The 2020 Okanagan vintage was strong, as is evident from the recent releases from Meyer Family Vineyards: elegant Chardonnays and concentrated Pinot Noirs that are some of the best wines yet from this Okanagan Falls winery.
The top-scoring Chardonnay, at least to my palate, is the 2020 Tribute Chardonnay. JAK and Janice Meyer have a practice every vintage of releasing a Chardonnay in tribute to someone of note. The 2020 Tribute honours the late Terry Threlfall, a sommelier and wine professional who died a year ago.
Just as that Chardonnay was being released, the BC Hospitality Association announced a scholarship in Terry’s name. Here is an excerpt from their press release:
Seed money comes from the Meyer Family Vineyards Tribute series program. The winery donated the funds to the Threlfall family, who have requested the donations be directed to the BC Hospitality Foundation.
Born and raised in BC, Terry Threlfall was influential on the local, national, and international wine scenes. Career highlights included:
• Developing a groundbreaking wine program as Wine Director at Hawksworth
• Repeatedly holding the position of Festival Sommelier at the Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF), one of the biggest and oldest wine events in the world.
• In 2012, being named Sommelier of the Year by Vancouver magazine, the VIWF, and California’s Sunset Magazine
• Being the first Canadian Sommelier to be a regular Decanter panelist
• Six years as Head Sommelier and Wine Buyer at London’s Michelin-starred Chez Bruce
• Five years as Wine Buyer at London’s prestigious Selfridges
Terry passed away unexpectedly in October 2020, at the age of 43. He continues to be missed by his family, friends, and colleagues in the industry, who remember him as much for his warm personality, intelligence, and integrity as for his consummate professional skills and knowledge.
The Terry Threlfall Scholarship is the result of a partnership between the BCHF, the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), and the VIWF. The scholarship will be presented annually at the Vancouver International Wine Festival Awards Lunch. Thanks to Meyer Family Vineyards for generously providing the scholarship seed money with an initial $1000 donation.
The winery provided an additional note of biography: “Terry was raised in Belcarra, B.C., and attended Port Moody Secondary school where he excelled at sports and pursued his passion for film. In his senior year, he co-produced a short film detailing a Canadian soldier’s experience in WWII. [The film won him] a trip to Europe to join in Holland’s Liberation commemoration. That trip kindled a love of history and travel which stayed with him for the rest of his life.”
Terry would have savoured the fine Tribute Chardonnay. Here are notes on all the recent releases.
Meyer Anarchist Mountain Deklava Chardonnay 2020 ($30.52 for 200 cases). The clone takes its name from Anthony Deklava, a miner who planted an unknown clone of Chardonnay in 1985. After a gentle press, the juice began a long, cool fermentation in stainless steel with wild yeast. Fermentation was completed in French oak barrels (25% new) and the wine was aged on the lees, without stirring, for 11 months. The result is a wine of impressive purity of aroma and flavour. The buttery, citrus aromas lead to flavours of peach and mandarin. The finish is long and silky. 92.
Meyer Stevens Block Chardonnay 2020 Old Main Road Vineyard ($26.17 for 220 cases). This wine began with a long, cool ferment with wild yeast in stainless steel. The wine was then transferred to neutral oak barrels where it aged on the fine lees for 10 months. The wine presents buttery aromas and flavours of stone fruit and mandarin orange. There is a hint of minerality on the long finish. 91.
Meyer McLean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($30.52 for 500 cases). Fermentation began in stainless steel and finished in French oak barrels (22% new). The wine remained on the lees in barrel, without stirring, for 11 months. This is a bright, fruit forward Chardonnay on a foundation of very subtle oak. The wine has flavours of citrus and apple. The lingering finish adds to the elegance of the wine. 92.
Meyer Tribute Chardonnay 2020 ($30.52 for 500 cases). The fruit for this wine is from the winery’s Old Main Road Vineyard in Naramata, which was originally planted in 1996. The wine began fermentation in stainless steel and finished in French oak (22% new), where it aged 11 months on the lees without stirring. The wine begins with quite lovely aromas of citrus and butter. The wine is rich on the palate with flavours of stone fruit, mandarin orange and vanilla. The finish is very long. This is a very sophisticated Chardonnay. 94.
Meyer “B” Field Blend Pinot Noir 2020 ($30.52 for 200 cases). The “B” block in the winery’s McLean Creek Vineyard was planted in 2017 with four clones. For this wine, the fruit was picked on the same day and co-fermented. The wine was aged 11 months in neutral French oak barrels. The wine begins with toasty aromas mingled with cherry and forest floor. On the palate, the wine is silky with flavours of cherry and plum. There is a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 92.
Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2020 ($22.71 for 1,944 cases). Fruit for this wine was sourced from six different vineyards in the south Okanagan. Cold soaking the crushed fruit and allowing extended maceration during ferment has given this a deep and appealing hue. It was aged eight months in older French oak barrels and puncheons. It begins with aromas of black cherry and plum. The palate is rich, with flavours of cherry and raspberry mingled with spice. The finish is long. 90.
Photo: Myran Hagenfeldt and Wes Johnson (Credit Matt Bolt)
Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery, based on a Creston vineyard planted in 2007, has new owners in a transaction that keeps the winery in the family.
Founders Bob Johnson and Petra Flaa have sold the winery to their winemaker son, Wes Johnson and his fiancée, Myran Hagenfeldt. Both have extensive winemaking experience in New Zealand, where Wes studied enology. Myran was born in Sweden but got into the wine industry in New Zealand, where she and Wes met.
This is an ownership transfer that leaves this outstanding Kootenays winery in very good hands. In a statement, Myran says: “It’s an exciting step for us to build on the legacy that Bob and Petra have created and to play an integral part in putting this emerging wine-growing region, the Kootenays, on the map.”
Bob and Petra had initially moved from Calgary to a Creston cherry orchard because of their love of the Kootenays. Their decision to switch to growing grapes reflected a long-time love of wine. Both had been members of the Opimian wine club, and Bob once was a home winemaker.
Bob was born in 1958 in Red Deer. He was a reservoir engineer with Sproule Associates, a consulting firm he joined in 1984, until he retired in 2013 to focus on Baillie-Grohman’s marketing. The winery now produces about 5,000 cases a year. The 7-hectare (17½-acre) estate vineyard is farmed by Petra, a former technology manager, with viticultural skills acquired from University of Washington correspondence courses.
“When I began to develop a fascination with wine nearly three decades ago, I never walked into a bookstore without searching out wine books,” Bob confessed to a winery blog in 2019. “I gradually amassed a decent collection, and some were particular favourites. I was especially drawn to the stories behind the wine, and few held a greater appeal than The Heartbreak Grape: A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir by Marq de Villiers.” It is not surprising that Baillie-Grohman’s flagship wines are made with Pinot Noir.
The winery’s success owes a great deal to its New Zealand connection. In 2009, when Bob and Petra needed to make Baillie-Grohman’s first wines, they advertised for a winemaker on a New Zealand website recommended to them by Mark Rattray, another New Zealand winemaker who was then advising Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard, Creston’s first winery.
“We got applications from all over the world but none from Canada,” Petra once told me. “But we had so many New Zealanders and Australians.”
Mark interviewed the most promising applicants, and Bob and Petra hired Dan Barker, the owner of the Moana Park Winery in Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2003. He travelled annually from New Zealand to the Kootenays to make or advise on every Baillie-Grohman vintage through 2016.
Meanwhile, Bob and Petra sent their son to New Zealand, where Wes mentored at Moana Park and other wineries while earning his enology degree. He became the fulltime winemaker at Baillie-Grohman in 2014.
“My passion is to be able to make elegant, handcrafted wines that showcase our unique terroir here in Creston,” Wes says. The winery has earned acclaim with wines made from the vineyard’s cool climate grapes.
Pinot Noir makes up two-fifths of the vines. The rest of the vineyard is planted with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Schönburger, along with 250 Kerner plants for occasional icewine. The winery also farms its Creston Valley Vineyard and the newly planted St. Augustine Vineyard.
The winery is named for a legendary Kootenay area pioneer, William Baillie-Grohman. He came in 1882 with Teddy Roosevelt to hunt trophy mountain goats. Impressed with the area’s farmland, he leased 19,200 hectares (47,500 acres). He organized a British syndicate to divert the Kootenay River and settle colonists on the drained land. The scheme ultimately stalled when a lawyer made off with investment funds. The remaining British settlers developed the area. Baillie-Grohman’s colourful story lives on. Remains of the SS Midge, the steamboat he built to navigate the river, are in the Creston Museum.
Tell me, perhaps, that I don’t understand natural wines but I always seem to have to wrestle with Laughing Stock’s Amphora Syrah.
Literally, with the 2020 vintage. The closure is a great gob of black wax covering the cork. It took me 10 minutes with a chisel to get rid of that gob so I could pull out the cork. Whether you use a chisel or a knife, there is a serious risk it will slip and you will injure yourself. The winery should stop waxing the closures, no matter how attractive the marketing department thinks it looks.
Laughing Stock adheres to Decanter Magazine’s definition of natural wine. Such wines must be hand-harvested and fermented with wild yeast. No enzymes and no additives, other than modest amounts of sulphur, are allowed. The wine must be unfined and unfiltered. Lastly, Decanter says there must be “no heavy manipulation.”
Laughing Stock began making small lot wines in 500 litre terracotta clay amphorae about eight years ago. David Enns, one of the winery’s founders, wanted to make some wines with tools similar to those that winemakers used in Roman times. (And winemakers in modern Georgia still ferment in amphorae.) Dave Carson, Laughing Stock’s current winemaker, has continued working with amphorae.
I have not always struggled with Laughing Stock’s amphora wines. Here is what I wrote about the 2015 Amphora Viognier Roussanne:
Laughing Stock Amphora Viognier Roussanne 2015 ($20.99 for 167 cases of 500 ml bottle. Available only at the winery, this artisanal wine is made by fermented whole bunches of grapes in two clay amphorae with native yeast. This is the third year in which the winery has made a wine in this style. It has begun to acquire a following. The wine was left on the skins for 5.5 months, compared with 2.5 months in 2014 and just five weeks in 2013. The 2015 is a richly-flavoured wine with honeyed aromas of apricots and orange peel that are echoed in the flavour. The finish is dry. Food pairing? I recommend hard Italian cheese. 91.
Syrah seems to need more time to come around, as I found in reviewing the 2017 vintage of Amphora Syrah.
Laughing Stock Amphora Syrah 2017 ($49.99 for 100 cases). First, here is the winery’s description: “This beautiful deep blue-violet coloured wine has vibrant aromas of anise and ripe mixed berries. The palate is silky with raspberries baking spices, and warm mocha.” I thought the wine also had aromas and flavours of chocolate, plum and fig with a hint of licorice on the finish as well as an earthy note. On re-tasting the opened wine over several days, I found that intense sweet fruit flavours also developed. Clearly, the wine needs to be decanted. I won’t even try to score this wine. I did not like it on first opening but I did like it by the fifth day.
On the strength of that experience, I have given the 2020 vintage comparable treatment.
Here are notes on three current releases.
Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2020 ($31.99 for 650 cases). This wine was fermented 92% in barrel and 8% in a concrete egg, with partial malolactic fermentation. The wine was aged for nine months – 86% in barrel (21% new), 10% concrete and 4% stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of apple, pineapple and vanilla, echoed on the palate. The well-integrated oak adds toasty notes to the rich palate. There is a spine of minerality on the finish. 90.
Laughing Stock Syrah 2019 ($39.99 for 900 cases). This wine is a whole berry co-ferment of 96% Syrah, 4% Viognier, aged 20 months in French oak (35% new). The wine is rich and full-bodied, with aromas of fig and black cherry mingled with pepper. The palate delivers meaty flavours along with dark red fruit, licorice and pepper. 92.
Laughing Stock Amphora Syrah 2020 ($49.99 for 120 cases). To make this wine, the winemakers placed whole berries in 500 litre amphorae and closed the lids. A natural wild ferment began in about 10 days, proceeding slowly for about five weeks. The wine remained untouched in the amphorae for five weeks. It was then pressed and bottled. It is a dark wine with a juicy texture. The aroma opens gradually to show notes of plum jam. The initial taste is earthy, even muddy, leading to flavours of black olives and chocolate. After being open several days, there is also a note of blueberry jam and spice. This wine clearly needs to be decanted and would benefit from another year or two of bottle age. 91.
Ricky Dhaliwal’s covering letter with the current releases from Lakeside Cellars in Osoyoos has me already looking forward to next spring’s releases.
“Sauvignon Blanc for sparkling and Cinsaut for rosé are the first to hit the crushpad,” Ricky writes of the 2021 harvest.
I do not recall tasting a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. And I certainly have never tasted a Cinsaut rosé from the Okanagan. Ricky planted that variety in 2019 specifically for rosé. This two-acre block might well be the first Cinsaut planting in the Okanagan.
According to the book, Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson et all, Cinsaut is an “underrated Mediterranean-loving variety making characterful rosés and flirtatious reds.” The book says the varietal is native to southern France, “possibly Languedoc-Roussillon.” Ricky was inspired to plant his block after tasting rosé wines during a wine vacation in the south of France several years ago.
The vine grows in many other viticultural areas, notably South Africa where it once was the most widely planted red and where it also was one parent of Pinotage. (The other parent was Pinot Noir.)
“It is … ideally suited to the production of fresh, perfumed and fruity rosé wines,” the Robinson book asserts.
It will be interesting to taste what Ricky’s consulting winemaker, Jason Parkes, does with Cinsaut. “Jason’s approach to our small-production wines is minimalism,” Ricky writes. “Our reds go into an oak program of neutral and new American and French Oak and are allowed to age leisurely in the cellar prior to blending and bottling. Our 2020 whites are fermented separately in stainless steel and assembled prior to bottling. No bells, no whistles, just the best possible expression of our single vineyard wines.”
Lakeside Cellars is located beside the lake at the southeast corner of Osoyoos, based on a 14-acre vineyard. The property was once part of the Haynes Homestead, where Judge J.C. Haynes had built a 10-room house in 1882. By the time the Dhaliwal family bought the property in 2015, the heritage home was in sufficient disrepair that it could not serve as a tasting room. It has been replaced with an elegant new wine shop.
Here are notes on this fall’s releases from Lakeside.
Lakeside Cellars Portage White 2020 ($19.04 for 315 cases). The wine is a blend of 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Pinot Gris and 31% un-oaked Chardonnay). Each varietal was fermented separately in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of apple and nectarine, leading to flavours stone fruit, apple and papaya. 89.
Lakeside Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($22.52 for 361 cases). The wine was fermented cool with lees contact. It begins with aromas of herbs and lime, leading to zesty flavours of lime and grapefruit. 90.
Lakeside Cellars Portage Red 2020 ($24 for 600 cases). This is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was aged 24 months in neutral French and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and chocolate which are echoed on the palate. 90.
Lakeside Cellars Cabernet Franc 2017 ($26 for 300 cases). This wine was aged 24 months in neutral French and American oak barrels. It begins with the brambly, peppery aromas classic to the varietal. The palate delivers a medley of spice and fruit: blackberry, black currant, cherry mingled with herbs. 91.
Lakeside Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($26 for 297 cases). The wine aged 24 months in oak. The wine has aromas of black currant and cherry, leading to flavours of dark fruit mingled with leather, tobacco and sweet oak. 91.
Lakeside Cellars Syrah 2017 ($23.39 for 266 cases). This wine is made with fruit from the Hahn Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. It was aged 24 months in American oak. The full-bodied wine has aromas and flavours of dark cherry, blackberry, fig and white pepper with dark, chocolate and baking spices on the finish. 91.
In its two vineyards totalling 35 acres just south of Penticton, Pentâge Winery grows 19 varietals. That speaks to the far-ranging viticultural curiosity of Paul Gardner, who owns the winery with his partner, Julie Rennie.
I have never even considered asking Paul whether the Okanagan needs a “signature” grape variety. Other wine writers occasionally have argued the industry should focus on just a handful of varietals. It is obvious what Paul’s answer would be.
The Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are quite unique winegrowing regions. The length and orientation of the valleys, as well as the complexity of the soils, has allowed growers to cultivate perhaps 100 different wine grapes. Usually, the varietals are spread out more area than Paul has done: Bordeaux and Rhône varietals in the hot south; Pinot Noir and Riesling in the cool north; and so on.
Because of their terroirs, the Okanagan and Similkameen can and do support a number of interesting wines, both from familiar varietals and from obscure varietals. Two or three producers make very fine whites from Albariño, a Spanish white. Several make outstanding reds with Carménère, which happens to be a signature wine in Chile. One producer makes an excellent Touriga Nacional, a varietal associated with Portugal. There is even one producer with Tannat, an obscure varietal dominant in the vineyards of Uruguay.
At Pentâge, Paul grows Petit Sirah and Grenache, among his other varietals. Both are rare in the Okanagan and both are important on some of the red blends here.
That tells me that our wineries can earn good reputations and followings with varietals that sit outside the mainstream in most wine regions. I am not sure it even matters that much: most British Columbia wines are consumed in British Columbia.
A winery like Pentâge, which opened in 2003 and now makes about 5,000 cases a year, has developed a loyal following with wines that are aged between 12 and 26 months and then are released in reasonable prices.
Like most Okanagan wineries, Pentâge also enjoys a good cellar-door trade, in part because visitors come to see the 5,000-square-foot cellar that Paul spent 10 years blasting from the rock.
Paul, a former marine engineer, has also been an early adopter of cellar technology. He is now chief operating officer of AromaLoc, a company that has spent almost a decade refining fermentation technology first created in 2012 by Dr. Dick Jones, a University of Alberta scientist who retired to the Okanagan. Some of the early trials of his technology, which captures the aromas usually lost during fermentation, were done at Pentâge.
Here are notes on current releases.
Pentâge Gewürztraminer 2018 ($16.52). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and left on the lees for two months. It begins with aromas of spice, apple, pear and grapefruit. The palate is off-dry and full-bodied, with flavours of grapefruit, lemon and apple. 88.
Pentâge Rosé 2020 ($20). There are 10 varietals in this blend. The beautiful deep ruby hue, the result of 30 hours of skin contact, reflects Paul’s independent approach to winemaking – that he does not make those washed-out rosés that are so fashionable. This wine makes a statement in the glass, not just with the colour but also with the concentrated aromas of strawberry, rhubarb and watermelon. (Paul used the patented AromaLoc technology to capture aromas at fermentation.) The flavours are equally assertive – cranberry, huckleberry, strawberry and raspberry. 91.
Pentâge Fizz Blanc 2020 ($20). This easy-drinking wine is a blend of Ehrenfelser and Gewürztraminer. The wine was fermented cold in stainless steel and handled carefully to preserve the dissolved CO2. The wine was finished with additional CO2 to create an active mousse. The fruity aroma leads to flavours of peach and citrus. The finish is slightly off-dry but well-balanced. 88.
Pentâge Pinot Noir 2018 ($N/A). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry leading to flavours of cherry mingled with plum and hints of oak. The texture is silky. 88.
Pentâge Merlot 2016 ($24.35). This wine was matured 18 months in oak, 90% of which was French, 10% was American; and 30% of the barrels were new. The wine begins with an alluring cassis aroma, classic for mature Merlot, along with notes of spice and blueberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, cherry and plum with a hint of leather on the finish. The berry flavours are sweet but the lingering finish is dry. This is an elegant wine. 91.
Pentâge Hiatus 2015 ($21.74). This underpriced blend is a walk through the Pentâge vineyards. The blend is 50% Petit Sirah, 22% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Mourvedre and 4% Zinfandel. Each varietal was fermented and barrel-aged separately. After 18 months in French and American oak barrels, the Hiatus blend was assembled. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of fig and dark cherry. The flavours are as complex as the blend indicates: fig, black cherry, blueberry. The tannins are long, lending a polished texture to the wine. 90.