestyle brand as well. That is why there is emphasis on what we are going to be doing on site, and the restaurant and the food, and the way we present. I want to see if we can cross over and create what I call luxury at play.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Fitzpatrick Runabout White 2020 ($16.50 for 1,474 cases). This is a blend predominantly of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, with smaller amounts of Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Ehrenfelser. It would be hard to find a better value summer white that this. It has aromas and flavours of apple, peach and citrus, ending with a crisp and refreshing finish. 90.
Fitzpatrick The Mischief Pinot Blanc 2020 ($18.50 for 760 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel; 40% was aged in neutral oak. Crisp and fresh, it has aromas and flavours of apple and pear. 90.
Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2020 ($19.50 for 424 cases). The Fitzpatrick family began championing the Ehrenfelser grape at CedarCreek Estate Winery and have continued to do at Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards, calling “fruit salad in the glass.” It has aromas and flavours of nectarines, ripe apple and a hint of ripe pineapple. A touch of residual sugar adds flesh. 90.
Fitzpatrick Fitz Brut 2017 ($32.99 for 4,980 cases). This is 73% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier. It was aged about 24 months on the lees. The wine is crisp and dry, with fine active bubbles. It has aromas and flavours of green apple with slight hints of brioche. 91.
b>Fitzpatrick Fitz Brut 2016 ($38.50 for 3,390 cases). This is 66% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir, 6% Pinot Blanc and 2% Pinot Meunier. It was aged on the lees a minimum of 24 months; a small volume was aged an extra 24 months on the lees to add texture and complexity. It is an elegant and sophisticated wine, creamy on the palate with aromas and flavours of brioche and citrus. 93.
Fitzpatrick The Elusive Pinot Noir 2019 ($26.50 for 235 cases). This was fermented with 23% whole bunches. It was aged in French oak (10% new). This is a bright, fruity wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. The silky tannins support concentrated flavours. 90.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Winemaker's CUT joins District Wine Village

Photo: Michal Mosny of Winemakers's CUT
In a move that should give Winemaker’s CUT Winery the profile it deserves, owners Michal and Martina Mosny are opening a tasting room in District Wine Village north of Oliver. There, they join about 15 other producers, large and small, that have space in this appealing tasting venue just beside the highway. It is a location that wine tourists can hardly miss. The winery, which has been marketing its small production since 2018, makes its wine on a vineyard location south of Oliver, also beside the highway. Plans for a tasting there were delayed by the pandemic. Now, the Wine Village offers the winery more visibility. For more background, here is an excerpt from The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Classical music in winery is the signature of a Michal Mosny winery. “In all the wineries I have ever worked in, there is classical music in the vineyards and classical music in the cellars,” he said as speakers were being installed here in 2019. “That’s a must.” In Slovakia, where he was born in 1982, he and Martina, his wife, had a small winery (about 500 cases a year) near the village where Beethoven is said to have written “Für Elise.”
Michal and Martina immigrated in 2011, frustrated with the obstacles to assembling vineyards in Slovakia and also wanting to travel. Martina chanced to see a television documentary about Nk’Mip Cellars. That led to them to the Okanagan, where Michal set up a vineyard-management company. He spent five years as the winemaker and vineyard manager at Lunessence Winery & Vineyard near Summerland while developing Winemaker’s CUT, based on the Deadman Lake Vineyard. He had met the vineyard’s owner, Colin Stevens, in 2013 while buying grapes for one of Michal’s winery clients. The Stevens family had originally grown tree fruits since the 1920s on this property beside the highway midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. About 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of vines—Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc—were planted between 2000 and 2005. The Stevens family had considered developing a winery but never did. Michal discovered that the vineyard, rich in organic matter and minerals, produced wines of exceptional flavour. With the 2015 vintage, he began making wines for his Winemaker’s CUT label. He leased the vineyard and, after leaving Lunessence in 2019, turned a small fruit-packing house into a winery. “I am a proud garagiste winery,” Michal said after making 800 cases in 2018 and doubling production the next year.
Here are notes on current releases.
Winemaker’s Cut Bohemian Cuvée Blanc 2019 ($28 for 300 cases). This is 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon aged six months in Slovakian oak. The wine begins with aromas of guava, melon and honey. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of pineapple, guava, green apple with a subtle hint of vanilla. Bright acidity gives the wine a fresh, tangy finish. 91.
Winemaker’s Cut Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($24 for 450 cases). Zesty and refreshing, this wine begins with aromas of lime and grapefruit. These are echoed on the palate mingled with herbaceous and grassy notes. 91.
Winemaker’s Cut Rosé 2020 ($24 for 600 cases). This is 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Syrah. The wine presents in the glass with delicate rose hue. The restrained aroma leads to flavours of strawberry and watermelon. 90.
Winemaker’s Cut Syrah 2019 ($32 for 500 cases). The fruit for this wine is from a vineyard planted in 2005, which means the vines are just hitting their stride. The wine begins with classic spice, pepper and dark fruit aromas, which are echoed on the palate, along with dark cherry flavours. 91.
Winemaker’s Cut Bohemian Cuvée Rouge 2019 ($34 for 600 cases). The blend is 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. The grapes are co-fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine is aged six months in older oak barrels. This is a bold wine that begins with aromas of black pepper mingled with dark fruits. On the palate, there are more flavours of pepper along with black cherry, black currant and fig. The flavours are intense and persist on the long finish. 92.
Winemaker’s Cut Fidelia 2020 ($26 for 600 cases). One of several sparkling wines recently added to the portfolio, this is 95% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscat Canelli. The grapes were crushed and pressed with no skin contact. Primary fermentation was with a combination of wild and organic yeasts. Secondary ferment was in a Charmat tank for 30 days. The wine is soft and creamy. The fruity aromas and flavours recall lime and lemon meringue. 88.

Monday, August 23, 2021

SpearHead's Grant Stanley is no one-trick pony

Photo: Winemaker Grant Stanley
In a recent review of Pinot Noirs from SpearHead Winery, I repeated the quote I once got from winemaker Grant Stanley: that he thought about Pinot Noir 80% of the time. He was then managing an extensive portfolio at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery that ranged from Old Vines Foch to Botrytized Optima. I told Grant I could detect no neglect in the other wines. Of course, there was none. Grant is a very good winemaker. I was reminded of that recently when tasting the latest three releases from SpearHead. To be sure, there is the ubiquitous Pinot Noir – but there are two excellent Chardonnays. Clearly, he does not overlook other varietals.
Here are notes on the wines.
SpearHead Chardonnay Clone 95 Saddle Block Vineyard 2019 ($30 for 169 cases). The vineyard is on the East Kelowna Bench. The wine begins with appealing notes of butter, orange and apricot, echoed richly on the palate. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak (25% new). The subtle oak notes frame the rich fruit. 92.
b>SpearHead Chardonnay Clone 95 Duncan Vineyard 2019 ($30 for 485 cases). This wine, with fruit from a Naramata vineyard, was barrel-fermented and aged 10 months on the lees in French oak. Partial malolactic fermentation has added to the richness of the wine, which has aromas and flavours of butter, orange and stone fruit. There is a hint of vanilla on the finish. This is a wine of power and complexity. 92.
SpearHead Pinot Noir Cuvée 2019 ($42 for 430 cases, 45 magnums, 12 double magnums). This wine includes four clones from two vineyards (one in Summerland, one at the estate). The wine was whole berry fermented and aged 13 months in French oak. It is a dark, full-bodied Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry mingled with notes of forest floor. Silky tannins lead to a lingering finish. The wine should be decanted for immediate consumption; but it really deserves to be aged in bottle five or 10 years. 92.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Moon Curser makes an impact

Photo: Chris and Beata Tolley (credit Richard McQuire) Chris and Beat Tolley launched this winery in 2006 under the name, Twisted Tree Vineyards & Winery. Four years later, they opted for a more impactful name, Moon Curser, with quite garrish labels. When the current wines were released this summer, Moon Curser fans no doubted rejoiced to find that some of the labels have been toned down and made more elegant. Below: old label at top, new label below.
What is in those bottles is more important. Moon Curser hardly needs nightmare-inducing labels to make an impact when the wines are this interesting. The range of varietals produced by Moon Curser is extensive and includes several varietals that are either exclusive to the winery or grown by few other producers. A Moon Curser wine list includes Arneis, Dolcetto, Tannat, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Carménère, and Nebbiolo. “I love the diversity,” Chris says. “I love the affirmation that this valley is capable of doing a wide variety of wines. Maybe we do one of these varieties better than anywhere else in the world.” Indeed, I would put up a Moon Curser Tannat against wines from Uruguay where that variety thrives. The flagship red at Moon Curser, Dead of Night, is an inspired blend of equal parts Tannat and Syrah.
Chris, who was born in 1966 in Montreal, is a former software engineer. Beata, his Polish-born wife, practised as a chartered accountant until the couple decided to change careers. “We were looking for something more, something better, and we decided to do a winery and vineyard,” Chris told me. Lacking a wine background, they went to New Zealand in 2003 for postgraduate degrees in enology and viticulture at Lincoln University. The following year, they bought the Osoyoos orchard where they planted their first vineyard and built the winery. In both New Zealand and Australia, where they tasted extensively, they were struck by the fact that a small number of varietals dominated the wines. Chris and Beata concluded their winery was more likely to stand out if they did not merely echo what everyone else in the Okanagan was doing. That accounts for the diversity of the Moon Curser portfolio. As well, Chris’s Italian ancestry explains the number of Italian varietals he grows.
Here are notes on the current releases.
Moon Curser Arneis 2020 ($26.99 for 235 cases). This wine was fermented cool in stainless steel, with no lees stirring in order to preserve the variety’s bright fruit. It begins with floral aromas mingled with lime. The crisp palate delivers flavours of lime and apple with a briny note on the finish. 91.
Moon Curser Viognier 2020 ($22.99 for 308 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apples, apricots and honey. The palate is packed with stone fruit flavours mingled with honeysuckle. Fresh acidity balances the hint of residual sugar. The texture is rich. 90.
Moon Curser Roussanne Marsanne 2020 ($27.99 for 187 cases). This is 58% Roussanne, 42% Marsanne. The grapes were co-fermented, partially in stainless steel at 15◦C and partially in barrel at 24◦C. A portion was aged in French oak for four months. The aromas start with the appealing spice of new oak mingled with stone fruit. The palate is rich with notes of toasted oak and baked apples, leading to a lingering finish. 92.
Moon Curser Border Vines 2019 ($28.99 for 1,331 cases). This is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec and 5% Carménère. The wine was aged in French and American oak (20% new). It begins with aromas of blueberry, blackberry and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis and cherry with notes of tobacco and black licorice. 91.
Moon Curser Dolcetto 2020 ($27.99 for 178 cases). This wine was fermented and matured in stainless steel to deliver the remarkable fruitiness of the variety. In the glass, it presents with a dark purple hue and aromas of plum. The fruit flavours – cherry, strawberry and ripe raspberry – explode on the palate. The tannins are soft but the wine still shows remarkable concentration. There is a wonderful thespian character to this wine. 92.
Moon Curser Syrah 2019 ($28.99 for 802 cases). This is a bold red (15.1% alcohol). It begins with aromas of plum, fig and spice leading to concentrated and savoury flavours of plum and cherry mingled with cigar box. The finish lingers. 91.
Moon Curser Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($42.99 for 273 cases). The grapes for this wine are all from the Fernandes Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. There were two harvests: October 21 and November 12. Fermentation was in stainless steel with maturation in French oak (36% new). The wine is dark, with aromas of blackberry, black currant and blueberry. The palate is concentrated with some grip, to be expected with a Cabernet Sauvignon. There are flavours of plum, cherry, raspberry and cassis. The finish is long. Decant this wine for drinking now or cellar it seven to 10 years. 92.
Moon Curser Carménère 2019 ($42.99 for 300 cases). This is a notoriously late ripener. The grapes for this vintage were harvested November 5. However, the wine rewards the risk. The wine begins with aromas of dark fruits (think of a Christmas pudding) mingled with white and black pepper. The flavours are intense, delivering dark cherries, cloves, cedar with pepper on the persistent finish. 93.
Moon Curser Tempranillo 2019 ($33.99 for 260 cases). The wine was aged in American oak (20% new). It begins with aromas of cherry and vanilla, leading to flavours of dark cherry and plum. The long ripe tannins give the wine an elegant finish. 91.
Moon Curser Malbec 2019 ($33.99 for 505 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherry, blueberry and the variety’s elusive floral notes. The wine delivers a scoop of sweet fruit on the palate – think of tutti fruiti ice cream if it were dry – with raspberry and cherry on the finish. 91.
Moon Curser Petit Verdot 2019 ($33.99 for 232 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak (36% new). Typical of the variety, the colour is dark as night. The wine begins with aromas of violets, plums and spices. Concentrated in texture, the wine delivers intense flavours of plum, blueberry and cigar box with notes of dark chocolate and minerals on the finish. The finish is very long. This wine should be cellared to let it reach its full potential. 92.
Moon Curser Touriga Nacional 2019 ($42.99 for 149 cases). This winery is the only producer of late-ripening Touriga Nacional in the Okanagan. This is a big wine, with 15.5% alcohol. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak (28% new). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of pepper, sage and fig. On the full-bodied palate, there are flavours of blueberries, dark cherries, thyme and rosemary. 93.
b>Moon Curser Dead of Night 2019</b> ($42.99 for 319 cases). This is a blend of 53% Tannat and 47% Syrah, fermented separately in stainless steel and then aged in French and Hungarian oak. There is a brooding complexity on the nose, with notes of plum, fig and cedar. On the palate, there are intense flavours of blackberry, cassis, cherry and anise, with spice, cedar and earthiness on the finish. This wine is drinking well now but has great potential to cellar for a decade. 94.
Moon Curser Contraband Syrah 2019 ($36.99 for 172 cases). The label credits the Bartsch Vineyard on the Oliver East Bench for this bold wine, with 15.7% alcohol. The wine is available only to wine club members. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of cherries, dark chocolate and spice. The rich palate delivers sweet dark fruit flavours including plum, dark cherry and leather. Notes of oak – the wine was matured in French and Hungarian oak – are subtle on the persistent finish. 93.