Thursday, August 31, 2023

Solvera Winery makes inaugural release

Photo: Winemaker Alison Moyes/ photo by Jon Adrian
The inaugural release of four wines from Solvero Winery is impressive. The winery is somewhat off the beaten path, at the top of the Garnet Valley north of Summerland. It is a pretty drive, worth the trip when wine touring is allowed again in the Okanagan.
The winery is operated by Matt Sartor; the winemaker is Alison Moyes, one of the best in the Okanagan. Matt has a music degree from Dalhousie University. But after deciding a career as a concert pianist was not for him, he took a job at a Calgary wine store where his interest in wine was kindled. “Wine spoke to me in a way that made me think this is it,” he says about a career choice. In 2010, he moved to the Okanagan to take the viticulture course at Okanagan College and search for a site to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He settled on the Garnet Valley, not far from the vineyard that Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has developed. After clearing forest from some of the property, he began planting Pinot Noir in 2016 followed by Chardonnay in 2017.
The Garnet Valley, which stretches north from Summerland, is the newest addition to British Columbia wine country. Okanagan Crush Pad began planting in 2013 on its 312-acre Garnet Valley Ranch (less than a third is now under vine). “We are about a kilometer closer to town that Okanagan Crush Pad,” Matt says. “It may be 10 minutes to town but it feels like a world away when you are out here. This small valley is its own small microclimate.” Solvero describes its vineyard as being in a “warm, steep southwest-facing bowl in the narrow Garnet Valley.”
Solvero is a family-0wned winery, with Matt’s parents, Bob and Andrea, as his backers. Bob is the former president of Big Rock Brewery in Calgary and was the president and chief executive of the Calgary Airport Authority until retiring last year. The Sartors also have a home near Summerland with a five-acre vineyard in Happy Valley that is planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
Solvero winemaker Alison Moyes formerly worked at Stoneboat Vineyards and Liquidity Wines. Born in Ontario, she studied microbiology at Dalhousie. “While I was doing that, I was working at a restaurant,” she recounts. “The owner was opening up a new high end wine bar. He was doing sommelier training and offered a course for the staff. I was a part of that and I just fell in love with it. He saw I had potential and he helped me through my sommelier certification in Halifax. Upon finishing, I would be the new sommelier at his wine bar.”
After doing that for two years, her science background “called” to her and she enrolled in the winemaking program at Brock University. She did her first vintage in the Okanagan in 2008, as part of her university program. “I had to go back to Ontario to write my thesis,” she says. “As soon as I finished that, I came back out again. I had fallen in love with the area. It is an amazing grape growing region.” She joined Stoneboat in 2010, moved to Liquidity in 2015 and then joined Solvero, all of them wineries dedicated to Pinot Noir. “One of the things that drew me to this project is how impressed I was with the work that Matt did in establishing this place,” Alison says.
“Matt and I met about 10 years ago, when I was at Stoneboat,” she continues. “I had been following the progression of what was here and the work that Matt was doing. In the transition from Liquidity, I had come out here the year prior and got a sense of the potential of the project. The vision that Matt and his family have for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is right up my alley.” Solvero’s Garnet Valley vineyard has almost 10 acres of Pinot Noir, along with 2 ½ acres of Chardonnay and a planned two more acres each of Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. There are seven clones of Pinot Noir: 115, 667, 777, 828 and 43, along with the Pommard clone and the Swann clone.
“Part of that was seeing what worked best for us,” Matt (left) says of his decision to plant multiple clones. “Part of it was clonal diversity. Part of it was attracting a winemaker like Alison. Having that kind of diversity to play with in the cellar is catnip to someone who is interested in making Pinot Noir.” The winery’s name, Solvero, is a loose translation from Latin, meaning truth in soil. “A friend of a friend is a Latin professor,” Matt says. “We bugged him for a name that would represent what we want, and this is where we arrived.”
Here are notes on three of the four releases. Only 50 cases of Chardonnay were made and it is available just at the winery. On the strength of the other wines, I can recommend it without tasting it.
Solvero Pinot Gris 2022 ($25 for 250 cases). Made with fruit from a 2001 planting, this wine fermented slowly at cool temperatures and was aged four months in stainless steel (50%) and neutral oak (50%). This is a sophisticated wine with aromas of pear and citrus and flavours of pear, peach and nectarine. 91.
Solvero Rosé 2022 ($25 for 150 cases). Made with clone 115 Pinot Noir, the juice was left on the skins just three hours, resulting in a delicate pink hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry with a surprising full texture. 91.
Solvero Pinot Noir 2020 ($35 for 450 cases). There are seven clones of Pinot Noir in this elegant wine; each clone was treated and aged separately. The object was to build layers of flavour. As well, the winery did whole berry fermentations and aged the wine 12 months in French oak barrels (33% new). The wine is a seductive charmer, beginning with floral aromas and leading to flavours of cherry mingled with forest floor. 93.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Liber winery is now near Osoyoos

Photo: Liber's Mike Dowell
The difference between Liber Estate Winery’s former location in the Similkameen Valley and its new location north of Osoyoos is evident from the busy traffic in front of tasting room. Liber’s original location was a bucolic seven-acre organic vineyard slopping down to the Similkameen River. The new location fronting on Highway 97 is hardly bucolic but it ensures far more traffic to the wine shop than ever reached the Similkameen location.
The winery was launched in 2016 by former Edmontonians, Mike and Nicolle Dowell. It was a decision to change lifestyles. Mike, born in 1974 just outside Edmonton, has been a manager with a heating and air-conditioning company. Nicole, born in 1977 in Edmonton, has a degree in chemistry. They are also importers of premium Colombian rum. “I remember being stuck in traffic, driving to work in the snow, and saying, Enough is enough,” Mike says. They retained Pascal Madevon, a leading consulting winemaker, who helped finish 16,000 litres of 2015 wines that had come with the purchase of a winery project started but not completed by a former owner. “We wanted to hire someone who could help us learn,” Mike explained the decision to bring Pascal on board. “We felt we needed to make sure our first vintage was good. We had to hire the best person we could.”
Pascal assured them that their vineyard, not far from the Similkameen River, is top-rated terroir. “Here, everything is class one,” Pascal confirmed. “It could be very hot in the day, but at the end of the day, there is the river here and it cools the valley down fast. That is perfect for the Chardonnay and the Merlot. For me, this is an incredible spot for Chardonnay.” The winery’s Chardonnays have proven him right. The Merlots were equally fine but, alas, much of the 3.5-acre Merlot block suffered damage in the brutal 2022-2023 winter. ‘The problem is that the top half did better than the bottom,” Mike Dowell told me in an interview this summer. “But if we replant, we will be interplanting for years to come because managing the watering requirements from top to bottom will be just too hard. We are probably just going to pull it. We may plant a little more Merlot or we may to just go to different varietals.” Pinot Noir is a possibility.
The Highway 97 property, the former home of a cidery, has a 3.5-acre vineyard that was planted in 2022. “We planted Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon here,” Mike Dowell says. Those vines made it through the winter because they were protected by snow and by the cartons around each vine. Liber also leases ten acres near Osoyoos. That vineyard has a mature block of Cabernet Franc. Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Cabernet Sauvignon were added recently. “I have a strong feeling that Cabernet Franc could be BC’s red grape,” says Mike Anderson, who became Liber’s fulltime winemaker in 2022. “It does very well here. It delivers so much to our palate.”
“I was born and raised in Penticton,” Mike Anderson (above) says. “I got into wine when I was doing my university degree. I was doing biology, microbiology. At the end of my science degree, I got into wine-related research at the UBC Wine Research Centre. I did a practicum there and then completed a master’s thesis there as well. By the end of that, I wanted to make wine.” He started in the laboratory at the Jackson-Triggs winery and then, in 2011, did a vintage with Randy Picton at Nk’Mip Cellars. “Then I did a year at Stag’s Hollow Winery, bounced around and did a few vintages in New Zealand.” Mike had met Pascal Madevon at Jackson-Triggs when Pascal was the winemaker at Osoyoos-Larose Winery, then sharing the Jackson-Triggs premises. In 2020, Pascal arranged to have Mike do the vintage at Liber.
Here are notes on current releases. Reserve wines are designated Rebil, which is Liber spelled backwards.
Liber Rebil Riesling 2021 ($N/A). This is a delicious wine with aromas and flavours of lemon, lime and peach. The finish is persistent. 92.
Liber Everyday Chardonnay 2022 ($21.99). Fermented in stainless steel, this is a crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of apple, pear and citrus. 89.
Liber Rebil Reserve Chardonnay 2019 ($27.99). This is a big, ripe Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of butter, apple and oak. The texture is rich and the finish is very long. 91.
Liber Rosé 2022 ($23.99). This is 80% Merlot, 20% Pinot Noir. The pale hue does not do justice to the appealing strawberry and watermelon aromas and flavours. 90.
Liber Let Me Be Franc 2019 ($34.99 for 214 cases). The playful label is a reference to Cabernet Franc, a varietal that the winery owners champion. This wine has the classic brambly aromas and flavours of the varietal, mingled with dark cherry and black currant. 92.
Liber Rebil Pinot Noir 2020 ($Wine club only). This wine was made with Similkameen fruit and was aged 10 months in French oak. It begins with aromas of cherry, spice and black tea. It is full on the palate with flavours of cherry and dark fruits mingled with notes of forest floor. 90.
Liber Rebil Merlot 2018 ($34.99). Made with fruit from the Similkameen, this barrel-aged wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and dark cherry. The texture is concentrated; and the long ripe tannins still have grip. 92.
Liber Rebil Craftsman 2018 ($Wine club only). This is the winery’s iconic Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. The wine is loaded with aromas and flavours of ripe, dark fruit. The wine should be cellared or decanted for immediate consumption. 94.
Liber Hello Sunshine White NV ($191.76 for 24 250 ml cans). This is a refreshing blend of Riesling, white Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, lightly carbonated. It is fresh and fruity. 88.
Liber Hello Sunshine Rosé NV ($191.76 for 24 250 ml cans). This primarily a Cabernet Franc rosé, lightly carbonated. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry. 88.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Hillside: exclusively Naramata Bench

Photo: Hillside winemaker Kathy Malone
When Kathy Malone joined Hillside Winery in 2008 as winemaker, she was told it was an “ABC” winery, meaning anything but Chardonnay. “I’ve made enough Chardonnay in my life,” she thought. “I am probably okay with that.” Recently, the winery’s owner and several of the staff have suggested that Hillside should add a Chardonnay to the portfolio. Since Hillside does not grow that varietal, it means buying fruit – and from the Naramata Bench because, under Kathy’s hand, the winery has limited its fruit sources just to the Naramata Bench.
That geographic self-discipline has never hindered Hillside from making interesting wines including remarkable single vineyard Merlots and even Syrah. “When I first came here, we talked about pulling it out and planting something else but the wine just kept getting better and better; and we could not bear to do it,” she says. “We have almost three acres of Syrah planted.” That varietal suffered the most damage in the Okanagan and Similkameen last winter. Hillside does not expect to harvest much fruit from the vines this fall. Yet there seems no talk on giving up on it. After all, the first Syrah planting in the Okanagan was at Nichol Vineyard, one of the first wineries on the Naramata Bench. Like Nichol, Hillside’s Syrah grows in hot site on one of the winery’s vineyards.
Hillside was an early winery on the Naramata Bench. The history is set out on the winery’s website: “In the early 1900s this site was owned by the Riddle family who operated an apricot orchard. Their property stretched about 100 yards north to what is now Riddle Road; the original farmhouse stood on what is now the site of our tasting room. The cherry trees, which were on the Riddles’ front lawn, were planted in 1926. “In 1979, the property was purchased by Bohumir and Vera Klokocka who had recently immigrated to the Okanagan Valley from Czechoslovakia. Vera had a dream. In her mind’s eye she saw the sloping land carpeted by orderly rows of grapes – grapes that she would turn into luscious wines, even though she had no experience at either growing grapes or fermenting them. In 1984 she and Bohumir pulled out the apricot trees and planted 3.5 acres of vineyards. The last surviving apricot tree from the Riddles’ orchard remains on the bank just below the Kettle Valley Railway (on the northeast side of the building). The grapevines thrived in the gravelly soil and warm Okanagan sunshine and Vera’s dream took shape. “In 1989 Hillside, together with Lang Vineyards and Wild Goose, lobbied the Provincial Government to bring about the Farmgate Winery Policy that was instrumental in changing the B.C. Wine Industry. The new policy allowed small vineyards of five acres or less to not only produce wine but also to sell it directly from their premises.”
The winery’s ownership has changed several times since. Former Alberta oilman Duncan McCowan is now the president. The current winery, designed in 1997, was the first Okanagan winery designed by Robert Mackenzie, the valley’s premier winery architect. The design was inspired by designs for grist mills. The winery’s portfolio includes a Muscat Ottonel. It was the first white varietal planted at the Hillside farm in 1984. Here are notes on that wine and other current releases.
Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2021 ($26 for 1,285 cases). The wine appeals with floral aromas and flavours of spice and orchard fruits. 90.
Hillside Unoaked Pinot Gris 2022 ($25 for 2,289 cases). Fruit for this wine came from six vineyards, all on the Naramata Bench. The grapes had between two and six hours of skin contact, enough to give the wine a blush. Fermentation, slow and cool, was in stainless steel. The wine has aromas and flavours of peach, apple and melon. 92.
Hillside Rosé 2022 ($26 for 686 cases). The backbone of this delicious rosé is Merlot crushed directly into the press, given minimal skin contact before being pressed. Additional juice was secured by saignéeing blocks of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc while those grapes were soaking cold on the skins. A bit of Gewürztraminer and Viognier were added to the blend to turbocharge the floral aromatics. The wine has an electric hue, which means it looks as good in the glass as it smells. There are juicy flavours of strawberry and watermelon. 90.
Hillside Below the Road Rosé 2022 ($35 for 299 cases; wine club exclusive). The wine is so named because the fruit is from vineyards below Naramata Road where the soils impart what the winery calls an umami character. The blend is Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Viognier. The three reds were destemmed to press and then immediately drained to stainless steel for a cool ferment. The wine was transferred to barrel for four months with frequent lees stirring. Viognier was added to lift the floral aromas. This is a savoury, textural wine with aromas and flavours of watermelon, cherry and herbs. 91.
Hillside Gewürztraminer 2022 ($23 for 1,266 cases). This is made dry in the Alsace style; the winemaker recommends it with South Asian cuisine. The wine has aromas and flavours of lychee, grapefruit and ginger. 92.
Hillside Pinot Noir 2020 ($32 for 310 cases). The fruit for this wine is from a vineyard below Munson Mountain that was planted in 2014. This is a surprisingly generous wine, given the youth of the vineyard. It has a juicy texture, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. 92.
Hillside Merlot 2020 ($24 for 1,730 cases). This is terrific value – a blend of grapes from four Naramata vineyards. The wine has aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of blackberry, cherry, black currant and chocolate. The texture is full. 90.
Hillside Hidden Vineyard Merlot 2018 ($45 for 168 cases). This vineyard is in a bowl above and behind the vineyard. The yield is low (2.2 tons an acre) and thus the fruit has concentrated flavours. After a long maceration and a controlled fermentation, the wine was aged 12 months in French oak (28% new). The wine is intense, with aromas and flavours of cassis, dark cherry, raspberry and cloves. 93.
Hillside Gjoa’s Vineyard Merlot 2018 ($45 for 168 cases). This vineyard, which is below Naramata Road, is distinguished by its lacustrine soils (that is, laid down by an ancient lake). The winery attributes the meaty undertones in the flavours of the wine to the soil. There are aromas and flavours of dark fruit, with a touch of cedar. The wine was aged 21 months in French oak (37% new). 92.
Hillside Dickinson Vineyard Merlot 2018 ($45 for 168 cases). This vineyard is on a bluff halfway between the winery and Naramata Village. The technical sheet for this vintage has not yet been posted on the winery’s website; however, the 2016 release was aged 15 months in French oak (28% new) and this tastes like the wine had similar treatment. The tannins have some grip, supporting a wine with aromas and flavours of dark fruits. 91.
Hillside Syrah 2019 ($36 for 754 cases). This wine, with fruit of the Hidden Valley Vineyard, begins with aromas of pepper and raspberry. While the wine is light for a Syrah (11.8% alcohol), the flavours deliver classic meaty notes along with dark fruits. 92.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Horseshoe Found's gold medal Pinot Noir

Photo: Winery owners Pavel and Michaela Horak
The gold medal won by Horseshoe Found’s Pinot Noir 2021 at this spring’s All Canadian Wine Championships is a great reward for all the work that went into this wine, including the vineyard work during the 2021 heat spike. This small Similkameen winery is operated by Pavel and Michaela Horak, a charming, down-to-earth couple. The winery, which opened last year, is only the latest career move by these individuals.
The winery fulfills a dream inspired by his father’s fruit wines and by Pavel’s blackberry wine when, after migrating from Czechoslovakia (as the Czech Republic was known then), Pavel established a home in New Westminster. Trained as a mechanical engineer, Pavel, then 24, slipped out of Czechoslovakia in 1980. He spent six months in Austria, securing his visa to come to Canada – and straight to Vancouver. “I was always attracted to Canada's west coast,” he explains. “This was in my opinion the best choice because of the scenery, weather, nature, and opportunities.” Here, he pursued a technical career in the printing industry and then in medical technology.
Home winemaking in New Westminster nourished Pavel’s ambitions. Once he and Michaela realized that the Lower Mainland is less than ideal for viticulture, they began searching for property in the interior. “We decided to get out of the city and go to the Okanagan, or somewhere where we can actually grow grapes and make wine,” Pavel recalls. In 2006, they found and purchased what was then a hay field near Cawston. Many years earlier, it had been a rodeo ground. That explained why, when he was digging holes for vineyard posts, Pavel turned up several rusty horseshoes, inspiring the winery’s name. Pavel and Michaela planted about three acres (there is not much room for more vines), settling on the varieties they like to drink. There is a block of Gewürztraminer, a small block of Muscat, 300 Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and an acre of Pinot Noir. “Pinot Noir is the holy grail of winemaking, in my opinion,” Pavel says. “It is a problematic grape to grow, but when it grows well, you can make some fantastic wine.”
The vineyard is managed by Michaela. Formerly a stage actress in Prague, she now runs her own home-based accounting service in Cawston. “All our activities around vineyards including planting, cultivation, weed control and nutrients are based on biodynamic and organic practices,” Pavel says. “We are not certified organic, but we certainly follow all practices as we believe in nature, good bugs, and harmony between all living organisms. Weed control is all manual, and we do not use chemicals.” Horseshoe Found is one of British Columbia’s smallest wineries, intentionally. “We would like to stay small, and maintain production between 4,500 litres and 6,000 litres, so we can focus on the quality of what we would like to do,” Pavel says.
Here is a note on that gold-medal-winning Pinot Noir.
Horseshoe Found Pinot Noir 2021 ($26 for 145 cases). This wine was fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 18 months in new and neutral French oak barrels. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry with a hint of forest floor on the finish. The wine is medium-bodied with silky texture. 90.