Friday, December 29, 2023

Church & State masters multiple terroirs

Photo: winemaker Arnaud Thierry
Church & State Wines was founded in 2004 at Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island. That location, with a small vineyard, is now where the winery makes and cellars its sparkling wines. Traditional method sparkling wines found their way into the portfolio because the Brentwood Bay terroir is best suited to wines of that style. As well, Arnaud Thierry, Church & State’s winemaker since 2017, was trained in Champagne. He began making a traditional method sparkling wine in Canada soon after joining Church & State.
Born in Normandy, Arnaud had extensive experience in both Champagne and Bordeaux before coming to the Okanagan with his wife, Caroline Schaller, now the winemaker at Uppercase Winery. Church & State has 85 acres of vineyard in the south Okanagan and 10 acres at Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island, where the winery originated in 2002 as Victoria Estate Winery. It was acquired two years later by lawyer Kim Pullen, who renamed it. At the recommendation of his consulting winemaker at the time, Californian Bill Dyer, he moved production to the south Okanagan a few years later rather than transporting grapes to Vancouver Island. The Brentwood Bay vineyard now produces Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes just for sparkling wines, a very sensible use for grapes from this cool site. (Kim Pullen sold the winery in 2017 to Sunocean Wineries and Estate, a Vancouver company owned by a low-profile Chinese businessman.)
Arnaud says that his approach to winemaking is simple and traditional. “I am very attracted by tradition, and the respect of the fruit,” he says. Winemaking is very classic: a good expression of the fruit and freshness in the whites; and volume, fruit and spice in the reds. “I want to have the varietal specificity of the grapes each time.”
Here are notes on current releases.
Church & State Blanc de Gris 2019 ($25.75 for 770 cases). This traditional method sparkling wine was aged at least 12 months on the lees before being disgorged. Made with Pinot Gris fruit from the Brentwood Bay vineyard, this wine’s active mousse propels aromas of brioche and fruit. The palate is packed with flavours, including pear and citrus, which linger on the refreshing finish. 92.
Church & State Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2018 ($33.75 for 1,019 cases). This wine is made with Chardonnay grown, the winery says, in a Black Sage Road “terroir that ripens Chardonnay perfectly for this method of winemaking.” The wine was aged 30 months in bottle on the lees “at our sparkling wine house in Brentwood Bay.” This wine begins with an active mousse and aromas of brioche and citrus. On the palate, the flavours are clean and fresh, with citrus and apple mingled subtly with brioche. The finish is crisp. 92.
Church & State Gris de Noirs 2020 ($33.75 for 102 cases). The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir from Vancouver Island and Osoyoos East Bench, fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged on the lees for 12 months. The delicate pink hue gives eye appeal to the wine, which has a lively mousse and fruity aromas. There are hints of strawberry on the palate. The finish is crisp and tart. 91.
Church & State Trebella 2020 ($24.25 for 300 cases). This Rhône-inspired white is a blend of 33% Roussanne, 33% Marsanne and 34% Viognier. The wine was fermented for three weeks in barrel and then aged eight months in French oak. The texture is rich. The wine has aromas and flavours of guava, apricot and vanilla with a very long finish. 90.
Church & State Estate Series Syrah 2019 ($35 for 660 cases). The grapes were fermented and macerated in stainless steel for 20 days. The wine was aged 12 months in French oak barrels. The wine has aromas and flavours of dark fruits, deli meats and pepper. 91.
Church & State Estate Series Cabernet Franc ($32.50 for 1,000 cases). Fruit for this wine is from vineyards on the Osoyoos West Bench and on the Black Sage Bench. The grapes were fermented and macerated 20 days in stainless steel. The wine was then aged 12 months in French oak barrels (25% new). The wine begins with the classic brambly aromas that gives Cabernet Franc such easy appeal. The blackberry aromas lead to flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. 92.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Stoneboat's low-key winemaking worth finding

Photo: William Adams, winemaker at Stoneboat
William (Bill) Adams, the winemaker at Stoneboat Pinot House, is one of the most low-key of Okanagan winemakers. He makes up for his low profile by making very solid wines. Here is his biography on the Stoneboat website:
“Bill began his winemaking career in Ontario where he completed a three year wine making program at Niagara College. Working under veteran winemaker David Hojnoski at Palatine Hills Estate Winery, Bill learned the fun side of winemaking and and developed impeccable winemaking practices. A visit to experience the Okanagan wine region in 2006 kept Bill here ever since. During his four years working with Pascal Madevon, a French viticulturist and winemaker, at Osoyoos LaRose, he met Stoneboat’s Jay Martiniuk and our friendship with Bill began. Bill joined Stoneboat after a year as cellar master at Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars. His sensitive approach to winemaking, and his experience with Pinot varieties in particular, make him the perfect match for Stoneboat’s approach to honest, expressive wines.”
The Stoneboat winery was opened in 2007 by veteran vine propagator Lanny Martiniuk and his family. In 2021, they sold the winery to Kyla Richey and Rudy Verhoeff. With the backing of Rudy’s family, they already were establishing a companion winery called Valley Commons. Aside from cosmetic touches to the Stoneboat tasting room, they have continued to operate the winery as before, leaving Bill in charge of the cellar. Pinot Noir and Pinotage continue to be the signature varietals. That explains why the winery, once called Stoneboat Vineyards, has taken to calling itself Stoneboat Pinot House.
Here are notes on some current releases.
Stoneboat Pinot Gris 2022 ($24 for 885 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear, nectarine and citrus. The palate is a fruit basket of peach, apple and pear. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Stoneboat Rosé 2022 ($24 for 1,008 cases). This is made with Pinot Noir. The wine, with a pale hue, is crisp and refreshing, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. 89.
Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2020 ($32 for 1,509 cases). This wine was aged 15 months in barrel. The wine is full-bodied with the elegance and balance that characterized the 2020 vintage for reds. There are aromas and flavours of spice, cherry and blackberry. The texture is silky. 90.
Stoneboat Pinot Noir Reserve 2021 (100 cases). This wine begins with aromas of cherry and strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, blackberry and spice. The texture is full and the finish is silky. 91.
Stoneboat Pinotage Reserve 2021 (253 cases). The exotic personality of Pinotage is appealing (at least to me). This wine begins with aromas of plum and dark cherry. On the palate, blueberry flavours mingle with cherry and pomegranate. The finish is both savoury and spicy. 92.
Stoneboat Heritage Winemaker’s Blend 2021 ($N/A for 98 cases). This is an unusual blend of 50% Pinotage and 50% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak (25% new). The wine begins with aromas of spice, blackberry and raspberry. On the palate, flavours of black currant mingle with dark chocolate and spice. The wine is full-bodied with a long finish. 93.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

High Note hits the right notes

Photo: High Note's Bert Evertt (courtesy of High Note Estate Winery
There is a good story explaining all of the musical references in the labels of the wines from High Note Estate Winery. High Note opened this summer after taking over the Naramata Bench property that briefly was the Okanagan outpost for Abbottsford’s Singletree Winery. Under High Note’s owner Bert Evertt, the winery is being developed with a combined flair for both Mediterranean wine varietals and classical music. Bert also owns two other Okanagan wineries (Upper Case and gadZook Winery) and has Catherine Schaller, one of the valley’s best winemakers, in charge of the cellars. Trained in France, she was formerly the winemaker at Osoyoos Larose Winery as well as Rainmaker Winery.
The story: Bert was once an opera singer. "I started my opera career in 1960 by joining the Northshore Light Opera company [in North Vancouver],” Bert recounts. “I was 17 years old and we performed a number of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Northshore Light Opera was invited to sing the Peoples Chorus in a Vancouver Opera Company production of Aida in 1963. I auditioned for the chorus of the Vancouver Opera Company that same year. I was accepted and the productions that I was in were La Boheme, La Traviata, Norma and Tosca.”
When Bert went to Riverside, California, in 1965 to attend college, he soon joined the the Riverside Opera Company and was in the chorus for Manon Lascaux. “In January 1966, I moved to San Diego State University and joined the San Diego Opera Company,” Bert continues. “I sang in the chorus of La Boheme with Placido Domingo who later became famous as one of the Three Tenors. I was also in Faust, The Barber of Seville, The Young Lord, Aida again and I cannot remember all of the other ones.”
In 1969, Bert moved to Milan, Italy in September of 1969 and joined the opera chorus of at the famous La Scala opera house. He concluded his opera career when he left Milan in 1971. “In 1989, I resurrected it by auditioning for the chorus in the production of Aida at BC Place,” Bert adds. “The chorus was invited to tour with Aida to Tokyo, Japan.” His favourite opera is Aida, having sung in the chorus at least a dozen times. “My second favourite is La Boheme as I was in at least 10 production nights,” he says.
“I discovered red wine, mainly Barolo, in Milan when I was invited by a friend to join him at a wine cellar in downtown Milan,” Bert recounts. “I have been an Italian wine aficionado for all of the years since 1969." That accounts for both the musical allusions and often the Mediterranean character built into some of High Note’s wines.
Here are notes on four current releases.
High Note Capriccio Riesling 2022 ($28 for 192 cases). “Capriccio is all about feeling,” the winery says. “The music is improvised and free form, allowing the musician to lead the piece with their virtuosity. The same philosophy guides our Riesling. We give room for the varietal to shine, while providing structure from aging in a combination of concrete eggs and stainless steel.” This wine is packed with fruit. There are aromas and flavours of lemon and lime around a spine of minerality. The finish has a lively tartness. 91.
High Note Patter Brut 2022 ($30 for 277 cases). “Patter is about precision, each note exactly where it should be,” the winery writes. “The songs are intricate and fast-paced, following the natural ebb and flow of speech. Lively and finessed, our Patter Brut dances across the palate.” This wine is made in the Cuve Close method, a blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Merlot. The wine presents with fat bubbles and aromas of apple and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of pear, apple and lemon. The finish is tangy and refreshing. 90.
High Note Verismo Syrah 2021 ($35 for 126 cases). “The Verismo tradition is honest, raw, and uncompromising,” the winery explains. “It reflects a turn inwards, capturing the power of each fleeting moment. Our Syrah follows in that path.” The wine has aromas and flavours of dark berries mingled with leather and earthy notes. There is hint of pepper on the finish. 90.
High Note Cadenza Red Blend 2021 ($40 for 164 cases). “A Cadenza is a culmination,” the winery explains. “The music subsides, as if to slow down time, and the coda belongs to the soloist. The same artistry guides this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon.” The wine begins with aromas of black cherry, blackberry and mocha. Rich in texture, it has flavours of cherry, black currant, blackberry and chocolate. 92.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Township 7 scores big with sparkling wine

Photo: Township 7's master of sparkling wine Mary McDermott
In November, at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in London, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery won the trophy for the best Canadian sparkling wine in the competition. The winning wine was seven stars Rigel 2020, a traditional method sparkling wine made with Riesling grapes. The wine was also runner-up for World Champion in the aromatic category. This is the second time Township 7 has won the Best Canadian Sparkling Wine in the show. It previously won in 2019 with seven stars Polaris, its flagship sparkling wine.
Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott has crafted an entire family of traditional method sparkling wines, all grouped under the “seven stars” designation. The wines all carry names that come from an astronomer’s guidebook: Polaris, Equinox, Aurora, Vega, Rigel and Sirius. Here are notes on four recent releases from Township 7, including two sparkling wines. One is made, unusually, with Viognier. The other, Sirius, is described by the winery as the “crown jewel” of its sparkling portfolio. The wine won gold in October at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition in Oregon.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Riesling 2020 ($29.97 for 468 cases). The fruit is clone 21-B Riesling vines from the Fool’s Gold Vineyard north of Oliver. The wine was fermented very cool and for six weeks in both stainless steel and neutral French oak barrels. The wine has quite intense aromas and flavours of lime, lemon and petrol. The bright acidity gives the wine a penetrating brightness that lingers on the finish. 92.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Viognier 2021 ($30.97 for 175 cases). The fruit is also from the Fool’s Gold Vineyard. It was fermented in stainless steel and in two barrels to enhance the texture. The wine has aromas and flavours pineapple, guava and stone fruit. 90.
seven stars Vega 2021 ($36.97 for 383 six-bottle cases). Viognier is rarely used for sparkling wine, likely because the varietal can get too ripe. The 2021 vintage was famously hot but the winery met the challenge by picking the Oliver-area grapes for this wine on August 30. That preserved the acidity needed for sparkling wine. This wine was en tirage for just 12 months. The wine presents itself with an active mousse. Aromas of apple and stone fruits mingle with delicate notes of brioche. The rich palate delivers flavours of apple, grapefruit and orange. 91.
seven stars Sirius 2016 ($79.97 a bottle for 283 six-bottle cases). This wine is in one of the most elegant packages of any traditional method sparkling wines. The wine is made with co-fermented Chardonnay (78%) and Pinot Noir (22%) from Township 7’s cool Langley vineyard (which happens to be located on the same latitude as Champagne). The wine was en tirage for 60 months and, on bottling, was finished in a “brut” style. This sophisticated wine has aromas and flavours of brioche mingled with citrus and apple. The fine and persistent mousse gives the wine a creamy texture on the finish. 94.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Hester Creek showcases 2022 red wines

Photo: Winemaker Mark Hopley (courtesy Hester Creek)
Mark Hopley, the winemaker at Hester Creek Estate Winery, has proclaimed the quality of the 2022 vintage early and often. “The vintage will be remembered as a milestone year for producing exceptional, fruit-forward and age-worthy wines,” says the vintage note released with the wines. The vintage will also be remembered for setting up the Okanagan and Similkameen vineyards was disastrous damage to vines and entire vineyards in the winter of 2022-23. At least a third of all vineyards have been, or will have to be, replanted.
The long, warm autumn in 2022 allowed viticulturists to leave grapes, especially the reds, on the wine to the end of October and beyond. The prolonged hang time is why the 2022 wines have so much flavour. The quantity of fruit was also large. But vines need time to shut down for winter after harvest, especially if they have been carrying a heavy load. A lot of vines were not quite ready when the temperature plunged suddenly after mid-November. Hester Creek practices competent viticulture. Its excellent site appears to have suffered less winter damage than many other vineyards. In spite of the smaller harvest in 2023, the winery this past year expanded its barrel program by 30%, added 138,000 litres of stainless steel tanks, tripled chilling capacity and installed four new Ganimede red fermentation tanks. The winery now has 18 Ganimedes fermenters.
Hester Creek began with two of these Italian-made fermenters in 2006. They allow the winemakers to sculpt the taste and texture of Hester Creek’s reds. The design of the tanks captures the carbon dioxide creating during fermentation, using it to gently break up the cap of skins and seeds. The wine macerates on the skins without picking up the harsh tannins that can be extracted with more heavy-handed punch-downs. To the best of my knowledge, no other Okanagan winery has installed the Ganimedes, perhaps because they are expensive. However, they are paying off for Hester Creek.
Here are notes on four recent red wine releases:
Hester Creek Select Vineyards Merlot 2022 ($19.99). The deep colour and the vivid fruit flavours of this wine reflect the use of the winery’s Ganimede fermentation tanks. Colour and flavour is extracted gently but fully with this technology. The wine was aged seven months in French (60%) and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and blackberry leading to flavours of dark cherry mingled with chocolate and spice. 90.
Hester Creek Select Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2022 ($21.99). The blend is 50% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit was from the estate vineyard and from growers in Oliver and Osoyoos. The individual varietals were fermented in the Ganimedes, then blended and aged eight months in French (75%) and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry, blackberry and spice. On the palate, there are generous flavours of plum, cherry, and black currant. Long, ripe tannins lead to a long finish. 91.
Hester Creek Character Red 2022 ($22.99). This wine is a blend of Hester Creek’s unique Italian Merlot clone with Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine was aged eight months in French (75%) and American oak. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and pepper. Generous in texture, the wine fills the mouth with flavours of blackberry, blueberry, cherry and pepper. 91.
Hester Creek Old Vine Cabernet Franc 2021 ($29.99). This historic block of Cabernet Franc in the estate vineyard delivers flavours with intensity and depth. The berries were cold-soaked for three days and then macerated for 15 days during fermentation. The wine was aged 18 months in French (75%) and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, raspberry and red currants, leading to flavours of spicy dark fruits and a long, persistent finish. 93.