Sunday, May 31, 2015

Stag's Hollow delivers value

Photo: Winemaker Dwight Sick (left) and Larry Gerelus

The current releases from Stag’s Hollow Winery at Okanagan Falls include three wines offering excellent value.

This winery, which opened in 1996, has a portfolio of about two dozen wines, offered at a range of price points up to $40-$50. That includes one of the best Merlot wines in the Okanagan and a rare example of Grenache. These are wines appealing to collectors.

However, proprietor Larry Gerelus and Dwight Sick, his winemaker, are clearly not ignoring the average consumer who just wants a good bottle or two without breaking the bank.

The quality and the work that has gone into these three wines certainly would justify a higher price.

Start with the Sauvignon Blanc. One can dial in a crisp lemony white with laser beam freshness simply by fermenting it all in stainless steel. Dwight went for more complexity. While 80% was fermented in stainless, the other 28% was fermented slowly, at a cool temperature, in new French oak. (Do you know how expensive French oak is?) Then the wine spent two months on the lees which were stirred once a week.

Or take the Riesling. The grapes were harvested in two lots. The first lot was fermented in stainless steel for about 28 days at 15 degrees C; then fermentation was stopped to leave a touch of residual sugar. The second lot was fermented in new 300 litre French hogsheads (do you know how expensive French hogsheads are?). Fermentation of the second lot to total dryness was done with indigenous yeast. The wine was left on the lees for a month, with bi-weekly stirring. Then the lots were combined.

And the detail tweaking was not over. Dwight blended three per cent Muscat Ottonel into the final blend. What that adds is a noticeable hint of spice on the finish. It also helps to moderate the bracing acidity.

Or the Heritage Block: detailed winemaking went into this Bordeaux blend, including aging the wine 18 months in French and American oak. The five grapes in the blend were sourced from three different vineyards in the south Okanagan. Half the berries were left whole and uncrushed, a technique to capture more fruit but not too much tannin.

The bottom line is that the winery has put a lot of work into these three wines but has managed to release them at popular prices.

Here are notes.

Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17.99 for 399 cases).
The wine begins with aromas of guava and lime which are echoed in the flavour. The wine has good weight on the palate, the result of fermenting 20% in barrel and stirring the wine on its lees for two months. The lees work has added an herbal complexity to the dry and lingering finish. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Riesling 2014 ($17.99 for 849 cases). The bold aromas of lime and pink grapefruit give this wine immediate appeal in the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, green apple and stone fruit, with a hint of spice from the three per cent Muscat Ottonel blended into this wine. The bracing acidity gives the wine a crisp, dry finish. This wine has great aging potential. I would strongly urge cellaring this for several years so that bottle development fully unlocks all the qualities. 90-92.

Stag’s Hollow Heritage Block 2012 ($21.99 for 2,200 cases). This is a blend of 49% Merlot, 37.5% Cabernet Franc, 8.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine begins with aromas of black currants, black cherries, vanilla and chocolate. There are flavours of black cherry mingled with savoury hints of sage and cedar on the finish. The tannins are long and ripe. The wine’s 18 months aging in French and American oak have given the wine an accessible texture as well as an ability to age for at least five years. This is excellent value. 90.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Class of 2015: Bordertown Vineyards

 Photo: Bordertown owner Mohan Gill

Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery
9040 92nd Avenue,
Osoyoos, V0H 1V2
Telephone: 1.866.949.4210
Wine shop open 10 am-5 pm daily from mid-May to mid-October

The number of wineries in Osoyoos increased to six with the opening of Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery in May.

Bordertown greets visitors to the town with a highway-side wine shop immediately north of the community. The tasting room, with an entrance framed by stone-sheathed pillars, is an attraction that will not fail to draw wine tourists. 

Bordertown is the latest venture by an energetic agriculture entrepreneur named Mohan Gill.

Born in India in 1976, he came to the Okanagan with his parents in 1993. “March 10, 1993,” he says with striking precision.

“I went to Oliver Secondary School,” he recounts. “Then I started working.”

It seems he has never stopped working. He bought his first orchard (with an older brother) in 1996. He took other opportunities to expand until he and his brother today operate 110 acres of orchards in the Okanagan.

To accelerate his business, he began delivering his own fruit to Vancouver buyers in 1999 with his pickup truck. He turned over fruit delivery to another agency in 2007 but he still packs cherries, peaches and apples under his own brand. His customers include several major retailers.

Mohan dipped his toe into viticulture by planting two acres of grapes in 2005. A quick study, he was comfortable enough with grape growing that he expanded to 20 acres in 2007.

As he had done with tree fruits, he has continued to increase his vineyard holdings. He now grows 38 acres of grapes at two Osoyoos vineyards and another 50 acres in a Peachland vineyard. He has been selling grapes both to major Okanagan producers and to smaller producers, including Mark Simpson of B.C. Wine Studio. Mark was one of the people who encouraged Mohan to expand into winemaking.

Encouragement also came from Jason Parkes (left), the winemaker at First Estate Winery in Peachland. Consequently, Mohan engaged Jason as his winemaker. In its debut vintage in 2013, Bordertown made close to 3,000 cases of wine. Two-thirds was sold in bulk while 147 cases of Syrah and 586 cases of a Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend are being offered under the Bordertown label.

Bordertown’s production jumped to 10,000 cases in 2014, quickly transforming Osoyoos’s newest winery into one of its largest as well. Mohan also continues to sell grapes to other producers.

“On this property I am growing five different varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Viognier and Pinot Gris,” Mohan says, referring to the vineyard near the winery. He also has Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris and a young block of Grüner Veltliner.

The Peachland vineyard, a cooler terroir, is planted primarily in white varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.  He also grows Pinot Noir there.

Jason should have no problem coming up with interesting wines from a selection like that.

Mohan already has his next expansion in mind. “I have an orchard and a winery business,” he says. “When I have free time, I will also launch cider. The cider business is going well, too.”

Here are notes on Bordertown’s initial releases.

Bordertown Gewürztraminer 2014 ($18.99). Gold in hue, this is a rich and ripe wine with aromas and flavours of grapefruit. There is also the variety’s classic spicy aroma. The oily texture of the wine reminded me very much of an Alsace Gewürztraminer. 88.

Bordertown Pinot Blanc 2014 ($18.99). It is encouraging to see an excellent wine from a variety sometimes overlooked by consumers. The wine has aromas and flavours of apples. It is crisp and fresh on the palate with a dry finish and with good minerality. 90.

Bordertown Riesling 2014 ($18.99). This is a relatively light Riesling (alcohol of 11.15%) but it has a nice spine of minerals with aromas and flavours of lemon and lime that are still developing. The finish is dry. Cellar this wine for a year so that the flavours have a chance to emerge fully. 88.

Bordertown Living Desert Red 2013 ($24.99). This is a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, aged in American oak. This blend shows the power of Osoyoos reds. It begins with aromas of plum and blackberry mingled with a note of oak. It delivers flavours of black cherry, black currant and vanilla, with a finish that lingers. 90.

 Bordertown Syrah 2013 ($29.99). Again, the wine is bold and ripe. There are aromas and flavours of black cherries and plum mingled with black pepper and earthiness. 90.

Monday, May 25, 2015

SpierHead releases single vineyard wines

 Photo: SpierHead Winery

In late summer of 2013, a brief but devastating hail storm savaged the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard at SpierHead Winery in East Kelowna.

The setback prevented the winery from making either a vineyard-designated Pinot Noir or Riesling from that vineyard in 2013.

However, winery proprietor Bill Knutson reacted by sourcing Pinot Noir from a grower in Summerland, just released as the Golden Retreat Vineyard Pinot Noir. Bill also negotiated a long-term contract for these grapes. That is good news for lovers of SpierHead wines since it extends the winery’s admirable Pinot Noir portfolio.

The Golden Retreat Vineyard is also the source of Pinot Gris for SpierHead. As a result, the winery’s current releases include two vineyard-designated wines from Golden Retreat along with a Gentleman Farmer Riesling 2014, the latter vineyard having recovered from the previous year’s hail damage.

Both are excellent vineyards, judging from the wines. Gentleman Farmer typically produces Riesling with the bracing acidity and the 2014 is no exception.

Bill notes that the 2014 Pinot Gris is similar in style to the 2013 Pinot Gris. “That wine,” he says of the 2013, “won all kinds of accolades, including being named one of only five platinum winners at the 2014 B.C. Wine Awards.”

There is a longer-term appeal of Golden Retreat to SpierHead.   “The Golden Retreat Vineyard grows some different Pinot Noir clones from those in our vineyard,” Bill points out. “Most notably, the wine contains 60% Pommard, which is a clone that we do not grow, although I have a small amount coming for planting in 2016. To me, this clone introduces a spiciness that I don’t usually recognize in the Dijon clones.”

Here are notes three current SpierHead releases.

SpierHead Riesling 2014 Gentleman Farmer Vineyard ($19 for 200 cases). With an acidity of 9.2 grams a litre and just 4.3 grams of residual sugar, this is a wine with a crisp and tangy finish. It has aromas and flavours of lime and lemon, with a good spine of minerality. The wine is good now but has great potential to express its rich complexity better if cellared for several years. 88-92.

SpierHead Pinot Gris 2014 Golden Retreat Vineyard ($19 for 710 cases). The wine begins with an appealing aroma that mingles hints of herbs with citrus and apple. On the palate, there are flavours of melon and apple. The wine, fermented and aged in stainless steel, has good weight. 90.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2013 Golden Retreat Vineyard ($26 for 60 cases). This is 60% Pommard clone, 40% clone 667. The wine was barrel-aged 10 months in French oak (likely not new, judging from the fact the wine is fruit forward). The wine has aromas of cherries, leading to flavours of cherry and plum, with a hint of mocha. The wine has begun to develop the classic silky texture. That was more noticeable, along with a juicy concentration of flavour, when the wine was retasted the day after it was opened. Like the Riesling, the wine will evolve toward a peak in two or three years. 90.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Arrowleaf Cellars: too good to pass over

 Photo: Arrowleaf's beautiful new wine shop

At the recent All-Canadian Wine Championships, Arrowleaf Cellars of Lake Country won four gold medals and a bronze medal.

The wines that won gold were Riesling 2014, Pinot Gris 2014, Gewürztraminer 2014 and First Crush Rosé 2014. The bronze went to the winery’s 2012 Merlot.

Given that performance, I was stunned by what a food critic had to say about Arrowleaf in a weekend column on the North Okanagan in a national newspaper.

“If you have to skip one winery, take a pass on Arrowleaf Cellars,” the critic wrote. “The new glass-and-concrete facility may be gorgeous, but the wines, in my opinion, have always had an unpleasant musty flavour.”

The judges at the All-Canadians (I was one) had a more credible opinion of the wines.

So did the judges at the Okanagan Wine Festival “Best of Varietal Wine Awards” this spring. The four Arrowleaf wines that were finalists were the Riesling 2014, First Crush White 2014, Solstice Pinot Noir 2012, and Gewurztraminer 2014. 

Arrowleaf’s 2012 Pinot Noir got a gold medal last fall at the Mondial des Pinots competition in Switzerland.

One could go on. It is hardly unusual for Arrowleaf wines to garner awards. I have tasted Arrowleaf wines since the winery’s grand opening in 2003. I have never had a musty wine. Some wines have appealed to more than others but none has been flawed. Arrowleaf Gewürztraminer is often my go-to Okanagan Gewürztraminer.

There might be a few Okanagan wineries that don’t inspire much enthusiasm in me, but Arrowleaf has never been one.

And now that the winery has opened its new wine shop, you would be making a big mistake by giving the winery a miss.

The wine shop, which encompasses a barrel room and a private tasting room, is the work of architect Robert Mackenzie, the Kelowna architect who has designed a number of iconic wineries. This is his most beautiful winery building yet.

The building, which has a patio with terrific views over vineyards toward Okanagan Lake, also includes a restaurant called The Kitchen at Arrowleaf. It had just opened after the food critic was through Lake Country and it did not get reviewed.

I’d say that Arrowleaf was lucky on that score.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mission Hill changes the guard

 Photo: Courtyard and bell tower at Mission Hill

John Simes, the legendary chief winemaker at Mission Hill Family Estates, is turning over the cellar to Darryl Brooker, the currant winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery.

Darryl becomes Mission Hill’s chief winemaker with the 2015 vintage. John will now devote himself totally to managing the Okanagan vineyards that support Mission Hill and its sister wineries.

Mission Hill and the other wineries are operated by VMF Estates, the holding company set up in 2014 by Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl. The personnel change was announced today by VMF Estates.

The VMF wineries in addition to Mission Hill include CedarCreek (purchased in early 2014), Martin’s Lane (under construction near CedarCreek) and CheckMate Artisanal Winery. The latter is the former Antelope Ridge Winery on the Golden Mile, which Von Mandl acquired in 2012. The first CheckMate wines are expected to be released later this year.

Darryl Brooker clearly was one of the key assets that came with the purchase of Mission Hill.

Born in Canberra in 1973, Darryl (left) is a graduate of Charles Sturt University in Australia. He has a Bachelor of Applied Science - Wine Science, as well as a graduate diploma from Adelaide University in Wine Business.

He made wine at Villa Maria Estate in Hawkes Bay and at Mountadam Vineyards in Barossa Valley in Australia.  He came to Canada in 2003 when he was hired to launch Flat Rock Cellars in Ontario. He moved to the Andrew Peller group, working at Hillebrand and Thirty Bench, before joining CedarCreek in 2010.

He embraces both traditional and new world winemaking practices. He employs wild yeasts; he ferments some wines in concrete eggs. In 2013, CedarCreek became the first Okanagan winery to ferment some reds in a 400-litre clay amphora made in Italy.

He was also tasked with designing the new Martin’s Lane Winery, now completing construction. He also made the 2014 vintage for Martin’s Lane, a winery specializing in Pinot Noir and Riesling.

He is certainly stepping into big shoes. No winemaker has had as much impact on the Okanagan as John Simes, beginning with the 1992 Chardonnay that won the prestigious Avery’s Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London in 1994. It was almost certainly the first major award to an Okanagan wine from an international competition.

Born in 1950 at Palmerston North, near Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, John (below) at first put his applied science degree to work with an ice cream company. He joined Montana Wines Ltd., then New Zealand's largest winery, in 1978 and moved quickly from managing the bottle cellars to become a senior winemaker and vineyard manager.

In 1991 Mission Hill’s von Mandl began wooing John, whose wife Sheilagh is from Vancouver. The winemaker pondered the offer throughout the first half of 1992, accepting just before the vintage in the Okanagan.

He arrived at Mission Hill in September 1992, with some of the early grapes already arriving. "Most of the grapes in the Okanagan are harvested at the end of September and into early October. I had a chance to start to get things changed in the way the fruit was processed in the winery," he told me a few years later. "We totally changed almost everything that happened with the grapes, including when they were picked. I spent a huge amount of time trying to sweet talk the growers into not harvesting, to leave the fruit hanging on the vine."

Most of the Chardonnay for the award-winning wine came from vineyards in the Oliver area that have since been acquired by von Mandl. John was impressed as soon as he saw the grapes. "I could tell the fruit was brilliant," he told me. "I called Anthony [von Mandl, Mission Hill's owner] and I said this fruit tastes as good as I've ever seen Chardonnay taste. It cries out for new oak for barrel fermentation."

With the immediate green light from von Mandl, John had about 100 American oak barrels shipped to the winery in time to barrel-ferment the Chardonnay.  Some of the Chardonnay also was fermented in stainless steel tanks and the two lots were blended into the 1992 Grand Reserve Barrel Select Chardonnay, as the wine was called.

The award put the Okanagan on the map. It certainly transformed Mission Hill. "In terms of our company, the impact has been phenomenal," John told me later.  "It gave everyone in the organization confidence that we could do it, that the resource existed to make international quality wines, and that if we did, people would pay reasonable dollar values for them that would give us sufficient return to re-invest. Until that wine, the business confidence, from the owner of the company right down to the sales guys, wasn't there."

In the year after winning that award, Mission Hill began a $10 million capital expansion program. It included almost one million litres of new stainless steel processing equipment and hundreds of new oak barrels. In 1996 the winery purchased vineyard property, its first, at Osoyoos and began planting 150 acres of vines on a sun-baked site on the Canada-United States border. The winery has invested continually since then, both in vineyards and in state of the art winemaking facilities.

"The Chardonnay was the start," John said. "The Chardonnay is no longer the only wine which has done something worth talking about internationally.”

The pinnacle of the Mission Hill portfolio is Oculus, the Bordeaux blend that John first created in 1997. It crowns a large and impressive portfolio of wines, many of which are grown on the nearly 1,000 acres of estate-owned vineyards.

These vineyards now get John’s full attention. “I see our vineyards as the last frontier in allowing our wines to become amongst the most sought-after in the world,” he said in a statement. “With the von Mandl family’s commitment to continually raising the bar and their commitment to leading edge research and technology in our vineyards, there is no telling where we can go from here.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hester Creek and a Trebbiano skeptic

Photo: Hester Creek winery

At a recent tasting of Italian wines in Vancouver, I was directed to a particular producer from Tuscany, having been told his white wines were especially good.

It was good advice. The producer, who is not in this market, had a number of outstanding wines, including a very fine Trebbiano, a leading white variety in northern Italy.

When I had finished complimenting the producer on the wine, I added that a winery in the Okanagan also grows an excellent Trebbiano.

An expression of disbelief swept across his face. “Impossible,” he said. “You don’t have the soils.”

I explained that the Hester Creek vineyard is on an alluvial fan, rich with minerals and traces of old volcanic soil.

Next he said that it would be impossible because it rains all the time. He would not have known that there are two mountain ranges between Vancouver’s maritime climate and the dry Okanagan.

“The Okanagan,” I replied, “has the same average rainfall as Sicily.” That happens to be 20 inches a year.

A few other exchanges followed but I failed to persuade the Tuscan that that Trebbiano does thrive in the only vineyard in the Okanagan that grows it.

The irony is that the Trebbiano cuttings were brought from Italy by an immigrant named Joe Busnardo. In 1968 he had begun planting vines on that alluvial fan on what today is the Golden Mile. He also brought various other Italian varieties. Some succeeded, some did not.

Joe opened Divino Estate Winery in 1983. When he sold the property in 1996 to move to Vancouver Island, the new owners renamed the winery Hester Creek.

Trebbiano was one of the wines made at Divino. Subsequent owners have continued it. In recent vintages, Hester Creek winemaker Robert Summers has really raised the bar with improvements in the viticulture and in the bwinery.

It was a matter of great regret that I did not have a bottle handy to persuade, and astonish, the man from Tuscany. As good as his Trebbiano is, Hester Creek’s is a quality match.

In the notes that accompany the 2014, the winery says that its Trebbiano vines “respond well to precision viticulture, including controlled drip irrigation and selective canopy management, resulting in beautifully ripe and balanced fruit.”

As to winemaking, Hester Creek says: “Minimal intervention in the winery gets the best expression of character from these gnarled old vines. After de-stemming, half the berries are lightly crushed and the other half left intact in order to strike the right balance between flavour and structure. Carefully selected yeasts and a cool ferment result in a bright, well-balanced wine.”

Here is my note on the wine, as well as a note on a new vintage of the winery’s delicious Cabernet Franc rosé. Neither of these wines is in retail stores. You can get them at the winery or through Hester Creek’s wine club. Some of the Trebbiano is allocated to restaurants.

Hester Creek Trebbiano 2014 Old Vines Block 16 ($22.95 for 1,000 cases). This is a luscious white with honeyed aromas of passion fruit and with flavours of peaches, apricots and mangoes. There is a hint of spice (think baked apples) on the lingering finish. The wine has good weight on the palate. 92.

Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014 ($19.95 for 1,000 cases). The salmon pink colour and the generous fruit flavours get their start with 12 hours of extraction on the skins. The fermentation was long and cool and was stopped when 10 grams of residual sugar remained. That gives the wine its juicy texture. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb. 90.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Big haul of gold for BC at the All Canadians

Photo: Wild Goose wins best white wine of the year 

Wild Goose Vineyards is marking its 25th anniversary in style: at the recent All Canadian Wine Championships, the winery’s 2013 Stoney Slope Riesling was acclaimed as the white wine of the year.

Wild Goose also won several other awards, one of several wineries setting a hot pace for an impressive showing by British Columbia wineries.

The BC wineries entered 711 wines and won 263 medals, of which just over 100 were gold medals.

Ontario wineries entered 475 wines and won 148 awards.

In total, 1,356 wines were entered from producers in every province except Manitoba. This is the 35st year for the All Canadians. Competition organizers initially were based in Windsor. Last year, the organizers moved to Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario.

As a member of the judging panel, I was surprised that Ontario, which has more wineries than BC, entered significantly fewer wines – especially to a competition run in Ontario.

I would not be so arrogant as to suggest Ontario producers are afraid of the competition from BC. Trophies for the best red, the best sparkling wine and the best dessert wine all went to Ontario.

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery had the top red, the 2012 Delaine Vineyard Syrah. Inniskillin Wines, also of Niagara, had the best dessert wine with a 2012 Riesling Icewine. Featherstone Estate Winery’s 2011 Joy was named best sparkling wine.

The trophy for the best fruit wine went to a winery in Auclair, Québec, Domain Acer, for a quite remarkable product called Val Ambré. The flavours recall first rate Marsala. It is a 16% aperitif based on maple syrup. Acer is Latin for maple and Vallier Robert, the owner of this winery, has described himself as the “ambassador of maple.”

It still puzzles me why so many fine Ontario wineries did not compete. Having said that, some leading BC wineries also did not compete. Why not? Well, when you have earned a big reputation, it is embarrassing to get bronze medals.

Having judged in many wine competitions since 1982 (including this one), I don’t think bronze medals should be regarded as embarrassing, if only because judges are less than infallible. I think the judges under-rated or over-rated a few wines at the All Canadians this year. It is not easy to be spot on with every wine when tasting 100 wines a day.

Still, any wine that wins an award has merit.

The complete results for the completion are posted on

Let me just focus on just the gold and double gold medals won by BC wineries. (Double gold means best of class.) I limit this to BC because most of the readers of this blog are BC wine consumers.

Gold for sparkling wine:

  • Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estates 2010 Grand Reserve Entourage
  • Intrigue Wines “I Do” Non Vintage

Chardonnay Unoaked:

  • Double Gold to Monster Vineyards Skinny Dip Chardonnay 2014
  • Gold to Dirty Laundry Vineyard Not So Naughty Chardonnay 2013

Chardonnay under $20:

  • Double Gold to Terrabella Wineries Screaming Frenzy Chardonnay 2013
  • Gold to Intrigue Wines Chardonnay 2014
  • Gold to Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Chardonnay over $20:

  • Double Gold to Daydreamer Wines Marcus Ansems Chardonnay 2013

Gold to:

  • 8th Generation Chardonnay 2014
  • Dirty Laundry Naughty Chardonnay 2013
  • SpierHead Chardonnay 2013
  • Volcanic Hills Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Riesling Dry:

  • Double Gold to Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013

Gold to:

  • 8th Generation Riesling Classic 2014
  • CedarCreek Estate Riesling 2014
  • Red Rooster Winery Riesling 2013

Riesling Off Dry:

  • Double Gold to 8th Generation Riesling 2014
  • Gold to Arrowleaf Cellars Riesling 2014

Sauvignon Blanc:

  • Double Gold to Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2014
  • Gold to Gehringer Brothers Sauvignon Blanc 2014
  • Gold to Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2014


  • Double Gold to Wild Goose Mystic River Gewürztraminer 2014

Gold to:
  • Arrowleaf Gewürztraminer 2014
  • CedarCreek Estate  Gewürztraminer 2014
  • Dirty Laundry Woo Woo Vines Gewürztraminer 2014

Pinot Gris:

  • Double Gold to 50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2014

Gold to:

  • Arrowleaf Pinot Gris 2014
  • Chaberton Reserve Pinot Gris 2013
  • Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2014
  • Intrigue Pinot Gris 2014
  • Wild Goose Pinot Gris 2014


  • Double Gold to Ruby Blues Viognier 2014
  • Gold to Lang Vineyards Viognier 2014
  • Gold to Red Rooster Reserve Viognier 2014

White hybrid blends:

  • Double Gold to Beaufort Vineyard Beaudacious 2014
  • Gold to Beaufort Epic 2014
  • Gold to Ovino Winery Pinot Tramino 2014

Other single white vinifera:

  • Double Gold to Inniskillin Okanagan Discovery Series Chenin Blanc 2014

Gold to:

  • Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2013
  • Moon Curser Arneis 2014
  • Skimmerhorn Winery Ortega 2014

White vinifera blends:

  • Double Gold to Church & State Lost Inhibitions White 2014

Gold to:

  • Deep Roots Winery Parentage White 2014
  • Kraze Legz Vineyard Skaha Vineyard Mystique 2014
  • Time Winery Sundial 2013


  • Double Gold to Unsworth Vineyards Rosé 2014

Gold to:

  • Arrowleaf First Crush Rosé 2014
  • Gray Monk Rotberger Rosé 2014
  • Hillside Rosé 2014
  • St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Frizzanté Rosé 2014

Cabernet Sauvignon under $25:

  • Double Gold to Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
  • Gold to Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon over $25:

  • Double Gold to Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
  • Gold to Cassini Cellars Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  • Gold to Cassini Cellars Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Merlot under $25:

Gold to:

  • Blasted Church Merlot 2012
  • Castoro de Oro Merlot 2012
  • Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery Major Allen Merlot 2013
  • Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2012

Merlot over $25:

  • Gold to CedarCreek Desert Ridge Vineyard Platinum Merlot 2012

Pinot Noir under $25:

  • Double Gold to Dirty Laundry Pinot Noir 2013

Gold to:

  • Cana Vines Winery Bouquet NV
  • Cassini Cellars Red Carpet Pinot Noir 2013
  • EauVivre Winery Pinot Noir 2013
  • See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir 2012

Pinot Noir over $25:

  • Double Gold to Privato Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gold to Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2013

Cabernet Franc under $25:

  • Gold to Volcanic Hills Vineyard Cabernet France 2011

Cabernet Franc over $25:

  • Double Gold to Cassini Cellars Collector Series Cabernet Franc 2012
  • Gold to Hillside Cabernet Franc 2011
  • Gold to River Stone Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013

Bordeaux Blends under $25:

  • Double Gold to River Stone Estate Winery Stone’s Throw 2012
  • Gold to CedarCreek Estate Merlot Cabernet 2012
  • Gold to Lake Breeze Vineyards Meritage 2012
  • Gold to Time Estate Winery McWatters Collection Meritage 2012

Bordeaux Blends over $25:

  • Double Gold to Church & State Quintessential 2011
  • Gold to Cassini Cellars Maximus 2012
  • Gold to Church & State Quintessential 2010
  • Gold to Orofino Winery Beleza 2012

Syrah under $25:

  • Gold to Desert Hills Syrah 2010

Syrah over $25:

  • Gold to Black Hills Syrah 2012
  • Gold to CC Jentsch Cellars Syrah 2013
  • Gold to Dirty Laundry Kay Syrah 2013

Maréchal Foch:

  • Double Gold to Niche Wine Co. Black Sheep Release Maréchal Foch 2012

Other Single Red Hybrids:

  • Gold to Enrico Winery Cabernet Foch 2012

Red Hybrid Blends:

  • Double Gold to Skimmerhorn Winery Devil’s Chair 2013
  • Gold to Beaufort Vineyard Nouveau 2014
  • Gold to Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up Red 2013

Other Single Red Vinifera:

  • Double Gold to Deep Roots Gamay 2014
  • Gold to Blasted Church Holy Moly 012
  • Gold to Church & State Coyote Bowl Malbec 2012

Other Red Vinifera Blends:

  • Double Gold to Moon Curser Dead of Night 2012

Gold to:

  • Cassini Cellars Quattro 2012
  • Nk’Mip Cellars Talon 2013
  • See Ya Later Ranch Major’s Block Red 2012
  • Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cabernets 2012

Soft Fruit Dry:

  • Double Gold to Silverside Farm and Winery Tayberry Wine 2014
  • Gold to Silverside Farm and Winery Wild Raspberry 2014

Soft Fruit Dessert:

  • Gold to Krause Berry Farms Eureka N/V

Tree Fruit Dry:

  • Gold to Blue Moon Estate Winery Phoenix 2014

Fruit Sparkling:

  • Double Gold to Krause Berry Farms Sparkling Raspberry N/V

Late Harvest Wines:

  • Gold to Wild Goose Botrytis-Affected Riesling 2013

Riesling Icewine:

  • Gold to Gehringer Brothers Signature Riesling Icewine 2013
  • Gold to Inniskillin Okanagan Riesling Icewine 2012

Other Icewines:

  • Double Gold to Lulu Island Winery Riesling Chardonnay Icewine 2013

Red Icewine:

  • Double Gold to Inniskillin Okanagan Discovery Series Tempranillo Icewine 2012

Grape Fortifieds and other Dessert:

  • Double Gold to Maverick Estate Winery Sofia 2012
  • Gold to Adega on 45th Estate Winery Portao di Adega N/V


Friday, May 15, 2015

Quails' Gate's 2014 harvest was its biggest

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

When reviewing the Quails’ Gate releases a year ago, I speculated that Nikki Callaway, the winemaker who had joined Quails’ Gate in 2013, was finishing the whites a little drier than her predecessor.

I may have belaboured the point. On looking at the specifications for the 2014 wines, I note a few in which the residual sugar is a touch higher than the year before. But I think it is more sensible to conclude that she is just responding to what the vintage has given her.

The delicious rosé, for example, has eight grams per litre of residual sugar in 2014 compared with 4.6 grams in 2013. The acidity is similar in both years. The difference surely is too small to be generally noticeable; perhaps the texture might have a little more flesh, if one had the two wines side by side.

The wines in the current release are all her wines. The winemaker change has not interrupted the continuity of Quails’ Gate’s quality. A friend who is a very knowledgeable taster thinks the quality has even risen from the quite high level previously set by her predecessor, Grant Stanley.

I am not choosing sides. There is not a single wine made by either that is not excellent.

In her report on the vintage, Nikki says that the 2014 harvest was the largest crop Quail’s Gate has ever seen (Quails’ Gate is 26 years old this year).

“We were very fortunate to have an incredible harvest, both in volume and in quality,” she writes.  “The whites were clean an aromatic and the reds were full of flavours tannins. … All the wines this year seem to be very fruit-forward and full of ripe flavours. They have an intensity and weight to them that gives the wines a roundness and a soft finish.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2014 ($17.11 for 7,700 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromas of orange and grapefruit rind, with rose petal spice. The touch of residual sweetness lifts the flavours of lychee and grapefruit and gives the wine a juicy texture. This will be a crowd pleaser. The production volume certainly telegraphs the winery’s confidence. 90.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2014 ($17.11 for 2,580 cases). In a Riesling, dry is a matter of balance. This wine has 12.6 grams of residual sugar offset by 8.8 grams of acidity. As a result it tastes crisply dry. However, the sugar lifts the aromas and flavour. There are appealing notes of lime on the nose and on the palate, along with a great backbone of minerality. That results because the vines producing this fruit are 29 years old. The winery suggests that classic Riesling characters, including rich marmalade aromas and flavours, will start to show in two or three years. The wine can be cellared seven to 10 years. 91.

Quails’ Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2014 ($19.18 for 17,500 cases). This is the winery’s most popular wine, with a volume larger than a majority of the Okanagan’s wineries. It is a blend of 39% Chasselas, 33% Pinot Gris and 28% Pinot Blanc. It is a wine with floral and fruity aromas, leading to generous flavours of melon, pear and apple, with just a trace of sweetness on the finish. The balance is such that the finish, which lingers, is basically dry. 90.

Quails’ Gate Rose 2014 ($18.14 for 7,975 cases). The astonishing production indicates just how big the demand is for rosé. Quails’ Gate is one of the wineries that has driven this market over the past decade with flavour-packed rosé. This dry rosé is 80% Gamay Noir, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Gris, all kept separate during fermentation and then blended. The wine has an appealing salmon pink hue with aromas of strawberry and cranberry. On the palate, this is a big, satisfying bowl of fruit – strawberry, watermelon and pink grapefruit. 90.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2013 ($28.15 for 4,345 cases). This is a silky wine with great intensity of aroma and flavour. It begins with cherry aromas accented with cloves. On the palate, the wine is generous with flavours of cherry mingled with spice and a pleasant earthiness. 91.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013 ($22.17 for 8,960 cases). Half of this wine was fermented in barrel, half in stainless steel tanks. Hence, the winemaker achieved the best of both worlds: the bright fruit aromas and flavours hold centre stage with subtle oak notes adding complexity. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and melon and a hint of cloves. On the palate, there are lively flavours of citrus and pear. Good acidity gives this crisp wine a finish that is bright and refreshing. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 ($45.17 for 2,030 six bottle cases). This rich and full-bodied Pinot Noir is delicious now, with the power and the structure that will support aging it at least until 2020. The winery picked fruit from mature vines (11 to 28 years old). The grapes were chilled in the winery to allow several days of cold-soaking on the skins. Then the wine was allowed to ferment spontaneously. In all, it spent nearly a month on the skins. It was aged 10 months in French oak (50% new). The wine begins with spicy dark cherry aromas, leading to layered flavours of cherry and mocha. The svelte texture has begun to develop the classic silkiness of the variety. The finish is very long. 92-94.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Covert Farms releases grand reserves

 Photo: Covert Farms proprietor Gene Covert
In July, historic Covert Farms will hold a dinner to mark proprietor Gene Covert’s 10th anniversary as a wine grower.

Covert Farms was established in 1959 on the plateau just south of McIntyre Bluff by George Covert, a Californian who came to the Okanagan to grow tomatoes, onions, tree fruits and, ultimately, grapes. The vineyard was large enough in the early 1980s that a mechanical harvester was tested (with indifferent results, for the early harvesters mangled the vines). Except for six hectares (15 acres) of table grapes, vines were pulled out in 1988 to make way for new apple varieties.

Wine grapes returned, beginning in 2005. Gene Covert, a third-generation owner of the farm, planted the five Bordeaux reds as well as Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne.  

Farming is in Gene’s blood. Born in 1971, he is grandson of the farm’s founder. He joined the family business after getting a degree in physical geography. His wife, Shelly, an Edmonton-born teacher, runs the farm’s market which sells organically-grown produce directly to the public. 

The 243-hectare (600-acre) Covert Farms property, which is in the lee of McIntyre Bluff north of Oliver, achieved organic certification in 2010 and is believed to be the largest organic farm in the Okanagan. That includes the grapes on the winery’s 12-hectare (30-acre) vineyard along with fruits, vegetables and more than 15 varieties of tomatoes.

The winery’s appeal encompasses the farm’s many other attractions, ranging from farm festivals, guided tours and shopping at the farm market or picking your own produce. There is a hiking trail to the top of McIntyre Bluff. New since 2013 is a growing agricultural museum called the Covert Farms Agricultural Preservation Society.

The current releases include two limited production grand reserve wines, available primarily at the winery or in six-bottle lots through the winery’s website.

Here are notes on the wines.

Covert Farm Family Estate Rosé 2013 ($18.25). This wine begins with an appealing cherry hue. It has aromas of cherries with an undertone of pomegranate and sweet tobacco. It may sound like an odd descriptor for a rosé but it sets up a savoury complexity which carries through to the palate with cherry and strawberry flavours. This is 75% Merlot, 21% Pinot Noir and 4% Syrah, co-fermented and aged on the lees. Note the wine also has a year of bottle age. With a dry finish, this is a rosé to pair with grilled salmon. 90.

Covert Farm Family Estate Amicitia Red 2012 ($24.34). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, and 12% each of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a bold, ripe red (14.6% alcohol), with aromas of spice, plum and black currant. On the palate, the flavours recall a rich, spicy Christmas fruitcake, with notes of plum, fig, black cherry and vanilla. The long ripe tannins give the wine an almost silky finish, but with enough structure to age. 92.

Covert Farm Family Estate Zinfandel Grand Reserve 2012 ($41.65 for 50 cases). “On occasion, an exceptional example shines through in a season,” Gene Covert writes. “Zinfandel was one of those bright stars in 2012.” The winery cropped the variety very low, harvesting 1.15 tons an acre. The grapes were fermented 22 days in open-top fermenters and then aged 12 months in French oak. This is a wine that begins with aromas of blackberry and graphite, going on to layers of flavour – blackberry, black cherry, figs, plums and chocolate. 92.

Covert Farm Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve 2012 ($51.22 for 50 cases). This was another star in the 2012 vintage. Again, the crop was extremely low, just 1.08 tons an acre. The grapes were fermented 27 days in open top fermenters. The wine was aged 13 months in French oak. This is a powerful and concentrated wine (14.1% alcohol, with aromas of cassis, black cherry and leather. On the palate there are savoury flavours of fruit, cocoa and spice with a lovely core of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. This will keep improving with cellaring at least for 10 years. 93.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Orofino Vineyards at 10 years

Photo: Orofino's John and Virginia Weber (courtesy Orofino Vineyards)

John and Virginia Weber, the owners of Orofino, were wine industry novices when they moved from Saskatchewan in March, 2001, to take over a 4 ½-acre vineyard near Cawston.

“We spent the first year on a huge learning curve,” remembers John, a former teacher. Virginia is a nurse.

They opened the winery 10 years ago, becoming arguably the most successful winery in the Similkameen. Today, Orofino is producing about 5,000 cases of wine a year. All but one of the wines is from Similkameen vineyards.

The portfolio of 14 wines spans an impressive range, including a sparkling wine, single vineyard Rieslings, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. This spring, the winery has released five reds from 2012, an excellent vintage in the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys.

Here are notes on the wines.

Orofino Pinot Noir Home Vineyard 2012 ($32). Five clones of Pinot Noir are combined in this complex Pinot Noir. It begins with aromas of strawberry and cherry accented by the so-called forest-floor notes prized by aficionados of Pinot Noir. The flavours are rich and toasty, with earthy notes of strawberry and leather. The texture is firm but beginning to evolve toward silkiness. 90.

Orofino Red Bridge Red 2012 ($25). The grapes are from a Kaleden vineyard. This is a bold Merlot, beginning with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, blueberry, chocolate and vanilla. The latter note and the svelte texture result from aging this wine 20 months, without racking, in French and American oak. 89.

Orofino Passion Pit Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($29). The name recalls the uses of this vineyard when it was still a gravel pit. Now, it grows exemplary Cabernet Sauvignon. It is one of the hottest sites in the Similkameen Valley; this wine has a robust 14.9% alcohol. The colour is dark. Aromas of vanilla, dark fruits including black cherry and sage brood in the glass. The palate shows rich, almost porty, flavours recalling fruit cake. All of this revolves around a bright core of sweet cassis. Twenty months in French and American oak have given this wine a svelte texture. There is a note of cracked black pepper on the finish. A tour de force. 92.

Orofino Scout Vineyard Syrah 2012 ($29 for 500 cases). Dark in colour, the wine pulls you in with aromas of black cherries, prune plums, deli spices and white pepper. That leads to a full-bodied red with earthy and gamey flavours supporting spicy black cherry notes wrapped up with pepper. This was aged 20 months in barrel, mostly French. Once again, the wine shows Orofino’s signature polished texture, with a long juicy finish. 91.

Orofino Beleza 2012 ($34). This is Orofino’s flagship Bordeaux blend from an excellent, ripe vintage. The alcohol is a robust 14.8%. The wine is a powerhouse of almost port-like fruit that creates a rich, intense mid-palate. It begins with aromas of dark fruits and chocolate, leading to flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of sage on the finish. The blend is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot, each aged separately for 20 months in French oak before blending. 92.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Clos du Soleil builds new winery and tasting room

Photo: Clos du Soleil managing partner and winemaker

Wine touring gets better in the Similkameen Valley in a few weeks when Clos du Soleil Winery opens its new tasting room.

The winery began selling its wines in 2008 without a wine shop because the production was modest at first. A few years ago, a small tasting room was created in a heritage house (left) that was on the property when it was a honey producer. The house is now gone, replaced by a 4,000 square foot winery which incorporates the new wine shop. Siding boards were salvaged from the heritage building for use in the wine shop.

“The entire tasting room, including the façade, is being done in a rustic French aesthetic to tie into the French philosophy of Clos du Soleil,” says Michael Clark, Clos du Soleil’s managing partner and winemaker. “The outside will look like a traditional French store front or café. The inside will tie in with that same wood panelled look, with a French country feel.”

Clos du Soleil was founded by a small group of Francophile wine lovers headed by Vancouver businessman Spencer Massie, a retired Canadian Navy officer. In 2007 the group bought a 10-acre property in the Similkameen Valley and planted Bordeaux varietals on nine of those acres. Ann Sperling, a Kelowna native who had gone to high school with Spencer, agreed to make Clos wines in her Sperling Vineyards winery.

Clos du Soleil, which produced closed to 5,000 cases in 2014, has now outgrown the Sperling facilities. That was one reason for the construction of a new winery on the Similkameen vineyard.

While Ann remains as a consultant, Michael took over making the wine in 2013 after investing in the Clos du Soleil partnership[ the year before. He comes with impressive credentials, including training from the University of California in Davis.

Born in Cambridge, Ontario, in 1972, he grew up in a lawyer’s home. His father had a wine cellar and classified growth Bordeaux wines were often on the Clark table.

“Wine had been my number one passion literally before I could drink wine,” Michael says. He was about 10 years old when he read the George Bain’s  Champagne is for Breakfast, still one of the best and funniest wine books by a Canadian author.

“I don’t know other children who loved to read wine books,” Michael laughs.

Initially, he carved out a career in finance, armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theoretical physics followed by master of business administration from the University of British Columbia. He worked with the Royal Bank before moving to Boston and then Geneva. There he managed portfolios with a hedge fund and then with a bank.

“Eight or nine years ago, I made a commitment to move into winemaking full time,” he says. He studied enology and viticulture at L’Ecole de Changins, a Swiss engineering institute. He did several vintages in Bordeaux and also worked with a Swiss winery. He took the UCDavis distance learning program to get a winemaking certificate.

“To do it took about three years,” he says. “It was excellent, very rigorous, which is what I wanted. Winemaking is such a blend of science and art. That is what draws most people to it, including myself.  UCDavis is very focussed on the science part of it. With my background in physics and chemistry, it’s a natural for me.”

Rigorous also describes his approach at Clos du Soleil. Organic and biodynamic practices apply in the vineyard. The winery has been designed and equipped to make premium wines.   

“We are really happy where Clos du Soleil is, so my job as winemaker is to progress it,” Michael says. “Every year I want every wine to be getting better. There are things we can be doing in the vineyard, learning from the prior year and trying to do better the following year. And likewise in the cellar.”

He continues: “I can give you some examples. The vineyard management is getting better over time, both ours and the growers we work with. We get to know the soils better; we get to know the vines better. The vines are getting older and we are getting better fruit. So every year, whether it is tweaks to the pruning system; tweaks to any fertilization we do; whether it is continuing to build on the usage of the biodynamic system on our own property – all of that. Every year it has been going up.

“We get better fruit that way. Then when it comes into the winery, we are trying to improve the processing every year in terms of being very gentle with the fruit; sorting to have only the very best berries coming in. As we get more and more used to the different vineyard parcels and the characteristics of the fruit that comes from each parcel, I can fine tune how we treat them in the winery.”

He has a definite winemaking style in mind. “To me, delicacy matters,” Michael says. “We like to have at Clos du Soleil firm structure in our wines which makes them food friendly and ageable. We want firm tannins, but it is a matter of not overdoing things.  My philosophy is that our best wines demonstrate their quality in ways other than bigness or heaviness. A great wine, whether you are talking about Clos du Soleil or a classed growth in Bordeaux, has elegance and  complexity, not huge chewy fruit or aggressive tannins.” 

Four current releases from Clos du Soleil exemplify his art as a winemaker.

Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2014 ($19.90 for 432 cases). This is 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Sémillon. It begins with vibrant aromas of lime and lemon, leading to rich flavours of lime and grapefruit. There are subtle notes of herbs and oak, barely noticeable in the explosion of tropical fruit flavours. 92.

Clos du Soleil Pinot Blanc 2014 “Grower’s Series” ($19.90 for 500 cases). The term, Grower’s Series, indicates wines made from grapes grown on non-estate vineyards. This wine begins with appealing aromas of nectarines and ripe Ambrosia apples. On the palate, there are spicy flavours of pear and apple. Good acidity gives this wine a fresh and tangy finish. 91.

Clos du Soleil Rosé 2014 ($19.90 for 867 cases). This is a rare and delicious example of a Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. The appeal begins with the colour, which glows like ruby. The wine has powerful aromas of strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, there are intense flavours of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb. The endless finish is crisp and dry. 92.

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve White 2013 ($59 for 25 cases). On rare occasions, I have been able to taste the white wines produced by Bordeaux châteaux more famed for their reds. Invariably, they have been great whites with depth and complexity. This wine immediately reminded me of those wines. A blend of 62% Sauvignon Blanc and 38% Sémillon, it likely was barrel-fermented (the winery notes do not say that) and it was fermented entirely with wild yeast. Only one barrel was made.  The bone-dry wine is richly structured, with a good backbone of minerals. The term is this wine has “good bones” and will age well. It has aromas of lime and grapefruit which carry over to the flavour, along with pear and citrus flavours. 95