Thursday, September 28, 2023

Township 7's Goddess of Dawn

Photo: Winemaker Mary McDermott behind a riddling rack for sparkling wine
Mary McDermott, the winemaker at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, is one of the Okanagan’s leading makers of traditional method sparkling wine, with awards to prove it. The winery’s recently-released seven stars Aurora 2019 won a gold medal at the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada. The wine, she writes, “is named for the Goddess of Dawn. Ancient Romans believed that Aurora brought light to the heaven and earth, and her tears created the sparkling morning dew.” It is a charming allegory for this excellent wine.
Mary makes a number of other wines in the Township 7 portfolio. To me, it seems that a bit of a house style is emerging. The wines have a fingerprint of complexity and a spine of minerality.
Here are notes.
Township 7 Provenance Series 7 Blanc 2022 ($24.97 for 500 cases). This blend is anchored around Riesling and fleshed out with Viognier, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay. The varietals were fermented separately and cool (at 13◦C). The wine has aromas and flavours of quince, apple, pear and citrus. A hint of residual sugar adds flesh to the texture. 91.
Township 7 Provenance Series Pinot Gris 2022 ($24.97 for 198 cases). The fruit was fermented cool in stainless steel, except for one barrel fermented in oak to add texture and complexity. There are aromas and flavours of pear and stone fruit, with a spine of minerality. 91.
Township 7 Provenance Series Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($24.97 for 258 cases). This wine was fermented in both stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. The object was to retain the fresh fruity flavours of the varietal while adding texture. There are aromas and flavours of lime, lemon and pineapple. 88.
Township 7 Provenance Series Rosé 2022 ($27.97 for 601 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris. The pale hue is a nod to the Provençal rosé style. The aromas and flavours, however, are intense: a medley of strawberry, watermelon and rhubarb with stone fruits on the finish. 90.
Township 7 seven stars Aurora 2019 ($57.97 for 250 six-bottle cases). The wine is made entirely with Pinot Noir (clone 115). The wine was en tirage for 30 months. The wine begins with a note of brioche in the aroma. The active bubbles lead to a creamy texture. There are flavours of citrus and apple. The bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 92.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Valley Commons and its premium goals

Photo: Winemaker Kyle Lyons
The proprietors of Valley Commons Winery, Kyla Richey and Rudy Verhoeff, began thinking about a career in wine, appropriately enough, when they were living in France near the end of their careers as professional volleyball players. Both captained the Canadian volleyball team until they retired: Kyla in 2o19 and Rudy in 2016. They returned to Canada in 2020 and, backed by the Verhoeff family, purchased a small property near For Langley and planted vines 2021. “We knew we did not just want to make Fraser Valley wine,” Rudy says. “We wanted to combine the Okanagan Valley and the Fraser Valley and celebrate both.” So they also leased a vineyard near Osoyoos and established the winery in 2021 in The District Wine Village. The name, Valley Commons, reflects that the winery operates in both the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan Valley.
The Verhoeff family, already active in craft brewing and in the hospitality industry, also purchased Stoneboat Vineyards in 2021. Bill Adams continues to make Stoneboat’s wines. Early vintages of the Valley Commins wines were made with the help of consulting winemakers until Kyle Lyons has recruited as the fulltime winemaker.
Born in Kamloops in 1986 and raised in the Okanagan, Kyle says he “stumbled” into the wine industry. “I got hired by Sumac Ridge when I was 18, just to help out - sweeping floors, scraping misprinted labels off bottles,” he told me several years ago. “I got there at the right time. A couple of guys above me had left and I made my way up the ladder. Within the first year of being there, I realized that wine was something I preferred to pursue as a career.” He spent five years with Sumac Ridge and its sister wineries in the Vincor/Constellation group. He was exposed to a wide range of useful cellar experiences. In 2010, he joined Artus Bottling, the Okanagan-based mobile bottling company that, with a fleet of mobile bottling lines and a sparkling wine bottling line, bottles for the majority of B.C. wineries. “I thought it was a great opportunity that I got to visit a different winery every day and make some good connections,” Kyle says. “The next thing I knew, I found myself there for over five years.”
He left that job when he decided he “missed being inside the cellar, making wine and being hands on with the fruit.” He headed to Australia to do a harvest at Bannockburn Vineyards with winemaker Matt Holmes, who had previously worked in the Okanagan (Tantalus Vineyards and Liquidity Wines). When he returned to the Okanagan, he took a harvest job at Liquidity Wines, where he became lead cellar hand until leaving to join Valley Commons.
Last year, Valley Commons did a financing that raised about $1.3 million from about 45 investors. The initial intent was to purchase Okanagan vineyard land. Rising vineyard costs and rising interest rates led Rudy to scale back the offering and redirect the funds to winery equipment. “We want to be a premium brand,” Rudy says. “We are new and we are developing our brand and we are developing our wine, and we are going to get better. We do want to be at premium price points. The whole point of this round of investments was to equip the guys with the equipment they need to make good quality wine.”
Here are notes from current releases.
Valley Commons Pinot Gris 2021 ($27.90 for 522 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus that carry over onto the palate. There are also flavours of pear and stone fruit. The finish is a touch hot, perhaps reflecting a vintage that was unusually warm. 88.
Valley Commons Viognier 2022 ($29.90 for 225 cases). A small portion of this wine was fermented on the skins, adding texture. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine, guava and pineapple. On the palate, there are flavours of tropical fruits and stone fruits. The wine is medium-bodied with a crisp, refreshing finish. 91.
Valley Commons Harvest Table White 2021 ($24.90 for 480 cases). This is a blend of 51% Muscat, 27% Pinot Gris and 22% Viognier. This is a gold medal winner defined by the spicy character of the Muscat but finishing dry. There is also citrus on the palate along with flavours of pear and apple. 90.
Valley Commons Harvest Table Red 2020 ($27.90 for 271 cases). This is a blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Gamay. The wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with spice and hints of oak. The generous palate delivers flavours of cherry and plum, with a note of well-handled oak on the finish. 90.
Valley Commons Cabernet Franc 2021 ($34.90 for 107 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in barrel (27% new). The wine begins with brambly aromas – blackberry, black cherry and spice – which are echoed in the flavours. The long, ripe tannins give the wine good length on the finish. 91.
Valley Commons Garden Society Premium Red Blend 2021 ($39.90 for 304 cases). This is a blend of 43% Cabernet Franc, 41% Merlot and 8% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (41% new). It begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry. The palate is rich, with flavours of black cherry, plum, spice and chocolate. Long, ripe tannins lead to a persistent finish. 91.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Clos du Soleil wines will be hard to find next year

Photo: Clos do Soleil's Michael Clark
In Clos du Soleil Winery recent newsletter, the message from winemaker Michael Clark was another depressing reflection on the vineyard damage last winter. “You may have heard via the grapevine about the damage the BC wine industry sustained courtesy of the extreme cold temperatures last December,” he wrote. “Like most locations throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, our vineyards experienced temperatures of -27°C for extended periods. You don't have to be a farmer or vineyard manager to know that this is very dangerous for grapevines.”
He continued: “Unfortunately, the Similkameen Valley was particularly hard hit, and as a result the Clos du Soleil vineyards will be producing extremely little fruit in 2023 due to the damage our vines sustained from the cold. Farming, and working with Mother Nature, is always a risky endeavour. We know this, and will not be deterred: indeed, our vineyard team is already working hard to make sure our vineyards recover quickly, and that we will be back to producing wonderful wines for you by 2024.”
“Long story short, 2023 will be a very small production year for most wineries in BC, and you may find many of your favourite wines at many of your favourite wineries sold out,” Michael concluded. “Clos du Soleil will be no different. The very best way to keep your cellar stocked in the coming year? JOIN OUR WINE CLUB! Our team has already allocated wines for Spring 2024, Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 club shipments, so being a member is absolutely the best way to ensure that you can get access to wines during a period when wine will be in short supply.” The quality of the winery’s current releases makes the case on its own for joining the wine club whether or not the wines will be in short supply. Here are notes:
Clos du Soleil Célestiale 2021 ($29.90 for 1,573 cases). This is a blend of 55% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The grapes were fermented on concrete and aged 15% in French oak barrels (12% new). The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry, blackberry and spice, leading to flavours of cherry, black currant, raspberry and spice. 91.
Clos du Soleil Syrah 2021 ($39.90 for 534 cases). The grapes, including three per cent Viognier, were fermented in concrete, with ferment lasting three weeks. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak barrels (15% new). The wine begins with aromas of plum and raspberry with a hint of black pepper. Full-bodied, the wine delivers flavours of fig and dark fruits. There is an appealing hint of cloves on the long finish. 92.
Clos du Soleil Estate Red 2019 ($64.90 for 193 cases). This is a blend of 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 19% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc and 11% Petit Verdot. Each variety was vinified separately and then matured in French oak barrels for 18 months. This is an elegant wine, beginning with aromas of cassis, blackberry and cedar. The fine silky tannins give the wine great length. There are flavours of dark cherry and black currant, leading to a long finish with a hint of spice. 94.
Clos du Soleil Saturn 2022 ($39.90 for 375 ml, 580 cases). This is the winery’s late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The residual sugar of 85.5 grams a litre is deftly balanced with 9.4 grams of acid. Since the grapes were picked November 18th and 19th, they would have had a good touch of frost. This wine recalls some of the finest Sauternes I have tasted over the years. It begins with aromas that mingle botrytis with marmalade. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and orange. The brisk acidity brings a freshness to the palate, prevents the wine from being cloying and supports a long, long finish. The perfect pairing: soft blue cheese. 95.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Culmina celebrates its 10th anniversary

Photo: Culmina winemaker Jean-Marc Enixon
This month, Culmina Family Estate Winery marks its 10th anniversary with a harvest expected to be high in quality but, like every Okanagan winery, low in quantity. “The Okanagan was hit with unseasonably cold weather in December, 2022, and Culmina was no exception, with a sustained low of -28◦C on our high elevation Margaret’s Bench [vineyard],” the winery explains. “Our viticulture team worked tirelessly to mitigate frost damage potential and we are pleased to say that the worst seems to have been avoided, with the only varietal showing significant loss being our Malbec.”
Jean-Marc Enixon, Culmina’s French-born and trained winemaker, told me during a June visit at the winery: “Maybe some grape varieties don’t have a place in the Okanagan valley, because it will be too cold.” But he counselled patience. Since most of Culmina’s vines had survived, if with less fruit than in 2022, he was not ready to make hurried decisions about replanting. “Some people are going to take out their grapes and replant right away,” he said. “I advise waiting one year. It is for 40 years we are going to grow a vineyard, not for the next 10 years. Do it well. Do it perfectly.”
Fortunately, the 2022 vintage produced an abundant crop of quality grapes. “The warmest October on record … allowed for a prolonged ripening period,” the winery says. “Wines from the 2022 vintage are marked by vibrant acidity and classic style.” Culmina’s current releases are primarily 2022 white wines and reds from the superb 2020 vintage. Given the low production expected this fall, now is the time to stock up on your favourite Culmina wines.
Here are notes on the wines.
Culmina Decora 2021 ($23). This is the winery’s Riesling grown organically in the high-elevation Margaret’s Bench vineyard. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and quince with a slight hint of petrol. On the palate, the bracing acidity is balanced with tiny amount of residual sugar, just enough to accent the juicy citrus flavours. 92.
Culmina Unicus 2022 ($30). This is the winery’s Grüner Veltliner. Fermentation was complex: 38% in a concrete egg, 28% in a concrete amphora, 23% in stainless steel and 10% with wild yeast in a neutral French oak barrel. The wine seduces with aromas of pink grapefruit, lychee and melon. The palate delivers a medley of tropical fruits including mango and papaya, with a hint of white pepper on the finish. 93.
Culmina Dilemma 2020 ($38). This is Chardonnay fermented in French oak (40% new); and 40% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. The wine begins with aromas of butter and orange peel. The fleshy palate delivers flavours of marmalade and custard. 92.
Culmina Viognier 2022 ($35). This wine was fermented with wild yeast in two-year-old French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and apricot leading to flavours of apricot and honeycomb. The texture is rich and the finish is persistent. 92.
Culmina Saignée 2022 ($26). The blend is 44% Malbec, 29% Cabernet Franc and 27% Merlot. The colour is fashionably pale. There are delicate strawberry aromas leading to a satisfying palate of strawberry and apple. 90.
Culmina Perle de Rosé No. 20 ($35). This sparkling wine, Culmina’s first, is 91% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. It was fermented initially in stainless steel and then spent 80 days in bottle en tirage. The wine presents with a delicate hue and fine bubbles. The fruity aroma also has a hint of brioche while the palate delivers raspberry flavours. 90.
Culmina Malbec 2020 ($42). This wine was aged 16 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of cherries mingled with notes of sage and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and blackberry. The finish is persistent. 92.
Culmina Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($45). This wine was aged 16 months in French oak (40% new). Concentrated in texture, the wine begins with aromas of cassis and dark cherry. On the palate, the wine delivers black currant, blueberry and dark cherry. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a long finish. The wine has good aging potential. 93.
Culmina Hypothesis 2018 ($50). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of 32% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 6.5% Petit Verdot and 5.5% Malbec. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak barrels (35% new, 20% one-year old and 45% neutral. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, dark cherries and cedar. The rich palate delivers complex flavours: dark cherry mingles with licorice and spice. The finish is long. 95.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Ruby Blues has veteran Graham Pierce in the cellar

Photo: Winemaker Graham Pierce
Winemaking at Ruby Blues Winery on Naramata Road was taken over in the 2022 vintage by Graham Pierce, one of the Okanagan’s most experienced winemakers. It shows in the solid quality of the winery’s 2022 releases. The winery, which opened in 2009, is owned by Prudence and Beat Mahrer. The initial vintages were made by a consulting winemaker, followed by ten vintages by Blair Gillingham. Graham was recruited after Blair left in 2021.
“We are excited beyond belief to have Graham come on board as our winemaker” Prudence said in a news release last year. “He understands and supports our stylistic direction of our wines and desire to remain a small, high-quality, hand-crafted winery. With his passion and exacting precision, I know that our wine customers at Ruby Blues will love his future releases. Even better, we are developing plans to enable Graham to produce some very high-end wines for us that we feel will become icons in the BC Wine Industry.”
She added some biography of the new winemaker: “Graham has an extensive knowledge of the Okanagan wine region in addition to his experience in the winery operations. This works in tandem with his comprehensive viticulture and winemaking background. Pierce is British Columbia born and bred, growing up in Horseshoe Bay. He joined the Okanagan wine industry in 1997 when he joined Summerhill Pyramid Winery as culinary director after several successful years spent in and around the Vancouver restaurant scene. At Summerhill he discovered a passion and interest in both winemaking and viticulture. While studying winemaking at Okanagan University College he worked as assistant winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery before progressing to head winemaker in 2003. A unique opportunity came up in 2008 when he was appointed the Winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery in Oliver, BC. He worked there for ten extraordinarily successful years before joining Time Winery [in 2018] as Director of Wine. This was followed by a two-year stint directing the winemaking and viticulture at Kitsch Wines in Kelowna.”
Graham has offered his comment on the 2022 vintage. “Last year with an interesting year with lots of plot twists,” he writes. “We were concerned that the long winter and the cold spring would negatively affect the ripening. It was definitely a challenge for us in the vineyards. We had to delay the picking right until the last possible window. I also knew how miserable it would be to pick after a snowfall. Fortunately, we finished picking on November 4, the day before the winter weather set in.”
Here are notes on the current releases from Ruby Blues.
Ruby Blues Peace & Love & Bubbles NV ($29.90). This is a pink frizzante wine. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a juicy texture. 88.
Ruby Blues White Stiletto 2022 ($21.90). This is an aromatic blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer with a little Schönburger to turbocharge the aromatics. Floral and spicy aromas jump from the glass, leading to flavours of stone fruit. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 89.
Ruby Blues Forever Young Riesling 2022 ($24.90). The winery took advantage of the very long autumn in 2022 to let the grapes hang until November 5. Consequently, the wine is packed with fruit. It has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime. Superbly balanced and with good texture, the wine has a long finish. 90.
Ruby Blues Gewürztraminer 2022 ($25.90). This is a luscious wine thanks to very well-balanced residual sugar. The wine has aromas and flavours of lychee, pink grapefruit and spice. The finish is long and not perceptibly sweet. Somewhat Alsace in style. 91.
Ruby Blues Pinot Gris 2022 ($24.90). This is a rich and juicy wine, with aromas and flavours of pear, peach and citrus. 90.
Ruby Blues Viognier 2022 ($29.90). This is a rich wine with a long finish. There are aromas and flavours of apricot, nectarine and cantaloupe. 91.
Ruby Blues Rosé 2022 ($28.90). A gold medal wine, this is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The wine presents with an appealing hue of pink. There are aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and watermelon. The texture is juicy and the finish is refreshing. 91.
Ruby Blues Red Stiletto NV ($30.90). The backbone in this very drinkable red is Syrah, blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. All varietals are aged separately before the blend is made. The object is to produce a soft, full-bodied wine. The wine begins with aromas of cloves and black cherries. On the palate, there are toasty flavours of cherry and chocolate. 90.
Ruby Blues Syrah Reserve 2021 ($49.90). This is a big, bold Syrah made with fruit from an Osoyoos vineyard. The wine had four weeks of skin contact and then was aged 18 months in barrel. It begins with aromas of plum, dark cherry and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, fig and leather mingled with white pepper. 91.