Friday, September 30, 2022

Clos du Soleil shows off wine verticals

Photo: Clos du Soleil winemaker Michael Clark
How long should you cellar a British Columbia wine? This has been a hard question to answer, given that this is a young industry working with relatively young vines and, at times, with winemakers just gaining experience. Wines made during the past 20 vintages, if you can find some of the older bottles, often are proving to be age-worthy, even if producers seldom recommend cellaring wines more than 10 years.
Michael Clark, the general manager and winemaker at Clos du Soleil, endeavoured to provide an answer by hosting vertical tastings recently of the winery’s flagship white and red wines.
The whites started Capella, the winery’s answer to a white Bordeaux. The 2006 Capella is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc made in Clos du Soleil’s debut vintage. While just 80 cases were produced, enough remained in the winery’s library to show a few bottles in this tasting.
The flagship red is a Bordeaux blend called Signature. Michael no longer has enough of the 2006 to bring it to the vertical. However, he has since found a collector who has an entire case of 2006 Signature. “Name your price,” Michael told him – perhaps not the best way to open negotiations, Michael admits.
Now producing 6,500 cases a year, Clos du Soleil was launched in 2006 in the Similkameen Valley by four business couples who loved wine. Michael joined the partnership in 2012, taking over as winemaker. While he was born in Ontario, he previously was an investment banker in Europe until he changed careers after studying winemaking in Switzerland. Subsequently, he also has studied at the University of California. Today, Clos du Soleil farms four vineyards totalling 40 acres, all in the Similkameen Valley and all fully organic. “The quality of our wines is a direct consequence of our organic practices,” Michael believes.
Initially when Clos du Soleil was getting vineyards established, the winery sourced grapes in the Okanagan Valley. Capella 2006 was made with Okanagan fruit. This wine, which was made by Clos du Soleil’s original consultant, Ann Sperling, was something of a surprise at the tasting. Despite its age, the wine still is fresh, with citrus flavours recalling marmalade. In contrast, Capella 2009 showed somewhat more age. The reason: 2009 was a warmer vintage and the wine lacked the acidity that kept the 2006 fresh. Obviously, there is a direct connection between the conditions of the vintage and the longevity of the wine. Over the years, Clos du Soleil, following the practice of Bordeaux, has added Sémillon to the blend as the winery’s Sémillon vines came into production. The current release, Capella 2021, is 27% Sémillon and 73% Sauvignon Blanc.
Signature 2007 is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly from Okanagan vineyards. This has matured into a delicious wine with a few more years of life. Signature 2009 is ready now, with its lower acidity reflecting warmer growing conditions than 2007. Signature 2010 is from one of the coolest growing years in this century. The wine likely was not too attractive when it was young, with a lean texture and bright acidity. But it has matured very nicely. The flavours are bright and fresh and the texture has filled out.
Since at least 2009, Clos du Soleil has had access to the five main reds that go into Bordeaux blends; and now grows the varietals. Signature 2019, which was released earlier this year, is a blend of five. “The variety is of secondary importance,” Michael says. “I taste the barrels blind and put together blends that represent the Similkameen Valley. I am very attached to the Similkameen Valley. Only recently has it been recognized for the quality that can be produced there.” He says that the Similkameen red wines may show slightly less intense and ripe fruit that those of the South Okanagan. On the other hand, the tannins are slightly lower and the wines have a stony minerality on the backbone.
The Clos du Soleil Signature wines are elegant and sophisticated. The vertical tasting included the 2016 Signature and the 2017 Signature, both solid wines built around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They are drinking well now but clearly will age for more than a decade. Here are notes on some recent vintages included in the vertical.
Clos du Soleil Capella 2021 ($30.90 for 537 cases). This is a blend of 73% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Sémillon. The grapes were from two Similkameen vineyards and one in the Okanagan. Each block was harvested separately by hand. Fermentation with indigenous yeast was done in French oak puncheons, with 10% of the barrels allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. All lots were barrel-aged for nine months on the lees. The final wine was blended from the best barrels. The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit mingled with grass. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, lime and stone fruit. 90.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2016 ($39.90 for 450 cases; large formats available). This wine is a blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec. The grapes were fermented on concrete tanks entirely with native yeasts. The wine was then aged in French oak barrels for 15 months. The final blend was made with the best barrels. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry and blueberry, leading to flavours of cherry, cassis and blackberry. The flavours show a youthful brightness now; but this is a wine that will benefit from cellaring. 92.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2018 ($47.90 for 473 cases). This is 42% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was fermented on concrete tanks with indigenous yeast. It was then aged 16 months French oak barrels, with the best barrels selected for what is the winery’s flagship red. It spent another year in bottle before release. The wine begins with appealing aromas of cassis, blackberry and blueberry. There is rich and complex fruit expression the palate, with flavours echoing the aroma and mingled with black cherry and mint. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a polished elegance. 94.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2019 ($54.90 for 453 cases). This is 42% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine is a selection of the best barrels after 16 months aging in French oak. This is an age-worthy wine but, for immediate consumption, decanting is recommended. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black currant, dark cherry and chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, cassis, chocolate, tobacco and vanilla. 94.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Burrowing Owl integrates Wild Goose

Photo: Burrowing Owl's Jim Wyse
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.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Township 7's Infinity red and friends

Photo: Township 7's Mary McDermott
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.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Tinhorn Creek's Leandro Nosal

Photo: Leandro Nosal, Tinhorn Creek's Argentine winemaker
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.