Thursday, September 3, 2015

Foxtrot "gets by" with clone 115 Pinot Noir

 Photo: Foxtrot winemaker Gustav Allander

Most Okanagan producers of Pinot Noir have multiple clones in their vineyards. Foxtrot Vineyards gets by with clone 115.

“They say if you are going to do Pinot Noir from one clone, 115 is a good all round clone that can stand on its own,” says Gustav Allander, the winemaker and a member of the ownership family. Recent and future vineyard expansions are primarily with cuttings from Foxtrot’s 20-year-old self-rooted vines. Next spring’s planting will include some clone 948, a newer Burgundy clone obtained when another Naramata Bench grower had some extra plants.

To say that Foxtrot gets by is an understatement. Its terroir-driven wines are among the most coveted of British Columbia wines.

“Part of it has to do with the age of our vines,” Gustav says. “The roots now are down quite deep and we are getting much more of the soil influence. There is still clonal influence there but it is much less pronounced than when the vines are really young.”

The Pinot Noir vines in the nearby Henricsson Vineyard are an unidentified clone – probably a German clone. Formerly called the Erickson Vineyard, the property was purchased two years ago by a Vancouver business and wine lover named Peter Henricsson.

As Torsten Allander (Gustav’s father) tells the story, he and Peter were enjoying a bottle of Erickson Pinot at lunch one day when Torsten said the owner of the vineyard planned to sell; and that would be the end of Erickson Pinot.

Peter wouldn’t hear of that. A few days later, he bought the property. The 2012 is the second vintage with his name on the label. There will be future vintages because Foxtrot has also become involved in helping farm the property. It is about four acres in size of which 1 ½ acres consists of the originally planted Pinot Noir.

“Last year, we had a grafting crew in from California,” Gustav told me early this summer. “They did about 200 vines as a trial. There was a 99.99% success rate. One vine didn’t take. The majority of the Henriccson vineyard was actually planted to Pinot Gris.  There was also a little block of Merlot. Starting next Saturday, we will be grafting all of that over to Pinot Noir. One section of Pinot Gris that is in a rocky gravelly section will be grafted over to Chardonnay.”

When the work is done in the Henricsson Vineyard, the new Pinot Noir vines will be mostly clone 115, with some of clone 667 and 948.

Foxtrot, which produced a total of 2,300 cases of wine last year, crafts its wines to age, in the model of Burgundy.

“I am cognisant of the acidity in the grapes at harvest time,” Gustav says. “As the vines have become older, the fruit retains more acidity. I want to make a wine that you are going to be able to lay down and let it evolve over time. You can drink them now but I prefer that people hold onto them for a bit.”

Over the years, Foxtrot’s sources of Chardonnay have moved around, but all from Naramata Bench sources. For several years, the Chardonnay was from the Coolshanagh Vineyard. The owner of that property, Skip Stothert, now releases the wine under his own label.

The Four Shadows vineyard now supplying Foxtrot used to be part of the Mistral Winery on Upper Bench Road. That winery closed after the bankruptcy of the Holman-Lang wineries in 2010. The current owner of Four Shadows appears not to want to revive a winery.

Here are notes on the current Foxtrot releases.
Foxtrot Four Shadows Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 ($46.15). Like any good Burgundy, this complex wine is structured to develop with several years of bottle age. On release, it shows a hint of butterscotch and tangerine in the aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe peach and vanilla. 91.

Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($57.90). Once again, Foxtrot has released a seductive Pinot Noir with intense flavours. The wine is made with the fruit of own-rooted Dijon Clone 115 vines planted in 1994 and 1995. Dark in hue, the wine’s aromas of black cherry and plum telegraph the richness and depth of the flavours. On the silky palate, there is black cherry, plum and cassis. The finish lingers and lingers, with notes of red fruit and spice. 94.

Foxtrot Henriccson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($49.90). This wine begins with aromas of strawberry, cherry and spice. Dark in hue, it delivers flavours of cherry and ripe raspberry, leading to a lingering finish of spicy red fruit. The wine is lighter in body than the Foxtrot Vineyard wine but also has a velvet texture. The bright acidity suggests ability to age well. 92.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Laughing Stock and friends report from fire lines

Photo: Smoke of the Testalinden Creek fire

In a recent newsletter, Laughing Stock owners David and Cynthia Enns addressed an issue on the minds of a lot of people in the 2015 vintage: will there be smoke taint on the wines?

The smoke in the southern Okanagan was especially heavy for several days, beginning August 22. Air Canada, and several other airlines, cancelled all flights to and from Penticton Airport on August 23 and 24. In the smoke, visibility was marginal, given the airport’s limited navigational aids.

This inconvenienced the travelling public. However, the Laughing Stock owners don’t think the smoke was heavy to cause taint in the wines (unlike 2003 when the Okanagan Park forest fire caused significant taint to vineyards and wines from East Kelowna vineyards).

Here is what David and Cynthia wrote:

Living in the Okanagan brings its pluses and minuses. And in a hot year like 2015, one of the biggest stressors we deal with is the threat of forest fires.

While none of our vineyard properties have been immediately affected by the raging forest fires this summer, you can see from this picture from our Perfect Hedge Vineyard in Osoyoos, that the potential of damage from the Rock Creek fire that started August 13th, was a very real threat to us when watching the mushroom cloud of smoke erupt above the vineyard.

Fortunately we and other vineyards and wineries have not had any measurable damage to date, even though our Osoyoos vineyard manager, Sukhi Dhaliwal, and family were evacuated on the Golden Mile when the Testalinden Creek fire burnt right up to within 100 metres of his house and vineyard.

However, the winemaking community is abuzz with chatter about the potential of smoke taint as a heavy haze settles into the valley from the Washington State fires south of us.  

From our experience from the fires in 2003, the vineyard has to be exposed to extensive smoke from close proximity to create smoke taint, which has fortunately not been the case for us this year.  

We wish all our winery community a safe harvest and to be forest fire free!

The photograph at the head of this column is not the one they refer to. Rather it is a photograph I took earlier that week of the Testalinden Creek fire. That fire was a threat for almost two weeks.

The most dramatic account was published by Church & State, which very nearly lost its processing facility and wine warehouse when the fire roared down the mountainside on August 14. Here it is, from a winery newsletter on August 17.

As I'm sure many of you have seen in the media the past few days, two very aggressive fires took off on Friday afternoon, adding to the tragedy of the Rock Creek fire burning to the east. 

While our tasting bar and public space is on Black Sage Bench, well away from the flames, our Production Facility, home to our cellar, bottling hall, bottled wine warehouse, and 3 residential buildings, backs up against the tinder dry scrub lands of the upper Golden Mile Bench. 

The fire was spotted at approximately 5:45 on Friday evening, and within an hour had spread dramatically, with the winds feeding it towards our Production Facility. 

Around 7:00 pm, we began evacuating the property, removing computers, winemaking records, and any small equipment we could fit in our vehicles. A full inventory and video walkthrough of the facility was conducted, and all staff left the property. At this point, flames were estimated to be between 300-500 meters from the property line. 

We observed the fire while listening to the emergency services scanner broadcast from the safety of the Coyote Bowl Tasting Bar. As darkness fell, we were able to observe one emergency light that remained on at the Production Facility. With winds hitting over 90kph, flames rapidly progressed to the south and at approximately 10:00 pm we lost sight of the emergency light, as flames and smoke enveloped the property. It was at this time we believed the property to be burning. 

After about an hour of believing the Facility to be burning, the winds shifted and died down a bit, and we regained sight of the emergency light. 

At about 1:30 am, we were able to access the property and confirmation was made that the flames had stopped approximately 10-15m from the uppermost building on the Facility property.

We are so thankful for all the hard work done by Emergency Services, and the kindness shown by our neighbours and friends who stopped by to offer help or just bring a coffee around. 

While we are safe at the Production Facility, there are still many places where the fire is still burning around the South Okanagan. Our thoughts are with everyone still battling this blaze and the many others around BC.

Thank you to everyone that has sent their support, and our supreme gratitude to all those fighting these fires - without their efforts our winery would have likely been lost. 

If you are in a mood to toast the fire fighters, here are some excellent wines from Laughing Stock.

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2014 ($22). The winemaking style aims for a fruit-forward Pinot Gris. Half of the wine was fermented in neutral French oak, 30% in stainless steel and the remaining 20% in concrete eggs. The winery has been using concrete eggs since 2011. The aroma begins with a hint of bready lees mingled with lemon and pear. The wine has a rich palate with flavours of citrus and pear and ripe apple. The finish is crisply dry. 90.

Laughing Stock Viognier 2014 ($26). This wine was fermented 40% in stainless steel, 40% in French oak, 20% in concrete eggs. The wine’s lush aromas jump from the glass, with floral aromas mingled with citrus and apricot. The wine has a full weight on the palate, with honeyed flavours of apricot and ripe apple. The finish is long with subtle hints of spice. 91.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust 2014 ($25). The blend is 50% Pinot Gris, 20% Viognier, 18% Pinot Blanc and 12% Roussanne. It begins with aromas of grapefruit and goes on to deliver mouth filling flavours of lime, apple and peach. 90.

Laughing Stock Amphora VR 2014 ($24 for 500 ml, but all 162 cases are sold out). This blend of 50% each of Viognier and Roussanne was fermented and aged on the skins in a terracotta amphora. The grapes went into the amphora and were left to ferment naturally without intervention for two and a half months. The winery says wines were made like this 1,000 years ago but probably a lot longer back in history than that. Both the Romans and the Greeks had amphorae. This unctuous white presents honeyed tangerine aromas. There are both fruity and nutty flavours. The finish is dry and the alcohol, while only 14.2%, is surprisingly obvious. The wine is cleverly packaged in a squat 500 ml bottle with a glass stopper. You won’t want to return this for the dime. 90.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust 2013 ($30).  This is 40% Merlot, 36% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. The components for this wine aged in French oak for 16 months. This is a dark wine with the glorious Malbec perfume on the nose. It has flavours of cherry and black currant mingled with white pepper and vanilla. The texture has good concentration. This wine is made from the barrels that don’t make the winery’s flagship red, Portfolio. The 2013 vintage of Portfolio must be spectacular because the leftovers are superb. 92.

Laughing Stock Syrah 2013 ($38). In the classic Rhone style, there is 4% Viognier in this wine, something winemakers do to stabilize the almost black colour and to lift the aromas. This wine has complex aromas of black cherry, blackberry, leather, rare steak and pepper. It delivers all of those flavours to a palate that is big and ripe. The tannins are generous, not hard. The finish is long, with notes of earth and spice. 93.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Seven Directions: demonstrating consistency

 Photo: Winemaker Daniel Bontorin

This is the third consecutive vintage of the Seven Directions Pinot Noir Rosé that I have reviewed.

Looking back on the notes for the 2012 and 2013, I am struck by the impressive consistency of the wines. Each of those was scored 91 points. Guess what the score is for the 2014!

It might be hard to find an Okanagan winemaker more passionate for rosé than Daniel Bontorin, a consulting winemaker whose clients include Volcanic Hills Estate Winery. His own label, Seven Directions, produces only rosé.

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

Vaïla is a Pinot Noir rosé. Daniel made three vintages at Le Vieux Pin before moving on to consulting. Subsequent winemakers at LVP have continued to make it in the same vibrant and juicy style of the original.

Daniel made the first Gamay Noir rosé for Volcanic Hills in the 2010 vintage. The wine promptly won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. Daniel continues to produce the Gamay rosé for his client. The varietal choice is determined by what is available at Volcanic Hills.

For his own rosé, Daniel likes Pinot Noir, choosing the organic Pinot Noir grown by Kalala Vineyard. “The 2007 Vaïla was from the Kalala Vineyard, so I knew the quality of the fruit,” he says.

In his notes on the current release, Daniel says: “Sourced from a single vineyard, the grapes for this 2014 Pinot Noir rosé were organically farmed in the cool climate Kalala vineyard of West Kelowna. The soil for these 20-year-old self-rooted vines consists of mostly sandy loam, alluvial deposits and small pebbles intermixed with fine clay granules. [The vines are] naturally yielding a mere 2.07 tons per acre …”

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.”

Here is a note on the current release.

Seven Directions Pinot Noir Rosé 2014 ($24.26 plus tax for 130 cases). The wine presents itself with a dark Sockeye salmon hue. It has aromas of cherries, strawberries and apples. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and grapefruit. Fermentation and four months aging in French oak has contributed good structure. The wine has a crisp, dry finish. 91. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Judgment of BC pits BC wines against the world

 Photo: Winery owner Chris Jentsch

C.C. Jentsch Cellars opened its winery just two years ago in a converted apple processing plant beside the highway south of Oliver.

Even though the tasting room is quite visible and even though the wines are widely available, I still encounter consumers who have never heard of the winery.

That may change as a result of a recent tasting called The Judgment of BC. C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013 emerged as the number one red wine in a field of 12 superb British Columbia and international Syrahs.

Take a bow, winegrower Chris Jentsch and Amber Pratt (right), Chris’s winemaker.

The Judgment of BC was a tasting that pitted six Chardonnays and six Syrahs from British Columbia against a similar number of Chardonnays and Syrahs from international wine regions. The wines were tasted blind and scored by a panel of 17 tasters, including British wine authority, Steven Spurrier.

The tasting, organized by the British Columbia Wine Institute, was modelled on Spurrier’s famous 1976 tasting, The Judgment of Paris, which put California wines in the map internationally.

The results of The Judgment of BC are unlikely to have the same shock value, for three reasons. British Columbia wines did not score a clean sweep; British Columbia does not have the market weight of California; and comparative tastings like this have become  routine.

In 1976 Spurrier was a wine merchant in Paris. He sold primarily French wines and he expected French wines to wine the tasting. When the result was announced, one of the outraged French judges demanded her ballot back. (All but two of the 11 judges were French and the scores of the others – Spurrier and an American – were not counted.)

You can understand why the French were outraged when an upstart like Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon beats a First Growth Bordeaux like Chateau Mouton.

The result launched California wines onto the world stage.

Having said that, there is always an asterisk about wine judgings. In the Wikipedia entry of The Judgment of Paris, Spurrier (left) is quoted as saying:  "The results of a blind tasting cannot be predicted and will not even be reproduced the next day by the same panel tasting the same wines."

Some judges are more consistent than others; others have good days and bad days.

While there were no wines of First Growth status up against the British Columbia wines, the competition was stiff.

Of the 12 Chardonnays, those ranking one through five all were from international wineries. Of the 12 Syrahs, British Columbia wines took places throughout the field, including number one.

My view is that British Columbia wines are now running with the pack. We can stop asking ourselves if we are world class yet. We most certainly are. Even a two-year-old winery like C.C. Jentsch can play with the big boys.

Here is how the wines were ranked.

Syrah results order

1. C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30

2. Langmeil Shiraz Orphan Bank 2012 | Barossa, South Australia | $68

3. Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 2013 | France | $66

4. Nichol Syrah 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $40

5. Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50

6. Ojai Syrah 2011 | Santa Barbara, California | $30

7. Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Sunrock Shiraz 2010 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30

8. Orofino Syrah Scout Vineyard 2012 | Similkameen Valley, BC | $29

9. J.L. Chave Selections Crozes-Hermitage Silène 2012 | France | $40

10. Tyrrell’s Shiraz Vat 9 2011 | Hunter Valley, New South Wales | $49

11. Laughing Stock Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $38

12. K Vintners Syrah The Beautiful 2012 | Walla Walla, Washington | $70

Chardonnay results order

1. Soumah Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2013 | Yarra Valley, Victoria | $27

2. Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2012 | Auckland, New Zealand | $35

3. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 | Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa | $40

4. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2012 | France | $45

5. Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières 2011 | France | $86

6. Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30

7. Tantalus Chardonnay 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $24

8. Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve 2012 | Carneros, California | $44

9. Mission Hill Chardonnay Perpetua 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50 (tie)

9. Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Rosemary’s Block 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30 (tie)

10. Meyer Family Chardonnay Micro Cuvée 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC |$65

12. Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $25

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Class of 2015: Giant Head Estate Winery

 Photo: John Glavina

Giant Head Estate Winery
4307 Gartrell Road
Summerland BC
 1 (250) 460-0749
Tasting room: 10 am - 5 pm daily May through October
Or by appointment

Setting a high bar is always a good idea when opening a new winery.

The bar was set for Giant Head’s owners, John Glavina and Jinny Lee, during a 1998 Burgundy vacation when they enjoyed several bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin from the premier cru appellation of Le Clos Saint-Jacques.

The wine made a huge impression. As they were leaving Burgundy for the south of France, John turned to his wife and said: “I have a strong feeling we are going to have a vineyard one day.”

Their Summerland winery opened this summer with a Gewürztraminer and two sparkling wines. In barrel are two solid reds, a Merlot and a Pinot Noir.

It is up to someone more expert in Burgundies that I am to decide how close that Pinot Noir is to Gevrey-Chambertin. Let me just say the wine is delicious and, when released, will be nowhere near as expensive as a premier cru Burgundy.

John was born in Montreal in 1960. His father, an immigrant from Malta, was a computer technician with Honeywell. His job involved transfers around Canada. The family ended up in Vancouver where John in 1985 earned a Simon Fraser University degree in computer science, with a minor in business.

He started his career with IBM, then spent two years with CGI Group before launching his own information technology consultancy. During the ten years that he ran that, he spent five years in Portland, Oregon. The affection he and Jinny developed for Pinot Noir flourished with tours of Willamette Valley wineries. “About that time, I got quite interested in wine,” he says.

“Jinny likes to farm,” John says of his wife, an electrical engineer whom he met at SFU. “We put an offer on a farm in 1995 before I went down to Portland, an organic farm near Pemberton. The deal fell through. It was always in the back of mind to find something for Jinny to farm.”

Finally in 2002, the couple and their two children moved to the Okanagan and bought an apple orchard near Summerland. The trees soon were removed to make way for four acres of high-density plantings. The couple built their own greenhouse to propagate the cuttings obtained from various select Okanagan vineyards.

They grow Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gewürztraminer and – for blending with the latter – about 100 vines of Riesling. Both took viticulture courses but John leaves much of the viticulture in her hands.

They began selling grapes when their vineyard came into production. However, during the winery’s long dress rehearsal, John began making Pinot Noir and Merlot for personal consumption in 2008. “It is hard to live in a vineyard and not make wine,” he says. Wines from five vintages now rest in his private cellar. Winery regulations do not permit him to sell those wines.

“Last year we decided to go for it,” he says. “The 2014 is the first vintage we will be selling.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Giant Head Blanc de Noir 2014 ($32). This is a dry sparkling wine from Pinot Noir grapes. It has a pale hue and active bubbles. The flavours are of green apples and citrus. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Giant Head Merlot Rosé 2014 ($26). This frizzanté wine evokes memories of summer picnics. Dark in hue, it is packed with flavours of cherry and raspberry. The generous texture gives it nice weight on the palate. The finish is dry. 89.

Giant Head Gewürztraminer 2014 ($24). The 15% Riesling in this blend assure that the wine has bright acidity to complement the aromas and flavours of guava, pear and lychee. The finish is dry. 88.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Pinot Noir - the celebration

 Photo: Pinot Noir pioneer Richard Stewart

One of the earliest blocks of Pinot Noir in Canada was planted in 1975 by Richard Stewart, now the elder statesman of the family that owns Quails’ Gate Estate Winery.

The winery’s literature describes that as a “research project following his [Richard’s] research into the heart-break varietal in France.”

It was a prescient choice. Quails’ Gate has become one of British Columbia’s best producers of Pinot Noir. It was one of 26 wineries at this year’s B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration. The three Pinot Noirs at its table included the 2012 Richard’s Block Pinot Noir, a wine released last year to honour his pioneering viticulture.

It would not have been made from those 1975 plantings. The Davis 1 Clone that he planted has since been replaced by better Dijon clones. Quails’ Gate grows seven or eight clones. The oldest plantings now date from 1987. The majority of its Pinot Noir plantings were put in between 2003 and 2005, as the winery set out to make this variety its flagship.

In his 2004 book, North American Pinot Noir, John Winthrop Haeger (an American writer) included five pages out of 445 on British Columbia. It indicates how far British Columbia Pinot Noir was off the radar when he was researching the book fifteen years ago.

“No one knows for sure when the first Pinot Noir was planted in the Okanagan,” he wrote. “The oldest planting I have discovered is a tiny block measuring only a fifth of an acre set out in 1975 at Quail’s Gate. … The next may have been Ian Mavety’s planting ten years later at Blue Mountain.”

Quails’ Gate and Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars deserve most of the credit for proving that great Pinot Noir can be made in the Okanagan. Another quote from Haeger’s book, which had a skeptical edge to it, shows where Pinot Noir production was 10 years ago.

“A few wineries like CedarCreek and Quails’ Gate, which have produced a few exceptional bottlings, say they have made a ‘commitment’ to pinot noir and expect it to represent a growing percentage of their total production,” Haeger wrote. “Most, however, are in the position of Mission Hill, where management is at the point of trying to decide ‘whether to get really serious’ about pinot.”

The only British Columbia winery to get a full profile in Haeger’s excellent book was Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars.

It is too bad that he has not been back to the Okanagan (to the best of my knowledge) to discover how many wineries have become serious about Pinot Noir, including Mission Hill. The winery’s Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir 2011 won a major award two years ago at a London wine competition. The rich and full-bodied 2013 vintage of that wine was, in my opinion, one of the best at the Pinot Noir celebration.

And Mission Hill has built a Martin’s Lane Winery and further consolidated is commitment to Pinot Noir by purchasing CedarCreek Estate winery two years ago.

Like Mission Hill, numerous wineries have climbed onto the Pinot Noir bandwagon. The acreage of Pinot Noir has doubled in the last decade, as is shown by the industry’s periodical vineyard censuses.

British Columbia Pinot Noir Acreage

1,073 acres
   948.7 acres
   793 acres
   599.7 acres
   568.6 acres

The suggestion that the variety is a heart-break grape comes from the title of a 1994 book by Marq De Villiers, about a California winemaker named Josh Jensen.

“Josh Jensen, the wine-besotted hero of this adventure/love story and founder of the small Calera Wine Company, set out to produce a California wine to rival the best French burgundies--an impossible quest, he was told by vintners,” according to a Publisher’s Weekly review. “De Villiers traces Jensen's apprenticeship in the vineyards of France, his frustrating search in California for the right limestone soil and climate, his acquisition of a barely accessible mountainside in the central part of the state and his dedication to his goal, which ruined his marriage.”

As that indicates, the title of the book had more to do with Jensen’s personal life than with the viticultural challenge of Pinot Noir. The variety performs quite well in most British Columbia terroirs and is no more challenging to winemakers than most varieties.

The other bit of recent Pinot Noir literature (I use the term loosely) was Rex Pickett’s 2004 book, Sideways: A Novel, which was turned into a popular movie shortly after. The story involved two characters in California who guzzled great Pinot Noir and bedded accessble women. I disliked the book so much that I skipped the movie, which was much better, according to reviews.

The movie had a spectacular impact on Pinot Noir sales. Tony Stewart, the president of Quails’ Gate, told me that, before the movie, he had trouble convincing restaurants to offer Pinot Noir by the glass. After the movie, the wine shot out of the door. That seemed to coincide with a planting spree by Quails’ Gate and other wineries. British Columbia Pinot Noir has been on a roll ever since.

The first Pinot Noir Celebration two years ago was small enough to be accommodated at Meyer Family Vineyards at Okanagan Falls. The winery’s owner, JAK Meyer, is one of the forceful promoters behind staging these events. His winery has become a leading Pinot Noir producer.

Last year, so many wineries applied to be at the event that they were chosen by a lottery. This year, when even more applied, a tasting panel of sommeliers screened the wines. Some excellent producers didn’t make the cut, which may have more to say about the judging than the wine quality.

This year’s format allotted just two hours to taste the wines, which was totally inadequate. At least three hours, if not four, should be available. I managed to taste just 26 wines, less than half of what was on offer. I never got to the tables of such notables as Blue Mountain, 50th Parallel and Tantalus Vineyards.

But what marvellous wines! All but two that I tasted scored 90 points or more. The styles vary considerably but, in general, all showed classic aromas and flavours that ranged from strawberry to cherry to spicy plum. Some were light; some were full-bodied. Almost all had the silky texture of good Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is among the most versatile of red wines. The sensuous character of the aromas, flavours and texture means that it can be enjoyed on its own more easily than bigger reds. As a food wine, it pairs especially well with salmon. My absolute favourite food pairing is a simple mushroom risotto.

I already noted the impressive Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Reserve 2013. Others that were particular standouts included Privato 2012 Pinot Noir; LaFrenz Pinot Noir Reserve 2013; Meyer Mclean Creek 2013; Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve 2012; Road 13 Castle Vineyard 2012; and Stoneboat 2012.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Two by two: whites for Noah's Ark

Photo: Blue Mountain's best Sauvignon Blanc yet

By sheer coincidence, two wineries – one an old favourite, one I had not hear of – each sent a pair of white wines from the 2014 vintage.

So I take the liberty of reviewing them together, if only to accelerate the pace of publishing reviews. Two by two, as they say of Noah's Ark.

The familiar winery is Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, which has been producing interesting wines from its Okanagan Falls vineyard since 1991.

Recently, I was suggesting to a friend that he send a California house guest and Pinot Noir fancier to Blue Mountain. He was unaware that the winery has had a public tasting room for two years now.

It shows how long it takes the word to get out. Blue Mountain has always accepted visitors who had the foresight to make appointments. Those without appointments sometimes were turned away.

Blue Mountain got the reputation of being an unfriendly winery. That was not deserved: the owners were not hostile to people; they just were far too busy to drop things whenever an unexpected car pulled into the driveway.

With additional family members now in the business, the winery’s tasting room is as friendly as any other in the Okanagan.

The winery I had not heard of is Fern Walk Vintners. The label says it is in Kelowna but don’t drive around the city in search of it. It is one of that stable of labels under Mark Anthony Fine Wine Merchants. You will have heard of the major label in the group: Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

The place to find the Fern Walk wines is in the Liquor Distribution Branch and probably in the various Mark Anthony wine stores.

There are at least 29 labels under the Mark Anthony umbrella, including such strange labels as Kindle, Screw It and Yolo. I presume it makes business sense to someone.

Fern Walk is a label no one would be embarrassed to have on the table. In fact, the packaging is quite elegant. You would expect these to be $30 wines and you will be happy to know they are not.

Here are my notes on the four wines.

Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($19). This is Blue Mountain’s  fourth of fifth vintage of this varietal and, in my view, the best so far. It begins with aromas of herbs, fresh grass and lime. On the generous palate, there are flavours of lime and lemma with a defining spine of minerality.  The wine has a crisp, vibrant finish. 91.

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2014 ($18). Few wineries take Pinot Blanc as seriously as Blue Mountain. The wine is made from 29-year-old vines and shows the depth of flavour minerality that comes with old vines. Forty percent of the wine was fermented in neutral French oak; the rest in stainless steel. The wine has aromas and flavours of apples, peaches and apricots. It is crisply dry on the finish. 91.

Fern Walk Pinot Gris 2014 ($16.99). No oak is used here; this is all about freshness and crispness. There are aromas and flavours of pears, apples and citrus, with just a hint of bready lees. The golden colour obviously results from a little skin contact which picked up flavour but also very slight hint of bitterness on the finish. 87.

Fern Walk Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($16.99). Aged seven months in stainless steel, this is a crisp and refreshing wine with aromas of herbs mingled with grapefruit. On the lively palate, there are flavours of lime and kiwi. 89.