Friday, February 3, 2023

Osoyoos Larose launches a wine club

Photo: Osoyoos Larose general manager Michael Kuhlmann
In a move that surely was overdue, Osoyoos Larose Winery has just launched a wine club for the first time. It has been 20 years since this French-inspired Okanagan winery began selling Le Grand Vin, its premium, cellar-worthy, red Bordeaux blend. In that time, almost every other winery in British Columbia has set up wine clubs, often with considerable success. By putting club members first in line for new and collectible releases delivered to the consumers’ doors, many producers have developed, and retained, loyal fans.
Perhaps some of the credit for bringing Osoyoos Larose in line with current wine marketing trends can be attributed to Michael Kuhlmann, who became the winery’s general manager and winemaker last year after several years as the Osoyoos Larose vineyard manager. It could be that Osoyoos Larose did not launch a wine club sooner because there are only two wines in the portfolio: the $60 Le Grand Vin, which can be cellared for 10 or 15 years; and the $40 Pétales d’Osoyoos, also a red Bordeaux blend but made for earlier drinking. The wines are widely available in BC Liquor Stores (including some large format bottles) and in select private wine stores. “Osoyoos Larose launched 20 years ago and quite quickly set the bar quite high,” Michael told me last fall. “We were the leader for quite a while. Now to stay at the top, we need to change.”
In that interview, he was speaking of significant changes planned in the winery’s 80-acre vineyard on a hillside overlooking Osoyoos Lake. But he could just as well have been speaking of the need to become a little sharper in marketing, now that many competitors are producing wines at a quality level comparable to Osoyoos Larose. Especially when the winery’s lack of a tasting room has handicapped its ability to expand its base of customers.
The winery was established in the late 1990s as a 50/50 joint venture between Vincor International and a major Bordeaux producer called Groupe Taillan. Vincor’s object was to bring French expertise in wine growing to the Okanagan and, indeed, to raise the bar. The Osoyoos Larose winery was housed in the back corner of the Jackson-Triggs winery north of Oliver, with its own equipment and its own winemaker, Pascal Madevon, for the first vintages, beginning in 2001. Pascal was so impressed with the potential of the Okanagan that he became a Canadian citizen and, after leaving Osoyoos Larose in 2012, has been one of the busiest consulting winemakers in the valley. Pascal’s successors in the cellar have all been French or, like London-born Michael, have been trained there. One result is that Osoyoos Larose wines have been consistent in style: somewhat reminiscent of Bordeaux but with a clear reflection of Okanagan terroir.
When a white wine is released by Osoyoos Larose, either later this year or next year, it will be made with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, the leading white varietals in Bordeaux. The winery planted three acres of these vines (along with a bit of Muscadet) several years ago and intends to plant eight more acres this spring on property on the Osoyoos East Bench.
It was impractical to put a tasting room in the original Osoyoos Larose winery, if only because consumers would have had to walk among Jackson-Triggs winemaking equipment to get to where Pascal worked.
Vincor was taken over in 2006 by Constellation Brands, a U.S. based company that was then one of the world’s largest wine producers. When Osoyoos Larose began to drift, Groupe Taillan in 2013 bought Constellation’s stake to own 100% of Osoyoos Larose. It also committed to moving out of the Jackson Triggs winery in five or six years. Trying to site a new winery with a tasting room has proved to be a nightmare. The vineyard, which was chosen by French consultants, is excellently suited for growing fine grapes. But it would have been prohibitively expensive to bring water, sewer and electrical services uphill to the winery, as well as build a road that avoided the town dump just down the hill from the vineyard.
A proposal to build a winery next to the three-acre white vineyard, just beside Highway 97 north of Osoyoos, was vetoed by provincial regulators. Raphaël Merlaut, whose grandfather founded Groupe Taillan, sounded quite frustrated in 2019 as he recounted the search for a winery location. “We invested in this property with the idea we would be allowed to build a winery here, which is not far from the vineyard and which is perfectly located for accessing electricity and water,” he told me. “But the regulations in this part of Canada do not permit us to build this winery here.” As a stopgap, Osoyoos Larose leased a warehouse at the Bordertown Winery, producing and cellaring four vintages starting with 2019. Early in 2021, Osoyoos Larose was able buy a former fruit packing house just at the east side of Osoyoos. It has been renovated for wine production. However, the 2022 vintage could not be made there because the province had not yet approved the winery’s connection with the Osoyoos water supply in time for the vintage.
Meanwhile, Michael Kuhlmann has begun restructuring the vineyard, now certified organic, to deal with the perceived impact of climate change. The vineyard was originally planted between 1998 and 2000. “When they planted the vineyard, they planted for the weather and the climate in 1998. The viticulture of 20 years ago is no longer applicable,” Michael believes. “If you speak to winemakers who were making wine 20 years ago, they would say that the [unusually hot] 2021 vintage is a once in a 30-year vintage. That was not the norm but I think it is going to be like that every two, three years.” When a gradual replanting begins, he would like to switch the Merlot vines, now in the warmest part of the vineyard, with Cabernet Sauvignon, now in a cooler section of the property. He will also use rootstocks that have been developed during the past two decades and are capable to accelerating ripening. He would like to re-orient the vine rows from the original east/west orientation. In blistering hot vintages like 2021, grapes on the south side of rows were at risk of being sunburnt. These changes are designed to allow the vineyard to continuing producing grapes with lots of fresh flavours while keeping the alcohol levels in check.
“We know the type of wine we want to make,” Michael says. “We are not trying to recreate Bordeaux and we are not trying to recreate Napa. This is the Okanagan. For the future of Osoyoos Larose, we are not going to make 15 different wines. That is not what we are here for. What we want to do is showcase this vineyard. We think this area is unique.” Consumers who want to be assured of a ringside seat as Osoyoos Larose evolves should consider joining the new club, which is called La Maison Osoyoos Larose. An annual membership fee of $1,500 gives members three shipments a year, each with six bottles or the equivalent in large formats. Some Le Grand Vin is bottled each year in magnums or double magnums. The shipments will include back vintages of Le Grand Vin. Only club members have access to back vintages. There is free shipping in British Columbia and Alberta and there will be member-only winemaker dinners.
Here are notes on current releases. I have only limited tasting notes on the unreleased 2020 Pétales and the 2019 Le Grand Vin; but with similar point scores.
Osoyoos Larose Pétales D’Osoyoos 2019 ($33.99). This is a blend of 64% Merlot and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 12 months in medium toast French oak barrels from multiple coopers. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherries. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherries, blueberries and black currants. Bright fruit and long, ripe tannins give this wine appeal for current consumption, but with moderate ageability. 92.
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2018 ($53.99). The blend is 64.9% Merlot, 14.2% Cabernet Franc, 12.7% Cabernet Franc, 5.2% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. The grapes, after crushing, were fermented in stainless steel tanks, with about 25 days of skin contact. The wine was then aged 12 months in French oak (60% new, 40% one year old). This wine is built for aging for 10 to 15 years, with grippy tannins at this stage. Decant the wine for early consumption. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherries, black currant and plum. On the brooding palate, there are flavours of dark fruits, leather, dark chocolate and cigar box spice. 94.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Hainle Vineyards is back!

Photo: Dramatic label on Hainle Greetings wine
There has been a significant turnaround at Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery since this historic property was acquired in 2017 by Bella Huang, a Chinese-born entrepreneur who is a hands-on winery operator. Since then, the Peachland winery has replanted its vineyard and fully renovated the winery, installing new tanks, barrels and winemaking technology. Consulting winemaker Anthony Buchanan was engaged to make the vintages relaunching the brand. Subsequently, he hired Scott Ingram as Hainle’s resident winemaker. All that work paid off last year when Hainle entered some wines in competition. The winery won a gold, a silver and bronze medal at the All-Canadian Wine Championships. That was followed by a platinum, two silvers and two bronze medals at the National Wine Awards of Canada.
The roots of this winery lie with Walter Hainle (the name rhymes with finely), a one-time textile salesman who moved to Canada in 1970. His doctor advised him to adopt a slower lifestyle in order to cure his ulcers. He bought raw land in 1972 on Trepanier Road above Peachland and began planting a vineyard the next year. He had also begun buying grapes to make wine for home consumption. He made Canada’s first icewine in 1973 when the grapes he had ordered for making wine were inadvertently frozen. He crushed them anyway. Hainle Vineyards has been identified with icewine every since.
Tilman Hainle, Walter’s son, was infected by his father’s passion for wine, training at the enology school at Weinsberg in Germany. On graduating in 1982, he worked at Uniacke Estate Winery (now CedarCreek) until he and his father got a license for Hainle Vineyards in 1988. He and his father had begun making icewine from their own grapes in 1978. When the winery opened, it was able to offer icewines from several vintages.
The Hainle family got a lot of things right. This was the first winery to get organic certification for its vineyards. It was also the first winery to get a restaurant license (in 1995). As a winemaker, Tilman was perhaps ahead of the curve. Today, those wines would be celebrated by sommeliers as great natural wines. Thirty years ago, some consumers were baffled at the style.
The Hainle family sold the winery in 2002 to Walter Huber, a Munich-born businessman who had been sent by his family to run a fishing lodge in Dryden, Ontario. He was more interested in winegrowing. He tried to rebrand the winery as a Deep Creek Wine Estates. He also flailed around with strategy, at one time producing as much as 10,000 cases of wine and then shrinking production to 1,500 cases of well-aged premium-priced wine. In 2013, after the winery barely escaped being destroyed in a forest fire the previous autumn, Walter lamented that he had to release some wines early just for cash flow. “But I don’t really like doing that,” he told me at the time. “I like to release my whites when they are three for five years old and my reds when they are seven to ten years old. What I am doing is old style European wine aging.” He was also tying up money in inventory that had to be recovered with aggressive wine pricing.
Bella Huang seems to have a more effective strategy for the winery. The wines are released younger and are mainstream in style. The labels, once heavily Germanic, are quite contemporary. On some there is a stylized H, inspired by the 72 in the year, 1972, claimed, perhaps imaginatively, to be the year the winery was founded. Other wines feature colourful labels by Kelowna artist HongQi Lu, based on Chinese characters. The wines are now widely available in private wine stores across British Columbia.
Scott Ingram began training for the wine industry by taking the Okanagan College Viticulture Course in 2011. He followed that by taking the college’s wine science and assistant winemaker’s course. He set up his own
vineyard management company while taking the enology extension from Washington State University, graduating in 2018. After a year with Earlco Vineyard Management and some time in the cellar at Three Sisters Winery, Scott became the lead winemaker at Hainle in 2020.
It is satisfying to see this historic winery back near the front of the pack. Here are notes on some of the portfolio.
Hainle Reserve Pinot Gris 2021 ($28.99 for 98 cases). After fermentation, the wine was aged 10 months in barrel (50% new French oak). However, the oak influence is quite subtle. The wine begins with appealing aromas of nectarines which is echoed on the bright palate. The finish is rich, spicy and persistent. 91.
Hainle Cheers 2021 ($36.99 for 90 cases). This is an off-dry Riesling. The grapes had 48 hours of skin contact before being pressed. The wine fermented cool in barrel for 22 days. The wine has appealing aromas of citrus and peach, leading to lingering flavours of peach and nectarine. While the wine has 26.6 grams of residual sugar, that is nicely balance with bright acidity. 91.
Hainle Oaked Chardonnay 2021 ($34.99 for 250 cases). This is a full-on, barrel-fermented Chardonnay (60% new oak, 40% neutral oak) with partial malolactic fermentation and 10 months barrel aging. The wine begins with buttery aromas mingled with vanilla and marmalade. On the palate, there are rich flavours of marmalade along with hazelnut and oak. 91.
Hainle Merlot 2020 ($38.99 for 96 cases). This wine was aged 14 months in barrel (25% first fill French oak). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice, with a hint of cassis. It is juicy on the palate, with flavours of cherry, plum and spice. The tannins are long and ripe. 91.
Hainle Syrah 2020 ($38.99 for 99 cases). The wine was aged 12 months in barrel (50% new French oak). The wine begins with aromas of mint, fig and pepper. On the palate, it has the classic deli meats flavours mingled with dark fruits. 92.
Hainle Greetings 2020 ($48.99 for 99 cases). The blend is 39% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Syrah and 11% Cabernet Franc. The varietals were vinified separately and blended after six months for further aging in barrel. Total aging in barrel was 14 months (50% new French oak). The wine begins with aromas of spice, dark cherry, plum and fig. These are echoed on the bold palate where dark fruits mingle with savoury herbs. 91.
Hainle No. 72 2020 ($37.99 for 64 cases). This Charmat method sparkling wine is 56% Gamay, 44% Chardonnay. The wine, fermented in tank, was bottled January 6, 2021, rested 16 months on the lees and was disgorged on May 6, 2022. In the glass, the active mousse gives it a festive character. It has aromas of brioche and citrus, leading to flavours of green apple and lemon. Bright acidity is well-balanced with a touch of residual sugar. 92.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Haywire Winery emerges from the brand

Photo: Haywire winemaker Matt Dumayne with Christine Coletta (Jon Adrian photo
With a new six-wine release under the Haywire label, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has announced a major change in its business. “After years of running a successful custom crush business, we shepherd in a new era and say goodbye to our original business model and name by renaming our production facility to Haywire Winery,” founder Christine Coletta said in a statement. “In its 14-year-history of vintages, Haywire has grown from a tiny virtual wine to the anchor brand in our portfolio, with recognition across Canada and in Europe.”
The winery has several other brands, including Narrative, Free Form and Bijoux+Yukon, but the original Haywire brand dominates the portfolio. The senior winemaker, who joined in 2013, is New Zealand-born Matt Dumayne. The renamed winery has renovated its tasting room and will re-open it in April. As well, a tasting room has been developed on the winery’s 320-acre Garnet Valley property, where planting began in 2013. Garnet Valley is north of Summerland; the valley is parallel to Highway 97, on the west side of mountains. “We made wine on site [in Garnet Valley] from the 2022 vintage and hope to obtain our winery license in fall of 2023,” Christine says.
The winery owes its existence to an impulsive decision that Christine and partner Steve Lornie made in 2005 to buy a 10-acre orchard near Summerland. “We were growing Red Delicious and watery apricots for a year,” Christine told me in a 2010 interview. “The orchard was just a money pit. My husband said if we are going to have a money pit, we had better [grow something] that we can consume at the end of it. So we planted some grapes. Our original intention was just to be grape growers but as we got into it, we realized we had put so much work into the vineyard. We planted it ourselves with a crew. We thought we are this far into it, we might as well dive in all the way into the deep end.”
The first vintage, 165 cases of Pinot Gris, was made in 2009 under the Haywire brand. “It is a haywire thing,” Christine told me in 2010. “I should know better. Haywire is an old Canadianism. It is appropriate for our site, which is an old farm. We never intended to do this, so it is a little haywire.” The winery ramped up production quickly, to 4,500 cases in 2010 and 7,500 cases in 2011, the year that winery opened to the public. Because it was well-equipped, the winery also began offering custom crush services to other aspiring vintners. There are at least a dozen wineries now that got a start at Okanagan Crush Pad.
“There has been quite a lot of controversy around Okanagan Crush Pad, because we are doing publicly what other people are doing quietly,” Christine told me as the custom crush business was being launched. Some Okanagan producers believed that fledgling wineries should be required to invest first in their own vineyards and production facilities. “Steve and I had a meeting with Liquor Control and Licensing last week and there is nothing illegal with any part of what we are doing,” Christine told me.
Her recent statement does not explain the decision to stop making wine for clients. However, the dramatic expansion of wineries over the past decade has generated a number of other producers willing to take on clients until they have wineries of their own. As well, Christine and Steve have a lot more on their plates than they had in 2010. That includes managing close to 150 acres of organic vineyards. They began by transitioning the Switchback Vineyard (the original orchard) to organic production in 2011. All their own vineyards now are organic and, a few years ago, the winery stopped buying grapes that were not grown organically.
Here are notes on the new Haywire releases.
Haywire Pinot Gris 2021 Switchback Vineyard ($29.99). The fruit for this wine was fermented with natural yeast. The wine was aged 11 months in concrete with constant stirring of the lees. The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus with a bready lees note which are echoed on the palate. 90.
Haywire Chardonnay 2021 ($29.99). The fruit for this wine was fermented in concrete tanks with natural yeast, and aged on the lees. Lightly golden in hue, the wine has aromas of apple and citrus that are echoed on the rich palate. There are layers of fruit on the palate wrapped around a spine of minerality. 90.
Haywire Pink Bub 2021 ($29.99). This wine was made with old vine Pinot Blanc, with a touch of red wine to give it the pink hue. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented and aged in concrete. Secondary fermentation was in a Charmat tank. In the glass, the wine puts on a display of fine bubbles along with a festive pink hue. On the palate, flavours of pink apple mingle with raspberry. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.
Haywire Gamay Rosé 2021 ($25.99). The grapes for this wine were fermented with natural yeast in a combination of vessels – concrete, foudre and stainless steel tanks. It was aged seven months in tank. The colour is delicate with touches of rose petal and bronze. The fruity aroma leads to flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The texture is juicy. 90.
Haywire Gamay 2021 ($28.99). The grapes for this wine, with 75% whole cluster, were fermented in open-top tanks with twice daily punchdowns for four weeks. That gave the wine a dark hue and a firm weight. There are aromas and flavours of blackberry and dark cherry, with herbaceous notes on the lingering finish. 91.
Haywire Pinot Noir 2021 ($29.99). The fruit for this wine was drawn from four vineyards. The grapes, 50% whole cluster and 50% whole berry, were fermented with natural yeast for about four weeks before being basket pressed into concrete tanks and oak foudres for aging. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and strawberry, echoed deliciously on the silky palate. 91.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Blaufränkisch and friends at Mt. Boucherie

Photo: Blaufränkisch grapes, courtesy Austrian Wine Marketing Board
In mid-December, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board hosted a large panel of wine writers to a day-long tasting of wines made from the Blaufränkisch grape. The panel (which included Jancis Robinson MW) concluded that “Blaufränkisch is unanimously recognised as one of the world’s great red wine grape varieties because it ticks all the right boxes in terms of what we expect of an outstanding red wine, such as ageing potential, the expression of its terroir, complexity, distinctiveness and finesse.”
That will be good news to Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, believed to be the only British Columbia winery with Blaufränkisch in its portfolio. The varietal, which grows in Washington State under the name Lemberger, was planted in 1993 in the winery’s Lazy River Vineyard south of Cawston in the Similkameen. It is among the winery’s superb current releases. It is not one of the flagship wines but it certainly adds a note of interest to the range. The panel in Austria tasted more than 50 of the best Blaufränkisch wines from the 1986 to the 2020 vintages, produced by 17 different winegrowers. One outcome was a definition of the varietal: “Freshness and acidity combined with a precise fruitiness and tightly woven body. The aromas correspond to those of dark berries, together with a smoky spiciness and notes of dried herbs.”
While Mt. Boucherie’s wine likely was not among those available to the panel, the description certainly applies to the wine. Mt. Boucherie describes it as “a rare and unique medium-bodied wine that showcases notes of wild blueberries, sour cherries and baking spices.” Here are notes on that wine and the rest of the current releases from West Kelowna-based Mt. Boucherie:
Mt. Boucherie Reserve Chardonnay 2021 ($29.99). The fruit for this wine came from the winery’s Lazy River Vineyard near Cawston. The wine was aged for 13 months in French oak (50% new). The oak is well integrated in this full-bodied wine, which begins with aromas of citrus, apple and butter. On the palate, flavours of apple and peach are mingled with vanilla. The finish lingers. 91.
Mt. Boucherie Pinot Noir 2021 ($24.99). The fruit is from the Lazy River Vineyard. The wine was aged six months in French oak (15% new). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and pomegranate. On the medium-bodied palate, the wine delivers flavours pf strawberry and raspberry. The silky texture is appealing. 90.
Mt. Boucherie Blaufränkisch 2021 ($27.99). In Washington State, the varietal is called Lemberger. Mt. Boucherie has stayed with the original European name. This rare varietal (for BC) is from vine planted in 1993 in the Lazy River vineyard. Quite a fruity varietal, the wine begins with aromas of cherry and blueberry leading to juicy flavours of cherry and red plum. 90.
Mt. Boucherie Merlot 2020 ($24.99). This wine blends fruit from both the South Okanagan and the Similkameen. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak (15% new). It has aromas of cherry and cassis leading to flavours of cherry. Clove and a hint of leather and chocolate. 91.
Mt. Boucherie Reserve Merlot 2020 ($34.99). This wine, with fruit from vineyards in both the Okanagan and the Similkameen, was aged 14 months in French and American oak (25% new). The wine begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and spice. On the palate, it is full-bodied with flavours of cedar and dark fruits. Firm tannins suggest this wine should be aged another three to five years. Decant for consumption now. 92.
Mt. Boucherie Reserve Malbec 2019 ($44.99). The wine was made with fruit from the Lazy River Vineyard. It was aged 22 months in new French oak. There is a surprising hint of white pepper in the aroma, mingled with raspberry and cherry. Still firm on the palate, the wine has flavours of black currant, black cherry and spice. 91.
Mt. Boucherie Reserve Syrah 2020 ($49.99). The fruit for this wine is from both the Similkameen and South Okanagan valleys. The wine was aged 15 months in French and Hungarian oak (30% new). The wine begins with aromas of dark berries mingled with pepper. The meaty flavours on the palate include dark cherry, plum, leather and pepper. 92.
Mt. Boucherie Summit 2019 ($59.99). The fruit for this wine is from vineyards in the South Okanagan. The blend is 57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 9% Carménère, 5% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Syrah. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak (35% new). There are aromas and flavours of cassis, dark cherry, plum and spice. Long ripe tannins carry the wine to a lingering finish. 93.
Mt. Boucherie Contessa 2018 ($88.88). There is both South Okanagan and Similkameen fruit in this wine, which was aged 22 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (30% new). The blend is 38% Merlot, 32% Syrah, 23% Cabernet Franc, 5% Zinfandel and 2% Malbec. The wine invites you in with a rich aroma of plum. blueberry and dark cherry. There are layers of rich fruit on the palate: plum, blueberry, dark cherry mingled with spice and chocolate. The texture is polished and the finish is very long. 95.