Thursday, September 18, 2014

Noble Ridge and friends: tasting Okanagan Falls wines

Photo: Noble Ridge vineyards in the autumn

The Okanagan Falls region has come into its in recent years for wine touring.

The area got a major lift a few years when the wineries formed an association and when Blue Mountain, the area’s anchor tenant, began opening its tasting room regularly.

I have wandered the region again during the spring and summer and visited most of the wineries. One exception has been Wild Goose Vineyards because I could never work my schedule to east at the new bistro there. I will: I hear nothing but rave reviews for the food. It goes without saying that the wines are outstanding. No winery has won more Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence. Another exception was Blue Mountain Vineyards, only because I have blogged on their wines separately.

Here are notes on some of the other wines I have tasted.

Blasted Church Unorthodox Chardonnay 2013 ($18.50 for 584 cases). This is an utterly delicious unoaked Chardonnay that includes some of the spicy Chardonnay Musqué clone in the blend.  It begins with aromas of peach and citrus. The wine gives the impression of rich palate weight because it brimming with fruit (peaches, apples, lime). The finish is tangy and quite refreshing. 91.

Blasted Church Pinot Gris 2013 ($20.50 for 2,500 cases). The wine was released in May and only 700 cases remain. It is no wonder it sells so quickly. The wine begins with appealing aromas of peach, apricot and pear. The flavours are packed with stone fruit and pear, with a touch of anise on the finish. The texture is generous and the finish is refreshing. 91.

Blasted Church Mixed Blessings 2013 ($18.50 for 605 cases). This delicious wine also is close to being sold out. It is a blend of Viognier (60%), Chardonnay Musqué (18%), Ehrenfelser (10%), Sauvignon Blanc (8%) and Pinot Gris (4%). Both the Viognier and the Chardonnay spent 24 hours on the skins for additional flavour. Dare I repeat myself: brimming with fruit! This is a wine that begins with aromas apples, pears and citrus, leading to generous flavours of melon, apple and apricot. The finish is long. 91.

Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($19.50 for 343 cases). This lean wine begins with aromas of herbs and tea. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, herbs and minerals, wrapped up with a crisp, dry finish. 88.

Blasted Church Big Bang Theory 2013 ($19.50 for 3,300 cases). This is an  easy-drinking red with aromas and juicy flavours of spicy black cherry. The blend is Merlot (48%), Cabernet Sauvignon (17%), Syrah (13%), Pinot Noir (10%), Lemberger (8%), Malbec (3%), Cabernet Franc (1%). 87.

Blasted Church Merlot 2012 ($26.50 for 714 cases). This wine invites the consumer with aromas of cassis, blackberry and vanilla. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a full texture, with juicy flavours of black currant, cherry and plum. This is a delicious, drink-now red. 90.

Blasted Church Syrah 2012 ($26.50 for 1,584 cases). The blend is 95% Syrah, tweaked with 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Viognier and 1% Merlot. The ripe tannins have given this wine a supple and juicy texture. It has aromas of red fruit and vanilla (from 15 months in barrel) with a hint of pepper. The flavours include black cherry and plum wrapped up with the classic notes of black pepper. 90.

Liquidity Bubbly NV ($23.90 for 71 cases). This is the winery’s first sparkling wine. Crisp and refreshing with flavours of apple and grapefruit, it is a 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir cuvée. The finish is dry. 90.

Liquidity Riesling 2013 ($23.90 for 97 cases). This is a finely balanced wine, with lemon and lime aromas and flavours. The hint of residual sweetness is offset with bright acidity, giving the wine a dry finish. 90.

Liquidity Pinot Gris 2013 ($19.90 for 417 cases). The grapes are from own-rooted vines planted in 1996. That maturity shows in the good backbone of minerality in this dry wine. It has refreshing aromas and flavours of citrus and pears. 90.

Liquidity Viognier 2013 ($23.90 for 465 cases). An exceptionally complex Viognier, this wine was begun by giving skin contact to some of the grapes. Winemaker Matt Holmes then used wild yeast (for the most part). Then he aged the wine four months in older oak barrels. The wine is generous in the mouth, with aromas and flavours of apricot and fresh apple. The bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing lift on the finish. 92.

Liquidity White Blend 2013 ($19.90 for 394 cases). The winery describes this wine as a summer sipper. It is a little more complex than that. The blend is 64% Chardonnay, 25% Viognier and 11% Pinot Gris. The aromas are floral and tropical, leading to flavours of apple and pineapple. A touch of residual sugar balanced with good acidity broadens the texture. 90

Liquidity Chardonnay 2012 ($23.90 for 330 cases.) The winery is fortunate to have 20-year-old Chardonnay in its vineyard. The wine was barrel-fermented with wild yeast and aged in barrels and on the lees for 10 months. The wine is full on the palate, with butterscotch, hazelnut and citrus aromas and with tangerine flavours. 89.

Liquidity Rosé 2013 ($20.90 for 90 cases). This wine is made from the Dornfelder grape, a German varietal planted in the Okanagan for its ability to add colour to red wines. The winemaker fermented this in older French barrels with wild yeast. It is a vibrantly-hued rosé, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cranberry. 90.

Liquidity Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.90 for 405 cases). The winery also has mature Pinot Noir vines, and five clones. Once again, the winemaker fermented the majority of this wine with wild yeast, giving the wine about 20 days of skin contact. The colour is dark. There are aromas and flavours of spice and cherry, with savoury notes of mushroom and earth. 89.

Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay Stevens Block 2013 ($24 for 113 cases). This elegant wine is from grapes on the winery’s Naramata Bench vineyard. It begins with aromas of toasty oak and citrus, leading to citrus and ripe apple flavours. While generous on the palate, the wine has a crisp finish. 91.

Meyer Family Vineyards Rosé 2013 ($20 for 150 cases). Made with Merlot, this exuberant rosé delivers a blast of cherry and strawberry flavours with a crisp and dry finish. 90.

Meyer Family Vineyards Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2012  ($25 for 1,600 cases). This is the entry-level Pinot Noir from a winery that has made Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) its speciality. This is a concentrated wine with juicy flavours of raspberry and strawberry, and a silky but full texture. 89.

Meyer Family Vineyards Reimer Pinot Noir 2012 ($40 for 318 cases). Made with grapes from a Kelowna area vineyard, this is a Pinot Noir with both intensity and length. It has a good dark colour, with aromas and flavours of cherry and spice. 90.

Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Pinot Noir 2012 ($40 for 360 cases). This is a seductively pretty wine, with delicate notes of cherry and strawberry on the nose and palate. The texture is ever so silky and the wine is ever so elegant. 91.

Noble Ridge Mingle 2013 ($17.99 for 487 cases). This is a blend of 40% Chardonnay,  38% Gewurztraminer, 18% Pinot Grigio and 4% Pinot Noir. A double gold winner at the All Canadian Wine Championships this spring, this is a zesty and delicious wine. It is packed with flavours of spicy citrus, peach and apple. It has good volume on the palate, along with a refreshing and dry finish. 90.

Noble Ridge Pinot Grigio 2013 ($18.90 for 405 cases).  This wine has two gold medals and a silver in competition, so far. The wine begins with appealing aromas of peaches and pears, with a touch of orange. The wine has a generous texture, with citrus and pear flavours. The finish is refreshing, with just enough acidity to give the wine a crisp tang. 90.

Noble Ridge Reserve Chardonnay 2011 ($23.90 for 426 cases). Best of class in the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, this Chardonnay begins with aromas of buttery tangerine, pear and vanilla. On the palate, the crisp, bright apple and pear flavours are framed subtly with oak. The wine was cold-fermented in stainless steel and then aged 14 months in French and American oak, a quarter of it new. 90.

See Ya Later Ranch Jimmy My Pal 2012 ($16.90). Jimmy My Pal was one of about a dozen dogs owned by one of the former owners of the property. Some of the proceeds of this wine are donated now to the SPCA. The wine is a blend of 87% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Gris. The wine is crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of citrus and apples. 88.

See Ya Later Ranch Gewürztraminer 2013 ($Sold out). Without a doubt, this winery has one of finest Gewürztraminer blocks in the Okanagan. This wine begins with herbal and spicy aromas and goes on to spicy grapefruit flavours. The finish is dry. 90.

See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 ($20). This is a pretty wine, with a fine colour and aromas of strawberry and cherry. The texture is silky, perhaps the result of 18 months in French oak. 89.

Stag’s Hollow Tragically Vidal 2013 ($19 for 400 cases). This fruity white is always the crowd pleaser in this winery’s wine shop. The winery once grafted Chardonnay onto the Vidal roots and subsequently reversed the grafts to satisfy the demand for Vidal. People like it because the aromas and flavours of tropical fruit and lime explode from the glass. 89.

Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($25 for 81 cases). This wine was barrel-fermented in new French oak; just half went through malolactic fermentation. As a result, the wine has bright fruit flavours of grapefruit and gooseberry, with herbal and lime aromas. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Riesling 2013 ($20 for 380 cases). Some of the grapes were touched with botrytis. As a result, there is an appealing note of honey in the aroma, along with lime and peach. Those fruit flavours carry through to the palate and the wine ends with a vibrant, tangy finish. 89.

Stag’s Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé 2013 ($22 for 168 cases). The wine is 85% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 100% delicious. The hue is dark; the aromas are bold, with lots of strawberry and plum which carry through to the full palate. The finish is dry. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Grenache 2012 ($30 for 170 cases). The varietal is rare in the Okanagan because the vines do not handle winters well. This is a delicious wine, with aromas and flavours of spiced plums, currants and even strawberry. 92.

Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo 2012 ($30 for 305 cases). This varietal is one of the major reds in Spain. Stag’s Hollow winemaker Dwight Sick followed the Rioja tradition of using American oak when he aged the wine in barrel for 15 months. The wine has slightly toasty aroma mingled with dark fruit notes. It has flavours of blackberry and pomegranate. 90. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Celebrating Quails’ Gate at 25

 Photo:Tony Stewart and Cynthia Walker; Richard and Rosemary Stewart; Ben Stewart, Andrea McFadden

Considering that Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is one of the Okanagan’s great success stories, it is surprising to find that the Stewart family could not get bank financing to open the winery in 1984.

That was an historical nugget in The British Columbia Wine Companion, my 1996 book in which I gathered a great deal of industry history. The book is out of print but the manuscript lives on my computer. A search on the Stewarts resulted in a remarkable number of hits. This is a family that has been, and continues to be, a major force in the province’s viticulture and wine industry.

Ben Stewart opened Quails’ Gate in 1989 as a “farmgate” winery. That license had just been created by the provincial government primarily for small vineyards. In the commercial chaos after the 1988 free trade agreement, many growers had trouble finding wineries prepared to contract their grapes because the future looked so bleak.

A farmgate winery only needed four acres of vineyard. The Stewarts had far more acreage than that but it was a way for Ben to dip his toe in the water. Within two years, Quails’ Gate was transformed into an estate winery (minimum 20 acres of vineyard) and the winery has never looked back.

To put Quails’ Gate in some perspective, here are several biographical profiles from the Wine Companion, starting with Richard Stewart, the father of Ben and Tony. Ben subsequently went into public life, first as a member of the B.C. legislature and now, as British Columbia’s trade representative in Asia, based in Beijing. Tony, his younger brother, succeeded him as winery president several years ago.

The Stewarts and their spouses were all at the winery’s recent 25th anniversary celebration, toasting their accomplishments with for remarkable wines made just for the anniversary. I will review them at the end of this.

This mini-biography was written after a 1995 interview with Richard Stewart.

Stewart, Richard (1926-): A member of a family prominent in Okanagan agriculture almost since the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Stewart  first planted grapes in 1961 on  property now part of the Quails' Gate vineyards. As well, he formed a partnership with Calona Wines to establish Pacific Vineyards, which leased land from the Westbank Indian Band for a vineyard and bought land south of Oliver for a second vineyard. "We believed there was room for growth in the wine industry," Stewart recalled later. Initially he planted what were then considered the established varieties -- such North American labrusca grapes as Diamond, Campbell's Early, Sheridan and Patricia. A nursery in Seattle, one of his suppliers, misidentified a shipment of what should have been 10,000 Diamond vines. Stewart discovered when the vines were growing that he had been shipped Chasselas, a vinifera vine that produces far superior fruit than Diamond. "We left them in," Stewart chuckled.

In 1964 he and Joe Capozzi (in the latter's private aircraft) flew to grape-growing areas in Ontario and New York state to choose varieties for the initial Pacific Vineyards plantings the following year.  At Gold Seal Vineyards in New York, one of the early vinifera growers, they found that the previous winter had devastated the vines. That convinced Stewart and Capozzi to play it safe, planting the more hardy hybrid varieties, including De Chaunac, Chelois, Verdelet and Maréchal Foch. After managing Pacific Vineyards for several years, Stewart sold his interest to Calona Wines and concentrated on developing the vineyard near Westbank that now supports Quails' Gate.

Stewart was a founding member in 1961 of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers (with Frank Schmidt and Martin Dulik), set up to lobby government for favourable policies. He was not an original member of the Grape Growers' Marketing Board but soon joined this price-negotiating body and subsequently became its chairman.  Interested more in grape growing than winemaking, Stewart encouraged his son Ben to establish Quails' Gate.

The book included vignettes on Ben and Tony as well.

Stewart, Ben (1957-): One of the owners of Quails' Gate winery, Stewart was born in Kelowna, a member of a family which emigrated in 1906 from Ireland and has been prominent ever since in Okanagan agriculture and business. After working in the vineyards operated by his father, Richard, Ben Stewart graduated from high school to spend the next five years as a banker in Calgary and Kitimat. He rejoined the family business in 1979 when the Stewarts began planning an estate winery. Lack of banking support frustrated the Stewarts in 1984 but five years later, Ben Stewart was among the early applicants for a farmgate winery license. A risk taker, Stewart crushed enough grapes that fall for 5,000 gallons of wine before he even had his license. Quails' Gate subsequently converted to an estate winery.

Stewart, Anthony David (1966-):  The business manager at Quails' Gate, Tony Stewart chuckles ruefully at the warning that his fellow workers gave him in 1986 when he quit the first full-time job he had had after high school -- that of a technician in the ore processing plant at Cominco Ltd.'s Polaris lead-zinc mine  north of the Arctic circle. "They said I would never earn as much money anywhere else," Stewart recalls. Indeed, a decade later the family winery was not paying him nearly as well as the mine; the compensation is in the evident satisfaction Stewart  draws from what is already the third career in his young life. When he left the mine, Stewart took a financial management diploma at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and then joined the brokerage firm Burns Fry & Co. in Toronto where he became a commodities trader. In search of the Okanagan lifestyle, Stewart returned to Kelowna in 1992, intending to resume a broker's career there. However, Quails' Gate had just lost its accountant; Tony Stewart stepped in temporarily and stayed on to handle sales and distribution as well as administration. And the winery's prospects have brightened considerably, sales having risen from 8,000 cases in 1992 to 22,000 cases in 1995.

As noted earlier, Tony has since become president. The winery has more than doubled its case sales. And the Stewarts have entered into a major winery joint venture in Napa and Sonoma in California.

The signature wine at Quails’ Gate is Pinot Noir, the result of Richard Stewart taking a chance on planting the variety in 1975. It was the first successful Pinot Noir planting in the Okanagan, if not in all of Canada.

In the winery’s early years, Ben relied on consultant Dr. Elias Phiniotis, a Hungarian-trained winemaker who came to Canada in 1976 and who has worked for a remarkable number of B.C. wineries since. Beginning in 1994, Quails’ Gate turned to a succession of winemakers from the southern hemisphere: Jeff Martin, followed by Ashley Hooper in 2000 and Grant Stanley in 2003. He was succeeded last year by Nikki Callaway, a young Canadian winemaker trained in France.

And there was, briefly, an Australian Pinot Noir specialist named Peter Draper who came to Quails’ Gate in the summer of 1999. His sudden death in the middle of the 1999 vintage plunged Quails’ Gate into crisis. The winery still had tanks and barrels full of fermenting wine.

In a remarkable story of winery collegiality, the CEO of Thomas Hardy & Sons in Australia heard of the crisis (because Hardy and Quails’ Gate shared an agent in British Columbia) and sent two of his winemakers to get Quails’ Gate through the 1999 vintage.

In 2002, Quails’ Gate helped another winery in a similar crisis. Frank Supernak, the winemaker at Blasted Church, died in an accident at another winery that November. The Stewarts sent Ashley Hooper, their winemaker, to help Blasted Church complete its wines.

One might argue that there is something of a New Zealand style in the Quails’ Gate wines, given the decade that Grant Stanley made wine here. However, the style is really set by the winery’s excellent vineyards, which deliver quality fruit to Nikki Callaway (right), the new winemaker. She has begun to show that, as excellent as the wines have been, she is finding more upside.

Born in Calgary in 1982, Nikki is the daughter of a physician who worked for many years in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Nikki lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years until she was 14 and had completed elementary school. At that point, her family moved to Dubai so she could complete high school.

She came back to Canada f0r a bachelor’s degree in microbiology at the University of Victoria. She had not mapped out a career path although she was interested in wine. “Dad talked me out of medicine,” she recalls. “He thought I would have more fun drinking wine.”

So she went to Beaujolais in 2004 and picked grapes for two months while checking out French wine schools. She chose the University of Bordeaux and graduated in 2007 with a Diplôme National d’Oœnologue (in spite of a chauvinist professor who kept trying to make her cry).

The winemaking program included hands-on cellar work in French wineries. Upon graduating, she worked about five months in a French winemaking co-operative. Then she went to South Africa to do a crush there before returning to France and doing another crush at a Loire winery.

She might have stayed in France but she could not get a work visa. So she returned to Canada in 2009 where Mission Hill offered her a four-month job. “It turned out to be four years,” she says. She moved to Quails’ Gate in mid-2013.

The four wines in the just-released Anniversary Series include one wine made entirely by Nikki and three that she finished. These are limited production wines available only at the winery and to members of the Quails’ Gate Cellar Door Club.

Here are notes.

Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2012 ($30 for 80 cases). This elegant wine was fermented in new French oak. However, the oak stays subtly in the background, with bright flavours of citrus and apple on full display. The wine’s good acidity gives this Chardonnay a crisp, refreshing finish. 91.

The Bench Pinot Gris 2013 ($25 for 790 cases). There is a laser-like focus to the aromas and flavours of this wine. There is citrus, apple and pear. The generous texture reflects the fact that 15% of this wine was aged in oak. However, there is no hint of oak on the palate. Nikki is not a fan of oaky wines. 91.

Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2012 ($40 for 80 cases). The wine begins with delicate aromas of cherry and strawberry, leading to flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The wine is still firm, with hints of the developing silky texture that will come with another year in bottle. 90.

The Boswell Syrah 2012 ($40 for 320 cases). This memorable wine took everyone by storm during the various 25th anniversary functions, if only for the surprise factor. This is, if memory serves, the winery’s first Syrah and it comes from a special lakeside plot at the Quails’ Gate vineyard in West Kelowna. It is a delicious wine, medium-bodied like a northern Rhone red, with earthy flavours of black cherry and plum, bracketed by pepper in the aroma and on the finish. 91.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Daniel Bontorin's craft at Seven Directions and Volcanic Hills

Photo: Winemaker Daniel Bontorin 

In more than a decade of Okanagan winemaking, Daniel Bontorin has established himself as a specialist in rosé wine.

He launched his own label, Seven Directions, in the 2012 vintage to produce just rosé. Daniel is also the consulting winemaker for Volcanic Hills Estate Winery. He makes his rosé – the volumes are modest – under the Volcanic Hills license. The Seven Directions website indicates where the wines can be found.

As my notes on current Volcanic Hills wines indicates, Daniel also makes good wines for his employer, which probably explains why he is allowed to do a bit of freelancing.

Daniel’s rosé-making pedigree goes back to the 2005 vintage when he made Vaïla, the outstanding rosé at Le Vieux Pin. That wine, along with rosé from JoieFarm Winery, started the renewed interest in a wine style made embraced by the majority of wineries.

Born in Surrey in 1976, Daniel kicked around at several jobs in the Okanagan, including importing motorcycle parts, until 2000 when he recognized that the real future was in wine. After courses at Okanagan University College, he worked in the cellars at several wineries including Fairview Cellars, Domaine Combret, Hillside and Hester Creek. Then he did a vintage in northern Italy.

“My wife and I are both Italian,” Daniel says, who has dual citizenship. “Her Dad lives there and I have relatives there. So we decided to go for a trip, and we figured to make it worthwhile, I will do a vintage over there.”  He returned just in time to join LVP for the 2005 vintage.

Vaïla is a Pinot Noir rosé. Daniel made three vintages at Le Vieux Pin before moving on to consult. He made his mark at Volcanic Hills in his initial vintage there, producing the winery’s first Gamay Noir rosé in 2010 vintage. The wine promptly won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. Daniel continues to produce the Gamay rosé for his client.

For his own rosé, Daniel likes Pinot Noir. In particular, he likes the organic Pinot Noir grown by Kalala Vineyard at Westbank. “The 2007 Vaïla was from the Kalala Vineyard, so I knew the quality of the fruit,” he says. In the 2013 vintage, he also made a rosé with the Zweigelt grown in the vineyard of Sarwan Gidda, one of the owners of Volcanic Hills.

The inspiration for the Seven Directions rosé comes from France. “I have been drinking some French rosé wines the past couple of years,” Daniel says. “I like the texture and the feel.”

The Seven Directions Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 was partially fermented and aged in oak. In 2013, after allowing the crushed grapes to soak on the skins for 18 hours, Daniel fermented all of the juice in French oak puncheons, aging it there for three months. The objective was to produce a rosé with good texture and intensity.

The Zweigelt rosé, on the other hand, was fermented only in stainless steel, likely because it is a variety with more flavour and colour than Pinot Noir. It is one of two Zweigelt rosés from B.C. wineries 2013 that have quite impressed me. The other was made by Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen.

“I pick the fruit for my rosé as if I were making a red wine,” Daniel has remarked. “Most people make a rose with low alcohol. I have always picked my fruit for rosé at optimal ripeness, as if I were making a red wine. For Pinot Noir, I try to hit 24.5 to 25 brix.  My rosés are always 13.5%-14.5% alcohol, with a rich texture. That’s what they do in France. They don’t pick it to make a rosé; they pick it at the proper physiological ripeness of the grapes.”

Here are my notes on Daniel’s rosé releases from 2013 as well as the current portfolio at Volcanic Hills.

Seven Directions Pinot Noir Rosé 2013 ($27.90 for 100 cases). This wine is now sold out. The wine begins its appeal with a delicate rose petal hue and with pure fruit aromas (strawberry), delivering strawberry and cherry flavours. The texture is generous, giving this elegant dry wine a lingering finish. 91.

Seven Directions Zweigelt Rosé 2013 ($19.90 for 245 cases). This wine has a vibrant ruby hue. It begins with aromas of raspberry and blackberry. The wine is full and juicy on the palate and is packed with fruit flavours. The finish is dry with a spicy note. 90.

Volcanic Hills Magma White 2012 ($15.90). This is a blend of 41.5% Chardonnay, 27% Gewürztraminer, 11% each of Pinot Gris and Viognier, and 9.5% Riesling. This is a juicy white with layer upon layer of melon, lychee, peach and pear flavours. 88.

Volcanic Hills Rosé 2012 ($16.90). This is 92% Gamay, 8% Pinot Noir. A lively and vibrant rosé, it has aromas and flavours of cherry and rhubarb. A touch of residual sugar gives it a juicy texture. 88.

Volcanic Hills Single Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2013 ($20.90).  The wine begins with a bouquet of rose water, spice, lychee and fresh peaches. The wine delivers flavours of lychee, grapefruit and ginger. The palate is rich, thanks to a touch of residual sugar very nicely balanced with refreshing acidity. 90.

Volcanic Hills Reserve Chardonnay 2011 ($24.90). This was fermented and aged six months in French oak. The oak flavours are quite subtle, contributing a buttery/toasty note without submerging the pineapple and lemon aromas and flavours. The wine was not put through malolactic fermentation and remains fresh and lively on the palate. 90.

Volcanic Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 ($27.90). Aged 17 months in new French oak barrels, this wine begins with aromas of strawberry and mushroom. On the palate, there are toasty, earthy flavours, including strawberry and cherry. The wine has a silky texture. 90.

Volcanic Hills Merlot 2012 ($24.90). This is a big, ripe Merlot (14.2% alcohol) with aromas and flavours of black current, black cherry and vanilla. With its generous texture, the wine is drinking well now but it can also be cellared another four or five years. 90.

Volcanic Hills Syrah 2008 ($27.90). While Volcanic Hills has 65 acres of grapes in West Kelowna, the Syrah for this wine came from hotter terroirs in Oliver and Osoyoos. The wine was aged two years in barrel and one year in bottle before release. All that aging has given the wine a seamless texture. It has flavours of vanilla, cherry and blackberry with a pinch of white pepper on the finish. 91.

Volcanic Hills Lava 2012 ($19.90 but sold out). This wine addresses the clientele that prefer an off-dry red wine. It is a blend of 33% Zweigelt, 23% Pinot Noir, 21% Merlot, 16% Gamay and 7% Maréchal Foch, with a dosage of Icewine to add a touch of sweetness. This is a juicy, medium-bodied red with flavours of cherry and strawberry. 88. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mission Hill releases its premium Terroir Collection

Photo: Courtyard at Mission Hill

This summer, Mission Hill Family Estate has launched an additional tier of premium wines to bring its portfolio to seven tiers.

Called the Terroir Collection, these are limited production wines that are, or will evolve, to single vineyard wines over time.

“The idea is more than just do a single vineyard wine,” says Mission Hill winemaker John Simes. “It is trying to go beyond that and have wines that have distinctness about them, from the particular geography they come from combined with different sort of winemaking.”

There are six varietal wines in the initial release, with plans for future releases of Cabernet Franc, Viognier and a “heritage” Chardonnay from the same block of grapes that anchored Mission Hill’s 1992 Chardonnay.

The wines, which are available at the winery and to the wine club, are priced aggressively, reflecting the quality of the premium grapes that are utilized and the elaborate winemaking that is involved. The quality of the wines is, to revert to the cliché, totally world class.

“All of these wines are made to be at a premium level,” John says. “The work in the vineyard is pretty much the same for all of them. We set the blocks up specifically at the start.”

The grapes in Mission Hill’s top rung Legacy tier – Oculus, Compendium, Quatrain, Compendium and Perpetua – come from vineyards that also produce most of the Terroir Collection wines. The top three per cent of Mission Hill’s grapes are used in these wines.

“It shows we are maturing as a company,” John contends. “We have got a very good group of people, both in the vineyards and in the winery. To layer this amount of complexity, there is a significant increase in the amount of work you have to do everywhere. It’s a lot of work to get a project up to this level.”

The volumes typically are around 500 cases for each wine. “They are not toy wines,” John says. “They will be quantities that are available. They will be wines that will be offered through our wine club, but they are not tiny volume wines, nor up in the thousands of cases.”

Wine club members should be particularly excited by John’s reprise of the legendary 1992 Chardonnay.

John (right) arrived at Mission Hill in the summer of 1992 from New Zealand, where he had trained and worked with one of that country’s largest wineries. He immediately began familiarizing himself with the vineyards of Mission Hill’s growers. (Mission Hill had no vineyards of its own at the time.)

He was struck by the quality of Chardonnay at one vineyard south of Oliver. He rushed through an order for 100 new American oak barrels. When the grapes arrived, he crushed them in a gentle basket press and fermented the wine in barrel. He made about 3,000 cases.

That 1992 Grand Reserve Barrel Select Chardonnay won the Avery’s Trophy as the top Chardonnay at the 1994 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was almost certainly the first credible international award for a British Columbia wine. It did a lot to launch the reputation of Mission Hill and of the Okanagan.

Mission Hill now owns vineyards throughout the Okanagan. In 2012 Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl bought the former Domaine Combret winery, now relaunched as CheckMate Artisanal Winery. At the same time, he bought the adjacent vineyard, the source of that 1992 Chardonnay.

“We think the clone originated in California,” John says. “It has quite a high acidity for Chardonnay – not really high but a little higher than some of the other clones. It has a slight Muscat note to the clone but it is not a Muscat clone. It is quite intense and distinctive. It is a very good clone.”

In fact, in 1997 and 1998, Mission Hill got cuttings from that block, now called the Heritage Block. After having them grafted by an Ontario nursery, the vines were planted in another Oliver vineyard that Mission Hill calls Lone Pine. A Chardonnay from that vineyard is one of the eventual three Terroir Series Chardonnays that are released or planned.

Here are notes on the new Terroir Selection wines as well as on the current Legacy Series releases. There are 25 cases of wine in a barrel.

Sunset Ranch Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 ($40 for 76 cases). This is the Mission Hill vineyard in Osoyoos that grows some of the winery’s best fruit, including the grapes for Perpetua, the winery’s top Chardonnay. This Unoaked Chardonnay expresses great purity of fruit in the citrus aromas and flavours with exquisite mineral notes as a backbone. The wine also has good weight on the palate. 91.

Lone Pine Chardonnay 2012 ($40 for 19 barrels).  “I aimed at a style that has a more noticeable oak character,” John says. About 35% of the wine was fermented in a combination of new and one-year-old barrels; the rest in stainless steel. The well-handled oak serves as a frame for bright spicy and citrus aromas and flavours. This is a very elegant wine. 92.

Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($30 for 19 barrels). The fruit is also from Osoyoos. The grapes were left on the vine to achieve high level of ripeness, giving the wine a rich texture with subtle flavours of grapefruit. A portion of this wine was barrel-fermented and aged on the lees to acquire that texture. 90.

Brigadier’s Bluff Rosé 2012 ($30 for 223 cases). Some of the same premium Merlot grown for Oculus was set aside to make a top drawer rosé. The grapes were picked at optimal ripeness and flavour (alcohol is 13.8%), given skin contact and then fermented in stainless steel. This is a rosé with power and concentration; with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The finish is dry but there is enough residual sugar to flesh out the texture. The wine is beautifully packaged in a clear bottle that shows off the brilliant hue. 92.

Crosswinds Syrah 2011 ($50 for 13 barrels). This is a firm, ageable Syrah, with flavours of plum and black cherry, with spice and white pepper on the finish. 90.

Splitrail Merlot 2011 ($50 for 13 barrels). This is a big, concentrated, brooding Merlot. It starts with glorious cassis aromas, leading to flavours of black currant, coffee and cola. 91.

Perpetua 2011 (Sold out). This wine has a premium package as elegant as the wine. Just over 20% of this wine is fermented in new French oak; the rest is fermented in stainless steel. “Perpetua is a wine where you almost don’t notice the oak,” John says. “It is part of the wine but it is much more subtle and integrated. And Perpetua is a single vineyard wine, just from the vineyard in Osoyoos.” The citrus aromas are touched lightly by oak. On the palate, the citrus and apple flavours are vibrant, fresh and complex, with a fine mineral backbone. 93.

Quatrain 2010 ($60).  This is 40% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Cabernet Franc. The combination makes for a generous, even juicy, wine with flavours of vanilla, black cherry and black currant. 92.

Compendium 2010 ($60). This is 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc. It has the firm texture that suggests great longevity. It has flavours of black currant, dark chocolate, dark coffee, liquorice, mint and cedar. 91.

Oculus 2010 ($100). This is 51% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Cabernet Franc. This is such a complex wine that it is a challenge to find appropriate descriptors. It begins with aromas of spicy oak, tobacco and cassis, going on to flavours of black currant, plum and espresso coffee. The tannins are long with just enough grip to give the wine longevity in the cellar. 95.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Backyard Vineyards gets a well-deserved second look

Photo: Backyard Vineyards winemaker James Cambridge

Wine reviewers are no different from other consumers: if a producer’s wines put us off, we stop paying attention to that winery.

After all, there are 200 other wineries in British Columbia to choose from.

About three years ago, samples arrived from Backyard Winery in Langley that were disappointing. I seldom review wines like that.

There are two types of wineries that make truly mediocre wines. One lot never get better and occasionally go out of business, so what is the point of writing about them?

 The other type learn from mistakes, so it is just a matter of waiting for them to come around. Making good wine is not rocket science.

I knew Backyard was coming around last year when the winery hired James Cambridge as its winemaker. Perhaps for the first time in its history, Backyard had an experienced winemaker in house. It is time to revisit the winery.

This is a winery with a history. It opened in 2002 as Glenugie Winery to make wine from a five-acre block of Pinot Noir. The portfolio was rounded out with grapes and/or wine purchased from the Okanagan. I recall tasting a good sparkling wine called Christina. The other Glenugie wines have faded from memory.

Both founder Gary Tayler and his wife, Christina, died in 2008. The Tayler family sold the winery to Ewen Stewart, a real estate developer.

The winery needed to be rebranded, so Ewen hired Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, a top notch marketing consultant in Vancouver. Bernie has come up with such inspired winery names and labels as Blasted Church and Dirty Laundry.

He suggested several names to replace Glenugie. The initial choice was Neck of the Woods Winery, with Backyard Vineyards reserved for a second winery that now seems indefinitely delayed. Neck of the Woods did not catch on with consumers and the name has been parked in favour of Backyard. The winery, after all, is in Vancouver’s back yard.

I never understood why the initial releases under the Backyard and Neck of the Woods labels were underwhelming. The winery was getting consulting advice from both Harry McWatters and winemaker Tom DiBello. I suspect that the winery was unlucky with the quality of Okanagan grapes and/or bulk wine it purchased.

That is not an unusual problem for wineries separated from the vineyards by two or three mountain ranges. A winery needs a regular season-long relationship with growers to get reliable fruit.

When I recently visited Backyard, I learned that James Cambridge has just been in the Okanagan, meeting with growers. One of numerous visits during the season. That’s a very good sign and something I would expect from as seasoned a winemaker as he is.

An Ontario native, James is a graduate (top of the class) from Niagara College’s enology and viticulture program. In Ontario, he worked both with Henry of Pelham Winery and Creekside Winery.

Coming to the Okanagan, he has made wine at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, at Le Vieux Pin and LaStella Wineries and, prior to Backyard, at Fort Berens Estate Winery. The 2012 Riesling he made for Fort Berens won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence.

He took over at Backyard for the 2013 vintage. The wines from 2013 are good. He probably finished the earlier vintages and those wines, with one exception, are also solid. All are very well priced.

James also let me taste two promising barrel samples – an elegant 2012 Reserve Syrah and a really excellent 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc. Keep an eye out for the release of these wines.

Located in a spacious building, Backyard welcomes visitors in a tasting room with the civilized atmosphere of a warm neighbourhood pub. There is food service and an appealing gazebo large enough to handle 50 people under its oak-beamed roof. 

Here are notes on the current portfolio. Prices shown are retail; wine club members get an attractive discount.

Backyard Vineyards Nosey Neighbour White 2013 ($14.99). This is a good value blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer, made in an easy-drinking style. It has aromas and flavours of lime, nectarine and mango. 88.

Backyard Vineyards Riesling 2013 ($18.99). James clearly has an affinity for Riesling. This wine has collected gold medals at three major wine competitions this year (so far). A well-balanced wine, fermentation stopped naturally, leaving 10 grams of residual sugar. That seems to pop the lovely notes of lemon and lime in the aroma and on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Backyard Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($16.99). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit and sage, leading to flavours of lime and guava. There is an herbal note on the finish. 88.

Backyard Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013 ($15.99). Backyard has a vineyard near Abbotsford just coming into production. This wine has about 5% Fraser Valley Pinot Gris, with the rest from Osoyoos. This wine begins with aromas of pear and melon. On the palate, the wine is generous in texture with flavours of pear and apple. It has a crisp finish. 90.

Backyard Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.99). Here is a wine with a gold and two silver medals in international competitions. The wine begins with aromas of lychee, spice and sage. It is full on the palate, with flavours of lychee, melon and fig. 90.

Backyard Vineyards Merlot 2011 ($16.99). This soft, mouth-filling wine has aromas and flavours of vanilla and black currant, with a peppery note on the finish. 89.

Backyard Vineyards Syrah 2011 ($21.99). This wine has gained three silver medals in international competitions. Made with grapes from an  Osoyoos vineyard, it is a bold, dark wine with aromas of black cherries and plums, leading to flavours of plums and prune. There is an appealing earthiness on the finish, along with a hint of pepper. 90.

Backyard Vineyards Meritage 2011 ($19.99). This is 44% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine also has silver medals from three international competitions. Maybe I tasted an off bottle but I don’t see it. I found the wine too hard to have much appeal. I would certainly urge decanting. 87.

Backyard Vineyards  Nosey Neighbour Red 2012 ($14.99). This is 44% Merlot, 43% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. I like this much better than the Meritage, especially at the price. It is a juicy red with ripe flavours of black cherry and black currant. 90.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Argentina's Haarth winery is Canadian-owned

 Photo: Haarth winery's Terry Martens

In 2009, Maple Ridge businessman Terry Martens, 55, was persuaded to invest in a winery in Argentina.

As it turned out, his prospective partner could not come up with his half of the money. Terry found himself one of that handful of Canadians with an Argentina winery.

The winery is Haarth Organic Wines, an old family winery near San Rafael with a century-long history. Haarth once owned perhaps 2,000 hectares of vineyards and more than two dozen bodegas. It had fallen on hard times after the death of the scion of the family.

However, Terry and his erstwhile partner were able to pick up the Haarth’s family’s original winery, a lovely bodega with a small country in and 20 hectares of vines.  It is run entirely by the Martens family but Terry would still like to have a partner.

The Haarth vineyard includes some old Bonarda vines, a red variety sometimes overshadowed by Malbec. Terry believes it is a variety on the rise. “Bonarda is becoming well known and talked about,” he believes. “People say that is the next Malbec [in popularity]. I think they are right.”

Terry came to wine through business. Raised on an Alberta farm, he went on to get degrees in mechanical engineering. That led to a long career working with Caterpillar as a designer and trouble shooter on mining equipment. He continues to consult internationally to operators of mining equipment, even during the months he spends at the winery.

“A lot of mining companies will call me and I will do consulting,” he says. “Everything I do, I can do from the winery. I just need a good internet line.”

During his career, he spent so much time on South America that he and his family are comfortable speaking Spanish. It was in Chile where he acquired a taste for wine.

“There were some wonderful wines around and they were so cheap,” he remembers. “When I went down to South America, I never drank wine. But I got tired of beer, and you can only drink so much scotch. Wine was a great alternative.”

When he became interested in investing in Argentina’s wine industry, Terry and his former partner looked at about a dozen opportunities. They kept coming back to Haarth because of the mature vines in its vineyard. Some of those vines are believed to be almost 90 years old, capable of delivering rich and deeply flavoured wines.

Terry has completed the transition to organic viticulture that had just been started by the former owners at Haarth. The winery, which is producing about 12,500 cases a year, has a portfolio of both organic and non-organic wines.

There is a good demand for organic wines, Terry believes, if they are well-made. “One of the biggest hurdles we have had to overcome is that organic wines of the past haven’t been very good,” he says, somewhat controversially.

He has had numerous comments from consumers claiming they can drink Haarth wines without the headaches that other wines sometimes give them.

The Haarth wines are being distributed in both the United States and in select Canadian markets. In Western Canada, Terry’s son, Peter, operates an agency called Natural Wines & Spirits that distributes the wines through private wine stores.

Here is a diversion about the varietal called Bonarda in Argentina. According to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al, the proper name is Douce Noire. It was widely grown in eastern France and may have originated in Piedmont in Italy, although the Italian Bonarda is a different grape.

Douce Noire – can you picture that on the label of a bottle of wine? – exists under various names, including Charbono in California.

In Argentina, according to this book, Bonarda “generally produces good-value fruity quaffing wines, although if allowed to ripen fully, there is more quality potential than is generally realized in the bottle …”

Here are notes on some of the current organic releases.

Haarth Malbec Rosé 2013 ($15). This is a full-bodied and full-texture rosé with a dark hue and with a fruit bowl of flavour – cherry, plum and strawberry. 89.

Haarth Bonarda 2011 ($19). This is a concentrated red with flavours of plum, black currant and prune. There is liquorice, a touch of tobacco and graphite on the finish. The latter is probably a reflection of the minerality the old vines are pulling up from deep in the soil. 89-90.

Haarth Malbec 2011 ($19). This is the classic Argentina Malbec, with aromas of cherry and strawberry and bold flavours of blueberry and black cherry and long ripe tannins. 89.

Haarth Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($19). This is a firm but elegant wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and blackberry, nicely framed with spice and vanilla from the barrels. 90.

Haarth Tempranillo 2011 ($14). This wine is not organic wine but it is tasty nonetheless. It has aromas and flavours of red and black currants with spice and vanilla on the finish. 88.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kamloops emerges as a gateway to wine regions

 Photo: Barrel cellar at Privato Vineyard & Winery

Businesswoman Maatje Stamp-Vincent, who operates Tastefull Excursions, the first wine touring company based in Kamloops, is pitching this interior city as a new gateway to British Columbia wine country.

With a 13-passenger Mercedes-Benz van and a second on order, she is making a serious bet on her contention that Kamloops has a strategic location at the intersection of four highways – the TransCanada, the 97, the Yellowhead and the Coquihalla.

“If you build it, he will come,” is the famous line in the movie, Field of Dreams (referring to a baseball player). Unlike the movie,  this is not fiction. The wineries have been built.

There is a significant string of wineries now across the central interior from Lillooet to Salmon Arm. The driving distance turns this into a two-day wine tour, with an overnight in Kamloops. If you have not been in Kamloops recently, you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that many of the hotels and motels have been updated superbly in the last year or two. You will also discover a number of good restaurants. One recommendation: Terra Restaurant on Victoria Stree in downtown Kamloops.

For want of a better tag, let’s call this the Thompson Shuswap wine region. We begin the tour at the magnificent new winery and tasting room of Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet.

The winery, which was launched five years ago by Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekeok (right), has until now used the facilities of various Okanagan wineries to produce wine.

This fall, Fort Berens will be working in a fully modern winery with a capacity to make 12,000 cases. Rolf and Heleen plan to produce 6,000 cases this fall and grow with subsequent market demand for their wines. The winery’s original 20-acre vineyard, planted with six varietals, is in full production. Another 20-acre plot is being readied for planting, beginning next year.

This summer, Fort Berens also hired an energetic team of South Africans, graduates of that country’s top wine school. Megan DeVillieres is the viticulturist and Danny Hattingh, her partner, is the winemaker (left).

Fort Berens has established credibility for its wines, with numerous gold medals and with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence this year (for a Riesling). This is a tasting room well worth the visit.

Our notional tour then heads east through Cache Creek and the 15-year-old Bonaparte Bend fruit winery. Unfortunately, the winery did not open its excellent bistro this year (staffing issues) but the wines have numerous fans. When I was recently signing books in the Discover Wines VQA store in Kamloops, a book buyer enthusiastically recommended the Bonaparte Bend Saskatoon berry wine.

The tour might then take a dog leg to Ashcroft. There, in the middle of ranch country is Left Field Cider Company. In fact, the Garthwaite family who own the cidery also operate a major ranch. If you can’t manage the visit, check the Left Field web site to see where the ciders are available. They are very tasty.

There are four wineries in or near Kamloops. Sagewood Winery, on the north side of the Thompson River and east of the Lafarge cement plant, opened last month.  So far, I have been unable to visit this winery, which claims to be on the oldest commercial vineyard in the Thompson River valley (planted in 2005).

The cement plant shares a long south-facing bench which comprises a promising viticultural area. In 2008 Ed and Vicki Collett (left) began planting a kilometre of so west of the cement plant for their Harper’s Trail Estate Winery. They grow 24 acres of grapes and have just completed a new winery and tasting room. Previously, the wines have been made at Okanagan Crush Pad by Michael Bartier, who continues as their consulting winemaker.

The third winery with vines on that bench is Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery. This is a winery with vineyards on either side of the Thompson River. A winery is currently under construction on the south side. The tasting room is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015. The 2013 vintage wines were made by consultant Eric von Krosigk. Monte Creek has also hired Michael Alexander (right), a young Calgarian who is finishing his winemaking studies at Niagara College and who will make the 2014s under Eric’s tutelage.

Both Monte Creek and Harper’s Trail have history behind their names. Harper’s Trail is named for Thaddeus Harper, the 19th Century rancher who ran the 40,000-acre Gang Ranch in this area. The Colletts plan to decorate their 900-square-foot tasting room with a few longhorn skulls.

Monte Creek is a tiny community beside the highway east of Kamloops whose moment of fame occurred in 1904. That was when the notorious Bill Miner pulled off his last train robbery at Monte Creek. Bill Miner images and references are all over the labels of the wines.

The Monte Creek vineyards are planted primarily with Maréchal Foch and with Minnesota hybrid varieties –Marquette, Frontenac Noir, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, and La Crescent. This is a first in British Columbia. These varieties were developed in Minnesota and Wisconsin to be exceptionally winter hardy. That is the reason why the owners of Monte Creek planted them in Kamloops, where winters can be brutal for vinifera grapes.

However, the sun-bathed slope on the north side of the river, just below a mountain known locally as Lion's Head is being planted with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Those varieties have survived five winters at the Harper’s Trail vineyard and make superb wines there.

Privato Winery and Vineyard, the fourth Kamloops winery, began sales in 2012 and also has a new wine shop. Privato is on the west side of the North Thompson River, about half an hour’s drive north of downtown Kamloops. The premium wines are well worth the drive.

John and Debbie Woodward (right), the owners of Privato, began planting their four-acre vineyard in 2010 with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Winter damage forced some replanting. Meanwhile, they have contracted Okanagan grapes for their wines which are made with the help of New Zealand-trained winemaker Jacqueline Kemp.

Most of the wineries near Salmon Arm benefit from the moderating effect of Shuswap Lake. But they all played it safe by planting hardy, early-ripening varieties. Maréchal Foch is the primary red at Celista Estate Winery, Recline Ridge Vineyards, Sunnybrae Vineyards, Ovino Winery and Larch Hills Winery. The leading white varietals here include Ortega, Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine.

These varietals, along with the Minnesota hybrids, are not the mainstream varieties found in the Okanagan, which is why wine tours in the Thompson Shuswap are full of novel tastings.

On my recent visit to this region, I ran out of time to re-visit the Salmon Arm wineries. However, Graydon and Maureen Ratzlaff, owners of Recline Ridge, brought two of their wines to a winery dinner in Kamloops.

Recline Ridge Siegerrebe 2012 ($18.90) is a textbook example of this variety, which ripens early and which delivers lovely spicy tropical fruit flavours. 90.

Recline Ridge Hummingbird’s Kiss 2012 ($21.90 for a 375 ml bottle). This wonderfully-named wine is a delicious late harvest Optima with a touch of Bacchus. 89.

Here are notes on other wines you could taste on this tour.

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2013 ($19.99 for 602 cases). This wine is from grapes grown in the estate vineyard in Lillooet. About 30% was fermented and aged in French oak and the rest was fermented in stainless steel. The aromas and the flavours are fresh and fruit-forward, with notes of citrus, peach and lychee. There is a hint of minerality on the spine. 90.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2012 ($25.99 for 475 cases). The winery grows five clones of Pinot Noir in the Lillooet vineyard. The vines ripened well in the excellent 2012 vintage, producing a medium-bodied wine with 13.5% alcohol. The wine, which was aged in French oak for 12 months, has aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. 88.

Fort Berens Merlot 2012 ($25 for 197 cases). The grapes for this wine are from the Sundial Vineyard, one of the oldest and best vineyards on Black Sage Road. This is a new varietal for Fort Berens. Rolf hopes that the 2014 can be made with estate-grown grapes. This wine, with 12 months oak aging, begins with appealing aromas of cassis and blueberry. The palate is juicy, with flavours of  black currant, cherry and chocolate. 90.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2012 ($26.99 for 482 cases). Seventy percent of the grapes are from the Lillooet vineyard; the rest are from Black Sage Bench. The wine already has four awards (gold, silver and two bronze). The wine has aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant and blueberry, with a savoury note on the finish. 91.

Fort Berens Meritage 2012 ($28.99 for 844 cases). The grapes here are 40% from Lillooet and 60% from the Sundial Vineyard. The blend is 72% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged in French and American oak for 12 months and is just being released after nine months of bottle age. The wine begins with aromas of dark fruit and sage. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, with spice and age on the finish. 90-91.

Harper’s Trail Pinot Gris 2013 ($18.90 for 830 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromas of anise, figs and melon, delivering layers of melon and citrus flavours and a spicy finish. The texture is juicy. 90.

Harper’s Trail Chardonnay 2012 ($19.90 for 392 cases). This is a bright Chardonnay with a touch of oak framing the citrus and mineral flavours. There is a hint of cloves on the finish. 89.

Harper’s Trail Gewürztraminer 2013 ($16.90 for 182 cases). This wine begins with aromas of spice and rose petals, leading to intense flavours of grapefruit and lychee and a spicy finish. The wine has a full and juicy texture and is balanced to finish dry. 90.

Harper’s Trail Field Blend White 2013 ($14.90 for 344 cases). This is an assemblage of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay which are fermented separately and then blended. Juicy and slightly off-dry, the wine has refreshingly fruity flavours of apple, melon and peach. The finish has a zesty hint of lime. 90.

Harper’s Trail Pioneer Block Dry Riesling 2012 ($19.90 for 450 cases). The winery likes to call this its Rheingau-style Riesling. It is an intense wine with notes of petrol in the aroma and flavour along with citrus flavours. The bracing acidity is balanced with residual sugar so that the wine is almost austere. This is ageworthy. 90-91.

 Harper’s Trail Silver Main Block Riesling 2012 ($19.90 for 513 cases). This is the winery’s Mosel style Riesling, with just 8.5% alcohol. But this also is a wine with intensity and flavours of lime, grapefruit and peach. The 25.4 grams of residual sugar are balanced with fresh acidity. The off-dry finish lingers. 91.

Harper’s Trail Late Harvest Riesling 2012 ($20.90 for 445 cases of 375 ml bottles). The 55.4 grams of residual sugar give this dessert wine ripe and concentrated flavours of apple and lime. The sugar is so subtly balanced with acidity that the sweetness on the finish is refreshing. 91.

Harper’s Trail Rosé 2013 ($18.90 for 117 cases). This is a Cabernet Franc rosé with a touch of Pinot Gris. There are aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a dry, spicy finish. 88.

Privato Silvio’s Chardonnay 2013 ($25 for 2,844 bottles). This is a crisp and refreshing wine designed to showcase the great purity of the fruit, which is from a vineyard in Kaleden. It begins with aromas of peaches, leading to flavours of apple and citrus. 88.

Privato Chardonnay 2012 ($30 for 2,076 bottles). By using French oak barriques (only 20% new) to age this wine for seven months, the oak aromas and flavours subtly frame the tangerine and apple flavours. The oak also imparted an appealing creaminess to the texture. 90.

Privato Pinot Noir 2011 ($35 for 4,320 bottles). The silky texture of this wine developed nicely during 18 months aging in French oak. The wine has a sensuous aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry, with lingering spice on the long finish. 91-92.