Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Singletree opening second winery on Naramata Road

 Photo: Singletree's Andrew Etsell

Four years after opening its tasting room on Abbotsford’s Mt. Lehman Road, Singletree Winery plans to open a winery and a second tasting room on Naramata Road by mid-year.

It is only the second winery in BC with wine shops in both the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan. The other is Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, which has a winery in Langley that opened in 2001 and a second outside Penticton that opened in 2004.

Singletree has just acquired Ledlin Family Vineyards, a small winery that opened last summer on Naramata Road. In January, Fred and Erica Ledlin, the owners, listed the winery for sale at $1,850,000. Singletree has not disclosed what it paid.

Singletree was opened in 2015 by Andrew Etsell, his wife, Laura Spreckel, and Andrew’s parents, Garnet and Debbie. It is located on a vineyard where planting began in 2010. Now 13 acres in size, it grows Siegerrebe, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and what may be the only planting of Grüner Veltliner in the Fraser Valley.

Singletree’s first five vintages, 2013 through 2017, have been made at the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland. As production has grown – Singletree made 3,500 cases of wine in 2017 – the Etsells began planning a processing facility on their Mt. Lehman property, where they already have a tasting room.

“We had gone through the design phases and we were moving to the building phase,” Andrew says. “But prices just kept going up and up for building in the valley. And the time line would not have been met for us to do crush there in 2018.”

In January, they began looking at wineries in the interior that were for sale. The Ledlin property appealed because it is on Naramata Road, one of the Okanagan’s best locations for wine tourism. As well, Singletree has major grape contracts with vineyards on the Naramata Bench. “It was an easy decision to choose Naramata,” Andrew says.

The Ledlin winery had been started by Fred Ledlin, a former professional hockey player (18 years in Europe) and then a Vancouver builder. Several years ago, he and Erica, looking for a summer residence in the Okanagan, came across this five-acre property on Naramata Road, which was in receivership. The 3.5 acre vineyard was being uprooted just as they bought the property. They managed to save 14 rows of Merlot and Pinot Gris and decided to replant the remainder with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Blanc.

“We designed this as our weekend getaway,” Fred told me in an interview last year. “Now we had a vineyard. What do we do with the grapes? We decided to open up a winery at the front end of the property.”

The winery opened last summer with wines from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, made with estate fruit and with purchased grapes. Wine was also made in the facility in the fall of 2017. Singletree, with its own flourishing brand, decided not to buy any Ledlin inventory.

“It seemed to me that there was a dream,” Andrew speculates on why the Ledlin winery was put on the market so quickly. “After the first year of being open, they realized how hard wineries are, and decided to sell. For us, it was great timing.”

The Etsell family to add additional equipment to the 2,000-square-foot Ledlin facility, with plans to double the size next year to accommodate Singletree’s growing production. Andrew also plans upgrades to the vineyard, although there is little additional acreage suitable for vines.

“There were plans to build a house there,” Andrew says. “We are not planning to build a residence there. We will be based out of the valley here.” Two rooms in the Ledlin winery that had been designed as bed and breakfast suites will be used by the new owners and their staff.

“I am looking at splitting my time between the two stores,” Andrew says. “I will be up in the Okanagan one week and down in the Fraser Valley the other. That gives me somewhere to stay.”

Singletree Naramata Bench, as the Etsells plan to call their winery, gives them the opportunity to expand sales exposure for their wines. The intent is to have Fraser Valley wines available there as well as Singletree’s Okanagan wines.

Singletree has just begun to release its 2017 wines, which were made by Andrew and consulting winemaker Matt Dumayne. Andrew, who trained in horticulture, has mentored with Matt and has taken professional winemaking courses.

“Even when we have the production facility this year, Matt will still be helping me with the wines,” Andrew says. “We work really well together. It is nice to have someone who knows the in and outs of winemaking and has a similar style to how I like to make wine.”

Here are notes on the new releases.

Singletree Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.30). The estate-grown fruit was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The purity of focus is remarkable: crisp, fresh aromas and flavours of citrus and pear with a lively finish. 91.

Singletree Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($17.30) While previous vintages had been fermented and aged in barrel, this wine – again from estate-grown grapes – was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Once again it shows a laser-like brightness, with aromas and flavours of lime and lemon. The finish is tangy. 90.

Singletree Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($17.30). This is the winery’s second vintage of estate-grown Grüner Veltliner. It is a late ripening Austrian white that delivers plenty of flavour and aroma from a Fraser Valley terroir. It begins with aromas of grapefruit and herbs, leading to flavours of lime, grapefruit and cantaloupe. The wine has good weight on the palate. 91.

Singletree Sieggie 2017 ($16). This Fraser Valley-grown Siegerrebe, arguable Singletree’s flagship varietal. The wine begins with aromas of spice and citrus. On the palate, it is a bowl of tropical fruits – lychee, grapefruit and melon – with a juicy texture and a crisp finish. 91.

Singletree Rosé 2017 ($19.48). This wine is made with organic Pinot Noir from a West Kelowna vineyard. The wine has a delicate pink hue with aromas and flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. The finish is tangy and crisp. 91.

Singletree 2016 Wild Siggy ($21.60). Fermented on the skins with wild yeast, this is Singletree’s natural wine. I have never been a big fan of natural wines but this is one I would drink with pleasure. The wine has a light gold hue, dramatic aromas of citrus and honey that lead to flavours of peach and pear. Rich in texture, the wine finishes with spice notes. 91.

Singletree Pinot Noir 2015 ($21.66). The wine is made with grapes from the Lazy Dog Vineyard on the Naramata Bench. Dark in colour, the wine was aged 11 months in new French oak. Subtle notes of oak mingle with aromas and flavours of cherry. The wine also has some of the classic forest floor notes of Pinot Noir. 91.

Singletree Merlot 2016 (not yet released). The wine is approachable now but Andrew will age it in bottle until the fall, allowing further development of the cassis aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry. The texture is full and the finish is long. 92.

Singletree Harness 2014 ($30.35 for 275 cases). This is blend of 51.3% Merlot and 48.7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Made with grapes from a great red vintage, this wine was aged in barrel for 18 months. It begins with aromas of cassis, black fruits and spice leading to flavours of blackcurrant and black cherry mingled with notes of leather and chocolate. 91.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Giant Head releases its first Canyonview Chardonnay

 Photo: John Glavina of Giant Head

One of the most storied vineyards in Summerland is Krimo Souilah’s Canyonview Vineyard, which is planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Over the last decade or so, the fruit has been purchased by a number of wineries, notably Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. After the 2015 vintage, OCP dropped the vineyard because it is not organic. OCP has converted its own vineyards to organic production and is moving toward biodynamic practices.

The Canyonview fruit has found a new home, still in Summerland: Giant Head Estate Winery, opened in 2015 by John Glavina and Jinny Lee.  They have just released a superb 2016 Canyonview Chardonnay, available at the winery for $75.

“I told Krimo when we were making the wine that I wanted to make the best Chardonnay possible from his vineyard, and would he help do that,” John says. “He said, ‘John, there is only one way to make top tier Chardonnay, and that is fermenting in oak.’ He taught me to do that.”

The Canyonview Vineyard is in a valley below the Summerland Research Station, with a view of the Kettle Valley rail trestle on the last remaining section of that railroad. Krimo has owned the property since 2004 and once considered starting a winery there. It would have been a logical move, considering his career in the wine industry.

Born in Algeria in 1948, he trained in France as a winemaker and worked there until he emigrated to the Napa Valley in 1978.

“I got a job the first week with Clos Du Val Winery,” Krimo told me in a 2008 interview. “Bernard Portet [who ran Clos du Val] hired me because we went to the same school. I worked there 17 years. I was hired for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay program. Bernard is a Bordeaux person from Lafite, so they needed somebody for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.”

Krimo spent 17 years at Clos du Val. “In 1997, I decided to stop winemaking, basically because I was not making that much money,” he said. “I consulted for a year … and I didn’t like it.” Then the French cooper, Mercier, hired him to manage its barrel sales from Napa.

A 2003 sales trip to the Okanagan introduced him to the region. “It took me a couple of visits to realize that this is going to be another Napa North, with time,” he said. He particularly liked the quality of the Pinot Noir in several Summerland vineyards and that led to his decision to buy the Canyonview property and plant Pinot Noir and a little block of Chardonnay.

“Why Chardonnay? It is basically a pure industry speculation,” he said. “It markets very well. If you plant something, plant Pinot Noir. Not that many people get involved with it. So if you know a little bit about wine and you want to go forward, Pinot Noir will be the future. Pinot Noir in this area is perfect,” he said.

He did not pursue a winery license primarily because he was living in California (and is believed to maintain a home there still). He made a little wine for himself in 2006 from the first harvest, and then began marketing the grapes while continuing to sell barrels. At least three different wineries bought Canyonview grapes before Giant Head came into the picture.

John Glavina, who was born in Montreal in 1960 and has a degree in computer science, has had a successful career in technology, both with international firms and as head of his own consulting business. He and his wife, Jinny, an electrical engineer, took a French vacation in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1998, and discovered great Pinot Noir which ignited their interest in growing their own wine.

In 2004, the same year that Krimo bought the Canyonview property, John and Jinny bought a nearby apple orchard and in 2006 began converting it to vineyard. The four acres of high density plantings grow Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and a little Riesling.

“Jinny likes the idea of growing grapes that she likes to drink,” John says. “And she wanted to grow Pinot Noir, probably because she read how difficult is to grow, how challenging it is to make wine with, she decided this is what she wants to do. She loves Pinot Noir.”

The winery, on Gartrell Road, takes its name from Giant’s Head, the extinct volcano that towers 500 meters over Summerland.

Here are notes of some of the wines currently available in the Giant Head wine shop.  

Canyonview Chardonnay 2016 ($75 for 225 cases). This wine was fermented in new French oak barrels. Two-thirds was aged in barrel for 10 months and one-third was aged in stainless steel. John also avoided giving it full malolactic, preserving the acidity which makes the wine so refreshing. It has aromas of stone fruits and apples. On the palate, there is a bowl of tropical fruit flavours. The note of cloves and the very subtle and well-integrated oak give the wine a lingering, spicy finish. 93.

Giant Head Merlot 2015 ($28). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of black cherry, black currant and blackberry. The concentrated texture of the ripe fruit gives the wine a rich, satisfying weight and a lingering finish. 90.

Giant Head Pinot Noir 2015 ($39). This wine manages to be silky and intense at the same time. It begins with aromas and flavours of cherry and plum, with a hint of mocha on the very long finish. 91.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

50th Parallel releases Matt Fortuna's wines

Photo: 50th Parallel winemaker Matt Fortuna

The new releases from 50th Parallel Estate are interesting for two reasons: they offer a glimpse of the 2017 vintage and also of the work of Matthew Fortuna, the new winemaker.

First, the vintage, which 50th Parallel describes as “a very strange year in the Okanagan.”

The winery elaborates: “The valley’s water basin experienced a heavy snowfall during the winter and then a large deluge of rain early in the spring.” The snow melted quickly, causing serious flooding in the valley.

“However, this watershed was a welcome gift to the vineyards as the timing of the moisture allowed for a wonderful natural soaking of the vines at a time when we would normally be irrigating the vineyards,” the winery continues. “Despite the early rainfall, the season quickly became hot and dry into the early summer.”

That set the stage for one of the worst forest fire years. “These fires were so large that they caused a frequent haze in the valley which diminished light and blocked out some of the sun’s intense energy,” the winery said.

Fortunately, 50th Parallel and other wineries in Lake Country did not experience heavy smoke events. There is no smoke taint in the wines.

“In fact, as we reflect on the season, we believe that the less intense smoke may have helped the vintage, as the temperatures were moderated from what may otherwise have been a very drought-like year,” the winery says.

The yields in 2017 were lower than the 2016 yields (a bounteous year) but the quality of the grapes turned out well. Matt Fortuna had good fruit to work with.

Formerly the assistant winemaker at 50th Parallel, he took over last year from Grant Stanley, the winemaker since 2013. Grant was on hand to consult with 50th Parallel last year but he was transitioning to the cellar at SpearHead Winery.

“I have been working with Grant for 10 years, going back to the Quails’ Gate days,” Matt told me last year.

Matt was born in Niagara Falls in 1981 and was exposed to wines, notably wines of Ontario, while working in hotels there.

“I guess the turning point for me was when I tasted a Pinot Noir from Oregon,” he said. “The Oregon Pinot was unlike anything I had tasted before or smelled before. It was beautiful, it was complex, it was aromatic. That turned me on to the idea of Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs as something unique, and I tried to get myself here.”

In 2007, he volunteered to work a harvest at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. That turned into his winery career.

“I knew Quails’ Gate was a prominent producer of Pinot Noir,” he said. “That is where I learned everything. I was there for five years, starting in 2007. And I developed a good relationship with Grant Stanley as well – a mentor, a long-time friend. He saw opportunity for me here, so he brought me along on this project and I became his assistant here.”

Matt did not quite learn everything at Quails’ Gate. “I took the winemaker program at Okanagan College. I did a vintage in Australia as well. I was in Mornington Peninsula. I worked with one of the pioneering wineries there, Moorooduc Estates. Dr. Richard McIntyre has owned it for 30 years, trying to recreate a little Burgundy in Australia. That was a really good experience for me.”

It goes without saying that there has been no abrupt change of style in the 2017s. Here are notes on the wines.

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2017 ($19.90 for 2,495 cases). This is perhaps 50th Parallel’s signature white wine and it is available in good volume. It begins with aromas of peach and apple leading to a bowl of tropical fruit flavours on the palate. A small portion of the wine was barrel-fermented, adding a backbone of toastiness to the wine. Just a hint of residual sugar adds flesh to the texture. The finish is refreshing. 90.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2017 ($19.90 for 1,244 cases). In recent years, a lot of us have been tiring of Gewürztraminer. Too many lack personality – but that is not so with 50th Parallel. This wine begins with aromas of rose petals, spice and citrus. It leads to mouth-filling flavours of lychee, oranges and spice. The touch of residual sugar is well balanced. The wine has good texture with a long, fresh finish. 91.

50th Parallel Riesling 2017 ($19.90 for 777 cases). This wine was bottled in February and seems to be taking its time in recovering from bottle shock. Buy it and lay it down for a few months, even a year, to unlock the potential. It has aromas of citrus and flavours hinting of lime and green apple, with a spine of minerality. The numbers are excellent to a Riesling to age: 7.5 grams of residual sugar and 8.2 grams of acidity. 90-92.

50th Parallel Pinot Noir Rosé ($19.90 for 1,031 cases). The wine’s pink salmon hue invites you immediately. It begins with aromas of strawberries and raspberries, leading for flavours of strawberry and watermelon. The wine is juicy on the palate and crisp on the finish. 91.

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2016 ($35). This is a lovely wine, beginning with aromas of citrus and butter. These lead to flavours of tangerine, apple and nectarine with a subtle accent of oak. The bright acidity of the 2016 vintage gives lift and freshness to the wine. 92.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Hester Creek celebrates 50th year of grape growing

 Photo: Joe Busnardo who started the Hester Creek vineyard in 1968

Hester Creek Estate Winery this year marks a rare anniversary for an Okanagan winery: 50 years of growing vinifera grapes from its Golden Mile vineyard.

Credit for this goes to the original developer of the vineyard, the famously hard-headed Joe Busnardo, of whom Harry McWatters once said: “If you were swimming down the river, you know Joe would be swimming up. And if the river changed directions, so would Joe.”

But if Joe had not been so contrary, Hester Creek would not be releasing wines that include grapes from some 50-year-old vines.

Today, Joe has almost no profile in the British Columbia wine industry. He sold the vineyard that is now Hester Creek in 1996 and moved his winery, called Divino, to a smaller property in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The last time I checked, that tasting rom was opened Friday and Saturday afternoons.

The first of many of my profiles of Joe was published in my first wine book in 1984: The World of Canadian Wine. Here is a bit of biography from that book:

“Joseph Busnardo was raised on a farm north of Venice where his father, Luigi, grew a little bit of everything, including silkworms. The young Busnardo, who studied at the agricultural school in Conegliano, noted for its viticulture training, ‘never liked any plant but grapes’. (That school was Italy’s first school for enology and viticulture, founded in 1876.)

“A compact man bursting with energy, Busnardo came to Canada in 1954 as a twenty-year-old bachelor and drifted west through a variety of jobs until he ended up as a construction worker in Vancouver. In 1967 … he found a seventy-acre peach orchard on a slope south of Oliver … He reasoned that if peaches grew there, so would his beloved vinifera.

“Planting vinifera in 1968 meant going against all the best advice then available from the provincial government and the commercial wineries. With great difficulty, Busnardo wrung government approval to import twenty-six varieties of grapes from Italy – all of them had to be quarantined for a year on Vancouver Island before being released – and another fifty-six from the University of California at Davis, certified free of viruses and so not liable to quarantine.”

He got a surprise when he canvassed wineries for contracts for his grapes. They said he should plant Bath, a red labrusca grape, in half the vineyard and French hybrids in the other half. And they certainly were not going to pay him a premium for his vinifera grapes. He refused to take their advice.

In 1977, needing to make a living, he went to work as a heavy-duty mechanic in Penticton. “I shut the farm down,” he told me. “I didn’t even prune the grapes.”

The 1978-79 winter was very hard in the Okanagan, causing substantial damage to most French hybrid vines in the vineyards between Oliver and Osoyoos. However, many of Joe’s vinifera had survived the winter. Encouraged by that, he resumed working his vines and he applied for a winery license.  By 1983, Divino was licensed as a cottage winery.

I have never see a list of all the varieties Joe planted originally. Many of them appear not to have succeeded for reasons unknown. For example, he had planted a large block of Garganega, the white grape for Soave wines. He even used this versatile grape in one of his red wine blends. However, it seems not to have remained in the vineyard, especially after the succession of owners following Joe rationalized the plantings.

There still is a block of red grapes in the vineyard referred to just as Italian Merlot. The current owners have yet to do the ampelography to nail down precisely whether or not it is a Merlot. But it produces excellent red wine, now being released as Old Vines Merlot

There is certainty that two of the vinifera in the vineyard were planted by Joe. His single largest planting of a white variety was Pinot Blanc, a variety he planted to “be on the safe side.” The other white that has been growing here since 1968 is Trebbiano, a well-known Italian variety. The current owners of Hester Creek have, in fact, expanded the Trebbiano planting. Both make excellent wine.

“I was stubborn enough to prove that the vinifera grapes will grow,” Joe once told me. “I never bow to anybody.”

There is no question he was ahead of his time. Growers only began planting vinifera in the 1970s; and the Okanagan got serious about vinifera in the 1990s, after the great pull-out of hybrid vines in 1988.

Here are notes on some of the vines just released by Hester Creek to mark 50 years of grape growing at this property.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2017 ($17.95 for 3,335 cases). This is a very appealing dry white, beginning with the aroma of freshly sliced apples. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and nectarine. 91.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2017 ($18.95 for 6,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and apple, leading to flavours of pear and stone fruit. The minerality on the finish comes across as slight bitterness. 88.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris Viognier 2017 ($19.99 for 1,100 cases). This interesting blend is available just in the wine sections at Save-On-Foods. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of lime and apricot. The flavours are a big bowl of fruit – citrus, melon, ripe pear and stone fruit. The texture is mouth-filling. 91.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Old Vines Merlot 2015 ($32.95 for 76 cases). This wine is available just to members of Hester Creek’s wine club. This is made with the legendary “Italian Merlot” grapes – Block 13 in the middle of the vineyard. It begins with rich, porty aromas of dark cherry and spiced dark fruit. Rich and ripe on the palate, it has flavours that mingle black cherry with blueberry, black currant and vanilla. The texture of this wine is elegantly polished. The finish is long and satisfying. 94.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Vancouver Island wineries show their wines

Photo: New island vintner Mike Rathjen

Several years ago, a wine agent named Richard Massey began organizing Vancouver Island winemakers, cider makers and distillers to host a taste every spring in Vancouver.

The most recent one is now concluded and it was a revelation. I don’t remember so many consistently good wines at previous tastings. I was generous in my scores, as a result.

The island has benefitted from a string of good vintages. Secondly, recent investment there in winemaking and viticulture shows, complementing the growing experience of the winemakers.

Because most of the producers are comparatively small, it can be hard to find the wines off the island. But they all have tasting rooms. Now that ferry fares are little more than the cost of gas for an Okanagan trip, perhaps it is time for a bit of island wine touring.

This week’s three-hour tasting was not quite long enough. I missed a couple of wineries and I had no time for distillers, cideries and meaderies. There is an astonishing number of spirit producers now on the island and it seems they also have tasting rooms.

If you go, here are wineries to look up.

Alderlea Vineyards near Duncan was acquired last spring by Julie Powell and Zachary Brown. On their business cards, they both call themselves proprietor and winemaker.

They have taken over a winery that was opened in 1998 by Roger Dosman. Alderlea wines had already achieved a good reputation because Roger was meticulous both in the cellar and, particularly, in the vineyard. Julie and Zachary benefit from a mature and healthy vineyard. They continue to farm it sustainably, without chemical pesticides or herbicides. The wines are all vegan.

Alderlea Bacchus 2017 ($20.25 for 320 cases). The vines are “midway through their third decade,” the winery says. The grapes are crushed when they are still cold and the fermentation is long and cool (never above 12C) to preserve the aromas and flavours. The wine is crisp, with floral and spicy aromas and flavours of lime and kiwi. 90.

Alderlea Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($23.70 for 300 cases). This is not an easy grape to grow on the island. Alderlea prides itself in having the largest block in the Cowichan Valley; and has a few more rows coming into production this year. Think of this wine as a Sancerre white – herbal on the nose with flavours of green apples and lime. The finish is crisp. 91.

Alderlea Pinot Gris 2017 ($22.55 for 400 cases). Twenty-six hours of skin contact has given this wine a slight blush and lifted the aromas and flavours. There are hints of strawberry and mango on the palate. The finish is crisp. 90.

Alderlea Pinot Noir 2015 ($25.40 for 200 cases). The wine is intense and complex, with aromas and flavours of cherry, blackberry and spice. The grapes are from the second-oldest Pinot Noir block on Vancouver Island. The complexity is the result of the vineyard having six clones – four Dijon clones and two Alsace clones. 92.

Alderlea Clarinet 2015 ($23.70 for 550 cases). The grape here is Maréchal Foch. Roger Dosman once explained he called the wine Clarinet “because it is too good to be called Maréchal Foch.” The wine was aged on lees for 18 months in neutral French oak which accounts for the soft and ripe tannin structure. It has aromas of fig and cherry, leading to flavours of black cherries and blackberries. 90.

Alderlea Merlot 2015 ($25.40 for 100 cases). Merlot vines are rare on Vancouver Island because the vineyards seldom get the heat units to ripen it. Alderlea must have its vines in a hot spot and perhaps tents them to accelerate their maturity. As well, 2015 was a hot vintage.  This delicious wine begins with aromas of cassis that lead to flavours of black currant, blueberry and cherry. 90.

Alderlea Matrix 2014 ($23.70 for 150 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre with some Agria and, for the first time in 2014, 15% Merlot. Also in 2014, 30% new French oak was used in aging the wine, perhaps to tame the rustic personality of the hybrids. In succeeding vintages, more Merlot and new French oak have been used; in 2017, five percent aromatic whites were co-fermented with the red varieties. The wine has aromas and flavours of blueberry, black currants, prune and coffee.  89.   
Averill Creek Vineyard was opened in 2006 just north of Duncan by Andy Johnson below), a former doctor, and his wife, Wendy. They farm a fairly large vineyard, with Pinot Noir comprising the largest portion of the plantings. Andy’s ambition is to make one of Canada’s best Pinot Noirs. The wines are all well-made.
Averill Creek Charme De L’ile NV ($23.78). Averill Creek is one of several Vancouver Island that produce popular Charmat method sparkling wines and sell them under the Charme De L’ile brand. This is made with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. It is a crisp, refreshing sparkling wine with notes of citrus and apple. 90

Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2017 ($21.48 for 1,800 cases). This is a light, lively, refreshing with  aromas and flavours of citrus and peach. 91.

Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2015 ($26.08). This elegant wine dances lightly across the palate, with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The refreshing fruit flavours linger. 90.

Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2014 Somenos Series ($44.48 for 300 cases). This is a full-bodied Pinot Noir, with aromas of cherry and toasted oak, echoed on the palate. The long finish has notes of mocha and spice. 92.

Averill Creek Prevost 2014 ($21.48 for 2,000 cases). The winery describes this as its “Cowichan claret.” It is a blend of 60% Maréchal Foch, 25% Cabernet Libre, 10% Cabernet Foch and 5% Merlot. The soft, ripe tannins make this an easy-drinking red. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and fig with notes of chocolate on the finish. 90.

Averill Creek Cowichan Tawny NV ($30.60 for 375 ml).  This is a fortified blackberry “port” done in the solera style to develop more complexity. Andy Johnston calls it “Christmas cake” because the wine is redolent with spicy fruitcake flavours. 90.

Blue Grouse Estate Winery, which opened in 1993, is where one-time veterinarian Hans Kiltz made about 20 vintages, all of them interesting. When he retired, the winery was purchased by Paul Brunner, a mining engineer and a wine enthusiast. Bailey Williamson, (right) a seasoned Okanagan winemaker, was recruited to manage the cellar. Under new ownership, the winery has continually expanded. The spectacularly designed winery now is the showpiece in the Cowichan Valley.

Blue Grouse has just cleared more of its forested site to plant more vines. The original 8½-acre vineyard had already been doubled to 15 acres and will be doubled again. The vineyard expansion increases the winery’s supply of estate-grown fruit. A full production, the vineyard should support 8,000 cases.

Blue Grouse Paula Sparkling 2014 ($30 for 30 cases). This traditional method sparkling wine is a blend of Müller Thurgau, Ortega, Pinot Auxerrois and Riesling. The wine is crisp, with citrus and apple flavours mingled with toasty notes. The wine is creamy on the palate but crisp on the finish. 90.

Blue Grouse Quill Pinot Gris 2017 ($20). Quill means the wine partly or wholly with purchased fruit. This is a fine textural wine with aromas and flavours of pear and citrus. 88.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris 2017 ($22). By fermenting 20% of this in French oak, Bailey has added layers of texture and flavour. It still retains the classic notes of pear, apple and citrus. 91.

Blue Grouse Quill Pinot Noir 2015 ($24). The grapes are from another Cowichan Valley vineyard. The wine, fermented with wild yeast, is juicy with silky tannins and flavours of cherry. 89.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2015 ($27). The winery web site says this is sold out. If you have some, lay it down for several more years, for it has only just begun to develop to its potential. There is plenty of cherry on the nose and palate. 91.

Emandare Vineyard is an exciting winery that opened near Duncan in 2015 after Mike and Robin Nierychlo, (below)  in 2013, bought an 8.5-acre dry-farmed vineyard that had fallen into neglect. They have turned the vineyard around and now make interesting wines. The vineyard had been planted somewhat
eclectically, allowing Mike to make some unusual field blends. He has now begun to rationalize to vineyard to get rid of such late-ripening varieties as Carménère. 

Emandare Siegerrebe Gewürztraminer 2016 ($23). This is a field blend of 63% Siegerrebe and 37% Gewürztraminer. The wine begins with floral and spicy aromas that lead to flavours of citrus and green apple. It is crisp on the finish. 90.

Emandare Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($30). Emandare has the oldest block of Sauvignon Blanc on Vancouver Island (coming up to 18 years). The wine begins with aromas of lime, continuing to a complex bouquet of melon, gooseberry and citrus flavours. 91.

Emandare Rosé 2017 ($25). This is another field blend: 64% Maréchal Foch, 19% Tempranillo, 10% Siegerrebe, 4% Malbec and 3% Carménère.  The wine is juicy on the palate, with a bowl full of fruit flavours – raspberry, strawberry, watermelon and cranberry. The finish dry and crisp. 90.

Emandare Clara 2017 ($28 for 375 ml). Mike and Robin called this wine Clara to celebrate the birth of their daughter. It is a back-sweetened Siegerrebe dessert wine, hitting just the right note of sweetness that is splendidly balanced with acidity. It is delicately aromatic with flavours of lime. 90.

Emandare Pinot Noir 2015 ($45). This wine was aged in neutral oak to preserve the bright fruit flavours that the vineyard provides. The wine has flavours of cherry, raspberry and cranberry. The texture is still firm enough to suggest the wine has a few years of potential to develop further in the bottle. 90.

Emandare Maréchal-Cabernet Foch 2016 ($25). This is another field blend: 74% Maréchal Foch and 26% Cabernet Foch. The long ripe tannins give this wine a generous texture. It has flavours of black cherry, blueberry and plum. 90.


40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, which is located within earshot of the Comox air base, was acquired in 2014 by Brenda Hetman-Craig and her husband, Layne, (below) from founder Bill Hamilton. They have re-energized the winery, now one of the island’s most popular tasting rooms. They have relied on
Okanagan consulting winemakers Matt Dumayne and, more recently, Michael Bartier to make their wines.

40 Knots Chardonnay 2017 (tank sample). This wine display’s Michael Bartier’s mastery of this varietal. This wine is brimming with flavours of apple and citrus. 90.

40 Knots Pinot Gris 2017 (tank sample). The wine hits the palate with a fleshy texture and then releases layers of pear and citrus flavours. 91.

40 Knots White Seas 2017 ($19.90). This is also Pinot Gris, made in a refreshing fruity style with flavours of citrus and lychee. The finish is crisp. 90.

40 Knots Fallen Apple 2017 ($21.90). This is a delightful dessert wine with 15% alcohol. The rich apple flavours linger for a long time. 88.


Kukatás Wines is new to the island. It is a label owned by Daniel Dragert and his winemaking partner, Mira Tusz (below). Daniel is the winemaker at Averill Creek. The bulk of the grapes come from the three acres of Pinot Noir and Ortega in the Saanich Peninsula that formerly supported a winery called Domaine Rochette. Daniel and Mira’s winemaking style produces quite complex wines.

The name of this winery reflects the owners’ shared Hungarian heritage. The word, they explain means “research, inquisition, exploration or quest.” To buy these wines, call the producers at (250) 858-2339. And keep an eye out for a traditional method sparkling wine which is in progress.

Kukatás Ortega 2015 ($18.75 wholesale for 125 cases). This savoury white was fermented with wild yeast, one-third in barrel, two-thirds in stainless steel. There are herbal and floral aromas leading to a rich palate with flavours of citrus. The finish is dry. 90.

Kukatás Pinot Gris 2016 ($18.75 wholesale for 60 cases). This wine was barrel-fermented with natural yeast. It was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation and has extended lees contact. The result is a richly textured wine with flavours of ripe pear and apple, along with a hint of vanilla. 91.

Kukatás Rosé 2015 ($18.75 for 170 cases). This wine counters the usual rule that rosé wines are not made to be aged. Mira and Daniel maintain this wine has an aging potential of 10 years, or more. The wine is made with Pinot Noir. The grapes had four days on the skins and were barrel-fermented in French oak with wild yeast. A deep-coloured rosé, it has flavours of cherry and ripe strawberry. 91.

Kukatás Pinot Noir Whole Bunches 2016 ($NA).  This wine has the texture to develop well in the bottle for many years. It is an intense wine, with aromas and flavours of cherry. 90.

Kukatás Pinot Noir 2016 ($NA). This is a bold, deeply flavoured Pinot Noir with aromas and flavours of cherry and vanilla. 91.


Rathjen Cellars is a new winery getting ready to open this summer in the Saanich Peninsula. Vintner Mike Rathjen has, as he puts it, “inherited” vineyards that supplied two Saanich wineries, Dragonfly Hill Vineyard and the now-closed Starling Lane Winery. He also took over Dragonfly Hill’s license and has been operating from there while he completes his own facility nearby.
Rathjen manages three other Saanich vineyards, along with his own 2 ½ acre vineyard planted in 2016. The wines already are in some private wine stores and restaurants; and are available directly from the vintner at 778-668-9588 or

He was mentored in winemaking with his brother-in-law, Mike Nierychlo. When he started making wine in his Victoria home, he referred to his cellar as the wine bunker. He appropriated the name for two of the labels. 

Rathjen Cellars Wine Bunker White 2016 ($20). This is a blend of Schönburger, Epicure and Petit Milo. The aromatics of the Schönburger lift the nose of a wine that is a mouth full of tropical fruit flavours. 89. 

Rathjen Cellars Pinot Gris 2016 ($30). This crisp, refreshing white has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. 90.

Rathjen Cellars Rosé 2016 ($20). This is a blend of 2/3 Gamay Noir and 1/3 Pinot Noir. A dry wine, it has a delicate rose petal hue and aromas and flavours of raspberry. 90.

Rathjen Cellars Wine Bunker Red 2015 ($22). This full-bodied red blend is 50% Gamay Noir, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Maréchal Foch. It has flavours of plum and black cherry with a hint of coffee and chocolate. 90.

Rathjen Cellars Pinot Noir 2015 ($35). The wine is made with four clones of Pinot Noir (not identified). The flavours are bright, with notes of cherry, and the wine has a silky texture. 91.


Salt Spring Vineyards and Winery, which opened in 2003, is operated by two doctors, Joanne and Devlin McIntyre (below). They can claim to be the oldest winery on Salt Spring Island because, as the story goes, the inspector dropped off their license before going next door to Garry Oaks Vineyards.

Salt Spring Karma 2014 ($33.90). This is a traditional method sparkling wine made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wine’s instant appeal begins with its creamy impact on the palate, where flavours of apple mingle with toasty lees. 92.

Salt Spring Pinot Gris 2017 ($20.90). One-third of the blend was lightly oak-aged for texture. The wine is still crisp, with flavours of citrus and pear. 90.

Salt Spring Rosé 2017 ($18.40). Made with Pinot Noir, the wine has a pale rose petal hue. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry, with a crisp, refreshing finish. 90.

Salt Spring Millotage 2017 ($21.75). This proprietary red is a blend of Leon Millot and Pinot Noir. The wine has a juicy texture, with flavours of plum and cherry. 90.

Salt Spring Blackberry O.M.G. NV ($20.87). The winery says that there is a pound of wild blackberries in each bottle. You can believe it when the berry flavours explode from the glass and on the palate. 91.

Venturi Schulze Vineyards was opened in 1993 by Giordano Venturi and his partner, Marilyn Schulze. They are noted for their meticulous viticulture as well as for Giordano’s creativity in the cellar. Among the legendary products here is a very fine balsamic vinegar.

Venturi Schulze Madeleine Sylvaner 2014 ($15.79). This is a bargain for a wine almost sold out. With good acidity, it has aromas and tangy flavours of pears and green apples. 88.

Venturi Schulze Brut Naturel 2013 ($32.10). This is a traditional method wine made from Auxerrois grapes. It begins with aromas of herbs mingled with toasty lees; this is echoed on the palate. The finish is crisp. 90.

Venturi Schulze Millefiore 2014 ($23.10). The name means one thousand flowers. The wine is a blend of Siegerrebe and Ortega. It delivers a bowl of tropical fruit flavours with spice and herbs on the dry finish. 90.

Venturi Schulze Siegerrebe 2016 ($20.99). This is a refreshing wine, with aromas of spice and herbs leading to intense fruity flavours (lime, lychee). 91.

Venturi Schulze Pinot Gris 2016 ($24.99). Because the ferment stopped when it decided it was finished, there is a slight amount of residual sugar here. It is delicious, with peachy flavours. 90.

Venturi Schulze Raven The Thief 2016 ($29.99). This is a blend of Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, a really good pairing. The wine is juicy and brimming with red berry flavours (cherry, cranberry) and plum. The wine was named for a raven in the vineyard that was stealing eggs. 90.

Venturi Schulze Pinot Noir 2014 ($45.10). This wine is from one of the island’s best recent vintages. It is a rich wine, with cherry and plum flavours blended with notes of oak and spice. 91.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Chaberton Winery and its many friends

Photo: Chaberton winemaker Andrea Lee

When it opened in 1991 in Langley Township, Chaberton Estate Winery pioneered wine growing in the Fraser Valley.

It is still the largest winery in the valley, making crisp whites from its 40-acre vineyard and filling out its portfolio with wines made from Okanagan and Similkameen fruit. The reds current available at the wine shop, and reviewed here, are very well made.

Chaberton, which has an excellent bistro next to its wine shop, is popular with day-tripping wine lovers in Greater Vancouver area. Indeed, one can enjoy a great wine touring day excursion by including visits to several of Chaberton’s neighbours, such as Township 7 Vineyards and Backyard Vineyards.

It may surprise you to learn that there are 45 wineries between Westham Island and Chilliwack. That is about the same number as there are on the Naramata Bench. Everyone interested in BC wine has hard of the Naramata wineries because they promote themselves so effectively. A few years ago, they even sponsored a book about themselves.

The Fraser Valley wineries have an association with just five members. The other 40 just do their own thing. With some searching on the web, I found several lists of the wineries. The website,, lists 36 producers, with their addresses and phone numbers. The provincial government’s list of licensed wineries has them all on an Excel spreadsheet without phone numbers. Google Liquor Licensed Establishment Locations.

There are actually wine festivals in the region if you search around a bit on the web.

·       The three-year-old Harrison Uncorked Wine Festival this year is April 20 and 21, with a wine tasting ($50) on the afternoon of April 21. Okanagan wineries as well as Fraser Valley wineries are pouring there.

·       Garagiste North’s next tasting is scheduled for May 26 at the Vista D’Oro winery in Langley Township. The wineries that belong to this self-described “cool” group are all wineries producing less than 2,000 cases a year. Most are from the interior. But this festival should help elevate the profile of the Fraser Valley.

Some local tourist associations partially fill in the gap for those who might actually wish to tour the local wineries. Dr. Google took me to Tourism’s Langley’s list, for example. I reproduce it here.

Backyard Vineyards
Backyard Vineyards promotes big fun when creating their top-quality varietal, blended and bubbly wines that are made from 100% BC Grapes. The grapes are grown in their Langley vineyard and complemented with fruit from the Fraser Valley and South Okanagan. Since opening in 2009, they have been recognized for wines both locally and internationally, winning medals for reds, whites and bubble. They take pride in making exceptional wine at affordable prices as “It’s the neighborly thing to do”.
Open: 7 days a week
3033 232 St, Langley
Blackwood Lane Vineyards & Winery
The philosophy of Blackwood Lane Vineyards & Winery is summarized in the Company’s motto: “Bonus Vita et Bonus Amici” – Good Life and Good Friends.  Situated on 12.2 acres of the most beautiful and pristine land in the Fraser Valley, wine lovers quickly learn they do not have to travel far to acquire great wine.  The creation of Carlos Lee, grapes are secured from the Okanagan Valley and by utilizing only old fashioned techniques, the end result is uncompromising quality wines.
Open: Wednesday through Sunday
25180 – 8th Avenue, Langley
Chaberton Estate Winery and Bacchus Bistro
Experience the tranquil atmosphere and award-winning wines of Chaberton Estate Winery. The 55-acre property offers a unique micro-climate, receiving far less rain than its surrounding areas. Pack a lunch or picnic and visit the 3rd largest estate winery in BC, and the oldest in the Fraser Valley on a sunny day for a glass of wine in their licensed picnic area. Or enjoy authentic French bistro cuisine prepared with only the finest, freshest ingredients at the Zagat-rated Excellent Bacchus Bistro where reservations are highly recommended.
Open: 7 days a week
Bistro – Wednesday through Sunday
1064 – 216th Street, Langley
Winery: 604.530.1736    Bistro: 604.530.9694
Festina Lente Estate Winery
Did someone say Mead? This new winery to Langley produces beautiful mead or honey wines, passed down by three generations of winemakers. Located near Township 7 Winery, this hobby farm and winery is worth a stop. Being a honey wine, you think sweet but Festina Lente produces dry and crisp honey wines. Check out their beautiful tasting room and make sure to say hi to their lovable farm animals.
Hours: Friday through Sunday
21113 16th Avenue, Langley BC
The Fort Wine Co.
Located just outside of Fort Langley, the Fort Wine co. features beautiful Fraser Valley views, and cranberry bog tours during harvest season. Cranberry wine is a staple here while a variety of other fruit wines provide something to delight every palate. The friendly tasting room welcomes the public for impromptu wine tasting and is a unique spot for a small party or business get-together. Cheese platters and sangria’s are available on request and are enjoyed frequently during the summer months.
Hours:  Friday through Monday
26151 – 84th Avenue. Fort Langley, BC
Glass House Estate Winery
This family run vineyard and boutique winery gives you wines varieties from Rose to Ice Wine. Their wine protocol focuses on a minimalist approach, which showcase each varietals characteristics. The name Glass House pays homage to the families 60 years in the greenhouse industry, which started in the Netherlands all the way to North America. Enjoy their beautiful tasting room or venture outside to their beautiful picnic area surrounded by the vineyards.
Open: Thursday – Sunday
23449 0 Avenue
Langley, British Columbia V2Z 2X3
(604) 533-1212

Krause Berry Farms & Estate Winery
You can find the “Berry Best” strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in the form of wine at Krause Berry Farm’s newly launched estate winery. Winemaker Sandra-Lee invites you to sit back and enjoy a bottle of berry wine or a Wine-a-Rita in their 130 seat capacity lounge where you can choose a spot indoors or out on the patio. The smells emanating from the kitchen are sure to convince you to order some nachos or a Panini or two as well.
Open: 7 days a week  – Closed January through till May
6179 – 248th St. Langley, BC V4W 1C3
Township 7 Vineyards & Winery
Tour the vineyard, taste a variety of wines. Enjoy the relaxing picnic area before buying a bottle to add to your personal wine cellar. Township 7’s award-winning and acclaimed handcrafted wines are produced in small lots from vineyards in Langley and the south Okanagan Valley. Open year round,  they offer cultural and culinary experiences including art shows, live music / theatre, charity fundraisers, wine seminars, community grape harvest / stomp, and winemaker dinners.
Open: 7 days a week
21152 – 16th Avenue, Langley
Vista D’oro Farms & Winery
The traditional techniques and old world values that are used in Vista D’oro artisanal preserves are also reflected in their wine making methods. The winery is dedicated to producing delicious hand-crafted wines made in small batches on their South Langley farm. Their flagship bottle is a fortified walnut wine and is truly a unique offering. The produce grown on Vista D’oro is used in every aspect of the operation, showcasing the superiority of local farm-fresh ingredients.
Open: Thursday through Sunday.
346 208th street. Langley, BC
If you venture into the valley, make it a priority to stop at Chaberton where winemaker Andrea Lee has impressed me with her wines. Here are notes of some of the reds you will find there.

 Chaberton Red 2016 ($12.50). The winery describes this very affordable wine as its “house blend” – 26.5% Merlot, 24.5% Gamay Noir, 21.1% Chancellor, 9.3% Zweigelt, 7.9% Baco Noir, 6.9% Dunkelfelder and 3.9% Marselan. The result is a soft, easy-drinking red with aromas and flavours of cherry and spice. The wine is also sold other packages including a four-litre bag in box. 89.

Chaberton Valley Cab 2015 ($16.95). This is a blend of 48% Cabernet Franc, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Malbec. It begins with brambly, red berry aromas, going on to spicy dark red fruit flavours with a hint of leather, black coffee and vanilla. 88.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014 ($29.95 for 163 cases). This wine was made with grapes from the aptly named Happy Valley vineyard on Black Sage Road. It was aged for 22 months on French (70%) and American oak barrels. The wine has aromas and flavours of blackberry, black cherry and cedar, with savoury herbal notes. Half a bottle was reserved for tasting the following day. The wine had developed spectactularly, becoming rich and full with a mouthfilling sweet fruit. 92.

Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2014 ($22.95). This wine was aged 21 months in second-use oak barrels. It begins with aromas of cassis leading to flavours of black currant, black cherry, blueberry and spicy plum. Long ripe tannins give the wine a good texture and a concentrated weight. On the finish, there are hints of chocolate. 90

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2015 ($Sold Out). The winery made just 71 cases of this delicious red. It warns consumers that, because Malbec is rare in BC, it may be a while before it will have the fruit for another blend. Originally, the wine was intended as a component for the Meritage blend. However, Anthony Cheng, one of Chaberton’s owners, decided after tasting the blend (three barrels in new French oak) to bottle it on its own. Good call. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry with the typical floral note of the Malbec that makes up 45%  of the blend. On the palate, the red fruit flavours are rich, complex and long-lasting. 93.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($N/A). Made with grapes from Black Sage Road and aged 24 months in French and American oak, this begins with classic aromas of cassis, dark red fruit, mint and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, blackberry and vanilla. The wine benefits from decanting; it needs to breathe to open the layers of aroma and fruit. 91

Chaberton AC 35 2012 ($45.99 for 89 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. This label is one in a series of AC blends built around Merlot by Anthony Cheng, one of the owners of Chaberton. Dark in colour, this is a bold, ripe intense wine, with aromas and flavours of fig, cassis and spice mingled with toasted oak. The finish is lingering. 93.