Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Stag's Hollow turbo charges Vidal








Photo: Stag's Hollow founders Linda Pruegger and Larry Gerelus (courtesy of winery)

The Vidal grape is one of the few French hybrid varietals that remains commercially important in Canadian vineyards.

In Ontario, it is the primary Icewine grape. Several BC producers also make Vidal Icewine.

It can, however, also yield an exuberantly fruity white wine, somewhat reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc.

The varietal was already growing in the vineyard when Stag’s Hollow Winery founders Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger bought this Okanagan Falls property in 1992. Larry grafted Chardonnay onto most of the Vidal, keeping just half an acre.

He was just in time for the “Anything but Chardonnay” fad. But consumers had no prejudice against Vidal table wine. It sold so well that Larry let some of the grafted Chardonnay revert to Vidal. In recent years, he has even planted more Vidal.

The grape was developed in the 1930s by French plant breeder Jean-Louis Vidal. He crossed Trebbiano Toscano (also known as Ugni Blanc) with Rayon d’Or (Seyval Blanc in North America), intending to produce a grape for Cognac production. According to Jancis Robinson, the varietal was not authorized in France and is rarely grown there.

When Vidal acquired a cult following in the Stag’s Hollow tasting room, the owners renamed the wine “Tragically Vidal” because so little was grown in the Okanagan, a tragedy considering the appeal of the wine.

When I read the specifications for the 2017 Tragically Vidal, it seemed to me that Stag’s Hollow has begun to overthink the wine. The blend is 85.2% Vidal, 11.8% Orange Muscat, 2.6% Viognier and 0.5% Marsanne. The Muscat has accentuated the aromatics and the Rhone whites have added a noticeable richness to the texture. The wine is more complex than previous vintages of Tragically Vidal.

But does it make sense to put together such a complex blend for a wine selling for $17 a bottle when the winery gets $22 a bottle for its Muscat or its Viognier Marsanne. Stag’s Hollow is spoiling its Vidal drinkers who would, I suspect, still be happy with the simple fruity Vidal of old.

Here are notes on current releases.

Stag’s Hollow Muscat Frizzante 2018 ($22). This is a wine looking for a summer’s afternoon. It is light (11.1% alcohol) with delicate and refreshing bubbles. There are floral and spicy aromas of orange and nectarine. On the palate, there are flavours of spicy Asian pear. The finish is dry. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Tragically Vidal 2017 ($17). The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit mingled with notes of honey. That repeats on the palate. The texture is full. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto 2017 ($22). Stag’s Hollow is just one of two Okanagan producers of Dolcetto, a fruity Italian red. The wine, which was aged in concrete and older oak, begins with aromas of blackberry and chocolate. Those are echoed on the luscious palate. There is a note of spice on the lingering finish. 91.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Culmina delivers flavours








Photo: Culmina's Elaine and Don Triggs 


The white wines released this spring by Culmina Family Estate Winery showed a remarkable consistency of style, regardless of the varietal.

The wines were rich in texture and full of flavour. Each was a satisfying experience. Jean-Marc Enixon, the French winemaker there for the last several vintages, has settled very nicely in the Okanagan.

No doubt, credit also is due to viticulture. Don and Elaine Triggs, the winery founders, began planting Culmina’s Golden Mile vineyard in 2007. The vines have had time to settle in and extract flavour from the terroir.

As well, the 2018 vintage was a good one. The winery summarized vintage conditions in its notes on the wines.

“A cool start in 2018 resulted in a slightly later budbreak at the end of April, with warm temperatures in May leading to early flowering,” the winery writes. “Warm conditions continued until mid-summer, at which point temperatures cooled to bring seasonal veraison in mid-August. This swing of the pendulum allowed for phenolic and flavour to finally catch up with that of sugar development for a well-balanced profile in all varieties.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Culmina Unicus 2018 ($27). This is the proprietary name the winery has given it Grüner Veltliner. Arguably, this is the Okanagan’s best expression of this white varietal from Austria. The wine is fermented with indigenous yeast, with 35% fermented in a concrete egg, 26% in a concrete amphora, 22% in stainless steel and 17% in neutral French oak. The aromas and flavours show luscious tropical fruits: guava, peach mango. The finish is dry and the flavours linger. 92.  

Culmina Wild Ferment Viognier 2018 No. 007 ($N/A). Only 44 cases of this wine have been released, likely only in the tasting room. A very complex white, it fermented for 71 days in a combination of stainless steel and used barrels. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of stone fruit and almonds. Rich on the palate, it has flavours of apricot and mandarin orange. The finish is persistent. 92.

Culmina Dry-ish Riesling 2018 ($19). Fermented entirely in stainless steel, the wine appears to be called dry-ish because the residual sugar is superbly balanced with acidity. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and cantaloupe. The flavours are intense, with lemon and grapefruit mingled with apple and peach. 91.

Culmina Skin Contact Gewürztraminer 2018 No. 008 ($N/A). Only 100 cases of this wine have been released. This wine was on the skins for 16 hours before being pressed into a stainless steel cask and fermented with indigenous yeast. It begins with aromas of spice and tropical fruits, leading to flavours of ripe peach and guava. There is a touch of residual sweetness. It is hardly a typical Gewürztraminer but the wine is utterly delicious. 93.




Tuesday, June 11, 2019

All Canadian Wine Championships 2019: BC dominates






Photo: Marcus Ansems Shiraz


Okanagan wineries won best of show for red and white wine at this year’s All Canadian Wine Championships.

The trophy for the best red of the year went to Marcus Ansems Shiraz 2017 ($49.90) from the Daydreamer Winery on the Naramata Bench.

The trophy for the best white of the year went to Riesling 2018 ($21.00) from
SpearHead Winery in East Kelowna.

A total of 1,376 wines were entered this year, to be judged over three days by panels of judges from across Canada. The majority of the wines – 845 – were entered by British Columbia wineries. Ontario wineries only submitted 394 wines.

It is not known why many Ontario wineries choose to sit out a competition that was founded in 1981 in Windsor and still is based on Ontario. Judging now takes place in Prince Edward County.

It has been speculated that British Columbia’s domination of results in recent years has discouraged Ontario producers. Whether the BC wineries have a quality edge can be debated. However, it is a fact that BC has enjoyed a string of excellent vintages since 2012 while the vintages in Ontario have been less consistent.

And the 2019 vintage in Ontario is also getting off to a slow start with cool and rainy weather in April and May. One can only wish the Ontario producers good luck on the rest of the season.

Shiraz is the signature varietal at Daydreamer Wines. The variety practically runs in the veins of winemaker Marcus Ansems (right), the owner of this winery with his wife, Rachel. His family in Australia once owned a share of Mount Langi Ghiran, the legendary Shiraz producer in the state of Victoria, and his uncle, Trevor Mast, was a winemaker there.


“One of my favourite wines in the world was made at my family winery,” Marcus once told me. “That wine was what inspired me to get involved with the industry.”

Born in 1974, he graduated in enology in 1996 from Adelaide University. He went abroad to gain experience, first with Simonsig in South Africa and then in Tuscany and the Rhône. He picked up his career in Australia briefly before a Canadian wine entrepreneur, Peter Jensen, recruited him in 1999 to run wineries in Ontario and Nova Scotia. In Niagara, before he returned to Australia in 2002 as a consulting winemaker, he met Rachel, an accountant with a talent in design and photography. They moved to British Columbia in 2004 where Marcus practised his craft at several wineries before starting Daydreamer.

Daydreamer Winery opened in 2014.  The winery draws fruit from five hectares (12 acres) of owned or contracted vineyard. Most of the acreage is on the Naramata Bench but the Shiraz is grown in a sun-bathed Osoyoos vineyard.

When Marcus wrote his Master of Wine thesis in 2015, the topic predictably involved his favourite varietal: he studied the effect of fall frosts on Syrah when the grapes still were the vine. (He found that good wine can be made from the frozen grapes.)



Photo: SpearHead Riesling


Best of show with the SpearHead Riesling 2018 is the second time that SpearHead winemaker Grant Stanley has won the award with a Riesling. The first time was when he worked at Quails’ Gate. The irony is that both Grant and SpearHead are considered Pinot Noir specialists.

SpearHead is based on a 15-acre vineyard in East Kelowna. The vineyard has been developed gradually over the past decade. It is planted primarily with Pinot Noir, with small blocks of Chardonnay and Riesling.

Grant (left) joined the winery in 2017 as general manager and winemaker. “You know I am a Pinot guy,” Grant once told me. “I don’t advertise it but with all the different varieties I make, I still spend about 80 percent of my time thinking about Pinot Noir. I think it has a positive spin-off on the other wines. There is a lot you can learn about Pinot that you can apply to other winemaking. It really is the tricky grape to make.”

Stanley was born in 1967 in Vancouver, the son of a printer and a dental technician, both of them New Zealand immigrants and neither particularly interest in wine. Stanley developed his wine passion while working at restaurant and hotel jobs in London, England, New Zealand and the Whistler resort.

He and his British-born horticulturist wife, Annabelle, moved to New Zealand in 1991, with exquisite timing: the boom in New Zealand wines was just beginning. She got a job with the Cloudy Bay winery while Montana Wines, then New Zealand’s biggest producer, gave him a job and then sponsored him to train as a winemaker. In 1998, after a few vintages with small wineries, Grant joined a legendary New Zealand Pinot Noir producer called Ata Rangi, where he did six vintages, plus guest winemaking in Oregon and France. “Ata Rangi opened doors for me,” he said.

During an Oregon stint in 2001, he visited British Columbia to taste some wines. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “When I left Canada, the Okanagan was a land of cheap white wine.” He did not hesitate when Quails’ Gate recruited him two years later. He went on to spend 10 years at Quails’ Gate and four more at 50th Parallel Winery before moving to SpearHead.

Here are other gold medal BC winners.

Best fruit wine of the year

Forbidden Fruit Winery Pomme Desiree Iced Apple 2018 ($26.00)  

Sparkling wine Charmat Method
Gold
Evolve Cellars  N/V   White Effervescence    ($19.99).
Double Gold
Intrigue Wines N/V    I DO ($19.90)
Gold
Intrigue Wines   SOCIAL Bubbly 2018 ($19.90)
Unoaked Chardonnay
Double Gold
Gray Monk Estate Winery Chardonnay Unwooded 2018 ($18.40)
Gold
Kraze Legz Vineyard & Winery  SKAHA Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 ($19.50)
Oliver Twist Estate Winery Unoaked Chardonnay  2018  ($19.04)
 
Chardonnay under $20
Double Gold
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery  Grand Reserve Chardonnay   2016 ($19.99)
Chardonnay $20-$30
Double Gold
Monte Creek Ranch Chardonnay Reserve 2017   ($24.99)
Gold
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($26.00)
SpearHead Winery Chardonnay Clone 95   2017  ($30.00)
Time Winery McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2017 ($24.99)

Chardonnay over $30.00

Double Gold
La FRENZ Winery Chardonnay Single Barrel Lot  2017  ($34.70)
Gold
The Hatch Black Swift Vineyards Oak Street Chardonnay  2016 ($39.99)

Riesling Dry

Double Gold
SpearHead Winery Riesling 2018 ($21.00)
Gold
Daydreamer Wines Daydreamer Riesling  2018 ($24.90)
Monte Creek Ranch Riesling 2018 ($17.49)
Tightrope Winery Riesling 2017  ($22.00)

Riesling Off Dry

Double Gold
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery Pioneer Block Riesling  2018  ($21.14)
Gold
50th Parallel Estate Winery Riesling 2018 ($19.90)
Ruby Blues Winery Forever Young Riesling 2018 ($20.00)
Therapy Vineyards Riesling 2018 ($21.99)

Sauvignon Blanc

Double Gold
Forbidden Fruit Winery Earth Series Sauvignon Blanc  2018 ($22.00)
Gold
Howling Bluff Estate Wines Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek Reserve 2018 ($21.00)
Maverick Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc   2018 ($21.00)

Gewürztraminer

Double Gold
Wild Goose Vineyards Mystic River Gewürztraminer  2018  ($20.00)
Gold
Hillside Winery Gewürztraminer 2018 ($20.00)
Rust Wine Co. Gewürztraminer   2018 ($21.00)
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 2018 ($13.99)

Pinot Gris

Double Gold
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Reserve Pinot Gris  2018 ($22.00)
Gold
Alderlea Vineyards Pinot Gris   2018 ($19.50)
Intrigue Wines Pinot Gris    2018 ($16.90)
Lake Breeze Vineyards Pinot Gris 2017 ($21.00)
Red Rooster Winery Pinot Gris 2018 ($20.70)

Pinot Grigio

Double Gold
OVINO Winery Pinot Grigio 2018 ($16.50)
Gold
Kismet Estate Winery Pinot Grigio 2018 ($16.99)

Viognier

Double Gold
Heaven’s Gate Estate Winery Viognier 2018 ($18.71)
Gold
Black Hills Estate Winery Viognier 2017 ($28.64)
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery Grand Reserve Viognier  2017 ($21.99)
Volcanic Hills Vineyard & Cellars Reserve Viognier  2016 ($26.00)

Other Single Vitis Vinifera Whites

Double Gold
Kraze Legz Vineyard & Winery  SKAHA Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2018 ($19.50)
Gold
Gehringer Bros. Estate Winery Old Vines Auxerrois 2018 ($14.29)
Nk’Mip Cellars Winemakers Pinot Blanc  2018 ($17.99)
Pipe’ Dreams Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($15.85)
Sunnybrae Vineyards & Winery Ortega 2017 ($18.90)

White Vitis Vinifera Blends

Double Gold
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Reserve 2Bench White 2017 ($25.29)
Gold
Alderlea Vineyards Valerie 2018 ($19.50)
Inniskillin Okanagan Estate  Discovery Series Viognier Gewürztraminer  2017 ($17.49)
Tightrope Winery  Sauvignon Blanc Semillon   2018 ($22.00)
Wild Goose Vineyards  Autumn Gold  2018 ($17.39)

White Hybrid Blends

Double Gold
Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up White 2018 ($15.99)

Rosé Blush and Blanc de Noir

Double Gold Blanc de Noir
Kraze Legz Vineyard & Winery Speakeasy 2018 ($17.30)
Double Gold Blush
The View Winery & Vineyard Silver Lining Rosé  2018 ($19.95)
Gold
Savard Vines Purple Petals Rosé 2018 ($22.05)
Silkscarf Winery White Pinot 2018 ($26.00)
Time Winery Rosé  2018 ($22.99)
CedarCreek Estate Winery Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($19.00)
Crescent Hill Winery Hissy Fit 2018 ($20.00)
Hillside Winery Rosé 2018 ($22.00)

Cabernet Sauvignon Under $30

Gold
Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($26.49)

Cabernet Sauvignon Over $30

Double Gold
Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon  2016 ($34.99)
Gold

Cabernet Sauvignon Older Vintages


Double Gold

Blue Sky Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($32.28)

Gold

Desert Hills Estate Winery  Ursa Major Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($45.00)

Merlot Under $30

Double Gold
Nk’Mip Cellars  Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2016 ($29.99)
Gold
Singletree Winery  Merlot 2016 ($30.00)
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Merlot 2016 ($27.59)

Merlot Older Vintages

Double Gold
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Grasslands Organic Merlot 2014 ($75.00)
Gold
Kraze Legz Vineyard & Winery SKAHA Vineyard Merlot 2015 ($23.00)

Pinot Noir Under $30

Double Gold
Privato Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir  2017 ($27.99)
Gold
Corcelettes Estate Winery Pinot Noir  2018 ($24.90)
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($28.00)
Moraine Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2017 ($30.00)
Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016 ($27.00)

Pinot Noir Over $30

Double Gold
Privato Vineyard & Winery North of 50 Pinot Noir 2016 ($37.99)
Gold
50th Parallel Estate Winery Unparalleled Pinot Noir 2016 ($50.00)
SpearHead Winery Pinot Noir GFV Saddle Block 2017 ($33.00)

Pinot Noir Older Vintages


Double Gold

Privato Vineyard & Winery Grande Reserve Pinot Noir  2015 ($54.99)

Gold

Volcanic Hills Vineyard & Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir  2012 ($26.00)

Cabernet Franc Under $30

Gold
Black Sage Vineyard  Cabernet Franc 2016 ($26.49)

Cabernet Franc Older Vintages

Double Gold
C.C. Jentsch Cellars Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2015 ($49.90)
Gold
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc 2015 ($40.00)

Bordeaux Blends Under $30

Double Gold
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery  Grand Reserve Red Meritage 2016 ($24.99)
Gold
Time Winery McWatters Collection Meritage 2016 ($29.99)

Bordeaux Blends Over $30


Double Gold

Nk’Mip Cellars Red Merriym 2016 ($54.99)

Gold

Sun Rock Vineyards  Red Meritage 2016 ($30.49)

Bordeaux Blends Older Vintages

Double Gold
Indigenous World Winery Simo 2014 ($44.99)
Gold
Summerhill Pyramid Winery  OM Organic Meritage 2014 ($55.00)
Syrah/Shiraz Under $30
Double Gold
Moon Curser Winery Syrah 2017 ($29.99)
Gold
Daydreamer Wines Amelia 2017 ($29.90)
Kismet Estate Winery  Syrah 2017 ($25.99)
Syrah/Shiraz Over $30
Double Gold— *Trophy, Best Red Wine
Daydreamer Wines Marcus Ansems Shiraz  2017 ($49.90)
Gold
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Terroir Collection Syrah No. 23 Crosswinds  2016 ($50.00)
Nk’Mip Cellars  Qwam Qwmt Syrah 2016 ($34.99)
Syrah/Shiraz Older Vintages
Double Gold
Chaberton Estate Winery  Syrah 2015 ($28.95)
Gold
Vanessa Vineyard Estate Winery Syrah  2015 ($34.99)
Red Hybrid Blends
Double Gold
Volcanic Hills Vineyard & Cellars Magma Red 2016 ($17.39)
Other Single Red Vitis Vinifera
Double Gold
Cassini Cellars Malbec 2015 ($36.00)
Gold
Moon Curser Winery Malbec 2017 ($35.74)
Moon Curser Winery Tannat 2015 ($46.09)
Moon Curser Winery Carménère 2017 ($46.09)
Moon Curser Winery Touriga Nacional 2017 ($46.09)
Other Red Vitis Vinifera Blends
Double Gold
Deep Roots Winery Parentage Red 2016 ($37.90)
Gold
Kalala Organic Estate Winery  Aspire 2014 ($29.00)
Orofino Winery Red Bridge Red 2017 ($24.90)
Road 13 Vineyards Seventy-Four K  2017 ($25.00)
Maréchal Foch
Double Gold
Alderlea Vineyards Clarinet 2016 ($20.50)
Gold
Sunnybrae Vineyards & Winery Redneck Red 2017 ($17.90)
Soft Fruit Off Dry
Gold
Krause Berry Farms & Winery Eureka ($19.00)
Northern Lights Estate Winery  Seduction – Strawberry Rhubarb 2018 ($16.43)
Soft Fruit Dessert
Double Gold 
Maan Farms Winery Blackberry Dessert 2016 ($26.45)
Tree Fruit Dry
Double Gold
Forbidden Fruit Winery Speachless 2018 ($20.00)
Gold
Farmgate Winery Clarice 2018 ($16.99)
Tree Fruit Off Dry
Gold
Forbidden Fruit Winery  Cherysh Cherry Rosé 2018 ($20.00)
Tree Fruit Dessert
Double Gold— *Trophy, Best Fruit Wine
Forbidden Fruit Winery  Pomme Desiree 2018 ($26.00)
Fruit Sparkling
Gold
Ripples Winery  Radiance  2017 ($24.95)
Late Harvests
Gold
Volcanic Hills Vineyard & Cellars  Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2016 ($19.99)
Riesling Icewine
Double Gold
Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Riesling Icewine 2017 ($52.19)
Other Icewine
Gold
Stoneboat Vineyards Verglas Ice Wine 2016 ($37.00)
Grape Fortifieds
Gold
La FRENZ Winery  N/V   Liqueur Muscat ($21.65)
Maverick Estate Winery Fia   2015 ($30.00)









Saturday, June 8, 2019

Sea Star’s 2018 vintage: another triumph










Photo: Sea Star's David Goudge

Sea Star Vineyards recently made it onto a website as one of nine wineries to visit before one dies.

I am sure that was meant as a compliment but some might also find it morbid. I have a more positive recommendation: this is a winery to visit if you happen to be a Tesla owner. Sea Star is among a handful of British Columbia wineries that have installed charging stations for the world’s sexiest electric car.

The good news is that you need not be a well-heeled Tesla owner to buy the wines. Given the quality of the wines, the prices are reasonable.

Located on Pender Island, Sea Star Vineyards opened in 2014 two years after David Goudge purchased the assets of Morning Bay Vineyard & Estate Winery, which was struggling at the time. The turnaround by David and his winemaker, Ian Baker, was so successful that Sea Star soon was scrambling to find enough grapes to meet the demand for its wine.

Two years ago, David bought the assets of Saturna Island Vineyards. The 38-acre vineyard there had been neglected for several years. However, patient viticulture has begun to rejuvenate it. It is already a source of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and a little bit of Chardonnay. The latter is blended for the first time into Sea Star’s flagship white blend, Stella Maris.

Here are notes on the 2018 vintage.

Sea Star Salish Sea 2018 ($24). This is a blend of Ortega and Siegerrebe grapes. It begins with an appealing fragrance of citrus mingled with herbal notes. On the palate, there are flavours of melon, peach and grapefruit. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp, tangy finish. 91.

Sea Star Siegerrebe 2018 ($24). This is a superb wine from an aromatic varietal well suited to coastal vineyards. It begins with aromas of lime and grapefruit. With moderate alcohol (11.9%) and racy acidity, the wine dances on the palate with flavours of grapefruit mingled with peach and apple. It is crisp and dry on the finish. 93.

Sea Star Ortega 2018 ($24). This grape is a cross of Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. The body of the wine reflects the former varietal while the engaging aromatics are from Siegerrebe. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime, melon, grapefruit and Granny Smith apples. The wine has a crisp finish. 92.

Sea Star Stella Maris 2018 ($25). This is a five-grape blend: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Schönburger, Ortega and Chardonnay. It has aromas of citrus, cantaloupe and spice. There are layers and layers of fruit on the palate: citrus, melon, peach and apple. The finish is crisp and the flavours linger on the palate. 93.

Sea Star Blanc de Noir 2018 ($25). This rosé is made with Pinot grapes. The pink hue is delicate but appealing in the glass. The wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and apple. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Sea Star Maréchal Foch 2018 ($26). This is available only at the Sea Star tasting room. This grape has dark flesh; the wine was made without skin contact and still has lots of color. It has aromas of cherry and red licorice which are echoed on the palate. Somewhat reminiscent of a Beaujolais Nouveau, this wine is best when slightly chilled. 88.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Phantom Creek releases its first wines








Phantom Creek's Anne Vawter


The grand opening of Phantom Creek Estates is planned for next spring but the first wines have already been released.

They are exceptional. Owner Richter Bai, a former owner of a mining company in China, set out to make “outstanding” wines in Canada.

He has certainly succeeded. Excellence has its price. It is widely reported in the Okanagan wine industry that Mr. Bai, as he is called, has invested $100 million in the Phantom Creek project.

It began in 2014 when he identified wine growing as a prestige agriculture business for his family in Canada. He sought the counsel of wine educator James Cluer MW, who previously had helped steer the launch of Meyer Family Vineyards and One Faith Vineyards. James and Mr. Bai spent much of 2015 visiting prestige wineries in California and France where Mr. Bai educated himself in winery operation and defined what he wanted to do.

In 2016 he purchased the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road where Harry McWatters had started to build a winery before the project stalled. The winery architects from California that Mr. Bai brought in started with Harry’s cellar. Their design for Phantom Creek more than doubles what Harry had in mind.

The attraction to Mr. Bai and his team was not the semi-constructed cellar but the 52-acre vineyard, now renamed – for trademark reasons – the Becker Vineyard. Begun in 1993, the vineyard has proven itself with many award-winning wines over the years.

Mr. Bai also purchased the seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard which is across Black Sage Road from the Becker Vineyard. Planted a few years after Becker by viticulturist Richard Cleave, it is a jewel among Okanagan vineyards. Mr. Bai’s team recognized that, making a blended red wine priced at $100 a bottle and an $80 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Phantom Creek’s first vintage was 2016. The wines were made in a temporary, but well-equipped, winery that has been built in the Becker Vineyard. The winemaking team was led by Napa winemaker Anne Vawter and her husband, Cameron. The couple continue to consult to Phantom Creek but Mr. Bai also has an experienced team of resident winemakers in the cellar.

When he was educating himself in Europe, Mr. Bai met Olivier Humbrecht MW, a member of one of the leading wine growing families of Alsace. In 2017 Olivier agreed to be Phantom Creek’s white wine consultant, as well as to guide Phantom Creek’s transition to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Mr. Bai has also acquired more vineyards, including a 63-acre vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench formerly owned by C.C. Jentsch. This spring Phantom Creek began planting a 62-acre property in the Similkameen Valley called Everden Spring. At the advice of Olivier Humbrecht (right), the largest blocks  here will be Riesling and Pinot Gris, with small blocks of red varieties.

This summer, the construction contractors have been completing the Phantom Creek winery. When done, it will be the showpiece of the South Okanagan, with several grand tasting rooms and a restaurant overlooking vineyards almost from Oliver to Osoyoos.

Here are notes on the wines.

Phantom Creek Riesling 2017 ($30 for 333 cases). This wine was made with grapes from an East Kelowna vineyard, fermented with indigenous yeast over four months. It was aged 10 months in stainless steel (with seven percent aged in neutral oak barrels). This wine is crisp and dry, with lime on the nose and palate and with a spine of minerality. 91.

Phantom Creek Pinot Gris 2017 ($30 for 833 cases). The grapes were from two Okanagan Falls vineyards and were fermented with indigenous yeasts over seven months. Some 60% was aged 10 months in stainless steel; the rest was aged oak casks. The texture is luscious. The wine begins with aromas of pear and a hint of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe pear and apple with a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 92.

Phantom Creek Cuvée 2016 Becker Vineyard ($60 for 1,700 cases). Becker is the new name for the former 52-acre Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. This wine is 39% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been aged 18 months in French oak. The wine has aromas of black cherry and cassis that are echoed on the palate. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous mouthfeel and a lingering finish. 93.

Phantom Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($80 for 250 cases). The seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard was established in 1996, primarily with three clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. An excellent vintage has produced an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of cherry, black currant, blueberry and vanilla; all of that is echoed on the palate. This wine, aged 18 months in French oak, is complex, with a polished texture. 95.


Phantom Creek Cuvée 2016 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($100 for 650 cases). This wine is 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26%  Petit Verdot, 15% Malbec, 8% each of Syrah and Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. This is a bold, rich wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, black currant, plum and vanilla. It was aged 18 months in French oak. Long ripe tannins support the opulent texture and the persistent finish of this delicious wine. 96.