I picked up a lot of wine during my trip through the Okanagan last month, before, during, and after the BCWAS Bus Tour, but there’s always room for a little bit more. Even though I did most of my fall shopping directly at the wineries, a few bottles escaped me, or just fell into my lap recently. There are several that are definitely worth mentioning.
First are those I missed last month, including Hester Creek’s 2009 “The Judge” icon red blend, which was scheduled for release only days after my visit there. Certain wines, while present at the winery, can’t be sold until achieving VQA approval, despite the protestations of fans! Fortunately some friends of mine were passing right by the winery on their way to Penticton over Thanksgiving weekend, and were kind enough to stop in and snag me a bottle for my growing vertical (the wine is only in its third vintage). The Judge is a fairly small lot wine: only 285 cases were produced of the 2008 vintage, and 220 of the first release from 2007. Local wine writer John Schreiner has been a consistent fan of this big wine, deeming the first release to be a 92-point wine, and last year’s a solid 94 points!
I mentioned visiting one of my favourite wineries, Church & State, the day after the BCWAS Bus Tour, on the off chance some new releases might be available for purchase. Unfortunately I had no luck, and so had to console myself by making friends with a very photogenic Praying Mantis. However, in the weeks since then, winery owner Kim Pullen stopped by some Metro Vancouver VQA stores for the tasting circuit, bringing with him the brand new 2010 Coyote Bowl Syrah. I stopped by Richmond’s Sip Wines to say hello to Kim, and pick up a bottle of this now legendary wine. Last year the 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah was named top red wine in Canada at the Canadian Wine Awards, and the winery has already let it slip that the 2010 vintage has (what is likely) a prominent gold medal at this year’s CWAs. The 2012 top red wine has yet to the be announced, but a repeat winner is not out of the picture given the fully blind, unbiased nature of the judging.
A third wine I had sought during my trip but for which I had been stymied is the Di Bello Wines 2010 Syrah. On my way down to Osoyoos from lunch at Mission Hill I had diverted to custom crush facility Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, Di Bello’s new home as of the 2012 vintage. Although the 2010 wines were not produced at OCP, they are reported to be carried in the wine shop, so it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to acquire a partner for my Di Bello 2010 Merlot. Unfortunately OCP was temporarily closed the very afternoon I arrived – detailed on the hand-written sign taped to the shut gate I encountered. No hard feelings however; it is a small, working winery, and can’t always accommodate visitors. Luckily some friends from BCWAS were scheduled to meet up with Tom and Tari Di Bello later that week, and were able to bring home a bottle of Syrah for my collection.
At the end of September, after having left the Okanagan for likely the final time this year, I carefully followed the results of the BC Wine Awards, announced during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. The 2012 award winner’s list included announcement of the top sparkling, white, red, and dessert wines: Road 13’s 2009 Sparkling Chenin shone – no surprise – and newly revived Lang Vineyards won best white for their 2008 Reserve Riesling. The best red wine was deemed to be Quinta Ferreira’s 2009 Syrah, sequel to the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2008 vintage. Fortunately this 465-case wine is – or at least was – in fairly wide release at VQA stores, so I picked up a bottle to see how it fares in a couple of years. I also brought home from my visit to Sip Wines a bottle of See Ya Later’s newly released 2011 “Hunny” Late Harvest Riesling, named Best Dessert Wine. It never hurts to have a few bottles of quality dessert wine in the cellar for special occasions and/or gift-giving, and Hunny’s reasonable price of $25 is certainly an attractive alternative to ice wine.
The BC Wine Awards also shone light on a new development at Sumac Ridge: the winery has spun off the top tier Black Sage Vineyard wines into their own label, taking with them the Pipe fortified wine. (The Steller’s Jay Sparkling wine is reportedly getting the same treatment.) The Awards bestowed a Gold medal upon the 2010 Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc, and there being plenty of room so far in the 2010 section of my collection I felt it couldn’t hurt to add one of these bottles. I haven’t focused much attention on Sumac’s wines in quite a while; the tendency for the high quality Black Sage varietal reds (Merlot, Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon) to get forgotten amongst the winery’s many other wines and tiers is precisely the reason the label was spun off. Hopefully the gamble succeeds without causing unintended confusion amongst fans and consumers.
A couple other curiosities I picked up this month include a wine I thought I’d never see in person. When visiting Naramata’s Kettle Valley Winery in June I asked about the 2008 Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir, and received only a bemused chuckle in return. This ultra-small lot, single vineyard wine was long since sold out, there having been only 88 cases produced, with grapes from the original estate vineyards established in 1988. It’s a wine that owner and winemaker Bob Ferguson lists in his top three personal favourites. Sadly I’m told there will not be a 2009 Hayman Pinot Noir due to a tank mix-up that rendered a single vineyard bottling impossible; no doubt some very good blended Pinot Noir will still come out of the 2009 vintage however. I found what must be one of the last few bottles still on store shelves at Kitsilano Wine Cellar, and immediately snatched it up. I’ve been supremely impressed by this newly expanded store’s BC selection, with their focus on small lots and non-VQA wines yielding significant dividends for collectors.
My final acquisition of the month was a particular rarity – a bottle of 2010 Meritage from Vindication Cellars. Vindication is the side project of Church & State’s very talented winemaker Jeff Del Nin, one in which he can try out techniques and wine styles he doesn’t normally use in his “day job”. Jeff recently released a couple hundred cases each of Rosé and Meritage, primarily sold directly through him. Having tried the excellent 2009 Meritage – back when Jeff’s project was called “Blind Tiger” – I had to get at least one bottle of this new release, made from Similkameen Valley Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). Those same friends who’d picked up my Di Bello Syrah also allowed me to piggyback on their order with Jeff, and I already regret not acquiring more given the terrific price. However, the five cases of wine – and buoyant credit card bill – I’d brought back from the BCWAS Bus Tour had served to somewhat temper my impulses; only temporary I’m sure.