Friday, June 24, 2016

Pascal Madevon hangs out the shingle




Photo: Consultant Pascal Madevon


Winemaker Pascal Madevon had not made white wines for about 20 years when he joined Culmina Family Estate Winery in 2013. There, in addition to several excellent reds, he began making acclaimed whites from Chardonnay, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

The most recent release from Culmina is the Dilemma 2014, a very elegant Chardonnay which is reviewed below.

All of this white winemaking speaks well for Pascal’s latest career move. He has just launched Pascal Madevon Signature Ltd., a wine consultancy, with Culmina as his first client.

His news release says that the consultancy will advise Canadian wineries regarding terroir, vineyard management, winemaking, and the marketing of red, white, and rosé wines.

"The potential, the spirit of a wine emerges from its terroir, but there is also an important human element that drives a wine's final creation," Pascal said in the release. "I am eager to work with passionate proprietors and winemakers who, like me, are looking to unleash the true signature of each and every wine."

Trained in France, Pascal came to the Okanagan in 2001 as the initial winemaker for Osoyoos Larose Winery. He was impressed by the quality of the grapes the terroir produces, so much so that he has become a Canadian citizen, underlining his commitment to Canadian wines.

“I am very surprised by the quality of the wine here because it is a very young industry,” he told me in 2003. “If I compare it to the Médoc, except for the classified growths, there is very nice wine here.”

Before Groupe Taillan (owner of Osoyoos Larose) sent Pascal to Canada in 2001, he briefly managed Château La Tour-Carnet [a fourth growth].  Before that, he spent 11 years at Château La Tour-Blanche, a cru bourgeois of Médoc. Before that, he worked at Château Laffitte-Carcasset in Saint-Estèphe.

He was born in Paris in 1963. He decided to take up studies in agriculture after specializing in mathematics in high school.  

“I like to be outside, I like nature,” Pascal once told me in an interview. “That’s why I chose agriculture. And I chose wine because my grandfather had a very small vineyard in Burgundy, in Aloxe-Corton. From that, it was the beginning. I studied in Bordeaux. I am a technician in viticulture and enology, and a graduate in enology from Bordeaux. It was important for me to do viticulture to understand all the system. When you are only an enologist, you know only enology. I wanted to know everything about wine.”

 When he was studying, many of his classmates were the sons of winegrowers. “Me, I am a Parisian, I knew nothing,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to drive a tractor. Now, I never go on a tractor – but I know how it works. My advantage is to know everything. That is important.”

He also found time to write two books. One is a hardcover called Le Livre du Vin. The other, Les Vins de France, is a paperback, of which 25,000 copies were sold.  

Pascal’s attention to detail has always been remarkable. The entire Osoyoos Larose vineyard, about 70 acres, was laid out on his computer in small blocks that reflected the soils and the productivity of the vines. The image looked much like a crossword puzzle.

He also made it a practice to take photographs regularly in the vineyard, not only to monitor its progress over the season but to compare the vineyard from year to year.

When he took over the vineyard at Culmina, it was already laid out in computerized detail. It may be one of the most technical vineyards in the Okanagan.

And there is no doubt of his winemaking ability. Here is a note on the Culmina release.

Culmina Dilemma 2014 ($34). This is an elegant and restrained Chardonnay. It beings with aromas of citrus. On the palate, the fruit flavours are pristine, with notes of lemon and orange framed by subtle toasty oak. There is a hint of spice on the finish. The texture is rich with fresh acidity to give the wine ability to age. 94.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lieutenant Governor's Excellence in Wine Awards 2016



Photo: the 2016 LG award winners


A record 506 wines were entered this year in the 2016 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines.

In keeping with the rigor in which the competition is judged, 12 wines were singled out for awards from among the 46 excellent wines that made it into the final round. 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. It was continued by her successors, The Honourable Steven Point and the current incumbent, The Honourable Judith Guichon. All British Columbia producers of grape wines are eligible to enter.

A slight amendment of the judging procedure last 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.

For the semi-final round, the judges regrouped into two panels. These refined the selection to 46 wines for the final round of judging. Inserting the semi-final round of judging is new since last year.

Thus, the winning 12 wines were tasted twice by all nine judges, and three times by some judges. There was unanimity or strong majorities for the winners.

This year, the winning wineries are all in the Okanagan. They include both repeat wineries and four first time winners.

As has become customary, the Lieutenant Governor will present the awards at each winery. This year’s tour, however, has been moved to the first week of September. In previous years, the tour took place in the last week of July.

Here are the winners.

Bordertown Vineyard & Estate Winery Living Desert Red 2013 ($25). The winery’s notes: “This signature blend is comprised of the finest blocks of Cabernet Franc and Merlot on the estate which were cropped low and meticulously farmed. Various lots were aged separately in a combination of new and seasoned French oak barrels. It showcases aromas and flavours of red and black fruits, dark chocolate, sandalwood, and the wild herbs that grow amongst this region’s vineyards.”

Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 ($39). The winery’s notes: “Lovely ripe cherry aromas are sprinkled with strawberry, violets and coffee. The satin palate is well balanced with dark spice on the finish.  After whole berry fermentation the wine was aged 9 months in a combination of French and American Oak. The Result is a wine with a gorgeous texture that will please the Pinot Noir enthusiast.”

Gold Hill Estate Winery Meritage Family Reserve 2013 ($40.99). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc. Tasting notes: “The wine begins with aromas of cassis and cherry. The flavours are complex and bold, featuring black currant, plum and a hint of blueberry. The tannins are polished and the wine is elegant.”

Hester Creek Estate Winery Syrah Viognier 2013 ($24.95). The winery’s notes: “Lifted aromas of white and black pepper, a wisp of smoke and dark berry are underpinned by the subtle violet and lavender perfume of the Viognier. The palate is an exotic blend of dark fruit, tobacco, smoked meat and freshly ground coffee.”

Intersection Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 ($24.90). The winery’s notes: “Long, even ripening late into October produced this elegant wine with generous berry fruit, herbal/mineral notes and fine tannins. Aged 12 months in French and American oak. Clarified by time and gravity, it remains unfiltered. Bold and rich in its youth, this wine will gain in complexity over several years.”
  

Kismet Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 ($29.90). Tasting notes: “This elegant wine is notable for its long silky tannins. It has aromas and flavours of black currant, plum, cherry and dark chocolate.”

Lunessence Winery & Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2014 ($54 for 200 ml): The winery’s notes: “Grapes were picked and pressed on November 30, 2014, at 43.5 brix. Picked at -16C during an ice-cold but sunny day. The final yield was 15% which underlines our commitment to focus on quality, not quantity. The wine was fermented in a stainless steel tank for 120 days. The flavour profile in this is true to the essence of the varietal, extracted through long and careful pressing at temperatures close to -20C. The wine is a rich golden hue with a bouquet of ripe apples and mandarin. Residual sugar is 310 grams per litre.”

Okanagan Crush Pad Winery Haywire The Bub 2014 ($29.90). The winery’s notes: “The Bub is bottle fermented and aged using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes gown on cool vineyard sites in Oliver and Summerland. A fresh and lively wine with nice warm bread aromas and a crisp green apple finish, which is a shining example of what the Okanagan does best - crisp, fresh, and delicious. The Bub is proudly made by Okanagan Crush Pad’s sparkling winemaker, Jordan Kubek, who recommends pairing it with soft cheeses, fresh oysters, or enjoying it purely on its own.”


Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($40.11). The winery’s notes:There are intense aromas of ripe orchard fruit, butterscotch, spice and toasty oak on the nose. The palate is very complex with flavors of baked apple, pear and peach complimented with spice, vanilla and brioche. The mouth feel is opulent, creamy and full bodied. We suggest pairing with seafood such as lobster and crab. Fresh BC halibut and creamy pasta dishes are also recommended as are soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert.”
Red Rooster Winery Reserve Merlot 2012 ($25). The winery’s notes: “Garnet colour with a 'Rooster' ruby red rim.  An intriguing bouquet of sweet cherry, cedar chest, cigar box and baking spice.  This is a medium to full-bodied Merlot with velvety tannins and food-friendly acidity.  Fruit flavours of cherry and plum dusted with baking spice caress the palate.  The juicy lingering finish shows notes of red berries, cherry and spice.”    
Ruby Blues Winery Commune Viognier 2015 ($25). The winery’s notes: “In this Viognier we have grapes from the two winery sites. Now the fruit lives under one roof in one bottle... in a commune. Beautiful fragrance of spring blossoms and tropical flavors with a hint of citrus. Pairs perfectly with lobster, mussels, scallops or crab meat.”

St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Riesling 2014 ($16.75). Tasting notes: “The wine displays the classic hint of petrol on the nose and in the flavour. On the palate, notes of lemon and lime mingle with minerality. The wine is balanced to finish dry.”


Monday, June 20, 2016

BC wineries storm the All-Canadian Wine Championship



In a show of either self-confidence or aggressive marketing, British Columbia wineries entered two-thirds of the wines at the recent All-Canadian Wine Championships.

A total of 1,322 wines were entered in the ACWC, the oldest of the national wine competitions. British Columbia wineries accounted for 807 of the wines entered. Ontario wineries entered only 368 wines.

And British Columbia wineries took two of competition’s five trophies for best wines in their categories.

The wine judged to be the best white in the competition was Arrowleaf Cellars Dry Riesling 2015. This wine from a Lake Country vineyard is a tremendous value, at $16 a bottle, for a wine of this quality.

The best red wine in the competition was judged to be Deep Roots Winery Syrah 2014, a $34 wine from a Naramata winery that has begun to earn a reputation for Syrah.

The top sparkling wine in the competition was judged to be Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling 2011 from Angels Gate Winery in Ontario.

The top Icewine was judged to be a 2014 Cabernet France Icewine from Magnotta Winery, also based in Ontario.

The top fruit wine was an iced apple wine from a Quebec producer, Cidrerie du Minot.

Following is the list British Columbia producers winning best of show awards – in effect, double gold medals.

The complete results are at allcanadianwinechampionships.com.

The ACWC is now in its 36th year. The wines were adjudicated over three days by 17 judges from across the country, including five from British Columbia.

Congratulations to all the winning producers.

Bench 1775 Winery Whistler Riesling Icewine 2014

Bench 1775 Winery Bliss Icewine 2014

Bench 1775 Winery Viognier 2015

Black Widow Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Black Widow Winery Hourglass 2014

Blue Grouse Estate Winery Quill Red 2014

Cassini Cellars Nobilus Merlot 2013

CC Jentsch Cellars Small Lots Malbec 2014

CedarCreek Estate Winery Estate Merlot 2014

CedarCreek Estate Winery Meritage 2013

Deep Roots Winery Chardonnay Unoaked 2015

Forbidden Fruit Winery Caught Apricot Mistelle 2014

Forbidden Fruit Winery Flaunt Sparkling Plum 2015

La Frenz Winery Liqueur Muscat NV

Moraine Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 2015

Quails' Gate Estate Winery Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014

Robin Ridge Winery Cabernet Franc 2013

Rocky Creek Winery Wild Blackberry NV

Ruby Blues Winery Commune Pinot Gris 2015.

Silverside Farm & Winery Tayberry Wine 2015

SpierHead Winery Pinot Noir Cuvée 2013

Stag's Hollow Winery & Vineyard Syrah 2013

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013

SummerGate Winery Riesling 2015

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2015



Friday, June 17, 2016

Ancient Hill champions Baco Noir






Photo: Ancient Hill owners Richard and Jitske Kamphuys

When Richard Kamphuys and his wife, Jitske, opened this winery in 2011, they were wise enough to ignore a piece of free advice I offered them.

The winery is on a cool hillside east of Kelowna International Airport. Richard made appropriate choices for his 15-acre site in 2005 when he replaced an orchard with grape vines.

The single largest block is a winter hardy red French hybrid called Baco Noir. My advice: give it a proprietary name because “you will never get more than $18 a bottle if you release it as Baco Noir.”

Ancient Hill’s Baco Noir sells for $25 a bottle and is the most popular wine in the tasting room. It was easy to confound my prediction: Ancient Hill arguably makes the best Baco Noir in British Columbia. To be sure, there are not many other producers – but is an excellent wine and worth every penny.

To fill in the back story, here is what I wrote about the winery in my most recent edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. The proprietary name I suggested to Richard was The Rittich. The except tells why that name resonated with me, if not with Richard.

This splendid Robert Mackenzie-designed winery overlooking Kelowna International Airport returns viticulture to where it began in the north Okanagan when the Rittich brothers planted grapes near here in 1930. Natives of Hungary, Eugene and Virgil Rittich concluded that vinifera grapes could succeed and wrote a book (British Columba’s first wine book) on how to grow grapes and make wine. Severe winters that occurred periodically doomed those pioneering trials in the Ellison district, as it was known.

The modern-day pioneers are Richard and Jitske Kamphuys (rhymes with compass) who came from Holland in 1992 and bought an apple orchard. Richard, who was born in 1963, completed an advanced economics degree at the historic Erasmus University in Amsterdam before deciding he wanted a rural lifestyle for himself and his family.

He considered growing grapes as soon as he and Jitske, a former doctor’s assistant, bought the orchard but was put off by general pessimism at that time about the future of British Columbia’s wineries. The previous owners, encouraged by the Rittich trials, planted grapes on the hillside in 1944, abandoning the vineyard when the hard 1949-1950 winter killed many of the vines and even some apple trees. About 40 of those ancient vines, probably Okanagan Riesling, still survive.

Richard and Jitske replaced the orchard in 2005 with 27,000 vines over about six hectares (15 acres). They have chosen mid-season ripening varieties: Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Lemberger, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. The biggest block, more than a quarter of the vineyard, is Baco Noir, a winter-hardy red French hybrid. “I should have had more Baco Noir and less Zweigelt,” Richard says. He has begun to plant Baco Noir among the Zweigelt vines, easing into a vineyard transition.

“That hybrid seems suited to this area,” he believes. “It came through in a lesser year as well as in a good year.” To make the point, he pours a glass of Baco Noir from 2010, a cool year. The wine is full-bodied with rich flavours of plum and chocolate. The visitors to Ancient Hills’s baronial tasting room almost always favour Baco Noir.

Ironically, Richard did come up with a proprietary name for a blend of two reds, Zweigelt and Lemberger. The wine is called Lazerus. I don’t know how that name is working for him – but he is now planning to make individual red varietals as well from those two.

He can afford to expand is focussed portfolio a bit but he will never have a list as long as some of his peers. Ancient Hill produces a total of 2,500 cases of wine. “I have no desire to get to 10,000 cases,” Richard says.

Here are notes on current releases. Prices do not include tax.

Ancient Hill Pinot Gris 2014 ($15.65). This wine is crisply fresh, with aromas and flavours of pear. The wine, which finishes dry, has good weight on the palate. 90.

Ancient Hill Gewürztraminer 2013 ($16.52). The wine begins with aromas of spice and lychee. Rich and full-textured, it has flavours of lychee and grapefruit. It is balanced to dryness. 90.

Ancient Hill Rosé 2014 ($14.78). This is a blend of 74% Zweigelt, 12% Gewürztraminer, and 7% each of Baco Noir and Pinot Noir. The ruby-hued wine has appealing aromas of red berries with a hint of red licorice. A touch of spice lifts the flavours of currants and cranberries. The finish is dry. 90.

Ancient Hill Lazerus 2011 ($14.78). This is a lean, spicy red with aromas and flavours of cherry and red berries. There is a hint of chocolate on the finish. 88.

Ancient Hill Pinot Noir 2012 ($17.39). The aromas of raspberry and cherry are echoed in the flavours of this medium-bodied wine. This is a touch of spice on the finish. 89.

Ancient Hill Baco Noir 2012 ($21.79). Almost black in colour, this wine is robust and rich, with aromas of plum and flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The soft, ripe tannins give the wine a rich velvet finish. 91.





Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Class of 2016: Pipe' Dreams Estate Winery







Photo: The vineyard at Pipe' Dreams


Pipe' Dreams Vineyard and Estate Winery
168 Sportsman Bowl Road
Oliver, British Columbia

The name of this winery comes from a question that John Ness, the owner, asked himself when launching the project: is it a big dream, or just a pipe dream?

The quality of the wines answers the question. When the tasting room opens (soon), the offerings include one of the best Grüner Veltliner wines made in BC.

The list of Grüner Veltliner producers still is short. The first in the Okanagan to make  wine from the leading Austrian white grape was Culmina Family Estate Winery three vintages ago. Culmina set the bar high with its wine, called Unicus, and Pipe' Dreams has risen successfully to the challenge.

Pipe' Dreams, which offers four other wines, is a short drive north of Oliver and west from Highway 97. There is a sign on the highway but, when I visited recently, no sign yet at the winery. However, Sportsman Bowl is a road that dead ends at a shooting range. Turn around and look for a flat vineyard on the north side of the road.

A big man with a friendly personality, John (left) was born in 1947 in Winnipegosis and grew up in Vancouver. His family usually vacationed in the Okanagan every summer with friends who lived there.

“I would spend a week cliff diving with the other kids,” he remembers. “I always loved it here. I always thought we should move here but we never did.”

When he finished Grade Twelve, his main interests were skiing and surveying. “Around 1968, I was offered a job at Jasper on a professional ski patrol,” he says. “I was in the Canadian National Ski Patrol, going every weekend.” 

In the summer, he took a surveying course. “I was offered a job and I really loved surveying out in the bush. So I gave up my ski patrol career.”

“I surveyed from 1968 to 1975,” John continues. “Then I started with Nova Corp., surveying pipelines. About 1980 I went into construction management in the pipeline area. That’s what I have been doing every since: construction management, looking after quality specifications, inspection staff, that kind of business.” He is currently involved with one of the proposed liquefied natural gas projects.

Throughout his career, he has been based either in Edmonton or Calgary, where he still has a residence. But the lure of the Okanagan never went away.  

“We would come here skiing,” he says.  “And I had a motorcycle back then. I would come  here in the summer and ride through and then go back to work. I loved the place. I always thought this is where I should be.”

He began looking for property about seven years ago. As he became more serious, he engaged consulting winemaker Mark Wendenburg to help him screen properties. He bought the winery property late in 2009.

Nothing was being cultivated there at the time. “I thought I will do some grapes,” John says. He planted the available 3.4 acres in 2011.

Deliberately, he chose varieties outside the mainstream of Okanagan plantings: Grüner Veltliner, Kerner, Gamay Noir and Zweigelt. “I did not want to have the same kind of grapes as everybody else,” John says. “I didn’t want to do Merlot because everyone does Merlot.” As it happens, he now leases a one-acre block of Merlot from a neighbour.

He continues to keep Mark Wendenburg to advise him on viticulture and winemaking, recognizing that the consultant’s experience is invaluable to the success of Pipe Dreams. John’s only winemaking experience involved making kit wine – and his last 200-bottle batch froze in poor storage.

Mark, who established his own wine consulting company since 2010, is an Okanagan veteran. He dates his introduction to the wine industry from 1980, when he and his late father, Chris, planted the five-acre family vineyard near Penticton.

He is best known for his 18 years as winemaker at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. He left that winery in the spring of 2010 to consult, with Blasted Church Vineyards his first major winery client.

Mark (right) was born in Penticton in 1961, shortly after his parents arrived in Canada. They had owned agricultural land in Germany’s Harz Mountains until the East German government relieved them of their property.

After helping plant the family vineyard near Penticton, Mark went to Germany in 1982, apprenticing with wineries in three regions, and earning a winemaking diploma at the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Enology in Franconia.

On returning in 1987, he started working at the T.G. Bright & Co. winery near Oliver. (now Jackson-Triggs). In winter of 1988, Mark did a crush at the Nobilo winery in New Zealand; the following winter, he did the crush at S. Smith & Sons in Australia (better known as Yalumba).

In between those assignments, he resumed working at Brights. He also became involved in a sparkling wine project that had been launched in the Okanagan by California’s Schramsberg Cellars with Inkameep Vineyards and what is now Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars. One of his bosses at Brights told him to choose between Brights and the sparkling wine project. Mark chose the sparkling wine project.

After that project wound up in 1991, Mark joined Sumac Ridge which was just getting its Steller’s Jay Brut sparkling wine launched. Sumac Ridge had begun handcrafting the wine in 1987 but production was insignificant until Mark came on board. Steller’s Jay is now one of Canada’s best traditional method sparkling wines.

A walk through the Pipe' Dreams winery reveals Mark has a modern facility well-equipped to make sound aromatic whites and solid reds. The first vintage from this vineyard was made in 2014 – only 500 cases. Production tripled last year, reflecting the vineyard’s rising production.

The Grüner Veltliner is one of the most interesting wines here, if only because there still are few examples in BC. Currently, the other wineries with this varietal, in addition to Culmina, include Bordertown Winery and Vineyard in Osoyoos and de Vine Vineyards in Saanich. Soon to join this elite group is Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet which made trial lot in 2014 from its 25 Grüner Veltliner vines. The wine is so promising that more vines will be planted.

Mark made the first Pipe' Dreams Grüner Veltliner quite simply, without skin contact or oak aging. “Especially at the beginning, I just wanted to see how the varietal shows itself in British Columbia,” he says. “I have visited the Wachau in Austria. The Grüners there can be very acidic, very aggressive wines. I did not think that is what they would be like here, just because of the climate.”
It turns out he was right. Here are notes on the wines.

Pipe' Dreams Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($29). This is a crisp and fresh wine with aromas and flavours of peaches, nectarines and melon. It has good weight in the palate and has a slightly tangy finish. 91.

Pipe' Dreams Kerner 2014 ($29). This is a bold, even full-bodied, white with 14.7% alcohol but with such fruit intensity that the alcohol is not evident on the juicy palate. The wine begins with aromas of nectarine and peach and delivers flavours of peach and apple. There is just a hint of sweetness on the finish. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Gamay 2014 ($29). The wine begins with aromas of cherries. On the palate, there is a generous medley of bright red berry flavours with a hint of pepper. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Zweigelt 2014 ($32). The dark colour heralds a bold red, with red berry aromas and spicy plum and cherry on the palate. The spice continues on the finish. 91.

Pipe' Dreams Merlot 2014 ($29). Lean and medium-bodied, the wine has aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are bright, fruity flavours of lingonberry, blueberry and black currant. 90.

Pipe' Dreams Merlot Reserve 2014 (not released). This is a bold, concentrated Merlot, with aromas of vanilla and black currant and flavours of plum, black currant and spice. 92.






   






Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sperling's new labels celebrate the 2015 vintage



Photo: Winemaker Ann Sperling


The fans of Sperling Vineyards will notice a difference when they see the 2015 wines: eye-catching labels have replaced the previous classically elegant, if sedate, labels.

What is inside the bottles is as good as ever. The 2015 wines represent the eighth vintage since Ann Sperling and her family launched this Kelowna winery with grapes from a vineyard planted in the 1920s. The strategy behind the label change is simply making sure that the wines are not lost in the crowd, as a plethora of BC labels now occupies store shelves.

The little blocks of colour on the label are inspires by features on a log barn, still in use, on the family’s property. (The barn was also on the original labels, but less stylized.) There is a suggestion of clasped hands in the subtle Bauhaus-inspired design. As well, the family’s motto now is on the labels: “Love and labour since 1925.”

Ann’s forebears, the Casorso family, were pioneering Okanagan grape growers and vintners. The Casorso family came to the valley when Italian immigrant Giovanni Casorso arrived in 1883 to work for the Oblate Mission’s farm. Soon he had his own homestead near the mission. When tobacco was grown in the Okanagan, he was one of the largest tobacco growers.

The family first got into the wine business when Rosa, Giovanni’s wife, and Pete, one of their sons, invested in the consortium that in 1931 launched what became Calona Wines. When the Capozzi family gradually bought control of the winery in the 1950s, Pete (his full name was Napoleon Peter) refused for years to sell his shares. “His pastime for many years was to go to their board meetings and raise hell,” Ann says.

A family history credits Charles Casorso with planting the first Kelowna vineyard near Rutland. His brothers Pete and Louis ordered vines and planted grapes on Pioneer Ranch, as the family property was known. It appears, however, the major crops grown here were apples until Pete retired in 1960, turning the farm over to his daughter Velma and her husband, Bert Sperling, Ann’s parents.

Bert converted the entire property to grapes. Initially he grew hybrid and labrusca varieties before switching to Riesling, along with four hectares of Sovereign Coronation table grapes. Over the years he sold wine grapes to Calona, then to Growers in Victoria, and, in recent years, to Mission Hill.

The decision to open a winery was made in family conference about the future of the vineyard. The family recognized it had the talent in house. Ann has been making wine across Canada and in Argentina since 1987. “It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to make wine here because I am so familiar with every foot and every slope and every grape on the property,” she says.

Her father was able to see the brilliant launch of the family winery before his death in 2012, at the age of 84.

Ann believes that the terroir of the Pioneer Ranch enables her to make wines that are distinctive. “Our wines definitely put on weight in bottle,” she said during a tasting of the youthful 2015s. “It is partly the coolness of the site; minerality tends to dominate. I would not call the wines fruit driven. I would call them much more mineral driven. We get some herbal qualities and floral notes, but fruitiness is not really a descriptor that dominates our vineyard.”

She continues: “My winemaking is turning more towards the grapes. Terroir is important, even in a wine we are going to be selling for $17 a bottle. I still want it to be our vineyard and our place. Why would I put American oak chips in when I have these lovely stems that can give it structure? Conventional winemaking did not teach me that. All of the years of focussing in on the site led me to it. I am really happy with the results I am getting in the vineyards that I work with.”

Here are notes on the wines:

Sperling Brut Rosé 2013 ($42). This sparkling pink wine made with Pinot Noir was on the lees for 18 months. It has been balanced to finish dry, Ann’s preferred style. “I can’t finish a sparkling with any sort of sweetness or softness,” she says. “It is just not in me to do it that way. I love the acidity and I love the brightness to be all the way through on the palate for a sparkling wine like this.” The wine begins with hints of bready lees on the nose and it delivers delicate wild strawberry flavours with a creamy texture but a crisp finish. 90.
Sperling Pinot Gris 2015 ($19). This wine has a fresh aroma with notes of herbs and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of white peaches and apples. The lively acidity gives the wine a refreshing, dry finish. 91.


Sperling Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 ($19). Perhaps the light strawberry hue is suggestive, but the wine had aromas and flavours of strawberries. It is balanced to finish dry, with the tiniest degree of residual sugar to lift aromas and flavours. “These wines can live in the bottle for three or four years and still be really enjoyable,” Ann says, “but I love the freshness of rosé.  I want people to enjoy it when it is in the first season.” 91.

Sperling Market White 2015 ($17). This is a blend of Pinot Blanc and Bacchus with a touch of Pinot Gris and Riesling. The fruity aromas are still developing in bottle. The flavours of peach, apple and spice promise refreshing summertime drinking. 90 – 91.

Sperling Market Red 2015 ($18). This is a new addition to the Sperling portfolio, an easy-drinking summertime barbecue red in a style slightly reminiscent of Beaujolais Nouveau. It is a blend of Maréchal Foch with Pinot Noir. The wine is soft and fruity, with cherries on the nose and palate. The finish has an appealing note of spice. 88.

Sperling Sper…itz 2015 ($22). This light Frizzante wine with 8% alcohol is inspired by Italy’s Moscato wines. The blend is Perle of Csaba (a Muscat flavoured variety) and Bacchus. The wine is utterly charming with refreshing floral and spicy aromatics. The off-dry fruity flavours coat the palate. 90.

Sperling Late Harvest Riesling 2015 ($N/A). The grapes for this wine were picked at -6C. (two degrees shy of the minimum for Icewine). The result is a wine that is sweet but not overly so, with a core of juicy flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. The balance is exquisite. 91.

Sperling Pinot Blanc Icewine 2015 ($50 for 375 ml). This extraordinary wine won double gold and best Pinot Blanc in competition last year at the Mondial des Pinots in Switzerland. This pristine and luscious wine has aromas and flavours of tangerine and ripe apricot, with a lingering finish. Once again, the balance is exquisite. 98.











Thursday, June 9, 2016

Monte Creek Ranch shows the potential of Minnesota hybrids










Photo: Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery

Discrimination against certain grape varieties: it is a startling concept that had not occurred to me until a recent conversation with Erik Fisher, the general manager of Kamloops-based Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery.

The varieties grown in Monte Creek’s two vineyards (totaling 61 acres on both sides of the Thompson River) include five Minnesota hybrids: Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Noir, Le Crescent and Marquette.

None is on the approved list of varieties permitted in VQA wines. Erik is trying to have the regulators change that. Not having VQA on all of its wines puts Monte Creek at the significant disadvantage because some of its wines cannot be sold in VQA stores and in VQA-only grocery outlets. And the winery cannot pour these at VQA tastings.

The list of approved varieties is embedded in law in British Columbia. It is not a static list but neither is it easy to change.

When the VQA rules were first established in British Columbia, about 1990, approved varieties were limited to vinifera (or premium European) wine grapes. The object was to severely discourage the continued growing of the French hybrid varieties and labrusca crosses that had been pulled out in the great 1988 vine removal.

The regulators would have been better to let consumers decide who gets voted off the island and who stays. It is unlikely that Chelois would have given Pinot Noir much competition.

Over the years, grapes originally banned have been added to the VQA list, including such varieties as Maréchal Foch and Cayuga. (Vigneti Zanata on the Vancouver Island, the only producer with Cayuga, actually resigned from VQA rather than stop making is signature Cayuga bubble, Glenora Fantasia.) The current list of approved varieties even includes the profoundly mediocre (with just a few exceptions) Blattner hybrids.

Somehow, the Minnesota hybrids were overlooked.  The significant history of these varieties begins with Elmer Swenson, an American plant breeder who died in 2004. He began breeding winter-hardy wine grapes in 1943 at his farm in Osceola, Wisconsin. Later he moved to the University of Minnesota which took over his work. These winter hardy  varieties have been planted in those northern states and extensively in Quebec, where many of the varieties were christened with French names.

Monte Creek planted these varieties precisely to survive the occasionally hard winters near Kamloops. European wine grapes seldom survive -25ºC but these varieties can survive as hard a freeze as -35ºC.

Monte Creek also grows Foch, which is winter hardy, and rolled the dice a bit by planting the hardier vinifera, including Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Erik (below) argues that the Minnesota hybrids need to be on the VQA list not just for Monte Creek’s sake but for the benefit of future wineries.

“The Canadian industry produces seven per cent of the wine that is consumed in Canada,” he says. “If we want to move that number forward, we need to look at emerging regions such as ours; plant the right vines and make high quality juice. That’s one way we will be able to grow. These wines are still 100% BC produced. We are not importing fruit from other countries to blend and bottle here. We hope that the industry backs us in this endeavor.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with the quality of the wines, as the reviews at the end of this blog will attest.

The winery, which made its first vintage in 2013, is owned by Gurjit Sidhu, operator of a major plant nursery in the Fraser Valley. He has also grown blueberries since 2001. In 2007, when Fraser Valley farmland was getting too expensive, he bought the historic Monte Creek Ranch east of Kamloops, near the junction of the TransCanada and Highway 97. Shortly thereafter, he bought the Lion’s Head Ranch on the north side of the Thompson River. He now owns a total of 1,200 acres.

When he discovered that blueberries do not thrive in the hot, dry summers near Kamloops, he switching to grapes. The business has been developed aggressively.   Monte Creek produced 13,ooo cases in 2015, tripling its production in three years to become the largest of the four Kamloops wineries.

It is not just a winery. It is a full-blown agricultural business. Monte Creek produces its own honey. It makes jam from a plot of haskap berries and beef jerky from it herd of grass-fed Black Angus. It also sells beef to one Kamloops butcher shop and to Thompson Rivers University. 

A striking new winery was opened last year, complete with a bell tower and a restaurant. It is set dramatically on a height of land with views of the river valley and the vineyards. Development is continuing. The winery would like to create an amphitheater for concerts, complementing the picnic and yoga sessions already held among the vines.

The winery, with about $1 million of ultra-modern winemaking equipment, has enabled Monte Creek to take full control of production initially done in an Okanagan winery with a consulting winery.

Late in 2014, Erik recruited a seasoned winemaker whose hand shows in the appreciable jump in wine quality in the 2015 vintage. Galen Barnhardt is a North Shuswap native with a science degree from Thompson Rivers University. He acquired a keen knowledge of wine while working in the restaurant industry.

Erik met him there when Erik was selling wine and Galen was a buyer. “I used to taste wine with him,” Erik says. “I thought he had a tremendous palate.”

In 2009, Galen (right) went to Brock University for a degree in winemaking. After a vintage in Niagara, he joined CedarCreek Estate Winery and was an assistant winemaker by the time he left in 2014 to work in Australia and then in Oregon. Erik had been following his career and was able to bring him back to the Thompson River Valley to finish off Monte Creek’s 2014 wines and make the 2015s and subsequent vintages.

Here are notes on those wines.

Monte Creek Ranch Riesling 2015 ($16.99). Crisp and fresh, this wine just sings with aromas and flavours of lemon and lime. There is exquisite balance between the bright acidity and the residual sweetness. 91.


Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up White 2015 ($14.49). This is a blend of 61% Frontenac Blanc, 25% Le Crescent and 14% Viognier. This wine has remarkable aromas and flavours of ripe apricot and peaches. A touch of residual sweetness lifts the aromas and adds weight to the texture. The fruity finish is persistent. 90.


Monte Creek Ranch Frontenac Gris 2015 ($14.49). This wine begins with aromas of crisp, fresh apples. On the palate, there are honeyed flavours suggesting ripe pineapple leaning to marmalade. The wine is off-dry but with enough lively acidity to give it a long fruity finish. 91.


Monte Creek Ranch Rosé 2015 ($16.99). This is made with juice of Marquette grapes. Deep in colour, it is a plump, juicy wine redolent with aromas and flavours of strawberry, with a touch of sweetness on the finish. 90.


Monte Creek Ranch Hands Up Red 2014 ($15.50). This dry red is a blend of 59% Marquette, 23% Frontenac Noir, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. This is an easy-drinking red, with aromas and flavours of cherry and red currant. 88.










Monte Creek Ranch Cabernet Merlot 2014 ($18.49). The winery buys about 35%  of its grapes - varieties not suitable to the Kamloops region - from the South Okanagan. This Bordeaux blend has a firm enough texture that it benefits from decanting to release the aromas and flavours of black currant and blackberry. 89










Monte Creek Ranch Hand Red 2014 ($29.99). This shows what happens when the winemaker decides to make a blend from the best barrels in the cellar. This is 48% Marquette, 32% Merlot, 16% Frontenac Noir and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a bold rich red, with aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry. 91.