The package of autumn releases from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery included a bottle of Riesling, a signature wine from Wild Goose Vineyards.
It was a reminder that these two respected family-owned wineries united last year under the ownership of Jim Wyse and his family.
Wild Goose was opened in 1990 by Adolf Kruger and, after his death, was operated by his sons, Roland and Hagen. For tax reasons, they sold majority control in 2019 to Portliving, a Vancouver developer. However, the developer could not fulfil its obligations to the Krugers. The winery was put into receivership and Burrowing Owl emerged as the successful bidder in 2021.
“For us, it was pretty straight forward,” Jim Wyse says. “We were buying a good going concern. It was not in receivership because it was not doing well. It was in receivership because the prospective owners were not paying their debts.”
The two wineries are a good fit because the production and the portfolios are complimentary. “One of the things that works for us is that Wild Goose is so different from everything else we are doing,” Jim says.
“The thing we had not appreciated about their business is that it is based on white wines,” he adds. “There are some reds but 90% of the wine is white. They are into the bottles in seven or eight months, and they are on the shelf. They will probably have it all sold before the season is over. That is different from our style where everything is in barrels for two or three years.”
Since opening in 1998, Burrowing Owl’s primary focus has been making big red wines. The Wyse family sold Wild Goose’s Secrest Road vineyard north of Oliver after harvest last year because it did not need more of the Bordeaux reds planted there. With more than 220 acres of its own vineyards, Burrowing Owl is well supplied with reds.
The Krugers maintain a relationship with Wild Goose. Roland Kruger is in charge of grower relations. Hagen Kruger, the former winemaker, stepped aside from the business but his son, Nik, continues to make the wines in co-operation with Kent MacDonald, Burrowing Owl’s winemaker.
Here are notes on some current releases from Burrowing Owl and Wild Goose.
Wild Goose Riesling 2020 ($23 for 2,300 cases). Arguably, this was the variety with which Wild Goose made its reputation. This wine has begun to develop a note of petrol on the nose, mingled with citrus aromas. On the palate, there are lively flavours of lemon, lime and apple. 90.
Burrowing Owl Viognier 2019 ($50). This wine was fermented in oak barrels and puncheons, except for 18% that was fermented in stainless steel. The wine was aged 8 ½ months in French (86%) and American (14%) barrels, of which 10% were new. This is a rich wine, beginning with honeyed aromas of apricot mingled with vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of nectarine, pineapple and ripe apricot – almost like drinking a fine marmalade. 92.
Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2020 ($32). Some 75% of this was fermented in barrel while the rest was fermented in stainless steel. Only a third was allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. The wine (or 89% of it) aged in barrel – mostly French oak - for nine months, with both lots being blended for the finished wine. This full-bodied Chardonnay begins with aromas of citrus and papaya mingled with vanilla and almond. The palate delivers a rich medley of fruit flavours, including peach, mango and apple. The finish is exceptionally long. 93.
Burrowing Owl Merlot 2020 ($32). In a blind tasting, one should be able to pick out a Burrowing Owl Merlot by its typically lush style. It is a style that has been consistent throughout the winery’s history. The grapes get a three-day cold soak and then had a long maceration during a 28-day ferment. The wine was aged 14 months in barrels (French, Hungarian, American and Caucasus), of which 21% were new. This wine begins with aromas of dark cherry, blueberries and plum. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry mingled with ripe blueberry. 92.
Burrowing Owl Syrah 2020 ($35). There is two per cent Viognier in this blend. This is a big, ripe Syrah that has a 25-day ferment and was aged 15 months in a combination of barrels (22% new). The wine begins with a brooding, earthy aroma that evolves to show fig, black olive and a hint of pepper. On the palate, dark fruits mingle with leather and chocolate, finishing with savoury notes. 93.
Burrowing Owl Athene 2019 ($50). This co-fermented Syrah (52%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (48%) is a deeply satisfying wine. It was aged 18 months in barrels (79% French, 12% American, 9% Hungarian), of which 33% were new. It begins with aromas of dark cherry, cassis and blueberry with spice notes. On the palate, there are bold flavours of fig, plum, dark chocolate, leather and spice. 94.
Township 7 Vineyards & Winery has released its second $100 wine, a 2018 Bordeaux blend called Infinity, following on from the 2017 Infinity released last year.
These wines are part of no-compromises wines in what the winery calls its Infinite Series. An $80 sparkling wine, seven stars Sirius, was released earlier this year.
The Infinity Tier appears to be pulling up the quality of all Township 7 wines, which already are some of best in British Columbia. It is an impact that can be seen at any winery that produces icon wines.
“Everything is elevated,” winemaker Mary McDermott says. “We are doing things in a different way and paying more attention. Every little decision that we make, we are constantly improving our wine … and learning new things and trying new things.”
She and her winemaking team certainly go the extra mile when making Infinity. They start with the best grapes available from Township 7’s Blue Terrace Vineyard or from the winery’s top growers.
In a letter with the sample, Mary explains the approach:
“The Infinite Series focuses on the art of winemaking as we aspire to perfection. Our Infinity red blend is a micro lot, ultra-premium wine, available exclusively by limited allocation. It was crafted using winemaking techniques that create some of the most iconic wines in the world. Made with the best grapes from our estate Blue Terrace vineyard and Sunshine Acres nearby in Oliver, the varieties were all handpicked and meticulously sorted. We used a low intervention process including 24 hours of gravity pressing, which enhances the wine’s silky tannin texture. Portions of only three barrels were chosen to ensure that ensure that Infinity is our finest red wine selection.”
Here are notes on Infinity and other recent releases from Township 7.
Township 7 Provenance Series Rosé 2021 ($26.97 for 523 cases). The blend is 53% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernets were co-fermented; and all the ferments were long, cool and in stainless steel. The wine presents with a delicate rose petal hue. The strawberry aromas lead to flavours of strawberry and raspberry. There is an appealing creamy texture with a lingering, dry finish. 91.
Township 7 Provenance Series Pinot Gris 2021 ($22.97 for 300 cases). A cool three-week long ferment in stainless steel enabled the winemaker to accentuate the variety’s fruit. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and stone fruits, leading to flavours of peach and pear with bright acidity giving the wine a refreshing and lingering finish. 91.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Riesling 2019 ($29.97 for 548 cases). This is a wine for the devoted Riesling lover. It begins with classic aromas of citrus mingled with petrol that carry through to the palate. The layers of fruit include lemon, lime and apricot wrapped around a mineral spice. The finish refuses to quit. 92.
Township 7 Provenance Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($33.97 for 958 cases). Giving the fruit 21 days of maceration during fermentation left the wine with a dark colour and aromas that jump from the glass. The wine was aged 18 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherry and cedar. On the palate, there are intense flavours of cassis, dark cherry, plum. Polished, ripe tannins give the wine a long finish. 92.
Township 7 Benchmark Series NBO 2019 ($43.97 for 458 cases). This is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, both from Township 7’s Blue Terrace Vineyard at Oliver. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak barrels. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry, dark chocolate mingled with a whiff of oak. The full-bodied wine delivers flavours of black currants and dark cherry mingled with a hint of leather and chocolate. 93.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve 7 2019 ($44.97 for 487 cases). This is a blend of 50% Merlot and 25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The grapes from the Blue Terrace Vineyard, the nearby Sunshine Acres vineyard and the Raju Vineyard in Osoyoos. The varieties were aged separately in barrel for 12 months, blended and aged another 12 months in barrel. The oak was both French and American. The wine begins with appealing aromas of cassis and blueberry mingled with vanilla notes of the oak. Dark berry flavours are wrapped around firm but polished tannins. 93
Township 7 Infinity 2018 ($99.97 for 44 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, with the fruit from two Oliver vineyards. The grapes were picked by hand and pressed gently by gravity for 24 hours. The wine was barrel-aged for 24 months and aged another 18 months in bottle before release. The result is an elegant and complex wine. It still has enough grip that it needs to be decanted; it has the structure to age gracefully for at least a decade. Now, it begins with aromas of spice, cassis, black cherry and tobacco. On the palate, there are flavours of dark fruits mingled with leather. It was tasted over three days to monitor its development. The wine got better with breathing, as a good icon wine should. 96.
Historically, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards made a sparkling wine about every five years, to celebrate a winery anniversary. Its current release is a 2018 Blanc de Blanc, made to mark the winery’s 25th anniversary.
However, Leandro Nosal, the winemaker who took over at Tinhorn Creek in mid-2021, has begun laying down a cuvée of sparkling wine each year. It is an indication that change is in the air at one of the Okanagan’s most senior wineries.
“We are one of the oldest brands in the valley,” he says. “Next year is our 30th anniversary. I think we have a lot to offer and a lot to innovate.”
This winery has had one of the most stable cellars in the industry. For most of its history, California-trained Sandra Oldfield was the winemaker. When she became the winery’s president in 2014, Australian-trained Andrew Windsor took over. He was the winemaker until, with partners, he acquired Maverick Estate Winery in 2020.
Leandro brings yet another international prospective to the Tinhorn Creek cellar. He was born in 1984 in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. “Wine has been part of my life since I was born,” he says. “My family owned vineyards. Two of my great grandparents owned wineries and vineyards. I have an uncle who owns vineyards. I wanted to work in the wine industry since I was in high school.”
His initial degree was agricultural engineering, with heavy emphasis on viticulture. Then he did a research program on irrigation for one producer before joining Trapiche, one of the largest wine producers in Argentina. He also did a harvest in California, returning to Argentina to work with Trapiche again and then with a smaller winery in the Uco Valley where he gained winemaking experience. He also spent a year or so working with a winery in Mexico.
Because his wife is Canadian, he came to the Niagara wine region in 2005, working a harvest with Tawse Winery. Subsequently, he was able to work in New Zealand for several harvests. Then he got a European Union scholarship to do his master’s in viticulture and enology.
“When I first came to Canada, the Okanagan reminded me of Mendoza,” Leandro says. “We have the same hot, dry summers. If the vines have the right amount of water with irrigation, you can ripen fruit perfectly. You have the cool nights. That is fantastic because you keep that freshness.”
In Europe, he studied in France in his first year and Italy in the second. During the break between first and second year in Europe, he came to the Okanagan, working with LaStella and sister winery, Le Vieux Pin. He returned to those wineries after completing his studies. Then he moved on to become assistant winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, beginning five and a half years at wineries in the Mark Anthony group. Before he moved to Tinhorn Creek, he was one of the winemakers at CheckMate and Red Barn, a new winery in the group.
“I have to say I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities and met interesting people,” Leandro says. “I have been able to move around and see many different things. It has been a fantastic experience.”
Tinhorn Creek was acquired five years ago by Andrew Peller Ltd. The hands of the new owners are beginning to be felt, initially with investments in replanting vineyards. At the estate vineyard on the Golden Mile, about 11 acres has been replanted – mostly Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc replacing some of the Gewürztraminer. Increasing the Pinot Noir acreage gives Leandro more options with sparkling wine although he currently plans to use just Chardonnay for bubble.
“We also have big plans for replanting most of our vineyards on the Black Sage,” Leandro says, referring to the 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard. “After this harvest, we will start pulling some blocks there. We will replant Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.” The plan calls for orienting the rows more optimally and doing denser plantings.
Andrew Moon, the Australian-trained viticulturist now in his second decade with Tinhorn Creek, remains in charge of the vineyards.
Ove the years, Tinhorn Creek’s reputation in red wines rests on its Merlots and its Cabernet Francs. Leandro believes that “Cabernet Franc should be our flagship wine. We have plans to incorporate some concrete in our winery. For Cabernet Franc, it works very well.”
Here are notes on some current releases.
Tinhorn Creek Blanc de Blanc 2018 ($44.90). This is 100% Chardonnay. The wine spent 36 months on the lees before being disgorged. The aromas and flavours of citrus mingle with bready notes from the lees. There is good length on the crisp finish. 92.
Tinhorn Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($N/A). This is a bright, tangy wine with grassy aromas and flavours of lime and guava. 91.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2021 ($20.99). Some 15% of this was fermented in oak puncheons, adding complexity to a generous, fruity wine. It has aromas and flavours of pears and apples, with good texture and a refreshing finish. 91
Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2021 ($N/A). While the winery has pulled out some of its Gewürztraminer vines to make way for Pinot Noir, it has by no means abandoned one of the most popular whites in the portfolio. The wine is a big mouthful of lychee, grapefruit and spice. 90.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Rosé 2021 ($24.99). This wine is a break from Tinhorn Creek’s traditional rosé, which always was made just with Cabernet Franc. This is a blend of 72% Syrah, 17% Cabernet Franc and 11% Merlot. Leandro says that rosé is one of his favourite wines to make – and it shows in the care taken to make this wine. The three blocks of varietals were harvested precisely to make rosé. The whole bunches were lightly pressed to extract colour and then fermented cool in stainless steel. The wine was then blended and aged three months on fine lees before bottling. The wine begins with aromas of red berries mingled with spice and a hint of pepper. On the palate, this dry wine delivers flavours of watermelon and cherry. 91.
Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2019 ($24.99). The wine begins with dark fruit aromas leading to flavours of black currant and dark cherry. 90.
Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2019 ($25.99). This wine shows the classic brambly aromas and flavours of the varietal. On the palate, dark cherry mingles with blackberry and spice. 91.
b>Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc 2019 ($38.99). The blend is 88% Cabernet Franc and 12% Merlot. The grapes were fermented in separate lots in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts. After fermentation, the wine went into barrels and puncheons to age 12 months. The best lots were selected and blended for the reserve wine, which had an additional six months barrel aging. The wine is rich, with intense flavours of raspberries, blackberries and plums. The finish is long, with appealing spicy notes. 93.
The pandemic did no favours for producers which, like Priest Creek Family Estate
Winery, opened in 2020 just as many wine tourists stayed home. But this East
Kelowna winery and its ambitious owners have begun to gain visibility with a
growing portfolio of wines, sometimes aggressively-priced as Darren and Jane
Sawin set out to make a mark. Unusual for an East Kelowna producer, the
portfolio includes bold Syrahs and Bordeaux blends sourced by Jason Parkes,
their consultant, from the South Okanagan. I was able to include a profile of
the winery in the 2020 Okanagan Wine Tour Guide which had the misfortune
of being published early in the pandemic. The visibility of the book also
suffered because planned launch events had to be cancelled. Here is the excerpt
about Priest Creek.
Jane Sawin once called husband Darren a “winery stalker.” He began
researching the wine business by parking at wineries and counting the tasting
room traffic, including how many bottles of wine guests carried when they
departed. His interest in opening his own winery came after an unsatisfactory
year of selling table grapes from their property in East Kelowna. Aside from
home winemaking, Darren was then a wine novice. Born in 1970, he had grown up
on a family farm near Big Beaver, a tiny village in southern Saskatchewan. “I
had always dreamt of having a ranch,” he says. While he worked as a ranch
hand, the dream was financially out of reach. He moved to Calgary, tried
selling real estate and then began renovating houses for a portfolio of rental
properties. Jane, with an arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan and
a diploma in architectural design, applied her project management skills to
the rental portfolio.
In 2010 they moved to the Okanagan, where they had previously vacationed, and
once again began building and selling houses. “We always wanted to get back to
our farming roots and to raising our four kids on the farm,” Darren says. In
2015 they purchased an East Kelowna property with just under a hectare (two
acres) of mature Gewürztraminer and about three hectares (7.5 acres) of table
grapes. Two years later, having been told they could not grow Pinot Noir, they
offered to sell the farm in order to finance another vineyard purchase.
Winemaker Jason Parkes was one of the first potential buyers to look at the
Sawin property. Subsequently, he bought elsewhere for his own project but he
assured the Sawins that they could grow Pinot Noir. (Neighbouring SpearHead
Winery specializes in Pinot Noir.) Darren replaced the table grapes while
Jason agreed to make to make the Priest Creek wines and mentor Darren in
winemaking. The winery is named for a creek at the back of the property. It is
believed the creek took its name from the Oblate mission established nearby in
1859 by Father Charles Pandosy, credited with planting the Okanagan’s first
vineyard (for sacramental wine).
The winery was under development for three years, during which time Darren and
Jane replaced the table grapes with seven and a half acres with Pinot Noir,
Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. The final license inspection occurred on the same
day in March 2020 that the pandemic restrictions began. These were eased in time
for the winery to open in May with 1,200 cases. Since then, the owners have
opened a wine club with about 550 members and have raised production to 3,600
cases. “Darren now takes the lead for all the winemaking, while consulting with
Jason Parkes where it’s needed,” Jane writes.
Here are notes on three current releases.
Priest Creek Gewürztraminer 2021 ($N/A for 160 cases). This may be sold
out because it is no longer on the web site. This dry Gewürztraminer, made from
grapes of 30-year-old vines, begins with aromas of spice, honey and citrus. On
the palate, there good intensity of fruit flavours including lychee, ripe
pineapple with a delicate hint of candied ginger on the finish. 90.
Priest Creek Pinot Noir 2020 ($38 for 176 cases). This wine, after
fermenting in stainless steel, was aged 15 months in new French oak puncheons.
The intensity of the fruit flavours – dark cherry, blueberry - soaked up the oak
very nicely. The fruit is fresh and the texture is reasonably full. There is a
touch of spice on the silky finish of the wine, which won a silver medal at the
recent Wine Align Awards. 91.
Priest Creek Syrah 2019 ($53 for 140 cases). This wine was aged 30 months
in new French oak barrels. Aromas of blackberry and black cherry lead to
flavours of dark cherry and fig. There are hints of cedar and spice on the