Monday, July 31, 2023

Mayhem now has its own tasting room

Photo: Mayhem's Terry Meyer Stone
After several years as a virtual winery, Mayhem Wines this summer opened its own tasting room next to the McLean Creek Road wineshop of Meyer Family Vineyards. This unusual location is possible because Mayhem is a collaboration between siblings Terry Meyer Stone and her brother, JAK Meyer, and their spouses, Andrew Stone and Janice Stevens. While the two tasting rooms are merely steps from each other, the portfolios are distinctively different because JAK and his sister decided there was no point competing against each other.
Mayhem, thus, offers wines in cans as well as in conventional bottles. Cans work with the informal personality that Mayhem cultivates with its consumers. They would not suit the buttoned down image that Meyer has established with its premium Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
Mayhem also has its own winemaker, Ajay Chavan. The biography on Mayhem’s website reveals that Ajay was born in Australia and grew up in New Zealand. “After receiving a cricket scholarship out of secondary school, he completed the Oenology program at Lincoln University in Christchurch, NZ,” the biography continues. “Ajay did his first winemaking vintage in 2012, followed by harvest in Austria, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. Ajay set his sights on BC to discover more about this young wine region and be closer to family in the Pacific Northwest.”
He worked four years at CheckMate Artisanal Winery before joining Mayhem. “He loves Merlot, Riesling and fortified wines and is delighted to work with these varieties, along with others,” the biography says. Mayhem provides all the scope he needs.
Here are notes on the wines.
Mayhem Pinot Gris 2022 ($18.36 for 305 cases). The fruit for this wine was whole-bunch pressed and fermented in stainless steel for 10 weeks at cool temperatures. Before finishing fermentation, 16% of the wine was transferred to seasoned barrels to build texture. The wine was aged five months on its fine lees before blending and bottling. The wine begins with aromas of pear, citrus and apple. That leads to flavours of pear, peach and honeydew melon mingled with spice on a crisp and refreshing finish. 91.
Mayhem Riesling 2022 ($20.97 for 211 cases). The fruit for this wine was picked in late October from 19-year-old vines on the Naramata Bench. The long hang time yielded a wine packed with flavour. Fermentation in stainless steel was stopped when the wine still had 17.55 grams of residual sugar. That was cleverly balanced with 11 grams of acidity. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of lemon and lime. That is echoed on the palate, mingled with grapefruit and a surprising saltiness. The wine is delicious, with a long, long finish. 91.
Mayhem Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($20.97 for 358 cases). The fruit, from a Naramata Bench vineyard, was whole-bunch pressed and the juice was fermented very cool for eight weeks in stainless steel (with seven percent in seasoned oak to add texture). The wine begins with muted aromas of lime mingled with herbs. The winery says it reminds them of New Zealand; it reminds me of Sancerre, with rich, ripe flavours of grapefruit. 88.
Mayhem Anarchy Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($25.32 for 140 cases). The fruit for this is from the Hillview Vineyard on Naramata Bench. It was whole cluster-pressed, and undertook a cool 12-week fermentation before being transferred to seasoned oak barrels (85%) and stainless steel barrels (15%) to complete fermentation. Aromas of lime and lemongrass leap from the glass and are echoed in the flavours. Bright acidity gives the wine a zesty finish. 91.
Mayhem Rosé 2022 ($20.97 for 175 cases). This wine is made with Merlot from an Oliver area vineyard. The grapes were crushed directly into the press and the wine was fermented slowly for 11 weeks and then aged on the lees for six months in stainless steel (92%) and neutral oak (8%). The wine presents with an appealing salmon pink hue. It begins with aromas of strawberries leading to flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. The texture is juicy but the finish is crisp and dry. 91.
Mayhem Sparkling White 2022 ($88.32 for 12 250 ml cans; 134 flats produced. The blend here is based on Chardonnay. The bubbles contribute to the refreshing flavour and texture of this wine which has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. Perfect picnic wine. 88.
Mayhem Sparkling Rosé 2022 ($88.32 for 12 250 ml cans; 182 flats produced). The wine has an appealing rose petal hue. The bubbles are more perceptible on the palate than to the eye. The wine, made predominantly with Merlot, has aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. Another perfect picnic wine. 88.
Mayhem Cabernet Merlot 2021 ($24.44 for 425 cases). The wine, which was aged 11 months in neutral oak barrels, is a blend of 87% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc. It begins with toasty aromas that are mingled with dark cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry, blackberry and cassis. 88.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Meyer wines that are easy on the budget

Photo: Winery proprietor JAK Meyer
The early summer releases from Meyer Family Vineyards feature four of the winery’s most affordable wines. Since Meyer specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you might ask what is a Gewürztraminer doing here? That varietal, along with several others, was already growing in the McLean Creek Road vineyard near Okanagan Falls when JAK Meyer bought the property in 2009. He had been planning to build a winery on a Naramata Road Chardonnay vineyard when the Okanagan Falls property became available in a bankruptcy sale.
The McLean Creek Road vineyard was redeveloped with a tight focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, a block of Gewürztraminer has been retained because the vines are old and because there is a following for the Alsace style crafted by winemaker Chris Carson.
Here are notes on the wines.
Meyer Gewürztraminer 2022 ($17.48 for 450 cases). Fruit for this wine is from a 1994 planting on the estate vineyard. This wine begins with aromas of lemon mingled with ginger, echoed on the richly textured palate. The wine has a dry finish. 90.
Meyer Okanagan Valley Chardonnay 2022 ($20.96 for 2,000 cases). This wine was partially fermented with wild yeast. It was aged six months in stainless steel (80%) and in neutral oak (20%). The result is a fruit-forward Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of peach and apple. 89.
Meyer Rosé 2022 ($20.96 for 377 cases). This flavour-packed rosé is made with Pinot Noir, with 80% of the juice extracted by the saignée method after 12 hours of skin contact. The wine presents boldly in the glass with a dark pink hue, appealing to this of us who dislike the fashion of anaemic-hued rosés. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. 90.
Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2022 ($24.43 for 2,800 cases). The fruit for this wine was drawn from four vineyards in the central and southern Okanagan. The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels and puncheons before bottling. It begins with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blackberries. On the palate, the wine is juicy, with flavours of cherries and spice; and with a silky texture. This is a quaffable Pinot Noir. 90.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Lariana Cellars adds more vineyard

Photo: Lariana proprietors Carol and Dan Scott
The many fans of Lariana Cellars will happy to learn that this tiny Osoyoos winery has found room to plant more vineyard. “It was nice to get those plants into the ground,” says Dan Scott, who operates the winery with his wife, Carol. “Unfortunately, it won’t help us with wine sales until 2029, before that wine hits the market,” he adds with a rueful smile.
The winery and its vineyard are tucked against the Canada-U.S. border, just east of the Customs and Immigration yard. Visitors to Lariana need be alert enough to bear left just before driving into the yard and getting involved with border officers instead of winery owners. Dan and Carol, who built the winery in 2012, took over this 10-acre property in 1989 from her parents, who had been operating an orchard and a lakeside recreational vehicle park since 1968. They replaced the fruit trees on the upper part of the property with vineyard in 2007. However, they continued to run the RV park until two years ago when they closed it to develop more vineyard. “We have done it for 33 years and we just got tired of it,” Dan says. “There was so much more to do here at the winery and in the vineyard that we decided to get rid of one job, instead of having two jobs.”
The former RV park was contoured to create a southwest-exposed vineyard slope running down to the shore of Osoyoos Lake. This spring, they planted about an acre and a half with 1,900 Cabernet Sauvignon vines and 600 Carménère, complementing varietals already producing on the upper half of the property. About half to three-quarters of an acre remains to be planted next year, at which time they will have seven acres under vine. The largest block is Cabernet Sauvignon, with Carménère and Viognier making up the rest. “We have got the heat,” Carol says of the property. “We know we can grow those varieties here.” They buy Syrah, Merlot and additional Viognier from another Osoyoos grower, grapes that are needed to complete Lariana’s blends.
The winery’s total production hovers around 2,000 cases a year, give or take a few hundred cases. Lariana’s wine club and its restaurant clients snap up most of the wines. For that reason, there are no formal tasting room hours; however, the Scotts are always hospitable to casual visitors. The wines are worth searching out. They are made under the guidance of consulting winemaker Senka Tennant, formerly the winemaker who created the Nota Bene cult wine at Black Hills Estate Winery.
The portfolio is tight and disciplined. The Viognier, fermented primarily in concrete eggs, is one of the Okanagan’s best examples of that varietal. There are three red wines – a Carménère, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and the flagship blend which changes its name each vintage. The debut 2012 vintage was called Twelve, followed by Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, and so on, through Twenty, which will be released this fall. During my visit to Lariana this summer, I was also able to taste barrel samples of three wines from 2021: the Carménère, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the blend which, presumably, will be released as Twenty-One.
Here are notes on the wines.
Lariana Viognier 2022 ($29 for 450 cases). This is a stunning wine. Aromas of stone fruit jump from the glass and lead to flavours of pineapple, peach and melon. The bright acidity of the vintage leads to a refreshing finish. 95.
Lariana Carménère 2020 ($55). This is a concentrated wine, beginning with aromas of cherry and red currants mingled with white pepper. These are echoed on the palate. The finish is long. 94. Lariana Carménère 2021 (Not yet released). Again, a wine with a concentrated texture. There are aromas of cherry and spice, with flavours of fig and plum mingled with white pepper. 93. Lariana Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 (Not yet released). This is bold wine, with aromas of black currants and figs that are echoed richly on the palate. 94.
Lariana Twenty 2020 (Release autumn 2023). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Syrah. This is a concentrated wine which will need decanting if opened this fall; the structure suggests the wine will age superbly. Now, it displays aromas and flavours of plum, fig, black currant and dark chocolate. 94 Lariana Twenty-One 2021 (For release in fall 2024). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Syrah. It is a generous wine with aromas of black currant and rich flavours of plum, fig and black cherry. 95.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Component winemaking at French Door

Photo: Winemaker Bree Tour
Bree Toor, the associate winemaker at French Door Estate Winery near Oliver, describes herself as a “component winemaker.” “It is like cooking,” she says. “You have a full spice rack with options.”
Her approach is usually laid out in the technical descriptions of how she puts wines together. Typical is her note on the vinification of a blended white wine called Lys, made with 71% Viognier, 21% Riesling and 8% Sémillon. “When creating this blend,” the note reads, “each varietal was handled with care. The Viognier was split into three separate ferments to build complexity. The grapes were placed into two stainless steel tanks and four neutral French oak barrels. The Viognier was then fermented at 19◦ Celsius to develop pear notes and to ensure a longer ferment. The barrels were stirred twice a week during fermentation. Simultaneously, the Sémillon was pressed directly into neutral French oak barrels with no stirring, while the Riesling was put into stainless steel tanks at 18◦ Celsius to maintain all of the grape’s phenolics. Once each wine was fermented separately, they were blended … in stainless steel tanks, and the wine was aged on lees until bottling.” That seems like a lot of work for a product the winery sells for $26 a bottle. But since all of French Door’s wines involve comparable detailed winemaking, Bree Toor seems to have been given a mandate from winery owner Jason Shull to make the best wines she can and let him worry about the economics.
While some of French Door’s wines are aggressively priced, they always deliver good quality. The winery opened in 2020 with Pascal Madevon, the legendary winemaking consultant in the Okanagan, making the initial wines before Bree was recruited to be the hands-on winemaker. Initially, winemaking was not her chosen career. Raised on an Alberta ranch, she went to Europe after high school to travel, financing her travels by working in bars and in vineyards in Italy. Returning to Canada, she earned a political science degree from the University of Victoria. She worked in finance for a while before decided she really wanted a career in wine, initially as a sommelier. She has taken the Wine & Spirits Education Trust courses, chemistry courses and then the on-line enology courses from the University of California at Davis. She also did a harvest in Australia’s McLaren Vale with Peter Fraser at Yangarra Estate Vineyard.
On returning to Canada, she spent several years at Blue Grouse Vineyards, mentoring in the vineyard and the winery with Blue Grouse winemaker Bailey Williamson before moving to take on the winemaking challenge at French Door. “It is tough coming in as the winemaker when the portfolio is set up,” she says. “It was tough for me to make a wine [Merlot] to sell for over $70. I had to make sure I was doing what I could in order to deliver a product close to that market value.” I would suggest she is delivering. Here are notes on the wines.
French Door Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($34). This is another example of component winemaking. The grapes for this wine were picked twice: an early pick to lock in bright acidity and a later pick to lock in rich flavours. The juice was pressed into both neutral French oak barrels and stainless-steel barrels. Two barrels were fermented with natural yeast while the rest were inoculated with cultured yeast. Malolactic fermentation was allowed in the oak barrels but not in the steel barrels. The wine aged five or six months before being bottled. The result is a complex wine with herbs, lime and tropical fruits in the aromas and on the palate. 91.
French Door Chardonnay 2021 ($40). This is an elegant wine, with butter and vanilla aromas mingled with flavours of nectarine, melon, and apple. The oak – the wine was aged both in oak and on the lees in stainless steel – is well integrated. 92.
French Door Rosé 2022 ($32). The blend is 56% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre and 9% Cinsault. Each varietal was fermented separately and kept on the lees three weeks before being blended. The wine presents with a delicate salmon pink hue and aromas of raspberry and watermelon. The palate delivers a medley of fruit flavours including pomegranate and watermelon. The finish is crisp. 92.
French Door Fleur 2022 ($34). The blend is 74% Gamay, 16% Pinot Noir and 10% saignée juice from Gamay. Think of this as a Beaujolais Nouveau with added complexity gained from Bree’s component winemaking. She has two lots of Gamay – one from a vineyard in East Kelowna and one from a vineyard in Osoyoos. The process involves some whole whole-cluster fermentation with six days of full carbonic maceration before yeast inoculation. This a light-bodied red with aromas of cranberry and cherry. On the palate, there is a medley of flavours: cherry and raspberry with an earthy note on the finish. 91.
French Door Malbec 2021 ($62 for 140 cases). Bree builds components into this wine with several picks, to lock in acidity and flavours. Fermentation temperatures were allowed to reach 30◦C to build both the tannin stricture and the colour. Free-run wine was racked into spicy Siruge toast oak barrels while the press wine was aged in neutral oak. Total barrel aging was 14 months. This is a dark, concentrated with the perfumed spicy aromas of the varietal. There are dark fruit flavours, including cherry and blueberry. 91.
French Door Cabernet Franc 2021< ($60 for 25 cases). The winery employed whole-berry fermentation with this wine, which was then aged 14 months in barrel. The wine begins with a complex and appealing medley of aromas: black cherry, blackberry, leather, spice and chocolate. The intense flavours display notes of spicy, dark berries with hints of leather and chocolate. 93.
French Door Merlot 2021 ($78 for 140 cases). The wine was fermented at 30◦C to build tannins structure and colour; and was aged 14 months in French oak barrels. The eight best barrels were selected for this super-premium Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of plum, black cherry and cassis, leading to a concentrated texture with flavours of dark fruit, black olives and spice. 93.
French Door Syrah 2021 ($50 for 25 cases). This wine was available just to members of the wine club. The wine, with 10% Viognier in the blend, was aged 14 months in French oak. It is a classic Black Sage Bench Syrah, packed with ripe berry aromas and flavours mingled with mocha and white pepper. 92.
French Door Héritage 2020 ($54). The blend is 41% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Syrah, 6% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black cherry and black currant. It is rich in texture, with flavours of black cherry and black currants mingled with chocolates. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a lingering finish. There is enough grip to suggest the wine will cellar well. 94.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

CheckMate's new winemaker releases 2020 Merlots

Photo: CheckMate general manager and chief winemaker Spencer Kelly
Penticton-born winemaker Spencer Kelly has taken over one of the most coveted cellars in the Okanagan, that of CheckMate Artisanal Winery. He replaces Philip McGahan, the Australian winemaker who was recruited from a Sonoma winery in 2012 to launch CheckMate as a producer of premium Chardonnay and Merlot in the family of wineries controlled by Anthony von Mandl. Philip returned to his native Australia for family reasons in December 2020. After several years of long-distance winemaking with CheckMate’s assistant winemakers, Philip decided to stay in Australia at the end of 2022.
“I definitely miss many aspects of working at CheckMate,” he told me in a recent email. “It really was my dream job. Alas, family life intervened.” The 2020 Merlots now being released by CheckMate represent the last Okanagan vintage in which Philip was fully hands on. By happy coincidence, it was one of the strongest Okanagan vintages this century. Philip is now in the King Valley, in Northeast Victoria, as chief executive and chief winemaker of King Valley Wines. It is a contract winemaking facility at Whitfield, in a region that has had several waves of Italian immigrants. “It was Australia's main tobacco growing area and is nestled in the foothills of the Victorian high country,” Philip recounts. “As tobacco declined in the 1970s, the Italian families diversified into grapevines and eventually Italian varieties. It is now Australia's premium region for Italian varietals, which is what we focus on.”
Like Philip, Spencer Kelly brings California winemaking experience to CheckMate, having worked almost a decade at Eisele Vineyard, a Napa Valley winery so highly regarded that there is a waiting list for purchasing its wines. Born in 1985, Spencer’s interest in wine flourished while working in VQA wine stores as he was getting a degree in food sciences at the University of British Columbia. On graduating in 2008, he began his winemaking career in the Similkameen Valley. He interned with Lawrence Herder at the Herder Winery and then became the winemaker at EauVivre Winery, one of Herder’s consulting clients. Deciding he needed more professional training, Spencer enrolled in the two-year viticulture and winemaking program at Fresno State University in California (where Lawrence Herder had also trained), graduating in 2012. Except for working a harvest in Australia’s Coonawarra region, Spencer pursued a winemaking career in the Napa Valley, including eight years at Eisele.
A historic Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard near Calistoga, Eisele has been owned since 2013 by Artemis Domaines, a French company which owns such distinguished producers as Château Latour. “It was a tremendous company but I had always had my eye on coming back to the Okanagan,” Spencer says. “I stayed in touch with friends. When I was made aware of this opportunity [at CheckMate], it seemed like a perfect fit. I could be back in my home region.” He joined CheckMate in January, 2023. “I had managed to keep tabs on things [in the Okanagan],” Spencer says. “I have some friends working in the wine business that I have stayed close with when I was working in California. And I was always coming back once or twice a year, seeing what’s new, and trying wines.”
He was attracted particularly to CheckMate because the winery has access to exceptional vineyards in the South Okanagan. As well, the winery itself has been completely renovated during the last several years. “You are able to work quite well when you have all the necessary tools,” he observes. He does not anticipate the need to change much at CheckMate, where the wines already are among the most elegant in the Okanagan. “We will always take the approach that we will try to improve and get better,” Spencer says. “My approach always starts with spending as much time in the vineyard as possible, and understanding what the different parcels give you.”
The various parcels will give him quite a lot. I have awarded 100 points to four consecutive vintages of the winery’s Little Pawn Chardonnay, made with grapes from a vineyard on Black Sage Road called Jagged Rock. “I was attracted to the focus at CheckMate, which highlights these vineyards that are quite special,” Spencer says. “We will continue down that direction.” I tasted the four Merlot wines just being released in June, with Spencer in CheckMate’s elegant new tasting room. “I think 2020 is the best vintage for the winery,” he says. “Now that I have been here six months, I have tasted everything. 2020 seems to me to have been a pretty exceptional year. It is a vintage where the floor was high. You would really have to mess things up. 2020 was a luxurious year when you could pick when you wanted. Everything got to full ripeness. Consequently, the wines have a density to them.”
Here are notes on the Merlot wines.
CheckMate Silent Bishop Merlot 2020 ($100 for 25 barrels). This wine is made with fruit from three vineyard benches (Oliver North, Golden Mile and Osoyoos West Bench) on the western side of the valley. The wine was fermented with native yeast and had extended skin contact. It was aged 89% in new French oak and 11% in concrete. The wine begins with aromas that include floral notes and cassis. The palate delivers flavours of black currant, black cherry and blueberry mingled with herbs. 95.
CheckMate End Game Merlot 2020 ($100 for 18 barrels). The fruit for this wine is from vineyards on the Osoyoos East Bench and Black Sage Road. Fermentation was with native yeast and there was extended skin contact. It was aged 21 months in new French oak. This wine begins with aromas of red fruits. The palate delivers flavours of black cherry and plum mingled with spice. 94.
CheckMate Opening Gambit Merlot 2020 ($100 for 19 barrels). The fruit for this wine is entirely from an Osoyoos East vineyard right against the U.S. border. Fermentation again was with native yeast and there was extended skin contact. The wine was aged 21 months in new French oak. The wine is full, even voluptuous, in body. Aromas of sage, cassis and cherry lead to flavours of black cherry, with notes of chocolate on the lingering finish. 96.
CheckMate Black Rook Merlot 2020 ($100 for 12 barrels). The fruit for this powerful wine came from the Black Sage Bench. Once again, fermentation was with native yeast and with extended skin contact. The wine was aged 21 months in new French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and blueberry leading to flavours of black cherry, plum, blackberry and spice. The long, ripe tannins give the wine considerable elegance. 97.