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.