Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Bordertown releases excellent wines from small 2023 vintage.

Photo: Bordertown's Mohan Gill
Judging from the excellent 2023 wines which Bordertown Estate Winery is just releasing, the 2023 Okanagan vintage is terrific. That is the good news. The bad news is that it is the smallest vintage in several decades, to be followed by an even smaller vintage in 2024, the result of two consecutive winters with hard frosts. However, Mohan Gill, Bordertown’s proprietor, believes that his winery’s deep inventory of red wines will sustain his business until grape production is back to normal.
The intense flavours and aromas of Bordertown’s 2023 whites is, ironically, a consequence of the short crop in that vintage. “On average, the crop was around 45% in 2023 compared to what we get in an average year,” he says. “The plants produced really small bunches. That’s what makes the difference. The crop was very light.” As well, the vines had a generous canopy which helped drive more flavour into the small bunches. “The ripening was more even and quicker than normal because the crop was not there,” Mohan explains. “But there were a lot of leaves and that gave energy and nutrients that contributed to the ripening and the better flavour.”
The winery produced close to 10,000 cases of wine last fall, down dramatically from 23,000 cases produced in 2022. It is too early to forecast what Bordertown’s vineyard will produce this year. The industry believes that the severe freeze in January this year killed most of the fruiting buds and likely some vines. Wine production is expected to be minimal. “We hope we can save the plants,” Mohan says. “Some have more damage than others. I probably need to replant a couple of vineyards. Last year, we pulled out one Malbec block and we put in Cabernet Franc, because it is winter hardy. And also, it is our flagship red wine.”
There are two reasons why he does not sound too distressed. Bordertown’s production is 80% red and 20% white. The winery still is selling reds from the 2018 and 2019 vintage and has a good inventory of successive vintages. “A lot of wineries have a backlog of red wine -- three to four years anyway,” Mohan believes. Secondly, the market for BC wines, including cellar door sales, softened last year. Highway closures and wild fires in the interior had a negative impact on wine touring. Mohan has always sold grapes to other wineries. Last fall, despite the short crop, some of his customers were reducing their orders, matching production to softer sales.
Because of the widespread vineyard damage, there has been a lot of discussion in the industry about importing grapes this fall from the United States or Ontario. Mohan would not support that. “That would ruin the whole B.C. market,” he argues. “If we bring in fruit from another country and try to manufacture wines here, the fruit quality is not there. People realize that BC is growing number one quality wine. So we would be ruining our own market. Consumers understand. They know the crop is less.”
Mohan also has not responded to the diminished production by raising wine prices. “People realize that I am a grower and there is no middle man,” he says. “That is one of the reasons that the prices are really decent.
Here are notes on his 2023 releases.
Bordertown Living Desert White 2023 ($18 for 470 cases). This is a complex blend: 52% Grüner Veltliner, 18% Pinot Gris, 15% Muscat, 10% Gewürztraminer and 5% Chardonnay. The wine begins with aromas of pear, peach and apple. The palate delivers flavours of citrus and stone fruits with a touch of spice on the crisp finish. 91.
Bordertown Pinot Gris 2023 ($20 for 3,500 cases). This is a delicious wine, full of aromas and flavours of peach, pear and citrus. 90.
Bordertown Gewurztraminer 2023 ($20 for 300 cases). The wine begins with aromas of spice and tropical fruits. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, pineapple and peach. There is a well-balanced touch of sweetness on the finish. 91.
Bordertown Unoaked Chardonnay 2023 ($22 for 350 cases). This wine struts its fruitiness, with aromas and flavours of apple and peach. The lush texture leads to a persistent finish. 91.
Bordertown Grüner Veltliner 2023 ($22 for 350 cases). This wine begins with aromas of pineapple leading to flavours of quince, pear and peach. There is minerality and a hint of spice on the finish. 91.
Bordertown Viognier 2023 ($22 for 265 cases). This is a rich and luscious wine beginning with aromas of apple, apricot and pineapple; those are echoed on the flavour-packed palate. The finish lingers. 92.
Bordertown Rosé 2023 ($23 for 385 cases). Made with Cabernet Franc, this wine presents in the glass with a pink/bronze hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and watermelon. 90.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Il Molino di Grace: a Tuscan jewel at the Wine Festival

Photo: Daniel Grace, the Tuscan vintner from California
Among the 71 Italian wineries at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival, perhaps the most unexpected discovery was a producer from Tuscany called Il Molino di Grace. Daniel Grace and his family, who launched the winery venture in 1995, originally came from California. Frank Grace, Daniel’s father, formerly operated a shipping business based in Britain. Wine lovers and wine collectors, the Grace family were intimately familiar with the Chianti region in Tuscany. When the opportunity arose to buy a 350-year-old 20-hectare Tuscan vineyard, “we leaped at it,” Daniel told me in an interview.
The state-of-the-art winery, which was built in 1997, is named after a 19th century historic windmill on the property. Molino is Italian for windmill. One of the first moves by the Grace family was to pull out the Cabernet Sauvignon vines and replacing them with indigenous Tuscan varietals such as Canaiolo and Colorino. The Grace family was at the forefront of the movement away from blending French varietals into so-called Super Tuscan wines. While the Super Tuscan wines were delicious, many Tuscan (and other Italian) producers have rediscovered the purity of wines made with the native Italian varietals. There are at least 600 indigenous Italian varietals. Many were on the cusp of extinction in the 1980s before Italy recognized that the world did not need another Chardonnay or Merlot.
“When we first set foot on the property,” Daniel says, “there was a sense of, oh my God, here come Californians. We will Napa-fi Tuscany. I think Napa is sort of Disneyland. If anything, we fell in love with this majestic purity [in Tuscany]. All of our Chianti has always been 100% Sangiovese. Our Super Tuscan is all made with indigenous fruit. We made significant changes to the vineyards. When we first arrived, we ripped out all the Cabernet, so we would not be tempted to scratch that itch. We went into it acutely aware of tradition and authenticity. I think it has been our compass.”
The rise in the quality of Chianti in recent decades has been dramatic. “The Chianti Classico region hasn’t had such a sexy swagger since the days of the Medicis,” Daniel says. “Ten, 15 years ago, I would walk into a room and say, sheepishly, let me change your mind about what you think about Chianti Classico wines. Now, I see it in people’s eyebrows --- that eyebrow-raising expectation one glass at a time. It is such a pleasure to see the response in the market place.” He gives a lot of credit to the Gran Selezione designation established in the Chianti Classico region a decade or so ago. It is the tide that “lifts all ships,” he says. “With the inaugural crop of the Gran Seleziones in the 2010 vintage, we were one of 19 producers,” Daniel continues. “And ours was the only 100% Sangiovese.”
The Chianti Riserva region encompasses the premium terroir of the larger Chianti producing area in Tuscany. The wines from the Riserva producers are divided into several quality classifications, starting with Chianti Classico, followed by Chianti Classico Riserva and then by Chianti Classico Riserva Gran Selezione. Regulations define the production methods that influence the quality of each wine designation.
The requirements for Gran Selezione became official in 2014. They specify that the grapes must be from the producer’s estate; that the wines must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese; and that the wines must be aged a minimum of 30 months (compared with 24 months for Riserva and about a year for Classico). “The requirement is 90% Sangiovese but I love to push it to 100% Sangiovese for Gran Seleziones,” Daniel says. (The current requirement is 80% Sangiovese, rising to 90% with the 2027 vintage.)
The winery has been certified organic since 2010. “Since its inception, Il Molino di Grace has made every effort to be a sustainable, bio-dynamic winery,” the website says. “We plow each vineyard only once every three years to the most shallow depths between the rows (maximum of 45 cm.) We use the cuttings from the vines to fuel the heating and air conditioning in the winery, thus eliminating the use of gas. All of the fertilizer used in the vineyards is organic, the yeast is indigenous, and the grapes are harvested and picked by hand only. Farming sustainably is a critical part of everything we do.”
Here are the four Chianti wines that Daniel Grace poured at the Wine Festival. His Vancouver agent, Patagonia Imports, has the wines in the Vancouver market.
Gratius Toscano IGT 2018 ($97.99). This is a powerful Super Tuscan incorporating only indigenous varietals (Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino), proving that one need not have French varietals in the blend to make a great wine. This wine will age very well. 95.
Il Margone Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018 ($57.99). This wine is made entirely with estate-grown Sangiovese. The wine is full-bodied with aromas and flavours of cherry, blackberry, black currant and spice, with a spine of minerality and long ripe tannins. 93.
Chianti Classico Riserva 2020 ($51.99). This wine has a lovely core of fruit, an almost unexpected richness for a Sangiovese wine. That is complimented by notes of cherry and spice, with a long finish. 92.
Chianti Classico 2020 ($38.99). The style of this wine, which is 100% Sangiovese, is brighter and leaner, with flavours of red fruit and with firm tannins. 90.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Staying in business: optimism at Pentâge Winery

Photo: Paul Gardner and Julie Rennie
The past two winters undoubtedly have been the most challenging that Paul Gardner and Julie Rennie have experienced since 1996, when they bought a derelict orchard at the south edge of Penticton for a vineyard. They have been selling the products of Pentâge Winery since 2003 although the tasting room opened only in 2011, initially in the massive 500 square-metre (5,500 square foot) cave that Paul dug from the crown of hard rock commanding this winery’s million-dollar view of Skaha Lake.
Paul farms the winery’s two Skaha Bench vineyards, which total 6.5 hectares (16 acres), growing so many varieties – including even Zinfandel - that one vineyard is called the Dirty Dozen. “I would still rather make small lots of interesting wine than big tanks full of wine,” he says. The winery has been producing about 5,000 cases of wine in most years and has developed a strong following. But the last two hard winters will have an impact on the winery’s production that will test the dedication of Pentâge’s patrons. Judging from a recent winery newsletter, Paul and Julie are up to the challenge.
They write: We trust this newsletter finds you in good health. Like many of you, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring.
We wanted to take a moment to provide you with an update on the recent challenges our vineyards have faced due to the severe winter weather in the past two years. Temperatures as low as -27°C were recorded in our area early this past January, serving as a reminder of Mother Nature’s firm hand and our primary role as farmers. Over the past couple of years, we have certainly felt the impact, experiencing some top loss last year, and this year we are observing some bud damage. Contrary to some media reports, we are not currently seeing as much potential damage during pruning. However, the true extent of this year’s damage remains unknown until the vines begin to grow around May or June.
Encouragingly, last year the vines were able to make headway to recovery from the cold snap in 2023. With the benefit of an early 2023 harvest and a fall fertilization program, we're keeping our fingers crossed that the vines have weathered this recent cold event. As we navigate these challenges, we want to assure you that we remain optimistic. Currently, we are in the midst of vineyard pruning, carefully tending to the vines in anticipation of the upcoming growing season, hopeful for a positive outcome.
Do we have wine? Absolutely. Thanks to our practice of bottle aging most of our wines at the winery, the potential worst-case impact of these two cold winters will not be noticeable for several years for the reds and our Rhone white blend. Unfortunately, our fruit-forward whites may experience some impact, resulting in limited quantities. Currently, some of the 2023 wines are in tanks waiting to be bottled. Despite a 50% reduction in yield in 2023, the small and highly concentrated berries have us extremely excited about this vintage.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Blue Mountain releases 2022 Gamay Noir

Photo: Blue Mountain's Matt Mavety
When Blue Mountain Vineyard & Winery released its 2022 Gamay Noir, the release was only to its wine club. Consumers of British Columbia wines should expect to see that limitation often during the next few years. Due to winter damage to the Okanagan’s vineyards, wine production in the 2023 vintage was about half the expected quantity. And the severe freeze in January this year is expected to result in even less wine being made in the 2024 vintage. The result: wineries have begun to ration their limited wine inventories. And that will continue for several years because it will take the vines several years to get back to normal production, assuming some several normal winters.
Many British Columbia wineries are expected to continue making wine if they are allowed to import grapes. There seems to be a surplus of grapes in Washington. However, Blue Mountain is highly unlikely to resort to imported grapes. The winery has earned a high reputation with its estate-grown wines and will do what is necessary to protect that reputation. Blue Mountain also should have a good inventory of wines, including sparkling wines, from previous vintages. But if you want to be assured of drinking some, now is the time to join the wine club – if you are not already a member.
The Gamay Noir is, I believe, the first Blue Mountain red to be released from the excellent (and bounteous) 2022 vintage. The varietal is generally regarded as a little brother to Pinot Noir. The book Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson and colleagues suggests the varietal is a “Burgundian refresher making wines generally but not always for early consumption.” Blue Mountain aims for more complexity, recommending its Gamay Noir can be aged for four to six years. Winemaker Matt Mavety has grown and made a wine reminiscent of a Beaujolais Cru, perhaps Morgon or Moulin-á-Vent.
This is a varietal that several dukes of Burgundy sought to banish. Duc Philippe le Hardi sought to outlaw it in 1395. The Robinson book quotes this decree, in which he calls the varietal a “very bad and disloyal” grape “from which come abundant quantities of wine. And this wine of Gaamez is of such a kind that it is very harmful to human creatures, so much so that many people who had it in the past were infested by serious diseases, as we have heard; because said wine from said plant of said nature is full of significant and horrible bitterness.” Growers were given five months to pull out their Gamay vines. There were subsequent orders to pull out the varietal in 1567, 1725 and 1731. Fortunately, none of these were obeyed fully. It is the seventh most planted red in France. Today, some of the best red wines in Burgundy are the ten Cru Beaujolais, made with well-grown Gamay Noir on very good sites. The Blue Mountain wine, as I have said, echoes Cru quality.
Here is a note on the wine.
Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2022 ($30). The hand-harvested fruit went into open-top fermenters, macerating 18 days on the skins with daily pump-overs. The wine was fermented in barrel with natural yeast. It was then drained off the skins and aged a year in neutral oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with spice. On the palate, it is rich, even bold, with flavours of cherry and plum and with a silken finish. The ripe tannins support the age-worthiness of the wine. 92.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

River Stone's strategy to stay in business.

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane
After the devastating vineyard damage of the two recent winters, some Okanagan and Similkameen wineries have begun to disclose to their wine clubs strategies for staying in business. At River Stone Estate Winery, Ted Kane – the owner, viticulturist and winemaker – expects limited production from his vineyard. He plans to make white and rosé wines in the 2024 vintage while relying on his inventory of red wines from previous vintages to keep his consumers supplied. River Stone was opened in 2011 by Ted and his wife, Lorraine, who is a doctor in the South Okanagan. The winery is on a seven-acre vineyard northeast of Oliver. It was developed by Ted primarily with Bordeaux red varietals. He has produced some outstanding wines and will continue to do so when weather patterns return to normal.
Here is what Ted wrote this week to River Stone’s customers:
Many of you are probably aware of recent media attention directed toward BC wineries and grape growers related to the widespread vineyard damage resulting from the cold weather event this January. The reality is the wine industry has taken another significant hit with the exceptional, and untimely cold weather snap occurring between January 11th and 14th. You probably have heard me say, as I firmly believe, “Mother Nature Runs the Show”. And we must adjust our practices as best we can to compensate and continue to produce the highest possible quality wines.
This extreme cold (as low as -30) in the valley followed the previous year’s cold snap, where vines had already been significantly damaged. Bud dissection in and around our area of the valley indicate significant primary and secondary bud damage: probably in the range of 60-100% bud loss depending on varietal. We really won’t know for certain until early to mid May as the vines will declare themselves and show the results. We are hoping for the best (as farmers always do) but planning for the worst. At this time we are pruning our vineyards in such a way to allow close to 100% more buds than usual while we wait for spring bud break.
Since our arrival in the valley in 2001 (initiating the planning, preparing, and planting our vineyards) we have had over 20 years of consistent vine health and production. This gives me hope that the future of our industry will be bright. Two bad years back-to-back is difficult to take and with climate change, the reality is that changes must be made from the ground up for long-term industry sustainability. Following last season’s harvest, we had decided to concentrate our wine production from the limited fruit available, on white and rosé wines, and not make reds from the vintage (as we have ample reds under development in barrel and in the cellar and library to carry us along for a while). Depending on what happens in our vineyards this season (and the vineyards of BC as a whole) will guide us in our future wine production.
At River Stone, we believe our terroir encompasses the physical characteristics of our vineyard sites, vineyard canopy management practices in harmony with Mother Nature, winemaking philosophy, and our skilled team from the vineyards and winery, to operations and tasting room. Whatever the future holds, we are confident we will navigate the challenges ahead, supported by our strong foundations.