Earlier this year, Red Rooster Winery on Naramata Road launched a refresh of its portfolio with new labels and better-defined tiers of wine.
While there are solid marketing reasons, the new releases also underline the stamp that winemaker Elaine Vickers has begun to put on the wines since taking over from Karen Gillis. Andrew Peller Ltd., the owner of Red Rooster since 2005, promoted Karen last year to manager of Peller vineyards in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys as well as manager of grower relations.
Elaine explains that one object of re-labelling was to define more clearly which wines fall into what formerly was the classic tier; and which fall into the reserve tier. Varietals in one tier, like Pinot Gris, no longer are offered in the other tier, if only to eliminate confusion in the minds of consumers.
“A lot of the consumers bought the classic tier in the lower mainland,” Elaine says. “Then they would visit us and taste the reserve and not realize that it was different. We are basically streamlining.”
The classic tier now is called the Recruit tier. These affordable wines are crafted to “recruit” consumers. The wines in this tier include Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, and the Cabernet Merlot blend.
“We are dialling in the vineyards to make the Recruit series of wines even better,” Elaine says.
The new labels also have replaced the fierce roosters on former labels for white labels that reference viticulture and winemaking. For example, the Pinot Gris is fermented cool in a dimpled stainless steel tank, a slice of which is pictured on the label.
The reserve wines now sit in what is called the Signature Series. The whites include Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Chardonnay and a concrete fermented and matured white called Pinot Three, made with Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. The reds include a carbonic-fermented Merlot Malbec blend, Syrah, Petit Verdot. There is also a sparkling brut, a traditional method wine with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Elaine continues to make several Icon wines, including The Golden Egg, Red Rooster’s premium blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. However, The Golden Egg has been renamed GSM to make the varietal composition more obvious to consumers.
Elaine is also striving to elevate the Malbec from the reserve tier to the Icon tier. Red Rooster has a two-acre block of Malbec beside the winery that gets special attention throughout the season from Elaine and her two cellar assistants.
“We are playing up the Malbec here at Red Rooster because that is what we have on site,” Elaine says. Fruit from the winery block goes into red table wine. Malbec from contract growers is used to produce a sparkling Malbec. There is also a Malbec rosé, often made by the saignée method.
Elaine joined Red Rooster just before the 2019 harvest, bringing substantial technical experience to the post. She has a master’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Victoria and worked in cancer research in Vancouver after graduation. Her interest in wine, however, began with a part-time job in a U-Brew store. “I learned the basics,” she told me in an interview a few years ago. “I picked up how you have to be clean to make wine.”
“I always enjoyed the science,” Elaine continued. “And I was lucky that I was always allowed to see projects through. But I had a bit of a creative side. I was always the one who introduced any talk I gave with a poem. I thought the move to winemaking would still have quite a bit of the science background but would be more creative.”
In 2009 she went to the University of Adelaide in Australia for a graduate diploma in enology. Returning to Canada in 2010, she worked a harvest at Jackson-Triggs Winery and then joined Blasted Church Winery. She started as cellarhand, mentoring with consulting winemaker Mark Wendenburg and then became head winemaker.
After leaving Blasted Church in 2017, she spent a year and a half as the winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery, which had just been acquired by Peller. When Ross Wise became the Black Hills winemaker and Peller’s senior winemaker in the south Okanagan, she took over at Red Rooster.
The current portfolio refresh involves not just new labels but, as Elaine puts it, “to go back to our roots of bold fun winemaking.”
Here are notes on two of the most popular of Red Rooster’s current releases.
Red Rooster Pinot Gris 2020 ($18.99 for 2,800 cases). The grapes got a long, cool ferment to, as the winery explains, “to preserve the character and the freshness of the fruit.” That objective was achieved. The wine is bursting with aromas and flavours of peach, apple and citrus. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Red Rooster Cabernet Merlot 2019 ($18.99 for 6,330 cases). The blend is 51.6% Merlot, 35.1% Cabernet Franc and 13.3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 50% in stainless steel and 50% in oak barrels (half French, half American). It begins with aromas of black cherry ands spice. On the palate, flavours of black cherry mingle with black currant, blueberry and mocha. With long soft tannins, the wine is drinking well even in its youth. 90.
Lariana Cellars is a tiny Osoyoos winery just east of the Canada-U.S. border crossing. If this winery is not on your radar, it needs to be because the wines are exceptional. Lariana’s 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best Okanagan Cabs I have ever tasted.
For background on the winery, here is an excerpt from The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
The winery name is a tribute to Larry and Anna Franklin, the parents of Carol Scott, who owns this winery with her husband, Dan. Larry Franklin was a shareholder in Shannon Pacific Vineyards, a large Black Sage Road vineyard until it was broken up after the 1988 vine pullout. During one vintage, Carol was assigned to keep the starlings away from the grapes with a bird gun. In another vintage, she helped pick grapes. She also hauled grapes to the family home in Burnaby where her father made wine.
Those experiences planted the seed for this winery even as the Scotts, both born in 1963, pursued careers in Burnaby. Don is a millwright, while Carol has been a travel agent. They moved to Osoyoos in 1989, taking over a campground that her parents had established in 1968. The recreational-vehicle sites, which they still operate, take up the lakeside half of the 4-hectare (10-acre) property. The vineyard, which replaced apple and cherry trees in 2007, occupies the top half.
Planting vines was Carol’s passion. “It took a few years to get Dan on board,” she admits. “It was kind of a dream to plant grapes. I finally convinced Dan, and we cleared the land. It was a new tractor that convinced him.” They planted Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. When the hard winters of 2008 and 2009 mortally damaged the Syrah, that variety was replaced with 2,500 Carménère vines. Now, they purchase Syrah for Lariana’s red blend.
Lariana is the Okanagan’s southernmost winery, tucked snugly against the 49th parallel, just east of the massive Canada-US customs post. The Scotts produce limited volumes (less than 1,200 cases a year) in a plain-Jane winery with a modest tasting room. They invested instead in top-flight equipment, including the California-made concrete eggs in which Carol and consulting winemaker Senka Tennant make Lariana’s Viognier.
The winery’s flagship red, usually anchored with the vineyard’s ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, changes its name every year because the wine is named simply for the vintage. The first release was Twelve, succeeded by Thirteen, and so on. Adding 10 to the name should give you the year when the wine will be ready.
Here are notes on the releases this year. The Viognier and the Carménère are sold out – I was slow in tasting them – but the notes might be of interest to those cellaring these wines.
Lariana Viognier 2020 ($23.49 for 345 cases). The wine begins with floral aromas mingled with peach, apricot and pineapple. On the rich palate, there are flavours of apricot, pineapple and pear. The wine, which is dry, has a lingering finish. 92.
Lariana Carménère 2018 ($44.99 for 371 cases). There are just three or four examples of this varietal in the Okanagan and all are interesting. Lariana has just planted an additional half acre. The wine was aged 17 months in oak (70% French, 27% new). It begins with spicy dark berry and plum aromas mingled with pepper. The fruit is ripe and concentrated, with flavours of plum and fig along with pepper and dark chocolate on the finish. 92.
Lariana Eighteen 2018 ($40.99 for 418 cases). The blend in this vintage is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah and 20% Carménère, aged 17 months in barrel (85% French, 30% new). This is an age-worthy wine that should be decanted for consumption now. It has aromas of pepper, cassis and vanilla. The wine is full-bodied with flavours of dark plum and fig mingled with pepper. There is a hint of licorice on the finish. 93.
Lariana Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($44.99 for 291 cases). This wine was aged 17 months in barrel (85% French, 30% new). It is a wine of power (with 14.9% alcohol) and elegance. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and chocolate. Flavours explode of the palate, with notes of plum, cassis, black cherry and chocolate. The long, ripe tannins give the wine great length and a persistent finish. 95.
Photo: Blue Mountain's vineyard with special blocks flagged
In the announcement releasing these wines, the Mavety family, which owns Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, notes that this is the winery’s 30th anniversary.
“We have been striving to produce high-quality wines that reflect the site in which the grapes are grown,” the announcement says. “2021 marks 50 years of farming on our estate and 30 years of making wine.”
They have learned enough over the years to identify the best blocks in the vineyards. For three vintages, beginning with 2016, Matt Mavety, the winemaker, has been producing superb single block Pinot Noirs.
“The idea of single block wines at Blue Mountain is not new,” the winery explains. “We have been tasting the wines in this manner for many years as we blended them into our estate and reserve cuvées, but in recent years our winemaking process, the business, and the vines themselves have all matured to a point where sharing these single vineyard wines is possible. By focusing on what makes each single vineyard block unique, these wines offer a different taste of what you have come to know as Blue Mountain. Each wine is a unique expression of its own site within our estate, yet distinctly a Blue Mountain Pinot Noir.”
There is the block now called River Flow. Winery notes relate: “Planted in 1994, Block 23 rises majestically from the earth upon high ground from sandy loam soil. The vineyard’s almost northern exposure, combined with gentle, east-facing slopes exposes the vines to cool morning sun, allowing the vines to develop gently and undisturbed, between sun and soil crafting Blue Mountain’s River Flow. This is Pinot as nature intended - a refined, elegant, and composed Pinot Noir.”
There is a block called Wild Terrain. Winery notes relate: “Wild Terrain Pinot Noir, also known as the untamed sibling, represents the most extreme and varied topography of the Pinot Noir blocks from steep slopes exposed to the wind, to sun-drenched, flatter plains over loamy sand. Significant south-western exposure reveals a wild complexity, at once handsome and delicately pretty, savoury, and boldly free.”
Finally, there is the block called Gravel Force. Winery notes relate: “A more westerly and southern exposure creates a warm site for the 30-year-old vines, the basis for Gravel Force– an overt, brooding, and textural wine with a more masculine structure, and strength. Combining a base of rocky gravel, loamy sand, and more clay than other Blue Mountain Pinot Noir vineyards, Block 14 encourages strong natural growth and vigour.”
These Pinot Noirs – like all Blue Mountain Pinot Noirs – are fermented with indigenous yeast so that the wines best express the terroir. All are aged in barrel on the fine lees; but the oak never dominates the flavours. The current releases also include an estate Pinot Noir and a blended reserve Pinot Noir.
Here are notes on the wines.
Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019 ($35). This wine is made with fruit from 13-year-old vines. This is a wine with vibrant and youthful with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry mingled with a light note of spice on the lingering finish. 90.
Blue Mountain Reserve Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019 ($45). This wine is made with fruit from vines that are 22 to 35 years old. This is altogether a weightier wine. Even the aromas of cherry and mocha are fuller. The wine is rich on the palate, with silky tannins and flavours of cherry and plum. 92.
Blue Mountain Wild Terrain – Block 9 Pinot Noir 2019 ($55). The fruit is from 22-year-old vines. The wine is savoury, with aromas and flavours that Pinot lovers sometimes call “forest floor.” Cherry flavours mingle with earthy and mineral undertones. 94.
Blue Mountain Gravel Force – Block 14 Pinot Noir 2019 ($55). The fruit is from 32-year-old vines. This is a dramatic, expressive wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry, plum, mocha and spice. The intense fruit flavours remain on the palate for some time. 96.
Blue Mountain River Flow – Block 23 Pinot Noir 2019 ($55). The fruit is from 27-year-old vines. This is a sensuous expression of Pinot Noir (a fellow taster said feminine). There are aromas of plum, leading to plum and cherry flavours and a silky texture. 95.
There is a house style to the red wines from Church & State expressing the terroir of the winery’s vineyards, most of which are clustered on the Black Sage Bench between Osoyoos and Oliver.
“Well, I am a French winemaker, so I try to express the terroir,” explains Arnaud Thierry, the winemaker. “And I think that is what is special for us. Nobody can copy the terroir.”
Church & State has 85 acres of vineyard in the south Okanagan and 10 acres at Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island, where the winery originated in 2002 as Victoria Estate Winery. It was acquired two years later by lawyer Kim Pullen. At the recommendation of his consulting winemaker at the time, Californian Bill Dyer, he moved production to the south Okanagan a few years later rather than transporting those grapes to Vancouver Island. The Brentwood Bay vineyard now produces grapes just for sparkling wines.
Pullen sold the winery in 2017 to Sunocean Wineries and Estate, a Vancouver company owned by a low-profile Chinese businessman.
Arnaud Thierry joined Church & State early in 2018. Born in Normandy and trained in Champagne, he had extensive experience in France before coming to the Okanagan with his wife, Caroline Schaller, the winemaker and general manager at Osoyoos Larose.
“When we arrived, I was expecting more to find more northern varietals, like Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc,” he says. Instead, he found that the vineyards were growing primarily Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. “I am quite impressed with the quality of the reds we have here. We have a good terroir – dry and sunny. The reds keep the balance of the fruit and the freshness and the acidity. The reds are not too jammy. I like the ripeness in the reds.”
There are no winemaking tricks in the cellar.
“The winemaking is quite simple and traditional,” Arnaud says. “I am very attracted by tradition, and the respect of the fruit. Winemaking is very classic: a good expression of the fruit and freshness in the whites; and volume, fruit and spice in the reds. I want to have the varietal specificity of the grapes each time.”
The wines reviewed here represent Arnaud’s first Okanagan vintages, with the exception of a few wines from earlier vintages that he finished. Here are notes.
Church & State Estate Pinot Gris 2018 ($21.84 for 2,095 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged six months in tank (10% was in French oak). The wine has aromas and flavours of pear, melon and apple. 88.
Church & State Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($22.99 for 2,081 cases). This was fermented in stainless steel and aged six months in tank (10% in French oak). It begins with expressive aromas of citrus mingled with herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus, quince and green apple. 90.
Church & State Vineyard Collection (Coyote Bowl) Chardonnay 2018 ($31.04 for 1,342 cases). This wine was fermented in barrel and aged eight months in French oak. It is a complex wine, with subtle oak supporting aromas of butter, orange and apple. 91.
Church & State Estate Viognier 2018 ($25.29 for 1,558 cases). This wine was fermented in barrel and aged eight months in French oak. The aromatics of Viognier are on display, with aromas of quince, pineapple, pear an apricot. These are echoed on the palate, along with a touch of citrus. 91.
Church & State Marsanne 2018 Vineyard Collection ($29.89 for 664 cases). This wine was fermented and aged eight months in French oak barrels. Rich in texture, it delivers aromas and flavours of tropical fruits – mango, papaya, orange. The finish is long. 91.
Church & State Roussanne 2018 Vineyard Collection ($29.89 for 549 cases). Whole bunches of handpicked fruit were fermented and aged eight months in French oak barrels. This is also a wine with tropical aromas and flavours of citrus and mango. There is a perception of oiliness from the rich texture but there is good acidity to keep the fruit bright on the palate. 92.
Church & State Estate Trebella 2019 ($25.29 for 200 cases). This is a blend of 40% each Roussanne and Marsanne and 20% Viognier. Those grapes are very harmonious partners. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of stone fruit, citrus and spice. 93.
Church & State Estate Muscat Frizzante 2018 ($20.34 for 783 cases). This wine was fermented and aged six months in stainless steel and then pressurized to produce the bubbles. The Muscat varietal is expressed well with aromas of spice and fruit. The wine is juicy on the palate with a hint of sweetness on the finish. 90.
<b>Church & State Sparkling Pinot Gris 2018 Vineyard Collection ($25.75 for 1,400 cases). This is a traditional method sparkling wine which was aged in bottle a minimum of 12 months. It is a delicious wine, fresh and fruity with bright acidity balance the residual sweetness. It has flavours of peach and citrus, with a creamy texture. 91.
Church & State Estate Merlot 2018 ($36.79 for 896 cases). This is a big, ripe Merlot with 15% alcohol. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in French oak (15% new). It begins with aromas of cassis leading to flavours of cassis, blueberry and black cherry. 91.
Church & State Estate Meritage 2018 ($36.79 for 1,327 cases). The blend is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in French oak (20% new). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry, black cherry and black pepper, echoed on the palate. 92.
Church & State Estate Cabernet Franc 2018 ($36.79 for 896 cases). This wine, which was aged 12 months in French oak (20% new), has the classic brambleberry nose, leading to flavours of fig, black currant and chocolate. 92.
Church & State Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($36.70 for 644 cases). This is an elegant wine that was aged 12 months in French oak (20% new). The aromas of spice, black currant and black cherry are echoed on the palate. There are spicy, dark fruit flavours on the finish. 92.
Church & State Malbec 2018 Vineyard Collection ($75 for 111 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of spice with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavours dark cherry, blueberry and cassis with a hint of mocha on the long finish. 93.
Church & State Petit Verdot 2018 Vineyard Collection ($75 for 111 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak. This is a bold and concentrated wine. Dark berry and chocolate aromas lead to rich berry flavours – fig, prune, dark cherry – with a spine of minerality. 93.
Church & State Estate Syrah 2018 ($36.79 for 996 cases). This wine was aged 12 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of black cherry, plum and pepper. Richly textured, it delivers earthy and meaty flavours mingled with fig, prune and pepper. 92.
Church & State Coyote Bowl Syrah 2017 Vineyard Collection ($61 for 340 cases). This wine was also aged 12 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of black cherry, fig and pepper. The fruit is rich and spicy, with notes of plum and fig. 92.
Church & State Quintessential 2017 ($86.24). The flagship wine at Church & State since the 2005 vintage, this is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It is an elegant, rich and complex wine, beginning with aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, cherry, dark chocolate and vanilla, with hints of coffee and licorice on the finish. 94.