Friday, February 27, 2015

Fiano and friends

Photo: Serafino's Maria Maglieri

An Australian wine tasting is the last place where one would expect to taste white wines made with Fiano and Vermentino, two Italian varietals.

Yet there were examples of both at the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year, where Australian wine was the theme and Shiraz (of course) was the featured grape.

The explanation is simple. Along with much of the new world, Australia over the years has attracted immigrants from Italy. The Italians can’t help themselves: whenever they settle in a salubrious climate, they grow grapes and make wine.

The 2013 Bellisimo Fiano on the festival’s tasting room floor is produced by Serafino Wines, a McLaren Valle winery run by the Maglieri. Maria Maglieri, the chief executive, related that her grandfather Giovanni migrated to Australia in 1958. He and his son, Serafino (now called Steve), who came a few years later, began developing a McLaren Vale vineyard in planted grapes in 1968.

“They were turned down by Canada,” Maria told me as I tasted her wines.

Canada’s loss was Australia’s gain. Maglieri Wines ultimately became a very successful wine business, largely because the family decided to copy the style of Italy’s sweet red wine, Lambrusco. The wine became one of the top sellers in Australia. In 1999 the Maglieri family was clever enough to cash out, selling the business to Beringer Blass, one of the wine conglomerates then gobbling up other producers at top of market prices.

The sale included the Maglieri name. However, the family had retained prime vineyards and soon were back in business as Serafino Wines.

Serafino’s portfolio includes the varietals for which McLaren Vale is well known: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Chardonnay. Several were on sale in the BC Liquor store at the festival and, hopefully, will subsequently be listed in the BCLDB or in private wine stores.

The winery has added an extensive range of Italian varietals, including Lagrein, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and Fiano.

Italy, of course, is replete with indigenous varieties seldom grown elsewhere. Never having heard of Fiano, I turned to Wine Grapes, the fat and definitive volume released a few years ago by Jancis Robinson and colleagues.

“Fiano is an old variety from Campania in southern Italy whose presence near Foggia was mentioned as early as 1240 in a register of purchases by Emperor Frederick II,” the book says. “The name Fiano is said to derive from a place named in Appia … where the grape supposedly has its origin.”

Fiano was widely grown until phylloxera arrived in Southern Italy in the early 20th Century and decimated the plantings. The variety was revived in the 1970s by renowned Taurasi winemaker Antonio Mastroberardino. The Italian vine census in 2000 counted just under 2,000 acres.

“Fiano has more recently found favour in Australia with growers looking for varieties that withstand the heat,” the Robinson book says. “There now are at least 10 producers who claim to have the variety planted, including Jeffrey Grosset in the Clare Valley.”

Serafino planted its Fiano in 2011. The 2013 vintage poured at the festival may have been the debut wine. It is a crisply refreshing white, tasting of honeydew melons and apples.

It fires my interest in tasting other examples. Currently, the BCLDB lists two Fiano wines from Italy: Acante Fiano at $14.99 and Miopasso Fiano at $16.99.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fifteen Canadian wineries are going to ProWein this year

Photo: German-bound Okanagan vintner JAK Meyer

Meyer Family Vineyards and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery are the two British Columbia wineries that will join a 13-winery Ontario contingent this year at the massive ProWein wine trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.

A group of Ontario wineries, along with several from Quebec and Nova Scotia, were at the first ProWein Canadian pavilion last year. Most were then represented by agents.

At this year’s show, which runs three days in mid-March, the 15 Canadian wineries are there in their own right, in a major Canadian pavilion.

This represents a serious effort by the Canadian wine industry to establish its profiles and its wines in overseas markets.

“You have some obligation to go to these events to raise the profile of B.C. wines,” says JAK Meyer, the proprietor of Meyer Family. “Ultimately, I’d like to find further export markets.”

ProWein started in 1994 and now is one of Europe’s leading wine trade shows. This year, there are 4,850 exhibitors from 47 countries. The show is expected to draw 49,000 trade visitors and 1,000 journalists.

“Our industry is excited to be back for ProWein 2015 where our wines will be shown alongside the best from the world,” says Magdalena Kaiser, the public relations director for Wine Country Ontario.

JAK Meyer sees this as a chance of “getting our wines in front of the right people.” He is taking three Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays. One of those Chardonnays will also be poured at the “Discover the Wines of Canada” seminars lead by two leading British wine writers.

“The more our wines are out there, the more they will be talked about,” JAK says. “It’s important for us [Canada] to be known for more than Icewine.”

His winery is among a growing number of Canadian producers moving into export markets. “We are in six countries,” he says. “Volume-wise, it is just a drop in the bucket but we are getting exposure.”

These are the Ontario winery going to ProWein this year.

Colio Estate Wines, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Creekside Estate Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Diamond Estates, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Flat Rock Cellars, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Henry of Pelham Family Estate, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Malivoire Wine Company, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Pelee Island Winery, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario
Pillitteri Estates Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
PondView Estate Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Vineland Estates Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Summerhill Pyramid Winery wine ramble

Photo: Summerhill's Eric von Krosigk and Ezra Cipes

Summerhill Pyramid Winery may have an identity crisis.

“We have so many vineyards and so many wines that it is hard for us to just drive one message on one wine,” Summerhill president Ezra Cipes acknowledged during a recent conversation.

During that meeting, we were discussing one of the winery’s latest releases, the Summerhill Vineyard Riesling 2013. One of several Rieslings in Summerhill’s portfolio, it is a wine of excellent quality. It is made with grapes from vines planted in 1978 – the same year that the vines producing Tantalus Vineyards’s Old Vine Riesling.

In contrast with Summerhill, Tantalus is focused on three varietals – Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Summerhill, on the other hand, winemaker Eric von Krosigk just does not pass up opportunities to make yet another wine to be sold by Ezra, who seems to share his enthusiasm.

Summerhill was launched in 1991 by Ezra’s father, Steven, primarily as a sparkling wine producer. Its identity as a maker of best-selling Cipes Brut and other sparklers clearly has overshadowed Summerhill’s table wines and Icewines.

Ezra’s strategy now is to elevate Cipes into a brand standing almost separate from Summerhill, except for the fine print on the back label. This might give Summerhill’s table wines better visibility.

“I don’t think you can be known for everything,” Ezra says. “If you are going to be known for sparkling wines, it is hard to be known as well for aromatic wines and red wines and Icewines.”

The winery’s portfolio is divided almost equally among those four groups of wines. Its biggest selling red wine, about 1,000 cases a year, is Summerhill Baco Noir.

The winery adds to its glorious confusion with a proliferation of speciality and single vineyard labels. These include several premium reds released in the Robert Bateman Artist’s Series (a portion of the proceeds from these wines goes to the Bateman Foundation). These are barrel-aged reds with a structure that makes them wines for long-term cellaring.

Another example is the Syrah and the Sangiovese released under the Spadefoot Toad Vineyard designation (both sold out at about $50 a bottle).

“We picked up a grower, Ron Firman, starting in 2010,” Ezra says. “He has Spadefoot Toad Vineyard [near Oliver]. He is one of these super-passionate growers. He has two acres or something like that. He tends it like a garden. And he breeds spadefoot toads for pest control. He makes very concentrated, intense wines.”

Recently, Summerhill released 82 cases of a 2009 single vineyard Zweigelt grown in the Eidse Brothers vineyard, not far away from the Summerhill winery in East Kelowna. The object here was to craft a unique wine from a varietal little known in the Okanagan. This wine was actually aged 42 months in neutral oak. It is being sold for $30 a bottle. Since that is scarcely enough to generate a profit, this is another wine that may have been a labour of love for the winery.

Summerhill’s interest in red winemaking is not trivial. It has about 900 barrels in its cellar.  The winery, after doing winemaking trials with four small oak fermenters, has added nine 10,000-litre casks, both for fermenting and storage.

“It will definitely change the style and direction of our red wine program,” Ezra says. “There will be less oxygen infiltration. The ratio of wood to wine is quite a bit less, so it will be a more fruit-driven fresher style.”

Here are notes on an eclectic cross-section of Summerhill wines.

Cipes Brut NV ($26.95). This is the winery’s flagship sparkling wine (about 5,000 cases a year) with a cuvée of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. It is crisp and tangy with flavours of lemon and lime emerging from the lively bubbles. 91.

Cipes Rosé NV ($26.95). The cuvée is Pinot Noir and the juice was left on the skins long enough to produce a vibrant cranberry colour and to extract flavours of raspberry, strawberry and red currant. The wine has good weight and a long finish. 91.

Cipes Blanc de Noirs 2008 ($34.90). One of the winery’s offerings to compete with Champagne, this is Pinot Noir without skin contact and with extended aging on the lees before being disgorged. It is a delicious wine with a creamy texture but a crisp finish. The flavours are complex, with hints of nuts and brioche as well as citrus and apple. 92.

Cipes Ariel 1998 ($88). The price reflects the extended bottle aging of this wine. The flavours are rich, with hints of nuts, brioche and spice, along with tastes of dried fruits. The texture is creamy and the finish is dry. The cuvée is Pinot Noir (59%), Chardonnay (40%) and Pinot Meunier (1%). The winery made 500 cases of this. About half of that still is resting on the lees, to be disgorged as sales require. 92.

Summerhill Organic Gewürztraminer 2013 ($19.95). This is a wine with herbs and spice aromas and flavours of grapefruit and grapefruit rind. Balanced to finish dry, the wine is rich on the palate. 88.

Summerhill Ehrenfelser 2013 ($19.95). This wine, with 32 grams of sugar per litre, is a juicy off-dry interpretation of the varietal. The flavours are lush with tropical fruit including ripe pineapple and peach. For my palate, I would prefer a drier wine. Having said that, this is one of Summerhill’s more popular wines. As Pope Francis might say, who am I to judge? 87

Summerhill Estate Vineyard Riesling 2013 ($30). While there is also some residual sugar here, the racy acidity gives this wine a crisp and tangy finish. It begins with honeyed citrus aromas, leading to intense flavours of lemon around a spine of minerality. A touch of petrol has begun to emerge in this complex wine. Don’t hesitate to cellar this for two or three years. 90-92.

Summerhill Organic Riesling 2013 ($19.95 but sold out). This is Summerhill’s Mosel style Riesling – light and lively, with refreshing flavours of lemon and lime. The bracing acidity nicely balances the residual sugar. 90/

Summerhill Grasslands Organic Cabernet Franc 2010 ($45 for 214 cases). This is one of the reds with a Robert Bateman label (painting of a Swift fox). The grapes were from a vineyard in Okanagan Falls. The wine was aged 32 months in American and French oak. The wine is bright and brambly, with aromas of blackberry and red currant and flavours of sour cherries and black currant. The wine still has plenty of grip and needs to be decanted for drinking now if you don’t have the patience to cellar it. 87-89.

Summerhill Grasslands Organic Merlot 2010 ($45 for 335 cases). The grapes are from vineyards at Kaleden and Okanagan Falls. The wine has been aged 31 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of blackberry, blueberry and black currant jam. There is a core of sweet fruit – flavours of cassis, plum and cherry. The texture is elegantly polished. 90.

Summerhill Grasslands Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2012 ($50 for 450 cases).  This wine is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, aged 16 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of mint and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, coffee, tobacco and graphite. The tannins are firm but ripe. The wine is drinking well now but also is age worthy. 90.

Summerhill Pinot Noir 2011 ($26.95). The wine has a lively ruby hue. It begins with aromas that are smoky mingled with spice and cherries, leading to flavours of cherry and strawberry on a layer of earthy or “forest floor” notes. Even though the wine was aged 18 months in barrels, the texture still is firm. 88.

Summerhill Syrah 2010 ($28.95). The label says this is made with transitional grapes. That means grapes from a vineyard on its way to being certified organic. Dark in colour, the wine begins with the classic aroma of black pepper. On the palate, there are bright but also earthy flavours of plum and black cherry with a brisk shake of black pepper on the finish. Twenty months aging in French and American oak barrels have given this wine a polished texture. 89.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Clos du Soleil served at Canada House

 Photo: Canada House in London

British Columbia’s Clos du Soleil Winery is one of four Canadian wineries serving their wines at this week’s re-opening of Canada House in London.

The other wineries are Peller Estates and Pilliterri Estate Winery, both headquartered in Ontario, and Vignoble Carone, based in Quebec. The wines will be served both at an afternoon reception and at a black tie dinner.

Spencer Massie, Clos du Soleil’s founding partner, has contributed the winery’s Capella 2013, a barrel-fermented blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

He jumped at the opportunity to have his wine served because he believes it is “strategically important” for Canadian wines to have a presence in one of the world’s most sophisticated wine markets.

He is currently preparing to select an agent to represent Clos du Soleil wines in Britain. He also expects to participate in a tasting of British Columbia wines that the British Columbia Wine Institute is planning for London this spring.

Clos du Soleil, which is based in the Similkameen Valley, opened in 2008 with about 200 cases of wine. However, the winery is in the midst of major expansion. A 4,000 square-foot winery is under construction, with a new tasting room to open this summer. The winery produced 4,700 cases of wine in the 2014 vintage.

Canada House, the home of the Canadian High Commission in London, has had an enviable high profile location on Trafalgar Square since 1923 when Canada bought what had been the Union Club. King George V and Queen Mary presided at the official opening of Canada House in 1925.

That was the first of what is now three openings. After major restoration in the 1990s, Queen Elizabeth presided over reopening Canada House in 1998.

The Canadian government bought an adjacent building in 2012 and, after selling the High Commission’s administrative offices on Grosvenor Square, consolidated all of the Commission’s operations into a revitalized Canada House. Once again, the Queen has presided at the official reopening this month.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Okanagan winemaking star Stephanie Stanley heads to New Zealand

Photo: Winemaker Stephanie Stanley

One of Andrew Peller Ltd.’s top winemakers, Stephanie Stanley, is leaving the Kelowna winery to begin work in March, 2015, at Wither Hills in New Zealand.

“It is something I have always dreamt of doing,” she says. “When I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I figured out that winemaking is something where I could incorporate science, which is my skill, and my love for travelling and languages. I thought wine can take me around the world.”

Her departure leaves a hole in the Okanagan winemaking talent pool. She joined Calona Wines in 2003 upon graduating from Brock University’s enology program. An honours graduate, she won the President’s Medal as the Brock’s top graduate that year.

When Andrew Peller acquired Calona in 2005, Howard Soon, the senior winemaker at Calona and Sandhill Wines, gave Stephanie responsibility for making the Peller wines in the Okanagan. A few years ago, she also added the same role for making Wayne Gretzky Okanagan wines. Her wines have won three Lieutenant Governor’s awards of excellence (among other awards).

A native of Kelowna, Stephanie discovered her avocation when she took time off from studying college-level science to work six months in a restaurant in Germany’s Pfalz winegrowing region.

“There were wine festivals every weekend, every other weekend,” she remembers. “Working in the restaurant, I just loved the social aspect of it and just loved the whole industry. It brought people together. It was a good lifestyle. I realized there is some kind of science involved in it and that’s where I figured I could apply my science skills.”

Her future intentions include spending a year making wine in Germany, (she speaks the language). She would also like to gain some experience in Alsace.

“My favourite varieties I like to work on are Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling,” she says. “And I love Alsacian Gewürztraminer.”

Stephanie’s first exposure to New Zealand winemaking came in 2010 when she spend two months there during the crush. During that time, she and her husband, Bud, toured a number of wineries, including Wither Hills in Marlborough.

She began keeping an eye out for opportunities to work in New Zealand again. Late last year, she applied when Wither Hills posted a one-year job to replace a winemaker on maternity leave. Stephanie was the runner-up among the applicants but Wither Hills was sufficiently impressed to give her a four-month contract as an assistant winemaker and shift supervisor.

It gives her a foot in the door, should other opportunities come along.

She and Bud, who is managing editor for several online magazines, are making a fairly definitive break with Kelowna by selling their house. However, current plans will have them back in the Okanagan in August and perhaps another crush before heading off to other wineries abroad.

“I will be winemaker at large for a while, as long as we can make it work,” she says. “Eventually, I would love to come back to the Okanagan. I love what we have done with the industry here and where it is going.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Class of 2014: Roche Wines

 Photo: Winemaker Dylan Roche

New in the market, Roche Winery is a tiny artisanal producer that happens to make very good wines.

Roche did its first public tastings last summer, along with other artisanal wineries, at the Garagiste North festival, held on the grounds of Meyer Family Vineyards at Okanagan Falls.

Now, the owners Dylan and Pénélope Roche have been introducing the wines into the market. So far, they have a grand total of 300 cases. These are now available in the leading private wine stores in Vancouver as well as in the B.C. Wine Information Centre in Penticton and the B.C. Wine Museum in Kelowna. They are also on several top restaurant wine lists, including Hawksworth in Vancouver and Bogner’s in Penticton.

These are New World wines with the fingerprints of France all over them: the owners are both trained in France.

Dylan was born in Vancouver in 1976, the son of a lawyer and a nurse, and got a degree in urban geography from the University of British Columbia. He had been a shop manager in a a Vancouver bicycle store while in college. With that experience, he went to Burgundy in 2000 as a bike mechanic and cycling guide.

That was where he “suffered a conversion experience,” as he says on the Roche website ( He began exploring wineries in France and Italy. By 2003, he was enrolled in enology studies in Beaune.

By dint of hard work, he filled his resume with jobs at various French wineries while also working with Butterfield & Robinson, the Canadian-based cycle tour company.

His winery resume includes:

* Winemaking apprenticeships in Côte d’Or, Chablis and New Zealand over five years.

* Wine educator and program director at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac from  March, 2006 to February 2008.

* Assistant winemaker at two estates in Péssac-Léognan.

* Winemaker at Château Bellevue de Tayac in Margaux from 2010 until returning to Canada in 2012 to work in the Okanagan, where he is now the winemaker at Intersection Estate Winery.

Pénélope, his wife and partner in Roche Wines, was born in France, with five generations of winemaking and viticulture behind her in the family estate, Château Les Carmes in Haut-Brion. She also has formal winemaking and experience in Spain, New Zealand and Australia.

While Dylan has been busy at the Intersection winery and vineyard, Pénélope has worked with the vineyards that supplied the grapes for their debut wines here.

The Chardonnay is made with fruit from the Coulombe Vineyard, a half-acre block of Chardonnay south of Oliver. The Pinot Gris is from Kozier Organic Vineyard near Naramata.

Roche Wines has yet to license its own winery. However, they are able to produce the wines under the license of Parallel 49 Vineyards (the license under which Intersection operates).

Perhaps an independent winery is in the cards down the road: Dylan and Pénélope bought an eight-acre block last summer on Upper Bench Road in Penticton. Currently, that includes 3.5 acres of Schönburger (under contract to another winery) and one acre of Zweigelt. Dylan made a rosé from the Zwiegelt. The couple are considering other varietals that may or may not be planted after the Schönburger contract ends in 2017.

Roche Wines will release 180 cases of rosé this summer at $20 a bottle. The couple also have 300 cases of Pinot Noir still in barrel and not yet priced.

Here are notes on the current releases. Not reviewed is a 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay. Dylan made 40 cases and sold it all to Merchant’s Oyster Bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive.

Roche Chardonnay 2012 ($28.90 for 85 cases). This wine was fermented in French oak barrels (one was new) and remained on the yeast lees for six months. This is a wine with pure focussed fruit on the nose and palate, with aromas of citrus and a note of brioche. It tastes of lemon and fresh apples, with a good backbone of minerals and with bright acidity. With a few years of age, this will develop Burgundian characters. 90.

Roche Pinot Gris 2013 ($26.90 for 175 cases). This wine was also fermented in barrel – neutral French oak – and remained on the lees for 10 months. It is one of the most complex Pinot Gris wines I have seen in a long time. Think of Alsace. The racy acidity gives the wine a bright, refreshing attack. It has aromas of pear and spice and flavours of apple, melon and citrus. The flavours seem to come in richly-textured layers and the finish is very long. The winemakers give this an aging potential of four to six years, a recommendation that speaks to the wine’s complexity. 92. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Township 7's Reserve 7 Meritage

During the past decade or so, a growing number of British Columbia wineries have added premium-priced flagship wines to their portfolios.

It is all part of the maturing of the industry. Mature vines are producing better grapes. Winemakers have accumulated more experience and training. Wineries have invested in significantly better winemaking equipment. We should expect better wines.

For various reasons, I have begun to explore the back stories on some of these wines. This blog is about Township 7’s premium Bordeaux blend, Reserve 7. The 2012 vintage is the current release.

Reserve 7 was born in 2006 when Mike Raffan, a former restaurateur, bought the winery from its founders, Corey and Gwen Coleman. The winemaker at the time was Brad Cooper and Mike asked him to make a “high performance” wine.

It was their good fortune that 2006 was a strong Okanagan vintage. Brad was able to make good Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc varietals sourced from a contracted grower on Black Sage Road. The varietals were aged individually in barrel until Brad was ready to put together a 200-case blend from the “best” barrels.

That first Reserve 7 was 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. A label was commissioned from Robb Dunfield, a quadriplegic Vancouver painter. Part of the proceeds from the sale of the wine, which was released in 2008, went to the Rick Hansen Foundation. 

The winery has made Reserve 7 blends every vintage since and has integrated them into its portfolio with a conventional label. The volume of Reserve 7 has risen to  500 cases a year and likely is capped around that level.

Much of the fruit in the blend is from the six-hectare (15-acre) Blue Terrace Vineyard. Located on Tuc-El-Nuit Road northeast of Oliver, it was planted in 1998 with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Township 7 began buying Blue Terrace grapes in 2000. Andy Marsel, the owner, subsequently planted, and then sold, a similar sized vineyard nearby in a former gravel pit. Now called Rock Pocket, this also supplies fruit for Township 7. The gravel-rich soils in this area sets it apart from the more sandy soils further south on Black Sage Road.

Township 7 has since contracted additional from vineyards in Okanagan Falls and the Similkameen Valley. It also has Merlot and a modest quantity of Malbec and Petit Verdot growing in the estate vineyard near Penticton.

New owners took over Township 7 last year. They have left Mike in place as general manager and he is maintaining the portfolio.

However, Brad Cooper has moved to Serendipity Winery. Ontario-born Mary McDermott took over as Township 7’s winemaker in 2014. With her background and with the superb quality of the 2014 vintage, there is potential to take Reserve 7 to yet another level. A graduate of Brock University winemaking program, she worked at three top Ontario wineries: Stratus Vineyards, Cave Spring Cellars and, from 2010 to 2014, at Trius Winery. She brings techniques learned in producing the iconic Trius Grand Red which, currently, sells for double the price of Reserve 7.

Here are notes on two current releases from Township 7.

Township 7 Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($25.99 for 188 cases). This wine is available only the wine club members at Township 7. This wine was fermented and aged in one-year-old American oak for 12 months. It begins with aromas of tangerines and cloves, leading to layered flavours of mango and citrus with hints of butterscotch. The texture is full, almost creamy, but the finish is crisp. 91.

Township 7 Reserve 7 Meritage 2012 ($35.99 for 488 cases). The blend is 70% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 5.5% Cabernet Franc and 2.5% Petit Verdot.  The wine was aged 22 months in French and American oak barrels and the blend was a best barrels selection.  It begins with aromas of black cherry, currants, vanilla and fruitcake spices, leading to bright, vibrant flavours of cherry and boysenberry, with a note of cedar.  The firm tannins require decanting for consumption now; but this has good potential for aging. The winery suggests cellaring a further six to 10 years. 91

Monday, February 9, 2015

Meadow Vista Honey Wines raises its profile

Photo: Meadow Vista's Judie Barta

Until last summer, Meadow Vista Honey Wines, which opened in 2009, was tucked away in a nondescript industrial building in West Kelowna beside Highway 97.

It was hard to make a tasting room in that location appealing. That was not doing the business any good when mead still is a hand sell in British Columbia.

After search for several years, Judie Barta, Meadow Vista’s owner, finally found a silent investor that allowed her to move from what she called “cinder block city” to an attractive cottage on a small farm in East Kelowna last summer. Even the address is appealing: 3975 June Springs Road.

To be sure, there was more traffic on Highway 97, but most of it was just driving by. Visitors may have to work a little harder to find her in East Kelowna (a good GPS will help). When they do, they will find a bright and cheerful tasting room in a garden-like setting, along with such amenities as a bocce court.

The move also enabled her to convert from a commercial to a land-based winery license by virtue of the cultured blackberries and other fruit grown here. She is just releasing her first blackberry mead.

“I have a winery license like every other winery but I don't have the opportunity to be VQA because I am not 100% BC grapes,” she laments. The VQA designation, of course, applies only to grape wines, not fruit wines or mead.

Ironically, Judie and her staff will lead you through a tasting of meads that are surprisingly wine-like, including a bottle-fermented sparkling mead called Joy.  Michael Mosny, the mead maker at Meadow Vista, is actually a winemaker. He also works at Sonoran Estate Winery.

Judie recently hosted tastings in Vancouver’s Legacy Liquor Store, part of the strategy to raise Meadow Vista’s profile and to educate consumers on mead. She has a feeling of déjà vu about that.

“When I first worked for Sumac Ridge in 1993, there were 16 wineries and VQA was just launched,” she recounts. “I can tell you people had no clue what a grape varietal was. I am still in that position of education. I feel more like a teacher than a sales rep.”

Unlike most wines, the meads do not have vintage dates.

“We are not vintage dating anymore because it did not make sense,” Judie says. “Honey being the only non-perishable food on the planet, it won’t change. We are going to a batch program and you can reference each batch if the spices are different.”

Here are notes on Meadow Vista meads.

Meadow Vista Cloud Horse ($22). This is made just with blueberry honey and water. It is a crisp, refreshing mead with the weight of a white wine. The honey gives it a floral, almost spicy aroma and delivers a lingering fruitiness to the dry palate. 88.

Meadow Vista Mabon ($22). This spiced metheglin style honey wine combines coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg with organic honey. The flavours are a blend of spice with fruity notes, such as strawberry. Medium-bodied, the mead is just slightly off-dry. 88. 

Meadow Vista Bliss ($15 for 500 ml, $27 for a litre). This is a carbonated sparkling cherry and honey wine. The cherries give it a vibrant colour and a cherry flavour. The impression of light oak comes from the cherry pits. This festive wine is very well balanced to dance lightly on the palate and finish fresh and dry. 90.

Meadow Vista Rubus ($22). This is a blackberry and honey melomel mead. Juicy and full-bodied, this is a red wine drinker’s mead. Tasting of blackberry, it finishes dry. 89.

Meadow Vista Ostara ($22). This is a floral, aromatic pyment style, with late harvest Pinot Gris wine grapes blended into this delicate honey wine. The wine has an appealing core of honeyed fruit flavours but is so well balanced that the finish is clean and refreshing. This mead is listed in select Liquor Distribution Branch stores. 90.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Spierhead commits to Pinot Noir

Photo: SpierHead Winery

When East Kelowna’s SpierHead Winery released its first Pinot Noir from the 2010, proprietor Bill Knutson priced the wine only $18 a bottle because it was a “juvenile wine.” 

In the vintages since (except for the hail-damaged 2013), the estate’s Gentleman Farmer Vineyard has proven itself as excellent Pinot Noir terroir. A multitude of Pinot Noir clones have been, or will be, planted as the winery is making a big bet on Pinot Noir.

“At SpierHead, we have decided to go all in with the heartbreak grape,” Bill said in a letter that accompanied the recent sample release. “It is already our largest planting and this past spring [2014], we planted a further five acres of Pinot Noir. We will be planting more in 2015 and, as some clones require a two-year lead time for delivery, we have more Pinot Noir coming in 2016.”

In a following email conversation, he elaborated that “approximately nine of our 12 planted acres consist of Pinot Noir. My plan is to establish a vineyard with a broad diversity of clones to enable some experimentation with combinations and possibly single clone wines.”

Bill continues: “In our original four acres of pinot noir we have Dijon clones 115, 777 and 828.  We don’t have much of the 828 and as we think it is our most successful performer, we planted another 4,000 vines of 828 in 2014.  We also added a fourth Dijon clone in 2014, putting in about 3,000 clone 667 vines.” 

In 2015, SpierHead will plant some Mt. Eden clone Pinot Noir, one of the so-called heritage clones grown in California.

A further two acres of Pinot Noir will be planted next year. “I would have done it this year except that I couldn’t get the clones that I wanted,” Bill says. “I have ordered a few thousand each of Pommard and Dijon #943.  Pommard is one of the clones that is widely used in Oregon.  It is usually regarded as bringing a spicy element to the wine.  943 is a relatively new Dijon clone which is proving very hard to get. It is receiving rave reviews, especially in New Zealand.” 

“Our goal,” Bill writes, “is to be one of the wineries mentioned in any conversation concerning the top Pinot Noir producers in B.C.”

The hail damage in 2013 in the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard required SpierHead to source additional Pinot Noir elsewhere in the Okanagan. One source is the Golden Retreat Vineyard in Summerland, already a supplier of Pinot Gris to SpierHead.

Golden Retreat is operated by David Kozuki, a grower whom Bill describes as being “very conscientious.” In fact, the fruit is so good that SpierHead has decided to bottle a limited run of a vineyard-designed Pinot Noir from Golden Retreat.

“From the 2015 harvest, assuming no hail,” Bill says, “we’ll do a vineyard-designated wine from Kozuki’s vineyard and we’ll also do one from our own vineyard.” 

SpierHead’s current releases include its first reserve, called Pinot Noir Cuvée. The initial release from 2013 is a little over 100 cases. “Going forward we plan to produce annually a small quantity of a cuvée, made from our best available barrels,” Bill writes. 

As part of the Pinot Noir focus, the winery - which also produces Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay – will be dropping Pursuit and Vanguard, the Bordeaux blends it had been making since the 2009 vintage.

“Our last vintage of Vanguard and Pursuit will be 2013, which we’ll bottle in June,” Bill says. “All along we have bought the Bordeaux reds for these wines from Harry McWatters’ Sundial vineyard on Black Sage Road.” (Harry is currently building his own winery on that vineyard, although he continues to sell grapes to other clients.)

Bill points out that SpierHead is nor growing Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon on the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard. “And I don’t think it would make sense to plant those varietals in our area.”

In any event, SpierHead intends to focus on Pinot Noir and “do a good job with it,” Bill says. 

Here are notes on three current releases from SpierHead.

SpierHead Chardonnay 2013 ($22.90 for 270 cases). About 30% of this wine was aged 10 months in French oak; the rest was aged in stainless steel. The oak is very subtle in this fresh and lively wine with its laser-like fruit aromas and flavours. There are citrus aromas and flavours of green apples and honeydew melons. The wine also shows a good spine of minerality. The finish is crisp. 90.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2013 ($24 for 600 cases). The wine is made with three clones of Pinot Noir – 115 (68% of the blend), 667 and the Pommard clone. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak. The alcohol is a moderate 12.4% but, as is often the case with good Pinot Noir, the silky texture is fuller than the alcohol would indicate. There are aromas of cherry and strawberry, leading to flavours of   cherry and raspberry. 90.

SpierHead Pinot Noir Cuvée 2013 ($32.90 for 100 cases, 24 magnums and six double magnums.) The same three clones are in this wine, with Pommard, at 44%, taking the lead. This seductive wine is a hedonistic beauty. It begins with alluring aromas of raspberry jam with notes of cherry. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak – just enough oak to support a rich bouquet of cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavours. The texture is silky with just enough tannin to take this wine to a peak in four or five years. 93.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Class of 2015: Anarchist Mountain Vineyard

 Photo: Anarchist Mountain's Terry Meyer-Stone and Andrew Stone

Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, a new producer from Osoyoos, had its “coming out” that the recent Taste BC event in Vancouver.

What a coming out it was! The winery’s Wildfire Pinot Noir 2012 received a gold medal and the Elevation Chardonnay 2012 earned a silver.

Until now, this producer has flown below the radar screen. It is not yet a licensed winery (because its production is too small) but uses the license of Meyer Family Vineyards. Terry Meyer Stone, who operates Anarchist Mountain with her partner, Andrew Stone, is a sister of JAK Meyer.

The couple own one of the highest elevation vineyards (1,700 feet) in the Okanagan, with 4 ½ acres of vines on the side of Anarchist Mountain overlooking Osoyoos and the valley. A site with a jaw-dropping view, it very likely is the last vineyard to be touched by the sun at the end of the day. Heat units are not an issue here; nor, with superb air flow down the mountain, is frost much of a risk.

This remarkable site was planted in 1985 by Anthony Dekleva. To hear Terry and Andrew talk of him, he was a colourful individual. He maintained a gold claim on the property for some time, thinking that there might be gold since there is a history of gold production in the south Okanagan.

He was also adept at water witching, or dowsing. Now, there is a great deal of scepticism about water witching but it seems that he found the wells on the property that now irrigate the vines.

“He is definitely a pioneer,” Andrew Stone says. “He wanted to build a winery and a tasting room here. He had some health problems and could not complete his dream. He was a good winemaker and made some wine from these grapes.”

Anthony sold the vineyard in 1993 to Michael Mauz, a German-trained viticulturist now working with Mission Hill Family Estates.

Terry and Andrew bought the vineyard early in 2010, a move that involved significant career changes for these two native Albertans.

“I used to host a television show in Edmonton for seven years, a daytime one-hour talk show,” Terry says. “After that, two friends and I started a company called Three Blondes and a Brownie, and we sold low fat muffins to McDonalds nationally, for seven years.”

“I bounced around, trying to figure out what my place was, really,” says Andrew, who was born in 1972. “I started off in the oil fields. That’s where I grew up. It was difficult to have a real life there, so I quit that and went to school and got some education to be a systems analyst. I got a job just before Y2K, worked in a downtown office and lived downtown. I was a real city kid and lived the dream, so to speak. But what I missed the most was being outdoors.”

They got the opportunity after Terry’s brother, JAK, bought a vineyard late in 2008 near Okanagan Falls and asked them to help get the Meyer Family winery up and running.

“It was never on either of our radars to do this,” Terry said later. “For JAK, too, it was a chance conversation he had one night with James Cluer. They were just going to do a little bit of private label wines. He got into it and dragged us into it.  It is such a cool industry to be part of right now.”

Terry uses her marketing background now in running the Tinhorn Creek Vineyards wine club, one of the largest in the Okanagan. Andrew, who has taken viticulture courses, now is vineyard manager at Liquidity Vineyards.

Their vineyard perched on the side of the mountain has three acres of Chardonnay, one acre of Merlot and half an acre of Pinot Noir. There is also a small nursery on site and Andrew has been testing other varietals, although there is little room for additional vineyards here.

The production from 2012 is just 70 cases of each varietal because Andrew and Terry also have been selling their grapes to selected winemakers. That also serves as something of a tutorial in the potential of their grapes.

“When we made the first wine [a 2011 Chardonnay], we did not know what we had,” Andrew told me in 2013. “Now that it is in bottle, we like drinking it. The question has changed from ‘Do we have the right fruit to do this?’ to ‘Yes, we have the right fruit. Now what is the best way to develop a market?’”

“We have enough Chardonnay that we can do 500 cases,” Andrew added. “We could outsource the Pinot Noir and we could outsource the Merlot. We could buy fruit and ferment it here. We could do anything we want. The question is, will the public buy it? It does not seem smart to me to go from zero to 500 cases, because we don’t have a lot of contacts through sales channels.”

That was 2013. Now Anarchist Mountain has an agent in Vancouver and accolades that make the market sit up and take notice. You might find the wines in one of the Liberty Merchant Company stores (Liberty organizes Taste BC) or you could order from Anarchist Mountain’s web site. The Pinot Noir is sold out at the winery, however.

Here are notes on the wines.

Anarchist Mountain Elevation Chardonnay 2012 ($26 for 70 cases). This wine really reflects the terroir, with the minerality and texture one would expect from 30- year-old on a rocky site. The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus (lemon and lime) with very subtle oak notes and with refreshing acidity. The finish is crisp. This is an elegant and complex Chardonnay. 91.

Anarchist Mountain Wildfire Pinot Noir 2012 ($35 for 70 cases). As a winemaker, Andrew has had the advantage of being coached by Chris Carson from Meyer Family and Matt Holmes from Liquidity. It shows in this pretty and well-made wine. Aromas of cherry and strawberry are echoed on the palate, with delicate and lingering fruit flavours. Silky tannins give the wine good weight and a svelte texture. 91.