Thursday, June 29, 2023

Burrowing Owl releases wines under three labels

Photo: Winery owner Jim Wyse with a burrowing owl (courtesy of Burrowing Owl Winery)
The current releases from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery illustrate the growing portfolio controlled by a producer that has been a cornerstone of Black Sage Road since opening in 1998.
The wines include a white under the Calliope label. As ornithologists know, Calliope is a name for a small humming bird native to the South Okanagan. The name was first applied to wine in 1999 when winemakers Ross and Cherie Mirko launched that label. It was still a virtual winery a decade later when they decided to move to New Zealand, Cherie’s native land and shut down the business. Burrowing Owl founder Jim Wyse, who had already telegraphed his interest in birds by naming his winery for an owl, purchased the Calliope label. He resuscitated the label and the wines as an avenue for budget-friendly wines usually made with varietals not grown by Burrowing Owl.
The other label in the current releases from Burrowing Owl is Wild Goose Vineyards, an Okanagan Falls winery launched by the Kruger family and opened in 1990. After founder Adolf Kruger’s death in 2016, the family decided to sell the winery. Unfortunately, that sale went sour, leading to a court-ordered auction of Wild Goose in 2021. The winning bidder was Burrowing Owl.
The wineries are remarkably complementary. Wild Goose is best known for its white wines and its moderate price points. Burrowing Owl established itself from the start as a luxury brand winery with a well-deserved reputation for red wines. Of course, Burrowing Owl makes some white wines and Wild Goose has some reds in its line. But there is not much overlap between the portfolios – and there is a lot to like in all of them. Here are notes.
Burrowing Owl Viognier 2020 ($40). Some 75% of the juice was fermented in barrel; the rest was fermented in stainless steel and the blended wine with aged in French oak (15% new). The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, apricot and peach. The rich, expressive palate delivers flavours of guava and stone fruit with a very long finish. 93.
Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($43). The wine was fermented in stainless steel but aged 18 months in barrel (62% French, 27% Hungarian and 11% American). Thirty percent of the barrels were new, 50% one- and two-years old; and the remaining 20% were neutral barrels. This intense wine begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherry and spice. The palate is rich, with flavours of dark fruits. The texture and the ripe tannins display the classic balance of 2020, a superb Okanagan vintage. 93.
Burrowing Owl Meritage 2019 ($53). The blend is 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. The varietals were aged separately for 15 months in 97% French oak and 3% American oak; 75% of the barrels were new. The best barrels were selected, blended, and aged another three months before bottling. The aromas and flavours are intense: plum, black currant, dark cherry, cedar and spice. 94.
Wild Goose Pinot Gris 2022 ($19.99). Eighty-five percent of this wine was fermented and aged three months in stainless steel; the other 15% was fermented and aged in barrel before the final blend was made. The wine begins with aromas of pear and cantaloupe. On the palate, there are flavours of pear, nectarine and citrus. 91.
Wild Goose Gewürztraminer 2022 ($17.99). This full-flavoured wine begins with aromas of spice and orange zest. The palate is packed with flavours of lychee and peach mingled with ginger. The finish is slightly off-dry but a balancing acidity. The texture is rich and the finish is long. 90.
Wild Goose Riesling 2021 ($19.99). This wine was fermented and aged five months in stainless steel before bottling. It begins with a classic note of petrol mingled with lemon, leading to flavours of lemon and lime, peach and pear. A touch of residual sweetness balanced with bright acidity gives the wine a full texture. 90.
Wild Goose Autumn Gold 2022 ($19.99). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc, vinified separately and aged six months before blending and bottling. Aromas of pear mingle with cantaloupe. The palate is slightly off-dry with flavours of peach and pink grapefruit. The finish lingers. 91.
Wild Goose Merlot 2020 ($25.99). The wine was fermented and aged 16 months in oak barrels (58% French, 34% American and 8% Hungarian). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherry. Firm on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of dark cherry and black currant mingled with leather and dark chocolate. 91.
Wild Goose Cabernet Merlot 2020 ($23.99). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with a splash of Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 14 months in mostly neutral French oak barrels. Aromas of cassis, cherry and blueberry jump from the glass, leading to flavours of cherry and plum. Long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying weight and length on the palate. 91.
Wild Goose Red Horizon 2020 ($31.99). The blend is 58% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Dunkelfelder, 5% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc. The varietals were vinified separately and aged 16 months in barrel (75% American, 25% French) before being blended and bottled. The Dunkelfelder is a German grape often used in blends for its deep colour; that would have been its role here. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and dark fruits. On the palate, the wine is fleshy with flavours of plum jam mingled with blueberry compote and a hint of sweet tobacco on the finish. 91.
Calliope Figure 8 White 2022 ($17.99). This is a blend of 57% Sauvignon Blanc, 23% Gewürztraminer, 15% Riesling and 5% Viognier. Each varietal was vinified separately, aged two months in stainless steel and was then blended. The wine begins with aromas of herbs, spice and lime. The zesty flavours mingle lime, green apple and stone fruit. The finish is bright and refreshing, with a hint of mint. Very good value. 90.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Bartier Bros. adds a sparkling wine to the portfolio

Photo: Winemaker Michael Bartier
The wine-industry verity that “it’s all about the dirt” is nowhere more obvious than at Bartier Bros. The winery’s 14½-acre Cerqueira Vineyard produces wines with complex flavours with a spine of minerality. The vineyard is on the Black Sage Terrace’s gravel bar where the last glacier, as it was retreating 10,000 years ago, laid down a calcium-rich layer of gravel. The vineyard was planted in the early to mid-2000s with Sémillon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. It began selling fruit to Township 7 when Michael Bartier was the winemaker there.
“I loved the grapes and coveted the property,” Michael says. When the Cerqueira family’s contract with Township 7 ended, they offered it to Michael and his older brother, Don, when Michael began making wine for the brothers’ label in 2009. Subsequently, the brothers bought the vineyard. They were both born in the Okanagan Valley, Donald in 1958 and Michael in 1967, the sons of an accountant, and initially pursued careers outside of the valley. Don, an Alberta oil-industry executive, planted a small Gewürztraminer vineyard at Summerland in 2010. Michael, after getting a degree in recreational administration and working five years with a Victoria wine agency, returned to the Okanagan to start his winemaking career at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards in 1995. Over the next two decades, he made wine at Township 7, Road 13, and Okanagan Crush Pad, as well as providing consulting work with other wineries. The brothers began selling their wines in 2011, establishing the winery and tasting room after buying the coveted Cerqueira Vineyard in 2015.
The current releases indicate that, as the winery’s sales have grown, Michael has dipped into his industry contacts to buy grapes beyond what Cerqueira can provide. There are wines here with grapes from the Similkameen Valley, from the north Okanagan and from the Naramata Bench, no doubt from growers proud to see their grapes in Bartier wines. Here are notes.
Bartier Bros. Brut NV ($34.99). This is a traditional method sparkling wine made with Chardonnay, with grapes from 2019 and subsequent vintages. The wine was aged in stainless steel for four months and then was en tirage on the yeast lees a minimum of 12 months. It is a wine that wants to be consumed; the cork shot out with an explosive pop as soon as the cage was taken off. The bubbles are active. The wine has aromas of brioche, echoed on the palate. The mousse gives the wine a creamy texture on entry but the finish is dry. 91.
Bartier Bros. Chardonnay 2022 ($24.99 for 451 cases). This is a fruit-forward Chardonnay fermented and aged four months in stainless steel. It has aromas and flavours of apple, peach and citrus with bright acidity to give the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. 90.
Bartier Bros. Sémillon 2022 ($22.99 for 327 cases). This is a rare example of a single varietal Sémillon from the Okanagan. It begins with honeyed aromas of apricot. The palate delivers flavours of stone fruit and melon with a lingering minerality on the dry finish. I recommend aging this wine for several years to bring out all of its complexity. 91.
Bartier Bros. Riesling Grüner Veltliner 2022 ($29.99 for 219 cases). The blend is 56% Riesling, 44% Grüner Veltliner. The varietals compliment each other well, with the Grüner adding texture to the lean Riesling. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and fermented cool in stainless steel, followed by two months aging in stainless. The wine begins with aromas of melon and grapefruit. The palate delivers flavours of stone fruit wrapped around a spine of minerality. The dry finish lingers. 92.
Bartier Bros. Rosé 2022 ($18.99 for 3,092 cases). The volume tells us how popular rosé has become. The blend is 51% Gewürztraminer, 45% Chardonnay and two per cent each of Merlot and Pinot Noir. The two white varietals were fermented in stainless steel while the Merlot and Pinot Noir were fermented on the skins for 19 days before pressing and blending. The reds contributed a light salmon colour to the wine, which begins with aromas of watermelon and rose petals. The fruity but dry palate delivers flavours of pink grapefruit. 90.
Bartier Bros. Pinot Noir Rosé 2022 ($24.99 for 215 cases). The wine, which is salmon pink in hue, was aged four months on yeast lees in stainless steel. The wine begins with delicate aromas of strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry and citrus, leading to a crisp, dry finish. 91
Bartier Bros. Merlot 2021 ($25.99 for 520 cases). This wine, with grapes from the winery’s estate vineyard (Cerqueira) on the Black Sage Terrace, was fermented with cultured yeast and aged 15 months on neutral French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry and minerals, leading to flavours of blueberry and cherry. There are long, ripe tannins with a persistent finish. 90.
Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2021 ($29.99 for 1,098 cases). This wine is 92% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot. It was fermented in five- and ten-ton open top fermenters with cultured yeast. After a 24-day maceration, it was aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. The wine presents a rich and concentrated texture with the flavours of blackberry and plum echoing the aromas. There is an appealing sweetness to the fruit. 92.
Bartier Bros. Pinot Noir 2021 ($39.99 for 172 cases). The grapes, from a Naramata vineyard, were destemmed (15% of the clusters remained whole) and crushed into one-ton fermenters for fermentation and maceration of 18 days. The wine was aged 17 months in neutral French oak. It is a bright and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of cherries. 91.
Bartier Bros. Grenache Syrah 2021 ($44.99 for 222 cases). The blend is 61% Grenache (from Cawston in the Similkameen Valley) and 39% Syrah from the Black Sage Terrace. The Grenache was destemmed into one-ton open-top fermenters while the Syrah was destemmed into a four-ton oak fermenter. Fermentation temperatures were allowed to rise. Average maceration time was 23 days. The colour is dark. The wine begins with aromas of plum and dark cherry. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of dark fruits mingled with a slight hint of pepper and deli spices. The tannins are ripe and the finish does not want to quit. 94.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Nota Bene 2021 is released

Photo: Black Hills winemaker Ross Wise
Ross Wise MW, the winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery, provided an intriguing cellaring guide for the winery’s iconic Nota Bene with the release of the blend from the 2021 vintage. He makes recommendations for every vintage except the first, which was 1999, likely because there is none left in the Black Hills library. In my 2017 book, ICON, I wrote that the wine, which I had tasted on release and in 2013, 2015 and 2016, was fully mature.
Ross’s recommendations on how long older Nota Bene wines should be cellared suggests this Bordeaux blend has a longer life than I believed. The tasting notes I was relying on for the book reflected the general reluctance in the wine industry at the time to recommend aging Okanagan red wines more than 10 years. We have come to learn since that, with good storage conditions, well-made wines will last 20 to 25 years. “Nota Bene is an excellent candidate for cellaring,” Ross writes. “Bordeaux grape varieties provide complexity of fruit and a dense tannin structure that can withstand time. Our low vigour vineyards on the Black Sage Bench produce wines of concentration and intensity essential for long-lived wines.” He continues: “While each vintage has a differing cellaring potential, many retain freshness of fruit beyond 15 years. At a recent tasting our 2000 Nota Bene was a standout, showing that cellaring beyond 20 years is possible, and that it pays to be patient with Nota Bene.” He recommends that the 2000 vintage can be cellared another three years.
“Cellaring conditions are key,” Ross adds. “The ideal cellar will allow horizontal storage in a cool, dark area, away from nose and vibration and with a steady temperature of 12◦C.” The ideal cellar is rare. But from experience, I can attest that a cellar which is dark and does not have wide swings in temperature over the year is serviceable. It may lop a few years off a wine’s cellaring potential – but how many of us wait 25 years to drink a wine? While Nota Bene is best laid down for at least five years, it is a wine that is also drinkable shortly after release. Ross writes that the 2020 vintage can be enjoyed now but also can be cellared until 2045. It depends whether you prefer wines showing primary fruit flavours or wines showing secondary and tertiary development.
There likely were few vintages in the history of Nota Bene as challenging as 2021. The summer was marked by the heat dome, with record temperatures that concentrated the berry flavours but also diminished yields. The harvest began three weeks earlier than the 2020 harvest. Black Hills does not disclose the volume of Nota Bene but one can surmise it was less than usual. Collectors should not delay ordering their wine. Here is a note on the wine. The winery offered no cellaring recommendation but I think it has a potential to age 15 to 20 years.
Nota Bene 2021 ($70). The blend is 42% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The grapes were destemmed, fermented with wild yeast and aged 18 months in lightly toasted French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and spice. The somewhat grippy texture opens with breathing to reveal bright red fruit flavours mingled with cassis and licorice, refreshed with bright acidity. 93.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Township 7's Polaris and friends

Photo: winemaker Mary McDermott
These three excellent wines were released by Township 7 Vineyards & Winery in April. My reviews were delayed by a sudden outpouring of spring releases from BC wineries. In any event, the two reserve wines were released to Township 7’s loyal – and dare I say pampered – wine club. Polaris, the sparkling wine, is available at Township 7’s two wineries (in Penticton and in South Langley).
Township 7 released its first sparkling wine in 2001 and, with winemaker Mary McDermott, has emerged as a leading producer of elegant sparkling wines. The winery’s first sparking wine, now called Polaris, was then called Seven Stars. seven stars has now become the brand for Township 7’s portfolio of sparkling wines. Polaris is now the only one of these wines available to the general public. The rest, along with Polaris, are delivered exclusively through the seven stars wine club, whose members can get a shipment of six bottles twice a year. This is one of the very few wine clubs in Canada dedicated just to sparkling wine.
Mike Raffan, Township 7’s general manager and the winery’s former owner, wanted to launch a sparkling wine program as soon as he became involved with Township 7. “When I bought the winery in 2006, I wanted to do more sparkling,” he says. “We had an unusual site in Langley. I always wanted to do something but it never worked out.” In 2014, he got an offer he “could not refuse” from businessman Ge Song whose deep pockets have enabled Township 7 to expand its winery, invest in vineyards, hire winemaker Mary McDermott and launch the sparkling wine project in 2015. “In 2014, when we hired Mary, she had the experience, the knowledge and mostly the passion about sparkling wines,” Mike recalls. “That was part of our first interview. It was not primarily why she was hired but, as it turns out, we were able to start the project in 2015.”
Mary McDermott became passionate about sparkling wines while taking WSET courses and working as a sommelier in Ontario. “I loved sparkling - it is one of my favourites,” she says. “When I started full time in wineries, I worked at Cave Springs Cellars [near St. Catharines]. They had a small sparkling program there and I got my hands dirty, because I worked fulltime in the cellars then. I moved from Cave Springs to Trius and took over the Trius program, which is much larger. It kept going from there.” She continues: “I always really enjoyed sparkling wine. The process is quite different than making other wines. There is a lot more patience required. You have to be aware of all the things that are happening with the ferments … how the grapes are coming in, how they are grown. It takes a little more attention to detail when you are making it. It was challenging for me and I like that. That’s where all that passion comes from.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($31.97 for 300 cases). This wine was fermented in French oak barrels (15% new, 85% neutral) and aged for seven months. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The palate has lively tropical fruit flavours mingled with vanilla and toasty oak. The finish lingers. This is an elegant and complex wine. 93.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve Chardonnay 2021 ($31.97 for 145 cases). This wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak (28% new) with hand stirring for eight weeks to increase lees contact and round out the texture. It was then aged in barrel for 12 months before being bottled. The wine begins with aromas of cloves, apple and toasty oak. The texture is rich and creamy, with flavours of stone fruit and vanilla. 93.
Township 7 seven stars Polaris 2019 ($39.97 for 5,100 bottles). This is a traditional method blanc de blancs made with Chardonnay. The wine was en tirage for 21 months before being disgorged. It aged in bottle a further nine months before release. The wine presents with a good display of bubbles and bready aromas mingled with citrus. On the palate, flavours of green apple mingle with bready notes. The mousse gives the wine an initial creamy texture that leads to a crisp and lingering finish. 91.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Clos du Soleil's 2023 spring releases

Photo: Clos du Soleil managing director Michael Clark
One of the most entertaining wine books by a Canadian author was Champagne is for Breakfast by the late George Bain. The book, published in 1972, is out of print but turns up occasionally in used bookstores. Michael Clark, the winemaker and managing director at Clos du Soleil Winery, once told me that he read the book when he was 10 years old. “I don’t know of other children who loved to read wine books,” he said. He was born in the same year that the book was published.
Initially he pursued a career as an investment banker, latterly in Switzerland where he began formal studies in winemaking in 2010 and where he worked at Swiss and Bordeaux wineries. On returning to Canada, he completed the rigorous University of California enology program online while identifying Clos du Soleil as the winery where he could make his mark in British Columbia. “Winemaking is such a blend of science and art,” he said. “That is what draws most people to it, including myself.” In the decade or so since Michael joined the partnership that had launched this Similkameen winery in 2006, he has certainly made his mark. The winery, which owned just the 10 acre-estate vineyard when he joined, has since purchased or developed three more Similkameen vineyards and now farms about 30 acres. Clos du Soleil has also won a number of top awards for its wines, including several at the prestigious Decanter competition in London.
Here are notes on current releases.
Clos du Soleil Pinot Gris 2022 ($24.90 for 1,078 cases). This wine went through a long, cool ferment in stainless steel barrels, tanks and French oak puncheons. It was aged on the lees for three months. There are aromas and flavours of pear and apple wrapped around a spine of minerality. 91.
Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2022 ($24.90 for 1,239 cases). This is 69% Sauvignon Blanc and 31% Sémillon. The varietals were fermented separately after a two-hour skin contact. The long, slow ferment was done in stainless steel tanks and French oak puncheons. The wine begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. That is echoed on the palate, along with flavours of guava and grapefruit. The wine has a crisp and bright finish. 92.
Clos du Soleil Rosé 2022 ($28.90 for 268 cases). This is 91% Malbec, 9% Sauvignon Blanc, co-fermented. The grapes were destemmed, crushed lightly and soaked under dry ice for four hours before being pressed and then fermented cool in stainless steel. The wine presents in the glass with a lovely rose petal hue and with aromas of strawberries and pomegranate. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and watermelon with a hint of citrus on the dry finish. 91.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2020 ($55.90 for 743 cases). The blend is 34% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. The grapes, after being gently destemmed, were fermented in concrete tanks with indigenous yeast and then aged in French oak barrels for 16 months. Only the best barrels were selected for this, the flagship red at Clos du Soleil. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, blackberry, raspberry and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant mingled with cherry and raspberry. On the finish, there are hints of spice and minerality. 94.