Sunday 30 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Journey’s End

Having made the decision to stay in Osoyoos Sunday night after the conclusion of the Bus Tour, I was able to take my time Monday making my way back to Vancouver. I took the more northerly Coquihalla route on the way to the Okanagan, so it made sense to take the southern route through the Similkameen Valley on the trip home, thus ensuring I could visit as many of my favourite wineries as possible along the way. First I had some unfinished business in the Okanagan though, as there were more than a few wineries to which we simply couldn’t make it during our bus tour. In the back of my generously sized rental SUV I already had eight cases of wine – three of my own and five from other BCWAS members who were grateful for some borrowed trunk space; fortunately there was room for a little bit more!

Tinhorn Creek Barrel Cellar

My first stop of the day was at Tinhorn Creek, where I had confirmed in advance I could pick up my Fall Crush Club allotment of newly released red wines, including the 2009 Oldfield Series reserve wines – Merlot, Syrah, and 2Bench Red (Meritage). It being my big chance to take advantage of my Crush Club (15%) discount, and avoid shipping charges, I made sure to pick up a few additional bottles – gifts for friends, and some more Merlot and Cabernet Franc of course! Outside the winery I visited the Barrel Room to take in the wonderful aromas, and was even lucky enough to spot Winemaker Sandra Oldfield supervising the very first bin of 2012 grapes being loaded into the hopper at the crush pad!

With another case of wine in the trunk I spent the next couple of hours searching for a few more wines on my To-Buy list. I dropped by Road 13 to investigate the recently advertised small lot reds, such as Syrah-Malbec, Syrah-Mourvedre, and some vineyard-specific Pinot Noirs. Unfortunately the wines had not yet received their final VQA approval, and so couldn’t be sold yet, but I made sure to place an order for delivery in the coming weeks. I then returned to Fairview Cellars to pick up Bill’s “Bucket o’ Blood” Cab-Syrah, it having just been labelled – and now ready for sale – the day before (one day after our Bus Tour visit). I also swung over to the Black Sage Bench to check out Black Hills’ shiny new “Wine Experience Centre” and snag a bottle of 2010 Syrah (only the second vintage of this varietal for Black Hills). Being my own designated driver I wasn’t able to sit down for a Tasting Experience in the beautiful venue, but it’s nice to leave something for next time. Finally, just down the road, I stopped at Church & State to see if any new releases were available exclusive to the wine shop (always a possibility in September), but I was saddened to have no luck. I was, however, pleased to meet what I can only assume was the winery’s guard Mantis, an entertaining and fascinating insect which generously posed for photographs.

Church & State Guard Mantis

By mid-day I had worked up quite an appetite and was looking forward to enjoying lunch at Hester Creek’s excellent Terrafina Restaurant. After tasting a number of new releases in the spacious tasting room, I joined the winery’s Communications Manager Sarah Lefebvre for some wine country chat and spectacular pizza. Neither of us could say no to the fire-crisped dough and fresh local ingredients, including tomatoes grown right beside the building! Back in the wine shop I was once again stymied by timing, as the winery’s Reserve Cabernet Franc and big red blend “The Judge” were only days away from release, but Sarah reassured me I would be able to get some one way or the other. The winery does have a comprehensive online store, and sees wide distribution in Vancouver, so my small but growing vertical of The Judge will eventually be joined by the 2009 vintage.

Finally making my way out of the Okanagan Valley I had a number of stops ahead of me in the Similkameen on the way to Vancouver. The first winery encountered after leaving Osoyoos on the Crowsnest Highway is Forbidden Fruit, so far south as to be nearly at the Canada-US border. Having missed visiting this renowned organic farm and fruit winery in the past due to time constraints, I was committed to finally stopping by this time around. Bouncing down the dirt road along the Similkameen River I soon arrived at the charming tasting room and immediately picked out some fresh organic peaches and apples available for sale. I also made sure to leave with a bottle of Pomme Desiree Iced Apple Wine: the 2009 vintage was named top fruit wine at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, and the newest vintage (2010) was the only non-Quebec wine to even medal! I look forward to returning to Forbidden Fruit in the future to enjoy the picnic area overlooking the River, and perhaps tour the orchards with owners Steve Venables & Kim Brind'Amour.

Travelling a short distance up the highway I made sure to stop at Seven Stones, where I got the chance to catch up with owner George Hanson, and get bottles of newly released 2010 Cabernet Franc and Row 128 Merlot. I always make sure to find room in my cellar for George’s supremely well-crafted wines, his rich reds in particular. I was a bit too early for the upcoming 2010 “The Legend” Meritage, but George tantalized me with talk of Christmas Gift Packs that might include opportunity for this very small lot wine (100 cases produced).

Continuing on my way I made a short stop at Eau Vivre, where I was excited to get one of the last remaining bottles of Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2009 Pinot Noir, along with a 100% Similkameen Malbec from the 2010 vintage. After I left and complimented the tasty, albeit quick experience over Twitter, owner Dale Wright was actually apologetic for not “recognizing” me during my visit! I certainly didn’t expect any special treatment, and was just glad enough he managed to find some of that special Pinot Noir while I was there. Yet another winery to spend more time experiencing in the future!

As I eased my way west I paused to say hello to Orofino Vineyards’ proprietors John and Virginia Weber, while we watched a new barrel delivery in progress. I left with another bottle of delicious 2010 “Scout Vineyard” Syrah upon re-tasting it, plus a couple bottles of bright 2011 Gamay to enjoy in the waning days of summer. I was pleased to keep my record of Orofino being my most visited winery (since 2005) intact!

Before getting serious about actually returning to Vancouver – considering the afternoon was rapidly coming to a close – I made sure to visit Herder Winery and pick up a few bottles of brand new 2010 Pinot Noir for myself and some friends. We’d all enjoyed the 2009 quite a bit following our June visit, and Proprietor and Winemaker Lawrence Herder was quick to report that he likes the new 2010 even more! Wishing I could stay and chat longer with the wonderful Herders I confirmed directions and hours of the nearby Robin Ridge Winery before setting out for my final winery visit. Just before the end of the business day I zoomed through Robin Ridge to add one more bottle to my collection: the 2009 Reserve Merlot won Double Gold (Best of Category) at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships, after being named Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

Assessing the Damage

Arriving home in the late evening I was glad to be back in familiar surroundings after quite a whirlwind weekend. My wife was certainly pleased I’d made it home in one piece, and I had a fun time suggesting to her that all ten cases of wine in the trunk were ours. I’m not sure she was relieved when I revealed “only” about 60 bottles were ultimately staying with us, but even she couldn’t deny they were quite a sight to behold lined up together – a delicious future for a couple years down the road. I would soon be faced with the decision of where to put all this wine, considering I seem to be collecting it faster than I can drink it, but that’s a story for another day!

Monday 24 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Okanagan Falls

After a good night’s sleep I was ready for Day Two the next morning: five wineries and a highly anticipated lunch were ahead of us, so we wasted little time getting back on the road. Upon arrival at the picturesque vineyards and stately tasting room of Blue Mountain Vineyards we were greeted by Sales & Marketing Manager Christie Mavety, who welcomed us with glasses of Brut Sparkling to awaken our palettes. Christie shared the spectacularly good news that the winery will soon be releasing some vintage sparkling wines, including a 2005 Brut, and a 2006 Blanc de Blanc: keep your eyes peeled for these gems this fall! As we sampled nearly the entire Blue Mountain portfolio we learned about the high-density planting strategy being used to intentionally stress the vines and make them root deeply. Such a bold move is risky however, just like the nerve-wracking experiments with wild yeast also being conducted at this adventurous winery. Fortunately I wasn’t nervous in the least purchasing Stripe Label Pinot Gris (2011) and Pinot Noir (2009), plus a bottle of juicy Gamay Noir (2011) earmarked for Christmas dinner.

Blue Mountain Vineyards

A scenic walk down the long driveway of our next destination off McLean Creek Road – Meyer Family Vineyards – ended at one of the most comfortable and enjoyable tasting experiences of the entire tour when we sat down around the patio outside the tasting room. Proprietor JAK Meyer and his wife Janice Stevens were on hand to pour glasses of 2011 Gewurztraminer, an elegant, Alsatian-styled wine to beat the heat as the sun began to burn the early morning clouds away. The great value entry-level “Okanagan Valley” Chardonnay ($22) and Pinot Noir ($25) elicited praise from the crowd as Janice weaved in and out passing out treats to complement each wine, such as blueberry jujubes. We finished with samples of the superbly balanced 2010 Tribute Chardonnay, and the delicious 2010 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir. JAK shared the good news that he is starting an annual wine club for fans of his small lot production, while we once again lined up out the door to open our wallets and cellars to more great wine. Having acquired almost the entire portfolio already over the course of the past year, I elected on a couple bottles of Gewurztraminer to bolster my selection of aromatic whites at home.

Meyer Vineyards

Within just a few minutes bus ride we found ourselves at Wild Goose Vineyards and their neighbours Stag’s Hollow for the next couple of hours. Passing through Wild Goose’s spacious new tasting room we were seated on the deck overlooking the Stoney Slope Vineyard by Proprietor Roland Kruger for our highly anticipated lunch by Joy Road Catering. Considering the Society had enjoyed a wildly successful lunch at Orofino during last year’s Bus Tour, it was obvious another meal to benefit from Joy Road’s passionately local culinary talent was necessary.

Wild Goose Stoney Slope Vineyard

After rearranging the tables to keep us out of the now blazing sunshine we settled down to a glass of Wild Goose’s gorgeous honeyed 2011 Riesling (winner of Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival). Homemade artisan breads with farmhouse butter kept our hunger at bay while plates of charcuterie and ripe peaches – picked that very morning – were distributed. Soon enough our glasses were refilled with Wild Goose’s 2009 Merlot and our plates graced with Upper Bench blue cheese gnocchi, roasted eggplant, beet greens, and braised lamb shoulder for the omnivores. For dessert Roland had a treat in store as he poured Wild Goose’s “Black Brant” fortified Marechal Foch to pair with platters of caramels and truffles.

Wild Goose Lunch Preparations

After lunch we split into two groups to tour Wild Goose and visit Stag’s Hollow in turn. Roland was clearly proud to show us the new building and the potential it holds. He pointed out where the winery was hoping to host weddings overlooking the vineyard, and showed off the extensive tank and barrel rooms below ground. With white wines firmly mastered the winery is starting to work their red wine production hard, with a major focus on a barrel program that will help push Wild Goose’s reputation that much higher. Returning to the tasting room we worked our way through a long list of crisp, floral whites and increasingly well-crafted reds before crowding the register to continue filling the boxes secured in the bus outside. Having enjoyed the Riesling so much at lunch I knew I needed some to go, and added a bottle of Black Brant as well for good measure.

At Stag’s Hollow, a tasting of new releases was accompanied by discussion of the winery’s commitment to sustainability. The winery buildings have been heated and cooled for a long time using geothermal technology. Avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides whenever possible ensures the vineyards are “not pretty, but very alive” in the words of Proprietor Larry Gerelus. Wines on offer included the very unique “GVM”, a unique white blend of Grenache, Viognier, and Marsanne. Next up, the 2011 “Simply Noir” red blend showed plenty of bright fruit as only the Pinot Noir (9%) was oaked, while the Gamay (60%) and Merlot (31%) components remained in stainless steel throughout production.

Stag's Hollow Tasting Room

Stag’s Hollow Winemaker Dwight Sick was particularly eager to show off his new 2010 Cabernet Franc. Dwight told us the acidity profile of the 2010 is even better balanced than his Best of Class 2009 vintage, so the 215 cases produced likely won’t last long! Still, that seems like plenty compared to the limited production “Cachet” series of ultra-small lot wines the winery launched last year. A mouth-filling glass of “Cachet No. 01” left us eager for more of this full-bodied blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, and Syrah. Considering only 1500 bottles were produced (and the 450 bottles of Grenache-Syrah Cachet No. 02 having sold out long ago) it’s astounding that any remain for sale. Fortunately I picked up my bottles of both Cachet’s long ago, but I made sure to get the new Cabernet Franc, Renaissance Pinot Noir, and Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc while I was in the tasting room.

By mid-afternoon it was time to depart for our last winery visit of the trip. We scooted around the corner to Noble Ridge Vineyards and a warm welcome from Manager Tamsin Finnigan. Under clear blue skies we drank in the spectacular view of Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff in the background, while sipping the 2011 “Mingle” white blend. It wasn’t long before tour guide Dave took us on into the vineyards to visit tasting stations amongst the vines: we sampled Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir and then enjoyed the superb value 2009 Meritage (only $20). Back indoors we even had the chance to sample the 2009 “King’s Ransom” super-premium Cabernet-Merlot, built to age in the cellar while the highly approachable Meritage fills your glasses in the short term.

Noble Ridge View

After filling the last available slots in our boxes with plenty of well-priced Noble Ridge wine we headed back to Walnut Beach Resort for the last time and began unloading quite a lot of wine! More than a few members had to depart in short order for points known and unknown, but those who stayed around for dinner that night shared more bottles of wine both new and old, and even witnessed a surprisingly clean indoor champagne sabering lesson from our President. Fortunately I was able to stay an additional night in Osoyoos and didn’t need to spend the evening making the long, dark drive back to Vancouver. Nevertheless, after a long and exciting weekend I had to conserve my strength for a tour of the Similkameen on the way home the next day, so I soon turned in for the night. As a first-time attendee on the bus tour I had a fantastic time overall, and am already looking forward to next year!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Oliver-Osoyoos

In the harsh light of Saturday morning the BCWAS Bus Tour participants discovered a bit of a surprise waiting for us in the parking lot: our anticipated bus had been replaced by a full size model much larger than expected! The shorter-wheelbase vehicle we had “ordered” was unavailable at the last minute, so the substitution caused a bit of hand-wringing by the Society’s Executive – worried about whether such an ungainly vehicle could make it up the steep hills and around the sharp turns ahead of us. Fortunately our talented driver would prove more than capable in the days ahead – surprising many with his skilful handling of the dauntingly large bus.

Covert Farms Tasting Room Preparations

With everyone aboard and spread out amongst the much larger space we headed out to our first stop of the tour at Covert Farms beside McIntyre Bluff north of Oliver. Our bus and driver were soon put to the test inching up the long incline to the winery and farm building. Fortunately we soon filled the tasting room with 35 fans of breakfast wine. Our Covert family hosts masterfully poured us samples from a well-prepared tasting bar while we learned about the 600 acres of 65 types of organic produce grown on site, including 25 acres of vineyards. We sampled some extremely tasty fresh tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and grapes as we sipped Pinot Blanc, Rosé, and adventurous reds such as the smoky “MDC” Cabernet-Zinfandel-Syrah blend, and “The Bluff” Cabernet-Petit Verdot. With the winery still getting off the ground – having been founded only seven years ago (as “Dunhan & Froese”) – we were told that going forward would see a focus on lower cropped vines, and a more serious barrel program.

Covert Farms Fresh Organic Produce

With quite a few cases of wine already started and without further delay we zipped back onto the road and headed south to the Black Sage Bench and our lunch date at Burrowing Owl. Despite arriving a little bit late we still enjoyed a walkabout tasting on the terrace overlooking the winery’s pool and extensive vineyards beyond it. Our lunch in the Sonora Room restaurant elicited compliments on the expertly prepared food, including immaculate Seafood Crepe Terrine and Cherry-smoked Slow-roasted Pork Loin. Back vintages of 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Merlot provided ideal accompaniments to the delicious food. I myself received a customized vegetarian menu of Roasted & Grilled Vegetable Terrine with red quinoa salad, followed by Three Grain & Summer Vegetable Succotash. The Chardonnay was great with the Terrine, and instead of Merlot I was poured a glass of smooth and juicy 2009 Pinot Noir alongside my Succotash.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard View

After lunch it was back on the bus and over to the other side of the valley to visit Bill Eggert’s Fairview Cellars. Bill’s little log cabin tasting room wouldn’t even come close to holding us so we relaxed in the shade outside while we sampled 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, and a series of his consistently masterful reds. Comparing the 2010 and 2006 Madcap Red blends was particularly exciting considering the complexity and richness evident in the older bottling – which Bill suggested had another 3-4 years ahead of it too! A new 2010 vintage of Bill’s most well-known wine “The Bear” Meritage had been labelled only days before, and more than a few bottles thus ended up in members’ boxes and bags. Samples of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Franc directly from the tank helped to further cement Bill’s reputation as a master of red wine. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, as he pointed out plans for significantly enlarging his underground barrel room!

Fairview Cellars Tasting Room

Having sufficiently exhausted Bill’s cash register and loaded up the bus with yet more wine we travelled south to Rustico Cellars for our final winery visit of the day. After a brisk walk up the long driveway to the winery we marvelled at the sod-roofed 1800’s-era log bunkhouse on site. Eclectic owner Bruce Fuller entertained us all with uninterrupted bar-top pouring into three dozen tumblers as we rotated through the snug tasting room. We tried out Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc Rose from the Similkameen Valley, “Last Chance” Zinfandel, and a hearty Cab-Merlot amusingly named “Threesome”. What was particularly fascinating about this winery was learning that they own 400 acres of vineyards – some over 50 years old – and sell grapes to 27 other wineries in the region!

Rustico Vineyards

The short trip back to Walnut Beach Resort gave us time for a rest period before our scheduled dinner with Similkameen winery Clos du Soleil at the Watermark Beach Resort in downtown Osoyoos. Many members took advantage of the refreshing outdoor pool and soothing hot tubs while enjoying the beach view across the lake. A cool beer after a surprisingly tiring day of chauffeured travel really hit the spot! Soon it was back on the bus for the trip around the corner and across the causeway to the Watermark.

At the Watermark we were escorted through the wine bar to the courtyard patio. Having the whole patio to ourselves, with the outdoor kitchen in full view, was quite a treat. We were even luckier to hear from Clos du Soleil’s Marketing & Sales Director Andria Lee and Vineyard Manager Jean-Felix Boulais about the stellar line-up of wines to be had with our meal. Andria and Felix explained the biodynamic and organic focus of the winery, which uses no pesticides and instead focuses on all-natural solutions like vineyard chickens. Celebrated industry veteran Ann Sperling has been the consulting winemaker since 2008, and helps to encourage sustainable practices in all areas.

Clos du Soleil Gift Bags

With no time to lose for the hungry diners Executive Chef Jonas Stadtlander and his team began serving the first of our five course meal, with Clos du Soleil’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé: paté de Champagne served with rhubarb leather, house-made pickles, and fresh baguette warmed up our palettes wonderfully. The 2010 “Capella” Bordeaux-style white blend was next, alongside refreshing tomato soup with marinated seafood. Our third course saw the winery’s 2009 “Signature” red blend paired with curry-scented beef shank ravioli served with a spectacular creamy celeriac puree!

As the sun set over the western hills guests dove into a plate of roasted duck breast, fingerling potatoes, and blue cheese gratin, with the (sold out) 2010 “Celestiale” entry-level red blend in our glasses. Finally, with content grins on our faces we savoured lavender hazelnut praline ice parfait and peach & blueberry compote served with 2011 “Saturn” late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Throughout the meal each course included a vegetarian option which I relished, but it was obvious the other dinners also enjoyed their meals immensely. We were sure to applaud the talented Chef and attentive Watermark staff as Andria drew names for a generous selection of Clos du Soleil gift packs. A few valuable bottles of wines went home with grateful guests at the end of the night!

Thursday 13 September 2012

Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Tasting

The team at celebrated Oliver boutique winery Le Vieux Pin has spent the past few years developing an ultra-small lot tier of special reserve wines called the “Equinoxe” series. Le Vieux Pin is just now starting to harvest only their eighth vintage, so the Equinoxe wines are still very much a work in progress, but it all started in 2006 from a “meagre half ton” of Cabernet Franc. The winery’s Golden Mile “La Feuille D’Or” vineyard had yielded a small parcel of exceptional Cabernet Franc grapes that were harvested, handled, and fermented uniquely; the winery speaks of hand inspecting and de-stemming each individual berry! Since that initial harvest other vineyards have yielded similarly spectacular parcels in various years, including Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay, with the “largest” release so far being the 2008 Equinoxe Merlot – coming from eight treasured barrels (compare that to only 200 litres of 2006 Cabernet Franc).

This week a group of lucky media and friends of the winery were invited to the first “Master Class” seminar detailing the Equinoxe wines, and given a chance to taste five sublime samples. Le Vieux Pin General Manager Rasoul Salehi and Winemaker Severine Pinte were on hand to tell us about the wines and the incredible precision mandated at the winery. One remarkable detail that came about is the fact that some Equinoxe wines have not seen, or may not see the light of day: if deemed unworthy of the name after bottling – despite all the work that went into them – they are not released to the public! As Rasoul puts it, “It helps to have a thirsty proprietor” to bite the bullet and drink these 95% perfect wines.

Having had the opportunity to explore the wines of Le Vieux Pin (and sister winery LaStella) as well as get to know the passionate people behind them over the past couple of years I have grown to respect and cherish them immensely. The overall approach at the winery is to assume that all the grapes/wines will be Equinoxe quality, and to handle them all as such until certain lots reveal themselves as uniquely special. Wine not quite up to snuff for the reserve level is directed to the excellent “Varietal” series, and any remaining wine ends up in the highly quaffable series of “Petit Rouge” and “Petit Blanc” table wine blends. The end result is that even when one is consuming a great value $20 bottle the grapes may still have been individually hand inspected, but due to some twist of fate in the barrel room, didn’t make the cut for Equinoxe.

Equinoxe Wines

The wines we tasted included four different varietals, starting with the 2009 Equinoxe Chardonnay, predecessor to the upcoming 2010 release. Only 72 cases (approximately three barrels) of Chardonnay from a Golden Mile contract grower were deemed appropriate for the Equinoxe label that year. One particularly eye-opening fact shared by Rasoul is that Le Vieux Pin pays contract growers by the acre, not by the ton, which reduces the incentive to increase yield beyond the ideal. Combined with similarly exacting practices in the estate vineyards the result can be harvests with a yield under one ton per acre – a stunningly small amount. This particular Chardonnay came from near ancient (in BC) 39-year-old vines that yielded 2.4 tons per acre. The result, after 6 months in 100% new French oak barrels is a rich, smoothly textured wine with elegant oak integration and a very long finish. The winery suggests food pairings that eschew complexity that would mask the wine’s many layers, the example provided being a simple pan fried trout or halibut with a side of vegetables.

After the Chardonnay we had the chance to compare and contrast the first two vintages of Equinoxe Syrah, from 2008 and 2009. Having recently replaced their Pinot Noir vines Le Vieux Pin is beginning to zero in on Syrah as a prime focus for their efforts to express the Southern Okanagan terroir. In 2008 only three barrels from surprisingly young vines (3 years old) in the Golden Mile yielded the first Equinoxe Syrah. Naturally it is a very dark and rich wine, which Severine feels has more minerality than the 2009 – she described a characteristic that reminds one of licking granite. The intense 2009 growing season provided for another Equinoxe opportunity, which paid off with 160 cases from two vineyards that included Black Sage Bench fruit this time around. Both vintages have had a few percentage points of Viognier added to fermentation to lift the aromatics, and the upcoming, younger 2009 release seems to possess a bit more of that perfumed contribution. Both wines are rich in dark fruits, liquorice, and pepper. Interestingly, Rasoul and others feel that grapes (Syrah in particular) grown on the eastern bank Black Sage Bench acquire black pepper characteristics, while those from the western bank Golden Mile Bench show more white/pink pepper flavours.

The 2008 Equinoxe Merlot came next, and although it is the current release, fans will be hard-pressed to find some of the 175 cases produced and already sold out. The 2009 Equinoxe Merlot – of which only 50 cases were produced – will not be released until next Spring, three and a half years after harvest! A specific block of vines in the rocky Feuille D’Or vineyard consistently yield Equinoxe-calibre Merlot in a style that the winery considers “intense with firm tannins.” After 21 months in 60% new French oak, and then over two years in bottle I would tend to agree that this wine still possesses plenty of long-lasting tannins. On the nose it smells very clean and fresh – youthful almost – which develops in the glass to produce what I found to be a mouth-watering savoury aroma like soup stock. For pairing the winery recommends equally rich, complex foods such as grilled rib eye over blue cheese polenta, or lamb tagine with raisin and mint couscous – I can definitely see the mint working quite well.

The final wine of the tasting was the successor to that first special Cabernet Franc, and like the 2006, it was the only Equinoxe wine from the 2007 vintage. Once again the Feuille D’Or vineyard delivered marvellously, but with only one row of vines of the appropriate calibre a similarly meagre one barrel came out of a harvest of only 0.7 tons/acre! The lucky strike was repeated in 2008 with another barrel, but for 2009 the final results are still uncertain after bottling – it could be a vintage exclusive to the proprietor’s cellar should it not develop as desired. The 2007 wine has become what Rasoul describes as “Porty” with a richness that last year led John Schreiner to award a 95-point score to this “tour de force”. It is the Equinoxe Cabernet Franc that tends to best represent the philosophy behind Le Vieux Pin’s approach to wine: marrying the fruit intensity of the new world with the structure of the old world. Their obvious success is a boon to wine fans everywhere – especially now that they have international distribution that includes some of Europe’s top restaurants and wine shops.

My thanks to Rasoul and Severine for hosting such an informative and illuminating seminar, and to the proprietors and staff of Le Vieux Pin for raising the bar and keeping it high year after year – cheers to your continued success!

Wednesday 12 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Objective Osoyoos

Last weekend the BC Wine Appreciation Society held our annual bus tour, this year focusing on the southern Okanagan valley. Having only joined the Society early last year, this was my first opportunity to join the bus tour fun (I missed out last year due to scheduling conflicts). This year I was determined to join the festivities and take advantage of a near perfect occasion to visit wine country: after the summer rush, but just before the Fall Wine Festival. My hopes were that I’d be able to pick up many of the new fall releases in person, before, during, and after the bus tour.

I set out from Vancouver in a rented Ford Explorer SUV, to ensure plenty of trunk space (which would prove particularly useful later on). I have no connection with Ford, but must mention that throughout the trip I was extremely impressed with the vehicle – from the synchronization with my Android phone, to the intelligent cruise control that ensures a safe following distance. I was very sad to see it go when the trip was over! After a relatively relaxing drive up the Coquihalla Highway and Okanagan Connector I emerged in Peachland and headed straight to Mission Hill. Ironically I had yet to visit this legendary property and winery, so I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by yet again. Not to mention, Mission Hill has a highly respected restaurant, which seemed like an ideal place to stop for lunch.

Mission Hill Bell Tower

Upon arriving I spent some time admiring the spectacular architecture and immaculate grounds, including some of the best views in the valley. I continued to admire the view of Okanagan Lake and the eastern shoreline while enjoying a delicious lunch at the open air Terrace Restaurant. The precise service, flavourful and impeccably prepared food, and the stunning vistas certainly explain why the Terrace has been named one of the top five winery restaurants in the world!

After lunch I swung through the expansive wine shop and took the opportunity to stock my cellar with some of the new releases on which I was focused. I began with a bottle of the consistently well crafted Oculus (2009), to add to my vertical collection, and soon added with pleasure a bottle of 2010 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir. The limited edition single vineyard Martin’s Lane wines (Riesling and Pinot Noir at present) are named in honour of Proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s father, and are not widely distributed outside the winery. The first vintage of Pinot Noir in this new tier has proven impressive, and should go even further when it blossoms in bottle, according to Anthony Gismondi. To round out a half-dozen bottles, I added two each of the newly released 2009 Quatrain and 2009 Compendium, Mission Hill’s “Legacy Series” red blends. I’ve been collecting each since their first vintages (2005 and 2006 respectively), and they consistently receive glowing accolades and awards, such as Gismondi’s recent 90+ point reviews for each. After years of careful cellaring and a few pleasing samples along the way, I look forward to really delving into those first vintages this year!

Mission Hill Terrace Restaurant View

With the afternoon rapidly progressing I couldn’t dawdle any longer, plus I felt like I should leave a few mysteries to explore at Mission Hill for my next visit. The rest of the afternoon would be devoted to quick stops at a select few wineries on the way south to my eventual destination in Osoyoos, where the bus tour was set to start Saturday morning. I swung past Quails’ Gate up the road from Mission Hill on my way out of town to grab a bottle of winery-exclusive Tawny, and then headed straight to Penticton and the Naramata Bench.

My first stop at the southern end of the Bench was Poplar Grove, where I was extremely pleased to find three newly released 2009 reds: the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning Cabernet Franc was accompanied by Syrah and Merlot, and all three soon went into the case in my trunk. I was particularly lucky to acquire the Merlot, as it had just been released that very day, and would in fact end up pulled back into the cellar after my departure when it was deemed to require more time before full release!

Up the road I arrived at Red Rooster in time to quickly peruse the tasting room and pick out the newly released wines I was after – the 2010 reserve Malbec, Meritage, and Syrah. Last year’s BC Wine Awards named the 2009 Red Rooster Syrah as Best Red Wine, which rapidly diminished the supply and prevented me from acquiring even a single bottle. At least I got to taste it during this spring’s Playhouse International Wine Festival, and it was superb. As a result, I wasn’t going to miss the 2010 vintage, given the record of excellence winemaker Karen Gillis is developing. Only 458 cases of Syrah were produced, and barely half as many of the Malbec were just put on the market. I’m always intrigued by BC Malbec so I tend to pick up a bottle whenever I see one, which is infrequently and often from very small lots. Quite a bit more Meritage was put together (1,550 cases), but at $25 it should sell quite briskly, so a bottle for the cellar was certainly in order. Considering Karen’s 2010 Cabernet Merlot ($19) was just named #1 Canadian Wine at the Wine Access International Value Wine Awards, I’m sure the Meritage has great potential.

Leaving Red Rooster I was faced with a painful choice: I could pop next door to Ruby Blues and hope to find a bottle of the winery exclusive 2011 Viognier, recently honoured with a Lt. Governor’s Award, or I could hope to make it down to Blasted Church before closing – but not both! As I was hoping to add a third vintage to my vertical of Blasted Church Nothing Sacred Meritage I had to forgo an opportunity for some undoubtedly delicious Viognier. Calling ahead to Blasted Church, I managed to persuade the gracious tasting room staff to stay open for a few minutes past closing while I raced down along the shore of Skaha Lake. Seeing as I missed out on the now sold-out Holy Moly Petit Verdot when I neglected to buy a bottle during my visit in June, I was quite pleased to check off the Meritage from my To-Buy List!

With virtually every tasting room now closed for the day I set off for the Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos where I would be spending the next three nights along with the rest of the BCWAS Bus Tour participants. We were warned that the bus would leave promptly from the front entrance at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings, so one definitely needed to stay on site! On my way past the Golden Mile wineries I noticed that Cassini Cellars was still open, and so took advantage of a golden opportunity to obtain a bottle of 2009 Cabernet Franc – only 85 cases made! This first varietal Cabernet Franc from Cassini has received very positive press, and was first runner up in its category at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival (second to Sumac Ridge’s 2009 Black Sage Vineyard offering). This “swoon-inducing” rarity was not yet released when I stopped by in June, so I was excited to get a second chance for a bottle before it sells out.

At the Resort I met up with a number of additional members in the penthouse suite booked by our Society President, where we shared wines from our personal cellars over a hearty pasta dinner. My final bottle of CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Merlot went over very well, and as the evening went on I relished hearing entertaining tales from previous bus tours. Anticipating our early morning start many of us retired to our rooms in short order, keen to ensure enough energy for the fun-filled days ahead. I contentedly took stock of my new cellar additions back in my room, and prepared myself for the adventures to come.