Since taking over Maverick Estate Winery early in 2020, winemaker Andrew Windsor and winery president Jan Nelson have built effectively on the winery’s excellent reputation for quality.
The current releases, many from the outstanding 2020 vintage, are among the best wines from the South Okanagan.
Andrew and Jan are backed by Bob and Barb Shaunessy, the former majority owners of Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery, who have provided Maverick with the resources to undertake a significant vineyard expansion.
The original estate vineyard, where planting began in 2009, has 7.4 acres under vine. Under its new owners, Maverick acquired 77 acres on the side of the mountain south of the winery and is developing additional vineyards there.
Photo: New mountainside vineyard, looking down on Maverick winery
The first 15 acres, at an elevation of 520 to 600 meters, were planted this year. Another 10 acres will be planted next year at elevations of 370 to 410 meters.
“We planted the bulk [of the upper vineyard] to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc,” Jan says. “We added in a half-acre each of Vermentino and Tempranillo. This may be the only Vermentino in BC.”
The lower vineyard will be planted to red varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a half-acre each of Tempranillo and Petit Verdot.
The winery also leases three vineyards in the South Okanagan. With these and the new plantings, Maverick is positioned to expand significantly from the 3,900 cases it produced in 2019.
Andrew and Jan had met the Shaunessy couple at Tinhorn Creek, where Andrew, with a master’s degree in oenology from the University of Adelaide, had spent several years as chief winemaker.
Here are notes on Maverick’s current releases.
Maverick Chardonnay 2021 ($28.98 for 535 cases). This wine was fermented in and aged for six months in French oak. The oak flavours are very well integrated, leaving the tropical fruit flavours at the center of the stage. The wine is rich, a touch buttery, and has a long finish. 91.
Maverick Ella Brut Rosé NV ($34.98). This is 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay from the 2016 vintage. The wine was 36 months on the secondary fermentation lees before being disgorged. Fruity aromas mingled with yeasty notes. On the palate, there is lively mousse and flavours of raspberry. The wine is fresh and lively on the finish. 90.
Maverick Ella 2014 Family Reserve ($56.98). This wine is made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wine spent six years on the secondary fermentation lees before being disgorged. Its golden hue and fine mousse in the glass recalls (for me) Krug Champagne, as does the creamy texture. There are aromas and flavours of brioche mingled with ripe apple and a hint of honey. 94.
Maverick Renegade 2019 ($39.98 for 420 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It was aged 18 months in French oak. The wine is full-bodied with aromas and flavours of dark cherry, spice and chocolate. The winery speaks of Black Forest cake and I agree. 92.
Maverick Renegade 2020 (Unavailable). The specifications are not yet available but, from the taste, I would assume the blend and price are similar to the 2019. Once again, it is a full-bodied wine with dark cherry aromas. There are rich flavours of black currant, plum and chocolate, with a lingering finish. 92.
Maverick Rubeus 2020 ($25.98). This is a blend of Bordeaux varietals with a healthy dollop of Syrah. The wine was aged 18 months in older French oak barrels. Aromas and flavours of dark fruit mingle with pepper and chocolate in this delicious wine. 92.
Maverick Bush Vine Syrah 2020 ($29.98 for 406 cases). This wine, which was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, is packed with bold flavours. There are aromas of black plum, black pepper, spice and deli meats. On the palate, there are flavours of fig, plum, pepper and deli meats. Decanting allows the wine to express its qualities fully. 93.
Maverick Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($39.98 for 181 cases). This wine, Maverick’s first Cabernet Sauvignon, was fermented in open-top fermenters with natural yeast. It was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. It is an elegant wine beginning with aromas of cassis and dark berries. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, blueberry, mocha and spice. The finish persists. 92.
Maverick Merlot 2020 ($39.98 for 288 cases). This is Maverick’s first Merlot. The winemaking process was similar to that employed for Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was also aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels (some were new) and bottled unfiltered. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. On the palate, there are big, ripe flavours of plum, dark cherry, chocolate and cola. 92.
It seems to me that more British Columbia wineries have begun releasing Cabernet Sauvignon as a single varietal wine as well as using the fruit as major blending component.
Hester Creek Estate Winery is a case in point. The fall releases included a Cabernet Sauvignon 2020. As well, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 74% of the blend in the 2019 Garland, the premium red blend named for the winery’s owner, Curt Garland.
The winery has two blocks of mature Cabernet Sauvignon vines, planted 16 or more years ago. That overall maturity of vineyards in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys may account for the rising number of releases of this varietal wine. Given good farming and a good vintage, mature vines produce the best quality fruit.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the latest ripening varieties. In the mid-1990s when Okanagan vineyards were being replanted with vinifera grapes, the red Bordeaux varieties of choice were Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Both ripen earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.
However, as the growing seasons became warmer and, in some years, longer, the acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon has risen. And more wineries have been releasing Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Both 2019 and especially 2020 were excellent vintages. Cabernet Sauvignon could be left hanging on the vines late into the fall in 2020. Not so much in 2019, except that was quite a warm year and the grapes were ripe when fall frost hit.
As well, winemakers like Charlie Baessler of Corcelettes Estate Winery have concluded that a touch of frost actually improves the fruit, reducing the bell pepper notes sometimes found in Cabernet Sauvignon. He produced one of the many excellent 2020 Cabernet Sauvignons.
So did Mark Hopley at Hester Creek. He also has the advantage of working with the only Ganimede fermenters in the valley – Italian technology for long, gentle fermentation of reds.
Here are notes on the Hester Creek wines.
Hester Creek Pinot Bianco 2021 Storied Series ($21.99 for 400 cases). The name of this Pinot Blanc wine is a nod to the Italian history of this vineyard, planted originally by Joe Busnardo. The grapes in the wine are a blend of estate fruit and fruit from a Black Sage Road vineyard. Some 87% of the juice was fermented cool in stainless steel. The remainder was fermented in two François Frères oak barrels, contributing more texture. The wine has aromas and flavours of apple and stone fruit, with a crisp finish. 91.
Hester Creek Syrah 2020 Source Collection ($29.99). The Syrah grapes were co-fermented with Viognier (15% of the blend) to lift the aromas. The wine was aged for 14 months in barrels (60% American oak, 40% French), of which 2/3 were neutral. The wine begins with aromas of pepper, cherry, blueberry and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, fig, deli meats, licorice and white pepper. 92.
Hester Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Storied Series ($34.99 for 500 cases). The grapes for this wine were harvested on November 1, 2020, even though there was a freeze in the vineyards on October 23 that year. After fermentation, the wine was aged 16 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry and black currant mingled with nutmeg. The palate echoes the aromas, along with added flavours of blackberry and vanilla. Long, ripe yet firm tannins give the wine elegance. Because this wine is structured to be cellared up to five years, decanting is recommended for current consumption. 92.
Hester Creek Garland 2019 Origin Wines ($59.99). This is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 1% Merlot. The 2019 growing season was warmer than average, which was a good thing for the vintage because a severe frost on October 9 ended the season. This is still a big, ripe wine with 14.8% alcohol, meaning the grapes were fully mature by the time the frost occurred. The fruit for this wine fermented in Hester Creek’s Ganimede tanks, followed by an extended maceration. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry, cassis, mint and cocoa. There are layers of flavour on the rich and savoury palate, including dark fruits and chocolate. Long ripe tannins give the wine great length. 94.
International Champagne Day was on October 28. Jim and Leslie D’Andrea, owners of Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery at Okanagan Falls, took that occasion to release three sparking wines.
In upcoming blogs, I also plan to comment on other sparkling wines from British Columbia. In recent years, many producers have added bubble to their portfolio.
Their timing could not be better. There was a recent bullish report in The Guardian newspaper on the LVMH French luxury goods firm and the sales of its Champagnes. “The company behind Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and Dom Pérignon has said it is ‘running out of stock on our best champagnes’ as the wealthy spend big on luxury goods in a new “roaring 20s” age of decadence,” the newspaper wrote.
“The chief executive of Moët Hennessy, Philippe Schaus, said 2022 would be ‘a fabulous year’ for its champagne – which starts at about £40 a bottle and can run into the thousands – as evidenced by stocks running low in the company’s network of cellars that stretch for 17 miles under the town of Epernay in France’s Champagne region.
“Earlier this year the Guardian reported soaring sales of champagne in City of London wine bars as bankers celebrated the biggest bonus season since before the 2008 global financial crisis.”
I do not have figures immediately on hand but I suspect that most British Columbia wineries are doing quite well with sparkling wines, given how many have entered the market.
“We don’t make ‘Champagne’ per se,” Noble Ridge says. However, the winery makes excellent sparkling wines with the same grapes and methods as the Champagne houses. One of the differences is that the British Columbia examples are significantly less expensive. That is not a comment on relative quality but more a reflection on the prestige image Champagne has earned.
The Champagne producers also have defended that image vigorously, as they have every right to do. They litigated for decades against Canadian wineries who once labelled their sparkling wines as Champagne. It is no longer legal for Canadian wineries to use Champagne or any other European appellation name on their labels.
Nor is it necessary. Our best sparkling wines – and there are a lot – can hold their own against grower Champagnes.
The D’Andreas planned to make sparkling wine as soon as they purchased property south of Okanagan Falls and planted Pinot Noir on a north-facing slope. “I just love Champagne,” Jim told me once.
The winery began making The One in the 2010 vintage. The wine has won numerous awards over the years, including a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in 2015 and sparkling wine of the year at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships.
Here are notes on the three sparklers in the current Noble Ridge portfolio.
Noble Ridge The Fizzy One NV ($23.99 for 433 cases). This frizzante style wine enables Noble Ridge to compete with Prosecco from Italy. The wine is a blend 68% Kerner and 38% Pinot Gris, which give the wine good aromatics. The palate is fruity, with notes of pear and apple. The bubbles are lively and the finish is crisp, with the residual sugar nicely balanced with bright acidity. 90.
Noble Ridge The Pink One 2018 ($39.99 for 130 cases). This is a traditional method brut made with Pinot Noir. The wine, which was en tirage for 29 months, begins with a lovely pink hue. The aroma has notes of brioche mingled with strawberry. On the crisp, dry palate, there are flavours of strawberry and raspberry. 92
Noble Ridge The One 2017 ($39.99 for 275 cases). This is 77% Chardonnay and 23% Pinot Noir. The wine was en tirage for 47 months and that has given it classic aromas and flavours of brioche. On the crisp palate, there are notes of apple and citrus. The mousse is fine and persistent. 94.
The Similkameen Valley’s Corcelettes Estate Winery is justifiably trumpeting the scores that wine critics have been giving to Talus 2020, its flagship red blend.
Prior to the release of the wine, which sells for $55 a bottle, proprietors Jesce and Charlie Baessler have given various critics early opportunities to taste the wine. One reviewer scored the wine 93 points and two scored it 94.
I visited the winery on September 23, which happened to be the day when the first grapes of the promising 2022 vintage arrived at Corcelettes’ crush pad. Charlie and Jesce, his wife, took time away from crushing grapes to lead me through a tasting that concluded with the 2020 Talus. I was then unaware of how others had scored the wine. But I gave this spectacular blend 95 points.
The Corcelettes winery is now producing about 6,500 cases a year, with most of the grapes from the 30 acres the winery farms. That includes a newly developed vineyard, the three-acre K-Vista Vineyard planted with Pinot Noir high up on the mountainside above the winery.
“I was putting in two, three acres a year for a while,” Charlie says of the steady and measured growth at Corcelettes. “These 30 acres we have planted will continue to demand production space. We don’t want to overcommit and choke ourselves. As these vineyards mature, we need to find markets and tighten the screws on our production facility.”
He plans to pause for a year or two. “Probably after that, we would be ready for another project. I would love to have 40 acres.”
“Charlie is very ambitious,” Jesce observes.
The winery’s first vintage from a 2 ½- acre Cawston vineyard, was a mere 200 cases in 2011. The Baesslers seized the opportunity to expand in 2015 when they are able to buy Herder Vineyards near Keremeos. The Cawston vineyard was sold while Charlie began adding to the vineyards that Herder had established.
Today, Corcelettes has 15 wines in its portfolio, including a sparkling wine in a can. Talus crowns the portfolio.
Previously, the flagship wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Menhir. The name is taken from that used for stone obelisks in Switzerland, where Charlie’s parents lived before immigrating to Canada. Menhir has been discontinued because Charlie has been elevating both those varieties as standalone wines. He chose not to take away the best barrels of those to support Menhir when he had decided to make Talus, a small-lot blend of five varieties that replaced and elevated the Meritage the winery previous had in its portfolio.
Talus is a geological term for a slope formed by rock debris. It describes many of the mountainsides in the Similkameen Valley near Keremeos.
“Our new baby is Sunshot Vineyard next door,” Charlie says. “It is all cut from these talus slopes. We rooted vines in some of the gnarliest soil I have ever seen. I can’t believe the vines have adored it so much. The day we were digging these holes … you can’t dig them by hand ... we were backfilling roots with stone, not dirt. The vines all grew.”
Here are notes on current releases.
Corcelettes Viognier 2021 Micro Lot Series ($31.90 for 110 cases). This wine was fermented and aged nine months on the lees in a French oak foudre. Richly textured, the wine has aromas of honey and almonds leading to flavours of nectarine and peach. The dry finish is long with hints of marmalade. 92.
Corcelettes Chardonnay 2021 Micro Lot Series ($34.90 for 255 cases). This wine was fermented and aged six months in new French oak (40%) and a concrete sphere (60%). Full malolactic fermentation has given a buttery note to the citrus aromas and flavour. An elegant wine. 92.
Corcelettes Merlot 2019 ($31.90 for 795 cases). The winery has three Merlot blocks, all tucked against a mountain for an exposure that produces quite ripe fruit. Consequently, this wine – which was aged 18 months in French oak (25% new) – is bold and ripe. Aromas of cassis lead to flavours of black currant, blueberry and chocolate. Long, ripe tannins give this wine a long finish. 92.
Corcelettes Syrah 2019 ($32.90 for 680 cases). Viognier skins are added to the ferment of this wine, which is then aged 16 months in barrel (90% French, 10% American). The wine begins with a whiff of white pepper and dark fruits. On the palate, the fig and dark cherry flavours mingle with spiced deli meats. 92.
Corcelettes Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($36.90 for 305 cases). The winery chooses to leave its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine until there has been a touch of frost. Charlie has found this reduces the bell pepper notes sometimes found in Cabernet Sauvignon. This bright, juicy wine begins with aromas of cassis and dark cherry which are echoed on the palate. The texture is buffed with ripe and polished tannins. 92.
Corcelettes Talus 2020 ($54.90 for 450 cases). The blend is 40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, dark cherry, chocolate and spice. Subtle tannins give the wine the character, to quote another critic, of “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” 95.
Michal Mosny, the winemaker and owner of Winemaker’s CUT, describes the 2020 Okanagan vintage as “exceptional” and he has the wines to prove it.
“We thoughtfully consider how to interpret and tell the story of each Okanagan growing season,” he wrote in a note accompanying the winery’s current releases. “The exceptional quality of the 2020 vintage forced our hand. For the first time, we felt we had an opportunity to bottle a range of single varietal wines under our reserve Bohemian label. It truly stands out as the best vintage of my career.”
That career began in Slovakia and has continued in the Okanagan after Michal and his wife, Martina, came to Canada in 2011 and settled in the Okanagan. He spent several years as the winemaker at Lunessence Winery & Vineyard in Summerland. He also started making wines under the Winemaker’s CUT label in 2015.
Winemaker’s CUT converted from a virtual winery in 2018 when Michal was able to base it on the Deadman Lake Vineyard south of Oliver. He had met the vineyard’s owner, Colin Stevens, in 2013 while buying grapes for one of Michal’s winery clients. The Stevens family had originally grown tree fruits since the 1920s on this property beside the highway midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. About 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of vines—Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc—were planted between 2000 and 2005.
Winemaker’s CUT also has a tasting room in the District Wine Village north of Oliver.
One thing that sets Michal apart, aside from his evident skill as a winemaker, is his love of classical music. At Winemaker’s CUT and at Lunessence Winery, he piped classical music into the vineyard and the cellar. It is a musical taste he brought with him from Slovakia. He and Martina had a modest winery near the village where Beethoven is said to have written “Für Elise.”
Here are notes on Michal’s current releases.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Riesling 2020 ($24 for 500 cases). The fruit is from a 2008 planting at the Chahal Vineyard at Oliver. The wine had a very long, cool fermentation. Some 22% was barrel-fermented and 10% had 14 days of skin contact to extract aromatics. The whiff of petrol leads to a rich and concentrated Riesling, with aromas and flavours of lemon, nectarine and apple. 91.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Pinot Noir 2020 ($37 for 350 cases). Fruit came from two vineyards, enabling a blend of cool and warm sites. Half the wine was fermented cool with organic yeast; the other half was fermented with indigenous yeast. The wine was aged 12 months in oak (20% new French). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and mushroom, which are echoed on the palate. The wine is medium-bodied with a silky texture. 91.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Cabernet Franc 2020 ($37 for 420 cases). The fruit comes from the estate vineyard and from another vineyard west of Oliver. After a one-day cold soak, the wine was fermented 14 days with organic yeast, and then aged 10 months in French oak. It begins with the classic brambly/raspberry/bell pepper aromas of the varietal. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, red licorice and mint. 90.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($37 for 250 cases). The fruit is from a 2010 planting in the Quails Wayside Vineyard at Oliver. After a one-day cold soak, the wine was fermented 15 days with organic yeast and then aged six months in French and American oak. This elegant wine begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and cedar. On the palate, there are layers of fruit including black currant, cherry and blueberry. The subtle tannins lead to a long finish. 93.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Syrah 2020 ($40 for 400 cases). The fruit is from the estate vineyard. There also is 8% Viognier from a Naramata vineyard in the blend. After a two-day cold soak, the fruit was fermented 18 days with organic yeast and then aged 10 months in Slavonian, American and French oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of fig and dark fruits mingled with licorice and pepper. With decanting, the wine opens up to show flavours of blackberry, licorice and white pepper. The finish lingers. 92.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Petit Verdot 2020 ($40 for 80 cases). The fruit is from a small block (half an acre) in the Harfman Vineyard at Osoyoos. After a one-day cold soak, the fruit was fermented 16 days with organic yeast. Typical for Petit Verdot, the wine is black as midnight. It begins with aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate. The palate is rich and lush, with flavours recalling a fine fruit cake. 92.
Winemaker’s CUT Bohemian Cuvée Rouge 2020 ($40 for 400 cases). The blend is 58% Merlot, 19% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. The fruit is from two mature vineyards at Oliver. After a two-day cold soak, the fruit was fermented for 18 days and then aged 10 months in old American, French and Slavonian oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry, blueberry and black currant. The fruit on the palate is lush, with flavours of dark fruits. The finish is long, with notes of mocha and spice. 93.