Thursday 31 March 2016

Collectibles: March 2016

Buds are already starting to show on the grape vines as wine country wakes from winter’s slumber. I received three club shipments this month as spring operations begin alongside the 2016 vintage. A few club reds were combined with some gems I brought home from the Vancouver International Wine Festival to yield a healthy compilation of collectibles. Some of the local Wine Festival wines are not yet released to the public, having been sold in limited quantities exclusively at the Festival store, but as wineries open their doors this month and next availability will increase dramatically.

March 2016 BC wine collectibles

Quails’ Gate 2014 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir: The legendary West Kelowna winery’s flagship product is a staple for collectors, and the newest vintage (of 974 cases) was very fortunately on offer at the Wine Festival. A taste provided generous and precise varietal character from the winery’s Mount Boucherie Bench old vines (12-29 years of age). My notes ended up duplicating the recently released formal tasting notes detailing spiced red berry fruit. In the last few years Quails’ Gate has consistently aged their Reserve Pinot Noir for ten months in 50% new French oak; this year replicates the same formula for success. Drinking impressively well now it should age marvellously, secured under screw cap. VIWF Store $45

Gold Hill 2013 Cabernet Franc: The first release from 2009 won this new Golden Mile winery (from experienced wine growing brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill) a Lieutenant Governor’s Award and multiple high accolades. I was excited to find the Gill family manning the booth at their first Vancouver Wine Festival, and soon found myself under the spell of their impressive Cabernet Franc’s newest vintage. The beautifully aromatic nose brought me back repeatedly for another sniff, and the luscious texture solidified my purchase decision. The solid value price of $27 at the winery will keep Gold Hill well within the ranks of local Franc producers to watch. VIWF Store $29

Sandhill 2013 Small Lots Syrah: The legendary Syrah that Winemaker Howard Soon crafts from the Phantom Creek Vineyard on Black Sage Bench is always in high demand, and seldom seen in stores. Shortly after the newest vintage was released last September it was awarded a prestigious Platinum medal at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival’s BC Wine Awards. Surprisingly it took until now to sell out at the winery, particularly given that only 250 cases (fresh from 14 months in new American oak) were produced. I spent the autumn fruitlessly scanning shelves in every wine store I entered, being unable to visit the Kelowna tasting room in person this year. Imagine my surprise when I recently came across a single bottle on the shelf of my local BC Liquor Store. BC Liquor Stores $41

Poplar Grove 2012 CSM: A spring release red available to Wine Club members, the CSM tends to fly a little bit under the radar given the popularity of the winery’s Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and The Legacy icon red blend. CSM is produced in relatively small quantities, and typically exclusive to the winery tasting room, with Club members getting first crack at it upon release. This year’s blend is primarily Merlot (51%) and Syrah (41%), with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon bringing up the rear. The three grapes were naturally fermented, separately, and aged for 21 months in French oak before another year of bottle aging. Like most of Poplar Grove’s reds it is an excellent cellar candidate, with the winery suggesting up to decade from vintage. Winery Direct $35

Culmina 2013 Merlot: Owners Don & Elaine Triggs and daughter Sara were all present at the recent Wine Festival, showcasing their young Golden Mile winery’s first single-varietal reds. The gorgeous floral blueberry nose and palate of the Merlot caught my attention immediately, sending me dashing to the on-site store for a bottle (from only 168 cases). Having sampled the wine just before the Festival, John Schreiner complimented the “voluptuous texture” in his enthusiastic 92-point review. The Triggs were also pouring samples of the equally new Small Lots Cabernet Sauvignon, well-structured and complex with great aging potential: had any of the 96 cases been for sale on site I certainly would have snagged a bottle! VIWF Store $35

Cassini 2012 “The Aristocrat” Cabernet Sauvignon: I received the valuable opportunity to taste this superb wine at the winery over New Year’s, during a visit with the BC Wine Appreciation Society. Despite the highly appealing concentrated, ripe dark fruit (from an Osoyoos East Bench vineyard), I initially hesitated to buy given the preponderance of 2012 wines overflowing from my cellar – including Cassini’s equally exciting Cabernet Franc. By March I had reconsidered – especially given how few retail stores feature this rarity (only 190 cases were produced after selecting 8 barrels from amongst 45). Highly affirmative reviews – such as John Schreiner’s praise for the “rich and polished texture” – have helped encourage me to find a spot amongst the other excellent 2012 reds. Swirl VQA Store $47

LaStella 2012 Arioso Sangiovese Grosso: The production of a premium Brunello-style Sangiovese from this outstanding Italian-inspired Osoyoos winery has long been the hope of their many fans. For years a small proportion of Sangiovese went into the “Fortissimo” Super-Tuscan blend, but in 2012 sufficient volume was apparently available to bottle a single select barrel (25 cases) as a rare pure varietal wine. Even more than three years after harvest it remains a (stunningly aromatic) beast of a wine in the eyes of winery staff, who haven’t yet decided on a formal release date given the decades they believe it could age. Those bottles not yet allocated to the winery’s elite Wine Society could begin trickling out later this fall, assuming any remain unspoken for. An ultra-rare collector’s item worth every penny for BC wine adventurers. Winery Direct $69

Saturday 19 March 2016

March Wine Club: Back to Brunch

Although our group of wine and food fans has enjoyed quite a few epic dinner parties, it’s fun to change things up now and then and drink in the daylight. Once or twice a year we bring back the legendary wine brunch, a risky venture given its proclivity to lead into a “festive” afternoon and potentially regretful evening. However, for young parents it can be a chance to enjoy the full meal without an early departure for baby’s bedtime. Since our March meal was to be hosted by just such a couple, we gave into temptation and relished the opportunity for some non-traditional food pairings and lighter lunch-time wine styles.

Unsworth Charme de L'Ile & Black Widow 2014 Pinot Gris with Pancake Sliders

Following an enthusiastically welcomed round of reception Mimosas we prepared for the much-cherished Hors D’oeuvres course, oftentimes the best opportunity for kitchen creativity. Those expectations were well met when the pair of chefs revealed their mouth-watering Pancake Sliders. Two versions were available for all tastes: one with fresh Ricotta and blueberry reduction, and another sporting Turkey sausage. The obvious introductory wine for a sunny spring morning was sparkling, with Unsworth Vineyards’ Charme De L’ile providing cleansing bubbles from a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Gris, and 20% Sauvignette. This Cowichan Valley Prosecco-style (non-vintage) gave off generous peach and hazelnut aromas, a crisp and fine mousse, and clean flavours of apple and linen with a touch of tasty yeastiness.

To help wash down any remaining sliders the hors d’oeuvres team was happy to open Black Widow’s crisp and dry 2014 Pinot Gris. From the Lancaster family’s meticulously tended Naramata Bench estate vineyard, the Gris had obviously enjoyed a brief period of skin contact to yield the blushing peach colour. The profile was similarly stone-fruit inspired, while the surprisingly dry palate and light tannins amped up the curiosity factor. Given time to warm slightly from its highly chilled introductory state we found a hint of flint amongst the white peach bunches, plus some lychee and Rainier cherries providing further complexity. The 2014 vintage is now sold out at the winery, but fans can expect newly released 2015 any day now, with even fresher fruit flavours ready for summer enjoyment.

Robin Ridge 2012 Pinot Noir & 2013 Flicker Rose with Baked Tomatoes & Herbed Eggs

Sitting down for the plated Appetizer course brought us another pair of wines, both from the same celebrated Similkameen winery. Robin Ridge’s 2013 Flicker Rosé and 2012 Pinot Noir were next in line for discussion alongside Baked Tomatoes with Herbed Eggs. The savoury appetizer was well-paired with the dry Rosé blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, offering aromas of honeyed and Balsamic-infused cranberries. The tart palate showed a bit more appealing Balsamic with crab apples to nicely match the ripe tomato. The Pinot Noir’s delicate earthy spice synched rigtht up with the fresh herbs amongst the eggs, plus a very well balanced and smooth palate offered ideal varietal character with bright red fruit flavours.

Orofino 2013 Scout Vineyard Riesling & JoieFarm 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir with Shakshuka

Pinot seemed the name of game going forward, with another iteration of Noir plus more juicy tomatoes in our Entree course. Our hosts had excitedly prepared an authentic Shakshuka of baked eggs in red pepper tomato sauce, topped with creamy nuggets of Feta cheese plus fresh parsley. JoieFarm’s 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir came boldly out of the gate with sharp and intense dark fruit from a mix of vineyards surrounding Penticton. The twelve best barrels were assembled for the “En Famille” selection, and extended bottle aging after eight months in oak has yielded silky smooth textures. Another Similkameen diversion of Orofino’s 2013 Scout Vineyard Riesling matched the tomato with a lovely burst of cleansing citrus fruit. One the nose some grassy petrol aromas mixed with apple, pear, and orange blossom, while the palate laid out juicy melons and lemon meringue pie for our enjoyment.

Zesty Citrus Buns fresh from the oven (a mere four of twelve)

Having lovingly tended trays of rising dough my wife and I were naturally eager to present the day’s dessert course, fresh from the hosts’ oven and nearly overwhelming in aroma. The Zesty Citrus Buns couldn’t have been more brunch-appropriate, brushed with sweet orange glaze and hiding a citrus-infused cream-cheese filling. I was even more excited for an opportunity to open my sole full-sized bottle of Clos Du Soleil’s “Saturn” dessert wine, made in the spirit of France’s famous Sauternes. While normally found on retail shelves in 375ml sizes, the 2013 Saturn graces the winery’s tasting room in larger bottles for those seeking to impress a crowd. The intent was easily obtained when the heavenly aromas of honey and mandarin orange wafted from the bottle. I doubt a better pairing for the Citrus Buns could have been found, with the wine’s passionfruit and dried pineapple flavours bouncing around the tropics before a very pleasant fresh citrus pith finish.

Clos du Soleil 2013 Saturn with Zesty Citrus Buns

The carefree afternoon included visits to some of the nearby Commercial Drive breweries, including group favourite Storm Brewing. The morning’s wines and well-crafted food dominated our flavourful memories however. It would seem another unintentional theme had emerged upon reflection, as three of the four courses featured the viticultural bounty of our local Similkameen Valley. The pleasing variety of wines that included Vancouver Island and the Naramata Bench was admirable as well, providing inspiration for the inevitable brunches to come. I can only hope for an aged example of Saturn to share one lucky day in the future.

Saturday 12 March 2016

BCWAS Covert Farms Tasting

In a return to form after a year of festival-style events and dinners, the BC Wine Appreciation Society sat down for a portfolio tasting of a single winery this month, hosting Derek Uhlemann from Covert Farms Family Estate. As winery Sales Manager (and Farm Chef) Derek is well versed in the full range of wines available from the Covert family’s 25-acre organic vineyard and namesake winery at McIntyre Bluff. Derek’s digging in the cellar provided a sold-out crowd with the opportunity to taste aged examples as well as brand new barrel samples.

Covert Farms' Derek Uhlemann presents a full range of organic wines.

The youthful 2015 vintage was first out of the gate with a Sparkling Zinfandel, a crisp naturally fermented creation that carries the Méthode Ancestrale nomenclature. As Derek explained, the low-Brix, trimmed shoulders from maturing Zinfandel clusters were put to use making a small lot of 9.9% alcohol bubbly, and guests got a chance to relish the bright cranberry raspberry results. The sparkling provided a good backdrop for Derek’s historical recollection of the more than half-century-old homestead founded by California tomato farmer George Covert. George’s grandson Gene and his wife Shelly now manage a comprehensive farm that spans 650 organically farmed acres.

Although the 1970s and ‘80s saw Covert fostering nearly two hundred acres of hybrid grapes to yield “unremarkable ‘Chateau Okanagan River Channel’ wines,” today is a much different story. Gone is the “White Diamond” in favour of much more exotic (and palatable) white varieties such as Semillon, Viognier, and Roussanne. Thanks to Derek’s cellar sleuthing, there was the opportunity to enjoy a four year vertical of the Amicitia White blend following the newest 2014 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon. The vineyard’s pure sand bench yields a mineral and citrus presentation of Sauvignon Blanc; blending in 20% Semillon provides body that complements the fresh and tart, traditional grassy character.

Whites, Rosé, and a range of reds from Covert Farms

A small percentage of both Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc is included in the Amicitia White but this rare blend is predominantly Rhone grapes, with Roussanne unexpectedly leading the way over and above Viognier’s smaller contribution. Although a handful of 2007 and 2009 Amicitia was discovered at the winery, only a batch of unlabelled 2008 made it through the years in drinkable condition. As a result a comparison was available for a relatively aged version against the more recent 2012-2014 vintages. Oxidative, Sherry-like character was readily apparent in the golden, straw-coloured older wine, with an intensely flavoured, viscous palate present upon tasting. The younger vintages showed Roussanne’s strong influence, presenting stone fruit flavours of yellow peach amongst hints of greenery and even petrol, with mild tannins and a similar generous body.

Before delving into several red bottle and barrel samples there was a moment to appreciate the 2014 Rosé, a blend of 76% Merlot, 22% Pinot Noir, and 2% aged Syrah. The small component of Syrah comes from the 2013 vintage to add additional complexity to the wine, well within allowable blending boundaries. The same long finish offered by the whites is present in the Rosé’s food friendly palate, with leafy red fruit flavours of wild strawberry. More of that same Syrah is found in the 2013 “MDC”, a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Zinfandel, and 21% Syrah. The jammy, rich palate, and peppery, toasted cocoa flavours seem like a superb tribute to Winemaker Gene’s late father, Michael Dunham Covert, a Cabernet aficionado for whom the wine is named.

Covert Farms Amicitia Red & MDC Cab-Zin-Syrah

One red blend isn’t enough for Covert Farms however (and in fact neither is two – they also produce a Cabernet-Petit Verdot – “The Bluff”). The Amicitia Red further demonstrates the range of grapes grown in just twenty-five acres, this time assembled into a traditional Bordeaux configuration. The 2013 vintage poured reflected an increase in Merlot now that the winery produces varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, bringing together 52% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, and 6% Petit Verdot. The result is a nicely balanced, fruit forward, and understandably complex medley of juicy fruit.

A three-year selection of barrel samples awaited the conclusion of the tasting: Derek had brought everything from the newly bottled 2013 Grand Reserve Zinfandel to the fledgling 2015 Grand Reserve Merlot, a blockbuster of nutty blueberry jam just beginning a long slumber in used French oak. The ripe and rich Zinfandel follows up the inaugural 2012 in the stylishly-labelled Grand Reserve series, and should prove very popular upon its September release to the growing waiting list. The parallel series of Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon skipped 2013 and will follow its first vintage with the sophisticated 2014 sample we tasted, showing off archetypal black currant and eucalyptus notes from an elegant texture with impressive potential.

The Society’s much appreciated volunteer pouring crew was reminded of the work involved in clearing several hundred glasses as the evening wrapped up, it having been several months since the last sit-down event of this magnitude. Following a few final sips over order forms, guests left expressing their gratitude to Derek for sharing these exciting wines so generously. Covert Farms’ inventory was surely shrinking just as their waiting list was growing by the end of this tasting!

Sunday 6 March 2016

VanWineFest 2016: BC Wine Report – Part II

An earlier post detailing this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival focused on the four BC wineries sharing their wares for the first time. With 22 additional local wineries (and one superb Sakemaker) on hand as well, there was more than enough to keep my attention for three days. Dozens of veteran winery principals from across BC were equally enthusiastic as those pouring for their first time. Given the alphabetical organization I generally explored our local wineries just as they were laid out, and found everything from Averill Creek to Wayne Gretzky Estates.

My first sample of the entire Festival came from Andy Johnston’s Averill Creek, where Pinot Noir is king in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. The 2012 being shown was impressively clean and pure – with its still-upcoming release status testimony to Andy’s patience as he continues to let the 2011 shine. I came back more than once too for a glass of apples and creamy raspberry scones in the 2010 Brut, another very charming preview. Three tables down, Burrowing Owl owner Chris Wyse had a bevy of rich reds on hand, plus the 2014 vintage of his winery’s famed Pinot Gris. Age-worthy 2012 Athene (Cab-Syrah) and 2012 Meritage impressed just as much as dark and ripe 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly silky 2013 Cabernet Franc. Steps away, the Triggs family was present in force to pour the wines from their blossoming Culmina project, while Winemaker Pascal Madevon discussed the winery’s new varietal reds in detail. The dry and focused 2014 Decora Riesling and toasty, citrus-mineral 2013 Dilemma Chardonnay complemented the complex and collectible small lots of 2013 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (168 and 96 cases respectively).

Elaine & Sara Triggs introduce Culmina's highly collectible new 2013 Merlot

Okanagan Crush Pad’s Chief Winemaker Matt Dumayne was pouring the Summerland winery’s home label Haywire. The likeable traditional method sparkling “The Bub” 2013 was available alongside organic 2014 Pinot Gris and the fascinating Free Form 2014, a naturally-fermented blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Eight months of skin contact and full malolactic fermentation without any sulphur made this risky venture into a “textural sensation” of dry citrus flavours and fine tannins. Behind Haywire Head Winemaker Rob Summers had a selection of Hester Creek’s wine on hand, showing the benefits of increasing oak integration in his bottle-aging 2012 reds. Time in bottle has given the ripe fruit an opportunity to emerge in smooth Reserve Cabernet Franc as well as in brown-sugar-spiced icon blend The Judge. The new 2015 Trebbiano continues the grape’s Golden Mile success story, where 48-year-old vines consistently produce refreshing fragrances and long, soft fruit flavours.

Nearby, the wines of Meyer Family Vineyards provided a study in 2014 single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir courtesy of Winemaker Chris Carson. Kelowna’s Reimer vineyard yielded a bright, youthful red fruit Pinot Noir and Naramata’s Old Main Road vineyard offered creamy Chardonnay with fresh tree fruit flavours. From the Okanagan Falls home vineyard on McLean Creek Road, young, mineral-driven Chardonnay and rich, dark fruit Pinot Noir will grow even better with age if given the chance. Across the aisle Lauren Skinner and the team from Painted Rock had the rare and special 2014 Chardonnay along with elegant, complex 2014 Rosé – a blend of red Bordeaux grapes. Lauren was leading the charge at her family’s sixth consecutive Festival appearance, showcasing the newest 2013 reds: suave Syrah, brooding Merlot, and the stellar Red Icon beckoned me daily.

Well within reach the synchronized squad at Poplar Grove was where Winemaker Stefan Arnason could be found with the winery’s champions. Newly-bottled, ever-popular Pinot Gris gushed fresh stone-fruit, and similarly modern Blanc de Noirs blended big reds to yield candied pink grapefruit aromas and earthy red fruit flavours. The allure of sold-out 2011 The Legacy offered up a perfumed leather nose before a smooth spicy finish; patience is a necessity for those awaiting the bottle-aging 2012. Neighbouring tablemate Tony Stewart was offering the expression of 2014 at Quails’ Gate, introduced by uncommon Chenin Blanc, refreshing one’s palate with crisp textures and a tangy finish. The Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay made subtle use of oak in a creamy, toasty drop delivering a bright finish, while textbook Reserve Pinot Noir displayed perfect balance surrounding cloves and red fruit. Turning around brought the Summerhill smile of CEO Ezra Cipes and the exciting new Blanc de Franc 2011: sparkling Cabernet Franc repeatedly enchanted me with fresh fragrant berries and a fabulously smooth, clean mousse.

Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes is bubbling about the new Blanc de Franc sparkling wine

The final line of BC wine was home to Thornhaven Winemaker Jason Fraser, revitalizing guests with 2014 Brooklyn’s Blend, Summerland’s unique merger of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. This clean and summery field blend was took on the new name in honour of the Fraser family’s newest addition. Apart from the winery’s definitive Gewürztraminer I was also taken with the elegant 2013 Syrah, thanks to a silky, earthen palate and well-tuned balance following the Platinum-winning 2012. It was only logical to next make time for Harry McWatters, still working his magic on the Black Sage Bench at TIME Estate Winery. The pleasingly approachable 2012 Red Meritage was nicely softened after a couple years in bottle, and the charmingly textured 2014 White Meritage provided another measure of the creamy character I’ve enjoyed in the past. A jump to the right found Tinhorn Creek Winemaker Andrew Windsor proud papa to barrel-sampled 2014 reserve Chardonnay. Andrew’s first vintage at Tinhorn yielded such divine wine it demanded a new addition to the Oldfield Series tier. The necessity was obvious upon tasting the round, rich, creamy caramel behind the newly deployed “Golden Mile Bench” sub-appellation label.

Tinhorn Creek Winemaker Andrew Windsor beams with pride in the winery's first reserve Chardonnay

The “big three” beverage companies were present as well, but I found myself drawn primarily to the smaller independent wineries. That being said, it was good to see that parent company Peller had arranged for Sandhill Master Winemaker Howard Soon to give the international guests a little something to think about with 2012 Small Lots Sangiovese and Italian-inspired red blend “Three”. Mark Anthony Group’s Mission Hill rarely misses a Wine Festival, and this year freshly appointed Head Winemaker Darryl Brooker was present to pour a gamut of rarities from the new, high-end Terroir Collection. Constellation Brands’ Black Sage Vineyard was showing off an impressively fragrant 2013 Zinfandel, while the company’s See Ya Later Ranch property poured the peppery 2013 Rover Shiraz. The conglomerate’s Jackson-Triggs “Sunrock” brand had more Zinfandel blended with Shiraz in the “Illumina”, as well as a two-vintage comparison of the well-respected Cabernet Sauvignon (2012 & 2013).

The only session in the Tasting Room for which I was absent was the final evening on Saturday, which generally provides the most entertaining people-watching if anything. Of course that final session is also where the next year’s theme region is announced, so I was thrilled to hear the good news in short order over social media: the 2017 Festival will feature Canada as theme region, just as our nation begins celebrating its sesquicentennial. My very pleasant surprise at the news came about in large part due to earlier discussions with members of the organizing committee, who had suggested to me that certain challenges precluded such a possibility. Apparently the difficulties were overcome through what must have been hard work and delicate negotiations. The growing ranks of Canadian wine aficionados worldwide must be excited at the opportunities that will come about in Vancouver next spring – I know I’ll be first in line for tickets!

Saturday 5 March 2016

VanWineFest 2016: BC Wine Report – Part I

The Vancouver International Wine Festival is without a doubt the local vinicultural highlight of the year. This year’s Festival marked the 38th iteration of this landmark event, bringing together hundreds of international delegates from fourteen countries – including theme region Italy – to share their love for wine with 25,000 guests. I was extremely happy to attend several events, including five visits over three days to the massive Festival Tasting Room, where principals from 155 wineries gave voice to their respective stories over a glass.

The Wines of BC Information Booth was showing the home terroir

Second in volume to each year’s theme region are always our own local wineries, reaching near-record representation this year with twenty-six grape wineries, as well as Vancouver’s own Artisan SakeMaker. Presence at the Festival does not come cheap given the logistical costs involved, so it is a joy each year to see many friendly faces from British Columbia’s great variety of wineries. Amongst the twenty-six tables, the BC contingent was populated by a dozen congregations returning from last year, and most excitedly, four wineries new to the Festival entirely. Bookended by the educational Wines of British Columbia booth promoting the province as a whole, the expansive BC section of the Tasting Room was kept abuzz throughout the Festival.

While certain to expand my palate exploring the wines of the world I repeatedly visited the many BC wineries present and pouring, being particularly sure not to miss the new participants. Veteran local winemaker Michael Bartier and his brother Don were present to share their Bartier Bros. bottles, fresh from opening their Oliver tasting room last fall. A trio of youthful 2013 reds were on hand alongside fresh and tropical 2014 Gewürztraminer and the clean lemon curd flavours of 2013 Semillon. Smooth, approachable textures and ripe fruit flavours were universal across varietal Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah; all ready for current consumption but with the elegance to age gracefully.

Nearby, Sant Gill and his nephew Navi were to be found proudly pouring their Gold Hill wines at the Festival for the first time. After years growing fruit in the Golden Mile, Sant, with his brother Gurbachan founded Gold Hill in 2009, the same vintage for which their young winery was recognized with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award. That famous 2009 Cabernet Franc certainly has a worthy successor in the beautifully aromatic 2013 I sampled – and immediately sought out for purchase. Also on hand were exciting varietal Malbec, new 2014 Cabernet Merlot, 2012 Meritage, 2014 Chardonnay and the off-dry 2014 “Charisma White” blend of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, and Gewürztraminer.

Sant & Navi Gill have much to be proud of in their Gold Hill Cabernet Franc

Two other BC wineries new to the Festival included Kamloops’ first winery, Harper’s Trail, plus new Naramata Bench label Tightrope. General Manager Tracy Roche brought a series of estate-grown wines from Harper’s Trail, including cool, clean, and elegant Cabernet Franc 2013, said to evoke impressions of the Loire Valley. The intensely fruit forward but pleasantly dry 2014 Merlot comes from the Bartier brothers’ Cerqueira Vineyard on Black Sage Bench, while 2013 Pinot Gris and a pair of expressive 2013 Riesling (including Late Harvest) are all Kamloops.

Tightrope was represented by owners Graham and Lyndsay O’Rourke, a duo of experienced local viticulturist and winemaker, respectively, now focusing exclusively on their promising winery and 10-acre Fleet Road vineyard. The O’Rourke’s wines have been garnering national attention, and I was pleased to sample the wonderfully balanced, crisp 2014 Pinot Gris, lusciously textured 2014 Viognier, smooth and delicate 2013 Pinot Noir, and the elegant new white-peppered 2014 Syrah.

I went on to visit nearly every table in the local contingent, while keeping matters fresh by circulating to Italy and back via the other dozen countries represented in the room. Greeting and meeting the many winemakers and proprietors pouring their very own wines was an energizing experience, as always. The opportunity to sample a range of new local highlights, let alone international icons and rarities, kept me fully engrossed over three days of concentrated focus. I offer my many thanks to the Festival and partner Heth PR for facilitating media accreditation to enable this exciting tour of the wine world all in one place! My summary and impressions of the remaining resident wines and wineries follows in Part II.