Monday, November 27, 2023

Blue Mountain sparkling wines continue to impress

Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt Mavety
Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars has been making excellent sparkling wines every year since the winery started in 1991. Ian Mavety, the winery founder, was one of the participants in a sparkling wine project undertaken in the Okanagan by Schramsberg Cellars from California. Schramsberg dropped out after deciding there were not enough grapes in the valley at the time to support a significant volume of sparkling wine production. Blue Mountain had a large vineyard of its own coming into production. The Mavety family decided to launch their own winery, with sparkling wine in the portfolio.
The consulting winemaker originally hired by the Mavety family was Raphael Brisbois, a French-trained enologist working in California. His speciality was making sparkling wine. His skills were picked up by family member Matt Mavety, who took charge of the Blue Mountain cellar after completing a winemaking degree in New Zealand. Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut is the winery’s bread and butter sparkling wine. It spends two years on the lees before being disgorged, bottled and released, a fairly standard treatment. In the last decade or so, Matt has extended the portfolio by releasing wines with more time on the lees, a common technique in making sophisticated Champagne. The quality of Blue Mountain’s sparkling wines is the equal of Champagne, but at a lower price. One can afford to toast the new year without breaking the bank.
Here are notes on three currant releases from Blue Mountain.
Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut NV ($31.90). The blend is 65.5% Chardonnay, 34.5% Pinot Noir. The wine presents in the glass with an active mousse that delivers aromas of citrus and apple with just a hint of brioche. On the palate, the fruit flavours dominate. The finish is fresh and lively. 92.
Blue Mountain Brut Rosé 2019 R.D. ($39.90). This wine is 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. It spent 30 months on the lees before being disgorged. The wine presents with a lightly golden hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and brioche which are echoed on the creamy palate. The finish is long. 94.
Blue Mountain Reserve Brut 2014 R.D. ($49.90). The blend in 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. The wine was aged on the lees for 7 ½ years and finished crisply dry on disgorging. There is a very fine mousse with aromas and flavours mingling citrus and toasty brioche notes. This is a soave and elegant sparkling wine. 94.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Fort Berens can deal with challenging vintages

Photo: Alex Nel, the South African winemaker at Fort Berens
The current releases from the Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet include three red wines from the 2021 vintage – the year of the heat spike. In June 2021, the winery reports that Lillooet recorded its highest temperature ever, at 48◦C. Fortunately for the health of the vines, to say nothing of the vineyard workers, the weather moderated after the heat spike; there was even a little more than average rain in the rest of the season. The red varietals had a long hang time and yields were above average. The reds were rich and bold.
That vintage was the first full harvest in Lillooet for Alex Nel, the talented South African winemaker recruited by Fort Berens in 2020. “We were very fortunate to find Alex Nel through an international search,” said Rolf de Bruin, the co-founder of Fort Berens. Alex succeeded Danny Hattingh, another South African winemaker who had worked at Fort Berens from 2014 through the 2018 vintage. “Having worked with Danny, we knew that South African winemakers are highly educated, often with work experience around the globe,” Rolf said of the decision to recruit Alex. “There was a great fit, as Alex worked in a remote area in South Africa, which made the move to Lillooet seem like a step toward a more urban lifestyle.”
The decision to hire Alex was made in March 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, Alex was unable to leave South Africa until December 2020. “Luckily, Danny Hattingh was willing to jump back in for the 2020 vintage,” Rolf says. “Alex took over in January 2021 to finish the wines for bottling.” And he started the 2021 Fort Berens vintage by pruning the vines last spring.
Alex is a 2008 graduate of the renowned Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute (where Danny also trained). In addition to doing harvests in New Zealand and California, Alex was the winemaker and brewmaster at Cederberg Wines, a family-owned South African winery highly rated for wines from its high-altitude terroir. Alex has made several changes to the winemaking protocols at Fort Berens. The white wines are fermented cool and with aromatic yeasts to produce fresh and lively wines. The red grapes now get a two-day cold soak on the skins, along with punch-downs during ferment and maceration in the skins to extract flavour. He has also moved the winery to the use of French oak. The notes on the current releases also show a preference for aging at least some of the reds in neutral oak so that wood flavours do not obscure the fruit flavours.
One wine in the current release package is a Pinot Noir from the 2022 vintage, a year that started cool but finished with a long, even period of ripening and a comparatively late harvest. Unfortunately, that set many vineyards up for bud and vine damage from the extreme cold in December. Consequently, bud damage reduced the yields at Fort Berens (as with so many B.C. vineyards). “Overall, based on the latest harvest data, we expect this vintage [2023] to be about 30% of a normal crop,” Rolf writes in notes accompanying the current release. “In addition to crop loss, the vineyard also suffered from some isolated vine loss,” Rolf continues. “We consider ourselves fortunate to have lost just 8% of our vines, where Wine Growers BC reported that 29% of all the vineyards will have to be replanted. Our block of Cabernet Sauvignon suffered about the greatest loss with just about 50% of the vines not budding out this spring. As climate research shows that winters will become warmer, and that the likelihood of these severe cold winter periods will decrease, we decided to replant our Cabernet Sauvignon in June. In 2024 we will replace the vines we lost in other blocks.”
Rolf also writes picking decisions were complicated by the way the fruit developed in the 2023 season. “This year, Alex reported that he relied much more heavily on the flavour profile than on the lab analysis [of the grapes]. The fruit developed quite differently this year with lighter crop load. It certainly ripened sooner with our harvest starting earlier than usual.” The challenges of the past three vintages have not deterred Alex from his determination to produce wines so excellent that some might be included in Decanter’s annual Top 50 wines. He has already achieved that once, with the Cederberg Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 have been chosen for a previous Decanter Top 50.
Here are notes on the currant Fort Berens red wine release.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2022 ($34.99 for 794 cases). The fruit for this wine came from two Okanagan vineyards – one in Summerland and one on the Naramata Bench. The lots were kept separate, crushed and after a two-day cold soak, were inoculated with a Burgundy yeast strain. Three pump-overs a day were done during fermentation to extract fruit flavours. The wine was aged nine months in mostly neutral oak barrels. This is a fruit-forward wine with aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. The tannins are long and the wine is medium-bodied. 90.
Fort Berens Small Lot Merlot 2021 ($32.99 for 343 cases). The fruit is from the winery’s two Lillooet vineyards. The grapes, after being crushed, were allowed two days cold soaking on the skins. Pump-overs were done every four hours during fermentation and the wine macerated on the skins three days after fermentation. The wine was aged 15 months in neutral oak barrels. This wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherry. On the generous palate, there are flavours of cherry and plum with a hint of spice. The tannins are long, supporting a persistent finish of sweet fruit. 91.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2021 ($32.99 for 1,029 cases). The fruit is from the winery’s Lillooet vineyards and from an Osoyoos vineyard. The grapes, after being crushed, spent two days on the skins before fermentation started. Fermentation temperatures were allowed to rise to 28◦C, with pump-overs every four hours to maximize flavour extraction. After a nine-day post-ferment maceration on the skins, the wine was aged 15 months in oak (five percent new). The wine begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry and blackberry. The long, ripe tannins support a rich texture and flavours of dark fruits with a touch of spice. 92.
Fort Berens Meritage 2021 ($31.99 for 1,835 cases). The winery also bottled 72 cases of wine in 375 ml. The blend is 64% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc. The fruit is from a vineyard near Osoyoos. Each varietal was vinified separately and aged 15 months on oak barrels. The blend was assembled after the wine had aged. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry, plum and cassis. This is echoed on the palate, along with a note of mocha. The long, ripe tannins promote a long finish. 92.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Clos du Soleil rose to the challenge of two quite different vintages

Photo: Clos du Soleil's Michael Clark
The 2022 vintage has produced many excellent wines. Michael Clark, the winemaker and general manager at Clos du Soleil Winery, has just released one white from the Similkameen that shows off the vintage.
“Capella, the flagship white wine of Clos du Soleil, represents our ultimate expression of what Similkameen terroir can produce in a white wine,” Michael writes. “This 2022 vintage derives entirely from our top two vineyard sites for Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.” The other wine is a small lot Chardonnay with fruit from the winery’s organic La Côte Vineyard.
Capella is a blend of 71% Sauvignon Blanc and 29% Sémillon, with fruit from two Keremeos area vineyards – Whispered Secret and Les Collines. Each vineyard block was harvested separately. The grapes were crushed, destemmed and cold-soaked on the skins for three hours. The wines were fermented in French oak puncheons mostly with indigenous yeast. Ten per cent of the barrels were also allowed to go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation. All the lots were barrel-aged on the lees for nine months, which lees stirring to build texture. The final wine was blended from the best barrels.
Because the 2022 Chardonnay has not been released yet, here is a note on the 2021, which is still in the market. Because I have the specification sheets for both wines, I have gained some insight in how Michael dealt with diametrically different vintages. The 2021 vintage included the record-breaking heat spike, which resulted in small berries that were very ripe. The 2022 vintage was much more moderate, with a very long hang time and higher yields than in the previous year. In 2021, Clos du Soleil picked the Chardonnay on September 24, three weeks earlier than the Chardonnay pick in 2022. However, the early harvest in 2021 enabled Michael to keep the sugar under control. The 2021 Chardonnay has a moderate alcohol of 12.4% and a piquant acidity of 7.6 grams per litre. The 2022 has 12.7% alcohol and 6.45 grams of acidity. Both wines were fermented entirely in older French oak puncheons and were not allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. They were aged eight months on the lees, with occasional lees stirring. The objective was to produce wines with bright, expressive fruit and piquant acidity. Both of the 2022 Capella and the 2021 Chardonnay are still youthful wines that will benefit from another year or two of bottle aging. Capella, in particular, develops great complexity with age, and can age gracefully for as long as 10 years.
Here are notes on the wines.
Clos du Soleil Capella 2022 ($31.90 for 998 cases). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and lime. These are echoed on the palate along with hints of orchard fruits. For current consumption, the wine is crisp and fresh. The texture promises a richness that will develop on the palate with age. 92.
Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2021 Winemaker’s Series ($29.90 for 214 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apple, honeydew melon, quince and citrus. Crisp and fresh on the palate, it delivers flavours that echo the aromas, along with a spine of minerality. 91.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Terravista at the Swirl Around BC wine tasting

Photo: Terravista Winemaker Nadine Kinvig
There are some who argue that too many varietals are grown in the Okanagan. I doubt you will ever hear that complaint from patrons of Terravista Vineyards, the Naramata Bench winery with a Spanish flair. It is one of just two Okanagan producers with Albariño in the vineyard. Nadine Kinvig, Terravista’s winemaker, was pouring it at the recent Swirl Around BC tasting. She also offered two other fine whites, Roussanne and Figaro (a Roussanne/Viognier blend), along with Syrah, a recent addition to the Terravista portfolio.
The winery was established originally by Senka and Bob Tennant, co-founders of Black Hills Winery, two years after Black Hills was sold in 2007. Terravista Vineyards was based on a 1.6-hectare (four-acre) vineyard with the Okanagan’s first planting of Albariño and Verdejo, two Spanish white varieties. Terravista had achieved a cult following by the time they sold it in 2019 to Dallas and Eric Thor. The new owners ensured that there would be no slippage in the quality of Terravista wines by maintaining a consulting relationship with Senka and by hiring Nadine, a young but experienced winemaker. An Okanagan native who trained as a winemaker in New Zealand, she has previously worked at Time Winery and at Poplar Grove Winery. “She eats and breathes wine,” Eric discovered.
The Thors came into the wine business by a round-about route. Eric began as a bar manager in a Vancouver restaurant in 2000. He was showing off his wine knowledge to a guest whom he then discovered to be Harry McWatters, the founder of Sumac Ridge. Harry promptly hired Eric to work that fall’s vintage. Eric even got to put the Christmas lights on Harry’s house before work ran out at Sumac Ridge. Eric, who was born in 1978 and grew up in Penticton, went back to school to learn accounting. In 2003 he joined Point Grey Research, a technical start-up (digital cameras) launched by five University of British Columbia graduates. Eric had become the company’s chief financial officer by 2016 when Point Grey was taken over for $250 million. Eric’s share was more than enough to get him and Dallas, his wife, into the wine business. She is a teacher with a master’s degree in science and a passion for wine. In 2016, while they were buying an ocean-going catamaran in the south of France, they lived for seven weeks at the village of Canet en Roussillon, working the harvest at a small winery. They returned to Penticton to buy some land in 2017 on the Naramata Bench for a two-hectare vineyard. They planted Pinot Noir in 2019 and Syrah in 2020. They engaged the Tennants as viticultural consultants – and they joined the Terravista wine club. The relationship blossomed: when Terravista was put up for sale, it was offered to Eric and Dallas.
Here are notes on the four wines that Nadine was pouring at Swirl Around BC. Because the volumes are small, membership in the wine club best assures you can get them.
Terravista Albariño 2022 ($31). This is a crisp and fresh wine, full of aromas of lemon and grapefruit and flavours of citrus, apple and pineapple. 91.
Terravista Roussanne 2022 ($33). Made with fruit from an Oliver vineyard, the wine was fermented in barrels (some two-year-old, but mostly neutral barrels) with lees-stirring during the five months the wine aged in barrel. The wine has a generous texture with aromas and flavours of stone fruit mingled with macadamia nuts. 92.
Terravista Figaro 2022 ($38). This is a blend of 70% Roussanne and 30% Viognier. The Roussanne was barrel-fermented while the Viognier was fermented in stainless steel. The two were blended after six months. This is a richly flavoured wine, with aromas and flavours of medley of orchard fruits. There is a long finish. 92.
Terravista Syrah 2021 ($38). The fruit is from an Osoyoos vineyard, as will be subsequent Syrahs until the winery’s Syrah planting is in production. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (20% new). This is a meaty wine, with aromas of deli meats and black cherries that are echoed on the palate, along with notes of plum and licorice. 91.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The View Winery: A glimpse of the portfolio

Photo: Jennifer Molgat Since opening in 2008 on a historic family property in northeast Kelowna, The View Winery & Vineyard has made its reputation with wines that are well-made and original, including memorable labels. The current portfolio includes at least four wines in the winery’s Elements Collection, featuring minimal intervention winemaking which shows the terroir well. The labels are also created with microscopy photography that certainly sets the wines apart on the shelf. These labels reflect the creativity of Jennifer Molgat, the winery’s president and a descendant of George Ward, a pioneer orchardist.
Today, the winery is located in the building erected by Ward in 1922 as his packing house. While the building has been updated, it still exudes a heritage atmosphere.
Jennifer, who was born in Kelowna, was on maternity leave from teaching in 2006 when she became involved in developing the winery. Chris Turton, her father, was already selling grapes from the 20 hectares (50 acres) of vineyard on the slope behind the packing house. He was also producing apple cider at another winery. When he had to move cider production into the packing house in 2006, Jennifer helped secure the cider and winery licences. Cash flow from Wards Cider has helped power The View’s growth.
The flagship varietal at The View is Pinotage, a grape developed in South Africa. Chris, who had a special interest in the variety, sourced cuttings in California. Eventually, the Pinotage block at The View has grown to 3.2 hectares (8 acres), the largest of the three or four plantings in the Okanagan. While it is a classic red wine grape, The View also uses it for rosé (likely the only Pinotage rosé in North America), for a fruity white Pinotage blend, and for a component in a sparkling wine. The Pinotage Reserve is released under the label Black Rhino; the companion white, a blend of Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Riesling, is labeled White Rhino. On the back labels, the winery explains: “Pinotage and rhinos are both iconically South African. Sadly, due to habitat loss and poaching, the survival of the rhinoceros is now threatened.” Proceeds from the sale of these wines helps the World Wildlife Federation’s conservation work.
The vineyard is primarily planted to cool-climate aromatic white varieties (Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Ehrenfelser). Formerly, there was a block of Optima. It was replaced in 2014 with three clones of Pinot Noir (667, 777 and 115).
Here are notes on three wines in The View’s current portfolio.
The View Elements Collection Riesling 2022 ($27.95). The fruit was fermented in barrel and aged on the lees in French oak, presumably neutral oak to add structure to the wine rather that flavours of wood. The wine begins with aromas of lemon mingled with petrol. There is more lemon and rind of lemon on the rich palate. The wine is dry, with a long finish. 91.
The View Pinot Noir 2021 ($25.95 for 45 cases). Each clone was harvested by hand, destemmed and crushed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. After a total of 14 to 16 days on the skins, the must was pressed into barrels to finish fermentation. The wine spent about nine months in French oak (11.5% new). The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and blackberry mingled with spice and forest floor notes. 91.
The View Black Rhino Pinotage Reserve 2020 ($34.95 for 176 cases). This wine was aged about nine months in barrel, predominantly French and 62% new. This is a robust and somewhat exotic wine, with flavours and aromas of dark cherry, sage and chocolate. The finish is persistent. 92.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

1 Mill Road expands its portfolio

Photo: 1 Mill Road owners Katies Truscott and Ben Bryant
Under new ownership since 2022, 1 Mill Road Winery, the Naramata-based boutique winery has begun to expand its portfolio with wines made from select vineyards. “2022 was a fantastic vintage,” the winery principals explain. “As a result, we have decided to express the unique sites from which we sourced our grapes, as single vineyard wines.”
The winery has just released a Pinot Noir from a four-acre Naramata Bench vineyard called Black Pine and a Chardonnay from a 10.4-acre vineyard in the East Kelowna Slopes sub-appellation, which has 3.6 acres of clone 95 Chardonnay planted 10 years ago. The winery also made Pinot Noir from its Home Block Vineyard in 2022. Now maturing in bottle, it will be released in the spring of 2024; some will be available in magnums. The 1 Mill Road winery was established by David and Cynthia Enns, the former owners of Laughing Stock Vineyards, which they launched in 2003 and sold to Arterra Wines Canada in 2017. They moved to a five-acre property near Naramata where they had planted a vineyard exclusively with Pinot Noir. Since the first vintage in 2018, 1 Mill Road Home Block Pinot Noir has established itself as one of the Okanagan’s premium Pinot Noirs.
The winery was purchased last summer by Ben Bryant, an Australian-born winemaker, and his partner Katie Truscott, an Okanagan-based wine marketer. “We posed a question two or three years ago to David and Cynthia to ask if they were interested in selling,” Ben told me in an interview last year. “Katie is in a tasting group with Cynthia. It was Christmas last year [2021] that Cynthia rang and asked if we would still be interested.” 1 Mill Road had become available because David and Cynthia have their hands full running Naramata Wine Vaults and the Naramata General Store. “This was a dream business model,” Ben said of the winery. “David and Cynthia have built this business from the ground up with the right mindset. Everything has been done to a level. It is not as if you have to reinvigorate a business; you don’t have to invest a lot of money in repositioning a brand or a product. All of that foundation has been built. Now, it is evolving it to the next chapter.”
“We want Pinot Noir to be one of the key varieties and we want to introduce Chardonnay as well,” Ben said last September. “They are two varieties that we love drinking and that we love making. At the end of the day, we are drawn to the region.” Initially, Ben was recruited to the Okanagan to make wine at Mission Hill Family Estate. While that relationship did not last, Ben decided to stay in the Okanagan rather than return to the Australia. “I came here because there was absolute potential in the wines,” he told me. “I still believe that. [I will] find unique sites of Pinot Noir and of Chardonnay and bring them to life.”
Here are notes on the wines.
1 Mill Road Chardonnay 2022 East Kelowna Slopes ($270 for a six-pack). The grapes were whole bunch pressed. The juice was fermented in French oak: 85% in seasoned puncheons and 15% in new barriques. The wine was aged in oak for nine months before being blended and bottled. The oak is so well integrated that initially I thought this was an unoaked Chardonnay. The wine, which is crisp and fresh, has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. There is a spine of minerality. 91.
1 Mill Road Black Pine Pinot Noir 2022 ($330 for a six-pack). The fruit for this wine is from a vineyard on the Naramata Bench. The grapes were picked by hand, with 19% going into the fermenter as whole bunches. The remainder were destemmed and crushed gently. Fermentation was in stainless steel. The wine then went into French barriques (one, two and three years old) for nine months. This is still a very youthful wine with intense aromas and flavours of cherry, cranberry and spice. The texture is silky. I would suggest giving this wine at least another year of bottle aging before opening it. 92.