Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lariana Cellars releases entire portfolio

Photo: Lariana's Dan and Carol Scott

Lariana Cellars, the Osoyoos winery that is a literal stone’s throw from the U.S. border, now has released its entire portfolio.

That is just two wines, but what marvellous wines they are.

The winery is owned by Dan and Carol Scott. The winery is just three years old but Carol has a much longer connection to BC wines.

As a teenager when she spent several summers working in the Shannon Pacific Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Her father, Larry Franklin, was one of the vineyard’s owners. Until the hybrid grapes were pulled out in 1988, Larry and Carol picked some for home winemaking in the family’s Burnaby home. That vineyard, replanted with premium vinifera, now belongs to several top Black Sage Road wineries.

In the late 1960s, not long after Shannon Pacific was planted the first time, Larry Franklin also bought a four-hectare (10-acre) Osoyoos orchard property with what was then called the Shady Lagoon Campsite on the lake. Dan, a machinist, and Carol, a travel agent, took over the property in 1989. They still operate the lakeside recreational vehicle camp. Growing cherries and apples became uneconomic and the trees were pulled out in 2006. “It was kind of my dream to plant grapes,” Carol says.

Since 2007, they have planted 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) of vines. The largest block is Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Carmenère and Viognier. Accordingly, the winery’s red blend is anchored by Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot and the Syrah fleshing out the debut blend are purchased from nearby growers because Dan and Carol’s vineyard is fully planted. They have no current plans to double production by turning the campground into vineyard.

The modest winery is very well equipped. Lariana was one of the earliest wineries in the Okanagan to install an 1,800-litre concrete egg for fermenting and aging wine. This vessel, made in California, is used to ferment Lariana’s Viognier. The reds are fermented in small stainless steel tanks and aged in oak barrels.

Lariana’s winemaking consultant is Senka Tennant. She was the founding winemaker with Black Hills Estate Winery. Currently, she is the co-proprietor and winemaker at Terravista Vineyards.

Lariana’s decision to limit its red portfolio just to a premium red called Twelve echoes Senka’s strategy at Black Hills. That winery opened in 2001 with a Bordeaux blend called Nota Bene, which quickly became, and remains, an Okanagan icon.

Twelve is named for the vintage. At this time, the plan is that subsequent releases will also be named for the vintage in which the wine was grown.

Intrigue Winery in Lake Country used a similar strategy for a number of vintages of a white wine. Eventually, the owners found that unwieldy and rebranded the wine. It will be interesting to see if Lariana makes it work.

Here are notes on the wines.

Lariana Cellars Viognier 2014 ($23). This is the third vintage of Viognier from Lariana and it confirms the winery’s excellence with this varietal. This is an exquisitely balanced wine where the 13.9% alcohol is kept in check by the flavours, the texture and the refreshing acidity. The wine has aromas of lime and white peach with a floral note reminiscent of violets. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and melon with a hint of spice on the long, refreshing finish. 93.

Lariana Cellars Twelve 2012 ($44.90 for 480 cases). This is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 21% Merlot and 1% Carmenère. The wine was aged 18 months in oak (90% French, of which 45% was new). Dark in colour, the wine begins with dramatic aromas that jump from the glass – plum, black cherry, chocolate and spice. This is echoed on the palate, which delivers a delicious array of sweet red and dark berry flavours. The ripe tannins give the wine a generous and satisfying finish. 91.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Remembering Cowichan Valley vintner David Godfrey

Photo: David Godfrey 1938-2015

David Godfrey, who died on June 21 of pancreatic cancer, was the owner of Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards, the eighth Cowichan Valley winery when it opened in 2000.

The winery capped a life filled with an astonishing number of careers and achievements. He is almost certainly the only winery owner in British Columbia to have won a Governor General’s Literary Award.

The obituary in the current edition of Quill & Quire, a publishing industry journal, recounts his career as an author: “His novel The New Ancestors, which critic Glenn Deer describes as ‘difficult, erudite, and epic in scope,’ won a 1970 Governor General’s Literary Award (it was in contention with Robertson Davies’ novel Fifth Business). The New Ancestors, based in part on the author’s experiences teaching in Ghana, was Godfrey’s only novel; it followed the short-story collection Death Goes Better with Coca-Cola (1967). A second collection of stories, Dark Must Yield, appeared in 1978.”

A remarkable man with theatrical personality, David once summed his approach to the wine business this way when speaking to an industry conference on Vancouver Island:

“You need to develop your general story, your land story and your expertise story. What you’ll find, even if you are selling only to restaurants, what you’re selling is drama and theatre and narrative as much as product.”

An example was a Godfrey-Brownell wine called William Maltman’s Double Red, a popular blend of about 80% Maréchal Foch and 20% Gamay Noir. “William Maltman was my uncle by marriage,” David said in one interview. “He was an artist, and he taught me to drink at an early age.”

David was born in Winnipeg in 1938 and grew up in Ontario, where his parents moved when he was 7.

“I grew up in this little town called Cooksville,” he told me in a 2001 interview.  “There were several people growing grapes there, you know eccentric small land owners.  It’s almost on the Niagara Peninsula and lots of immigrant families  made wine [with] imported grapes, so I was very used to wine. There were a lot of immigrants from everywhere in Europe.  Most of them made wine, so I was very used to the flat boxes of grapes coming in from California.”

The upbringing engendered a lifelong appreciation of Zinfandel, a popular variety for home winemakers.  “I guess I was always interested in wine from my Cooksville days,” David told me.

His education included a degree from the University of Toronto and graduate degrees from Iowa State and Stanford Universities. That led to a career as a university teacher.

His entry in Wikipedia relates: “He taught in Ghana for several years including Adisadel College, Cape Coast, from 1963-65 where he was the English and music instructor. He was the founder of the Adisadel Jazz Club, which led to the creation of similar jazz and student pop groups in several Ghanaian secondary schools.”

That interest in music re-emerged at the winery, which regularly hosted concerts by a wide range of musicians.

During the late 1960s, he became a powerful figure in Canadian publishing. The Quill & Quire obituary says: “‘In the decade after 1967, Dave Godfrey was a powerhouse in Canadian writing and publishing,’ says Dennis Lee, who in 1967 co-founded House of Anansi Press with Godfrey. At the time, Anansi, which was instrumental in publishing early work by Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, and Matt Cohen, was located in the basement of Godfrey’s rented house on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Two years after launching Anansi, Godfrey joined Roy MacSkimming and James Bacque in beginning New Press. ‘Both presses were passionately nationalistic in mission,’ says MacSkimming, ‘with Anansi focused more on literary publishing, New Press more on political and social issues.’ Along with his wife, Ellen, Godfrey started Press Porcépic in 1973.” This was an outlet for experimental writing.

He moved to Victoria in 1978, becoming chair of creative writing at the university. At the same time a new interest in technology led him to help write several books on the subject. Ultimately, he and Ellen launched one of the earliest internet service providers in Canada.

Throughout that career, he never lost his urge to farm. His grandparents had lost a farm in Saskatchewan during the Depression, leading to a family determination to acquire farmland again. He actually tried to buy land in Saskatchewan but was thwarted because he was not a resident of the province.
Finally, he was able to combine a passion to farm with a passion for wine.

“I did my graduate work in the States, partly in Iowa and partly in California.  I used to make wine with Raymond Carver in Iowa, the famous writer.  He was a student there too.  I always made wine.  So about the early ‘90s we started looking for a farm.”  Ultimately, he bought a farm in 1998 south of Duncan and planted grapes for the winery named Godfrey-Brownell.

“When I was getting closer to retirement in the 1990s I wanted to farm again but I sure didn’t want to lose money,” he told industry activist David Bond for a BC Winecast program in 2006. “When the Cowichan Valley vineyards were getting going in 1992, I was fascinated by them. It looked like a way you could farm and at least you could drink your profits.”

The public sometimes took the winery’s doubled-barrelled name as a partnership.   

David Godfrey explained the name on the BC Winecast:

“We spent almost five years looking for our first vineyard farm and eventually found something … and bought it,” David said. “About six months later we discovered through our lawyer that the original owner was actually an Aaron Alonso Brownell and I immediately knew we were related because the Brownells only had five first names. Two of them were Aaron and Jeremiah. So we checked it out with my uncle in Nova Scotia and sure enough, Aaron Alonso Brownell was my grandmother’s second cousin, who left Nova Scotia in the 1880s and homesteaded this farm we just bought in 1998. It was one of the first legal land grants in B.C. We decided he must have wanted to grow grapes. We call him our silent partner.”

Sadly, the founding partner is now also silent.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Burrowing Owl brings home major awards

 Photo: Burrowing Owl Winery [courtesy Burrowing Owl]

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery recently trumpeted the significant awards it brought home from several international wine competitions this spring.

In its news release, the winery said: “Burrowing Owl enters international competitions with the goal of having its wines evaluated against the best bottles from winemaking regions all around the globe. This allows the winery to ensure that it continues to produce world-class wines.”

Other British Columbia wineries do the same. These are mostly the larger producers who can afford the hefty entry fees.

It is a valid test of how BC wines stack up. It no longer is a surprise that the wines hold their own.

The surprise is that some of the same wineries have stopped competing in the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence in BC Wine, even though there is no entry fee. Granted, this is not as widely recognized as, say, the Decanter World Wine Awards. But I will bet that the consumers who actually buy most BC wines are better acquainted with the LG Awards than with Decanter.

To put international competitions in perspective, Syrah du Monde charges 180 Euros per entry and asks for six bottles of wine. The winery can provide tasting notes at an additional 55 Euros an entry.

Burrowing Owl, of course, has won two LGs: in 2013 for a 2010 Cabernet Franc and in  2005 for a 2003 Syrah.

Given the winery’s latest awards, perhaps its peers were happy not to have to compete with Burrowing Owl wines at the LG Awards this year.

The winery’s haul of medals includes:

  • Gold for its 2012 Syrah at the Syrah du Monde 2015 in France. This was the only Canadian Syrah to take home a medal this year.
  • Double gold for the 2012 Merlot at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, along with gold for the 2011 Meritage, four silvers and and three bronze medals.
  • Gold for 2012 Athene at the International Wine & Spirits Competition 2015, along with five silvers and two bronze medals. The entry fee for IWSC is £130 per entry and four bottles are required.
  • Silver for 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Pinot Noir at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2015, plus four bronze medals and two commendations.

A complete (and impressive) list of Burrowing Owl’s extensive awards is on the winery’s website. Just click on “Purchase” and then “Awards” at the bottom of that menu.

One thing struck me as I looked over the list: judges are not always consistent from one competition to another. For example, the 2012 Syrah won silver at the IWSC competition, a bronze at San Francisco and a commendation, which seems just slightly less than bronze, at Decanter. Of course, the Syrah du Monde, now in its ninth year, is a tightly focussed competition. This year 418 wines were entered and a total of 38 golds were awarded.

I have been able to taste six of Burrowing Owl’s recent releases, most of which have been in competitions. Never mind if the judges are all over the map. These are first rate wines.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2014 ($20). The wine begins with appealing aromas of citrus and pear. On the palate, there are flavours of pear, peach, apple and pink grapefruit. The texture is juicy and the finish seems endless. 91.

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013 ($25). The winery fermented 60% of the wine in stainless steel and 40% in oak. This means the wine retains fresh and vibrant fruit while enhancing the texture and complexity. The wine also was aged 10 months in French oak (25% new). It begins with aromas of citrus and nectarine, leading to flavours of tangerine and melon with a hint of vanilla (from the barrels). The texture is rich and the finish is long. Good acidity promotes fresh flavours as well as giving the wine the potential to age for several years. 91.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 ($30). The winery’s reds are always big and bold; this is no exception. Dark in colour, it has intense aromas of raspberry and cherry that lead to meaty, earthy flavours dominated by strawberries’ and cherries. The wine is robust on the palate and has a long, spicy finish. 90.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012 ($33). This shows the variety’s classic brambly aromas and flavours: raspberry, blackberry, black cherries and blueberries. The structure is firm and age-worthy, although the 22 months of barrel aging have given the wine a polished texture. Decant now or cellar for five years. 92.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2012 ($33). There is no question that this delicious wine deserves a gold medal. It begins with aromas of plum, blueberry and cassis. It is full on the palate with flavours of black cherry, plum, leather and tobacco. A touch of black pepper anchors the long, earthy finish. 93.

Burrowing Owl Athene 2012 ($38). This is a blend of 53% Syrah and 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, co-fermented and aged 21 months in barrel (85% French and 25% new). It begins with aromas of black cherry and cocoa, leading to flavours of black cherry, black currant, espresso coffee and dark chocolate, with spike and black pepper on the finish. The generous texture makes this wine bold and satisfying. 92.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Class of 2015: Singletree Winery

Singletree Winery
5782 Mt. Lehman Road,
Abbotsford, BC, V4X 1V4
Telephone: 778.808.6333

When he was 15, Garnet Etsell bought a blueberry farm in Richmond.

That tells you that he is a farmer by avocation. Now, he and his family have opened the Fraser Valley’s newest winery on the same property where the Etsell’s also produce about a million kilograms of turkey a year.

“That is what enables us to do the wine,” Garnet says with a chuckle.

Singletree Winery, managed by Andrew Etsell, Garnet’s son, has just begun selling its four debut wines from a tasting room at 5782 Mt. Lehman Road in Abbotsford. The tasting room currently is open from 12 noon to 5:30 pm Wednesay through Sunday (Friday through Sunday in winter).

Fraser Valley wine tourists should already be familiar with this road. Vern Siemens opened Mt. Lehman Winery in 2009 at 5094 Mt. Lehman Road.

These wineries are both in the bucolic countryside a short distance north of the Trans-Canada Highway. Both have vineyards which, on clear days, have views of Mt. Baker.

The quality of the Mt. Lehman wines was recognized after the winery in 2011 won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in wine with a 2010 Viognier.

Singletree has set out to match that level of performance by engaging winemaker Matt Dumayne to make its wines, at least for several vintages, at the Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland.

Garnet Etsell, who was born in Vancouver, got his first university degree in animal science and initially operated a dairy business. When the economics of that were not appealing, he got a degree in business administration and then became a chartered accountant.

“I said to my wife, Debbie, I have always wanted to farm,” he says. “If I didn’t have a commercial operation by the time I was 45, that was going to be it. Just before I turned 45, we bought our first commercial turkey operation.”

The turkey business is on a 67-acre property that the Etsells bought in 2001. This land has been farmed since the 1870s. “It has been a dairy farm, a vegetable farm, a soft fruit operation, a turkey operation and now a vineyard,” Garnet says. “We have the remnants of the old orchard.”

One of their sons joined his father in this business. Andrew decided to get a diploma in horticulture with the intent of establishing another agricultural business, perhaps a plant nursery, on the property.

He had to do a practicum to complete his program and arranged to do it at Mission Hill Family Estate in the Okanagan.

“He came back, having fallen in love with the wine industry and said that we should get involved with wine,” Garnet says. “Debbie and I were already interested and it did not take a lot of arm twisting.”

They began planting vines in 2010. They now grow about 10 acres of grapes and they lease a 1.5-acre Siegerrebe vineyard near the Abbotsford International Airport.

Except for a few experimental rows of Pinot Noir, the Singletree vineyard is planted entirely in white varieties: Siegerrebe, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a small block of Grüner Veltliner and a large block of Sauvignon Blanc. Not all of these plantings are in production yet.

“At our location, we will be growing all of our whites,” Garnet says. “We don’t have the heat units down here to grow really good reds. We will source all of our red grapes from the Okanagan. We will have an offering of reds because there are people who do like reds.”

The current release from Singletree includes a 2013 Pinot Noir with grapes sourced in Summerland. The winery has 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Merlot from Osoyoos and a 2014 Pinot Noir from the Naramata Bench in barrel.

“Right now, we are dependent on Matt Dumayne and his contacts to source the fruit for us,” Garnet says. “As time goes by, we hope to develop relationships with growers, so we can actually have some influence in terms of how those grapes are grown.” 

Singletree is launching with 600 cases of wine from the 2013 vintage and 800 cases from the 2014 vintage. The winery plans to grow as its vineyard matures and as consumers get to know the label.

The winery’s name has a fine agricultural ring. A singletree is part of a working horse’s harvest that is positioned at the animal’s shoulders and anchors straps used in pulling a buggy or a plough.

Here are notes on the wines.

Singletree Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($22 for 90 cases). Lively flavours of lime and grapefruit mingle with oak. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Singletree Siegerrebe 2013 ($22 for 313 cases). The wine begins with a fragrantly aromatic aroma and delivers flavours of peach, lychee and lime with a hint of spice on the finish. The texture is juicy. 90.

Singletree Farmhand White 2013 ($20 for 95 cases). This is a blend of 64% Sauvignon Blanc and 36% Pinot Gris co-fermented, with 75% aged six months in neutral oak.  The wine has flavours of citrus and apples on its lively a fresh palate with herbal notes on the finish. 90.

Singletree Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 200 cases). Light-bodied and lean, this wine has aromas and flavours of strawberries with savoury notes on the finish. 88.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tightrope Winery now has its own wine shop

Photo: Tightrope's Graham and Lyndsay O'Rourke

The new wine shop which Tightrope Winery opened last month constitutes one more must-see winery on the Naramata Bench.

The tasting room, generous in size and elegant in design, offers a superb view over vineyards and Okanagan Lake beyond the vineyards.

The winery, operated by Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke, began selling its wines in 2013 under the license of nearby Ruby Blues Winery. At the time, Lyndsay also was the winemaker at Ruby Blues. It is a position she has turned over to Blair Gillingham now that Tightrope has its own license and rising production.

The winery’s website gives a more extensive account of this couple than I have published in my books. I take the liberty of quoting that:

Graham and Lyndsay O’Rourke have had a passion for the fine art of winemaking for years. From the snowy slopes of the coastal mountains, into the semi-arid desert of B.C., the couple has brought their outdoor enthusiasm to the Okanagan valley, expressing their expertise in the realm of vine growing and winemaking with the culmination of their new wine label, Tightrope.

After growing up in Southern Ontario, Graham trekked across the country and spent a few years enjoying the outdoor life that Whistler, B.C. has to offer by skiing, mountain biking, playing rugby, and meeting his future wife carving the snowy slopes and sipping fine wines.

Having grown up in British Columbia Lyndsay has been aware of the fine grape growing conditions the Okanagan Valley has to offer since the onset of her own wine passion. Once the couple had their first child they decided that the environment of the Okanagan would be ideal for cultivating a family as well as their dreamed-of winery.

Initiating a formal education on the subject of how to best cultivate the vines that produce the wines they love, they discovered that the vineyard life and winemaking were passions that they shared and wished to further pursue in their life together. The growing family relocated to New Zealand for a more advanced and thorough education on this subject that has proven to be their life-focus.

Having attained honours degrees in both oenology and viticulture while studying in New Zealand at Lincoln University, Lyndsay and Graham made a welcome return to the Okanagan Valley, settling on the Naramata Bench in 2007.

Since that time both have been hard at work honing their skills and practicing their trade, enabling that they can excel in their chosen profession. Lyndsay has traded in her snowboarding boots for a pair of Wellies, and was been an outstanding, award-winning winemaker for the Ruby Blues Winery along the Naramata Bench from 2009 to 2014.

In 2012 and 2014 Ruby Blues won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for their 2011 and 2013 Viognier. Lyndsay has now turned her focus to Tightrope Winery full time and continues to craft award winning wines in the new Tightrope facility!

After their return to Canada, Graham went to work for Mission Hill Winery as one of their lead viticulturists. Managing numerous acres of different varietals successfully through many seasons allowed Graham to put into practice those hours of study, and he has stowed the mountain bike in the garage in favour of overalls and a tractor. 2012 saw Graham leave Mission Hill to focus on the O’Rourke’s own 10 acre property along the Naramata Bench at Fleet Road, from which all of the Tightrope grapes derive.

Walking the tightrope of a life-in-balance, in her free time Lyndsay enjoys training for the triathlons that are hosted in the region, while Graham still sports his rugby cap once in a while. The Fleet Road Vineyard, in addition to its’ vines, is now growing not one, but two fantastic little boys! A variety of family pets can also be found on the farm and are sure to be seen on the next Vineyard Dogs of the Okanagan Calendar!

Lyndsay and Graham look forward to sharing with you their enthusiasm and life-long dedication to wines that are worth walking a tightrope for.

Here are notes on current releases.

Tightrope Riesling 2012 ($20). This is now sold out. It has developed into a classic dry Riesling with “petrol” on the nose and a bit on the palate. Perhaps a better descriptor is marmalade, especially on the palate. The acidity is balanced with a bit of residual sugar and the wine finish dry. 91.

Tightrope Riesling 2013 ($20). The wine begins with floral and citrus aromas. The wine has more weight on the palate, with juicy flavours of grapefruit and with 13.3% alcohol, the result of a warmer year. 90.

Tightrope Viognier 2013 ($27). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and  cumin spice, leading to flavours of apricot, tangerine, ginger and vanilla. The wine was partially barrel-fermented. 90.

Tightrope Viognier 2014 ($27). Perhaps because there is Similkameen fruit blended in this wine, it is bold and ripe, with flavours of peach and apricot. 90.

Tightrope Tip-Toe 2014 ($21). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer (46%) with Riesling and Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of rose petal and lychee and has flavours of citrus, pear and mandarin. The fresh acidity gives this wine a refreshing finish. 91.

Tightrope Pinot Gris 2014 ($20). This is an appealingly refreshing wine made in the fruit-forward Pinot Grigio style (alcohol of 12.8%). It has flavours of apples, peaches and pears, with a hint of sweetness on the finish. 90.

Tightrope Rosé 2014 ($20). This is a blend of 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Barbera. The wine is dark in hue, with aromas and flavours of raspberry, cherry and strawberry. The texture is juicy and the delicious finish lingers. 91.

Tightrope Vertigo 2013 ($28). This is an approachable red blend – 50% Merlot and 25% each of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. It has flavours of plum, black currant and chocolate with a touch of pepper and a hint of oak. 90.

Tightrope Pinot Noir 2013 ($32). Dark ruby in colour, this wine begins with aromas of spice, cherry, strawberry and mocha. It is rich on the palate with flavours cherry, raspberry, plum and mocha, all subtly framed with oak. The texture is seductively silky and the finish is persistent. This is an outstanding wine. 93.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards 2015

 Photo: The 14 winners in 2015

In 2015, the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines broke new ground.

For the first time in the competition’s 12-year history, a Vancouver Island winery – Enrico Winery & Vineyards – was among the winners.

There was a significantly stronger showing overall by island wineries, reflecting both the recent excellent coastal vintages and the maturing winemaking.

The coastal wineries in either the semi-final or final judging rounds, in addition to Enrico, included Blue Grouse Estate Winery, Symphony Vineyard, 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery and Sea Star Vineyard & Winery.

As the wine industry knows, this is a difficult award to win because only a limited number of awards are given. This year, 14 awards were given for what the judges deemed the very best among the 408 wines entered.

One winery owner has been quoted as saying this is like winning the Stanley Cup. It is an apt comparison, considering that award was established by a Governor General. The wine award was established in 2003 by The Honourable Iona Campagnolo when she was Lieutenant Governor. A similar award has since been established by Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor.

A slight amendment of the judging procedure this year improved the rigor of the competition, assuring that the best wines were winners.

The judging team was enlarged and three panels were established. In the first round of judging, each panel tasted about a third of the wines, narrowing down the selection of wines for the semi-final round.

The 84 wines in the semi-final round were tasted by the full judging panel. They refined the selection to 30 wines for the final round of judging. Inserting the semi-final round of judging was new this year.

Thus, the winning 14 wines were tasted twice by all nine judges, and three times by some judges. The winners were tasted 27 times. There was unanimity or strong majorities for the winners.

While a large number of wineries entered, I noted with surprise that some major producers, among them previous winners, did not enter while they do enter national and international competitions.

That makes absolutely no sense. It costs around $100 an entry to submit wines for national or international competitions. There is no entry fee for the Lieutenant Governor’s competition. Wineries are asked just for three bottles each of up to four entries.

Of course, the difficulty of winning an award – only 14 awards from 408 wines – might strike some as lottery odds. The point is that the exclusivity of these awards makes them especially prestigious.

Other competitions hand out far more awards, including of bronze medals, to which there is limited prestige.

This competition also stands apart because the awards are handed out personally in the last week of July by the Lieutenant Governor (Her Honour Judith Guichon) in ceremonies at the winning wineries. The event is all the more grand because many members of the British Columbia consular corps also attend.

The consuls are not just there to party. They also buy wines for their own cellars. One year, they purchased so much wine that their bus was overloaded and a truck had to be rented to carry all of the wine. For winning wineries, this can be a nice payday.

Here are this year’s winners.

BC Wine Studio Siren’s Call Syrah 2012 ($25). This big and bold red begins with aromas of black cherry, oak and delicatessen spices. On the palate, there is more black cherry and plum with classic notes of white and black pepper.

Blasted Church Vineyards Holy Moly 2012 ($31). This is 100% Petit Verdot, a late ripening variety comparatively rare in the Okanagan. The wine begins with an intense dark red colour. The aromas span the gamut from floral perfume, plum and cherry to raw steak. The wine has flavours of black cherry and plum with spice and sage on the finish. There is even a hint of graphite on the finish of a very complex wine.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc Collector’s Series 2012 ($29). Beginning with brambleberry aromas, this concentrated wine has flavours of plum, blackberry and black currant, with a tarry, earthy note on the finish.

Church & State Winery Quintessential 2012 ($55). This is the eighth vintage of Church & State’s award-winning Bordeaux blend. The wine is generous in texture and in flavours. It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currants, vanilla and truffles. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, mulberry, black cherry and dark chocolate.

Enrico Winery & Vineyards Tempest (Ortega) 2014 ($17.50). This wine begins with lovely floral aromas. On the palate, it is intensely fruity with flavours of peach and lime. The residual sweetness lifts the flavours and gives the wine a juicy texture.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 ($32). This is a seductive wine, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. It is light ruby in colour but, on the palate, the wine has a surprising full texture and persistent flavours.

50th Parallel Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($32).  This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in premium French oak barrels. The wine begins with a buttery and spicy aroma of expensive oak (think of cinnamon and apple pie). That translates to a creamy palate, with flavours of hazelnut, marmalade, baked apple and a never-ending finish. This is an elegant and satisfying Chardonnay.

Inniskillin Okanagan Reserve Riesling Icewine 2014 ($34.95 for 200 ml). A superb Icewine, this has aromas and flavours of lime and ripe pineapple, with brisk acidity to balance the residual sugar. The finish is elegantly fresh and long-lasting. Earlier vintages of this winery’s Icewine also won LG awards in 2013 and 2006.

Lake Breeze Vineyards Merlot 2012 ($17.39). This is a ripe, almost jammy wine with concentrated flavours of cassis, black cherry and blueberry.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery “The One” Sparkling 2010 ($39.90). This sparkling wine cuvée is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The wine spent about 26 months en tirage before being disgorged in June 2013. It displays the toasty, bready aromas and flavours one expects with Champagne. The bubbles give the wine a creamy mid palate but the finish is crisp and dry.

Platinum Bench Gamay Noir Block 28 2013 ($34.90). This is a dense and concentrated wine with the structure of a Beaujolais Cru (Morgon, perhaps). It has aromas and flavours of black cherry and plum. The fruit is sweet. There are savoury and earthy notes on the finish.

Red Rooster Syrah Reserve 2012 ($26). Dark in colour, this wine has aromas of black cherry, delicatessen spices, rare steak and pepper which are echoed in the flavours. The long finish is pleasantly earthy and peppery.

Ruby Blues Winery Viognier 2014 ($25). This is the third year that this winery has won an award of excellence for Viognier. The 2014 wine is fresh and vibrant with floral fragrances. On the palate, there are flavours of peach, citrus and apple. The wine is juicy and refreshing.

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery Mystic River Gewürztraminer 2014 ($20.10). This is the eighth award of excellence won by Wild Goose in the 12-year history of the competition. It begins with intense aromas of rose petals and spice and continues with flavours of orange peel, grapefruit and lychee. The wine is dry but the exceptional fruit flavours trick the palate into perceiving slight sweetness.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Township 7 releases four wines from 2014

 Photo: Township 7's Mary McDermott

Mary McDermott moved from Ontario in the summer of 2014 to take over making wine at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery in Penticton.

The winery has now released three of the whites and a rosé that she made in that vintage. It did not take her long to put her imprint on the wines – and it is quite a positive impact.

That is not to take anything away from her predecessor, Brad Cooper, who moved on to Serendipity Winery. Earlier this year, the winery released reds he had made. My reviews were delayed, but finally here they are. They are also pretty solid wines. 

Mary’s winemaking résumé is impressive. Her interest in wine began when she worked as a sommelier at Monk McQueen’s Fresh Seafood & Oyster Bar in Vancouver. That led her back to Ontario, her native province, to earn a winemaking and viticulture degree at Brock University.

After graduation, she started as a cellarhand at Stratus Vineyards and moved on to become assistant cellarmaster at Cave Spring Cellars. Then, in 2010, she became winemaker at Trius Winery at Hillebrand as well as Thirty Bench Winery. Both are premium wine producers operated by Andrew Peller Ltd.

She was recruited by Township 7 after new owners acquired the winery in 2014. Mike Raffan, a former owner and now general manager, says that the new owners also have invested in improvements in the winery’s facilities. Possibly, new equipment also accounts for the pristine polish that the 2014 wines show.

Here are notes.

Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17.38 for 1,058 cases).
Details matter. Ten per cent of this was fermented in neutral barrels, a technique to add some fullness to a wine that can be linear. The wine begins with aromas of lime and herbs. The flavours are intense, with notes of lime, lemon and peach wrapped around a spine of minerals. The wine has a crisp, dry finish. 89.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2014 ($16.51 for 398 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromas of apple and pineapple. These are echoed in the flavours. The palate is crisp, with flavours that have a laser beam focus and freshness. The finish is very long. 91.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2014 ($18.25 for 498 cases). This wine is well differentiated from the extremely fruit-forward style of the unoaked version. Half was fermented in stainless steel while the other half was fermented in French and American oak barrels (18% new). The subtle oak shows in a delicate note of vanilla and in the full texture. But the aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and stone fruit remain brightly in the foreground. The racy acidity adds to a crisp finish. This Chardonnay has the structure to age for another four or five years. 91.

Township 7 7 Blanc 2013 ($19.99 for 328 cases). This is 60% Gewürztraminer, 40% Pinot Gris, a blend that marries flavour with good acidity. The wine has a spicy aroma leading to flavours of pear, grapefruit and ginger. There is a touch of residual sugar here. 89.

Township 7 Rosé 2014 ($17.38 for 198 cases). This is 95% Merlot, with five per cent of Muscat to lift the aroma and the fruit flavours. The wine, which has a pale salmon hue, has aromas of strawberries and cherries. The superb weight of this wine takes one by surprise. This is a dry rosé but the fruit flavours are full and intense. The finish is refreshing. 91.

Township 7 Merlot 2012 ($25.99 for 1,398 cases). This wine is a generous mouthful of vibrant flavours of black cherry, black currant and vanilla, with attractive red berry aromas. The long ripe tannins give the wine good weight and length. 90.

Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Blue Terrace Vineyard ($26.99 for 498 cases). Township 7 has been buying grapes for a decade from this vineyard at the north end of Black Sage Road. The wine begins with aromas of red fruit (cherry, raspberry, black currant) and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant and plum. The texture is firm; the wine benefits from decanting, as one would expect.