Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Darryl Brooker becomes CEO of Okanagan Crush Pad

Photo: Winery executive Darryl Brooker (Credit Lionel Trudel
After an 11-month detour into the cannabis industry, veteran winery executive Darryl Brooker has returned to wine, becoming chief executive of Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland. Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, the founders of OCP, describe Darryl’s appointment as “key part of their succession plan”. “Steve and I had come to a critical point: plan to sell, or develop a dynamic succession plan,” Christine said in an announcement. “It's evident that we chose the latter by bringing Darryl into our wine family. We are excited to drive forward doing what we love, and with Darryl’s help build a stronger wine culture in our business and provide key support [that will replace] our reliance on outside consultants.” In a comment for which there will be wide agreement in the British Columbia wine industry, Christine added: “I’m confident that I speak on behalf of the entire BC wine industry in welcoming Darryl back. His talent and vast experience is rare in our field and we all felt the loss when he briefly departed to a different industry.”
Darryl’s previous major role in BC wine was with Mission Hill Family Estates. He joined that winery in July, 2015, progressing from vice-president of winemaking to general manager and then, from January 2018 to April 2021 as president. He left there to spend almost a year as chief executive of Flowr Corp., a Toronto-based company with what is called an “operating campus” in Kelowna. The company produces both recreational and medicinal cannabis products.
OCP was founded in 2010 by Christine, a wine marketing executive, and her husband, Steve, a successful builder. The winery now is a major producer of organically-grown wines from three vineyards, including its Garnet Valley vineyard north of Summerland. The property is 320 acres. Currently, 55 acres has been planted, with a further 10 acres of Chardonnay due to be planted this year. OCP has also taken over the grape contracts with the King family. They operate a 50-acre vineyard just north of Penticton and previously has been long-time suppliers to Andrew Peller’s Sandhill Wines. This contract nails down an assured grape supply to support OCP’s growth. OCP has just begun an expansion of its Summerland winery, which will double the capacity to 20,000 square feet. The winery also has longer term plans for facilities in the Garnet Valley.
Darryl says he was contacted several months ago by Christine to discuss winery executives who might be “a good fit” for OCP, allowing the founders to step back from the business. “I realized that I missed the wine industry more than I thought I would,” Darryl says. Born in Canberra in 1973, Brooker is a graduate of the Wine Executive Program at University of California Davis (2018), having previously earned a graduate diploma in wine business management at the University of Adelaide, Australia (2003) and a Bachelor of Applied Science, Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Australia (2001). Before that, he served in the Australian Navy as a submariner. He spent four years at New Zealand’s well-regarded Villa Maria Winery before responding to an advertisement for a winemaker for Flat Rock Cellars, then an Ontario winery under development.He arrived in time to make the winery’s debut 1,000 cases in 2003. “I’ve never started a winery from scratch before,” Darryl told me in a 2004 interview.
He moved to Andrew Peller Ltd. in Ontario in 2005 as senior winemaker. He left there in 2010 to join CedarCreek Estate Winery in Kelowna as vice-president of winemaking at operations. After Mission Hill owner Anthony von Mandl bought CedarCreek, Darryl moved to Mission Hill.
The OCP team that Darryl has includes Matt Dumayne, the chief winemaker since 2013, along with director of viticulture Duncan Billing, and Andrew Raines, director of sales for OCP’s sales division. “I always had in the back of my mind that I would work in the wine industry again,” Darryl said in a statement. “I didn't feel my story had finished and I know I still have a lot more to give to BC and Canadian wine. It just had to be a winery that I truly believed in the vision and potential.”

Friday, March 25, 2022

CheckMate's superb 2018 Merlots

Photo: Winemaker Philip McGahan
In the ultimate example of focus, CheckMate Artisanal Winery makes wine from just two varietals, Chardonnay and Merlot. The grapes are all from south Okanagan Vineyards operated by Anthony von Mandl’s Sebastian Farms. This post is concerned with reviewing four of CheckMate’s 2018 Merlot wines which are to be released late this spring or early summer. As always, these are excellent wines.
Why did CheckMate settle on Merlot when winemaker and general manager Philip McGahan was getting the winery launched? “There is not that much Syrah planted in our vineyard holdings,” says Philip, who, as an Australian, would surely be comfortable making Syrah. Of course, he would likely want to call it Shiraz, as the Australians do. “Merlot was obviously one of the big plantings early on in the valley, so those were the most mature vines, and the most diversity from which we could source fruit in the South Okanagan,” Philip continues. “Merlot is the most consistent variety. We can get it ripe and off before the early cold snaps come in mid-October. There have been several years where the cold snap is 8th or 9th of October, where it suddenly drops to -8C. We generally have our Merlots off by that time. And we felt that while Merlot can be a big, jammy kind of wine in California or Australia, when it is in an environment that is a bit tougher on it, it can make a more complex wine.”
Cabernet Sauvignon was not considered as a single varietal wine for CheckMate, and not just because this grape is not as widely grown as Merlot but also because it ripens later than Merlot. “The feeling about Cabernet Sauvignon is that, while it can be great in blends, as a standalone wine, you will not get that consistency year over year,” Philip explains.
The 2019 vintage is a case in point when Merlot succeeded while Cabernet Sauvignon faced a challenge when there was a sharp October 9 freeze that turned vine leaves brown and stopped any ripening activity. “I remember that year,” Philip says. “We were picking our last Merlot on the morning of the freeze. It did not impact the fruit but the canopy was gone by the end of the day. We went through and picked everything.” Because of a inadvertent early wine release (to reviewers) by Checkmate, I tasted and reviewed the 2019 Merlots earlier this year. Those wines have yet to be released. However, the quality is very high, a credit to the viticultural acumen of Sebastian Farms. I scored the four wines in the high 90s.
Here are notes on the 2018s.
CheckMate End Game Merlot 2018 ($95 for nine barrels). The fruit for this wine is from vineyards on the Black Sage Bench and the Osoyoos East Bench. Fermentation was done with indigenous yeast and the wine was aged in new French oak for 21 months. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry, blueberry, plum and spice. The palate repeats the aromas, with flavours of black cherry mingled with spice. 95.
CheckMate Silent Bishop Merlot 2018 ($95 for nine barrels). The fruit for this wine is from vineyards on western benches in the South Okanagan. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 21 months in new French oak. The bright aromas and flavours reflect that the fruit is from the cooler side of the valley. There are aromas of red currant, raspberry and cherry with green herbal notes, all of which carries through to the flavour. The tannins, while ripe, still have grip. 94.
CheckMate Opening Gambit Merlot 2018 ($95 for 12 barrels). The fruit for this wine is from Osoyoos East Bench vineyards. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 21 months in new French oak. This wine begins with intense aromas of cassis and cherry. The intensity is repeated on the palate with ripe flavours of dark cherry and cassis that lead to hints of chocolate and tobacco on the very long finish. The plush tannins enhance the texture. 98.
CheckMate Black Rook Merlot 2018 ($95 for 10 barrels). The fruit for this wine is all from vineyards on the Black Sage Bench. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 21 months in new French oak. Once again, the aromas bound from the glass, with notes of brambleberry, cherry, sage and spice. On the rich palate, there are flavours of dark fruits, coffee and licorice. Ripe tannins support a lingering finish. 97.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Frind releases for spring 2022

Photo: Markus Frind (courtesy Frind Estate Winery)
When the latest releases of wines from Frind Estate Winery arrived a month or so ago, they included the first wines I had seen from the 2021 vintage. I got a bit overeager in tasting them, having forgotten that recently-bottled wines need some time to settle in the bottle. I wondered why I was not getting Frind’s usual expression of fruitiness from the 2021 Big White or the 2021 Rosé. Then the penny dropped: the wines were still suffering a bit of bottle shock. I held off on the other 2021 whites for a few weeks and those wines, especially the Viognier, showed much better. I have also delayed tasting 2021 whites from several other wineries.
A helpful definition of bottle shock was published in 2011 in The Wine Spectator: “Bottle shock” or “bottle sickness” are terms used to describe a temporary condition in a wine where its flavors are muted or disjointed. There are two main scenarios when bottle shock sets in: either right after bottling, or when wines (especially fragile older wines) are shaken in travel. Usually, a few days of rest is the cure. The evidence for this phenomenon is more anecdotal than scientific, but the theory is that all the complex elements in wine (phenolics, tannins and compounds) are constantly evolving, both on their own and in relation to each other. Heat or motion can add stress to this evolution, causing the wine to shut down temporarily.”
I remember a tasting early one season of newly bottled white wines from CedarCreek Estate Winery. The winemaker at the time was the savvy Tom DiBello, a graduate of the University of California at Davis, perhaps California’s leading wine school. Before bottling the whites, Tom had drawn off tank samples and bottled them much more gently than those that went through the bottling line. He poured them side by side for those of us at the tasting. The tank samples all were much more expressive. The freshly bottled Gewürztraminer and Riesling, by comparison, smelled and tasted a bit dull.
It was nothing that a few weeks of bottle rest would not resolve. By the time recently bottled wines reach most consumers, bottle shock no longer is an issue. I look forward to finding these Frind wines at retail this spring and discovering what I missed in February.
The Frind winery is on a lakefront property in West Kelowna that, for more than 50 years, belonged to the Bennett family: both W.A.C Bennett and his son, Bill, served as premiers of British Columbia. In the fall of 2017, when former technology entrepreneur Markus Frind began planning a major winery, he purchased the 5.5-hectare (13.5-acre) Bennett property because it is strategically located on the Westside Wine Trail. This property is the tip of the iceberg of one of the Okanagan’s most ambitious wineries. Markus also owns about 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of vineyard land, some of it being developed so that it can be farmed, in large measure, with self-driving machinery. If this succeeds, it will represent a breakthrough of precision agriculture amid Okanagan vineyards – by a winery owner whose initial success was with a dating web site called Plenty of Fish. He created it in 2003 and sold it in 2015 for $575 million.
Now, that success is benefitting the British Columbia wine industry. Here are notes on the recent releases.
Frind Viognier 2021 ($23.99). Rich and aromatic, this wine begins with aromas of pineapple and stone fruits. On the palate, there are layers of tropical fruits including pineapple, guava and orange, finishing with the classic spine of the varietal. 91.
Frind The Baroness 2021 ($24.99). This elegant blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon. Viognier and Chardonnay commands the table with the authority inherent in the name. The winery explains: “Named after Annie Frinds' grandmother, die Baronesse Bianca Von Hahn (Germany), this wine was created to honour the families heritage dating back to the 1500's.” It begins with aromas of apple and pineapple, leading to flavours of quince and apple mingled with peach. The finish is dry and persists on the palate. 92.
Frind Big White 2021 ($20.99). The wine is crisp and fresh, with notes of grapefruit and peach. The wine was suffering from bottle shock. As a result, my rating is my best guess of how the wine will rank when it has had another month or so. 89.
Frind Chardonnay 2020 ($25.99). This is a fruit-forward Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of apple, pineapple and citrus. Bright acidity gives the wine a certain austerity. 90.
Frind Riesling 2020 ($24.99). The Riesling grape is one over which winemaker Eric von Krosigk has shown mastery throughout his career. This is another fine example, beginning with aromas of lemon and petrol. The complex palate includes flavours of citrus mingled with apple and peach. There is a delicate touch of petrol on the dry finish. 92.
Frind Rosé 2021 ($19.99). The dark hue signals that this is a robust rosé demanding to be paired with food. It has aromas of strawberry, leading to flavours of plum, and strawberry. 88.
Frind Big Red 2020 ($22.99). The blend is complex: 49% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 12 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Maréchal Foch, 5% Pinot Noir, 3% Syrah, 2% Teroldego and 1% Malbec. The wine was aged in 60% French oak barrels and 40% American oak. Twenty per cent of the barrels were new.The wine has aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry. 88.
Frind The Premier 2020 ($39.99). The winery’s flagship red, this is a blend of 58% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Marquette, 6.5% Petit Verdot, 3.5% Syrah, 5.5% Teroldego, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec. The wine was aged 12 months in French and American oak. This wine is dark in colour and rich in texture. The aromas of plum and cherry are echoed on the palate, mingling with spice and chocolate. 92.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sandhill Rosé leads a booming parade

Photo: Sandhill's Sandy Leier
The annual sales of BC VQA rosé wines have reached an astonishing $411 million a year and the category is growing at eight per cent a year
Some rosé brands are doing even better. Sandhill Wines, which has just released 7,018 cases of its 2021 rosé, says its brand has been growing at 36% a year. And it is not even the largest brand of rosé from BC. That may be Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. Jeff Del Nin, the chief winemaker there, is about to bottle 12,000 cases. Had the 2021 grape harvest been larger (the heat dome in June reduced yields), Quails’ Gate was prepared to make 16,000 cases of rosé because it has the potential to sell that much pink wine.
This enormous appetite for BC rosé wines has developed in just the last 15 or so years. JoieFarm of Naramata pioneered quality rosé with 140 cases in 2004. That was such a success, that JoieFarm made 1,100 cases in 2005. Another pioneer of rosé winemaking was Daniel Bontorin of Bottega Wine Studio at Cawston, where he is developing a portfolio of rosé wines. He began his winemaking career at Le Vieux Pin Winery. There in 2005, he had made about 70 cases of an exceptional rosé, called Vaïla (named after the vineyard manager’s daughter). Almost all the wine was snapped by restaurateur Vikram Vij. Those two rosé wines helped establish the category, especially because both wineries targeted the restaurant market first. Getting the sommeliers on side has been fundamental to the subsequent success of rosé. Sandhill has had a rosé in its portfolio at least since 2011, when the legendary Howard Soon was the winemaker.
Here is a note on that wine, which I scored 90 points: Sandhill Rosé 2011 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($17.99 for 396 cases). There are four varietals in this: Gamay Noir (41%), Cabernet Franc (31%), Sangiovese (21%) and Barbera (7%). The grapes were cold-soaked about four days and then 10% of the juice was drained off (the French call this saignée).
When Howard retired, Sandy Leier took over in 2018. She was born in Vancouver and grew up in Kelowna where she prepared for a winemaking career with a degree in chemistry from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. She joined the Andrew Peller winemaking team in 2006. Before taking over Sandhill, she was the lead winemaker for both Calona Vineyards and Wayne Gretzky Okanagan. In 2018, she made 1,878 cases of Sandhill Rosé. By 2020, the volume was up to 6,112 cases. The volume in 2021 might have been greater than it was but for the heat spike in June which reduced the entire grape crop in the Okanagan and the Similkameen Valleys. In particular, Sandy had less Gamay to work with. The Sandhill rosé is a blend of Gamay and Merlot. The 2018 rosé was 83% Gamay; the 2019 was 81% Gamay; the 2020 was 65% Gamay and the 2021 is just 40% Gamay. It is not a negative. The 2021 rosé is a crisp, dry rosé that is a little more robust in texture than its predecessors due to the influence of Merlot in the blend.
Sandy did not employ the saignée method which is not appropriate for producing large volumes of rosé unless the winery also makes large volumes of reds that need concentrating. When Daniel Bontorin made the initial rosé wines at Le Vieux Pin (and later at LaStella), he would crush Pinot Noir and drain off about 15% of the juice. “Our goal is not to be a rosé company,” he told me at the time. “Our goal is to make better Pinot Noir.”
Sandy’s winemaking technique is different. “I like to do just a limited amount of skin contact. We direct pressed a lot of the fruit – whole bunch pressing to get the juice right off the skins. There is virtually no skin contact. The only skin contact is in the press. We hold a little of the fruit back and keep it on the skins just long enough extract some colour and bit of tannin. Then we press that as well. Most of the juice coming out is light in color and that is what I want. It is Provence-style … light coloured and delicate.” The juice is then cold-settled in tank. “We keep it in stainless steel for the entire process,” she says. “We ferment the wine in tank with a white wine yeast to show off the bright fruit characteristics in this wine. We ferment it about 11 days – a nice, slow fermentation. We don’t want it to get too warm or it will blow off that beautiful fruit character.”
The fruit here combines two appellations. Some 58% of the volume is from Andrew Peller’s Rocky Ridge Vineyard in the Similkameen while the rest is from the Sandhill Estate Vineyard on Black Sage Road. The result of blending these terroirs is a rosé that is more complex. The Merlot and the Gamay were fermented separately. “On tasting them, the Merlot offered a little more of the finish I was looking for,” Sandy says. “I was not planning to use more Merlot but, in the end, it was kind of nice.”
Here is a note on the wine, which is widely available.
Sandhill Rosé 2021 ($21 for 7,018 cases). The blend is 60% Merlot, 40% Gamay Noir. The wine has aromas of watermelon and raspberry leading to flavours of strawberry, pomegranate and nectarine. A slightly firm texture adds to the crisp and lingering finish. This wine will pair easily with a wide variety of foods. 91.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Solvero Winery debuts in Garnet Valley

Photo: Solvero president Matt Sartor (courtesy Solvero Winery)
When Solvero Winery president Matt Sartor finished his music degree at Dalhousie University, he decided against a career as a concert pianist. “At some point when I was in school, it became clear it was a prodigies-only business,” he says. “I am not that. I am very good at the piano but there might be, maybe, five touring pianists in the country.” His search for work after university ended up with a job in a Calgary wine store, where he was able to taste a lot of wines and read about them. “Wine spoke to me in a way that made me think this is it,” he says.
In 2010, he moved to the Okanagan to take the viticulture course at Okanagan College and begin search for a site suitable for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He settled on the Garnet Valley, not far from the vineyard that Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has developed. After clearing forest from some of the property, he began planting Pinot Noir in 2016 followed by Chardonnay in 2017. Last month Solvero released its first Pinot Noir from the 2019 vintage. With a production of just 450 cases, it can be found just in a few Vancouver wine shops and restaurants. About 50 cases of Chardonnay will be available only at the tasting room Solvero plans to open by summer. The winery’s address is 25585 Wildhorse Road and the telephone number is 250-487-9891.
Over the next several years, Solvero is planning to increase its production volume to about 6,000 to 7,000 cases, from its own grapes and from leased vineyards. The Garnet Valley, which stretches north from Summerland, is the newest addition to British Columbia wine country. Okanagan Crush Pad began planting in 2013 on its 312-acre Garnet Valley Ranch (less than a third is now under vine). However, OCP’s winery is not here but at its original vineyard east of Summerland. Solvero currently is the only winery that will have a wine shop in the Garnet Valley.
“We are about a kilometer closer to town that Okanagan Crush Pad,” Matt says. “It may be 10 minutes to town but it feels like a world away when you are out here. This small valley is its own small microclimate.” Solvero describes its vineyard as being in a “warm, steep southwest-facing bowl in the narrow Garnet Valley.”
Solvero is a family-owned winery, with Matt’s parents, Bob and Andrea, as his backers. Bob is the former president of Big Rock Brewery in Calgary and is currently the president and chief executive of the Calgary Airport Authority. The elder Sartors also have a home near Summerland with a five-acre vineyard in what they call Happy Valley that is planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
The Solvero winemaker is Alison Moyes, who formerly worked at Stoneboat Vineyards and Liquidity Wines. Born in Ontario, she studied microbiology at Dalhousie. “While I was doing that, I was working at a restaurant,” she recounts. “The owner was opening up a new high end wine bar. He was doing sommelier training and offered a course for the staff. I was a part of that and I just fell in love with it. He saw I had potential and he helped me through my sommelier certification in Halifax. Upon finishing, I would be the new sommelier at his wine bar.” After doing that for two years, her science background “called” to her and she enrolled in the winemaking program at Brock University. She did her first vintage in the Okanagan in 2008, as part of her university program. “I had to go back to Ontario to write my thesis,” she says. “As soon as I finished that, I came back out again. I had fallen in love with the area. It is an amazing grape growing region.”
She joined Stoneboat in 2010, moved to Liquidity in 2015 and then joined Solvero, all of them wineries dedicated to Pinot Noir. “One of the things that drew me to this project is how impressed I was with the work that Matt did in establishing this place, planting this 30-acre property,” Alison says. “Matt and I met about 10 years ago, when I was at Stoneboat,” she continues. “I had been following the progression of what was here and the work that Matt was doing. In the transition from Liquidity, I had come out here the year prior and got a sense of the potential of the project. The vision that Matt and his family have for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is right up my alley.”
Solvero’s Garnet Valley vineyard has almost 10 acres of Pinot Noir, along with 2 ½ acres of Chardonnay and a planned two more acres each of Chardonnay and Gamay Noir to be planted in 2023. There are seven clones of Pinot Noir: 115, 667, 777, 828 and 43, along with the Pommard clone and the Swann clone. “Part of that was seeing what worked best for us,” Matt says of his decision to plant multiple clones. “Part of it was clonal diversity. Part of it was attracting a winemaker like Alison. Having that kind of diversity to play with in the cellar is catnip to someone who is interested in making Pinot Noir.”
The winery’s name, Solvero, is a loose translation from Latin, meaning truth in soil. “A friend of a friend is a Latin professor,” Matt says. “We bugged him for a name that would represent what we want, and this is where we arrived.”
Here is a note on the wine.
Solvero Pinot Noir 2019 ($35 for 450 cases). This wine was aged 12 months in French oak (29% new). It begins with aromas of raspberry, cherry and spice. On the palate, the flavours are intense, with notes of red berry fruits mingled with spice and forest floor. The tannins are polished. 92.