Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Martins Lane releases Pinot Noir 2013

Photo: Martin's Lane Pinot Noir

Mission Hill’s Anthony von Mandl launched the Martin’s Lane label with a 2009 Riesling. The intention of the label was to honour his father, Martin, who died in 1994.

Well, he has certainly done his father proud. The label has grown into a boutique winery (built in 2014) that specializes in Pinot Noir.

The winery has just released 986 cases of its 2013 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir, an ultra-premium wine priced at $65 a bottle.

This is the culmination of a commitment to Pinot Noir that began in earnest not long after Mission Hill acquired Paradise Ranch at the north end of Naramata Road in 2001. Now called The Ranch, its 80 acres have been almost totally replanted. Pinot Noir accounted for 30 acres. Since about 2005, Mission Hill also acquired additional land in East Kelowna, planting at least 30 more acres of Pinot Noir.

The second vintage of Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir (485 cases) was made in 2011. This was the wine that sealed Mission Hill’s commitment to Pinot Noir.

In the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2013, it was named the “World’s Best Pinot Noir” in the under £15 category. Most of the subsequent publicity omitted the qualification. The wine, which was very good indeed, is spoken of as the world’s best, period.

Anthony had been thinking about building a boutique Pinot Noir winery prior to winning that award. Now, with the trophy in hand, he went ahead with the winery – just behind CedarCreek Estate Winery, which Anthony had acquired in 2014.

I am not aware that there is yet a public tasting room at Martin’s Lane. I am assuming there are plans for one since the latest release is described as a “winery direct” wine.

The 2013 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir is made from estate grown grapes, both from The Ranch, from West Kelowna and from East Kelowna. It is a blend of four Dijon clones (115, 943, 667 and 828). The wine was fermented in small French oak fermenters and aged nine months in a combination of new and old French barrels. The best barrels were selected for this wine, with enough volume that the wine should be readily available.

The specification sheet does not identify the winemaker. Nikki Callaway, who made the 2011, had joined Quails’ Gate Estate Winery just before the 2013 vintage. Darryl Brooker, now Mission Hill’s chief winemaker, was still at CedarCreek; he made the 2014 Martin’s Lane wines.

The process of elimination gives credit to John Simes, the veteran winemaker at Mission Hill until he retired from that role last year.

Over his 23 vintages, John’s reputation was made with his Chardonnays and his Bordeaux blends. Mission Hill’s Perpetua Chardonnay and the winery’s Oculus, its big red, are among the top Canadian wines year in and year out.

But I have to tell you: Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir is not too shabby either.

Here are my notes.

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir 2013 ($65 for 986 cases). The wine’s appeal begins with its deep, vibrant hue in the glass. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. It has good weight and concentration. Decanting brings out a silky and fleshy texture. There are notes of spice on the lingering finish. 92-93.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Haynes Barn and its friends from Mission Hill

Photo: Haynes Barn in 2015

Over the many years in which I have travelled the South Okanagan, I have stopped numerous times to photograph the Haynes Barn at the south end of Black Sage Road.

Every year, it sags a bit more. The photo on this column was taken last summer. One of these years, I expect to find just a pile of old wood.

I don’t understand why no effort has been made to preserve the barn. At least, it might lives on the label of a red wine from Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery. This is one of the wineries in the Artisan Wine Co. stable of Anthony von Mandl of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery fame.

All of the wines in the Prospect range, which are made at Mission Hill, have labels celebrating the Okanagan’s rich history.

Few histories are richer than Judge John Carmichael Haynes, the rancher (among other occupations) who once ran cattle on the range here. The barn, one assumes, is a remainder of his finger prints, along with Haynes Point in Osoyoos. And Hester Creek on the Golden Mile, named for his daughter.

The Osoyoos & District Museum and Archives has posted a biography on line.

John Carmichael Haynes was born in Ireland on July 6, 1831. At 27 years of age, Haynes made up his mind to head for the colony of British Columbia and work for the newly established British Columbia Police.

After receiving a number of letters from relatives who had travelled to British Columbia and struck it rich, Haynes turned to his uncle, James Carmichael, who had a lot of pull in the Irish Constabulary. Chartres Brew, a long-time friend of James, had been appointed Inspector of Police for the British Columbia colony. A glowing recommendation from Brew would certainly get Haynes a position with the B.C. Police. With nepotism clearly on his side, Haynes made way for the new world.

At a time when every fifth man was an outlaw, Haynes was the law. The epitome of a gentleman, Haynes was notorious for his Irish frieze jacket, polished English riding boots and pith helmet that he donned in favour of a Stetson.

His extensive legal authority and responsibility in the Okanagan, even over the Native peoples of the area, would eventually influence and set the standard relationship between First Nations and the pioneering families in the future.

Haynes arrived in Victoria in 1858. Upon his arrival, Haynes made contact with Brew and was able to arrange a meeting with Governor James Douglas. Almost immediately following his application, Haynes accompanied Brew to the mainland in January of 1859, now a constable in the B.C. Police.

Travelling up the Fraser River, Brew and Haynes reached Fort Yale. Haynes and William George Cox worked together for a time collecting license fees from miners between Yale and Hope. However, with gold discoveries near the Similkameen River and Rock Creek area, Cox was reassigned by Governor Douglas as Justice of the Peace and Gold Commissioner for the entire Rock-Creek Similkameen region.

On his way back to the coast, Governor Douglas wrote Cox and informed him that his colleague Haynes would soon join him as Deputy Collector of Customs for the area.

Haynes was reunited with Cox at Rock Creek on October 15, 1860. Haynes was limited to just the one post until April 1861 when his jurisdiction was expanded to include all the trails leading up to Okanagan Lake.

Later that same year, with the depopulation of the Rock Creek area due to the riches found to the north in the Cariboo, Cox was transferred. Haynes became the head Customs Collector for the entire Okanagan-Similkameen district in November of 1861.

By 1862 Rock Creek had turned into a ghost town. There were four constables for the Similkameen district which Haynes had to reduce to two. By May 1862, however, trails were opening up to the Cariboo region and a continuous flow of traffic was passing through the customs port at Osoyoos.

Upon completion of the new customs house in 1865, Haynes looked upon Osoyoos as his home. He and his colleague W.H. Lowe acquired 22,000 acres of land from the International Boundary to the northern edge of Osoyoos Lake. Purchasing cattle from the many drovers that came through the valley, it wasn't long before Haynes had herds of cattle, horses, and sheep grazing his land.

On a return trip from Victoria in 1888, Haynes fell ill at the Allison Ranch near Princeton. He died on his 57th birthday, July 6, 1888.

It is stated that Haynes' body was taken down the Similkameen River to Cawston by canoe. From there it was transported by wagon to his home in Osoyoos. Later, his body was transferred to its current resting place in the Pioneer Section of the Osoyoos Cemetery.

The Prospect wines are not the only wines from Mission Hill that celebrate either the history or the flora and fauna of the Okanagan.

A few years ago, the winery also introduced its Terroir Collection of wines which showcase “the Okanagan Valley’s unique microclimates and diversity.”  While the Prospect Wines are budget-priced, the Terroir Collection wines are premium-priced. These wines are made from the top three percent of the fruit in the estate vineyards.

In between these ranges, Mission Hill produces several other tiers of wine, reflecting its ability to do so because the winery has vineyards throughout the Okanagan.

Here are notes on a cross section of wines from the Mission Hill family.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection No. 16 Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($30; 19 barrels produced). This wine from Mission Hill’s vineyard at Osoyoos border begins with aromas of citrus, leading to flavours of lime and guava and an herbal finish. There is good weight on the palate, with a rich texture. A third of this was fermented and aged in French oak. 91.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection, No.29 Bluebird Passage 2013 Viognier ($30 for 423 cases). This wine begins with aromas of pineapple, apples and orange zest. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot, white nectarine and tangerine, with a hint of white pepper on the lingering finish. 91.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection, Sunset Ranch 2012 Chardonnay ($40 for 76 cases). Think of this unoaked Chardonnay as a cerebral wine: you need to think about it because the charm is not obvious. It has aromas of baked apples, pear and citrus which are echoed on the palate. The mineral-driven texture is rich but the fruit only begins to open after the wine breathes. 88.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection, No.23 Crosswinds 2011 Syrah ($65.00; 38 barrels produced). This is a classic gamy and earthy Syrah, with aromas and flavours of black cherry and blackberry. On the finish, there are notes of sage and espresso. The texture is firm (typical of the 2011 vintage) and the wine benefits from decanting. 88-90.
Mission Hill Terroir Collection, No.21 Splitrail 2012 Merlot ($65.00; 18 barrels produced). This is a superbly concentrated wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry, cassis and blueberry and with chocolate and leather on the finish. The long, polished and silky tannins give the wine great elegance. 92.

Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Reserve ($25.99 for 4,471 cases). The blend here is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. This wine begins with aromas of blueberry and cassis, leading to a cascade of flavours on the palate, including cassis, blackberry and blueberry. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. There is a touch of eucalyptus on the finish. 92.
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($15.99). Grapes for this tier are selected for multiple vineyards. This is a blend of 41% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It was aged 13 months in French and American oak. This is an easy-drinking red with spicy aromas and flavours of cassis, with a hint of liquorice on the finish. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Merlot Cabernet 2012 ($13.29).  This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This is a generous and delicious red, with aromas of cassis and blueberry and with lush flavours of black cherry. There is a hint of liquorice on the finish. 88.

Bottom of Form

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Chaberton: The Fraser Valley's anchor winery

Photo: Winemaker Andrea Lee 

In July 2015,  Andrea Lee returned as chief winemaker at Langley’s Chaberton Estate Winery where she once had been a cellar hand.

It was a bit of a rush for the petite Summerland native. The 2015 vintage was one of the earliest in British Columbia. It was a scramble to get ready to receive the 600 tons of grapes that the winery processed last fall. 

“It has been a roller coaster ride,” she said in November. “As soon as I came, wines had to be cold stabilized. Then I had to put them to sleep in the finished products cellar. And I also had to bottle 100,000 litres to make room, to get the capacity for harvest. It was just full on since July.”

 She also arrived at a time when the winery, which opened 25 years ago as Domaine de Chaberton, was streamlining its image.

The winery dropped “Domaine de” from its labels. The original owners of the winery, the first in the Fraser Valley, had emigrated from France. The family of founder Claude Violet once had a property there called Domaine de Chaberton and the name had resonance.

Vancouver lawyer Eugene Kwan and Hong Kong businessman Anthony Cheng, who bought the winery in 2004, retained the name in respect for the founders. But after eleven years, they decided that a little updating was in order.

They also reduced a confusing array of labels. Canoe Cove and North Bluff, which they had created after buying the winery, have now been dropped. The Chaberton wines now come primarily in three tiers: the House Wine tier, the Valley tier and the Reserve tier.

On top of that, there is a super-reserve tier called AC for the pricey, limited release reds that Anthony Cheng and the Chaberton winemakers blended in several vintages since 2008. Andrea had a hand in making some of the blending components during her first stint at Chaberton. She was a cellar hand here during four vintages from 2007 through 2010.

Born in Hong Kong, she was nine years old when her parents immigrated to Summerland and opened a Chinese family restaurant.

Andrea did not set out on a wine career when she enrolled at Simon Fraser University to study molecular biology and biochemistry (something “very boring,” she says now). On graduating in 2006, she took a research internship with a pharmaceutical firm until the company, amid a business downturn, laid off staff.

She took the opportunity to travel, ending up in New Zealand until a car accident prevented here from continuing in a vineyard job. She came back to Summerland and, after recuperating, went to work in the wine shop at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and then at Chaberton. To upgrade her wine skills,  she enrolled at the University of Adelaide in Australia for a master’s degree in enology.

On graduating in 2012 she turbocharged her career by making wine in both hemispheres. She worked with three different Australian wineries, including Josef Chromy Wines, a distinguished producer in Tasmania. Back in the Okanagan, she made the 2014 wines for two Summerland wineries, Sage Hills Winery and Saxon Winery.

She returned to Chaberton in 2015 when her predecessor there, Barbara Hall, moved to Burrowing Owl Estate Winery in the south Okanagan.

The current releases from Chaberton have Barbara’s capable fingers on them even if Andrea finished some of the 2014s.

If Andrea joined just in time for a rushed and hectic vintage, she also came in a very good vintage, especially for the Fraser Valley. While Chaberton sources grapes from both the Okanagan and the Similkameen, it also has a 40-acre estate vineyard, by far the single largest vineyard in the Fraser Valley.

And it happens that Andrea is something of a Fraser Valley booster.

“That is the beauty of the Fraser Valley,” she says while pouring a glass of Chaberton’s superb Dry Bacchus Reserve. “The sugars do not usually reach more than 20 brix, but it is such a delicate aromatic wine. The acid is still preserved because we do not get that many heat degree days. I am very happy that the Fraser Valley has this flagship grape. I have to say that the Fraser Valley has not been praised like the Okanagan. It is still up and coming. It is a good grape variety and it is suitable to growing here, versus the Okanagan.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Chaberton Siegerrebe Reserve 2014 ($15.95). As white wines go, this is the thespian wine that steals the scene with dramatic aromas and flavours: lychee, lime and grapefruit. It is balanced to finish dry. The blend is 95% Siegerrebe, 3% Gewürztraminer and 2% Viognier. 90.

Chaberton Dry Bacchus Reserve 2014 ($15.00). Made from Fraser Valley grapes, this wine is crisply dry on the palate, with intense flavours of lime and lemon. The tangy finish is refreshing. 90.

Chaberton Bacchus Reserve 2014 ($15.00). This is the off-dry version, with just a touch of residual sugar still well balanced with fresh acidity. It has aromas and flavours of grapefruit. 89.

Chaberton Gewürztraminer Reserve 2014 ($15.95). The wine has rich aromas of spice and orange peel, leading to a rich palate, with flavours of tangerine, peach and apricot. The finish is slightly off-dry. 89. 

Chaberton Riesling Reserve 2014 ($15.95). The winery changed the style from the previous vintage when the Riesling was off-dry. This is dry although the fruit concentration on the palate has a pleasing sweetness. The wine has floral aromas and flavours of citrus and peach. 90.

Chaberton Pinot Gris Reserve 2014 ($15.95). Made with Similkameen grapes, this fleshy wine begins with fruity aromas that lead to flavours of apple and peach. 89.

Chaberton Valley Chardonnay 2013 ($13.30). This unoaked white is 86% Chardonnay, 14% Viognier. It has aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of apple, tangerine and vanilla. 89.

Chaberton Valley Gamay 2013 ($14.75). The blend here is 85% Gamay Noir, 7% Merlot and 8% Syrah. It is a delicious wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry jam and spice. 90.

Chaberton Valley Cab 2013 ($15.95). This is 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a quaffable wine with a soft, juicy texture. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and blackberry. 88.

Chaberton Valley Red 2014 ($13.30). Another quaffable medium-bodied red with a fruity aroma, this wine delivers flavours of black cherry and liquorice.  88.

Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2012 ($22.60).  This wine has an elegant, seamless texture. It has aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberries, with a lingering spicy finish.  90.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($21.99). This wine, a blend of Naramata and Oliver grapes, was aged 27 months in French oak. This wine is svelte and elegant in structure. It begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla and delivers flavours of black cherry, fig, plum and vanilla. The wine benefits from decanting and will also benefit from another four or five years of cellaring. 91.

Chaberton Reserve Syrah 2011 ($27). Dark in colour, the wine begins with meaty aromas incorporating red berries and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and blackberry crisply wrapped up with notes of black pepper and vanilla on the finish. The texture is medium to full-bodied, with a  long finish. 90.

 Chaberton Reserve Meritage 2013 ($24.30). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine, which was aged 16 months in oak, begins with bold, ripe aromas of red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and cassis with notes of cassis on the lingering finish. 91.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Adega on 45th raises profile

 Photo: Adega on 45th Estate Winery

Adega on 45th Estate Winery in Osoyoos has had too low a profile since opening in 2011. Perhaps that reflects the most personalities of the owners who are farmers first and promoters of their winery second.

Since quality wines begin in the vineyard, that is an appropriate priority. However, I expect the profile to rise because the winery last year became part of the portfolio represented by Vancouver wine agent Tim Wispinski, president of The Wine List. Other wineries that he also represents include Chaberton Estate, Harper’s Trail, Hillside, Time and McWatters, Wild Goose – and the producer of the Okanagan’s most expensive red wine, One Faith Vineyards.

To help raise the profile, here is the text of my profile of Adega on 45th from the fifth edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Ringing the church bells to communicate important village events was an art that Alex Nunes learned one summer in his native Portugal. He was 13 and home from a stint in the seminary. While he emigrated to Canada two years later, the memory of the two big bells in that village church inspired the addition of a bell tower to the winery’s façade when it was built in 2011. Alex intends to add a bell. “It is either buy one, or go back to my hometown and steal one at midnight,” he jokes.

The winery, whose warm butterscotch tones blend with the desert landscape of Osoyoos, was designed by Alex and his brother-in-law, Fred Farinha, who own the winery with their wives, Maria and Pamela. The winery sits high on the vineyard’s west-facing slope. The tasting room windows offer a grand view over the town and the lake. The 557 square meter (6,000 square foot) winery has thick concrete walls and a naturally-cooled cellar for 400 barrels buried against the hillside. The interior’s public areas acquired the instant patina of age by having walls finished with Italian clay and tiles on the floor.

The winery’s European ambiance reflects their Portuguese heritage (Adega is Portuguese for cellar). Alex was born in Portugal in 1950 while Fred was born in Penticton in 1966. Their families were among the many Portuguese immigrants who came to Osoyoos at that time as tree fruit growers. Both Alex and Fred operated orchards until about 2005 when vanishing returns from tree fruits left them with a stark choice: sell the land or plant grapes. “We decided to keep the land and build a winery,” Alex says.

They planted three vineyards totalling 15.4 hectares (38 acres), supporting 5,000 cases a year, with extra grapes for sale to other wineries. “Create our own future, you could call it,” Alex says. Wine is in their blood. “We had wine on our tables and in our homes, always, since we were born,” Alex remembers. “Your mom would ask to you go to the tavern in the village to get a litre of wine. It did not matter if you were five years old or ten years old. You would just go and get it.”  While they use a consulting winemaker, Alex and Fred, with years of experience as home winemakers, do almost everything themselves. “We are hands on,” Fred says. “We are in the field and we are also in here.”

They grow no Portuguese grape varieties because they doubt the vines could survive Okanagan winters. But that has not stopped them from making Portuguese-inspired wines.  Merlot stands in for Touriga Nacional to make a port-style wine.

Here are notes wines currently available from Adega on 45th.

Adega on 45th  Felicidade 2014 ($17). The label does not specify the grapes in this white blend. The spicy and herbal aromas and the gooseberry flavours suggest some Sauvignon Blanc while the anise on the finish suggests Pinot Gris. This is an austere and powerful white which responds well to being decanted. 88.

Adega on 45th  Chardonnay 2014 ($21). This is a full-bodied Chardonnay with honeyed aromas and flavours of apple, tangerine and melon. The soft acidity gives the wine a rich, fleshy texture while the 14.8% alcohol adds to the swaggering personality. 88.

Adega on 45th  Viognier 2013 ($20). Here is another bold, ripe white (alcohol of 14.9%) with aromas of apricots and flavours of apricots and almonds. The tannin that comes from the skins of the Viognier gives backbone to the structure. In the glass, it presents with a golden hue. 89.

Adega on 45th  Cabernet Franc 2011 ($17). This begins with aromas of raspberry, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, the brambleberry flavours are bright and the wine is lively. 89

 Adega on 45th  Merlot 2011 ($20). A typical wine of the vintage, this is lean and bright with aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry and blueberry. 89.

Adega on 45th  Manuel NV ($20). The winery does not specify the blend in this red but does say the objective was to make a fruit-forward wine while including a portion aged in French oak to “up the sophistication.” The wine has ripe aromas of black cherry. The flavours are generous, with notes of black cherry, cassis, vanilla, chocolate and liquorice.  90.

Adega on 45th  Malbec 2012 ($24). This is a big, generous red with spicy aromas of plum, cherry, black currant and vanilla which are echoed in the flavours. There is an intriguing touch of pepper on the finish. 90.

Adega on 45th Syrah 2011 ($24). This wine begins with aromas of vanilla and black cherry with a touch of pepper. On the palate, there is a medley of black fruit and earthy, gamy notes. The wine benefits from decanting which allows it to show a chewy texture. 88.

Adega on 45th  Quarteto Tinto 2012 ($28). The blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 2 ½ % each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is a bold wine that begins with aromas of spice, black currant and black cherry, followed by flavours of black currant and chocolate. The texture is concentrated and rich. 92.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Bordeaux brigade in Vancouver

Photo: Bordeaux vintner Lillian Barton-Sartorious

A recent Vancouver visit of 40 producers from the Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux was likely the single largest contingent of Bordeaux producers here at the same time.

The visit was part of an ambitious North American “mission” of a sort that has not been seen in some time.

The mission’s itinerary included St John's on January 21, Toronto on January 22, Montreal on January 23, New York on January 25, Chicago on January 27, Phoenix and Vancouver on January 28 (the delegation split), Los Angeles on January 29, San Francisco on January 30 and Washington DC on January 31.

That is the unbelievable sort travel schedule that I would have thought could be designed only by the National Hockey League.

It tells us that Bordeaux wines have become a little harder to sell. A Vancouver agent who goes to Bordeaux auctions regularly has been struck by the drop in the number of Chinese buyers he sees. That is probably one reason that the producers are working the North American market more aggressively.

The other reason is that it will be harder to sell the red wines of the 2013 vintage, which is what most producers were showing.

According to the vintage table published by the International Wine & Food Society, the 2013 Bordeaux reds score three out of seven – seven being the top score for a vintage. The only other vintage since 1990 to score three across the board was 2002.

The 2013 vintage was judged better for whites and for Sauternes, which the IWFS rated six.

The whites and Sauternes that I tasted were indeed impressive. A barrel sample of the 2013 Château De Fargues Sauternes got 93 points in my note book. That winery’s 2010 Sauternes – a top vintage – is listed in British Columbia at $86.99 a bottle. I also had high points for Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2013 and Château Suduiraut 2013. The latter producer has a 2001 vintage Sauternes (another top vintage) listed here for $329.99 a bottle. 

Vancouver has long been a good Bordeaux market. The Bordeaux’s region’s most elite tasting fraternity, the Commanderie de Bordeaux, has had a Vancouver chapter since 1975.

Currently, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch lists more than 250 products from Bordeaux, starting at $15 and reaching to the stratosphere that only the great Bordeaux reds command.  For example, Château Mouton Rothschild ranges between $900 and $1,600 a bottle, depending on the vintage.

The prices of the top Bordeaux reds reflect the reputation and the heritage of the chateaux. One of the presenters in Vancouver was Lillian Barton-Sartorius, one of the owners of two grand cru wineries: Château Langoa-Barton and Château Léoville-Barton. The wineries have been owned by the Barton family (Hugh Johnson calls them Irish) since 1821.

The wines of both are made in the Langoa-Barton winery. The grapes are from different vineyards, with Léoville-Barton classified a second growth and Langoa-Barton is a third growth.

Over those years, there have been many times when the business was challenging. There was not a lot of prosperity in Bordeaux in the 1950s after the damage of the war on top of the Depression and weak vintages of the 1930s. Lillian remembers her parents positioning buckets around the chateau because the roof leaked.

The Bordeaux wine economy had turned the corner by 1970 (a legendary vintage). The years since have been a long golden age for Bordeaux wines, with international demand and Robert Parker ratings generating high prices and with many châteaux changing hands. There are not many great properties still owned by the same family since 1821.

A lot of new technology has been applied in both the vineyards and the châteaux over the last decade of two. Anne Cuvelier, the presenter for Château  Léoville-Poyferré, spoke glowingly about the optical grape sorter that has replaced human sorters on that winery’s crush pad. The result, she says, has been significantly better screening of grapes before they go into the crusher.

Yet when I asked Lillian about new technology at the Barton estates, she replied: “We quite like traditional methods … Bordeaux must keep its Bordeaux.”

Perhaps this blend of new ideas and traditional ideas is what makes the wines of Bordeaux so interesting.

Judging from the wines I tasted, I would not get too bent out of shape that the 2013 vintage is, as one person said to me, “the weakest in a decade.” I thought the reds were still quite interesting.

I gave 90 points both to the Léoville-Barton 2013 and to the Léoville-Poyferré 2013. Currently, the Léoville- Barton 2012 is listed here for $138 a bottle and the Léoville-Poyferré 2012 is listed for $128. The 2012 vintage was rated four out of seven by the IWFS.

Of course, vintages matter – up to a point. The stronger Bordeaux vintages are the ones that will age the longest. But a true collector of Bordeaux reds considers the 2012 and 2013 wines to ones to drink while the 2009 and 2010 vintages are developing in the cellar.

The prices of Bordeaux wines give me a lot more pause than the vintages … but I recognize that, like race horses, one has to pay for good blood lines.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

SIP VQA wines store closes in March

Photo: The wines for SIP's 2015 Iconic Reds tasting

The attrition of VQA wine stores continues with the surprising announcement from Simon Wosk that he is closing his SIP Wines stores on March 5, 2016, after 12 years in business.

His explanation is cryptic: “There are a number of considerations, both business and personal, that have contributed to this decision. The decision was not easy to make.  I wanted to operate Sip Wines for another 15 to 20 years.  But things change and this decision is the correct one for my family and me in light of events taking place in the BC wine industry.”

The “events” refers to Jim Pattison’s Overwaitea Food Group taking over an increasing number of VQA stores. This is happening with the active co-operation of the BC Wine Institute, which owns the 21 active VQA store licenses.

Overwaitea “is acquiring our interest in the Operating Agreement with the BC Wine Institute who holds the licence,” Simon says.

The grocery store path was opened last spring when the British Columbia government’s liquor policy changes allowed the sale of B.C. VQA wine – and only VQA wine – in grocery stores.

Overwaitea began selling wine on April 1, 2015, in the Save-On-Foods store at South Point in Surrey.

Since then, the grocery chain has added wines at a second Surrey store and at stores in Tsawwassen and in Langley. The chain is currently preparing to add wine to a grocery store on Lakeshore Road in Kelowna after having acquired the business of two Discover Wines stores “Kelowna and Kamloops” and of the VQA store at the BC Wine Museum in downtown Kelowna. It is reported that the grocer is considering adding wine to a store in West Kelowna.

Kensington Square VQA Wine Store in Burnaby and the BC Wineguys in Cadboro Bay on Vancouver Island will close in February after selling their businesses to the grocery chain.  

Edgemont Village VQA store in North Vancouver sold its business to Overwaitea in September 2015 after 17 years. The presumed relocation to a Save-On-Foods store in North Vancouver has not yet happened.

The accelerating migration of VQA outlets has been controversial among some in the industry. Last September, a coalition of wineries – the B.C. Alliance for Smart Liquor Retail Choices – asked for a six-month moratorium on wine sales in grocery stores.

Church & State Winery president Kim Pullen, one spokesman for the group, was quoted as saying: “Grocery stores are just starting wine sales in B.C. If the model expands, small B.C. wineries will be in trouble.”

The fear is two-fold. Grocery stores are expected to sell more low-priced high volume wines which favour the largest producers. Secondly, international wineries have threatened action under trade agreements to blast the grocery store market wide open.

The issue could become more inflamed this year. There still are 24 dormant wine store licenses (so-called Bill 22 licenses) set to be auctioned this year. These are generic licenses, not BCWI licenses, but are also expected to be taken up by grocery chains.

The BC Wine Institute has strongly supported the migration of VQA licenses to grocery stores, believing that grocery stores will sell a lot more wine and that will benefit all VQA wineries.

In a statement last September, BCWI chair Shaun Everest said: “The principles guiding these changes include the objective of maximizing the sale of BC VQA wines through the BCWI licences for the benefit of our producers and operators, maintaining and enhancing the high quality reputation of BC VQA wines, and securing fair and equitable access to this unique sales channel by putting them on an equal footing with the Bill 22 licences.”

In November 2015, BCWI president Miles Prodan expressed satisfaction at sales trends so far in the grocery channel.

It's been 6 months since the first BC VQA wine store-in-grocery opened at Wines of British Columbia Save-On-Foods South Point, so I thought it would be helpful to quickly summarize some results,” he wrote in a statement.

Currently, both BC VQA wine stores-in-grocery carry more than 900 different BC VQA wines (SKUs) from over 150 different wineries with the Fleetwood location having  capacity to shelve two facings of as many as 1800 SKUs;
  • The vast majority of these 900 + wines are not currently available in either private or government liquor stores;
  • South Point store has 20,000 - 22,000 customers through the store each week with 12,000 unique wine purchasers;
  • 70% of current display price is between $17.39 and $24.29 (tax in).
Since opening in April, South Point's weighted average sold price/bottle is $18.06 (tax in) with 76% of all wine sold >$15.00 (tax in).

Clearly, BCWI thinks the model is working even if a number of VQA store owners have decided to bail out.

It remains to be seen whether the grocery store staff will be as effective at wine education as the owners and the staff in the VQA stores. Owners like Tracy Gray of Discover Wines and Simon Wosk of SIP were knowledgeable and passionate about the wines in their stores.

The closure of SIP Wines is a particular loss. This was the store that organized the annual Icon wine tastings that supported the super-premium or collector category of VQA reds.

Simon Wosk says: “This is one event that has a life of its own and I do intend to investigate the possibility of its continuance in some form.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lake Breeze scoops peers with 2015 wines

 Photo: Lake Breeze winemaker Garron Elmes (courtesy of Lake Breeze)

Garron Elmes, the president and winemaker at Lake Breeze Vineyards on the Naramata Bench, has scooped his peers by releasing the first wines from the 2015 vintage.

The two white wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris, were released on December 10, 2015, just a few months after the harvest.

“As a result of the 2015 harvest ending a full month ahead of usual, we have been able to finish and bottle a few of our customer’s favourite wines well ahead of schedule and in time for the holidays,” he announced via the Internet.

When I wrote this, I was not aware of any other winery releasing its 2015 wines yet. Derek Kontkanen, the winemaker at Inniskillin Okanagan, contacted me to say that wineries in the Constellation group  released a Sauvignon Blanc in November and a Pinot Blanc in December. Because the vintage was usually early, the flood of 2015 whites should begin in February. Many wineries were busy bottling in January.

With the exception of Beaujolais Nouveau, wines are rarely released in the same calendar year as the vintage.

Beaujolais Nouveau is an old French tradition. Here is a succinct account from www.intowine.com: “Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers’ barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine.

“In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born.

“By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November, tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.”

Beaujolais Nouveau peaked in this market in the mid-1980s. One year the Liquor Distribution Branch listed eight brands – and still was trying to sell the stock at Easter. Several Okanagan wineries, including Mission Hill and Calona Vineyards, also got on board with Foch Nouveau.

Given the early harvest on the Okanagan in 2015, it is surprising that no producer revisited the idea to roll out a Gamay Nouveau here in late November.

Hats off to Garron Elmes. Lake Breeze does not grow Gamay but it does have several excellent white varietals, including one of the Okanagan’s mature blocks of Pinot Gris

His two releases give consumers an early look at the quality of the 2015 wines. These wines tell me that 2015 was a very good year when the winemaker in question got on top of the challenges of a hot vintage. It was a very hot year. Grapes left on the vines too long would have had too much sugar (high potential alcohol) and not enough acidity.

At Lake Breeze, Garron lined up all his ducks. Both of these whites have an acceptable 13.5% alcohol and refreshing natural acidity. They are delicious to drink now and have the structure to hold up through the year. That probably is a moot point: the wines will be sold out by midyear.

Here are notes:

Lake Breeze  Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($22 for 700 cases). The aromas of lime and herbs are echoed in the luscious tropical fruit flavours. The wine has very good weight, a kiss of minerality and refreshing acidity. 91.

Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2015 ($20 for 1,600 cases). This wine, which begins with aromas of peach and apple, is bursting with fruit flavours, including apple and citrus. The touch of residual sugar, which is very nicely balanced with acidity, adds flesh to the texture. The finish is refreshing. 91.