Volcanic Hills Estate Winery in West Kelowna is celebrating the legacy of its founding family with the release of small lot wines under the Gidda Family Estate labels.
Patriarch Sarwan Gidda and his family first planted grapes in West Kelowna in 1978. Subsequently, Sarwan and two brothers established Mt. Boucherie Winery. However, Sarwan and his family broke away to open Volcanic Hills in 2010.
The two remaining Gidda brothers at Mt. Boucherie then had a falling out. Mt. Boucherie then went into receivership, emerging several years ago under new ownership.
Volcanic Hills, with Sarwan’s son, Bobby, as president, has had no such drama. The winery is making about 10,000 cases of wine a year and farming about 80 acres of vineyard, all in West Kelowna.
The Gidda Family Estate wines, which are sold only to members of the winery’s wine club, represent an effort by Volcanic Hills to break out of its value niche.
“These are all small lots,” Bobby Gidda says. “We have introduced them to our wine club to give them something a little special. We needed to separate our regular wines to these wines, so that is where we introduced Gidda Family Estate. This is like our higher end tier.”
Daniel Bontorin, Volcanic’s long-time consulting winemaker, has applied winemaking techniques to make these wines stand apart from the winery’s regular range. Both of the whites in the initial release are barrel-fermented. That is not the commontreatment for Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris but Daniel has made it work.
There are two more Gidda Family wines to be released later this year. One is a barrel-aged red made from Zweigelt, a variety identified with Austrian red wines. The first planting in the Okanagan was on the Naramata Bench in 1998 by a winery called Benchland. When Sarwan tasted the wine, he liked it well enough to secure vine cuttings from Benchland. He planted these on his West Kelowna property.
“We have never done a straight Zweigelt before,” Bobby says. “It has always put in one of our blends.”
The other wine still to be released is a traditional method sparkling wine called Royale, from a cuvée put down in 2020.
“The last time my family produced a Blanc de Blanc is when we were part of Mt. Boucherie,” Bobby says. “It was just a small batch we did for ourselves. It has been a while since we have done it.”
This time, enough wine has been made to allow it to be released in yearly tranches over three years, beginning this summer. The object is to let both the Gidda family and their wine club members to decide what is the optimal time that the sparkling wine should remain on the lees before being released.
The packaging of the Gidda Family wines is also special. The labels, loaded with symbolism, were designed by Bobby’s wife, Harpreet. There are three peacocks on the label as well as lotus flowers. Both the peacocks and the lotus flower, Bobby notes, are emblems of India, where the Gidda family originated. The peacocks and the flowers also represent Bobby’s parents, as well has his brother, Amit and his sister, Christina.
Here are notes on the wines.
Gidda One Block Gewürztraminer 2020 ($37 for 80 cases). This is a wine club exclusive wine. This wine was barrel-fermented in French oak (20% new) with semi-monthly battonage. The barrel treatment, while not adding oak flavours, has given the wine length and texture. The wine has aromas of spice, lychee and pear, echoed on the palate along with notes of baked apples. This is not a conventional Gewürztraminer but rather a sophisticated example. 90.
Gidda One Block Pinot Gris 2020 ($33 for 94 cases). Wine club only. This wine was fermented in French oak (15% new) and then aged three months in barrel with weekly battonage. This has given texture to the wine and softened the acidity. There are aromas and flavours of peach, baked apples with a hint of lemon meringue on the finish. 91.
Gidda One Block Rosé 2020 ($37 for 211 cases). Made with Gamay Noir, this wine presents with a lovely pink hue, the result of 30 hours of skin contact. Some 20% of the wine was fermented in neutral oak barrels, adding texture. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and cranberry, leading to intense flavours of strawberry and cherry and a dry finish. 90.
Gidda One Block Pinot Noir 2019 ($54 for 65 cases). The aromas and intense flavour are the result of low tonnage of fruit (2.3 tons an acre) in the vineyard. The grapes were cold-soaked for three days before a quick fermentation. The wine was aged 12 months in French oak (30% new). Still youthful, this wine is bright, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and pomegranate. The wine will benefit from a further year or two of bottle aging. 90.
You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of British Columbia wineries making white Pinot Noir.
I know of maybe two. SpearHead Winery in East Kelowna has released a white Pinot Noir in the last three vintages. Emandare Vineyard on Vancouver Island has just released what it calls a “brand new white wine” called "From The Valley" Blanc De Noir 2021. Given that the wine has a pink hue, most consumers would consider it a rosé.
The SpearHead wine, on the other hand, is made deliberately to avoid having a pink tinge. Grant Stanley, SpearHead’s winemaker and general manager, explains: “The Pinot Noir is hand-harvested over the course of several passes through the vineyard. Our team hand selects the larger clusters to produce this wine. A gentle whole bunch press allows minimal skin contact, and the free run juice is captured while avoiding colour extraction.”
Grant initially made White Pinot Noir to use the grapes from young plantings. That fruit, because the vines were young, did not quite have the flavour intensity Grant wanted for SpearHead’s fine red Pinot Noirs.
“I have a particular vineyard that I use now for the White Pinot,” he says. The fruit is “always big berries, with high acid!”
“I am not making very much, as I want it to be a special wine in high demand at release, then gone,” Grant adds. “I don’t think anyone else is making it because it makes no sense financially. The price of growing or buying Pinot Noir is high and most Pinot Noirs reflect that in bottle prices above $40.”
Grant also makes a Pinot Noir rosé. After his crew has picked grapes for the White Pinot Noir, another pass through the vineyard selects fruit for the rosé. Two days of cold soaking produce the flavours and the desired colour. I am pleased to note that Grant has not succumbed to the fashion of making anaemically pale rosé wines. This wine looks good in the glass.
The third wine in SpearHead’s spring release is a Riesling. I was reminded of a comment Grant made to me some years ago. “I spent 80% of my time thinking about Pinot Noir,” he said. I replied that the rest of his wines never seemed neglected. At the time, he was working at Quails’ Gate Winery, which had a large portfolio.
Grant joined SpearHead in 2017. Perhaps it is his dream assignment because Pinot Noir dominates a portfolio that is fleshed out with just Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.
Here are notes on the wines.
SpearHead White Pinot Noir 2021 ($28 for 252 cases). This wine begins with aromas of apples, pears, lime and gooseberry. This are echoed on the palate in a delightful fruit salad of flavours. Racy acidity gives this wine a crisp and tangy finish. 92.
SpearHead Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 ($25 for 500 cases). This wine begins with aromas of strawberry and cherry, leading to flavours of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry. There is almost a crunchy texture, with racy acidity and a dry finish. 91.
SpearHead Riesling 2021 ($22 for 419 cases). Half of the fruit was pressed directly. The other half was whole bunch pressed and – unusual for Riesling – stomped by foot to add texture and, as the winery explains, “to increase the complexity of aromas.” The wine is juicy on the palate, with aromas and flavours of lemon, lime and grapefruit. The bright acidity will support cellaring this wine for a few years. 92.
Photo: Nighthawk Vineyards owners Christy and Daniel Bibby with winemaker son Dakota (centre).
After a two-year pandemic interruption, public tastings by British Columbia wineries are back.
First out of the blocks was the Okanagan Falls/Skaha Lake Wineries Association with its recent Vancouver tasting.
This association represents a group of small to medium wineries, all making interesting wines. Not all the wineries based in this sub-appellation were here, either because they are not members of the association or for other reasons.
For example, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars was absent. I was told Blue Mountain has not been a member of the association for several years, for reasons of its own. This year, the winery has cogent reason for doing almost no public tastings. Blue Mountain bottled none of its 2021 vintage, concerned that smoke taint might show through in the wines.
I am not aware that smoke taint was a significant issue with many other wineries in Okanagan Falls. However, the layout of the Blue Mountain vineyards is such that smoke from a major forest fire nearby settled on the vines long enough to leave a smoke taint on thin-skinned grapes, such as Pinot Noir. Blue Mountain decided it could not afford to risk its reputation by releasing wines of less-than-optimal quality.
None of the 2021 vintage wines from Okanagan Falls that I tasted showed any hint of smoke taint. You can buy Okanagan Falls wines with confidence that no other producer had extensive smoke exposure.
Here are highlights from the tasting, with apologies to Pentâge, Play Estate Winery and Wild Goose Vineyards. I ran out of time to get to them. However, I am working on a Pentâge blog.
I did have time to taste one product at the Wild Goose table, a carbonated sparkling wine in a 250 ml can. It is called Frisch, German for “fresh” – and an apt description of the wine. Stag’s Hollow has two wines in cans. This is an ideal format for picnics and for any place where bottles are dangerous when they fall and break.
Here are notes on the wines.
Photo: Black Market proprietors Rob Hammersley and Michelle ShewchuckBlack Market Wine Co. Estate Bacchus 2021 ($21 for 150 cases). This is an unheralded varietal that deserves to be better known. The best ones, like this one, are somewhat similar to Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has aromas and flavours of lime and lemon, with a tangy finish. 90.
Black Market Wine Co. Unsanctioned Series Pinot Blanc 2020 ($25 for 65 cases; the wine is sold out). This wine was barrel-fermented in neutral oak, giving texture to the wine but not a significant oaky taste. The wine still retains the aromas and flavours of apples. 90.
Black Market Wine Co. Omerta Rosé 2021 ($26 for 180 cases; only for wine club members): This is a Cabernet Franc rosé with good weight and a refreshing finish. It has flavours and aromas of strawberry and cherry. 91.
Black Market Wine Co. Unsanctioned Series Merlot 2019 ($39 for 120 cases). Winemaker Rob Hammersley took advantage of mature vines on his Kaleden vineyard to make a concentrated Merlot that could handle 30 months of barrel-aging. The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and dark cherry framed with vanilla and chocolate. 93.
Photo: Blasted Church Winemaker Evan SaundersBlasted Church Vineyards Viognier 2020 ($24 for 492 cases). Fermented in stainless steel, the wine has the rich texture and apricot aromas and flavours that make Viognier appealing. 90.
Blasted Church Vineyards Syrah 2018 ($32 for 2,979 cases). The Syrah grapes in this wine were co-fermented with five percent Viognier. The wine was aged for 18 months is a selection of oak barrels. It begins with aromas of blueberry, cherry and pepper, which is echoed on the palate. The finish is long and savoury. 90.
Blasted Church Vineyards Nectar of the Gods 2018 ($75 for 505 cases). This is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon (which was barrel-fermented), 20% Petit Verdot and 15% Malbec. Winemaker Evan Saunders enlisted consultant Pascal Madevon in crafting this wine. The wine was aged 22 months in barrel (60% new). Still firm, this is a wine built for cellaring. There are aromas and flavours of dark cherry, plum, cassis, tobacco and chocolate. 92.
Photo: Bonamici Winemaker Phil SooBonamici Cellars Rose 2020 ($24.90). This off-dry rosé is made with Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cherry and plum. 90.
Bonamici Cellars Cabernet Franc 2020 ($34.90). This is a classic brambly example of Cabernet Franc, with blackberry, cherry and spice aromas and flavours. 91.
Bonamici Cellars Merlot Cabernet Franc 2019 ($27.90). This is 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc. The wine aged 12 months in French oak (20% new). There are aromas of black currant and cherry leading to spicy flavours of blackberry, cherry and chocolate. 91.
Bonamici Cellars Belviaggio Red 2020 (Wine club exclusive). This is blend of 50% Cabernet Franc along with Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. The wine is full-bodied with spicy aromas and savoury flavours of dark fruits. 92.
Photo: Crescent Hill proprietor Teresa Murray
Crescent Hill Winery Glennallyn Private Reserve Gewürztraminer 2020 ($N/A). This wine is made with fruit from some of the oldest Gewürztraminer vines in the Okanagan. Dry on the finish, this spicy wine is packed with flavour, with lychee and citrus dominant. 90.
Crescent Hill Winery Island Girl 2020 ($19.99). This is a blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. There are aromas and flavours of mango and pineapple, leading to a long finish. 90.
Liquidity Winery Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($30 for 900 cases). This wine was fermented in barrel (only 14% were new) and aged in barrel on the lees for 10 months. It begins with aromas of peach, pear and apples. Those fruits are echoed on the palate, along with buttery flavours delicately framed with oak. 91.
Liquidity Winery Rosé 2121 ($30 for 530 cases). Made with Pinot Noir, this rosé is fashionably pale, with delicate aromas of raspberry and refreshing flavours of raspberry and strawberry. 90.
Liquidity Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve 2019 ($60 for 187 cases; wine club exclusive). The wine, made with fruit from the Black Sage Bench, was aged 16 months in oak. The wine begins with spicy aromas, along with blackberry notes. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry. The texture is rich, yet firm. 93.
Liquidity Winery Dividend 2019 ($40 for 1,100 cases). Made with fruit from Okanagan Falls, this is a blend of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. Complex and full-bodied, this wine has aromas and flavours of dark cherry, black currant, blueberry and dark chocolate. 93.
Photo: Mayhem principals Andrew Stone and Terry MeyerMayhem Wines Anarchy Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($23.48 for 113 cases). This is a crisp, tangy wine with aromas and flavours of lime, passion fruit and mango. 92.
Mayhem Wines Rosé 2021 ($20.87 for 220 cases). This wine is made with Merlot; the juice was fermented slowly over six weeks to preserve the fruitiness. The wine has aromas of cherry and flavours of strawberry. Racy acidity leads to a crisp, dry finish. 90.
Mayhem Wines Cabernet Merlot 2020 ($N/A for 755 cases). The blend is 89% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, aged 11 months in French oak. The aromas just jump from the glass, with notes of cassis, dark cherry and blueberry. That is echoed on the rich and satisfying palate, where the fruit mingles with spice, plum and chocolate. 91.
Photo: Meyer Family Vineyards's JAK MeyerMeyer Family Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2021 ($17.48 for 166 cases). The winery already has a limited of six bottles per customer because the vintage was small. This is one of the best values in dry Gewürztraminer from the South Okanagan. The fermentation was long and cool in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. The result is a spicy wine with good aromatics. 90.
Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($32.26 for 500 cases). This wine had a long, cool ferment in stainless steel and was then transferred to French oak barrels (22% new) for 11 months on the lees without stirring, This a beautifully balanced wine, with citrus, apple and notes of butter. 92.
Nighthawk Vineyards Winemaker’s Reserve Gewürztraminer 2020 ($21.90 for 120 cases). This wine was fermented completely dry, barrel-aged in French oak, with 40% going through malolactic. The spice and lychee aromas and flavours are dramatic. 92.
Nighthawk Vineyards Pinot Noir 2020 ($29.90). This wine was aged eight months in French oak, developing a silky texture. There are aromas and flavours of cherry. 90.
Nighthawk Vineyards Merlot 2019 ($32.90). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, cherry and blackberry. The finish lingers. 91.
Nighthawk Vineyards Cabernet Franc2018 ($34.90). There is a terrific medley of dark fruits on the palate, including blackberry, dark cherry and black currant. 91.
Photo: Noble Ridge winemaker Benoit Gauthier
Noble Ridge Vineyard Reserve Pinot Grigio 2021 ($20.99). This is a delicious wine, with notes of citrus and pear on both the nose and the palate. 91.
Noble Ridge Vineyard Stony Knoll Chardonnay 2020 ($24.99 for 408 cases). This is a lovely, fruit-forward Chardonnay, the result for fermenting 94% of the juice slowly in stainless steel. The remaining portion was barrel-aged in one-year-old barrels. The wine has aromas and flavours of apple, citrus and stone fruit mingled with a delicate buttery note. 92.
Noble Ridge Vineyard Reserve Meritage 2018 ($39.99 for 839 cases). This is 72% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 15 months in French (85%) and American (15%) oak barrels, of which 25% were new. It has aromas of cassis leading to flavours of plum and dark cherry. 92.
Photo: Stag's Hollow winemaker Keira LeFranc Stag’s Hollow Winery Tragically Vidal 2021 ($20 for 630 cases). This wine is called “Tragically” because most of the Vidal grape vines were pulled out years ago. Stag’s Hollow has a cult following for this tangy, aromatic white with flavours of lime and pineapple. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Winery Syrah Rosé 2021 ($25 for 180 cases). This checks all the boxes for me, starting with a lovely copper/pink hue that is immediately appealing in the glass. The aromas of spice, cherry, plum and apple lead to a fruit salad of flavour with a lingering finish. 92.
This wine is also released in 250 ml cans. A four-pack sells for $32.
Stag’s Hollow Winery Muscat Frizzante 2021 ($8 for a 250 ml can). This is a blend of 53% Orange Muscat, 38% Muscat Ottonel and 9% Albariño. The carbonation balances the residual sweetness of this charming spicy aromatic wine. Again, it is a fruit salad, with flavours of peaches, pears and apricots. 92.
Photo: Mission Hill chief winemaker Corrie Krehbiel
A dozen years ago, the winemaking team at Mission Hill Family Estates had to be leaned on by management before agreeing to make a rosé.
How times have changed! Rosé wines have become so popular that most winemakers clamor to make them.
Corrie Krehbiel, the current chief winemaker at Mission Hill, has just released two (one of them a sparkling wine) and very likely has more to come.
Rosé fans need to snap up they favourite pink wines when they have the opportunity. Most will sell out quickly because the supply is limited. The restraint on any winery’s volume of rosé this spring was the shortage of grapes in the 2021 vintage.
That was one of the hottest years in the last two decades, with extreme heat in late June and early July. The grape crop was reduced by drought but even more so by the heat dome. Vines basically shut down, stopping nourishing grapes just to preserve water. The resulting grapes are also smaller.
As a result, the 2021 crop in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys was about 30% below normal. However, a yield of small berries meant more concentrated flavours and more tannins. Some winemakers are predicting the wines will be of high quality. Time will tell.
I would have thought it a challenging year to make refreshing and delicate rosé wines. If that is so, it was not the case with these two Mission Hill rosés. These are well-grown wines, a compliment to the vineyard practices in the Mission Hill vineyards. In this era of a warming climate, most viticulturists leave a canopy of leaves on the vines to shield the grapes from sunburn. That was almost certainly done with the grapes for these rosé wines.
The other two wines sent by Mission Hill are from the 2020 vintage. That was a more moderate year, producing well balanced wines.
Here are notes on the wines.
Mission Hill Exhilarat!on Sparkling Brut Rosé NV. ($40). This is a beautifully-packaged Charmat method sparkling wine. Except for being a little paler in colour than I prefer, this is an appealing wine. It has delicate aromas of strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberries and pink grapefruit. The bubbles give it a creamy texture but the finish is refreshingly crisp. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Rosé 2021 ($25). This wine is also fashionably pale. It is a blend of Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. The aromas of cherry and strawberry lead to mouth-filling flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. The finish is dry. 91.
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($25). This is a restrained and lean wine in the style of a dry Graves white. There are flavours of herbs, lime and gooseberry. 90.
Mission Hill Reserve Meritage 2020 ($30). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, with the fruit from vineyards on the Black Sage Bench and Osoyoos. The wine is concentrated and benefits from being decanted. The aromas of black currant and spice lead to flavours of black cherry, black currant and fig. 91.
If ever a winery has raised the bar for south Okanagan wineries – and the bar is already high – it is Richter Bai’s Phantom Creek Estates.
As the following notes indicate, the quality of the wines is impeccable. The scores are comparable to Anthony von Mandl’s CheckMate Artisanal Winery, which just happens to get some of its fruit from vineyards neighbouring Phantom Creek’s vineyards. Obviously, great terroir makes great wine.
Phantom Creek, which made its first vintage in 2016, is now producing 5,000 casers a year, with considerable potential to grow. The winery has 81 acres of vineyards in production along with 113 acres under development, both in the Okanagan and the Similkameen Valleys.
Richter Bai, a Chinese-born entrepreneur, also rivals von Mandl in another way. For more than 20 years, the Mission Hill Family Estate in West Kelowna has been the destination winery in the north Okanagan, with its iconic bell tower, its artwork, its fine restaurant, its outdoor concerts and its extensive portfolio of fine wines.
Phantom Creek has emerged as the destination winery in the south. An imposing sculpture of Helios, the sun god to the ancient Greeks, which greets visitors, was created in Italian marble by Emily Young, an artist described as Britain’s “greatest living stone sculptor.” And that is just for starters. The VIP tasting room is dominated by a glorious Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. He is an American artist with a considerable following.
The tasting room and the restaurant both have great views over the Okanagan Valley. There are summer markets on the estate. This year, the winery has scheduled 15 concerts.
The wines reviewed here are but a small sample of Phantom Creek’s extensive portfolio. What struck me about the red wines in this sample is that all are anchored on Cabernet Franc. That varietal did not have a significant profile for many years, largely because of the greater acreage of Merlot.
CheckMate, as an example, settled on Merlot as its red varietal because far more of that is grown in its vineyards than either Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. Phantom Creek’s vineyards appear to be growing a bigger range of varietals. In any event, it has never been Phantom Creek’s strategy to focus on just two varietals.
Here are notes on the wines.
Phantom Creek Riesling 2019 ($33 for 260 cases). This wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in the winery’s Stockinger (Austrian) oak casks. It is a delicious wine, with aromas of quince and citrus and flavours of citrus and guava. If anything, the exotic tropical fruit has submerged the varietal character of Riesling. But if you can live without the usual racy characters of Riesling, this wine will not disappoint. 91.
Phantom Creek Pinot Gris 2019 ($27.49 for 500 cases). This wine is listed in the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. This wine, which was aged 16 months in an oak foudre, presents in the glass with light golden hue. It begins with aromas of spicy oak mingled with pear and pineapple. On the palate, the wine has a rich honeyed texture with flavours of ripe pear and pineapple and a lingering finish. 93.
Phantom Creek Chardonnay 2020 ($48 for 16 barrels). This is a wine club exclusive. There is a superb balance of fruit and oak so that the fruit remains the star of this elegant wine. It has aromas and spicy flavours of butter, ripe peaches, apricots and tropical fruits. 93.
Phantom Creek Petite Cuvée No. 4 2019 ($37.99). This is listed in the BCLDB. The wine was aged 20 months in oak (43% new). The blend is 42% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 1% Syrah. This wine begins with aromas of cassis and dark cherry. Bold and ripe on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of dark cherry, blackberry and chocolate. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a persistent finish. 94.
Phantom Creek Becker Vineyard Cuvée No. 27 2019 ($60 for 40 barrels). This vineyard is on the Black Sage Bench near the winery. This wine was aged 19 months in oak (50% new). The blend is 55% Cabernet Franc, 28% Merlot, 9% Carménère, 7% Syrah and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black cherry, black currant and dark chocolate. The firm texture suggests this wine is a candidate for cellaring. The finish lingers. 93.
Phantom Creek Kobau Vineyard Cuvée No. 15 2019 ($80 for 40 barrels). This is a wine from the Golden Mile and is a credit to the appellation. It was aged 20 months in oak (36% new). The blend is 69% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot and 4% Syrah. It is ripe and rich, with aromas of black cherry, black currant and spice. There are layers of flavour on the palate: black cherry, black currant, coffee and chocolate. The finish is very long. 95.