Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Saturna Island releases four whites

Photo: Saturna Island's Hooman Haftbaradan

Once again, owner Larry Page has his Saturna Island Family Estate Winery on the market.

The asking price, $7.9 million, has been reduced from the more aggressive valuations over the past decade. In fact, there is an Okanagan winery selling at the same price, with far less acreage. Bonitas Winery at Summerland, which has a 13.25 acre waterfront property, is listed for $7.1 million.

The Saturna Island winery is on a 78 acre property, with almost 60 acres of vineyard and with a bistro and a spectacular ocean view. So why is it selling for about the same price as Bonitas Winery?

As they say in real estate, it is all about location. The ferry service to Saturna Island is so poor than you can probably drive to Summerland from Vancouver in the same time it would take to reach the island.

However, Saturna Island winery has been dressed up for this occasion with sharp new packaging for its wines, which are now some of the best yet released from this property.

Credit Hooman Haftbaradaran, the British-trained winemaker who joined Saturna Island in 2010 after a few years in the Okanagan with St. Hubertus Estate Winery.

Born in Germany in 1973 of Iranian parents, Hooman came to wine after a degree in hotel management and while working as a sommelier in leading European hotels (Claridge’s in London, for example). While taking a winemaking degree at Brighton University, he did vintages in Greece, Germany and Washington State. While there in 2008, he discovered the Okanagan had a wine region.

At Saturna Island, he took over from a pair of South Africans, Danny Hattingh and  Megan DeVillieres, who are now in the Okanagan. A winemaker and a vineyardist respectively, the pair had spent two years correcting problems at the island property. Danny’s wines showed considerable improvement. Hooman is building on that foundation.

“As for my approach to winemaking,” Hooman told me a few years ago, “I am a diverse person. I lived in different places. That reflects in my winemaking. I see what the vineyard brings to me. I am working with the grapes and with the juice. I am not forcing anything.”

The wines I tasted suggest he has stayed on course.

Saturna Island Family Estate Chardonnay 2011 ($15.99). The label identifies this as BC VQA, implying that not all of the wine in the bottle was grown in Saturna Island, which is in the Gulf Islands VQA. This is a fairly light, fruit-forward Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of citrus and orange peel. There is a hint of spice, perhaps from a very light use of oak. The finish is a touch short. 87.

Saturna Island Family Estate Riesling 2011 ($16.99). This wine must have transported Hooman back to Germany with its moderate 11.8% alcohol and a touch of residual sugar to lift the flavours of lime and grapefruit. A little note of petrol has already developed in the aroma. 90.

Saturna Island Family Estate Riesling 2011 Wild Ferment ($17.99). Congratulations to Hooman for having the courage to use indigenous yeast with one of his wine. This wine, with an alcohol of 12.9%, is balanced to be crisp and dry. It has aromas of citrus and an appealing twist of lime on the palate. 90.

Saturna Island Family Estate Pinot Gris 2011 ($14.99). This refreshing wine begins with aromas of lime and grass. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and pink grapefruit. Piquant acidity and a skein of minerals give this wine a tangy and dry finish. 89.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Plume 2010: a wine that punches above its weight

In the fall of 2011, Tony Stewart, the president of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, partnered with Californian Dan Zepponi to create a brand called Plume Napa Valley.

The first release was about 1,150 cases of a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, virtually all for the western Canadian market. To the delight and perhaps to the partners’ surprise as well, that first release is sold out.

The 2010 vintage, about 2,000 cases, is just arriving in wine stores in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. The partners now think they will be hard-pressed to keep the brand in stock until the 2011 vintage – not yet in bottle – is ready.

“It has been so successful in Canada that I have not moved it down here much,” Zepponi says, speaking of the California market.

However, the 2011 Plume Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is 4,300 cases and the 2012 is about 5,000 cases. Zepponi will finally have enough of this fine Napa red to start selling it in his own backyard as well.

The partnership came about several years ago. Zepponi, a member of an old and prestigious wine family in California, spent two years in the Okanagan as president of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

At the time, the Stewart family was thinking of investing in the Australian wine industry. Zepponi convinced them it made more sense to invest in California. In addition to launching Plume, the partners last fall bought the Valley of the Moon  Winery in Sonoma, a winery almost as large as Quails’ Gate.

The initial strategy has been to use the Quails’ Gate distribution network in Canada to sell the California wines. Valley of the Moon and its associated brands don’t yet have a foothold in Canada but that will come.

The first two vintages of Plume were made in custom crush facilities in Napa. The partners have now leased a winery for Plume and engaged consultant winemaker Scott McLeod. Before hanging up his consulting shingle, McLeod spent 18 years ad winemaker and vineyard manager for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate. Both he and Zepponi have the right connections to get superb grapes for this wine.

Here is my note on the 2010.

Plume Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($29.99). This is a wine that overdelivers. It begins with aromas of cherry, cassis and touch of eucalyptus. On the palate, the texture is opulent, with flavours of cherries and black currants mingled with chocolate. On the finish, there are appealing spicy hints of cloves and liquorice. The ripe, round tannins give the wine an easy accessibility now but I would not hesitate to lay some down for a few years. 91.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bill Eggert and friends at Taste BC

Photo: Wine grower Bill Eggert of Fairview Cellars

When there are 50 wineries in a room and just three hours for tasting, it makes for hard choices.

In fact, Liberty Wines, the sponsor of Taste BC, made choosing even tougher by allowing several craft brewers, three spirit producers and two cideries in the room as well.

My last stop of the evening was at the table of the Howe Sound Brewing Company, which was showing four terrific beers (Total Eclipse of the Hop IPA,  Super Jupiter IPA, Pothole Filler Imperial Stout and Wee Beastie Oak-Aged Scotch Ale). These are all seasonal beers in 750 ml bottles, priced between $7 and $10 a bottle, and worth it.

I did not linger at the other beer tables because Liberty is sponsoring a craft beer tasting on March 20. Put it on your calendar and watch for more details.

One of the first tables I hit was that of Fairview Cellars because owner Bill Eggert is always entertaining and always has good wine, including a couple under the table. This year, those wines included a Pinot Noir under his new Eagle Bluff Estates Label and a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is no longer available but it has matured to such a lovely wine that it makes the case for ordering his 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), if it were not already sold out. Wait for the 2010.

Here are notes on Bill’s wines.

Eagle Bluff Estates Crooked Post Pinot Noir 2011 ($25). This wine is made from the first harvest from young vines, which explains that the wine has the colour of a rosé. When you take a sip, the wine pulls the usual Pinot Noir stunt of having a lot more substance than the colour suggests. With aromas and flavours of strawberry and with a silky texture, this is charmer. 88.

Fairview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19.90). The wine has aromas of herbs and sage, leading to flavours of sage and grapefruit and grapefruit rind. The finish is bone dry. 88.

Fairview Cellars Cabernet Franc 2011 ($N.A.). This is a classic expression of the variety, with brambly ar0mas and with blackberry flavours. The spicy finish is one reason why Bill recommends pairing this wine with Greek food, tandoori chicken or satay pork. 90.

Fairview Cellars Two Hoots 2010 ($24.90). Named for vineyard owls, this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (the Fairview vineyard grows primarily Bordeaux varietals). The wine shows a touch of mint and eucalyptus on the nose, going on to cassis and cherry flavours and a spicy finish. 90.

Fairview Cellars Madcap Red 2009 ($26.90) and Fairview Cellars The Bear 2009 (34.90) are also sold out. Lucky were those who got a few cases. Bordeaux blends from this outstanding vintage, these are 91 and 92 point wines respectively. And lucky for those who stopped at the Fairview Cellars table.

Here are notes on wines from other wineries that are still available.

Averill Creek Pinot Gris 2009 ($15.99 for 800 cases). The vibrant acidity of the Vancouver Island terroir is keeping this wine appealingly crisp and fresh while the time in the bottle has enhanced its complexity. The aromas and flavours of pear and grapefruit are delicious. 90.

Averill Creek Somenos Rosé 2011 ($17 for 400 cases). While the 2011 vintage on the island was tough for maturing red varieties, Averill Creek managed to make an excellent rosé with some of its Pinot Noir. The wine is fresh and tangy with flavours of strawberry and cranberry. 88.

Averill Creek Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60 for 250 cases). This won a gold medal in the recent Canadian Wine Awards. The quality justifies the price. The wine, which was aged 15 months in French oak, begins with those complex aroma notes – tea, spice, cherry – that sometimes are called barnyard, a positive descriptor with Pinot Noir. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a spicy (cloves, nutmeg) finish. The texture is silky. 91.

Bartier Brothers The Cowboy White 2011 ($22.90). This is 83% Chardonnay, 17% Sémillon, one of several wines from the winery being developed by winemaker Michael Bartier and his brother, Don. The wines are made and sold through Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, where Michael is also the chief winemaker. This is a crisp white, with flavours of apple and melon and with a lingering spicy note on the finish. 89.

Bartier Brothers The Cowboy Red 2011 ($22.90). This is an unconventional blend: 40% each of Gamay Noir and Merlot, with 30% Pinot Noir. The Merlot brings substance to the texture and a hint of blueberry. Its partners add cherry flavours and soft, approachable tannins. 89.

Bartier Brothers Chardonnay 2011 ($22.90). An unoaked Chardonnay, this crisp and zesty wine has appealing flavours of lime and grapefruit. 90.

Bartier Brothers The Goal 2010 ($29.90). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, and 30% each of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. The wine delivers satisfying gobs of fruit aromas and flavours, including plums, black currants, black cherry and a hint of pepper. 90.

Misconduct  Misfit 2009 ($18). Misconduct Wine Co. operates from a wine shop on Upper Bench Road in Penticton. The winery has created a 1920s personality for its wine names, labels and website, although the wines manage to have a contemporary appeal. This white is 39% Pinot Gris, 38% Chardonnay and 23% Viognier – “three ritzy gals dancing their way to Tin Pan Alley,” as the website has it. This win has abundant melon and tropical fruit flavours, with a crisp and dry finish. 88.

Misconduct Massacre Rosé 2010 ($20). Juice from seven red varieties is combined in this terrific rosé. The back story involves the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 when gunmen associated with Al Capone shot seven rivals. The story may not be appealing but the wine is, with aromas of strawberry and raspberry, flavours of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry and a texture that is juicy. 90.

Misconduct The Big Take 2009 ($26). This is 45% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 months in French and American oak. It begins with black currant and vanilla aromas and delivers flavours of currants, blackberries and chocolate. 89.

Misconduct Pinot Noir 2009 ($30). Big and full-bodied, this wine begins with aromas of black cherry mingling with forest floor notes. On the generous palate, there are flavours of black cherry with a touch of coffee. 90.

SpierHead Riesling 2011 ($21.90 for 185 cases). This wine begins with a touch of petrol and citrus in the aroma, leading for refreshing flavours of lime, with minerals in the backbone. However, the texture is juicy, with the residual sugar nicely balanced with racy acidity so that the finish seems dry. 89.

SpierHead Chardonnay 2011 ($21.90). An appealing, fruit-forward Chardonnay, this begins with citrus aromas, leading to flavours of lime, guava, melon and peach, with cloves on the lingering finish. 90.

 SpierHead Pinot Noir 2011 ($19.90). The previous vintage was judged the best Pinot Noir in the Canadian Wine Awards last year. This one proves that the wine was not a one-shot wonder. This is an elegant, delicate wine, with appealing flavours of raspberry and cherry and with a silky texture. 90.

The View Winery Riesling 2011 ($17.90 for 379 cases). Here is another Riesling in which the residual sugar is balanced well with the acidity to gave the wine a juicy, savoury impression on the palate. It begins with aromas of citrus and has flavours of lime and green apples. 89.

The View Winery Red Shoe White 2011 ($15.90 for 389 cases). This is 82% Gewürztraminer, 18% Riesling, with enough residual sugar to  give it an off-dry finish. There are aromas and flavours of apricot, melon and baked apple. 88.

The View Winery Pinotage Reserve 2009 ($22.90 for 56 cases). One of only three producers of Pinotage in the Okanagan, The View does a solid job with this South African varietal. This wine is full-bodied and rich, with flavours of black cherries, prunes, chocolate and spice. 90.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fire destroys Granite Creek Estate Winery

Photo: Granite Creek's Doug (l) , Heather and Gary Kennedy

An early morning fire on January 15 completely destroyed Salmon Arm’s Granite Creek Estate Winery and its entire inventory except for stock in the wine shop, which is in a separate building.

Quoted in the Salmon Arm Observer, Heather Kennedy, one of the owners, said: “We have no wine, all our stuff for the next few years is gone, all the wine that was being aged in oak for three to four years is gone.”

The two-storey winery building was located across a forested ravine, perhaps 100 yards from the Kennedy home (which houses the wine shop). Gary Kennedy, Heather’s husband, spotted the flames about 4.30 a.m. The winery was fully engulfed by the time the firefighters arrived to contain the fire’s spread. A nearby vineyard was unscathed.

“Thank God it didn’t get the house,” Heather is quoted as saying.

Cause of the fire has not yet been determined. The source was in the winery basement. It is not considered suspicious.

The winery was insured but, as Heather told the newspaper, “you never get what you put into it.”

Granite Creek will continue to sell its remaining stock but the winery’s future is undetermined at this point. “I don’t know what we are going to do,” Heather told the newspaper. “Would we rebuild? I don’t know.”

This is just the second time in the history of B.C. wineries that fire destroyed a winery. During the summer of 2003, the massive forest fire southeast of Kelowna razed the St. Hubertus Estate Winery processing facility. However, St. Hubertus was more fortunate. Except for a few barrels of port, the wine inventory had all been bottled and was in a warehouse that was untouched by the fire.

Established in 2003, Granite Creek made about 2,000 cases of wine in the 2012 vintage.

The following is the winery profile from my book, The Wineries of British Columbia, published in 2009. Since then, the number of wineries in the Shuswap has grown to six (or eight if the wine touring borders extend as far south as Armstrong. The employment details in the profile are no longer current.

Granite Creek is a partnership of two of the three generations of the Kennedy family that have farmed in the Tappen Valley since 1959, when Robert Pemberton Kennedy moved there from the Fraser Valley. Gary Kennedy, Robert’s son, was completing a doctorate in agricultural engineering at the University of British Columbia when a family crisis required him to come back to the farm. Doug Kennedy, Gary’s son, was born in Vancouver in 1972 while his father was at university. Doug and Mayka, his Polish-born wife, juggle winemaking with bringing up daughter Gabriella, and pursuing international careers in the oil industry. And Heather, Gary’s wife, looks after the tasting room when she is not cuddling her granddaughter. Granite Creek offers the complete family winery experience.

Once an organic farm and likely an organic vineyard in the future, the Kennedy farm formerly produced livestock and dairy products. After leaving that business - most of his family were not interested in dairying - Gary canvassed other opportunities to keep farming his land. He compared the Tappen Valley’s climate with wine regions in Europe and New Zealand, brought in two consultants and settled on vines. 

 “We’re right out in pioneer country here,” he observed a few vintages into the project. In 2003, the Kennedy family planted four hectares (10 acres) of vineyard and, a few years later, cleared another hectare on a hillside. There is considerable potential for more vines as the winery grows.

The vineyard was planted primarily with Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch, Kerner, a significant test plot of Pinot Noir and small plots of about ten other varieties. As a professional agrologist, Gary Kennedy is proceeding carefully to determine the vines best suited to the site. Doug hopes that Pinot Noir in particular will be one of the successes of this test. “If it works out, it could create quite a unique wine in our area,” he says. His father believes it will be 2010 before they will know with some certainty whether Pinot Noir will succeed. Foch, on the other hand, is doing very well.

Other varieties, including Syrah, Merlot and Gamay, are produced for Granite Creek by contract growers near Oliver. Climate change one day might bring the Tappen Valley’s growing conditions closer to those of the Okanagan. For now, however, the valley has a shorter season, cooler nights and more rain – so much so that several vineyards in the area have not installed irrigation. Initially, Granite Creek, named for the creek flowing through the property, also installed no irrigation. Gary, noting a long-term trend to drier weather, has decided to irrigate new plantings, if only to get the vines well established.

Gary calculated that his vineyard project would really become viable with the opening of a winery, the third in the Shuswap Lake region. The idea was embraced enthusiastically by Doug and Mayka. “My wife and I have been home winemakers for years,” Doug says. Trained in computer science, Doug started his business career in northern British Columbia with Schlumberger Ltd., an international oilfield service company operating in 100 countries. Doug soon found himself promoted to management and working in central Africa and Russia. He and Mayka, a chemical engineer and also a Schlumberger employee, have travelled Europe’s wine regions extensively.

Starting with an initial production of 2,000 cases, Granite Creek is on its way to a target of 5,000 cases.  The long-term plans call for building a new winery into a mountainside, using gravity in the production process and burying the cellars. The tasting room is currently on the ground floor of Gary and Heather’s home, with the existing winery just visible across a forested ravine. There is a picnic area and a seven-kilometre trail system that the Kennedy family has developed for hikers. It connects with a more extensive network of trails on adjoining Crown land, popularly with horsemen.

And it is well worth making an appointment for a tour. The family is thorough about it, spending up to 90 minutes on a leisurely walk through the winery and its bucolic surroundings.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tinhorn Creek raises the Cabernet Franc bar

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is just releasing its first Cabernet Franc under its Oldfield Series, or reserve, designation.

This is the winery’s eighth wine to get the Oldfield Series designation. The other seven are Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, 2Bench Red, 2Bench White, 2Bench Rosé and Kerner Icewine.

When I tasted the Cabernet Franc, I wonder what took the winery so long. This is a terrific red. Tinhorn Creek has been making Cabernet Franc for years in its “regular” portfolio and there were plenty of vintages when the quality of that varietal at least rivalled Merlot.

I assume Merlot got its Oldfield Series tag much sooner (a decade ago!) because Merlot has been more popular with consumers. In recent years, however, consumers have been discovering how good Okanagan and Similkameen Cabernet Franc can be.

When Okanagan vineyards were being replanted in the 1990s, many producers chose to plant Cabernet Franc because it is supposed to ripen a week or so earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. When the vines started producing, most wineries just used Cabernet Franc in blends. There have not been nearly as many champions of Cabernet Franc as there were of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tinhorn Creek was among the handful that always made a varietal Cabernet Franc, possibly because Sandra Oldfield, the winemaker here, had started her career in the California wine industry when straight varietals were common.

The grapes for this 2010 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc came from a 15-year-old block in the winery’s Diamondback Vineyard on Black Sage Road. The 2010 vintage was a cool vintage with a long fall. These grapes, however, were so ripe when picked on October 21 that the resulting wine has 14.6% alcohol. The wine, which was barrel-aged for 12 months and bottle-aged for another nine months, has so much texture that the alcohol is not noticeable.

This excellent wine is available at the winery and at the winery’s restaurant.

Here are my notes.

Oldfield Selection Cabernet France 2010 ($34.99 for 374 cases).  It begins with appealing aromas of vanilla, plum, black berry and black currants. There is a satisfying gob of sweet berry flavours on the palate – flavours of blackberry, raspberry, spice and tobacco. The finish just won’t quit. The wine is drinking well now but will age well for another seven years. 93.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Van Westen's big number 8

Photo: Winemaker Rob Van Westen

Rob Van Westen was over the moon when the results of the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards were announced.

His winery, Van Westen Vineyards of Naramata Road, came in eighth, with two gold medals, two silvers and one bronze.

Here is some context so that you understand why he was elated. Van Westen Vineyard submitted only six wines, fewer than any of the other top 20 wineries in the competition.

Tawse Winery, an Ontario winery that has been number one in the competition f0r three years running, submitted an astounding 38 wines to win nine golds, 9 silvers and 14 bronze medals. Not to take anything away from Tawse, but that many entries is the equivalent of keeping a thumb on the scale.

Rob Van Westen would not have that many wines if he had submitted virtually everything he has made since the winery opened in 2005.

One of Rob’s branding policies may also be self-limiting. The name of every wine in his portfolio begins with V. Every bottle sports a bold V, not unlike the Nike Swoosh, making it easy to spot one of his wines in a wine store or on a restaurant table. That’s effective, even if he occasionally stretches for a name. For example, his Icewine is called Vice.

The wines, which are honest and reliable, mirror the vintner’s character. A member of a legendary cherry growing family, Rob branched into winemaking 10 years ago, mentored by Tom DiBello, then the winemaker at CedarCreek. The winery, based on five hectares of vineyard, produced 2,300 cases in the 2012 vintage.

He operates from a former fruit packing house. When he and his partner, Tammi, open the tasting room, they offer a friendly and informal experience. Unless there have been some modifications in the past year, the tasting bar is still a plank on a couple of barrels. There is much to admire about this unpretentious winery.

Production is limited but several of the wines are available in VQA stores and a few other private stores.

Here are my notes on the wines that were released during the past six months.

Vino Grigio 2011 ($18.90 for 499 cases). This crisp and fresh Pinot Gris with 13.4% alcohol has more weight than one expects with the Pinot Grigio style (which is a good thing). It begins with aromas of melon and pear, leading to flavours of pear, melon and cantaloupe. As the wine warms in the glass, lovely tropical fruit flavours emerge. 89.

Vivacious 2011 ($18.90 for 334 cases). This is Pinot Blanc with a splash of Pinot Gris. Crisp and tangy on the palate, it begins with aromas of apples and pineapple and has flavours of green apples and grapefruit. Given the racy acidity, this would be a good wine to lay down until next spring. 88.

Viognier 2011 ($24.90 for 110 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards. This wine is made in the ripe, mineral-drive style of the Rhone. The 14.3% alcohol contributes to the rich texture on the palate. It begins with aromas of apricot, peach and honey and tastes of apricot and baked apples. 90.

Voluptuous 2009 ($29.90 for 204 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards.  This wine, 67% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc, was released on December 1 to various channels including the VQA stores. This is a bold and generous wine from a ripe vintage, with 14.6% alcohol that you hardly notice. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and coffee. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, even a hint of graphite. 92.

V 2009 ($34.90 for 301 cases). This is 68% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5.6% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and 0.4% Petit Verdot.  My sample unfortunately was corked, but not so badly as to obscure the fundamentally solid qualities of this blend; just enough that I could not score it. Take a chance on it.

Vulture 2009 ($49.90 for 42 cases). Rob took a risk with this wine by using no sulphur (except for traces in the topping wine). Sulphur is an almost universal preservative in winemaking, an easy way to prevent oxidation. This wine, which is 100% Cabernet Franc, came through the entire winemaking process, including 19 months in French oak barrels and is none the worse for it. In fact, I think you could cellar this for a few more years. True to the variety, this is a wine with brambly berry aromas, along with oak and cloves. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, currant, raspberry and cocoa. 91.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Perseus Winery's current releases

Photo: Terrabella's Rob Ingram

Perseus Winery & Vineyards is Penticton’s in-town winery, with its location in a heritage house near the start of Lower Bench Road.

To handle the growing number of patrons, the winery is expanding with an 800 square foot addition that will include a bistro. It is expected to be open by June.

Perseus was launched in 2009 by three Penticton businessmen, including Larry Lund, the long-time operator of Penticton’s famous hockey academy.

In 2011 the founders sold majority ownership to Terrabella Wineries Ltd. Run by Summerland accountant Rob Ingram, with two partners, Terrabella is an umbrella company developing wineries in four locations. Property acquisition is currently underway in West Kelowna for a second winery. The other two occasions have not been confirmed.

Each winery will operate under its own name, which means that the Perseus shingle will continue to hang at the Penticton winery.

The wines currently in the market have been made by two of British Columbia’s best winemakers. The winemaker for the 2009 and 2010 vintages was Lawrence Herder, a proprietor of Herder Winery nears Keremeos. He moonlighted as a sought-after consultant with a number of B.C. wineries while getting his own winery established. The Perseus contract helped finance his new vineyard tractor.

When he decided to wind down his consulting work, winemaking at Perseus was turned over to Tom DiBello, the former CedarCreek winemaker who now consults from his base at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery.

Tom’s fingerprints are all over these wines, since he would have finished the 2010 reds, still in barrel when Lawrence passed him the cellar keys.

I can’t say that a style has yet emerged with the whites. Two of the whites were almost austerely dry while a third white, a Pinot Gris, was packed with fruit. I will be curious to see which Tom DiBello will stand up when the 2012 whites are released.

The personality of the reds is more of a piece: the wines are generous in texture and flavour.

Here are my notes.

Perseus Pinot Gris 2011 ($16.90). This is the crisp and fresh style of Pinot Gris, with aromas of citrus and apple and with flavours of pineapple and peaches. The finish lingers for a long time. 90.

Perseus Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.90). Rather austere in style, the wine begins with aromas of herbs and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit and grapefruit rind with herbs on the bone-dry finish. 87.

Perseus Viognier 2011 ($21.90). This is a dry, mineral-driven interpretation of the varietal, with aromas of citrus and pineapple and flavours of apricot, cardamom and pineapple. 87.

Perseus Merlot 2011 ($21.90). Here is a Merlot with an engagingly youthful character, brimming with fruit. It starts with cherry and vanilla aromas and delivers flavours of blueberry and blackberry. The tannins are ripe and fairly soft. While the price telegraphs a wine that can be cellared for the long term, I would prefer to drink it now, when it shows enthusiasm, not maturity. 88.

Perseus Cabernet Franc 2011 ($26.90). It is wines of this quality that explain why the star of Cabernet Franc is on a rise in the Okanagan. It is a vibrant red, with raspberry and cherry aromas and flavours and a lingering hint of red liquorice on the finish. 90.

Perseus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Select Lots ($50). The 2010 vintage was supposedly cool but this wine came from a remarkable microclimate that produced fully ripe grapes and a wine with 15.1% alcohol. You are not aware of the alcohol because the wine has such luscious texture and flavour. It begins with aromas of mint, vanilla, red berries and oak. It has a core of vibrant, sweet fruit, with flavours of raspberry, black currant, chocolate and vanilla. The structure will support cellaring this delicious wine for another five to seven years. 91.

Perseus Cabernet Shiraz 2011 ($21.90). This is 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Shiraz and 13% Cabernet Franc. It is a wine with an earthy, rustic appeal, beginning with blueberry, vanilla and black currant jam. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black cherry and prune, with a note of pepper on the finish. 90.

Perseus Invictus 2010 Select Lots ($32.90). This is another ripe and generous red. It is 56% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. It begins with aromas of vanilla, oak and plums and has flavours of plums, prunes and the dark fruit flavours that reminded me of a plum pudding, perhaps because the wine is so rich in texture. 91.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Remembering Pioneer Vineyard's Bert Sperling

The Okanagan wine industry was saddened to learn of the death on December 26, 2012, of Bert Sperling, a leading Kelowna grape grower and the father of a distinguished winemaking family.

Pioneer Ranch, the 18-hectare Kelowna vineyard which he operated for many years, has become home to Sperling Vineyards. The winery was opened in 2009 by his daughters, Ann and Susan (with their spouses), fully supported by Bert and his wife, Velma.

To give a flavour of the man, here is a brief profile that was printed in 1996 in my book, The British Columbia Wine Companion.

Sperling, Englebert (1928-) Bert Sperling, as he is called, was born in Sedley, Saskatchewan, in 1928 but grew up in the Okanagan after his family moved to Kelowna in 1930. After a brief postwar stint in the air force and a decade in road building and construction, he agreed in 1960 to take over Pioneer Ranch, the eighty five-acre farm just outside Kelowna operated by his father-in-law, Napoleon Peter Casorso, who was retiring and who had not restored vines and fruit trees badly damaged in a winter a decade earlier. Not interested in tree fruits, Sperling replaced the orchard and replanted the existing vineyard, for a total of fifty acres of vines.

The grapes originally were sold to Calona Wines, Casorso having been a founding shareholder. Almost all were labrusca varieties, except for perle of csaba, an aromatic early variety whose maturity coincided with the arrival of California grapes at Calona.  "By the time Calona would accept them, the wasps would have eaten the grapes right out, leaving just a shell there," Sperling recalled. After several years of quarrelling with the winery about when his perle of csaba would be picked, Sperling angrily switched his contract to Growers' Wines, and with this winery's encouragement, converted the vineyard from labrusca to preferred hybrid grapes such as de chaunac. This relationship ultimately led to Sperling and his son, Douglas, buying the Beau Séjour Vineyard from Growers'. The Pioneer Ranch vineyard still grows perle of csaba, along with several other white vinifera varieties, including gewürztraminer.  In 1995, finding a surprising demand for the old standby, maréchal foch, Sperling converted all of his verdelet vines by grafting them over to foch.

[The Beau Séjour vineyard is now home to St. Hubertus Estate Winery.]


At Sperling Vineyards, Ann Sperling, now a winemaker with a national reputation who grew up amid the vines, relies on those vines to make an excellent Old Vines Foch, along with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. The wines are a tribute to Bert’s foresight as a grower.

In 2008, Ann shared this memory of her father’s vineyard:

“When I was very young the area that is now under vine had grapes, peaches, cherries, apricots and prune-plums growing on it. All the grapes at that time were labrusca or labrusca hybrids like Delaware, Diamond, Campbell Early, Patricia etc., but the exception was the Perle de Csaba. It is a vinifera and a Muscat type. It ripened early (i.e. late August) and tasted wonderful. I certainly attribute my love of muscat and Moscato d'Asti to having gorged myself as often as possible on those grapes.

“For all the fruits, the trueness of character and intensity, with supporting acidity, was always prized by the family through the generations. Great flavours are a hallmark of the terroir.”

The winery, with its fine-flavoured wines, is a legacy for Bert Sperling.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Castoro de Oro releases an award-winning Pinot Noir

The Okanagan winery that Bruno Kelles and Stella Schmidt took over in 2006 was arguably the worst-named winery in the valley: Gersighel Wineberg.

The original owner, a flamboyant Belgian farmer named Dirk De Gussem, created Gersighel from the first syllables of the names of each of his three children. The sentiment was charming but the label was needlessly difficult.

The new owners, who were from Calgary, changed the name to Golden Beaver Winery.

Bruno explained the rationale in a 2006 interview with me :

“You’ve heard the term, critter wine? You know [yellow tail] ®. It was everywhere, everyone was talking about it, everybody was buying it. I said, how come? It’s a nice wine but there are a lot of nice wines out there. It happened to be priced right. But what caught my eye when I bought it - and it caught my eye - was the kangaroo. It is not a kangaroo; it is the aboriginal drawing of a marsupial.

“So, anyway, after we put the offer on this place, [we decided to do] what [yellow tail] did, but in a Canadian way. We came up with the beaver. We did not want to go with the moose or the caribou or the bear. Golden came from ‘It’s on the Golden Mile.’ So we put the two together.”

The winery is right beside Highway 97, at the south end of a viticultural area known locally as Golden Mile.

The new labels featured a beaver that Stella and Bruno called Goldie. He was a jolly fellow in yellow pants, perched on a wine barrel.

The trouble was that sommeliers frequently said that Goldie was too informal to be accepted on restaurant tables.

Bruno and Stella went back to the drawing board for a new name and a new label, but one that still retained a beaver. Castor is the word for beaver in Latin and in a number of languages with Latin roots. Castoro de Oro simply means Golden Beaver.

The new beaver is anything but whimsical. The figure now is a dark, bewhiskered fellow with a top hat and a studious demeanour.

By coincidence, there is a winery in Paso Robles in California called Castoro Cellars which also has a beaver on the label. The story behind that winery’s name is that Niels Udsen, one of the owners, once worked in Italy and his work ethic won him the nickname, Il Castoro – the beaver.

His beaver does not dominate the label quite the way Bruno’s beaver does. The Paso Robles winery has not tried to invest its beaver with a personality but has made the image to resemble a corporate seal.

The reason behind this meditation on beaver infatuation in the wine industry is a 2010 Pinot Noir released last fall by the Okanagan winery. At the East Kootenay Wine Festival, the wine was judged both the best Pinot Noir and the best red overall.

If you go to the Castoro de Oro website – – you can find a page listing all the private wine stores stocking Bruno’s wines. Helpfully, the specific vintages in each store are laid out clearly. Not every store has the 2010 Pinot Noir but you can quickly determine which ones do. It is a good value wine.

Here are my notes.

Castoro de Oro Pinot Noir 2010 ($21 for 382 cases). The wine begins with aromas of spicy cherries. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, strawberry and cloves. This medium-bodied, elegant wine has developed the classic silky texture of good Pinot Noir. 90.