I recently received the honour and privilege of tasting a dozen brand new 2013 wines from across BC, while the winery proprietors and winemakers themselves discussed the vintage with a room of Vancouver media. The BC Wine Institute had invited us to the Rosewood Hotel Georgia to learn about the quality of the 2013 vintage, and to preview a broad selection of wines, some still in tank and barrel, others formally bottled only days beforehand! We sat down to thirteen glasses of aromatic joy, ranging from very pale yellow in colour to the beautiful darker hues of Rosé, Gamay, and Pinot Noir.
As Moderator DJ Kearney explained, last year’s excellent vintage was one of the top four of the past fifteen years in terms of heat units. The season experienced an average start – quite literally, with June nearly perfectly matching historically average Growing Degree Days. Temperatures spiked quickly in July, with 415 degree days (61 above the average); the vintage was shaping up to be another gem like 2007. By September temperatures were still warmer than average, but a freak hailstorm in Kelowna wreaked havoc on a few vineyards, ruining their chances for a profitable season. Some early rainstorms during harvest provided worry, particularly for tightly clustered Pinot varieties, and sour rot was a very real challenge in some vineyards. The wet grapes combined with wasps and then fruit flies to yield a perfect storm that needed very careful management for some of the at-risk grapes. Ironically, the month of October was the coldest since at least 1998, but clear of inclement weather, allowing for long hang time and full phenological ripeness of many varieties.
Bob Johnson of Baillie-Grohman Winery in Creston was first to introduce a couple of his new white wines, coming to us directly from one of BC’s newest “emerging wine regions” far to the east of the Okanagan Valley. Bob’s impressive Gewurztraminer has sufficient fruit to avoid an overly perfumed presentation, with a big spicy, citrusy, floral nose. The rich palate contains flavours of mango, lychee, and Turkish delight, serving as an ideal example of the variety. The bright Pinot Gris expresses itself with ripe pear and peach aromas, and follows through with flavours in parallel, plus fresh melon and citrus.
CedarCreek Winemaker Darryl Brooker spoke next, introducing his Platinum Riesling, beneficiary of an extremely early harvest that has yielded a very racy, low alcohol surprise. The first version of the wine in 2012 contained nearly 25 grams per liter of residual sugar but this year’s successor shows a moderate 15 grams. The wine is a mouth-watering delight for the senses, walking the line between acid and sugar. It begins with delicate apple and floral aromas and leads into a very zingy citrus palate, with a long finish of young, fresh pineapple – it definitely left an impression in the room.
Darryl also had the opportunity to introduce the first Rosé of the tasting, from 395 cases of fresh Pinot Noir. Previously, a portion of the juice from the winery’s varietal Pinot Noir was bled off to make a relatively dry Rosé. However, in 2013 the practice was stopped as the winery came to the realization that the concentration derived from doing so is actually unnecessary. CedarCreek’s 2013 Rosé is noticeably sweeter and slightly less acidic than the 2012 version, which struggled in a marketplace seemingly seeking off-dry patio sippers. Fortunately, the new wine retains the cheerful wild strawberry aromas of its predecessor, and benefits from some intriguing earthy flavours underneath the bright red fruit.
The Naramata Bench was well represented by JoieFarm Winemaker Robert Thielicke, and two of his popular white wines: Un-oaked Chardonnay and “A Noble Blend”. The Chardonnay underwent two months of lees stirring for texture, providing a lovely round body containing flavours of candy apple following tropical aromas, and some noticeable alcohol on the nose (14.1% in fact). The wildly popular Noble Blend consists primarily of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, plus one sixth in other whites – Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, and Schoenberger. The traditional tropical characteristics such as lychee are easily noticeable, while the Gewurztraminer’s perfume is controlled nicely by the Riesling – an intentional strategy as explained by Robert. The balance is ideal this year, with 10 grams of sugar, and the winery even made 2,000 more cases to counter how quickly it sold out last year!
From Summerland on the other side of Okanagan Lake we were joined by Okanagan Crush Pad’s passionate Chief Winemaker Michael Bartier and a couple of his Haywire wines. The unfiltered sample of Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris was expectedly yeasty, with lots of apple notes and creamy caramel characteristics. The wine was primarily whole cluster pressed, and enjoyed wild yeast, spontaneous malolactic fermentation. An unfiltered, very early sample of Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir was particularly good, showing delicious fruit and spice from a wine that still has plenty of aging to experience in the concrete tanks in which it currently rests. Michael’s winemaking philosophy is very much vineyard-focused, and he enthralled the room with detailed dialogue on vine management, displaying a fascinating map of the Switchback Vineyard’s water-holding capacity.
The speaker’s list continued moving south to Okanagan Falls, from which Winemaker Dwight Sick of Stag’s Hollow introduced a new reserve white and a charming Rosé. The Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc is an intensely-flavoured small lot wine of which only 85 cases were produced. Dwight’s notes of smoke, lime zest, and snow pea aromas perfectly capture the French oak-fermented wine, and the rich palate presents more toasted citrus flavours and hints of green, leafy vegetables. The Rosé is a blend unique to BC, with 15% Grenache joining Syrah to yield enticing aromas of red berries and a hint of leather. The wine comes from a vineyard in which certain blocks typically don’t fully ripen, but mature to a point perfect for Rosé. Five grams of residual sugar combine with the taste profile to remind one of Swedish Berry candies, with a lightly peppered finish.
To atone for omitting representation from the Similkameen Valley during a similar event last year, the Wine Institute had ensured the presence of one of the Valley’s champions: John Weber of Orofino Vineyards had even brought three wines to share! His Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling comes from right next door to the winery, showing crisp apples and lemon-lime on a dry finish that should age beautifully and pair very well with a range of foods. The Home Vineyard (Old Vines) Riesling is richer, with twice as much sugar, and a creamier texture thanks to lees stirring. John’s “bonus” wine was the Celentano Vineyard Gamay, bottled mere days earlier. The wine is already showing cream soda and a hint of leather on the nose (5% of Syrah was added for colour), plus generous raspberries and strawberry seed flavours. The nice bright acidity and long finish will make for a superb summer red, served slightly chilled.
The thirteen wines we enjoyed that day were an excellent early summary of the vintage, while bigger reds and even some whites continue to develop in tank and barrel. Many more excellent wines are already on the market, with more set to come soon, particularly as the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival concludes for another year. There will be no shortage of great local wines to enjoy this summer and beyond!