Friday, September 27, 2013

Stellers Jay Brut and friends

About a year ago, Constellation Brands deconstructed the portfolio of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

Sumac Ridge wines, now value-priced, continue to be sold but two of that winery’s iconic brands have been liberated to exist on their own.

These are Steller’s Jay Brut, long a multi-awarded sparkling wine, and Black Sage Vineyards, premium wines anchored to that vineyard on Black Sage Road.

Even if Constellation is the world’s biggest wine company and has abundant market intelligence, its Sumac Ridge strategy can be questioned. Sumac Ridge is the oldest continuing estate winery in the Okanagan, with strong brand recognition. Carving out its two premium brands could reduce Sumac Ridge to a commodity wine producer.

The contention for setting Steller’s Jay free is that premium sparkling wines are made by dedicated sparking wine houses. If that is so, the Sumac Ridge winery should be re-badged. Steller’s Jay continues to be made and aged in the cellars here while table wine production has migrated to the larger and more modern Jackson-Triggs winery north of Oliver.

The Sumac Ridge tasting room remains open, however.

Many other Okanagan wineries celebrate their icon wines. Hester Creek has The Judge. Seven Stones has The Legend. Mission Hill’s Oculus has become so prized that sales are basically restricted to the winey tasting room.

Icon wines are important for several reasons. Their prestige reflects across a winery’s entire product line. The first red icons in the Okanagan were Oculus and Sumac Ridge’s Pinnacle (now discontinued). At $50 a bottle when it was released a decade or so back, Pinnacle did not sell well. However, Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters told me that it “reduced the price resistance” to the winery’s $25 Meritage. C0nsumers figured that if the winery made a product good enough to cost $50, its other wines must also be good (and they were).

The second benefit of having icons in the line-up is the discipline these wines impose on a winery’s viticulture. Unless a specific block of premium grapes has been identified, entire vineyards need to be managed as if every wine were to be a $50 quality. The superb quality of Hester Creek’s $20 Character blends and its $28 Reserves results in part from growing grapes to make the $45 Judge.

Constellation has close to 1,000 acres of Okanagan vineyard. All of it is farmed well. No doubt, the exceptional blocks – like Jackson-Triggs’s SunRock Vineyard – get special attention.

Black Sage Vineyard is another of those exceptional blocks. It is half of a 115-acre block that Harry McWatters planted in 1993, mostly with Bordeaux reds. A few years ago, when Harry unwound his relationship with Sumac Ridge and Constellation, the vineyard was divided. Because Constellation owned the Black Sage Vineyard name, Harry called his half the Sundial Vineyard, the site of his new winery called Time Estate.

The advantage of the Black Sage Vineyard is its mature vines grown in a great terroir. Constellation has decided to showcase this vineyard with vineyard-designated wines.

I understand but it just feels a bit odd not to anchor the brand to a winery.

Here are notes on the wines.

Steller’s Jay Brut 2008 Méthode Classique ($25.09). This is a cuvée of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which, like Champagne, is aged en tirage for at least three years before being hand-riddled and disgorged. In the glass, the wine puts on a wonderful display of fine and long-lasting bubbles. The aroma is slightly bready from its time on the lees. The wine has citrus and apple flavours with an attractive nutty undertone. The finish is crisp and bright. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2011 ($23.09). This has a rich and juicy texture with flavours of black cherry and blueberry as well as hints of sage and tobacco. This is a generous Merlot, benefitting from the concentration of old vines. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011 ($24.09). This variety is a great favourite of Jason James, the winemaker. The wine appeals, with brambleberry aromas and flavours of black cherry, blackberry. There is an earthy spice on the finish. Give it a year or two in the cellar. 88-90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($25.09). This begins with the classic eucalyptus aromas of the varietal, followed by black currant flavours and hints of cedar. The firm structure suggests that this wine will age well in the cellar and reveal more than it does in its youth. 89-91.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eye candy in Okanagan Falls wine country

Photo: Painted Rock's new wine shop

Stunning new tasting rooms have been opened by two wineries that are members of the Okanagan Falls Winery Association, giving wine tourists one more reason to stop in this region.

Two-year-old Liquidity Winery opened its hospitality centre and bistro several weeks ago. The modernistic building represents a complete rebuilding of the adobe-style house that was on the property when the Liquidity partners bought the vineyard several years ago.

Photo: Liquidity's hospitality centre

The new building has a sparkling and spacious wine shop with a stunning view over undulating vineyards and Vaseux Lake in the distance. The view is somewhat similar to the much photographed view over neighbouring Blue Mountain’s vineyards.

The landscaping here is also impressive. The long driveway to the wine shop sweeps past a beautiful lily pond at the entrance to the property. The plain jane building to the right is the very functional winery the Liquidity completed just before the 2012 vintage. Prior to that, winemaker Matt Holmes made several vintages in another winery.

The new winemaking facility, coupled with extensive vineyard improvements, has led to excellent wines from 2012. Just over a third of the 20-acre vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir, the rising star here. Liquidity replaced its Malbec and Petit Verdot with Pinot Noir, a variety better suited to this site.

Liquidity tasting room

The portfolio of wines is focussed. Liquidity currently offers Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Pinot Noir and a rosé made from Dornfelder grapes. The wines all are delightful.

Painted Rock Estate Winery began welcoming visitors last weekend to its gleaming wine shop. The building, designed by Penticton architect Dominic Unsworth, replaces the cramped cabin that served winery visitors for the previous two years.

“It’s just about time we increased the experience,” says winery owner John Skinner. “The old room put people off.”

Painted Rock's sunbathed wine shop

The new tasting room is perched at the top of the vineyard. The floor to ceiling glass doors – which are opened in fine weather – give views over the vines and Skaha Lake. The interior is gleaming white, with a display of wine bottles breaking up the space behind the extensive tasting bar.

There is seating and a catering kitchen for special events. There has already been one wedding at this spectacular venue.

Painted Rock's John Skinner with winery sign

The Painted Rock Winery, which opened in 2009, is just beside the road to the renowned Skaha climbing bluffs. The new wine shop has a sign that can be illuminated at night and can be seen from the other side of the lake.

Members of the Painted Rock wine club, along with other guests, were invited last weekend to inaugurate the wine shop. They had several treats in store, starting with a view of a dramatic thunder storm that swept across Skaha Lake during the event.

They also got to taste wines that either are just released or are about to be released. These include reds from the 2011 vintage, an Okanagan vintage that has been dissed a bit by critics. That is not entirely fair; wineries that practiced good viticulture are now releasing excellent wines. “The 2011 vintage really worked here,” John says, waving a hand toward the neat vineyard.

Here are my notes.

Painted Rock Chardonnay 2012 ($29.90). The appeal of this wine is the admirable restraint shown in its production. By aging it only 5 ½ months in oak and by putting just half through malolactic fermentation, the winery has given the central role to the variety’s bright citrus aromas and flavours. The wine is refreshing on the palate, with a finish that is both crisp and lingering. 93.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2011 ($54.90). This is a blend of 30% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. In the glass, the wine announces itself dramatically with perfumed aromas that include cherry, plum and vanilla. The wine is rich and ripe on the palate, with flavours of black cherry, cassis and mocha. The balance is exquisite and elegant, with a suave and polished texture and a very long finish. 95.

Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Est. $39.90). The wine begins with a touch of mint and black currant on the nose, leading to flavours of currant, coffee and leather. The firm texture suggests a wine that should be aged five or 10 years. The tannins, however, are ripe. 91.

Painted Rock  Syrah 2011 (Est. $39.90). This is made in the classic northern Rhone style, with pepper and black cherry aromas and with a medley of flavours, from black cherry to spiced deli meats. On the palate, this complex wine surprises by delivering a delicious core of sweet berry flavours. 93.

Painted Rock Merlot 2011 (Est. $39.90). This is a generous Merlot with luscious flavours of black currant and blueberry. Richly concentrated on the palate with long ripe tannins, this is a textbook Merlot. 93.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tinhorn Creek releases big reds

Photo: Tinhorn Creek's Andrew Moon

In recent vintages, the technical descriptions for each of Tinhorn Creek’s wines have included the name of the viticulturist, Andrew Moon.

In fact, his name is placed above that of Sandra Oldfield, who is not only the winemaker but also the winery’s president.

It recognizes the impact that Andrew has made since arriving at Tinhorn Creek from Australia five years ago. He has raised the bar for growing grapes with numerous changes in the vineyards, including a compost program to add more organic matter to the winery’s sandy Diamondback Vineyard on Black Sage Road.

Thus summer, the multi-year program to convert that vineyard to efficient drip irrigation was completed. By next year, Tinhorn Creek’s Golden Mile vineyard also will be converted to drip irrigation. This saves water but it also improves the delivery of irrigation water to the vines, and thus can improve the fruit.

Anyone who has had the Tinhorn Creek wines over the past three or four vintages can taste that Sandra has been getting better grapes to work with. Even in the cool 2010 vintage and the late 2011 vintage, the reds are remarkably ripe and generous. That reflects very good viticulture.

Andrew has made Sandra’s job easier. It is not just a token gesture that his name appears before hers on the technical sheets.

The reds that have been released recently – or will be released soon – are among the best yet from Tinhorn Creek. They include the winery’s first reserve Pinot Noir. That variety is a test of viticulture if there ever was a test. Unfortunately, the wine was sold out by the time I got around to these reviews.

Given the strength of these wines, one waits with impatience for the release of the 2012 reds when there were no weather challenges getting in the way of Andrew and his crew.

Here are notes on the wines.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2011 ($21.99 for 1,798 cases). This wine has a terrific rustic appeal, with its brambly aromas and flavour of blackberry, black cherry and spice. The texture is big and generous. It is just a satisfying red. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2011 ($19.99). The wine begins with bold aromas of red berries and vanilla. Bold and juicy on the palate, it has flavours of plum, currants and blueberries. The 12 months this wine aged in barrel rounded out the tannins very nicely. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2010 ($21.99). This was a cool vintage, right? Well, Tinhorn Creek grow its grapes well enough to achieve 14.1% alcohol on this ripe and juicy Pinot Noir. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, leading to luscious spiced cherry flavours and a silky texture. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2009 ($29.99 and sold out). Three months in bottle have fleshed out the silky texture of this wonderful wine. It begins with aromas of cherry, plum and spice. On the palate there are flavours of cherry enhanced with a touch of mocha and spice. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2010 ($34.99 for 210 cases). The 14.6% alcohol shows that the winery has found a good hot site for growing Syrah. Not too many 2010 Syrahs were this ripe. There is pepper and red berries on the nose, leading to earthy flavours that include cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla and pepper. This is a big, generous wine. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2010 ($29.99). Here is a concentrated and ripe Merlot that is both powerful and elegant. It begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla, leading to mouth-filling flavours of mulberry and cassis. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2010 ($29.99 for 1,172 cases).  This is a blend of 41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. Dark in hue, the wine begins with seductively sweet aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, the wine has flavours of plum, cassis, and vanilla. There is a hint of coffee and tobacco on the finish, as well as a touch of mint. The bright flavours and the moderately angular texture reflect the cool vintage. Nevertheless, this is a well-grown, elegant and satisfying red. 92.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stag’s Hollow releases the Okanagan's first Grenache

The Okanagan finally can take part in International Grenache Day, which is on September 20, the third Friday of the month.

The reason: Stag’s Hollow Winery is releasing 170 cases of its 2012 Grenache, at $30 a bottle.

This is believed to be the first Grenache from any Okanagan winery. There are not many plantings of Grenache in British Columbia. The variety managed to get a reputation of being excessively winter tender, probably because some of the Okanagan plantings were done shortly before 2009. The early October freeze in 2009 and several subsequent hard winters savaged a lot of young plantings, including several of Grenache.

Perhaps it is too early to close the book on this variety. According to the Grenache Association: “It’s the most widely planted red grape in the world and responsible for the velvety, voluptuous mouthfeel that people love in wine; but it rarely gets the credit it deserves because it’s often used in blends.”

The variety, a staple in Spanish reds, is also known as Garnacha Tinta. The detailed discussion of the variety in the massive new Jancis Robinson book, Wine Grapes, is under that name. Robinson (and her co-authors) writes that the variety is “relatively early budding but late ripening, so has to be grown in fairly warm climates.”

The Okanagan certainly has a warm climate but, with a risk of spring frost and a season-ending frost in October, Grenache is perhaps a tight squeeze for the growing window.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, has a particular enthusiasm for Grenache that began in 2006 when he helped plant a small block in the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton. Earlier vintages of that Grenache have disappeared into blends at Stag’s Hollow. If memory serves, one also became an excellent rosé.

But 2012 was a long, warm season, giving Dwight the chance to make a varietal Grenache. The Kiln House Vineyard’s small production was augmented with Grenache from another young block at the Blind Creek Vineyard at Cawston.

The winemaking notes bring to mind the making of Pinot Noir, which is also appropriate for making Grenache. It involved whole berry fermentation in small open top fermenters, beginning with a 72-hour cold soak. The ferments were punched down by hand four to six times daily until the wine was pressed into three-year-old French oak barrels. There, it went through malolactic fermentation and was aged six months on the lees before being racked. The wine is unfiltered and unfined.

There is a surprise when you cut the capsule to open the bottle. The closure is a crystal plug made by a Czech glass producer, Vinolok. Judging from the website, the closure was only developed several years ago. However, it has been taken up by some impressive producers, including Henschke in Australia.

This is an elegant solution to avoiding cork taint. Stag’s Hollow believes that the wine under this closure will maintain “varietal freshness for many years.” Indeed, it would be a delight to come back to this wine in a few years and find it still bursting with its current youthful charm. Here is a note on the wine.

Stag’s Hollow 2012 Grenache ($30 for 170 cases). The wine glows in the glass with a plum-like hue. The aromas are a medley of berry notes with cloves and cinnamon. The palate is soft and juicy, with bright flavours of currants, cranberries and mocha. As the winery notes, the flavours recall a “bold New World style Pinot Noir.” That’s hardly a bad thing. 92.

Okanagan Falls grower Bill Collings adds an interesting footnote:

Just read your blog on Stag's Hollow Grenache.  We planted Grenache in the very early 80's, shortly after we bought the property.  My dad brought back several cuttings from California.  None of the vines died from cold winters.  It does take a long time to ripen and often is made into a rose.  It can also produce huge bunches.  The largest I have weighed was one pound fifteen ounces.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Class of 2013 Montakarn Estate Winery

 Photo: Gary Misson of Montakarn

Montakarn Estate Winery
5462 Black Sage Road,
Oliver, BC, V0H 1T1
T 250-498-3240
When to visit: Daily 10 am – 6 pm May through October

The newest winery on Black Sage Road is Montakarn, which opened early this summer, with a red roof that can be spotted from across the valley.

It just happens that the roof is red to match the roof on the house next door, the residence of the owners. But the coincidence is helpful for drawing wine tourists down the long driveway between the fruit trees remaining from the property’s orchard heritage.

It was primarily an apricot and peach orchard in 2003 when Gary Misson and his wife, Monty, bought it. They knew nothing about fruit trees. They just wanted to move some place with a drier and warmer climate than the Lower Mainland, which Monty, who is from Thailand, found too damp.

“My sister had a small orchard up here,” Gary recalls. “We came up for a weekend, Monty and I. could finally could be outside and not feel cold. She liked it. I said, why don’t we buy some land up here?”

Born in Campbell River in 1957, Gary spent 25 years sailing on tug boats and other coastal vessels. He still has a shaggy seaman’s beard even though he tired of the sea years ago and earned a diploma in agricultural engineering in 2003. Between classes, he vacationed in Thailand and met his wife, Monty, short for Montakarn, which inspired the winery’s name.

The move to the Okanagan in 2003 was also a lifestyle decision. “I was finishing school,” Gary says. “I didn’t want to go back to the boats and tow logs and stuff. This was something we could both do together. She is a university graduate, too. When she came, she knew with her language difficulties, she would not be able to do what she was trained to do. She would probably be working in McDonald’s. She has a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing.”

The decision to replace the fruit trees with vines reflected Gary’s long-time interest in wine. “I have been making wine for myself since I was 20,” he says.

He began making kit wines at home in Vancouver. He made his first dry table wine in 1984 with Concord grapes growing on a trellis at his house.It was not very palatable,” he remembers. “It was too foxy. I gave the wine to a Romanian friend who distilled it. He said it was the best moonshine he had ever made.”

In 2009, he planted about three hectares (seven acres) of Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. Despite vine damage from the bitterly cold 2009 winter, Gary pressed ahead, retaining consultants Philip Soo and then Daniel Bontorin to make the 2011 and 2012 vintages respectively. The winery’s initial release is under 1,000 cases.

The red-roofed winery is just off Black Sage Road, with wine shop windows giving a commanding view looking west over the Okanagan Valley. The ground floor is 4,200 square feet while the second floor, which includes an outdoor deck, is 1,200 square feet.

The winery’s outward design reminds some of the neighbouring Le Vieux Pin winery, if only because both have large overhanging roofs that protect against the hot sun. “It is a completely different building,” Gary says. “They have got a hip roof. Mine goes the other way. I don’t think I copied them.”

The wines:

Montakarn 2012 Tippy Toe Un-oaked ($19.90 for 211 cases). The blend is 70% Chardonnay, 22% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Viognier. The result is an appealing aroma of tropical fruits, leading to tangy flavours of melon, pear and citrus. On the finish, the wine is crisp and ever so refreshing. 90.

Montakarn 2011 Tippy Toe Oaked ($19.90 for 97 cases). The blend is 75% Chardonnay, 16% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Viognier. The wine was aged nine months in neutral oak. The oak (and probably malolactic fermentation) come through as notes of butter, coconut and tangerine on both the aroma and the palate. The texture is rich. 88.

Montakarn 2011 Merlot Blend ($20.90 for 329 cases). The blend is 38% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 22% Syrah, 17% Malbec. The wine spent 15 months in barrels (30% new French oak). The wine begins with bright brambly aromas. On the palate, there are vibrant flavours of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and cinnamon. 89-90.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How three wineries cope with hail damage

Photo: hail-battered grape cluster

The violent hail storm that swept across East Kelowna on the evening of August 12, 2013, seriously impacted three wineries: SpierHead Winery, Sperling Vineyards and The View Winery and Vineyard.

Now that the owners have had almost a month to assess the damage, they have also come up with winemaking strategies for this vintage that will keep them doing business.

“We do have insurance,” SpierHead’s William Knutson says. “The biggest significance isn’t financial. It’s just a pain. In our case, it isn’t going to have an enormous impact on overall production.”

“We have inventories,” says Ann Sperling, the winemaker and a principal at Sperling Vineyards. “It is not suddenly that we won’t have any wine to sell.” But because Sperling does not buy grapes, the impact of the storm “will affect us over two or three years that we will have a gap in one variety or another.”

The winery, which had planned to make about 3,500 cases of wine this fall, draws its fruit from 45-acre Pioneer Ranch, one of the oldest vineyards in the Kelowna area. The insurance adjustor has estimated the loss at about 80% of the crop.

“The hailstorm has made it a big question mark how much fruit we will be able to harvest,” Ann says. “We have very few leaves on probably 80%, 90% of the vineyard. Our table grapes were a total write-off.  There are a couple of blocks of wine grapes where, because of a hill pattern or the wind, that have a few more leaves. We are looking at those and netting those. Then we have to see if the rest of the fruit evolves normally or not.”

She continues: “Whole clusters got knocked on the ground and others were cut in half. It is going to take some berry selection. Thank heaven we have sorting tables to work with. It will take a big effort to harvest what we do this year. At this point, it is still early to tell if the fruit will ripen normally or whether there has been too much damage already.”

The storm was so ferocious that a neighbour of SpierHead gave the winery a curious memento: a beer can that had been exposed to the storm. Two hailstones completely punctured the can.

“Our rows are aligned almost exactly north/south,” Knutson says of the winery’s Gentleman Farmer Vineyard. “This hail came with a strong wind from the exact east. It hit the rows broadside.”

Where the canopy of leaves was light, unprotected bunches were battered. SpierHead was fortunate that some of the vines had not yet had the canopy thinned.

“If the canopy was thicker, it did not tend to do much damage on the east side because the hail just shredded the leaves,” Knutson says. “But the fruit on the other side of the plants is undamaged or moderately damaged.”

“That’s how ours is,” says The View’s Jennifer Molgat, who estimates 65% damage to her crop. “If you walked along the west side [of the rows], you would think everything is well. Then you walk to the other side of the vine and it is completely gone basically. I spent the whole next day with tears running down  my face. It was heartbreaking.”

The vineyards all were sprayed shortly after the storm to thwart rot on any of the damaged bunches. Crews have since gone through to clean out the damage so that the vines can still ripen undamaged bunches.

“What we are doing right now, emphasizing the areas where there is something that can be salvaged, is going through and dropping all the damaged stuff, which basically means everything on the east side,” SpierHead’s Knutson says. “Then on the west side, we are leaving what we can leave and thinning the rest. We have kind of an ironic situation. If everything works out well, with this excessive thinning, we will certainly have a diminished crop, but it might be of higher quality.”

His optimism does not seem to be shared. “At this point, it is still early to tell if the fruit will ripen normally or whether there has been too much damage already,” Sperling says.

“Our plan is to use most of the Gewürztraminer for our Bling sparkling wine in a can,” Molgat says. She is referring to a low-alcohol carbonated single-serve wine that, with filtering and blending with purified water, accommodates less than perfect grapes.

Sperling anticipates making more sparkling wine and perhaps her winery’s first rosé. Knutson was already planning to increase rosé production.

The objective in each case to pick grapes early, sparing the hail-damaged vines the stress of maturing fruit rather than storing up carbohydrates that help the plants survive through the coming winter. Most of the vines have begun to grow new leaves to replace those that were shredded. Whether these leaves will produce enough carbohydrates is an open question.

“The sugar accumulation would normally go to the fruit and the wood at this time,” Sperling says. “If any of it is compromised, it is hard to know how hardy things will be for the winter. So we pray that the winter is not hard. We can’t ask too much of the vines next year either. We will play it by ear and do the best we can.”

Both SpierHead and The View expect to maintain production with purchased grapes.

“Luckily, we have been able to purchase premium fruit from a lovely vineyard near CedarCreek winery so that we can keep our wines on the shelves this coming year,” Molgat says. “I cannot have a year when I don’t have premium wines. It would be too big a hit on how hard I have worked already in establishing the label.”

SpierHead does not expect to take a big hit of its production, largely because of a vineyard-designated wine program that Knutson had begun before the storm.

“If there is a silver lining in this, it is that a number of Pinot Noir growers have offered grapes to make up for our losses,” he says.  “Unrelated to our hail damage, my plan has been to develop a line of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from vineyards throughout the valley.  To that end, I had already made arrangements to purchase Pinot Noir from a couple of different vineyards for the 2013 harvest.  Now, I will be able to audition a couple more.  We will ferment the grapes from each vineyard separately and the wine will be segregated as well.  If it is of high quality, we'll do a separate vineyard designated bottling.  Going forward, I really want to try and carve a niche with series of unique vineyard- designated Pinot Noir bottlings.”

The impact on the 2014 production from the damaged vines is still to be determined. “Pruning is going to be a nightmare as well because so many of the little spurs are bashed off,” Molgat says. “We are going to have to be creative with our pruning. What can you do?”

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Touriga Nacional joined the Moon Curser portfolio

Chris and Beata Tolley, the owners of Moon Curser Vineyards in Osoyoos, have a  track record for making “interesting” wines.

For example, they made the Okanagan’s first Tannat after planting the slightly obscure French variety found mostly in Uruguay these days. After releasing the variety on its own, they now blend it with Syrah in their most iconic red.

Their releases this summer included the first Touriga Nacional table wine from any Okanagan winery.

                                       Photo: Moon Curser's Beata and Chris Tolley

There is a second release of that red next year, along with a first release of Arneis, an Italian white variety that the Tolleys planted three years ago. They have just planted Dolcetto, an Italian red. If the vines succeed, we will see the Okanagan’s first Dolcetto in about four years.

Touriga Nacional is a notoriously late ripening and winter sensitive Portuguese variety. It came to be planted in the south Okanagan when Tony Fernandez, who owns a packing house near the winery, asked Chris to suggest varieties for a five-acre vineyard he was developing in 2009.

Chris picks up the story:

“Just because he is Portuguese, I mentioned Touriga,” Chris recalls.  “Then I had to warn him that it was not too winter hardy and did not crop a lot.”  Tony planted three acres of that variety and two acres of Viognier, with Moon Curser as the buyer when the vines started producing.

Unfortunately, a hard early freeze snapped across the Okanagan about October 10, 2009, damaging a lot of new plantings – including 80% of the Touriga Nacional. “A lot of the plants died and none were replanted,” Chris says. What vines remained produce a small and late crop in 2011, a cool vintage. Chris bought the Viognier but did not think there would be a worthwhile Touriga harvest.

“Tom asked what we thought of the Touriga when we bought the Viognier,” Chris says. “At that point I knew pretty much for sure that we would never harvest that crop. It was so far behind that I thought it would never come off. But I did not feel like blurting that out. So I said we’ll take a look, we’ll keep checking on it.”

Busy with the crush, Chris pretty much forgot about the Touriga. “There were so few vines that it was not the first thing on my radar. Looking at 1.1 tons of Touriga was not of major concern.”

He chanced to encounter Tony in a restaurant that fall and gave him the gloomy prognosis. Tony proposed that Chris make wine for Tony’s personal consumption with whatever was on the vines.

“About the 9th or 12th of November, we had pressed everything else out,” Chris  says, recalling the Moon Curser vintage. “Then it popped into my mind that the Touriga is still out there and I had better go and do something. I had it in mind that I would drive out there and taste the grapes. I expected they would be acidic and with no sugar, and I would phone Tom and tell him we’ll be done for the season. But when I got out there, they were very sweet. When I tested them, I got 24.5 Brix. They were the ripest grapes we had in the entire 2011 vintage. So I phoned him and said we’ll buy these grapes and you don’t have to find yourself with 60 cases of your own wine. I’ll give you five cases or whatever you want and we will give you a good price and keep the rest. He was happy with that.”

After the 2012 vintage, which again yielded just enough grapes for about two barrels of Touriga Nacional, Tony sold the entire vineyard to Chris.

The original rows were spaced too far apart. Because of that and the sparse number of Touriga vines, Chris pulled out everything and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Dolcetto.

“But we took cuttings of those Touriga plants,” he says.  “Lanny Martinuik [who runs a vine nursery] is growing them out and we are going to plant them next year on a site that has similar characteristics. It is just a couple of hundred meters from that first vineyard.”

With luck, there won’t be an early freeze until the vines have settled in. The next Touriga Nacional vintage could occur in 2017.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Moon Curser Vineyards Afraid 2012 ($21.90 for 620 cases). This is the winery’s Rhone white – a blend of 47% Roussanne, 31% Viognier and 22% Marsanne. It begins with an appealing aroma of citrus and apricots, delivering flavours of stone fruits, melon and apples, with a spine of minerality supporting a rich texture and bold (14.1%) alcohol. A wine with power, it has a crisp finish. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Viognier 2012 ($28). The 14.3% alcohol declared on the label is the first clue that this is a ripe Viognier that benefitted from plenty of hang time to develop maximum flavour. Aromas of apricot, tangerine and ripe bananas explode from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot, with touches of orange, pineapple and spice. The finish is dry with just a trace of warmth from the alcohol, nicely balanced with the rich texture of the wine. 91.

Moon Curser Vineyards Nothing to Declare Rosé 2012 ($21.90 for 144 cases). This is a Syrah rosé. The wine begins with an appealing dark rose hue. On the nose, there are aromas of plum and black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, cherry and raspberry. Dry on the finish, this rosé has serious weight and texture. Great food wine. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Border Vines 2011 ($25 for 1,805 cases). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of  38% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Carmenère. Almost black in colour, it begins with aromas of cassis and spice, leading to flavours of blueberry and lingonberry, framed by notes of oak and vanilla. The bright acidity and firm texture suggest this is a good candidate for cellaring for several years. 88-90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($28.90 for 609 cases). Somewhat lean and tangy, this reflects south Okanagan Cabernet in a cool year. It begins with aromas of mint and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of red berries, with spice, tobacco and cedar on the finish. This reminded me of a Cabernet from Coonawarra in Australia. 87.

Moon Curser Vineyards Dead of Night 2010 ($38 for 405 cases). This is 53% Syrah and 47% Tannat, both from estate vineyards. This is an inspired blend, with complex aromas of black cherry, plum, vanilla and earth. On the bold palate, there are flavours of black cherry, mulberry and black currant, with peppery, smoky and gamey notes. This is such an expressive wine that it should be matched with boldly flavoured foods, like lamb or venison. 91.

Moon Curser Vineyards Merlot 2011 ($25 for 607 cases). The wine begins with bright red berry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, there are notes of black currant and cherry. The initial firm structure led to retasting the second half of the bottle on the second day. With exposure to air, the wine filled out dramatically and was much richer on the palate. The lesson: use a decanter. 89.

Moon Curser Vineyards Petit Verdot 2011 ($29 for 175 cases). The colour, as is typical for the variety, is profoundly dark. The aromas are dramatic, with some floral notes (violets) and with ripe fruit aromas of blackberry and plum. There is a hint of mocha in the background. On the palate, the flavours include plum, cherry, cola and liquorice. The structure is still a bit firm but it should be; this wine will age very nicely for five to seven years. 92.

Moon Curser Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 ($29.90 for 145 cases). Not many Osoyoos wineries make Pinot Noir because vineyards often are too warm. Moon Curser buys these grapes from a grower on the west side of Osoyoos Lake, a somewhat cooler site than Moon Curser’s East Bench vineyards. This vibrant wine, with a good dark colour, begins with aromas of plums and cherries. Full on the palate with a silky texture, the wine delivers those flavours, along with a hint of French oak and sour cherry on the finish. 89.

Moon Curser Vineyards Contraband Syrah 2011 ($28.90 for 200 cases). This is a single vineyard Syrah. Dark in colour, the wine begins with meaty aromas, along with pepper and plum. On the palate, there are peppery flavours of black cherry, plum, chocolate and cola. The finish is persistent. 92.

Moon Curser Vineyards Syrah 2011 ($25 for 831 cases). Fruit for this wine was sourced from three Osoyoos East Bench vineyards. There is also seven per cent Viognier in the wine, a routine winemaking practice that fixes the colour and lifts the aromas. This wine begins with aromas of dark fruit and classic pepper. There are plum and black cherry flavours on the mid-palate, with a complex spicy finish. The tannins are still firm, suggesting this wine will age well for several more years. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Tempranillo 2011 ($29 for 260 cases). Dark in colour, the wine declares itself with bold aromas of blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are ripe flavours of blackberry, cherry, leather and spice, with ripe tannins. The finish lingers. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Touriga Nacional 2011 (sold out). The winery produced just 60 cases in its debut 2011 vintage. Considering a tour de force this is, I would recommend getting on the wait list for the 2012 vintage. The winery made a similar quantity. The wine begins with an appealing aroma of blackberry, cherry and plum, with a touch of spice. Bold, luscious flavours of blueberries and mulberries fill the mouth. There is a smoky note of black pepper on the finish. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 92.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Class of 2013: C.C. Jentsch Cellars

 Photo: Chris Jentsch

C.C. Jentsch Cellars
4522 Highway 97
Oliver BC V0H 1T1
T 778.439.2091

The BC Wine Institute’s fall tasting this week was a coming out event for C.C. Jentsch Cellars, the most recent winery to open this summer.

C.C. Jentsch – the “J” is pronounced “Y” – has come out of the gate quickly because proprietors Chris  and Betty Jentsch already had a suitable building right on Highway 97, midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. The finishing touches are being done on the tasting room.

There is a dramatic story behind this winery beginning with the Testalinden Creek mud slide on a Sunday afternoon in June 2010.

Here is how the Globe & Mail reported the event:
Betty Jentsch was home with her 16-year-old daughter Emily Sunday afternoon when she heard "a roaring thunder sound that wasn't stopping."
Mrs. Jentsch looked out her window at Testalinden Creek, which flows down a hill next to her property from a reservoir lake built in the 1930s. "Just a wall of mud was coming down the creek," she said.
She ran upstairs and grabbed her daughter. When she got back downstairs, she looked out the back door and saw "a mountain of mud with my vehicle coming towards the house," she said.
Mrs. Jentsch and her daughter ran out another door and headed north as quickly as they could move, running through orchards and hopping several fences until they reached higher ground. "She turned around and looked back and saw the mountain of mud with our garage heading our way," said Mrs. Jentsch of her daughter.
Mrs. Jentsch, whose family is now staying with relatives, has not spent too much time worrying about who is responsible for the mudslide. "I'm just glad that we're okay. Everything else can be replaced," she said.
[Eventually, the Jentschs moved to a new home near Summerland.]
The slide missed the nearby Jentsch packing house, a modern building just beside the highway which was then being rented to Road 13 Vineyards for wine storage. That was a stroke of good fortune for Road 13, and now for Chris Jentsch.

A self-described entrepreneur, Chris, who was born in Kelowna in 1963, is a third-generation Okanagan fruit grower. He became an independent apple grower in the 1980s. He built his first packing house in 1989 and rebuilt it after fire destroyed it in 1991. When apple prices collapsed in the mid 1990s, he converted his orchards to cherries. “We were in a golden time for cherry exports, with a 63 cent Canadian dollar,” Chris recalls. “Cherries were getting air freighted to Taiwan.”

In 1999, Chris planted his first vineyard, a 7.6 hectare (19-acre) on the Golden Mile, just south of the Tinhorn Creek winery. He sold it five years later to go to a much larger project – replacing his cherry trees with vines after overplanting led to a cherry surplus.  “That was hard because we were ripping out highly productive cherry blocks that were picture perfect,” Chris says.

In his usual style, Chris jumped in with both feet. Between 2005 and 2008, he planted 65,246 vines on a superb 19.4 hectare (48-acre) plateau on the Golden Mile. Once the vines produced, he sold grapes to several wineries, including Andrew Peller Ltd. But Peller’s own vineyards now are in full production. Chris, facing uncertainty about where he would sell all of his grapes, has made the final jump by converting the packing house into a 10,000-case winery.

When he asked Okanagan Crush Pad to make his initial vintage in 2012, Chris had more modest objectives in mind.

“My intention at the time was to continue on with my 2,000 cases, and continue to sell to Peller,” he says. “But with the Peller situation, I got forced into doing my own thing. But really, it fits me better. I would rather die by my own action, right or wrong.”

The expertise at Okanagan Crush Pad has launched him with good wines and, more critically, with marketing advice.

C.C. Jentsch opened with 300 cases of Viognier, 120 cases of Gewürztraminer, 550 cases of Syrah and about 900 cases of a Meritage blend called The Chase. Chris has arranged to have Matt Dumayne, one the OCP winemakers, make the C.C. Jentsch wines in 2013.

Here are notes on the first releases.

C.C. Jentsch Gewürztraminer 2012 ($17.99). This is a fine dry wine, beginning with classic aromas of spice, rose petals and grapefruit. The wine is full on the palate with flavours of grapefruit and a hint of lychee. 90.

C.C. Jentsch Viognier 2012 ($24.99). This wine has fully ripe flavours of apricots and peaches with tropical fruit aromas, all set on a rich palate with the variety’s typical spine of minerals, tannin and alcohol. 89.

C.C. Jentsch The Chase 2012 ($19.99). This is a blend of 35% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 7.5% Malbec. The wine has been made in a soft and approachable style for early drinking, although perhaps not this early. I would lay it aside at least six months. Now, it has aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberry but is still developing in bottle. 88-90.

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2012 ($28.99). Here is another ripe, mouthfilling red. It begins with aromas of black cherry, chocolate and spice. It delivers earthy, cherry flavours with a touch of white pepper on the finish. 90.