Thursday, May 30, 2013

Class of 2013: Lariana Cellars

 Photo: Lariana Cellars' Dan and Carol Scott

Lariana Cellars
9304 2nd Avenue
T 250.495.7559

This new Osoyoos winery, which is just releasing its first wine – a 2012 Viognier – is the Okanagan’s southernmost winery. The property is snug against the Canada-U.S. border. Visitors to the winery actually turn left from Highway 97 just before they get tangled in the U.S. immigration line-up. They wind around the massive U.S. customs buildings to find the winery on 2nd Avenue. From the door of the winery, you could pitch a baseball across Zero Avenue.

The winery is named for Larry and Anna Franklin, the parents of Carol Scott, who owns this winery with her husband, Dan. Larry Franklin was a major shareholder in Shannon Pacific Vineyards, a large Black Sage Road vineyard until it was broken up after the 1988 vine pull out. During one vintage, Carol was assigned to keep the starlings away from the grapes with a bird gun. In another vintage, she helped pick grapes. She also hauled grapes to the family home in Burnaby where her father made wine.

When the vineyard was broken up, Larry Franklin offered his 25 acres to his family. But they were all busy raising families and making a living in other careers and the vineyard went to other buyers. “We should have bought it,” Carol says wistfully. 

Her Shannon Pacific experiences planted the seed for Lariana Cellars even as the Scotts, both born in 1963, pursued careers in Burnaby. Don is a millwright while Carol has been a travel agent. They moved to Osoyoos in 1989, taking over a campground that her parents had established in 1968. The camp sites, which they still operate, takes up the lakeside half of the four-hectare (10-acre) property. The vineyard, where they began to replace apple and cherry trees with grapes in 2007, occupies the top half. 

Planting vines was Carol’s passion. “It took a few years to get Dan on board,” she admits. “It was kind of a dream to plant grapes. I finally convinced Dan and we cleared the land. It was a new tractor that convinced him.” They planted Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. When the hard winters of 2008 and 2009 mortally damaged the Syrah, that variety was replaced with 2,500 Carmenère vines. Now, they purchase Syrah for Lariana’s red blend.  

The Scotts, who intend to limit production to about 1,200 cases a year, built a plain Jane winery. They invested instead in top flight equipment, including the California-made concrete egg in which Carol and consulting winemaker Senka Tennant make Lariana’s Viognier.  Stainless steel is half the price but whites made in concrete eggs – several larger Okanagan wineries have them – show richer texture. 

Senka Tennant is one of the founders of Black Hills Winery, where she produced Canada’s first red from Carmenère, a variety made famous by Chile. She is currently a co-owner of Terravista Cellars on the Naramata Bench. Recruiting her as consulting winemaker was the suggestion of Dick Cleave, the veteran vineyard manager who once managed Shannon Pacific. 

“She has been huge for us,” says Carol. Even though she and Don have taken Okanagan College courses in winemaking, they recognized the need for experienced guidance in launching Lariana. Senka Tennant is certainly a winemaking superstar. “We are very lucky that she said yes.” 

Here is a note on the stunningly good debut release. 

Lariana Cellars Viognier 2012 ($23). The exuberant wine announces itself with dramatic aromas of guava, mango and peach and then delivers these rich and complex tropical fruit flavours. The bright acidity adds a refreshing touch of lime to a finish that just does not want to quit. I have seldom encountered a wine that delivers the flavours of the grapes so accurately. Fermentation in the egg, where there is a gentle mixing of the lees, has added a rich and satisfying texture. 95



Sunday, May 26, 2013

Riverstone wine releases in 2013

Photo: Riverstone's Ted Kane

Riverstone Estate Winery is now in its third year. The winery is located just off Tuc-El-Nuit Road, the road on the east side of Oliver which runs parallel to the highway.


For some wine tourists, this might still be the back road when, in fact, the street is really an extension of Black Sage Road.


You can’t miss Riverstone, with its collection of yellow buildings on the hill top above the vineyard. The winery is owned by Ted and Lorraine Kane. She may or may not be around because she is a doctor in private practice. Ted, on the other hand, is usually around, tending to his meticulous vineyard with a singular enthusiasm for grapevines.


It shows in the quality of the wines. Here are notes on the current releases.


Riverstone Splash 2012 ($18). This is an unconventional, but successful, blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. It works because the Viognier brings structure, the Pinot Gris adds fruit on the mid-palate and the Gewürztraminer adds spice on the nose and the finish. The wine begins with citrus aromas, continuing to flavours of pear, apple and apricot. A touch of residuals sweetness adds to the wine’s appeal. 89.


Riverstone Pinot Gris 2012 ($20). The wine begins with exuberant fruity aromas, with flavours of pears, apples and citrus and with a generous texture on the palate. The wine is balanced to finish dry and thus to be food friendly. 90.


Riverstone Malbec Rosé 2012 ($20). One seldom sees a Malbec rosé from the Okanagan because most wineries husband the variety for their Bordeaux blends. Ted Kane has managed to allocate enough to indicate what a great rosé variety Malbec also is. This dark-hued robust wine begins with aromas of raspberries and black pepper. On the palate, the wine has cherry flavours, with an earthy undertone reminiscent of cherry pits and with a dry, peppery finish. 90.


Riverstone Merlot 2011 ($20). This is a relatively light and lean Merlot with 12.4% alcohol, reflecting the cooler vintage in 2011. It has aromas of blackberries and lingonberries, with berry flavours that are bright and fruity. 87.


Riverstone Cabernet Franc 2011 ($26). This is a well-grown wine with ripe tannins. It begins with bright brambly aromas along with a touch of mocha and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black cherry and raspberry. The finish lingers. 90-91.


Riverstone Cabernet Merlot 2011 ($24 for 50 cases). This is a 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with an alcohol of 13.5%, suggesting a selection of the ripest grapes for this delicious blend. It has long ripe tannins with aromas and flavours of black cherry, mocha and vanilla, finishing with spicy fruit. 90-91.


Riverstone Cornerstone 2010 ($28.50). This is the winery’s flagship red, with a blend of 59% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc. The production is about 400 cases a year. The 2010 vintage was even cooler than 2011 but Ted Kane’s exceptional viticulture pulled off an elegant wine with 14.4% alcohol. The nose begins with spicy red berries, along with cedar, mint and a touch of oak (the wine was aged 14 months in oak). On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum and chocolate. The firm structure indicates that this wine was built to age well for 7 to 10 years. If you must consume it now, be sure to decant it. My scoring indicates that I think the wine is a few years away from peaking. 90-92.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

BC wineries shine in the All Canadian Wine Championships

 CedarCreek's award-winning Darryl Brooker

British Columbia’s wine and cider producers did well this year at the All Canadian Wine Championships, held last week in Windsor.

BC producers took home 27 of the 52 double gold awards, including three of the top trophies.

Trophy for the top white wine went to Lang Vineyards Farm Reserve Riesling 2011.

Trophy for the top desert wine went to Mission Hill Family Estate Vidal Icewine 2011.

CedarCreek Estate Winery’s Platinum Reserve Syrah 2009 came within a hair's breadth of winning the trophy for top red (that went to Trius at Hillebrand for Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc 'Clark Farm Vineyard'). 

The double gold awards go to the top scoring wine in each category. Gold medals are awarded to wines scoring in the top 10% in each category, with silver to the second 10% and bronze to the third 10%.

This wine competition, which was inaugurated in 1981, drew about 1,300 entries from across Canada of grape and fruit wine, along with some meads.

The wines were judged over three days by about 16 judges (some were not there every day), working in panels of four or five judges. I was asked to be a judge this year.

It is hard work, believe me, to taste and rate about 150 wines a day on each of the first two days and about 80 on the third day. No matter what one does to refresh the palate, the mouth is pretty tired at the end of each day. In the ideal world, one should take five days for this … but the world is never ideal.

For me, the final morning was both the hardest and the most satisfying. My panel tasted and scored 54 Meritage and similar red blends, most of them young enough that the tannins were still aggressive. It took us about three and a half hours. It was an insane quantity of such wines, given the mouth-numbing tannin.

On the other hand, this was one of the best flights in the entire competition. With few exceptions, the average scores ranged from very good to outstanding. It was an impressive performance by the wineries and it justifies making blends, where the whole is often better than the parts.

None of the other big flights had quite the same consistent quality across the board, with the exception of the Rieslings. I was one of the judges on that flight and was generally impressed. The Sauvignon Blanc flight, on the other hand, seemed to prove that this is not Canada’s strongest suite.

Pinot Gris and Chardonnay flights seemed to have too many just average wines. I did not judge Chardonnays but I reviewed the scores and it looks like I did not miss much. The unoaked Chardonnays in particular rarely scored better than average.

Wine judging, however, is never a perfect exercise. At times, there were some significant differences among the judges, although I was generally impressed with the consistency of the scores from judges with varied backgrounds. Some are sommeliers; some are wine importers; some are members of Wine Judges of Canada; and some are wine writers. My colleagues all are knowledgeable.

Kudos to the British Columbia producers, among which CedarCreek was notable for bringing home two double golds and three gold medals. It is an impressive performance for winemaker Darryl Brooker who took over at CedarCreek in 2010. While he inherited the Syrah from his predecessor, he made the other winners (and finished the Syrah, of course).

The double gold winners include several new producers. Left Field Cider, located near Merritt, just opened last year, as did Double Cross Cidery in Kelowna.

50th Parallel Estate (which I believe also won gold for its Pinot Noir 2011) opened its tasting room for the first time this month. The winery is under development at Carr’s Landing in Lake Country.

Also note the win by Moon Curser Vineyards with the first release of Touriga Nacional from an Okanagan vineyard. This is a Portuguese red varietal that has rarely been planted in Canada because it is deemed not winter hardy. Good luck to Moon Curser, an Osoyoos winery that pioneered Tannat and grows a few Italian varieties also exclusive to its vineyards.

The All Canadian Wine Championships will eventually publish a complete winner’s list on its web site. Here is the list of British Columbia’s double gold winners.

Arrowleaf Snow Tropics Vidal 2012

Bench 1775 Whistler Sauvignon Blanc Icewine 2011

CedarCreek Estate Winery Merlot 2010

CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Syrah 2009

Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2009


Double Cross Cidery Fuji Apple Iced Cider

8th Generation Pinot Noir 2010

50th Parallel Estate Gewürztraminer 2012

Forbidden Fruit Speachless 2012 (Peach wine)

House of Rose Winter Wine 2011 (a Zweigelt dessert wine)


Kalala Dostana Merlot 2009

La Frenz Liqueur Muscat NV

La Frenz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Lang Vineyards Farm Reserve Riesling 2011

Left Field Cider Little Dry Cider 2012


Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Vidal Icewine 2011

Moon Curser Touriga Nacional 2011

Ovino Winery Momento 2011 (Maréchal Foch)

Pentâge Syrah 2010

Quinta Ferreira Obra-Prima 2008


Red Rooster Riesling 2012

Red Rooster Reserve Viognier 2012

River Stone Pinot Gris 2012

Silverside Farm & Winery Tayberry 2011

SpierHead Rosé 2012


Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2010

Wild Goose Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2012

Thursday, May 16, 2013

JoieFarm releases its 2012 wines

Photo: Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble

After two challenging vintages in the Okanagan, nature gave the winemakers a break in 2012.

In the information accompanying new releases, JoieFarm owners Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn write: “A perfect harvest season in 2012 brought big, bold flavours, generous alcohol and body to our wines.”

My scores for these wines indicate that I concur with that assessment. I would not describe the alcohol as “generous” but rather as “appropriate,” ranging from 11.4% to 13.5%. Every wine has excellent balance.

Heidi and Michael also pay tribute to the vineyards (nearly all in the north Okanagan) supplying grapes to JoieFarm.

“One of the key factors in developing greater intensity with our wines has been our ability to source vineyard sites of vines 25 years and older that add complexity and weight to the wines,” they write. “The quality of the wines has been further enhanced by our expanding farm operation that saw us farming over 60% of our vineyards ourselves through a combination of estate vineyards and leases.”

Here are notes on the wines.

JoieFarm  A Noble Blend 2012 ($23.90 for 4,236 cases, 486 magnums and 90 double magnums). There are six varietals in this blend: Gewürztraminer (35%), Riesling (29%), Pinot Blanc (17%), Pinot Auxerrois (12%), Schönburger (4%) and Muscat (3%). The winery describes this as its “most intense and weighty blend yet” because much of the fruit came from older vines. The wine begins with aromas of spice, herbs, grapefruit and melons. On the palate, there are layers of fruit flours – grapefruit, papaya, apricot with a dash of lime on the finish. The texture is full, fattened up by 10.6 grams of residual sugar against moderate acidity. The wine is hard to pin down but easy to drink. 91.

JoieFarm Un-oaked Chardonnay 2012 ($22.90 for 729 cases). This is a delicious juicy white, with aromas and flavours of pineapple and apple, with a nice spine of minerals. The wine is crisp and refreshing. The model is Chablis; this improves on that model with riper flavours and 13.5% alcohol. 90.

JoieFarm Pinot Blanc 2012 ($22.90 for 288 cases).  Over the years, JoieFarm has elevated this reliable workhorse grape variety into a wine worth looking forward to. It has generous fruit on the nose and palate; lots of fresh apples and a hint of citrus. 90.

JoieFarm Riesling 2012 ($22.90 for 864 cases). The winery calls this wine “a delicate balance” – reflecting the exquisite balance of bracing acidity with natural sweetness. That means the wine has abundant aromas and flavours of lime and mango. There is a spine of minerals and crisp, mouth-watering finish that lingers forever. 92.

JoieFarm Muscat 2012 ($22.90 for 446 cases). This is an exceptional blend of Moscato Giallo and Moscato Canelli grapes – yellow and white Muscat varieties). The wine begins with delicate aromas of orange blossoms and rose petals. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, grapefruit and orange peel. The wine is exquisitely balanced to finish with mouth-watering dryness even though the wine has 12 grams of residual sugar. 93.

JoieFarm Gewürztraminer 2012  ($22.90 for 222 cases).  This wine is a juicy and tropical interpretation of one the Okanagan’s most popular whites. The wine begins with aromas of rose petals and lychee. On the palate, there rich flavours of mango, peach, papaya and citrus fruits, balanced to finish dry with fresh, cleansing acidity.  90.

JoieFarm Rosé 2012 ($20.90 for 2,699 cases, 340 magnums). This is one of the three Okanagan rosé wines launched in the mid-1990s that have made it so popular to drink pink. (The others were Le Vieux Pin’s Vaïla and Quails’ Gate’s Rosé). This is a blend of Pinot Noir (60%), Gamay (30%), Pinot Meunier (5%) and Pinot Gris (5%). The wine is juicy and appealing, with aromas of sour cherry, strawberry and rhubarb which carry through to the palate. The finish is refreshingly crisp and dry. 90.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gray Monk, the Godfather of Pinot Gris, wins again

Photo: Gray Monk Estate Winery

It is déjà vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra, my favourite philosopher.

At the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, Gray Monk Estate Winery’s 2012 Pinot Gris was the top Pinot Gris in the Best of Varietal Wine Awards. That is pretty good for a 12,854-case brand retailing only for $17.99.

I am willing to bet that no winery has won more awards with Pinot Gris than Gray Monk. In part, that is because they pioneered this fine Alsace variety in the Okanagan. When I was a judge at Okanagan Wine Festivals in the 1980s, Gray Monk’s Pinot Gris routinely won gold medals.

Today, Pinot Gris is the most widely planted white variety in British Columbia. It accounted for 22% of the white plantings and 10% of total plantings in the 2011 vineyard census. (That is the most recent census and, unfortunately, there are no imminent plans to update it.)

It is believed that Pinot Gris arrived in the valley in 1976 when the father-in-law of the Gray Monk founders sourced three varieties from an Alsace nursery for George and Trudy Heiss. As George remembers it, he had a mere 50 vines of Pinot Gris to start his block.

I recounted some of the history of the variety in the Okanagan in my 1998 book, Chardonnay and Friends, which is now out of print. But here is an excerpt.

The varietal was pioneered in British Columbia by Gray Monk, where the Heiss family, who own the winery, imported this variety, along with several others, from nurseries in Alsace. “Some of the first wines that we made -- in carboys in the basement -- were Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Kerner,” recalls George Heiss Jr.  Pinot Gris also was planted in the Gehringer Brothers vineyard after that family bought the property, then in hybrid grapes, in 1981. Unfortunately, the vines became diseased and were replaced with Müller-Thurgau. The Gehringers came to regret choosing Müller-Thurgau, which makes a somewhat bland wine from a warm site, and decided in 1993 to return to Pinot Gris when an opportunity came along to purchase some grapes. The wisdom of their decision to re-introduce Pinot Gris into their vineyard was confirmed when the winery’s 1994 vintage from purchased grapes gained a “Best-of-Show” award for Gehringer at the Los Angeles County Fair. Beginning with the 1995 vintage, Gehringer released its Pinot Gris with a Private Reserve designation, a dry and disciplined wine successfully aimed at restaurant wine lists. The slowness with which other growers adopted the vine may have something to do with its undisciplined behaviour in the vineyard, where it likes to grow in all directions except upwards. “It’s more labour intensive to control the green growth,” Heiss says. “It’s not overly consistent, either.” In his experience, the vines produce heavily one year and lightly another year, perhaps because a good crop of grapes will not set in a year when there is rain or cool weather while the vines are in bloom.  “Oh well,” Heiss shrugs. “Every variety has its own quirks.”

The style of the wines made from Pinot Gris at Gray Monk has been consistently fruity. Heiss begins by crushing the grapes -- whose skins have a gray-pink blush at maturity -- and leaving the juice in contact with the skins for a time, extracting colour and flavour. He ferments cool and in stainless steel tanks only, racking the wine off the yeast lees soon after fermentation, all of which is aimed at capturing fruitiness. “I like the fruitier Pinot Gris,” Heiss says, which also is a reason why he does not age any in barrel.  “I don’t find that oak enhances it in any way. I like the flavour the grapes bring in themselves. Oak has a tendency of overpowering that.”

Now that growers have mastered the idiosyncrasies of the variety, consumers are offered a wide range of styles, even barrel-aged Pinot Gris which can be successful if neutral barrels are used. Obvious oak does not flatter Pinot Gris. There also are eccentric but delicious pink Pinot Gris made by Kettle Valley and by Nichol Vineyards. They get the colour and tons of flavour by giving the juice extended contact with the pinkish skins prior to fermentation.

Gray Monk did make a bone dry Pinot Gris in 1995 but quickly went back to its winning formula. The 2012 Pinot Gris has 12 grams of residual sugar and just under seven grams of acidity, both of which accentuate the fruity flavours.

Here are notes on the wine:

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2012 ($17.99). The wine shows a delicate bronze blush in the glass. It has aromas of fine herbs, citrus and citrus peal. On the palate, the wine has a luscious texture with flavours of pear, apple and white peach. The wine is well balanced, with the residual sweetness plumping up the fruit in the classic Gray Monk style. 90.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Naramata Bench wineries in Vancouver in 2013

 Photo: Bench 1775 Winery

Bench 1775 Winery

This formerly was Soaring Eagle Winery. It was renamed last July after Paradise Ranch Winery proprietor Jim Stewart acquired it with a partner. This spring, there has been another change of partners, with viticulturist Val Tait joining Bench 1775 as general manager.

Bench 1775 Chill 2012 ($15.90 for 1,744 cases). This is a blend of 46% Pinot Gris, 25% Chardonnay, 11% Sauvignon Blanc, and 6% each of Viognier, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer. This is an aromatic fruit salad in a glass, with hints of lime, apple and apricot and with a spicy, off-dry finish. 90.

Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.90 for 422 cases). This is a zesty, refreshing white, with notes of lime, lemon and grapefruit rind on the palate, and with grassy herbal aromas. 89.

Black Widow Winery

Owners Dick and Shona Lancaster bought this Naramata Road vineyard in 2000 while looking property in the country. It was hardly surprising that they soon developed a winery: Dick has made wine since he was in high school. While pursuing careers in business, he became as skilled as any winemaker on the bench.

Black Widow Pinot Gris 2012 ($19.90 for 750 cases). This crisp and focussed wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. 90

Black Widow Oasis 2012 ($21.90 for 500 cases). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Schönburger. It delivers a luscious mouthful of tropical fruits, along with apple and pear flavours. 90.

Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2012 ($22.90 for 150 cases). The wine is packed with flavour of grapefruit, pineapple and lychee with delicate spice on the finish and a touch of sweetness on the finish. 90.

Black Widow Schönburger 2012 ($24.90 for 90 cases).  There are abundant flavours of tropical fruit with spice on the nose and the finish. 90.

Black Widow Syrah Rosé 2012 ($21.90 for 275 cases). The wine begins with a striking dark hue. On the nose, there are aromas of strawberry and raspberry, leading to a palate of plum and black cherry, with a dry finish. 91.

Black Widow Phobia 2011 ($24.90 for 200 cases). This is an intriguing blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Merlot.  It is a generous wine, with aromas and flavours of coffee, pepper, plum and raspberries. 91.

Hillside Winery

One of two wineries that pioneered Naramata Bench in 1990, Hillside has evolved to become a medium-sized producer making wines almost exclusively from grapes grown on the bench. Kathy Malone, a Mission Hill alumnus, took over the cellar in 2008.

Hillside Gewürztraminer 2012 ($21.99 for 1,280 cases). The label says this wine is off-dry and technically, it probably is. But the wine is so well balanced that will also appeal to those with a drier palate. It has spice and grapefruit aromas, leading to flavours of grapefruit and tangerine with a touch of ginger on the finish. 91.

Hillside On-oaked Pinot Gris 2011 ($19.99 for 323 cases). This wine is so fresh and fruity that it could be labelled Pinot Grigio. It begins with citrus aromas and has flavours of pears, apples, white peach, with an herbal spice on the tangy finish. 90.

Hillside Reserve Pinot Gris 2010 ($21.99 for 357 cases). This is one of those rare examples of Pinot Gris with oak treatment. A portion of this wine was fermented in Hungarian oak, with five months of battonage on the lees. The outcome is a complex and rich white with floral aromas and with flavours of pears, apricots and vanilla. 90.

Hillside Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010 ($22.99 for 750 cases). The wine displays a bit of the leanness of the vintage. It begins with brambly blackberry aromas, leading to bright flavours of blackberry and raspberry. 89.

Hillside Mosaic 2009 ($39.99 for 499 cases). This Bordeaux blend is Hillside’s iconic red. It begins with aromas of vanilla, prune plums and chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, chocolate, leather, cedar and spice. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous weight and texture. 91.

La Frenz Winery

Jeff Martin and Scott Robinson, his winemaker, produce consistently high quality wines at La Frenz. As it happens, Scott is leaving this summer to work on a wine-related doctorate. He will be succeeded by a winemaker – the name has not yet been disclosed – who currently is with Leeuwin Estate, a very fine Australian winery. Jeff is also hiring an assistant winemaker. His ambition is to take La Frenz “to the next level.” That should be interesting.

La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($22). This zesty wine, with lime and grapefruit on the palate, has the bright acidity that recalls a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This won the top award for Sauvignon Blanc in the recent Best of Varietal Wine Awards. 90.

La Frenz Sémillon 2012 ($22). This wine is both crisp and juicy, with flavours of grapefruit and gooseberry. On the palate, there is a little more volume that with the Sauvignon Blanc, reflecting the fact that a portion was barrel-fermented. 90.

La Frenz Viognier 2012 ($22). This is an exceptionally focussed wine, with the delicately firm spine that Viognier often shows. There are aromas and flavours of apricot, pineapple and ripe apple. 91.

La Frenz Riesling 2012 ($20). This tangy, refreshing wine has aromas and flavours of green apples and lime. A touch of residual sugar balances the racy acidity so that the finish is crisp. 91.

La Frenz Chardonnay 2012 ($22). La Frenz always refers to its style as “peaches and cream” because the wine has exuberant peach and mandarin flavours and a rich palate, framed with delicately toasty oak (half the wine is barrel fermented). 92.

 La Frenz Merlot 2011 ($26). Youthfully firm, this wine has good concentration of fruit, with aromas and flavours of blueberry and black currant. On the finish, there are notes of plum and chocolate. 90.

La Frenz Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 ($32). The pricing of this winery’s top Pinot Noir likely keeps something of a lid on the pricing of Okanagan Pinot Noirs. Dark in colour, this is a rich and concentrated Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry, mocha and vanilla and with classic silky textures. This was judged the best of the Pinot Noirs at the Best of Varietal Wine Awards. 91.

Lang Vineyards

The other of the two original wineries on the Naramata Bench, Lang is re-emerging with new owners and management. The wines currently from 2010 and 2011 were made, or finished, by Richard Kanazawa. He was succeeded last vintage by Richard Kiltz, a German-train winemaker and the son of the former owner Blue Grouse Vineyards on Vancouver Island. One should anticipate that Lang will again make legendary Riesling. Its 2011 Riesling was among winners at the Best of Varietal Wine Awards.

Lang Aurora 2010 ($12.90). Good value, this is a blend of 50% Riesling, 30% Gewürztraminer, 12% Pinot Gris and 8% Viognier. The wine is crisp and dry, with aromas and flavours of green apples and citrus. 88.

Lang Gewürztraminer 2011 ($18.90). The wine begins with spicy and citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit. The finish is defined with good spice notes. 88.

Lang Bravo White 2011 ($15.90). Here is another fruit bomb of a blend. The varieties in here include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, with splashes of Viognier, Muscat, and Auxerrois. There are flavours and aromas of green apple and citrus, with a touch of spice on the crisp finish. 89.

Lang Maréchal Foch 2011 ($17.90). This is a good, jammy summer quaffer, with soft tannins and flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. Traditional fans of the Lang Foch should be alerted that this was finished drier than usual, making it a better table wine, in my opinion. However, in 2012, the winery has gone back to leaving a bit of residual sugar in the wine because that style has its following. 88.

Laughing Stock Vineyards

This winery has developed such a strong following that, after having regular tasting room hours, it reverted to tasting by appointment. That also recognized the lack of parking near the winery, as well as the desire of owners David and Cynthia Enns to spend a bit more time with individual customers.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2011 ($25). The only way to find the varieties in this blend is to peel back the capsule. You might guess that, at the very least, there is Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay and one or two other varietals. There are abundant fruit aromas and flavours, notably pears, with spice on the finish. 90.

Laughing Stock Viognier 2011 ($26). Once again, this is a focussed Viognier with a spine from the tannins. There are aromas and flavours of apple and honeydew melons. The finish is crisp and lingering. 90.

Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2011 ($26). This rich and elegant wine has benefitted from very good barrel and lees treatment. The texture is creamy. It has aromas and flavours of citrus, with understated notes of oak. 92.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2010 ($42). For the first time in the history of this flagship red, the blend has more Cabernet Sauvignon (42%) than Merlot (32%). The rest of the blend is 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Sauvignon shows in the minty aromas. On the firm palate, there is blackberry, red currant and cherry, tailing off to cedar on the finish. Even though the wine has had 19 months in barrel and additional bottle age, it still will benefit from cellaring. This is the most Bordelais style Portfolio every made, a reflection of a cool vintage. 89-91.

Serendipity Winery

This winery, which opened in 2011, is run by Judy Kingston, a former Toronto lawyer who has transformed into a passionate wine grower.

Serendipity White Lie 2010 ($18). This crisp, even austere, white begins with aromas of pears and pineapples. It delivers flavours of green apples, pear and melon with a touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.

Serendipity Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($20). This intense and zesty white begins with herbaceous and grassy aromas and delivers flavours of lime and grapefruit. The bright acidity recalls New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 89.

Serendipity Viognier 2011 ($20). Excellent lees management have given this wine a richness on the palate. There are aromas of tangerine and flavours of honey and apricot, with a dry finish. 90.

Serendipity Rosé 2012 ($18). This dry rosé seems inspired by Provence. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and raspberry, with bright, savoury acidity. 90.

Serendipity Devil’s Advocate 2010 ($25). This is a delicious blend of Bordeaux grape varieties back up with Syrah. The flavours are concentrated, with earthy flavours of black currant and chocolate and with a hint of pepper on the finish. 89-90.

Upper Bench Estate Winery

In the two years in which they have run this winery, Gavin and Shana Miller have breathed new life into a previously struggling property – Gavin with solid winemaking and Shana with exceptional cheese making.

Upper Bench Pinot Blanc 2012 ($16.90). This has a freshness that recalls Sauvignon Blanc, with lightly grassy aromas, flavours of apples and limes and a lively, refreshing acidity. 90.

Upper Bench Chardonnay 2011 ($24.90). The subtle oak treatment puts a spicy, toasty frame around the rich tangerine flavours. 89.

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2011 ($N/A). This dark and medium-bodied red, a mainstay of Austrian winemaking, delivers flavours of blackberry, lingonberry and cherry in this vineyard. 88.

Upper Bench Merlot 2011 ($29.90). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry and black current. It has good intensity of fruit with flavours of black currant and a hint of vanilla. 88

Upper Bench Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($34.90). One would hardly have expected a Cabernet this generous from the 2011 vintage. The grapes were well grown. The wine has the typical minty aromas of the variety, leading on to tastes of cedar, black currant and coffee, with tannins that will give the wine longevity. 90.

Van Westen Vineyards

Robert Van Westen is a member of a well-known Naramata cherry-growing family. While he still grows cherries, he makes very good wines from those vineyards that have begun to replace the family’s fruit trees. He works from a former fruit packing house. It is so spacious that winemaker Tom DiBello, who recently collaborated with Rob on a Pinot Noir, will begin making his DiBello Wines in the Van Westen winery.

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.

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.

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.

VD Pinot Noir 2011 ($37.90 for 96 cases). This is a joint venture wine made by Rob Van Westen and Tom DiBello (who has just moved production of his own label to the Van Westen winery). The wine has a fine dark hue. The high-toned aromas of cherry, raspberries and spice just sing from the glass. The wine has flavours of cherry and raspberry on a platform of earthy and leathery notes. The texture is youthfully firm but another six months to a year will allow the wine to reveal the silken magic of Pinot Noir. 90

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Grant Stanley moves to 50th Parallel

 Photo: vineyard at 50th Parallel Estate Winery

After 10 years as winemaker at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, Grant Stanley is moving to 50th Parallel Estate Winery as an investor, partner and winemaker.

50Th Parallel is a new winery near Carr’s Landing in Lake Country. It opened its tasting room for the first time this week. The major plantings in the 30-acre vineyard are seven Dijon clones of Pinot Noir.

“The focus exclusively as a premium Pinot Noir producer had me absolutely salivating at the opportunity,” Grant said in an interview. “I can tell you it is very tough to stay on focus when you have so many different varietals you are working with. As you know, Pinot Noir is near and dear to me. I just felt that I wanted to be working at a winery that had nothing but Pinot at stake.”

That is not entirely accurate. The 50th Parallel vineyard also has blocks of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer but these are supporting actors in a drama that is all about Pinot Noir.

Grant, who is leaving Quails’ Gate this month on good terms, was also attracted by the chance to become an owner in 50th Parallel.

“The investment aspect was hugely attractive to me going forward,” he says. “I wanted to be more involved in making the quality decisions that affect the winemaking and the viticulture. I bought a significant share – my wife and I – in the business and it will put us in a board position and able to be there, making those calls. I will have a director role along with day to day winemaking and viticulture.”   

At 50th Parallel, Grant, a New Zealand-trained winemaker, takes over from Adrian Baker, a New Zealand-born winemaker. Adrian has moved to another winemaking project, so far not announced, in the Carr’s Landing neighbourhood.

Photo: Grant Stanley

50th Parallel is a winery launched by Albertan Curtis Krouzel and his wife, Sherri-Lee Turner-Krouzel, who bought this lakeshore property in 2008 and began planting vines in 2009. The property has been a vineyard for Jordan & Ste. Michelle cellars until the vines were pulled out in 1988.

The Krouzels, with backing from other investors, plan a destination winery with buildings designed by a leading architect.

“We are going into construction of a winery in the next few weeks,” Grant says. “We have a new winery design and a plan to accommodate close to a 100 ton vintage this year. I will be involved. That is another reason I want to be involved at this stage, so I could be involved right from the get-go, at the planning of the winery and making sure it is a facility designed specifically for high quality Pinot Noir.”

Grant was born in 1967 in Vancouver, the son of a printer and a dental technician, both of them New Zealand immigrants and neither particularly interested in wine. He 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 1992, 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,” Grant says. On two occasions, Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs won the Bouchard Finlayson Trophy for the top Pinot Noirs in the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London.

Grant continued to pile up awards since joining Quails’ Gate in 2003. Over the past decade, his wines have won 45 gold medals, 84 silver medals and 89 bronze medals.

Those awards have included many varieties in addition to Pinot Noir. While that is the flagship variety at Quails’ Gate, the winery’s annual crush – now close to 1,000 tons – encompasses many other varieties. The single biggest release from Quails’ Gate this year is 14,500 cases of an excellent white blend, Chasselas-Pinot Gris-Pinot Blanc.

“I have made my reputation in this valley making Chasselas and I am not too happy about it,” Grant jests.

“We hired Grant based on his interest in Pinot Noir,” Quails Gate president Tony Stewart once told me “If Grant had it his way, we would probably make only Pinot Noir.”

Quails’ Gate has just begun recruiting for a new winemaker. “As you know, it is a pretty awesome position, so they will have no trouble filling it,” Grant predicts.

One expects the winery will search both domestically and internationally. In the decade before hiring Grant, the winery had employed three Australian winemakers in succession, starting with Jeff Martin in 1994.

Martin now operates La Frenz Winery on the Naramata Bench and, by coincidence, is just about to hire a senior winemaker from Australia.

50th Parallel has released three white wines and its first Pinot Noir, a mere 100 cases made in 2011 by Adrian Baker. He came to the Okanagan after making wine at Craggy Range, another top New Zealand Pinot Noir producer.

“I have only really managed to look closely at what I see in barrel,” Grant says of the 2012 Pinot Noir.  “Knowing Adrian and his style, it is a hands-off approach. The fruit is speaking really loud and clear.”

 Photo: Adrian Baker 
Going from Quails’ Gate to 50th Parallel will be a bit of an adjustment. “To my mind, the real fundamental difference will be vine age,” he says. “I have been working with some real old vine material here at Quails’ Gate. I will have some young vines to work with for a few years; and the clonal mix is different as well.”

Somewhat like the Quails’ Gate vineyard, the 50th Parallel vineyard is a long slope toward Okanagan Lake. Where Quails’ Gate slopes to the southeast, 50th Parallel slopes southwest to west.

“I think the soils, the topography, the whole package up there are perfectly suited” to Pinot Noir, Grant says. “I really like the soils. They are completely different to here; a little deeper in the top soils but still not very vigorous; and there is some cool mineral content as well. There are plenty of sunlight hours, and judging from the color I see in the barrels, they are getting great ripening on the skins.”


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Inniskillin Okanagan releases a fresh and fruity pair

 Inniskillin Okanagan winemaker Sandor Mayer

When Inniskillin Okanagan began releasing Pinot Gris wines a decade ago, it labelled them Pinot Grigio.

It is likely that it used the Italian variant on the varietal name because its parent winery on Niagara had a long established Pinot Grigio. Marketing wanted to keep the branding consistent.

Pinot Grigio implies a fresh and fruity wine style with moderate alcohol. However, some of the earlier vintages of Inniskillin Okanagan’s Pinot Grigio were so alcoholic that they reminded one of an Alsace late harvest Pinot Gris. I attributed that to the heat of the south Okanagan. Winemaker Sandor Mayer explains that it was a little more complicated than that.

“I was receiving fruit from very young vineyards in those days,” he says. One property was a hot site as well. The conscientious grower also grew low tonnage with his Pinot Gris and the grapes tended to get overripe. The result was Pinot Grigio with alcohol above 14% and, in one vintage, close to 15%. The wines were delicious but it was a stretch to call them Pinot Grigio.

Now, Inniskillin Okanagan has released its 2012 Pinot Grigio. With 13.4% alcohol, it has the fresh and fruity attributes of a Grigio.

The grapes now come mostly from Constellation Brands’s McIntyre Vineyard, located on the plateau east of Oliver. This is a cooler site for the south Okanagan and the vines are about 10 years old. Sandor no longer has to cope with super-ripe grapes.

“Older vineyards are more settled and more stable,” Sandor says. “With Pinot Gris, you want to get mature but not overripe fruit. You need to have certain brix level; otherwise, the fruit does not come through and you get a simple neutral wine, lacking in intensity and fruit. That’s the trick – to catch the fine balance of good maturity without over-ripeness, to get reasonable alcohol.”

In the 2012 vintage, the Pinot Gris grapes were picked on October 12 and were delivered to the winery first thing in the morning, still cold. That allowed Sandor to crush the grapes but to leave the juice in contact with the skins for four hours, a winemaking trick to accentuate the flavours. Then the wine was fermented with specially-select yeast at fairly cool temperatures (13°C - 17°C) for two weeks, further protecting the wine’s fresh fruity flavours.

And the wine has been released under screw cap, sealing in all of that freshness.

Along with this excellent Pinot Grigio, Inniskillin Okanagan also released a fruity 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (also under screw cap).

“I love to work with Cabernet Sauvignon,” Sandor says. It was one of the varieties planted in 1990 when Sandor was in charge of planting the Dark Horse Vineyard, a sun-drenched site on the hillside just above the winery. In most vintages, the fruit from that two-acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon has been blended into a very good Meritage. On those occasions when Inniskillin Okanagan has released a Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine usually has won numbers gold medals, both in Canada and internationally. This is a wine designed to be cellared for some time.

(Sandor is planning to release the first Dark Horse Cabernet Franc and he promises it is just as exciting as the Cabernet Sauvignon.)

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon which has just been released is a more accessible style. It is made with grapes from Constellation’s Bull Pine Vineyard, which is on a sandy bench northeast of Osoyoos Lake. While 2011 was a vintage with a cool start, it ended with a good long autumn, affording the hang time that late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon needs. The grapes for this wine were picked on October 25.

“I have trust in the site,” Sandor says. “We get nice maturity and good fruit – not green, but ripe fruit character in Merlot and Cabernet. I am never disappointed in that.”

Those attributes are well presented in this wine which, in spite of spending 12 months in French and American oak barrels, is finished with soft tannins for good drinkability on release.

Here are notes on the wines. Both are made in about 3,000-case volumes and are widely available.
Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Grigio 2012 ($15.09). It appeals immediately with aromas of aromas of apple and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit and apple. The well-balanced but tangy finish is just bursting with freshness. 90.

Inniskillin Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($17.09). Soft and juicy, this uncomplicated but very drinkable wine begins with aromas of plums and cherries. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black currant and vanilla. With just a touch of chilling, this is perfect for barbecues on warm summer evenings. 88-90.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rocky Creek Winery releases in 2013

 Photo: Rocky Creek's Mark and Linda Holford

Good weather in May means at least two things in the Cowichan Valley.

The warm sun means a timely bud break and a good start to the growing season.

Secondly, it is the start of the wine touring season. Rocky Creek Winery is among the producers that have just opened tasting rooms for the season.

Linda and Mark Holford opened this boutique winery in 2005, operating for the first several years from a home in suburban Ladysmith. This required them to function under a commercial license since they had no vineyard there.

In 2008, they moved to a three-hectare rural property south of Duncan where they have planted a vineyard and converted to the more advantageous farm-based license. Their current property also is much better suited for wine tourists, for hosting tastings, winery dinners and whatever other events spring from their imaginations.

They supplement the varietals grown in their own vineyard – which include Maréchal Foch, some Blattner varieties and blackberries – with purchased fruit from other Cowichan vineyards. In 2012, as an example, they were able to purchase Siegerrebe grapes, releasing their first varietal from this fruit. It is a terrific wine.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Rocky Creek Siegerrebe 2012 ($22). This early-ripening white is so aromatic that it is notorious for attracting wasps to the vineyard. You understand the lure when you nose and taste this wonderfully spicy fruit salad of a wine. There are aromas of tangerine, Chinese pear, green melon and apple, leading to flavours of grapefruit, honeydew and Chinese pear. The dry finish is tangy and very refreshing. Here is an exotic wine to enjoy on its own or with Asian cuisine. 90.

Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2012 ($22). The delicate pink hue signals that this wine has had skin contact, a technique to increase the aromas and flavours. It works! This wine has appealing aromas of rhubarb and citrus. There are generous flavours of rhubarb, lime and apple. The finish is tangy and refreshing. This is a delicious wine. 90.

Rocky Creek Robin’s Rose 2012 ($19 for 55 cases). The winery listened to its customers and finished this wine a trifle sweeter that the previous vintage. However, the balance is so subtle that those with a palate for dry rosé wines will still enjoy this. Light and cheerful with 10% alcohol, this Pinot Noir rosé has aromas and flavours of strawberry and elements that are reminiscent of fruit candies. 88.

Rocky Creek Pinot Noir 2011 ($26 for 320 cases). The 2011 vintage on Vancouver Island was so cool that some producers did not even try to make a Pinot Noir. Mark Holford had the patience to squeeze out the maximum hang time, making a wine with 12% alcohol. It has spicy strawberry and red cherry aromas. It is light on the palate, with tastes of strawberry and mocha and with a silky texture. There is also a hint of greenness, which is to be expected from that vintage, and will benefit from some bottle aging. 87-89.

Rocky Creek Wild Blackberry N.V. ($25 for 600 cases of 500 l bottles). The website does not say whether this wine was fortified to 16% or fermented naturally to that level. I suspect the latter because there is no sharp alcohol bite on the palate. The wine begins with spicy blackberry aromas (as you would expect). On the palate, there are appealing sweet berry flavours, with a rich texture. The balance is excellent: the wine has just the right touch of sweetness. This is a wine to go with savoury pâtés and with chocolate. 89.