Sunday 14 September 2014

BCWAS Bus Tour 2014: East Kelowna

After an exciting day touring a number of wineries in Lake Country, members on the BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour had worked up a healthy appetite for dinner. Refreshed by a swim at Kelowna’s Sheraton Four Points, plus a beer or two, we hopped back into our buses and zipped down to the renowned CedarCreek Estate Winery in the city’s southern reaches. CedarCreek’s steeply slopped vineyards and Okanagan Lake waterfront location were set to provide a memorable outdoor meal as the sun slowly set in the stunning blue sky.

Darryl Brooker leads a short tour of the CedarCreek Home Vineyard

Before we took our places for dinner Winemaker Darryl Brooker was eager to show off the verdant vineyards from which he harvests. With some trepidation as we headed steeply uphill a vigorous march through lush Merlot and Pinot Noir brought us to a table set amongst the vines. From there Darryl was able to reference the specific vineyard blocks surrounding us, and detail their surprising differentiation. We sipped lemon-lime 2013 Riesling and nibbled on Halibut Ceviche from the Terrace Restaurant kitchen below as Darryl pointed out landmarks including his own home even further uphill, and a new winery under hasty construction immediately next door. The Martin’s Lane Winery being built by Von Mandl Family Estates (i.e., Mission Hill), CedarCreek’s new owner, will be devoted to premium Pinot Noir, and Darryl has been tasked with leading the international search for a winemaker!

A second sample from our lofty perch above the lake provided a taste of the 2011 Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir, with accompanying Duck Prosciutto on Toast Point. Despite being separated by only 100 feet grapes from Blocks 2 and 4 show remarkably different qualities, which the winery further explored recently by digging exploratory trenches. Prevalent sand and stones in Block 2, closer to the lake, contribute to a lighter, more delicate wine: we tasted a fruit forward, floral profile in a wine drinking quite well in the present. Further uphill in Block 4 thicker clay deposits have been shown to yield a more intense, heavier Pinot Noir worthy of aging, which we would soon be enjoying at dinner. An easier descent with less daunting views led us back downhill to where Chef Jeremy Tucker and his team had prepared a marvellous meal awaiting our enjoyment.

CedarCreek Pavilion dinner from Vineyard Terrace Restaurant Chef Jeremy Tucker

In the open-air Pavilion just above the Rose Garden (a no doubt spectacular wedding venue) we sat down for the Tour’s sole winery dinner this year. The Ceviche and Prosciutto amuse-bouche had calmed our appetites somewhat, leaving time for presentation of the mouth-watering first course: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup was exquisite on its own, let alone with the winery’s exceptional 2013 Platinum Viognier. The wine’s clean body and ripe stone fruit served to maximize the soup’s fruity character while meshing nicely with the rich, creamy texture. Our introduction to the “brooding” 2011 Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir came next alongside Yarrow Meadows Duck Breast – higher tannin and acidity showed off the wine’s food pairing possibilities and generous ageability.

A triplet of entree options provided for multiple wine pairings, and while some members enjoyed Lamb Rack with Shiraz Cabernet or Farmer’s Vegetable Tower with Merlot I couldn’t resist Seared Sea Scallops. Complemented by Chanterelle mushrooms, roasted cauliflower puree, and Pomme William, the scrumptious scallops danced a duet with 2012 Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay: fully integrated oak, ideal balance, and a long, creamy, apple and melon finish left me in a state of utter bliss. After respite to breathe and collect ourselves the dessert course was served as the stars emerged in the night sky. Guests chose between Valrhona Caramelia Chocolate Mocha Mousse Latté or a vibrant, fresh-baked Lemon Tart. Without any dedicated dessert wines available save a sold out Madeira-style (Platinum “M”), CedarCreek’s dry table wines had to pull double duty with dessert. Most guests wisely avoided close-knit pairing, while still enjoying the zingy 2013 Platinum Riesling and smooth, spicy flavours of the Cabernet Franc-dominated 2011 Cabernet Merlot. With fully sated appetites we eventually ambled over to the Wine Shop – held open for our benefit – and stocked up on the evening’s favourites before the short journey back to the hotel, and a restful sleep.

The View Winery's historic packinghouse

On Sunday morning we received a slight respite, as the bus wasn’t scheduled to depart the hotel until 8:45am, a full half-hour later than Saturday’s early start. Those who continued the good times later Saturday night no doubt appreciated the organizing team’s charity. The day’s itinerary included four wineries in the city’s historic eastern district, beginning with a trip back five generations at The View Winery. Inside the ninety-year-old former fruit packinghouse-turned-winery we received a generous welcome from Tasting Room Manager Jill Hansen and staff member Colin. As we warmed up our palates with 2012 Distraction Frizzante they explained the amusing story behind the winery’s logo, in which owner Jennifer Molgat’s stiletto heel was pushed into service as a bottle stopper. The Frizzante’s creamy mousse and crisp blend of Riesling, Optima, Gewürztraminer, and Pinotage made for an ideal breakfast wine! Tart citrus and green apple in 2012 Riesling led into strongly perfumed 2013 Gewürztraminer, a blend of purchased fruit necessitated by a devastating hailstorm last year. Reserve 2012 Pinotage yielded bright plum fruit amongst hints of leather, toast, caramel, and spicy aromatics. We concluded with an exciting fortified late harvest blend of Müller-Thurgau and Ehrenfelser: this 2013 “Well-Heeled” provided delightfully clean, fresh aromas and a light, delicate palate that pleasantly surprised.

A short distance away we had the good fortune to visit petite SpierHead Winery, where owners Bill & Marina Knutson had generously prepared their picnic area with complimentary cheese and olives. The Knutson’s passion for their young winery – already racking up prestigious awards – was evident as Bill addressed our group and detailed their recent successes and challenges. The same hail storm that hit The View last year also struck SpierHead, but the winery has bounced back and even planted several thousand new Pinot Noir vines this spring. We sampled the 2013 Chardonnay to begin, showing delicate apples and melon from the lightly oaked blend that includes some of the Musque clone. A highly refreshing 2012 Riesling put a smile on my face with dry, racy lime flavours and a slight hint of petrol on the palate. The superb 2013 Pinot Gris was served with hesitation – because it has been selling much too quickly! A very attractive nose of tropical fruit blossoms led into a juicy body and silky texture that served well to exemplify the variety locally. Pinot Noir 2013 Rosé provided reminders of my other local favourites, with a subtle, fresh nose and earthy notes of cherry and strawberry in the dry palate.

Proprietor Bill Knutson introduces the wines of SpierHead

To conclude our tasting at SpierHead we covered the end of one era and the early stages of an exciting focus on Pinot Noir. While Bill Knutson had originally envisioned a strong portfolio of Bordeaux-style red wines (necessitating purchased grapes from the Black Sage Bench), the early varietal bottlings are already gone and the blended reds will soon follow. We sampled the 2011 Pursuit blend, dominated by Merlot, showing toasty cherries, leather, and a hint of bell pepper that soon opened up nicely to finish with subtle molasses. The flagship 2012 Vanguard, from an admittedly easier vintage, smelled distinctly darker, with blackberries and plums on a longer finish. Both product lines are not long for this world however, as the Knutson’s have yielded to the overwhelming success of Pinot Noir from their estate vineyard. We followed Bill down to the winery where he excitedly poured tank samples of 2013 Cuvee Pinot Noir, headed into bottle within days. This exclusive flagship wine will only yield 100 cases, and garnered extensive praise from the assembled guests (plus a pre-order for the BCWAS cellar!). Three additional Pinot Noirs will be produced this year, including a Wine Club-specific blend assembled by the Club members themselves during a summer winery workshop!

With the area’s wineries so close together it was only another few minutes in the bus before we arrived at our next destination. At Tantalus Vineyards we had a surely delicious lunch to look forward to, courtesy of the talented team at Joy Road Catering. We were met by General Manager Jane Hatch and Winemaker David Paterson, who took the time to show us around the rolling vineyards before a tour of the winery itself. With recent purchases of adjacent land, Tantalus now owns 75 contiguous acres, 50 of which are currently or soon to be under vine. A ten acre forest and dozens of lively bee hives help to reverse some of the negative ecological consequences of monoculture – part of the company’s focus on sustainability. Inside BC’s first LEED-certified winery David discussed his increasing use of “ambient” (i.e., native) yeast, which encourages a more complex ecosystem in the tank (and serving to remind us that wine is a living thing).

Jane Hatch leads a tour of the Tantalus vineyards

Back in the gorgeously decorated, sleek and airy tasting room, David led our group through a tasting of Tantalus’ focused portfolio – centered almost exclusively on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. The 2012 varietal Chardonnay was first, after a year of bottle age following twelve months in barrel. Only a small proportion of the wine was fermented malolactically, with no stirring of the lees, but the end result produced an elegant palate with flavours of buttered popcorn and spiced caramel. A selection of Pinot Noir began with the 2012 “Juveniles”: the estate’s youngest plantings yielded a delicate, pretty nose from an easy-drinking wine with light tannins and a baking spice finish. The “Clone 93” 2012 Pinot Noir smelled darker and earthier, with a fuller, more complex palate, from a relatively rare German clone planted in 1985. The regular 2012 Pinot Noir is described as the winery’s flagship red varietal, and presented a more savoury nose with even a bit of barnyard character; the bright fruit and full texture hinted at a generous future – David suggested at least another year in bottle would be warranted.

Tantalus’ celebrated Riesling was presented in both common iterations (with a third soon to follow), proudly showing off a local benchmark. As David suggested, the warm 2013 vintage yielded a citrus palate favouring lemon, tangerine, and blood orange rather than lime – sweet and peachy but balanced by acidity. From vines planted in 1978, the very ageable “Old Vines” Riesling is always two years behind, having spent extensive time in bottle before release. The 2011 vintage is felt by many at the winery to be one of the best yet, with slightly higher acidity and nearly one third less sugar than the ‘regular’ version (11.2 g/L vs. 15.8 g/L). Textbook Riesling character on the nose included some light petrol and focused citrus, with zingy acidity bound to rouse one’s palate. Having tasted older versions I know it continues to improve for years, with the wine’s true limits probably having yet to be tested!

Joy Road's Cam Smith greets his adoring fans

As the afternoon began in earnest it became time for lunch, and we were lead across a grassy expanse nearby to Proprietor Eric Savics’ holiday house, where tables had been set up on the lower patio. Joy Road Catering’s very own Cameron Smith was present with his team to serve our mouth-watering meal, which began with glasses of Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut 2011. This rare sparkling Riesling showed off very fresh, but dry fruit (3 g/L residual sugar) and brisk acidity, with a tightly integrated, fine mousse. David Paterson explained that the precise stream of bubbles in the center of each glass was due to fructose (as opposed to glucose) fermentation that has yielded highly dissolved carbon dioxide. To augment the small lot Riesling Brut, and expand the winery’s sparkling portfolio, David has over 500 cases of 2013 Blanc de Noir currently en tirage, reviving a wine last produced from the 2004 vintage.

Refreshed from the Brut, we next sipped 2013 Riesling alongside Apple Slaw with Carmelis Goat Cheese Sformatto and Garden Herbs. The rustic but elegant dish incorporated shallots, grainy Dijon mustard, and a fresh apple cider vinaigrette. A glass of 2012 Pinot Noir followed with lip-smacking Duck Confit: truffled jus, organic black lentils, Swiss chard, and an heirloom beet puree rounded out the artistic dish. The salty, crispy duck and earthy lentils were a hit with the perfectly paired Pinot, leaving us longing for more of both! With a few refills here and there if you smiled at the right people, lunch concluded with platters of dark chocolate chunks to satisfy any sugary cravings. Soon the wine shop beckoned, and loaded for bear we eventually re-boarded the buses for our final destination, with plenty of thanks to Jane, David, and Cam.

Jill Branby shows off Ann Sperling's wines inside the labyrinth

By the time we arrived at Sperling Vineyards Sunday was well and truly living up to its name. In the middle of Sperling’s unique (Vidal) vineyard labyrinth – meticulously planned by Owner and Winemaker Ann Sperling – some welcome shade was to be found. There, Ann’s niece Jill Branby, the winery’s Sales & Marketing Manager, had prepared a broad collection of wines for us to taste. Pinot Gris 2013 had come from 20-year-old vines, producing a crisp and bright wine with dry citrus and stone fruit flavours. A 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé embraced the varietal with earthy aromas and dry, tart cranberry-strawberry flavours. Sperling’s Old Vines Riesling (from 1.7 acres planted in 1978) seemed sweeter than the recent Tantalus offering, with lower acidity; on the very easy-drinking palate lime and mineral character came through. The 2013 "Market White”, a blend of Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, and Gewürztraminer elicited a “Wow!” resulting from the beautiful nose of fresh fruit salad, followed by well balanced sugar and focused apricot flavours. Another attractive orchard nose came from the 2012 “Sper…itz”, a lightly effervescent blend of Pearl of Csaba and Bacchus that proved very refreshing under the blazing sun.

The red program at Sperling is geographically apt, with Pinot Noir and Foch anchoring the portfolio. The 2012 Pinot Noir was said to come from fairly young vines, with multiple clones (144, 777, and 828) blended after fermentation. High acid and medium-to-firm tannins encourage aging, and the fruit proved quite prominent on the finish – all suggesting an optimistic future ahead. The 2011 Old Vines Foch comes from a 9-acre vineyard planted by Ann’s father in the 1960’s, now culled down to just 2.5 acres. The intense flavours of dark cherry and dates actually suggested higher alcohol than actually exists (14.5%), to yield an almost Port-like finish. Another rung up was the 2010 Reserve Foch, with a heady, rich nose that begged for a warm fire on a cold night – not exactly a summer wine, but highly enjoyable in the right circumstances. We finished – the tasting, the day, and the tour – with 2011 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, providing a very flavourful burst of lychee and tropical flowers. As many people visited the wine shop other members explored the grounds and antique farming equipment, with some even venturing further into the labyrinth. Meanwhile Jill’s two children handed out freshly picked sweet Concord grapes. The final purchases joined us on the buses and we soon said a wine- and sun-induced sleepy goodbye to another stellar BCWAS Bus Tour.

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