Wednesday, August 30, 2017

See Ya Later Ranch: a destination winery

Photo: Detail from label with the flying dog.

See Ya Later Winery in Okanagan Falls has a lot going for it: a breath-taking location, a romantic history and well-made wines at popular prices.

It also is the destination for wine tourists travelling with dogs, especially in a hot year like 2017. The winery always provides water for its canine visitors as well as wines for their owners. There is even a winged dog on all the labels.

Here is an excerpt from the profile in the most recent edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

This is a dog lover’s winery with a wonderful story, reflected both in its name and in that of several wines – Belle, Nelly, Ping, Rover, Hunny and Jimmy My Pal, formerly the names of dogs. This picturesque property on a mountainside above the vineyards of Okanagan Falls was owned for about 45 years by Major Hugh Fraser. Over that time he owned Nelly, Ping, and numerous other dogs. When they died, each was buried under headstones which, in recent years, have been placed at the base of a tree near the vintage home (circa 1902) now serving as the charming tasting room.

According to one legend, the Major brought an English bride with him when he moved to this farm after service in World War One. She could not handle the isolation and returned to England, leaving a note signed “See Ya Later.” The real explanation, or so it is said, is that the major, a prolific correspondent, scrawled “See Ya Later” at the end of his letters.

This is the third name for this winery. An entrepreneur named Albert LeComte launched the winery in 1986 under his own name. It became Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards when Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters bought it in 1995. A few years after Vincor (now Constellation) purchased the winery in 2000, it was rechristened to take advantage of the history and the canine legacy. The winery honours that legacy by welcoming visitors with dogs and by contributing to the major’s favourite charity, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals.

This 40.5-hectare (100-acre) property is the highest elevation vineyard in the south Okanagan, rising to 536 metres (1,759 feet) and sloping to the northeast, an unusual exposure for the northern hemisphere. However, this cool location makes it one of the Okanagan’s best sites for Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Ehrenfelser. Its Gewürztraminer block, at 26 hectares (65 acres), is the single largest planting of this aromatic variety in North America. The other grapes for See Ya Later wines come from Constellation’s extensive plantings in the south Okanagan.

Winemaker Dave Saysomsack (left), in releasing these wines, commented that the 2016 vintage was excellent for white wines. (It certainly was also a good year for reds, not many of which have yet been released.)

“Our white vineyards yielded full crops,” the winemaker says. The resulting wines are “bursting with flavour and a rounded acidity reflected in our 2016 Chardonnay, 2016 Pinot Gris and 2016 Riesling.”

The 2015 Meritage, of course, is from a hotter vintage – but that season led to full-bodied and ripe reds.

Here are notes on the wines.

See Ya Later Ranch Chardonnay 2016 ($17.49). There is what the winery calls “a splash” of Pinot Gris blended in this wine. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple with spice and herbs. On the palate, the fruit flavours are luscious, with notes of melon, pear and citrus, subtly enhanced with a very light touch of oak. 90.

See Ya Later Ranch Riesling 2016 ($16.99). Extended cool fermentation has preserved the floral Riesling aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and lemon and stone fruit, with just the right amount of acidity to give the wine a very refreshing tang. The finish goes on and on; and the wine is dry. 91.

See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Gris 2016 ($16.99). Forty per cent of this was fermented in French oak; the rest in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of peaches and apples. On the palate, there are flavours of pears, peaches and apples. The texture is mouthfilling and the finish lingers. 90.

See Ya Later Ranch Ping Meritage 2015 ($24.99). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, aged 14 months in American and French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and cassis which are echoed in the red fruits on the palate. There are also notes of vanilla and mocha. The tannins are ripe and the texture makes this full-bodied red easy and approachable. 90

Monday, August 28, 2017

Chaberton Winery gives new life to Madeleine Sylvaner

Photo: Cbaberton winemaker Andrea Lee

At Langley’s Chaberton Estate Winery, Andrea Lee, the winemaker there since 2015, has brilliantly revived Madeleine Sylvaner as an estate-grown white wine. And she is working on Madeleine Angevine, a sister variety in the Chaberton vineyard.

The late Claude Violet, the original owner of Chaberton, planted these varieties in the winery’s 40-acre vineyard in the early 1980s. He chose them, along with Bacchus and Siegerrebe, because he needed varieties that would ripen reliably in the Fraser Valley.

For whatever reason, the Madeleines were eventually dropped from the portfolio as varietals, to be relegated as constituents in blended whites. Andrea restored Madeleine Sylvaner as a named variety in 2015. She will do the same with Madeleine Angevine when she is satisfied she has mastered the grape.

You could count the wineries with these grapes on the fingers of one hand (Recline Ridge in the Shuswap; Venturi-Schulze and Zanatta in the Cowichan Valley). “If you take care even of a humble variety, you can make some incredible things,” winemaker Giordano Venturi once told me.

I described these somewhat obscure varietals in my 1998 book, Chardonnay and Friends.

Madeleine Angevine was developed in 1857 by a Loire nurseryman named Moreau-Robert. He sought to create new varieties simply by planting grape seeds and selecting the chance varieties that came, since the grape seed is genetically unpredictable in the progeny that results from this method. Three varieties emerged that are still grown, often for table grapes rather than wine grapes: the other two are Madeleine Sylvaner and Madeleine Royale.

Other sources maintain that Madeleine Angevine -- the Moreau-Robert nursery was at the city of Angers -- resulted from a cross in which Madeleine Royale (bred in 1845) was one parent. “Why do they call it Madeleine?” Domaine de Chaberton’s Claude Violet said rhetorically. “Because they are very, very early plants and they are blooming on the feast of Saint Madeleine [in early May].” This vine has the rare attribute of being almost totally “female” which means that, unlike other vines, it is not self-pollinating but must be planted near to other varieties in order to be fruitful. Madeleine Angevine is a mainstay for English wine production.

Madeleine Sylvaner was also named for the saint. Sylvaner was appended because the plant breeder believed the wine was reminiscent of an unrelated Alsace varietal called Sylvaner.

“It had not been released as a varietal since the 1990s,” Andrea says of Madeleine Sylvaner. “I brought the wine back in 2015 as single varietal. We made about 300 cases. Sales really picked up. Restaurants liked how it is lean and refreshing, and not too overtly aromatic. It is really quite delicate and it matches well with the food. As I am learning to work with this grape, I like to balance its delicacy and also build a little more complexity in the layers. I quite enjoy the fruit up front, with mouth-watering acidity. It finishes off with minerality. I like to give this wine texture.”

The quality of the 2016 Madeleine Sylvaner took me by surprise when I tasted it recently with Andrea. I had not been much of a fan of the variety in the 1990s. Clearly, there have been significant improvements in both the viticulture and winemaking.

Andrea was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Summerland after her parents emigrated there. She took a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. She was doing a “tedious” internship with a pharmaceutical company until she was caught up in a recessionary downsizing. She travelled to New Zealand and, but for a car accident, would have worked in vineyards. Instead, after recuperating at home, she started working in the Sumac Ridge wine shop.

She helped do the crush at Chaberton in 2008 and then took a master’s degree in viticulture and winemaking at the University of Adelaide in Australia. By the time she returned to Chaberton as the head winemaker, she had accumulated several vintages of experience in both Australia and in the Okanagan.

The largest winery in the Fraser Valley, Chaberton now produces an extensive portfolio, both from the estate vineyard and with fruit from selected vineyards in the Okanagan and the Similkameen.

Here are notes on current releases. Most of the wines are labelled “reserve.”

There are no notes here on the winery’s limited production AC wines, which sell at the winery for $50 each. There are just three vintages so far and I plan on tasting them separately. AC are the initials for Anthony Cheng, one the winery’s owners. He takes a personal hand in blending. Each is based on a platform of Merlot.

Chaberton Reserve Madeleine Sylvaner 2016 ($15.75). The wine begins with floral aromas leading to flavours of apple and cantaloupe melon. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Siegerrebe 2016 ($16.75). This highly aromatic white is a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer. The aromas and the flavours are intense, with hints of lychee mingled with ginger. The wine is off-dry but well-balanced and suitable as a pairing with Asian cuisines. 91.

Chaberton Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($16.75). The grapes for this wine are from the Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. It has aromas and flavours of tropical fruit with lime and herbs on the finish. A dash of Muscat in the blend lifts the aromas. The finish is crisp. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Pinot Gris 2016 ($16.75). This wine blends Okanagan and Similkameen fruit. Some skin contact has given the wine the pale pink hue of a Provençal rosé. “When you close your eyes, it still tastes like a white wine,” Andrea says. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry mingled with citrus and pear. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Bacchus 2016 ($15.75). These are estate-grown grapes from old vines. This aromatic white wine is 86% Bacchus, 8% Pinot Blanc, 4% Reichensteiner and 2% Muscat. Slightly off dry, the wine begins with floral aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($19.95). Grapes for this wine are from the Golden Mile appellation. The wine is a combination of barrel fermented and stainless steel fermented. The oak has given this is a lovely and delicate note of vanilla in the aroma. On the palate, there are buttery flavours of orange and ripe pineapple with a hint of butterscotch on the finish. A textbook example of letting the oak support the fruit, not cover it. 91.

Chaberton Reserve Gamay Noir 2016 ($16.95). This dark and spicy red is made with grapes grown in the estate vineyard. Andrea left the wine on the skins for 26 days, extracting flavours of cherries and cranberries. The low alcohol (11.8%) gives this wine a delicate footprint on the palate. The note of white pepper punctuates a lingering finish. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2014 ($22.95). There are Okanagan and Similkameen grapes in the wine. It was aged for 21 months in second-use oak barrels. There is touch of vanilla both in the aroma and the finish, sandwiching aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and black currant. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a long, polished finish. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($22.95). Grapes selected from Oliver, Cawston and Naramata vineyards were used to make this wine, which was aged 19 months in new French and American oak barrels. The aromas are bright and floral, with notes of cherry and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of dark berry fruit, plum and prunes. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (unreleased). The cassis aromas give this wine a lifted, floral aroma, leading to flavours of cherry and black currant. On the finish, there are hints of vanilla and chocolate. 92.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014 (unreleased). This wine, which was aged 23 months in new oak, is a classic Cabernet Franc – packed with brambly aromas and flavours: blackberry, raspberry, cherry and cassis. 92.

Chaberton Reserve Meritage 2014 ($25.95). This is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, with grapes sourced from Black Sage and Naramata Bench vineyards. The wine was aged for 22 months in new French and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of black cherry, plum and black olives. The finish is long and harmonious, with hints of sweet fruit, leather and tobacco. 92.

Chaberton Reserve Syrah 2013 ($28.95). This wine, which was aged 20 months in new French and American oak barrels, is a bold, dark wine beginning with aromas of fig and prune with a gamy note. The wine has a rich palate, with flavours of black cherry and figs. The finish is savoury, with notes of truffles and white pepper. 90.

Chaberton Reserve Ortega Dessert Wine 2016 ($N/A). The winery produced just 650 litres of wine from botrytis-affected estate grown Ortega grapes. The wine begins with honeyed floral aromas, leading to flavours recalling fruit pie. Not overly sweet, the wine is balanced to finish clean and fresh. 91.

Chaberton Tribute 2013 ($24.95 for 375 ml). This is a barrel-aged fortified wine made with Syrah. It is a rich, juicy, figgy wine with mocha on the finish. 90.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

River Stone 2013 Corner Stone and friends

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane

River Stone Estate Winery’s top red wine, Corner Stone, is included in my new book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.

Other products from this winery might easily have been included. However, the focus of the book is to highlight one wine (with a few exceptions) that you should collect for your cellar. Corner Stone, a Bordeaux red, is it for River Stone. And the price makes the wine more affordable than a lot of other aspiring icons.

Here is what I have written about River Stone in Icon.

Ted Kane had Corner Stone in mind back in 2003, when he began planting the River Stone vineyard on Tucelnuit Drive, just outside Oliver. In the French tradition, he planted Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—in the proportions he believed he needed for his blend.

“I knew at the beginning it was going to be a Merlot-forward, Right Bank Bordeaux style because of our cool-climate growing conditions,” Ted says. “Merlot is the most reliable ripener as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, which I knew would be the last to ripen.” Consequently, Merlot was the biggest block on the well-drained south-facing slopes. Subsequent experience led him to increase the planting of Cabernet Franc, another reliable ripener. He also replaced five rows of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot in order to grow the full suite needed for a Bordeaux-type blend.

Ted says some have drawn parallels between Corner Stone and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc, although in the latter’s vineyard, Cabernet Franc takes the lead, followed by Merlot. While he does not mind the compliment inherent in that comparison, Ted says that Corner Stone is made in the New World style, closer to reds from California or Chile. “I wanted to produce wines that had concentration and weight,” he says. “I also found after a short time in France that what I didn’t want was the astringency that was still there after year six on some of the wines.”

Ted, who was born in Edmonton in 1962, began making wines from tree fruits when he was 19. Even as he began a career as a respiratory therapist, he was obsessed with wine-growing. “I built a small greenhouse by my house in Edmonton,” he says. “I bought grapevines from Eastern Canada and propagated and grew them, just so I could learn pruning and trellising and irrigation techniques.” By the late 1990s, while his wife, Lorraine, was completing a medical degree, Ted was anxious to find an Okanagan property before, in her words, “It was all gone.” Good properties were still available in 2001, when they found 3.8 hectares (9.5 acres) of raw land near Oliver, on a hill beside the Okanagan River. They moved there in 2002, planting a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) vineyard while Lorraine began a family medicine practice.

After selling grapes for several years, Ted took advantage of the superb 2009 harvest to make River Stone’s debut vintages. He was mentored in his first vintage by a consulting winemaker, New Zealand–trained Jacqueline Kemp. She remains on call when another palate is needed, but Ted is now comfortable in his ability to grow grapes and make wine.

The individual varietals are fermented in small lots that are aged separately in French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months. By blending time, Ted has identified the best barrels of each varietal. Wine not needed for Corner Stone is blended into Stones Throw, which, in the French tradition, is made for earlier consumption. He also bottles modest volumes of single varietals, offering them in the wine shop and to his wine club.

Perhaps the most notable of these single varietals is the Cabernet Franc, which grows very successfully in the River Stone vineyard. “If I knew back when I planted what I know now, I would have planted more Cabernet Franc,” Ted admits. Much like Cheval Blanc.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Riverstone Sparkling White Merlot 2016 ($22.90). This is, I believe, the first sparkling wine from Riverstone. The wine has a pale salmon hue in the glass, along with lively bubbles. The strawberry in the aroma is echoed on the refreshing palate. The finish is crisp and dry. It is, I think, just missing a touch of residual sugar. 88.

Riverstone Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.90 for 230 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of pear, apple and peach. Bright acidity is well balanced with 4.7 grams of residual sugar, giving the wine a crisp finish with a spine of minerality. 90.

Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.90 for 240 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime leading to flavours of lime, grapefruit and guava. The crisp, focussed fruit flavours suggest a promising Okanagan style where the winemaker is not trying to emulate either New Zealand or the Loire. 91.

Riverstone Cabernet Franc 2015 ($27.90 but sold out). This delicious red begins with brambly aromas of blackberry, raspberry and boysenberry. On the palate, the wine is rich and ripe, with brambly flavours that echo the aroma. The finish is remarkably long, with lingering red berry notes. 92.

Riverstone Stone’s Throw 2014 ($25.90 for 525 cases). The blend is 58% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec and 11% Petit Verdot. The ripe, juicy texture begins with the fermentation technique: 80% of the berries are whole (not crushed), given a three to five-day cold soak, and fermented in small tanks for optimum skin contact. The wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak (30% new), begins with aromas of black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and sage. The tannins are long and the texture is generous. 91.

Riverstone Corner Stone 2013 ($31.90 for 333 cases).  This is the winery’s flagship red: 47% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. It was aged 18 months in French oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with appealing aromas of cassis, cherry and plum. The palate delivers a bowl of dark berry flavours including cherry, boysenberry and black currant. The long ripe tannins give the wine immediate accessibility (decanting is advised) but with the structure to let the wine develop gracefully through to 2023. 93.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Township 7's Mary McDermott's 2016s

 Photo: Winemaker Mary McDermott

By now, I have come to look forward to tasting the art of Mary McDermott, the winemaker at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery since 2014.

The wines never disappoint. That should not be surprising, considering her background. Her interest in wine began when she worked as a sommelier at Monk McQueen’s Fresh Seafood & Oyster Bar in Vancouver. That led her back to Ontario, her native province, to earn a winemaking and viticulture degree at Brock University.

After graduation, she started as a cellarhand at Stratus Vineyards and moved on to become assistant cellarmaster at Cave Spring Cellars. Then, in 2010, she became winemaker at Trius Winery at Hillebrand as well as Thirty Bench Winery. Both are premium wine producers operated by Andrew Peller Ltd.

She was recruited by Township 7 after new owners acquired the winery in 2014. The new owners have invested significantly, giving her better equipment, more barrels and more space in which to work.

With just a small estate vineyard, Township 7 relies on contract growers for most of its grapes. The winery has had long-term relations with several of the vineyards and, as production grew, has forged relations with new ones as well. I have the sense, when I taste the wine, that Mary spends a lot of time with the growers.

The recent releases, all from the superb 2016 vintage, taste like very well grown wines. Here are my notes. The prices do not include tax.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2016 ($19.97 for 648 cases). Half of this wine was fermented in American oak barrels; the other half in stainless steel. The oak treatment brings a subtle note of vanilla to aromas of apples and pineapples. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and citrus, with subtle oak. The finish is dry, with notes of spice. 90.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($17.97 for 298 cases). Fermented in stainless steel, this wine delivers pure and focussed fruit aromas and flavours: apple and citrus with a refreshingly crisp finish. 91.

Township 7 Pinot Gris 2016 ($17.97 for 318 cases).  This wine was made primarily with grapes from the legendary Sperling Vineyard in East Kelowna. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel for five weeks at 12◦C, preserving the pristine fruit aromas and flavours. The wine begins with aromas of apple and pear. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, white peach and citrus. 91.

Township 7 Muscat 2016 ($17.97 for 228 cases). The grapes for this wine were also fermented in stainless steel for three weeks at 12◦C, again preserving the exquisite fruit of this variety. The wine begins with a delicate aroma of rose petals and spice, leading to flavours of orange peel and ginger. The finish is dry. With an alcohol of just 12.8%, this elegant wine is light and refreshing on the finish. 91.

Township 7 Viognier 2016 Romar Vineyard ($22.97 for 568 cases; available only at the wineries). This wine was fermented in stainless steel; one barrel – about 25 cases – was barrel-fermented and added to the blend to enhance the richness. The wine begins with aromas of guava and ripe peach. On the palate, there are rich flavours of apricots and peaches. There is a honeyed note to the fruit but the wine has a lingering, dry finish. 91.

Township 7 Rosé 2016 ($17.97 for 498 cases). The wine is 65% Merlot, 19% Pinot Gris and 19% Malbec. Pale salmon pink, the wine has cherry and strawberry aromas, leading for flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. The wine has good weight and finishes with refreshing crispness. 90.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tinhorn Creek releases a trio of reserves

Photo: Tinhorn Creek winemaker Andrew Windsor 

The three excellent reserve wines recently released by Tinhorn Creek Vineyards includes  illuminating background information on the winery’s two vineyards.

I think it is worth reproducing some of the text.

The winery produces wines in two tiers; Varietal and Oldfield Reserve tiers. The single-varietal series includes a Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Special lots are selected each year for the winery’s reserve tier, named the Oldfield Reserve tier. This tier is a playground for experimentation and is a creative showcase of the best wines from each vintage.

The series includes 2Bench White and 2Bench Red, both proprietary blends, as well as a Rosé, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and a Golden Mile-designated Chardonnay. The Oldfield Reserve red wines are aged for a minimum of three years prior to release. All Tinhorn Creek wines evoke the unique terroir of the region: the sage-covered desert terrain.

Tinhorn Creek’s 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard located on the Black Sage Bench. Black Sage Bench is home to approximately one third of the Okanagan Valley’s vineyards. This area was first planted with hybrid grape varieties which were later removed in 1988 as a result of NAFTA under a government program to replace less desirable grape varieties with premium vinifera grapes.

The land sat fallow for several years before replanting began. Twenty minutes north of Osoyoos, the Black Sage Bench sits on top of sandy soil that can be up to 300 feet deep. Affectionately known as “The Beach”, the soil on the upper elevated area of Black Sage Bench makes planting a challenge as freshly dug holes immediately fill with sand. The soil has lower nutrient and organic matter content than other areas in the valley, and there is a high evaporation rate as water drains right through soil, requiring more irrigation than other sites. Fortunately, the benefits outweigh the challenges, which is apparent in the quality of the grapes the area produces.

The Diamondback Vineyard has a southwest facing elevated location and enjoys both early morning and late afternoon sun. In the summer months, the site can get two to three additional hours of sunlight per day compared to the Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. The grapes planted at this site can ripen one to three weeks prior to the same varieties at Tinhorn Creek, in part due to this extended sun exposure.

The Diamondback Vineyard has 100 acres planted with eight varietals. Planting began in 1994 with Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. More plantings followed including Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. By 1997, the Diamondback Vineyard planting finished. More recently, Semillon, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have been planted at this site.

The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation; the Golden Mile Bench starts at Fairview Road in Oliver and extends south to Road 13. Although this area measures longer than a mile, it was first referred to the “Golden Mile” in the mid-1940s as it gained its reputation for its rich farmland.

The Golden Mile Bench is located on a bench above the valley floor, and the elevation makes it significantly warmer than the valley floor. These features also help the vineyard escape damaging spring and fall frosts.

The Tinhorn Creek vineyard site enjoys the early morning sun exposure. By late afternoon, the sun dips behind the hills, providing cool summer evenings, allowing grapes develop their exquisite flavours. To the west of the vineyards lies the Thompson Plateau. The sun goes behind this ridge early in the day relative to the other side of the valley. The vineyard can be in shade as early as 17:00 in the summer months making it a cooler, slower ripening area. The downward slope of the vineyards provides good airflow and, mainly due to water drainage, varietals ripen differently uphill versus downhill.

The soils on the Golden Mile Bench consist primarily of rocky clay loam soil, characteristic of the Golden Mile alluvial fan. In fact, the stone archway above the winery entrance was constructed with rocks from the Gewürztraminer vineyards. These heavier soils are more difficult to plant due to the large number of rocks; but the soil holds moisture longer, so less irrigation is required. Additionally, less fertilizer is needed due to high nutrient content and vines grow more vigorously in these conditions. As a result, the vineyard team does shoot removal and leaf thinning during the summer to keep the fruit exposed to the sun and to ensure the vine is in balance.

The previous owners planted Pinot Noir in 1989, Merlot between 1989 and 1991, and Kerner and Chardonnay in 1990. Today, there are ten varieties of grapes planted at this site including Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.

Here are notes on the three releases. The 2014 wines are from the vintage in which Andrew Windsor took over as winemaker when Sandra Oldfield became winery president.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve 2Bench White 2016 ($19.99 for 1,507 cases). This is a blend of 47% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Sémillon, 16% Viognier, 14% Chardonnay and 6% Muscat. The winery went to some lengths to produce a complex wine, fermenting portions of the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier in new and used French oak. The remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with aromas of melon and guava, touched with notes of honey and vanilla. The winery notes suggest the palate is light; to my taste, it is rich, with flavours of tropical fruits and vanilla. The lingering finish is dry. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2014 ($26.99 for 1,536 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a special 18-year-old block of vines at a high elevation in the winery’s Diamondback vineyard on Black Sage Road. Here, the grapes are smaller and the yields are lower. There is 15% Cabernet Franc in the blend. The result is a dark and concentrated wine that was aged 18 months in French oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and fig. That is echoed on the palate, along with notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. The firm structure will support aging. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Syrah 2014 ($31.99 for 859 cases). The grapes for this are from 13-year-old (in 2014) vines in the Diamondback Vineyard. The two percent Viognier in the blend results from adding Viognier skins to the fermenting Syrah. Fermentation was done with wild yeast. The wine stayed on the skins for about eight weeks, maximizing the robust flavours of this Syrah, which was aged 18 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (30% new). The wine begins with powerful aromas of figs, plum, white pepper and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum, fig jam, licorice and pepper. The finish is exceptionally long. 92.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

JoieFarm takes on Champagne

Photo: JoieFarm's Heidi Noble

Heidi Noble, the proprietor of JoieFarm Winery on Naramata Road, asserts that sparkling wines are not reserved just for special occasions.

“Bubble is for every day,” she says.

Consumers clearly have made that discovery. There has been a veritable eruption of sparkling wines from British Columbia producers in recent years. One of those wines is the new JoieFarm Quotidien Brut, which means “your daily ration.”

My theory is that credit should go to the Italian producers of Prosecco for turning so many consumers onto drinking sparkling wine whenever you feel like it. That was something that Champagne did not quite succeed in doing, even after two centuries and the patronage of the likes of Winston Churchill (who was an every day drinker of bubble).

Champagnes usually are expensive; and they should be. The production of Champagne is complex because the fermentation occurs in individual bottles. This gives the wines characteristic biscuit aromas and flavours sometimes referred to a brioche. The character of the wines demands you pay close attention to the quality.

Prosecco has no such pretentions. Few, if any, are fermented in bottle. You can get good bottles for less than $20; the flavours are pleasant and the bubbles are just as lively as Champagne. Consumers might reserve Champagne for New Year’s Eve but don’t hesitate to open a Prosecco on Tuesday evening. And they are buying more sparkling wines from British Columbia producers because the quality easily matches Prosecco and the value is better than Champagne.

In notes that accompany the wines, Heidi says that Quotidien Brut emerged from ongoing industry conversations in the past two years on defining Canadian wines.

“The answer that consistently kept coming up is that Canada possesses the potential for quality bubble production, in particular with Riesling and Chardonnay being the best varietal contenders, coast to coast,” she writes. “To fully engage in this conversation, I decided to make one – a combination of Riesling and Chardonnay.”

She chose to use the Charmat method – allowing the base wine to have its secondary ferment in a pressure tank, not in an individual bottle. It is, she says, “the best method to make quality sparkling wine for affordable easy drinking bubble.” Most Prosecco wines are produced in Charmat tanks.

The brioche aromas and flavours of Champagne are created by the autolysis that occurs when a bottle-fermented wine rests for months, even years, on the yeast lees. Heidi wanted that character in her wine, even if it is difficult to achieve in a Charmat tank.

“I thought about the process for several years,” she says. “I am a big proponent of picking [grapes] several times to achieve natural balance. I took this exact approach to blend this sparkling base wine. Several picks were conducted; one for acid and low alcohol; and one for flavour and ripeness; and blended backwards to achieve an appropriate potential alcohol for a secondary tank fermentation.”

To replace the lees contact a bottle-fermented wine gets, she stored the base wine after primary fermentation on the lees in neutral oak puncheons over winter. “This lends the wine some toast and biscuit flavours as well as providing some slow oxidation,” she writes.

To improve the quality of the base wine, she also has begun to gently oxidize Riesling in neutral barrels, in a solera technique. This is blended with the Chardonnay.

It strikes me that before she knew it what she had let herself in for, Heidi had worked as hard to make Quotidien Brut as if she had just bottle-fermented it. But she is nothing, if not determined. And she was determined to a wine where everything but the price reminded one of Champagne.

Here are notes on the wines.

JoieFarm Plein de Vie Brut 2016 ($19). This is 45% Pinot Meunier, 36% Chardonnay and 18% Pinot Noir. The wine has an inviting pink hue. It begins with aromas of cherry and strawberry that are echoed in the flavours. The active mousse, achieved by gentle carbonation. gives this a creamy texture. This is a very easy to drink sparkling rose with a crisp dry finish. 90.

JoieFarm Quotidien Brut 2016 ($25). This is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Riesling. The base wine remained over winter in neutral barrels and on lees to simulate the autolysis on the lees. It was a clever way of achieving the biscuit notes of classic Champagne. The second ferment was in a Charmat tank. The wine has active mousse and a creamy texture. The wine has nutty flavours mingled with hints of lemon. The finish is crisply dry. 90.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tall Tales garagiste Kyle Lyons

Photo: Kyle Lyons

You are likely to get a chuckle, if not a belly laugh, from the back labels of the wines Kyle Lyons makes at his Tall Tale Wines.

Here is the back label from his 2016 Syrah Nouveau: “At Tall Tale Wines no detail of the winemaking process is overlooked in the pursuit of excellence. Planted in 2014, our old vines vineyard grows on soils imported from Jura, France. To achieve soft minerality on the palate, we irrigate exclusively with artesian mineral water. From the fermentation in neutral stainless steel, to organic glass bottles wrapped in biodynamic labels, this wine will have you telling our Tall Tales for generations.”

There is a twinkle in his eye as he explains the back labels: “They are sarcastic, tongue in cheek, and make fun of a lot of the buzzwords that are used in the wine industry today.”

There is also a tradition of telling tall tales in his family. It may have started with his maternal grandfather.

“The label specifically relates back to my grandfather who would tell me that, when he arrived here by boat, he did not have enough money to buy horses,” Kyle says. “He had to tame a moose. I wasn’t very old before I figured out that was bull. He never arrived by boat at all.”

That grandfather was a farmer at Salmon Arm in the B. C. interior. He is remembered in the sketch on the labels. It shows an individual walking behind a plough which is pulled by a most unlikely team – a moose and a bear.

Clearly Kyle, a garagiste winemaker who began marketing his wines this summer, has a gentle sense of humour. But he is dead serious about wine. And he will be among the producers at the Garagiste North tasting August 27 in Penticton.

Born in Kamloops in 1986 and raised in the Okanagan, Kyle says he “stumbled” into the wine industry.  “I got hired by Sumac Ridge when I was 18, just to help out - sweeping floors, scraping misprinted labels misprinted off bottles,” he says. “I got there at the right time. A couple of guys above me had left and I made my way up the ladder. Within the first year of being there, I realized that wine was something I preferred to pursue as a career.”

He spent five years with Sumac Ridge and its sister wineries in the Vincor/Constellation group. He was exposed to a wide range of useful cellar experiences.

In 2010, he joined Artus Bottling, the Okanagan-based mobile bottling company that, with a fleet of mobile bottling lines and a sparkling wine bottling line, bottles for the majority of B.C. wineries.

“I thought it was a great opportunity that I got to visit a different winery every day and make some good connections,” Kyle says. “The next thing I knew, I found myself there for over five years.”

He left that job when he decided he “missed being inside the cellar, making wine and being hands on with the fruit.” So he headed to Australia to do a harvest at Bannockburn Vineyards with winemaker Matt Holmes, who had previously worked in the Okanagan (Tantalus Vineyards and Liquidity Wines).

“It was while I was working there that I discovered the nouveau style of Syrah,” Kyle says. “They don’t make any at Bannockburn but I found a handful from other Australian wineries. After tasting it, I knew that when I got back, I had to try to make myself.”

When he returned to the Okanagan, he took a harvest job at Liquidity Wines, where he has since become a lead cellar hand. It keeps the bread on his table and allows him to develop his own tiny label.

The wines for Tall Tales’s first vintage in 2016, a total of 300 cases, were made in space Kyle rented at Synchromesh Wines near Okanagan Falls. Like a number of other garagiste wine producers, Kyle operates under another winery’s license while growing his label until he is ready to be self-sufficient.

“In my first vintage, I made the Syrah Nouveau and the Pinot Noir Blanc,” he says. “I also have a very small amount of sparkling wine.” The latter was inspired by the years he spent riddling sparkling wine at Sumac Ridge.

“The Syrah Nouveau was a lot of fun to make,” Kyle says. “I brought all the fruit in and I put whole clusters, 100% stems, right into a sealed vessel. I purged the vessel with CO2, got rid of all the oxygen; sealed it up and then I walked away from it for about a week and a half. When I came back and opened the lid, you could smell the fermentation was going. At that point, I would taste berries … every morning and every evening … until it was where I felt it should be on the palate. Then I pressed it off and let the fermentation finish in tank.”

His winemaking style is basically natural. His 2016 wines were all fermented with wild yeast. “There are no additions, no nutrients, no enzymes, just a little bit of sulphur at the end to help protect the wines” Kyle says. “It was a method of winemaking I had never done. I had never done hands-off natural winemaking, so it was a little bit stressful at first.”  He credits Synchromesh owner Alan Dickinson helping him settle his nerves.

He is trying to differentiate himself from all of the other wineries in the Okanagan.

“There are so many wineries here that are competing to be the best at the same thing,” Kyle says. “Not that that is bad, but I knew from the beginning that I did not want to compete in the market with a Bordeaux blend or a Pinot Gris. I wanted to come out with something just a little bit different but still approachable.”

In the 2017 vintage, he will make another Syrah Nouveau, a Semillon and, if he can source Pinot Noir, another Pinot Noir Blanc. “I also may have an interesting surprise up my sleeve that I don't want to discuss just yet because it's very possible I won't be able to get the fruit that I need to make it happen but I'm trying my damnedest,” Kyle says.

Here are notes on his 2016s.

Tall Tales Pinot Noir Blanc 2016 ($23). Minimal skin contact has given this wine a delicate and appealing blush. There are aromas and flavours of apple. The finish is dry. 87.

Tall Tales Syrah Nouveau 2016 ($28). This wine begins with aromas of spice and cherries. The fruit flavours are bright and youthful, in the nouveau style, while the finish is robust and earthy. 88.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Backyard Vineyards tasting July 2017

Winemaker James Cambridge

Langley Township’s Backyard Vineyards has clearly found its feet after a long journey.

The property opened in 2002 as Glenugie Winery, a name that emerged from the Scots heritage of proprietor Gary Tayler and his family.

It was not good branding to give a name to a winery more appropriate to single malt Scotch. But Gary also did some things right. He planted five acres of Pinot Noir for sparkling wine which was called Christina, his wife’s name. Admittedly, that was a decade before the Prosecco boom convinced B.C. consumers to drink bubble often. Today, however, Backyard’s Blanc de Noir Brut sells like hotcakes.

Gary, who was a builder, also built a sturdy winery with a big footprint. Today, Backyard has one of the most spacious tasting rooms in the Fraser Valley. There are even tables at which visitors can enjoy quick lunches and wines by the glass. The wine shop is open year round.

After Christina died, Gary listed the winery for sale in 2006. “It is simply not the same without my wife,” he told me. “We were married 34 years. The silence is deafening. I really can’t handle it. I see her everywhere. We built this up from the ground.”  Unfortunately, Gary died the following year.

The winery was acquired in 2008 by Ewen Stewart, a Whiterock businessman with real estate development interests in the Fraser Valley. Even with the help of a marketing consultant, the winery stumbled through several names – Real Estate Winery and then Neck of the Woods Winery – before settling on Backyard Vineyards in 2013.

Perhaps the most important part of helping the winery find its feet came in August, 2013, when Backyard hired James Cambridge, an experienced winemaker. After troubleshooting the inventory he inherited, he has produced a series of solid vintages, including three impressive reserve reds from the 2014 vintage. Like several other large Fraser Valley wineries, Backyard buys most of its fruit from growers in the Okanagan, given that the estate vineyard is limited to Pinot Noir.

James is a graduate of Niagara College, where he finished at the top of his class in the enology and viticulture program. He started his career with Henry of Pelham and the Creekside Estate Winery in Ontario. Since coming to the Okanagan, he has made wine at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries, and Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet. A 2012 Riesling he made there garnered a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Fort Berens.

James considers that he has a special affinity to making wines with Syrah and Cabernet Franc. “If I could only make two red wines in my life, it would be Syrah and Cabernet Franc,” he says. “Cabernet Franc is one of the varieties we should be growing more of in this province because we can grow it well.”

Here are notes on currant releases at Backyard Vineyards. Prices do not include taxes.

Backyard Pinot Gris 2016 ($21.95). Made with grapes from two Skaha Lake vineyards, this wine was fermented cool in stainless steel. The lovely aromas of apples and pears are echoed, with good intensity, on the palate. The mid-palate texture is juicy but the finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Backyard Rosé 2016 ($19.78 for 350 cases). This is 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, made by the saignée method. The cherry and strawberry aromas are echoed on the palate. An almost imperceptible hint of residual sweetness (left over when fermentation stopped) give the wine a juicy mid-palate. The finish is dry. 89.

Backyard Nosey Neighbour White 2016 ($17.95). This is 42% Gewürztraminer, 30% Riesling, 20% Pinot Gris and 8% Chardonnay. The winemaker describes this as Backyard’s House White. The aroma and the flavours are dominated somewhat by the spice of the Gewürztraminer. The texture is fleshy. This is an easy-drinking white. 89.

Backyard Riesling 2016 ($21.52). The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime. The fruit flavours are vivid and refreshing. The finish is dry. 90.

Backyard Gewürztraminer 2016 ($21.52). There is plenty of varietal character here – spicy aromas with flavours of spice and grapefruit that have just begin to blossom in the bottle. The finish is dry. 90.

Backyard Gossip 2013 ($21.29). It is 56% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah. There are aromas of vanilla and cherry; flavours of black cherry and black currant. The long ripe tannins make this eminently quaffable. 89.

Backyard Syrah 2015 ($25.95). The grapes are from an Osoyoos vineyard. It is a big, ripe wine beginning with aromas of plum and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and fig with a hint of pepper on the finish. 90.

Backyard Reserve Syrah 2014 ($40). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of dark, ripe fruit and pepper. That is echoed in the generous flavours and textures of this satisfying wine. 91.

Backyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22.95). This is an easy-drinking red with brambleberry aromas and flavours. There is a hint of spice on the finish. 90.

Backyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014 ($40). The wine is densely concentrated, with aromas and flavours of plum, fig and blackberry. The finish is persistent. 92.

Backyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($23.95). This is a varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon. It is ripe on the palate, with aromas and flavours of black currant, black cherries and black olives. 90.

Backyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($40). The wine delivers mouth-filling sweet ripe fruit, echoing the aromas of black cherry and cassis. The intense flavours include black cherry, plum and vanilla. The long ripe tannins portend a wine that will cellar well for the next five to seven years. 92.

Backyard Blanc de Noir Brut NV ($24.95). The wine is made with estate-grown Pinot Noir. The slight blush in the hue adds to the appeal of the wine. It has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. The finish is crisp. 90.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fitzpatrick's gold medal bubble and friends

Photo: Gordon Fitzpatrick toasts a gold medal

Gordon Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards at Peachland, was elated when the winery received a gold medal at the recent National Wine Awards for Fitz Brut 2013.

It is not as if winning gold medals is a new experience for him. Gordon was president of CedarCreek Estate Winery until it was acquired in 2013 by Anthony von Mandl, the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate. CedarCreek was a perennial medal winner in Canadian and international competitions. If memory serves, it was Canadian Winery of the Year at least twice.

If Gordon were a thoroughbred, one would say he has good blood lines and one would expect his new winery to win medals as well. Recently, I tasted six new releases from Fitzpatrick with five friends, all keen wine lovers. We were all impressed, to say the least.

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards (FFV) opened this spring for its first full season at the lakeside vineyard beside the highway midway between Peachland and Summerland. Formerly, this was the Greata Ranch Vineyards Winery which the Fitzpatricks closed in 2014 after operating it for 10 years. Subsequently, the property has been refreshed as an 8,000-case winery with underground cellars for 118,000 bottles of bubbly. And the winery has been totally rebranded.

Greata Ranch once was a famed orchard but had become a derelict property by the time Senator Ross Fitzpatrick (Gordon’s father) bought it in 1994. Senator Fitzpatrick planted the vineyard in 1995.

“We have always bemoaned the fact that Greata did not get the attention we thought it deserved,” says Gordon. “My main focus was the brand at CedarCreek and most of the [Greata Ranch] grapes went into CedarCreek wines. We had a wine shop and a second label, Greata Ranch, but it never got the attention it deserved. I wanted to see what we could do by giving Greata its own personality.”

The strategy is a focus on sparkling wines, about half of the production at FFV. That evolved from a recognition that the cool 40-acre Greata Ranch Vineyard produces excellent fruit for sparkling wines. “With our winemakers, we discussed what they thought Greata’s best suit was,” Gordon says. “They came back with no reservations to say sparkling. We have all of this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Given the site and the acidity, that would be a natural.”

The transition to sparkling started with the 2012 vintage. Darryl Brooker, then the winemaker at CedarCreek and now the general manager at Mission Hill, made sparkling cuvées in 2012 and 2013. Taylor Whelan, his successor at CedarCreek, was responsible for the next two cuvées, which are still resting in the FFV cellar. The 2016 cuvées and the 2016 whites have been made by a New Zealand winemaker, Sarah Bain, who was recruited last fall.

The new FFV has a significantly expanded tasting room compared to former one at Greata Ranch, along with new dining facilities.

Sparkling wines are available in a separate tasting room. These wines are featured as part of an hour-plus hospitality tours of the cellars and the vineyard. Many of these tours are led personally by Gordon or the winemaker. There also are shorter tours for those who don’t want to drill down so deeply into the vineyard and the cellars.

Here are notes on the new releases.

Fitzpatrick The Lookout Riesling 2016 ($18.50 for 444 cases). This wine was fermented cool for 49 days in stainless steel. The result is a wonderfully aromatic Riesling, with aromas of lemon, limeand Granny Smith apples. On the palate, it is a fruit basket of flavour: citrus and peach. There is a touch of sweetness, although the residual sugar (20 grams) is balanced with lively acidity. The finish lingers. While the wine has just 11% alcohol, the intensity of aromas and flavour is remarkable. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Mischief Pinot Blanc 2016 ($18.50 for 158 cases). The production is so small because most of Greata Ranch’s Pinot Blanc is now used for sparkling wine. Nonetheless, some table wine is produced because, as the winery says, “Pinot Blanc deserves more acclaim as far as we’re concerned.” This wine begins with aromas of apple, pear and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of apple and white peach with a hint of almond on the dry finish. 90.

Fitzpatrick Interloper Gewürztraminer 2016 ($18.50 for 381 cases). This wine was fermented cool in stainless steel for 45 days and then aged four months on the lees in stainless steel. The result is a wine with aromas of rose petal spice and pineapple, leading to flavours of spice, grapefruit and a hint of lychee. The texture is fleshy. The lingering finish is dry. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2016 ($18.50 for 650 cases). CedarCreek had turned Ehrenfelser into a cult wine and Fitzpatrick bids to continue the tradition, but with a wine that is more elegant and slightly less of a fruit bomb. The wine has aromas and flavours of guava, pears, peaches and pineapples. 91.

Fitzpatrick The Pink Mile Rosé 2016 ($18.50 for 276 cases). This is a Pinot Noir rosé, with the grapes picked and pressed specifically for this wine. It was fermented cool in stainless steel for 25 days and aged there another four months on the lees. The appeal of the wine begins with its delicate (but not washed out!) salmon hue. (Readers will know I expect rosé to have colour.) Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are echoed on the palate. A few grams of residual sugar are balanced with bright acidity, giving the wine a crisp and refreshing finish. 91.

Fitzpatrick Fitz Brut 2013 ($32.99).  I tasted this wine in the spring, just as it was being released, and again this month. I was struck by how well it has developed in bottle over the past five months. The cuvée is 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay. The wines were barrel fermented in neutral oak and aged about 27 months in bottle on the lees. This wine has a rich creamy texture, with flavours of citrus and ripe apple.  The persistent mousse adds to Champagne-like elegance of the wine. 93.