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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Class of 2016: Anthony Buchanan Wines

Photo: Nicole and Anthony Buchanan

Until recently, Gray Monk’s George and Trudy Heiss were the only winery owners in BC who had previously been hairdressers.

That ceased to be unique when Anthony Buchanan left his Victoria salon to become a winemaker in 2010.

Now, with his wife Nicole, he operates Anthony Buchanan Wines, a boutique virtual winery specializing in Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. A member of the Garagiste North group of small producers, Anthony currently makes less than 500 cases of wine a year.

When he and Nicole, an accountant, have established the brand, there is a carefully considered plan to locate the winery on a property of their own in the Okanagan. They are following a trail blazed by several former virtual wineries that have grown into land-based wineries.

These include Domaine Roche, just opened at the end of Penticton; Kanazawa Winery, which moved into a Naramata Road property this spring; Bonamici Cellars, which just began planting a vineyard on Oliver Ranch Road in Okanagan Falls. It is the normal, and desired, evolution for virtual wineries.

Anthony was born in 1970 in Owen Sound, Ontario, and grew up in London and then Victoria, to which he moved with his mother in 1980.

“I was a hair dresser for 21 years,” Anthony says. “I got into hair dressing right out of high school. I owned my own business for 11 years in Victoria.”

Interested in food and wine, he joined the Opimian Society – a national wine club – when he was 26. “With his first taste of a Gevrey-Chambertin, Anthony was hooked on Pinot Noir,” Anthony writes on his website.
“In 2001, 2002, I started to think about a different career choice,” he told me in a recent interview. “I have always loved food and wine. I like the social aspect of it as well.”

Initially, he set out to be a sommelier, taking the first two levels of Wine and Spirits Education Trust course and the level one course from the International Sommelier Guild. But as he learned some winemaking details from these courses, he decided that winemaking had more appeal as a career. He started with a distance learning course in enology from the University of California at Davis.

At a winemaker dinner in Victoria, he happened to be seated beside Michael Bartier, who had just begun his rise as an Okanagan winemaker. Michael advised Anthony to feel out his proposed new career by working a harvest in the Okanagan. Anthony spent the 2007 crush at Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars where winemaker Matt Mavety advised him to study enology. In 2009, Anthony enrolled in the two-year program at Washington State University.

“It is a very good program,” Anthony says now. “They take 30 students a year. It is very similar to the UCDavis program but from what I hear inside the industry is that it is a lot more hands-on practical winemaking. The Davis program is good if you really like to write research papers.”

Anthony had already begun to switch careers. In 2007, he had begin working in the cellars at the Church & State Winery near Brentwood on Vancouver Island. It was here that he met Nicole, who was doing the winery’s books. He also gained valuable experience from the winemakers there at the time, Napa consultant Bill Dyer and winemaker Jim Faulkner.

Anthony left that job initially to devote his fulltime to the Washington State program. Then in 2010, he and Nicole moved to the Okanagan. He went to work at the Soaring Eagle Winery  as the winery was in receivership.

“Some people think I have taken the hard way into this business, but it has been good for me,” Anthony says. “I have learned a lot and I have been put into some situations which I think some winemakers don’t experience. By that, I mean a lot of corrective winemaking. I have had to salvage large amounts of wine. Your really learn quite a bit in that process. Then when you are all of a sudden given pristine fruit, the facility and the equipment, it is almost like a dream come true.”
He left Soaring Eagle – which by that time was Bench 1775 and under new owners – in July 2012, joining Eau Vivre Winery & Vineyard at Cawston by the 2012 harvest. Four years later, he became the winemaker at Desert Hills Estate Winery near Oliver.

Anthony had begin making wines for his own label at Eau Vivre and has continued to do so at Desert Hills, a much larger producer. It is a generous privilege his employers have given him since many wineries forbid their winemakers to freelance with their own labels.

“When I was at Eau Vivre, the owners were very supportive of me making a small amount of wine,” Anthony says. “They looked at it as a win/win situation for both myself and their winery. The more exposure my wine got or Eau Vivre’s wine got, it benefitted both of us.”

Before he joined Desert Hills, he had a long conversation about this with the Desert Hills owners. “I wanted to make sure that there was going to be no issue with me making wine there,” Anthony says. “They have been extremely supportive of my label.” Desert Hills even offered to distribute Anthony’s label, an offer he declined.

“I have always committed myself to putting my job first, meaning that I look after Desert Hill wines first, and then at the end of the day, if I need to do something with my own label, then I do,” Anthony says. “It is not really a conflict because Desert Hills does not produce either a Pinot Noir or a Pinot Blanc. It just works, it works really well. I am sure some other owners would not want that. I have been lucky that I have had two that have allowed me to do this.”

At Anthony Buchanan Wines, he focussed on Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc because he really likes the varieties.

“Pinot Noir has been a long-term passion of mine,” Anthony says. “I have always enjoyed drinking Pinot Noir from many different regions around the world. And then I also saw a need to make Pinot Blanc. I think it is extremely undervalued. There are not a lot of wineries that produce Pinot Blanc.”

His debut vintage of Pinot Noir was 2014. He added Pinot Blanc the following year. So far, he has worked with grapes from several different vineyards while he begins developing relationships with the growers who want their names on his labels. It is also a recognition he believes the growers should have.

In the future, he plans to add a Riesling and another red varietal, not yet decided on, to his portfolio. “I think four wines will probably be it for the portfolio,” he says. “The idea is to slowly establish the brand in the market place and get a really good following. We will take each year, each vintage as it comes. But there is the end goal of obtaining a small piece of property.”

Here are notes on currant releases. The white is $20 a bottle and the red is $30. The winery’s website has details on where the wines are available.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Blanc 2015: The grapes for this wine are from a Naramata Bench vineyard. Seventy per cent of the wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel; 30% in new French oak. The wine has a subtle toasted note in the aroma from the oak, along with a suggestion of grapefruit. It has flavours of apple and pear and has a dry finish. 88.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Blanc 2016: The grapes for this wine are from a vineyard on the Black Sage gravel bar. A portion was fermented in a concrete barrel. As well, 20% of the wine was fermented with indigenous yeast. The brightness of the fruit aromas and flavours – crisp apple and citrus – reflect the excellent 2016 vintage while the backbone of minerals in the wine expresses the terroir. 90.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Noir 2014: This wine is made with a Pommard clone of Pinot Noir from the Jinny Lee Vineyard in Summerland. This dark-hued wine shows intensity in the aromas and flavours of cherries and dark berries, along with a toasty note (30% of the barrels in which the wine was aged were new). The texture portends the ability of this wine to cellar for another five years. 90.

Anthony Buchanan Pinot Noir 2015: This wine was made with clone 115 Pinot Noir from the Sonora Pines Vineyard north of Oliver. The wine is a combination of tank-fermented and barrel-fermented portions. It is a pretty wine, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The fruit flavours are juicy. The wine already has a silky texture. This is the wine to drink while the 2014 is aging. 90.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bella's artisanal sparkling wines

Photo: Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose

The tasting room at Bella Wines is one of the most remote among the Naramata Bench wineries. Even so, it is only the middle of August and most of the wines are sold out.

Winery owners Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose bought this bucolic farm on Gulch Road in 2013 and planted three acres of Chardonnay and Gamay in 2014.

“I was worried whether people would travel this far,” Jay admits. The turnoff to Gulch Road off Naramata Road is well along the northern end of the road.

The location has not, in fact, discouraged visitors. “The people that find us really want to be here,” Jay says. “We have been sold out every summer since we opened [in 2015]. It has been amazing.”

The reason is that Bella is unique among the Naramata Bench wineries (indeed, unique in British Columbia) in that it produces sparkling wines exclusively. The wines are made only with Gamay Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The three styles of sparkling wine include wines made in the ancestral method, echoing the artisanal Champagnes that wine farmers made before Dom Perignon.

Bella’s farmhouse and the postage-stamp organic vineyard, where pigs and chickens forage among the vines, seems transported from an 18th Century French countryside. So is Jay’s winemaking. Wines begin fermenting outside with wild yeast in neutral barrels. Most have the second ferment in bottle in the traditional Champagne method. Nothing is added except yeast and enough sugar for the second ferment.

Many of these wines are disgorged after just six to nine months on the lees, to be released when the flavours still express the fruit. Cuvées that Jay judges exceptional spend three or four years on the lees and are released as reserve wines. These are the wines with which he goes “toe to toe” with grower Champagnes.

Close to a quarter of Jay’s wine is made in the ancestral method, where still-fermenting wines are bottled and finish creating bubbles in those bottles. On release, ancestral sparkling wines might be a little cloudy and, well, funky – but always interesting.

“My approach to this was to go back to basics, in that I really try and make wines that show a real honesty of where they come from,” Jay says.  “I like breaking the norm. I think B.C. has copied each other too long. I think it is time to shake things up a bit and try different things.”

Born in Kamloops in 1972, Jay learned wine while paying his way through college by cooking in Vancouver restaurants. There was a career detour to Calgary where, among other ventures, he developed a chain of spas. But after taking a sommelier course, he began working in wine stores. He moved to the Okanagan in 2004, first to run an Oliver restaurant and wine store and then in 2008 to work with the British Columbia Wine Institute.

In 2010 Jay took a sales position with the Enotecca group of wineries. “That’s when I fell in love with winemaking,” he says. With coaching from Severine Pinte, Le Vieux Pin’s winemaker, he began making wine for personal consumption while enrolling in Washington State University’s winemaking program.

“I got hooked in the winemaking, and I knew I wanted to do my own thing,” Jay says. “Then I met Wendy, who shares the passion I have for bubbles.” Wendy grew up in a California household where Champagne was served regularly.

Together, they launched Bella in 2012, operating as a virtual winery until establishing the vineyard and tasting room on the Gulch Road farm.

Jay refers to the location as a homestead. “We grow our own food,” he says. “We raise pigs and chickens for meat and eggs. We have a huge vegetable garden. I am actually testing vegetable crops in between the vine rows this year because I see seven feet of wasted space. I have 100 feet of potatoes down one row, 100 feet of bests and carrots down another. I am going to see how they do for breaking up soil compaction; and beneficial or non-beneficial bugs. I am testing a lot right now to see what works and what doesn’t.”

The estate vineyard, with its young vines, still accounts for only a fraction of the 2,000 cases of wine Bella now makes each year. So far, most of the wine is made with purchased grapes, with each lot turned into a vineyard-designated wine. Jay has not locked down all of his vineyard sources; but this gives Bella wines a kaleidoscope of character from vintage to vintage.

“I really enjoy discovering the personalities that come from each of these vineyards,” Jay says.

Here are notes on some of the wines still available, either on line or in Bella’s tasting room;

Bella Sparkling Gamay 2016 Hillside Vineyard ($26 for 135 cases). The grapes are from one of the oldest plantings in the Okanagan. Whole cluster ferment has given the wine a pale golden hue but a rich, layered palate of fruit. 90.

Bella Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2016 Keremeos Vineyard ($26 for 100 cases). This begins with toasty notes of lees, leading to a fruity palate and a finish of spice and sage. 89.

Bella Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2016 Kamloops. ($27 for 165 cases. The Chardonnay in this wine is from the limestone-rich Harper’s Trail vineyard at Kamloops. The wine is crisp and fresh with flavours of lime and apple and with a backbone of minerals. 91.

Bella 2016 Chardonnay Ancestrale Keremeos Vineyard ($40 for 135 cases). Slightly off-dry, this wine is fruity with notes of peach, apple and lime. 90.

Bella 2016 Gamay Noir Ancestrale Mariani Vineyard ($40 for 54 cases). There are flavours of ripe apple and peach mingled with a funky hint of vegemite.    89.

Bella 2016 Gamay Noir Westbank Vineyard Ancestrale ($40 for 160 cases). This wine begins with a lovely pink hue. There are hints of cranberry and plum on the aroma and palate. The wine has a crisp and dry finish. 90.

Monday, August 7, 2017

SpierHead builds new winery

 Photo: SpierHead's Bill Knutson

The construction activity this summer at SpierHead Wine in East Kelowna is for a new production facility.

“We are currently bottling about 4,000 cases per year,” says Bill Knutson, one of the owners. “We’d like the nudge that figure up a bit but our existing building has reached capacity.”

The winery has now planted 14 acres of its 20-acre property, which was an apple orchard before Bill and his partners began planting grapes in 2008 on the ironically named Gentleman Farmer Vineyard. The last of the apple trees were removed last year, making room for more grapes and for the new building.

Only two or three acres remain to be planted. With Pinot Noir now occupying more than three-quarter of the property, Bill is debating whether to plant more Riesling or perhaps Chardonnay, or a white yet to be determined.

“We are going to try and focus more” Bill says. “I think there is an opportunity to up our game on the Riesling and the Chardonnay. Pinot Gris is going to be Pinot Gris. But fundamentally, what we hope to be is a Pinot Noir house.”

The additional plantings this spring – mostly Pinot Noir, with a small block of Riesling – will support future increases in production for this winery. The large Pinot Noir planting done in 2014 will produce its first crop this year and the winery will need to accommodate 300 or 400 more cases.

SpierHead has managed its growth carefully since opening in 2010, even if Bill jokes that the new production facility will “ensure that there is no risk of the bank balance turning positive.”

Here are notes on current releases.

SpierHead Pinot Gris 2016 ($19). The wine begins with fresh aromas of apples, pears and peaches, echoed in the juicy flavours. The wine has a crisp finish. 90.

SpierHead Chardonnay 2016 ($23 for 460 cases). This Chablis-style Chardonnay begins with citrus aromas that lead to crisp, fresh flavours of green apple and citrus. A portion was aged in neutral oak, with the result that the oak is hardly perceptible on the tangy palate. 90.

SpierHead Riesling 2016 ($21 for 222 cases). The wine begins with lovely aromas of lemon and lime along with notes of herbs. The wine is savoury, with flavours of herbs and spice mingling with citrus and lemon zest. The finish is dry and crisp. 91.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan ($25). This wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry, with a touch of spice on the finish. The bright fruit flavours and the silky texture make this an appealing wine for early drinking. 90.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2015 Golden Retreat Vineyard ($30). This vineyard is in Summerland (and also produces Pinot Gris for SpierHead). There is a Pommard clone and three Dijon clones (115, 667 and 778) in this dark and full-bodied wine with cherry flavours and a rich velvet texture. 91.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2015 Saddle Block Vineyard ($30). There are three Dijon clones in this dark, spicy wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The texture is silky. 91.

SpierHead Pinot Noir Cuvée 2015 ($38). This wine is a blend of multiple clones (Pommard and Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 828), selected from the best barrels. It is a rich and complex wine, generous in texture, with cherry aromas. The flavours of plum and cherry lead to a lingering finish with a touch of cloves. 94.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Laughing Stock releases contrast two vintages

 Photo: David Enns in the Laughing Stock cellar

The latest releases from Laughing Stock Vineyards show off the Okanagan’s two most recent vintages. The contrast between them was dramatic.

The 2016 vintage started with the earliest budbreak in the Okanagan’s history. The vines had a three-week head start and might have produced a huge crop, had the weather not moderated in summer. In the end, the season was long.

“Overall [we had] an exceptional harvest with a very long growing season, meaning more time on the vines for the grapes to develop complex flavours,” the winery notes.

The 2015 vintage was the hottest on record in the Okanagan (at least so far). “Hot vintages don’t necessarily guarantee a stellar vintage as vines can shut down once temperatures go beyond 35◦C,” the winery comments. “And typical of hot recent summers, forest fires abounded, creating other issues such as valley smoke which clouded the sunshine for a few weeks and slowed ripening. Overall, harvest dates were two to three weeks early with fabulously ripe fruit.”

The vintages show in these wines. The two white wines exhibit the balance and crisp acidity that marks so many of the excellent 2016 whites. The three reds from 2015 all echo that “fabulously ripe fruit” that the winery writes about. That means bold, lush wines flirting with high alcohol levels.

To the credit of David and Cynthia Enns, the owners of Laughing Stock, they handled the challenge of 2015 well.

Here are notes on the wines.

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.99 for 1,500 cases). The wine has aromas of  pear and peach, leading to flavours of apple, peach and pear around a backbone of crisp minerals and acidity. The finish is dry. 90.

Laughing Stock Viognier 2016 ($22.99 for 625 cases). The wine begins with powerful aromas of apricots and peaches. On the palate, the rich texture is remarkable, delivering flavours that echo the aromas. There is a hint of honey and vanilla on the nose that repeats on the sybaritic finish. 92.

Laughing Stock Pinot Noir 2015 ($32.99 for 300 cases). This wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak barrels, is available only to members of Laughing Stock’s wine club. Members will get a bold and robust Pinot Noir with aromas and flavours of cherry and plum and with a savoury, spicy finish. A fellow taster commented that “you can taste the sun.” There is indeed a touch of warmth from the 14.5% alcohol; the wine reflects the vintage. 90.

Laughing Stock Syrah 2015 ($35.99 for 948 cases). There is three percent Viognier here, co-fermented with one lot of Syrah in stainless steel. A second lot was fermented in an open-top French oak puncheon and a third lot in a larger French oak tank. The latter lot was 80% whole berry and 20% whole cluster. This detail indicates the length David Enns goes to for complexity. With 14.9% alcohol reflecting a hot vintage, this is a muscular Syrah with aromas of blueberry jam and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and figs with a note of black pepper. The texture is lush and the finish has an earthy, savoury note. 90.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2015 ($28.99 for 1,932 cases). Spoiler alert: if you peel away the capsule, you will find this is a blend 44% Merlot, 34% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak barrels (25% new). This big, mouth-filling red is a fine alternative for those who do not have access to Portfolio, Laughing Stocks icon blend. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and black currant. The rich and ripe palate delivered flavours of black cherry, figs, chocolate and vanilla. 92.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The View raises its Pinotage profile

Photo: The View's Jennifer Molgat

Mellasat Vineyards in South Africa likes to bill itself as the “home of White Pinotage.” Its first vintage of a white wine from South Africa’s iconic red varietal was made in 2007.

The View Vineyards in Kelowna, operated by Jennifer Molgat, might want to call itself the second home of White Pinotage, after being quite successful with two vintages. It is part of what Jennifer calls a Pinotage trifecta: the winery also makes a rosé and a reserve red from the variety.

“We are flying our Pinotage flag high,” Jennifer says.

The winery is on an historic East Kelowna farm that has been in her family for more than a century, primarily as an apple orchard. Chris Turton, her father, began planting grapes in 1994. He added a 3.78-acre block of Pinotage in 1998, which has since been expanded to eight acres. The winery’s vineyard totals 48 acres.

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, was created in 1925 by Abraham Perold, a professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University. The first commercial planting was in 1941 and the variety eventually established itself as something of a signature of the South African wine industry.

The variety came to the Okanagan in the early 1990s when Paul Moser, the South African businessman who founded Lake Breeze Vineyards, imported some vines. Lanny Martiniuk, the owner of Stoneboat Vineyards, propagated the vines and then decided to plant his own block. Chris Turton’s decision to plant Pinotage was made independently.

To date, those three producers are believed the only ones making Pinotage in BC. When The View first made Pinotage, the variety usually hid behind a proprietary name because consumers were not familiar with the variety. That has now changed.

“In the decade since we started – we started in 2007 – we have gone from ‘Pinot what, what is that a blend of?’ to ‘I love your Pinotage!’,” Jennifer says. That is why she now puts the varietal proudly on three different wines.

In 2016 The View replaced a five-acre block of Optima with Pinot Noir, a variety that likely will compete with the visibility of Pinotage.

“We are having fun with the Pinotage,” Jennifer says. “I can see as the Pinot Noir matures that our Pinotage program will definitely lean towards the white and the rosé wines. Pinotage makes an incredible rosé. The white has become fairly popular and the red is delicious. It is developing a following, but I can see that it may take a little bit of a back seat to the Pinot Noir.”

Creating The View’s White Pinotage in 2015 was what Jennifer calls “a project” for Mike Anderson, one of the winery’s two winemakers. “The White Pinotage is whole-cluster pressed, with a very gentle press cycle,” Jennifer says. The 2015 vintage was fermented entirely in stainless steel while 16% of the 2016 was fermented in neutral oak; the rest was in stainless steel.

The 2016 Pinotage Rosé is made in a dry but juicy style. “We destemmed the grapes and soaked them on the skins for 18 hours in the press, for just a slight colour extraction,” Jennifer says. The fermentation was cool. The result is a wine so delicious that she says it is “hard to spit” during a tasting.

“We did not have the confidence before to call it a Pinotage Rosé,” she says. “We had other names for it, such as Distraction Rosé and Voulez View Rosé. And then, with the popularity of the White Pinotage, we said we are going to fly the Pinotage flag and call it Pinotage Rosé.”

The winery made its first Pinotage Reserve in 2014 (now sold out) followed by the 2015, the current release. The wine is aged 10 months, primarily in French oak barrels, 40% of which are new. The oak adds a pleasant toasty note to the wine. Soft tannins give the wine a generous texture. However, Jennifer does not recommend cellaring the Reserve more than three to five years.

The winery gets a lot of mileage from its Pinotage grapes in blends as well. Silver Lining Red 2015 ($15.95) is 94% Pinotage with five percent Merlot and one percent Baco Noir. The Silver Lining Rosé, an off-dry $15.95 wine, is 50% Pinotage with Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Baco Noir filling out the blend. Voulez View Rosé is a Pinotage/Riesling blend. Voulez View 2014 Rouge is 85% Pinotage and 15% Merlot. There is even a fortified red called Well Heeled Red which is 90% Pinotage, 10% Merlot.

(The Voulez View label is being retired. Consumers do not always get the pun.)

Here are notes on some current releases from The View.

The View White Pinotage 2016 ($19.95). The wine is crisp and refreshing, with aromas of citrus, spice and herbs leading to flavours of apple and melon. 90.

The View Dry Riesling 2016 ($N/A). This is a zesty, refreshing wine with citrus aromas and flavours. There is a fine spine of minerality. This wine should be cellared for several years to fully achieve its complex potential. 90.

The View Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.95). The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and pear with some green apple notes and a touch of spice on the finish. 90.

The View Pinotage Rosé 2016 (N/A). Pale rose petal in hue, the wine begins with aromas of cherry and strawberry. On the palate, it has a luscious texture with strawberry flavours and a dry finish. 91.

The View Pinotage Reserve 2015 ($25.95). The wine begins with aromas of cherries mingled with toasty oak and white pepper. On the palate, the cherry flavours are accented with notes of mocha and toasty oak. The tannins are ripe and the texture is generous. 92.