Friday 30 September 2016

Collectibles: September 2016

Spending ten days in Osoyoos mid-month provided an opportunity for some very carefully measured wine shopping, both in the local tasting rooms and the region’s well-stocked retail establishments. At the end of my trip I was thrilled to attend the Garagiste North Wine Festival, where Penticton’s Fairview Liquor Store was able to actually sell the many small production wines on hand – a momentous new capacity only recently endorsed by the provincial government. Whilst dragging their heels through our puritanical liquor laws in many other respects the government’s loosening of arcane rules has at times been instrumental in improving consumer access.

September 2016 BC wine collectibles

Emandare 2014 Pinot Noir: Earlier this year I was able to attend a tasting of the first wines from Mike & Robin (“Em” and “Are”) Nierychlo’s North Cowichan vineyard. At Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides was more than happy to host the couple, and gushed to me about the upcoming Pinot Noir he had sampled: noteworthy praise repeated in his own later blog post. In the organically and dry-farmed fourteen-year-old vineyard’s two-acre block of Pinot Noir the vines were cropped very low to 1.5 tons per acre, wild fermented in neutral puncheons, and 80 cases worth then aged for a year in neutral French oak. Seeing Mike’s transition from enthusiastic local wine blogger to winery owner has been impressive; he is precisely the type of honest winemaker needed to further enhance the industry. New District $46

Stag’s Hollow 2015 Grenache: Friday, September 16 was International Grenache Day this year, and being in the Okanagan at the time I couldn’t miss marking the occasion where a rare Canadian Grenache effort is building steam. Although a handful of local wineries have used the grape in blends (Red Rooster and Road 13 amongst them), Stag’s Hollow Winemaker and self-professed “Granachista” Dwight Sick’s pure varietal iteration is believed to stand alone. Following a micro-lot of “seductively delicious” 2014 Renaissance (reserve) the fourth vintage is finally ready to rock after a blend of fruit from Osoyoos and Penticton spent six months on the lees before blending in 12% Syrah and bottling this June. A strong Silver medal at the National Wine Awards in July left the judges very impressed with “one of Canada’s great Grenache triumphs.” Winery Direct $30

La Frenz 2014 Syrah: After many years producing a fine “Shiraz” from their Rockyfeller Vineyard on the Golden Mile, Australians Jeff & Niva Martin finally relented and adopted the Syrah nomenclature. As John Schreiner reported this month, new (Australian) Winemaker Dominic McCosker feels the finessed fruit on hand better suits a Rhone style, going so far as to co-ferment with Viognier as well. John’s admiration for the firmly textured floral white pepper aligns with praise from the WineAlign judges in naming the wine as one of six Gold medal BC Syrah at the Nationals. After a fruit-focused twenty month maturation in (just 15% new) French oak, this should age very nicely into the elegance expected of it. Winery Direct $28

Similkameen Collective 2013 Syrah Viognier: Not only did BC Syrah obtain a clean sweep of category Gold in the Nationals, but a further three were awarded Platinum medals for representing the top 1% of all wines in the competition. Leaping out of the gate with one such medal was a new collaborative project anchored around Cawston’s Blind Creek Vineyard and some very wise partners, including Road 13. Recognizing the vineyard’s potential early on led to the formation of The Collective, where Winemaker J-M Bouchard has assembled small lots of intense and powerful reds (plus a sumptuous Roussanne). The initial Syrah has garnered wide praise in short order for just 83 cases: the English translation of Judge Michelle Bouffard’s acclaim entertainingly labels it as “overly seductive” – can there be such a thing?! Winery Direct (Garagiste Festival) $45

Stag’s Hollow 2013 Tempranillo: Included in my latest wine club shipment was a BC rarity, and a complex iteration of Tempranillo at that. Grapes from the Osoyoos East Bench, the Okanagan Falls estate vineyard, and the Naramata Bench were combined with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah, and 2% Petit Verdot from Oliver and Osoyoos. The Tempranillo spent 15 months in 50% new American oak before the smaller components (from second fill French oak) were blended in prior to a year of bottle aging before release of 525 cases. Entering the newly bottled wine in the 2015 National Wine Awards last year yielded a Silver medal and fascinated praise from head judge David Lawrason, who personally felt gold was warranted. A Gold medal at this spring’s All Canadian Wine Championships provided vindication. Winery Direct $30

Anarchist 2014 Mayhem: The remote Anarchist Mountain vineyard of Andrew and Terry (Meyer) Stone is becoming known for high quality Pinot Noir. However, one acre of the 4.5 acre vineyard, now two decades old, includes Merlot that the pair have now added to their small portfolio. I tasted a very memorable barrel sample of this inaugural release during the spring’s Garagiste Festival in Vancouver, and experienced the final product at this month’s festival in Penticton, where a few of the 90 cases were finally for sale. Andrew’s planned inclusion of Cabernet Franc in a year or two will yield a blend, hence the lack of a varietal designation at present. Without a winery on the Osoyoos property the Merlot has been expertly shepherded by Mark Simpson at his Okanagan Falls BC Wine Studio. Winery Direct (Garagiste Festival) $40

LaStella 2013 Maestoso Merlot: A recent newsletter from LaStella lamented the cost of striving for excellence in this flagship wine: 50% of the vineyard blocks were disqualified due to untimely rain during harvest. As a result, a mere 188 cases were recently released for purchase (by a worldwide following no less). Generous sampling opportunities of this intense and age-worthy wine over the years have left me committed to exploring every vintage, albeit one pricey bottle at a time: I only recently opened my bottle of the first vintage from 2006. The newest release was tasted with great anticipation by John Schreiner this past spring, and has been described more recently in detail by Liam Carrier in his 93-point review. Maestoso is expensive to produce, and thus purchase, but is an invaluable study of purity and distinction in BC winemaking. Winery Direct $104

Sunday 18 September 2016

BCWAS Bus Tour 2016: Oliver-Osoyoos

After a day in the beautiful Similkameen Valley the BC Wine Appreciation Society devoted the second half of their annual Bus Tour to the South Okanagan. Sunday would see the sold out tour circulate amongst five wineries between Oliver and Osoyoos, visiting both sides of the valley on the Black Sage and Golden Mile Benches. As with the day before, an early start was critical to keeping us on schedule and leaving enough time for all the appreciation to come!

Admirable views from the River Stone vineyards

As the sun flirted with clouds we arrived at River Stone Winery just north of Oliver for a morning vineyard tour. Owners Ted & Lorraine Kane provided an enthusiastic welcome with glasses of 2015 Pinot Gris and Ted’s self-deprecating take on his vineyard: “A gravel pit owner’s dream!” Ted’s work in the vineyard and cellar seeks to protect the aromatics of his dry, mineral-drive whites: the green apple, apricot, and pineapple of the Pinot Gris served as a perfect introduction. While contemplating a block of Cabernet Sauvignon vines grafted to Gewürztraminer, we sipped the 2014 Stone’s Throw red blend, young and fresh with a fruit leather nose and palate of toast with jam. Upon reaching the centrally-located winery, tasting room, and home of the Kane family, we were treated to the flagship “Cornerstone”, sampling the current 2012 and library 2010 vintages. The dry and structured dark berry and mocha profile of this Merlot-heavy Bordeaux blend makes it a superb cellar candidate, as the 2010 hinted at with nicely developing secondary characteristics.

Ted Kane shares his wines at River Stone

Dragging the fawning tour group away from the Kanes’ Golden Retriever trio brought us to Quinta Ferreira a few minutes south. Owners John & Maria were happy to share the wines that son Michael has crafted to celebrate the family’s Portuguese heritage. Starting with dry, tart pineapple in 2014 Riesling we moved quickly to the popcorn and vanilla in 2014 Chardonnay before reds were introduced. An aged 2012 Merlot provided restrained tannin and toasty oak, with a juicy finish and hints of cocoa and spice. “Obra-Prima” is (literally) the “masterpiece”, given generous bottle age before release to ensure it impresses with immediacy. The 2010 vintage on hand was aged more than two years in 40% new oak, where the five traditional Bordeaux varieties intermingled to yield aromas of olives and sweet coffee before still smoothing tannins led to herbal cassis on the palate. Moving to the tasting room provided a chance to stock cellars and admire the local art for sale, while more of the regions pervasive pups searched for favour.

Crushing freshly harvested Muscat at Quinta Ferreira

The day’s defining winds picked up as we arrived at Church & State on the wider valley floor of the central Black Sage Bench. Marketing Manager John Pullen escorted us to the outdoor tasting bar, where we were hugely honoured to receive some of the first samples of the esoteric and exhilarating 1999 Sparkling. A mere 1,600 bottles exist for upcoming release, an inherited niche project using Cowichan Valley Pinot Noir initiated before Church & State was even founded in its current form. The mature, yeasty aromas and enthusiastic mousse of the citrus-driven palate led into an extremely long, thought-provoking finish - a taste of BC wine history rarely experienced.

The outdoor tasting bar got exciting when the winds picked up

For a more recent examination we turned to 2013 Coyote Bowl Chardonnay, delicate and floral but deliciously complex with minerality amongst caramel apples, popcorn, and lemon curd. From the same vineyard and vintage Merlot provided dark, structured blackberry and currants at the beginning of its long life. Syrah from the newly acquired Second Chapter Vineyard came next, with meaty, leathery character in the cherry-flavoured palate. As a final treat, 2010 vintage Cabernet Franc showed off a powerful, full-bodied profile with years ahead of it given the generous tannins that remain.

The Coyote Bowl field, with views of the Golden Mile

Braving the glass-smashing winds we sat for lunch on the grassy knoll above the Coyote Bowl itself, where long-time Society friends Joy Road Catering presented a pair of courses with Church & State’s brand new Signature Series wines. Paired with Smoked Trout or Warm Goat Cheese the upcoming 2015 Trebella impressed via an unusual and complex blend of 62% Roussanne, 28% Marsanne, and 10% Viognier. From the winery’s Bella and Second Chapter vineyards on the Black Sage Bench the rich texture included elegant toasted honey and stonefruit flavours. Our entree offered Polenta & Rainbow Chard with locally sourced lamb or mushrooms, and plenty of intense 2014 Syrah. Although vinified as separate wines in 2013, the Coyote Bowl and Second Chapter vineyard fruit was blended for the new Signature Syrah, offering quintessential vibrant black fruit and pepper. Soaking in the valley views and sunshine we finished with dangerously addictive handmade caramels on our way through the tasting room.

A tasty lunch outdoors at Church & State

Mellow and merry the tour pulled up to nearby Stoneboat Vineyards for a gracious garden tasting at this highly respected winery. Unlike their Black Sage neighbours Stoneboat eschews Bordeaux or Rhone reds in favour of a Pinot particularity, from Gris to Noir and even the locally uncommon Pinotage. Known for superb Pinot Noir and Alsatian white varieties, Stoneboat branched out into sparkling wine in recent years, and we sampled the refreshing creamy strawberry watermelon of the (Pinot Noir) Rosé Brut to start. The newly re-labelled “Stone’d” white blend was formerly “Chorus” and a sample of 2014 showed perfumed, dry apricot from a smorgasbord of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller Thurgau, Viognier, Schönberger, and Kerner. Our tasting concluded with the winery’s only two varietal red wines, in this case from the 2013 vintage: dry currants, tea, and earth from Pinot Noir finished long while the darker-fruited, baking spiced Pinotage offered fuller tannin and sweeter strawberry to close out the visit.

Chris Jentsch gleefully shares his Small Lots wines

For the Bus Tour’s final visit veteran grower Chris Jentsch pulled out all the stops in a phenomenal display of generosity at his namesake C.C. Jentsch Cellars. Nearly ninety years of Jentsch family farming in the Okanagan contributed to Chris and his wife Betty launching wine sales in 2013 at their 63-acre Golden Mile estate vineyard. At a private tasting bar in the winery Chris and his team cracked open the full range of exclusive Small Lots series wines without restraint. Viognier from 2014 was dialed in with a varietal-focused yellow peach palate while 2015 Chardonnay found fans with butterscotch and toasty apple flavours. A trio of youthful 2014 reds provided plenty of perception thanks to floral, candied fruit from Malbec, earthy Cabernet Sauvignon, and the juicy mixed berry jam of Cabernet Franc.

Chris Jentsch hands out door prizes with help from BCWAS President Brian

With seemingly unending energy, Chris next served up several pizzas for an afternoon aperitif as he announced a slew of surprising door prizes for many lucky winners, including one member who took home a full case of Rosé! The warmth and hospitality experienced at C.C. Jentsch easily eclipsed any afternoon ennui to ensure the weekend’s exciting adventures ended on an extra high note. Congratulations to the BC Wine Appreciation Society for yet another informative, entertaining, and successful bus tour!

Saturday 17 September 2016

BCWAS Bus Tour 2016: Similkameen Valley

The BC Wine Appreciation Society swept the Similkameen and Southern Okanagan valleys on their eleventh annual winery tour this month, and I was lucky enough to nab myself a spot on the bus again this year. My wife and I had to be quick to sign up when the tour sold out in a single day earlier this summer, filling a 56-seat bus in record time! Tour guests travelled far and wide in one busy weekend, visiting ten wineries from Keremeos to Oliver, where we looked forward to the generous hospitality for which BC wine country is known.

The BC Wine Appreciation Society arrives at Hugging Tree Winery

Departure from our Osoyoos hotels came bright and early Saturday morning, with a 9am appointment awaiting us at the small family-owned winery Hugging Tree outside Cawston. Owners Walt & Christine Makepeace still sell much of their grapes to neighbouring Similkameen wineries, but producing a couple thousand cases from their thirty acre vineyard is enough to keep the whole family busy, including their winemaker son Brad. All were on hand to welcome the bus of eager wine aficionados with a generous selection of cheeses and even homemade tarts. Just as we started enjoying the wines a loud bang shook the wraparound deck on which we had congregated: stunningly, a minor earthquake had just struck the region! Looking to make our own impact, guests wasted little time stocking the bus with cases of citrus-apricot 2014 Viognier, fruit-forward 2012 Merlot, and structured, plumy 2012 “Telltale” Cabernet-Merlot, the only wines remaining in stock after a busy summer season.

Freshly picked grapes from the Hugging Tree's vineyards

By 10:30 we had bid adieu to the Makepeace family and motored up the road to Eau Vivre Winery, for a garden tasting of the many award-winning wines. Eau Vivre opened in 2007, the same year Walt & Christine were planting their new vineyard, so owners Dale Wright & Geraldine Estin have a few years’ head start on the friendly competition. The refreshing 2014 Riesling helped prepare our palates with lime cordial flavours and a smooth, clean finish. Soon Dale was cracking open his many reds, sourced from premium vineyards throughout the Similkameen and finished by Winemaker Anthony Buchanan since 2013. The newly released 2014 Pinot Noir follows in the footsteps of two past Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning vintages, and impressed with a toasty forest floor and cherry profile helped along by wild fermentation. Cabernet Franc and Malbec from the 2013 vintage offered chocolate cherries and juicy smoked strawberries respectively, before the 2012 “Buddhafull” red blend showed the benefit of age in an elegant full bodied raspberry palate.

A garden tasting at Eau Vivre Winery

We whirled through the wine shop for more spoils and back on the bus headed to Clos du Soleil’s Keremeos estate. There Managing Director and Winemaker Michael Clark led tours of the organic and biodynamic vineyard and clean new winery, beginning to fill up with freshly harvested white grapes. Split into two groups, we alternated between touring and tasting, as the team had pulled out all the stops and opened virtually everything available. Highlights included the extremely rare 2014 Estate Reserve White, a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon oozing with mineral-driven baked pear in a vibrant, creamy palate with years ahead of it - superb at present with appetizers of charred chicken skewers. The similarly exclusive 2012 Estate Reserve Red burst with expressive, elegant floral aromas, ripe tannins and rich fruit still growing in complexity as it ages into even further greatness. Even the upcoming Grower’s Series 2014 Syrah made it into our glasses: the winery’s first varietal Syrah is destined for wine club members before wider release this fall. The heady nose of Black Forest Cake elicited high praise even before the fresh wild berry palate and soft peppery finish.

Clos du Soleil Winemaker Mike Clark provides a vineyard tour

The sense of community exhibited in the Similkameen Valley was particularly evident as Clos du Soleil welcomed several other local wineries to join us for lunch and show off their own prized bottles. A spectacularly varied and lavish spread from Shayna & Shulman Culinary Adventures had us munching on antipasto platters, cheeses, and charcuterie before swinging by the grill for creative oyster mushroom hot dogs, seemingly endless sliders, and warm fresh cornbread. The shaded crush pad made the perfect location for samples as we nibbled and noshed our way into mid-afternoon. Orofino’s John & Virginia Weber were present with their exciting 2015 Wild Ferment Syrah and racy 2014 Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling. George Hansen of Seven Stones broke out his iconic 2013 red blend “The Legend”, while Sara Harker masterfully juggled bottles and baby to pour several intensely-flavoured sparkling and dessert fruit wines from her family’s Rustic Roots. The well-loved Gamay of Tim Cottrill’s Robin Ridge shared the spotlight with fragrant cocoa from a 2013 Cabernet Franc plus the elegant new “Signature Series” 2012 Meritage. Alongside the highly-regarded wines he produces at Forbidden Fruit, Nathan Venables also introduced his small lot Dead End Cellars label, including the deep and dark “Game Over” 2013 Tannat-Malbec.

A lunch visit from the winemakers of the Similkameen Valley

The hours seemed to fly by with that many wines to taste and soon the tour organizers were rounding up the crowd for our next winery visit, literally right next door! Since the Baessler family took over the former Herder winery and vineyard in 2014 their small Corcelettes label has grown a great deal, and Winemaker Charlie has made good use of the full tanks and barrels he inherited. Using the aged wines of (recently, and sadly deceased) Lawrence Herder Charlie has produced a 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, 2011 Meritage, and 2012 Merlot, plus a non-vintage bubbly “Santé”. The existing Corcelettes “Menhir” flagship Cabernet-Syrah remains in fine form, with the new 2014 expressing inky sausage and full bodied black fruit. As a very special treat, the Baesslers opened their micro-lot of 2014 “Vendange Tardive” late harvest Gewürztraminer before we departed. Only 16 cases of this luscious libation were produced (harvested under icewine conditions), and we savoured aromas of burnt honey and concentrated lychee before the delightfully clean, bright, apple pie finish.

Charlie & Jesce Baessler welcome the BCWAS to Corcelettes

Heading back towards Osoyoos we had one more stop to make before poolside refreshment and a highly anticipated group dinner. Although the Webers had shared a few of their wines with us at lunch, they had another treat in store during a short visit to Orofino. Not only were tour guests given a chance to pick up their earlier wine orders, but John and Virginia offered an abridged vertical tasting of the flagship “Beleza”, going as far back as 2006, when it was known merely as Merlot-Cabernet. That final vintage before the new nomenclature (once Petit Verdot was available for inclusion) was still fresh and juicy, with lots of life remaining in the rich palate. The heat of 2009 had rendered that vintage an aged character beyond its years, with prune and spicy mocha flavours, while cool 2011 showed the opposite effect with an elegant nose of menthol and herbs before a long smooth finish. The newest release from 2013 was youthfully delicious, ripe and fruity with leather and brown sugar to carry it through the years.

Dinner views abound at Watermark Resort

Once everyone had freshened up back in Osoyoos we all met at Watermark Beach Resort for a Winemaker’s Dinner with proudly organic Forbidden Fruit Winery. Owners Steve Venables and Kim Brind’Amour were on hand to introduce even more wines than their son Nathan had showed off earlier in the day. Seated under an expansive white tent on the Resort’s beachside lawn we toasted to the evening’s clear skies with intensely plummy “Flaunt” 2014 Sparkling Plum. The 2015 Dead End “Skrewd” blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris provided creamy accompaniment to a starting salad of seasonal greens, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes. The locally sourced ingredients introduced the Watermark’s focus on featuring nearby organic farms and Okanagan producers, keeping everything fresh and flavourful.

Seasonal Greens, Quinoa Salad, and Wild Mushroom Risotto paired well with Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc brought tropical melon fruit to join the next course of Albacore Tuna & Quinoa Salad, piled high with goat cheese and roasted vegetables. Honey Rosemary Glazed Chicken came next with Wild Mushroom Risotto and the Dead End “Catch 22” 2013 Cabernet Franc, expressing enjoyable cassis and licorice. The 2012 red blend “Redemption” was the natural partner for Roasted Beef Striploin with confit potatoes and squash, where it found favourite showing off rich black currant and dark cherry flavours. Generous portions provided little room for dessert but we managed a bite of Okanagan Fruit Crisp with Vanilla Bean Gelato while sipping the luxurious but delicate 2015 “Caught” Apricot Mistelle as the sun set. With the bus about to turn into a pumpkin guests soon made a quick departure back to the tour hotel, where the wisest got a good night’s sleep before another full day to come!