Saturday, June 22, 2024

Bartier Bros.: strategies to stay in business

Photo: Don and Michael Bartier (courtesy of the winery)
For the second year in a row, Bartier Bros. winery’s annual releases have included cans of a 4.2% alcohol product called Piquette. There is both a white and a rosé. Unlike last year, I am scoring these products, which are pleasantly refreshing. And given the damage to vineyards during the past two winters, Piquette may be making an outsized contribution to the viability of Bartier Bros. if, as expected, consumers embrace the product.
Let me quote the winery’s explanation of Piquette from last year. “Piquette is light wine made from a second pressing of the grapes. The sugar in this is much lower, of course, leading to lower potential alcohol, 4.2% in the end. After fermentation and filtering, we added a bit of carbonation; it keeps it fresh, and it makes it refreshing.” Piquette is common in France and likely in many other wine regions. It has been primarily a product with which the winemakers and the vineyard workers slake their thirst without becoming inebriated. Bartier Bros. were prompted by the need to keep their business viable, given rising costs and two devastating winters.
“It occurred to us, if only we could get more wine from the same grapes,” Michael writes. “Well, it turns out that we can, and we did. After pressing the grapes for our wines, we're re-soaking the grape skins and then pressing these again to produce Piquette. The yield and the quality have been astonishing; this is a game-changer for us. We've picked up a dedicated following for Piquette through our tasting room last season, so we've expanded the production of this. As of this summer, we now have distribution of Piquette White and Rosé in all 22 Save On Foods stores and a considerable number of private wine and liquor stores. We expect this to take off.”
There is even more reason this year than last to look to Piquette to stabilize the winery’s revenues. “The post-pandemic economy is expensive,” Michael writes. “People are looking for lower alcohols in their wine. Our BC wine production will be way down for at least the next three years [due to the need for vineyards to recover from the damage of the past two winters]. The preference for lower alcohol is sensible, but the rising costs and low production make this a tough time for BC wineries.” Bartier Bros. has moved decisively to reduce expenses. “Labour is so expensive and difficult to find right now that we're investing in machinery that can replace this,” Michael writes. “Examples that we've invested in are automated filtration, mechanized hedging, mechanized under-vine mowing, newer and more efficient tractors and sprayers. These have already made a huge difference for us.”
Piquette enables the winery to stretch production at a time the vineyards are recovering. The hard frost just before Christmas, 2022, led to extensive crop loss at Bartier vineyards in 2023. Syrah was hit especially hard and has not been replanted. Total production in Bartier’s 2023 vintage was a quarter of what it should have been, But January, 2024, was “even worse than the previous winter, with temperatures hitting - 25 C at our vineyard, and considerably colder elsewhere,” Michael writes. The vine damage requires extensive replanting of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sémillon and Chardonnay (although one block of own-rooted Chardonnay survived and is expected to produce a full crop next year).
Bartier Bros. contracts the Harper’s Trail Vineyard near Kamloops. Michael describes it as a “particularly cold site.” The cold snap just before Christmas 2022 killed the entire vineyard to the ground. However, the vines are own-rooted and new shoots emerged from those roots in the spring of 2023. “In the fall of 2023, we laid down canes from each vine at this site, and then buried them, using a tractor-mounted disc to mound up soil,” Michael writes. “Revealing these canes this spring, the canes and buds were 100% viable, so we trained them up to form a new trunk and cordon. We expect close to a full crop from these vines.” That is leading the winery to a new approach with its Okanagan vineyards. “Given the result of our trial burying canes, we'll be adopting this practice in all our vineyards, starting this fall,” Michael writes. “If we experience a mild winter, we only need to reveal the canes, prune them back to two buds, and then let these buds grow again that season so that we can repeat this the following winter. If we experience a harsh winter, then we've insured ourselves.”
Michael and his brother, Don, have also adopted other measures to keep the business viable, including managing vineyards and making wine for other producers. Given the quality of the Bartier wines, one would not want to lose these creative and hard-working individuals from the BC wine scene. Here are notes on the wines.
Bartier Bros. Riesling 2022 ($24.99 for 723 cases). The fruit for this wine came from the South Thompson River Valley. Whole cluster crushed, the wine was fermented spontaneously in stainless steel and then aged three months in stainless steel. There is almost 13 grams of residual sugar but it is balanced superbly with nine grams of acid. This is a delicious wine. There is a hint of petrol in the aroma. On the palate, it mingles with flavours of lemon and grapefruit. 92.
Bartier Bros. Sauvignon Blanc 2023 ($24.99 for 215 cases). The fruit was whole-clustered pressed and then fermented cool with cultured yeast. The wine was aged four months in stainless steel. The fresh acidity gives this wine a zesty personality. There are aromas of lime. The palate is packed with fruits – lime, grapefruit, peach – and a touch of minerality is the spine that ties it altogether. 92.
Bartier Bros. Chardonnay 2023 ($24.99 for 521 cases). The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and the wine was fermented with cultured yeast in stainless steel. The wine was aged four months in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of apple, pear and citrus. On the palate, it is a bowl of orchard fruits. 91.
Bartier Bros. Rosé 2023 ($19.99 for 1,800 cases). The blend is 56% Gewürztraminer, 24% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Gris, 8% Kerner and 2% Viognier. Both the Kerner and the Gewürztraminer grapes had limited skin contact to acquire colour and to enhance the flavours. The wine was aged three months in stainless steel, with no lees contact. The colour is fashionably pale. The aromas and flavours are more restrained that one would expect from the blend, with hints of strawberry, watermelon and citrus. 88.
Bartier Bros. Brut NV ($34.99). This is a traditional method sparkling wine from Chardonnay and it comes in an elegant bottle. It was aged four months in stainless steel and at least 12 months en tirage before being disgorged. The wine matches the elegance of the package. There is a touch of brioche in the aroma. The palate is seductive with a creamy mousse and with citrus and peach mingled in the flavours. 93.
Bartier Bros. Merlot 2022 ($25.99 for 1,264 cases). The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks; and the wine was aged 15 months in neutral French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, blueberry and cassis which are echoed on the palate. The underlying spine of minerality gives the wine something of a brooding character. 90.
Bartier Bros. Granite 2021 ($29.99 for 764 cases). This is a blend of 53% Syrah, 32% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. On tasting this delicious blend, one can only mourn the loss of Syrah. The wine is rich, with flavours of dark cherry, mocha and licorice coating the palate. 92.
Bartier Bros. Orchard Row 2021 ($39.99 for 250 cases). This is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 38% Pinot Noir and 21% Merlot. The wine was aged 16 months in neutral French oak. This is a wine with bright and lively fruit, with zesty blackberry mingled with cherry aromas and flavours. 91.
Bartier Bros. Pinot Noir 2022 ($39.99 for 352 cases). This is 97% Pinot Noir (with grapes from Kamloops) and 3% Similkameen Petit Verdot. The grapes were crushed into one-ton fermenters and macerated for 18 days. The wine was aged 17 months inm neutral French oak. This is a dark, medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavours of spice and dark cherry. 90.
Bartier Bros. Piquette White ($15.99 for four 355 ml cans). The wine is crisp and quite dry, with citrus on the restrained palate. 86.
Bartier Bros. Piquette Rosé ($15.99 for four 355 ml cans). This wine, with just 4.2% alcohol, is refreshingly clean and crisp, with hints of raspberry. 88.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Noble Ridge is certified a sustainable producer

Photo: Leslie and Jim D'Andrea with debut sparkling wine in 2013
In April, Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery became the first Canadian producer to achieve the Biosphere Sustainable Certification. The following month, this Okanagan Falls winery released three excellent sparkling wines that one should drink to celebrate the achievement.
The Biosphere certification culminates a years-long effort by the winery to become a sustainable producer. In August 2021, Noble Ridge was one of the first wineries in the Okanagan to achieve a British Columbia certification for sustainable winegrowing. There is a long list of actions that a winery takes to qualify for the Biosphere certification. At Noble Ridge, that has included installing solar panels and geothermal energy systems; composting; planting drought resistant cover crops; using deficit irrigation; bottling wine in light eco glass bottles; even installing efficiency toilets. The certification also requires the winery to have good working conditions and health and safety programs.
“We have undertaken over 133 activities related to 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations,” Noble Ridge owners Leslie and James D’Andrea said in a statement. “It is not by accident that we have dedicated ourselves to undertaking practices and implementing systems that not only have helped us produce world class wines but have supported our commitment to the stewardship of our land and the people who work with us at the winery.”
Their note with the release of three sparking wines reiterates their view that “sparkling wine isn’t just for celebrations; its effervescence and versatility elevate any moment.” That view is now widely accepted by both consumers and B.C. wineries. Twenty-five years ago, you could count the number of B.C. sparkling wines on one hand. Today, it is a rare winery that does not offer one. Noble Ridge was one of the earlier producers and has made numerous award-winning sparklers. The wines are made in the traditional Champagne method with the varietals also used in Champagne. These are top quality wines, quite competitive with Champagne. Here are my notes.
Noble Ridge The Pink One 2019 ($34.99 for 135 cases). This is 100% Pinot Noir. The grapes were allowed four hours of skin contact; hence, the wine’s appealing rose petal hue. The wine was on the lees for 34 months before being disgorged. The aroma delivers notes of biscuit and strawberry. The palate is a generous mouthful of raspberry and strawberry. The finish is dry. 92.
Noble Ridge The One 2018 ($34.99 for 345 cases). This is 72% Chardonnay and 28% Pinot Noir. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented cool. The wine was en tirage for 47 months before being disgorged. The wine has aromas of citrus and brioche; on the palate, there are flavours of lemon, pear and brioche. The mousse gives the wine a creamy texture; the finish is dry and refreshing. 94.
Noble Ridge The One Grand Reserve 2017 ($N/A for 165 cases). This wine, which is reserved just for Noble Ridge’s wine club, is 78% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Noir. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and the wine was fermented cool. It spent 66 months en tirage. Citrus and green apple mingle with brioche in the aroma. On the palate, there is a medley of complex flavours, including apple, pear, biscuit and almond. The mousse gives the wine a creamy texture but the finish is crisply dry. 96.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Blue Mountain continues releasing is 2022 wines

Photo: Winemaker Matt Mavety
After releasing no wine from the smoke-tainted 2021 vintage, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars has begun releasing wines from the excellent 2022 vintage. I have been able to review the 2022 Gamay Noir earlier this year (and I will reproduce my note here); and I have just had a chance to taste the 2022 Estate Cuvée Chardonnay. I have tasted previously the other three 2022 whites that the winery has released: the Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Gris. Given winemaker Matt Mavety’s competence in both the vineyard and the winery, I would even recommend his wines without tasting them.
The alterative might be to attend the winery’s summer celebration on the afternoon of July 6 (except I have a house guest arriving that day). The winery is selling tickets to the event at $67.20, which includes a selection of canapés and oysters and tastings of Blue Mountain’s white wines. The event takes place at the winery’s picturesque estate near Okanagan Falls. The whites on offer will include the just-released 2022 Estate Cuvée Chardonnay. The grapes are from vines that are between 16 and 33 years old; and there are four clones. In the vineyard, the crop was reduced with manual thinning to achieve more concentrated and higher quality grapes. This wine has the potential to age four to six years, according to the winemaker. I suspect it will still be drinking well in 2032 if stored in a good cellar.
Here is my note, along with a repeat of my Gamay review:
Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Chardonnay 2022 ($30). This wine was fermented with natural yeast in French oak barrels and aged 14 months in barrel (new to fourth fill). The wine has aromas and flavours of mandarin orange, lemon and stone fruits. The texture is rich with a spine of minerality. The finish is persistent. 92.
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.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Naramata Bench wine tasting

Photo: Naramata Bench vineyard view
The Naramata Bench Wineries Association brought a number of their members to Vancouver last month for well-attending tastings in the afternoon and evening. It was a bit like the old days, before the pandemic. Naramata Bench is perhaps the most blessed terroir in the Okanagan, with its complex soils, it west-facing exposure and the climate moderation from Okanagan Lake. The vineyards on the bench came through the 2023 and 2024 winter freezes better than most other areas. Tony Holler, the owner of Poplar Grove Estate Winery, believes that none of the vineyards on the bench need replanting to deal with frost damage.
The bounteous and top quality 2022 vintage has given the wineries the inventory to help them through the next several years. Production was smaller than usual in 2023 and is certain to be reduced this year (due to bud damage) and perhaps next year. Wineries will need to be selective on distributing their wines, probably putting wine club members at the head of the list. All the tasting rooms are open now. Check out for the myriad of available activities this summer.
Here are notes on some of the wines I was able to taste at last month’s tasting. I think I just had time for a third of the room.
Kettle Valley Winery is one of Naramata’s pioneering wineries. It was opened by 1996 by Bob
Ferguson (far right) and Tim Watts. The winery has a reputation for meticulous viticulture and for making some of the longest-lived red wines in British Columbia. The wines under the Great Northern brand are from a vineyard in the Similkameen Valley which Kettle Valley sold two years ago and which was decimated by the hard freeze in January 2024. That likely eliminates Zinfandel from the pantheon of varietals grown in British Columbia.
Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2022 ($24). This winery’s Pinot Gris is distinctive for its pink hue and its bowlful of fruit flavours. The winery picks the grapes at optimal ripeness and leaves the juice on the skins for three days before being pressed. Most of the fermentation is in stainless steel, with a portion fermented in barrel. There are aromas and flavours of ripe apple, pear and cantaloupe. 90.
Kettle Valley Gewürztraminer 2019>($22). Close your eyes and you are in Alsace with this rich Gewürztraminer. There are aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lychee with the varietal’s typical notes of ginger on the nose and the finish. 90.
Kettle Valley Adra Station Chardonnay Reserve 2018 ($30). This wine was fermented in French oak. Rich in texture, the wine delivers layers of flavour – apricot, peach, citrus and vanilla. The finish is persistent. 92.
Kettle Valley Merlot 2020 ($28). Aged 20 months in French oak, this is a full and rich Merlot with aromas and flavours of black currants and cherries. 90.
Kettle Valley Pinot Noir 2021 ($28). This full-bodied Pinot Noir, aged 12 months in oak, has aromas and flavours of dark cherry mingled with earthy, forest floor notes. 91.
Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2018 ($38 for 360 cases). This is the winery’s icon Bordeaux blend at a more appealing price that many of its peers. The wine is a blend primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, filled out with Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant, black cherry and chocolate. The long ripe tannins make for a generous texture. 93.
Great Northern Viognier 2020 ($24). Rich on the palate, this wine delivers aromas and flavours of stone fruits. The wine is complex, with a portion having been fermented in older French oak barrels. 90.
Great Northern Zinfandel 2018 ($26). This wine was aged about 22 months in French oak and even that did not quite tame the tannins. This is a lean wine with spice and dark fruits on the palate. 88.
Roche Wines is a Naramata Bench winery opened in 2017 by Dylan Roche and his wife, Pénélope. Her family once owned a winery in France and Dylan, a Vancouver native, got his start in the wine business in France. Recently, Roche Wines, which has an extensive portfolio, added a new line designated Vig, short for vigneron. The bottles all feature original labels designed by artists, in keeping with a French tradition of supporting artists.
Roche Vig Schönburger 2022 ($23). The label is by Philippines-born artist Karl Mata Hipol, now living in North Vancouver and currently studying at Emily Carr University. The wine, fermented in stainless steel, is a lovely aromatic white, with aromas of tropical fruits, echoed on the palate. 90.
Roche Vig Zweigelt 2022 ($25). The label is by Victoria artist Andrea Soos. Zweigelt is the predominant red varietal in Austria; in the Okanagan it has proven well-suited to making rosé wines. This wine presents with an appealing rose petal hue. It has aromas and flavours of pomegranate, cherry and rhubarb. 90.
Roche Vig Zweigelt 2023 ($25). The label is by Victoria artist Andrea Soos. The wine, limited to members of the Roche wine club, has aromas and flavours of raspberry, pomegranate and watermelon. 90.
Roche Vig Naramata Pinot Noir 2022 (Wine club only; 360 cases). The label is by Toronto artist Paige Ring. This wine, aged in neutral French oak, is a juicy wine with aromas and flavours of cherry. The texture is silky. 88.
Roche Vig Len’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2020 ($95 for 70 cases). The label is by Toronto artist Marina Billinghurst. The wine itself is a tribute to organic grower Len Kozier, credited with giving the Roche family its start. The wine was made with selected fruit, fermented cool in stainless steel and aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It is a concentrated wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, and classic notes of forest floor on the finish. 92.
Roche Tradition Pinot Noir 2019 ($50 for 344 cases). It is amazing there is still some of this in the Roche inventory; the wine is from a fine vintage. It is a concentrated wine that was aged 12 months in French oak (15%-20% new). There is dark fruit in the aroma and on the palate, and once again the classic forest floor on the finish. 92.
Ruby Blues Winery. Prudence Mahrer and her husband, Beat, opened this folksy Naramata Road winery in 2009. The warm tasting room welcome reflects Prudence’s breezy and optimistic personality. Graham Pierce (pictured), a veteran Okanagan winemaker, has been the chief winemaker here since mid-2022.
Ruby Blues Forever Young Riesling 2022 ($24.90). This is a well-made wine, showcasing the Naramata Bench terroir. There are aromas and flavours of citrus and green apple, with a classic hint of petrol. The finish is crisply dry. 91.
Ruby Blues Commune Gewürztraminer 2022 ($25.90). This is an intense wine with aromas and flavours of lychee and stone fruit. 90.
Ruby Blues Peace & Love & Bubbles NV ($30). This is a sparkling rosé that the winery also packages in cans. It is a juicy wine with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. 88.
Ruby Blues Red Stiletto NV ($30.90). This is a blend anchored with 2019 Syrah and filled out with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot varieties. An eminently appealing red, it always tastes like one glass is not enough. It has aromas and flavours of dark cherry mingled with chocolate, coffee and spice. 90.
Terravista Vineyards opened in 2011 on a vineyard above the old Kettle Valley railbed, making it the highest elevation winery on the Naramata Bench. Dallas and Eric Thor, the currant owners, have also planted a lower vineyard, much closer to the lake. Nadine Kinvig,(pictured) their New Zealand-trained winemaker, honed her skills previously at Poplar Grove. She has a sure hand with Terravista’s Spanish varietals.
Terravista Albariño 2023 ($31 for 238 cases). This wine is available only to members of Terravista’s wine club. The wine is zesty and fresh, with aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, including lime. 92.
Terravista Fandango 2023 ($33 for 229 cases). This is a blend of 51% Verdejo and 49% Albariño. The winery reports that the lower crop yield in 2023 resulted in “riper and more complex flavours”. I agree. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime and lemon, with refreshing and bright acidity. 92
Terravista Figaro 2022 ($33 for 310 cases). This is a blend of 70% Roussanne and 30% Viognier. The Roussanne was barrel-fermented while the Viognier was fermented cool in stainless steel. It is a complex white, with aromas and flavours of stone fruits mingled with minerality. 92.
Terravista Viognier 2022 ($28 for 127 cases). This wine began fermentation in stainless steel and was then transferred to concrete, where it finished ferment and then was aged on the lees for six months. The wine has a full texture with aromas and flavours of nectarine, quince and pineapple. 91.
Terravista En Terre Riesling 2023 ($30 for 265 cases). This is a very well-balanced Riesling, with 17 grams of residual sugar set against 8.6 grams of acidity. The fruit is from the winery’s Storm Haven Vineyard near Okanagan Falls. The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and stone fruits. 91.
Terravista Syrah 2022 ($39 for 350 cases). This is made from the first Syrah harvested from the winery’s En Terre Vineyard on the Naramata Bench, supplemented with fruit from Osoyoos. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak barrels (20% new). The wine begins with aromas of blackberry and white pepper. The palate delivers flavours of dark cherry, plum and fig mingled with pepper. 92.
Upper Bench Winery & Creamery is operated by Gavin Miller and his cheese-making wine, Shana (pictured). They took over a winery in receivership in 2011 and have transformed it into one of the most compelling places to visit on Upper Bench Road, at the eastern side of Penticton. There is a pizza oven; there are eight delicious cheeses; and a solid portfolio of wines.
Upper Bench Riesling 2022 ($26). This is a crisply dry wine, with aromas of citrus and petrol. This is echoed on the palate and on the long finish. 91.
Upper Bench Pinot Blanc 2022 ($23). This wine is tweaked with four-percent Muscat to add a floral note. The wine begins with aromas of apple and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of apple and citrus. The finish is crisp. 90.
Upper Bench Chardonnay 2021 ($28). Half of this wine was aged in stainless steel and half in French oak for three months. That accounts for the vanilla and spice aromas, mingled with orchard fruits on the palate. This is an appealing, fruit-forward Chardonnay. 92.
Upper Bench Merlot Cabernet Franc 2021 ($26). This is a blend of 70% Merlot picked on the 21st of September and 30% Cabernet Franc harvested almost a month later on October 19th. The wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for 12 months. It is a juicy wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and black currant. 90
Upper Bench Merlot 2021 ($31). This wine is bold and intense, with aromas of dark cherry, licorice and chocolate. On the rich palate, the wine has flavours of cherry, fig and spice. 91.
Upper Bench Altitude 2021 ($48). This is Upper Bench’s flagship Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Firm in texture, the wine is built for cellaring. It has aromas and flavours of cassis and black cherry. 91.