Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Upper Bench releases blockbuster reds.

Photo: Gavin and Shana Miller

Judging from three new red wines, Penticton’s Upper Bench Estate Winery is being turned around brilliantly by winemaker Gavin Miller and his wife Shana, an accomplished cheesemaker.

The three reds, all from 2012, can fairly be described as blockbusters. A Zweigelt, a Pinot Noir and a Merlot, each wine is bold and packed with fruit.

The estate-grown Zweigelt has been described by another winemaker as the “best in Canada.” While I know of only two or three good Canadian Zweigelts, this really is a superior bottle.

The variety, a red which makes Austria’s best reds, was planted in this vineyard by Klaus Stadler, the German brewmaster who opened the first winery on this property in 2001 under the name, Benchland. He released one or two vintages of Zweigelt. His wine was a lean and simple red. Part of the problem was that Klaus would not hear of using oak barrels. A stainless steel brewer through and through, he feared that porous barrels simply were too susceptible to hosting harmful bacteria.

The Benchland wines had such a lukewarm reception that Klaus sold the winery in 2004 and returned to Germany. The new owner, Keith Holman, renamed the place Stonehill Winery. The wines did not improve. In 2010, Stonehill and Holman’s six other wineries slid into receivership.

Gavin Miller came along the following year. Backed by pulp and paper tycoon Wayne Nygren, he took over the winery, renaming it Upper Bench for the street it is on. Previously, Gavin had been a winemaker first at Poplar Grove and then at Painted Rock. Shana, who had learned her craft at Poplar Grove, converted part of the winery to cheesemaking.

The back label on each of the newly released reds provides the clue about why these wines are so satisfying. Gavin has provided the tonnage of grapes per acre for each wine. The tonnages range between 3 ¼ and 3 ¾ an acre. Those are yields that, especially in a fine vintage like 2012, result in wines that are generous in concentration and ripe in flavour.

And Klaus would be horrified to learn that each wine has been aged in barrel between 14 and 18 months. The fact is that serious red wines need barrel aging.

Here are notes on the wines. Consult the winery website for cheese pairings.

Upper Bench Zweigelt 2012 ($25 for 180 cases). The vines were cropped 3.27 tons an acre. The wine begins with aromas of plum, blackberry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and liquorice. (The winery’s notes also speak of Turkish Delight, pomegranate and orange peel.) A hint of black chocolate emerges on the finish of this richly-flavoured wine. 90.

Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2012 ($28 for 331 cases). The vines were cropped 3.4 tons an acre. This is a robust, earthy Pinot Noir with aromas of black cherry and spice. On the palate, there are notes of raspberry with chocolate and cherry on the finish. The tannins are smooth, if muscular, leading me to think this will benefit from three or four years of further age. 89-90.

Upper Bench Merlot 2012 ($30 for 440 cases). The vines were cropped at 3.63 tons an acre. The wine is a tour de force of aroma and flavour, with a fine concentrated texture. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, mulberry, and black currant. On the palate, there are bold flavours of black cherry, spice, vanilla and chocolate. The alcohol of 14.3% indicates that very ripe grapes were used (the grapes were picked in early November 2012.) 92.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Comox Valley’s 40 Knots Winery changes hands

 Photo: Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig. Photo by Sara Silver

The largest vineyard and winery in the Comox Valley, 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, has just been acquired by a business couple who have moved from Fort St. John.

This is the second Comox winery that has changed hands this year. Earlier, film maker James Cameron bought Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery. The two transactions represent a show of confidence in the region’s small, but growing, wine industry.

The new owners of 40 Knots, which opened its tasting room just two years ago, are Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig.
The news release from the winery says this about the new owners:
“Hailing from Fort St John, the couple were seeking to start the next chapter of their lives in Comox. Layne, who grew up on a Saskatchewan farm, wanted to put his love of the land into play, while Brenda wanted to put her business management skills toward building a successful family business, one that would ultimately involve their grown children. It was an added bonus for Layne, a pilot, that the Comox air force base is nearby. Planes can often be seen overhead adding to the force of energy that surrounds the site. The pair met founder Bill Montgomery who was pursuing retirement and quickly came to an agreement.”
Bill and Michal, his wife, had grown accustomed to planes overhead since buying this property in 1990 but it clearly is still a thrill for visitors and for those tending the nearly 40,000 vines here.

Bill (right) also was new to the wine business. Born in Prince Rupert in 1949, he had operated a towboat company in Vancouver until he sold it and moved to Comox. He operated a hobby farm for a number of years before making the plunge and planting vines.

He prepared the 18-acre vineyard on a gravel-rich plateau above the Powell River Ferry dock, burying drain tiles so that the vines would not have wet feet. The vines were planted in 2007 and 2008. About a quarter of the vineyard was Pinot Noir. The other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Merlot. The latter, the result of poor advice from a consultant, was a startling choice for this cool growing region. When Bill discovered that Merlot would not ripen, he replaced the vines – about 3,200 – with Pinot Noir and early-ripening Siegerrebe.

A grandly renovated former barn was turned into a 10,000 square foot winery, However, when the elegant tasting room opened in the summer of 2012, the Montgomerys listed the winery and its executive home for $4,900,000. Bill had perhaps bitten off more than he could chew.

“I am 63 and I wanted to know if there was a market out there,” he told me in 2012. “I have been living and breathing this place since I started it. As you are well aware, it is seven days a week. I thought we would kind of shut it down at the end of November, come back in February, early March. That’s not the way it works at all. It is 12 months of the year.”

The Craigs appear to be younger and they have lined up some help. To quote the news release:

“Brenda and Layne will maintain the name 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery. A line-up of Okanagan-grown wines is added under the name Stall Speed. The pair will be working with Summerland-based Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Matt Dumayne, who will assist with viticulture and work with Vineyard Manager, Lucas Renshaw, on the wine portfolio.
“The new Stall Speed label, depicting an illustration of the air speed indicator from Layne's plane, offer a Meritage and a Merlot Icewine.

" ‘The wines that we can craft from Comox-grown grapes are delicate, aromatic and fresh. Our reason for adding a lineup of wines from the Okanagan is to allow for some bolder reds and Icewine that we cannot achieve locally so that we can present something for everyone's taste’, noted Layne.”

The current 40 Knots portfolio includes a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, a rosé and an aromatic blend of Pinot Gris and Schönburger called Whitecaps. As well, the winery has a 2010 sparkling wine, Spindrift Brut, made with a classic cuvée of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine won a gold medal in a 2013 competition.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Charlie Baessler’s rosé does his mother-in-law proud

Photo: Corcelettes Estate Winery's Charlie Baessler

Charlie Baessler, the winemaker for family-owned Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen Valley, earned a fine store of Brownie points last year from his mother-in-law, Joann Laserich.

She owns Ladyhawke Vineyard near Keremeos. The 8.9 acres of vines, most of them planted in 2007, includes 1,900 Zweigelt vines, along with Maréchal Foch, Riesling and a little Gewürztraminer.

Last fall, Joann travelled around the Okanagan, trying to sell her Zweigelt to one or other of the handful of wineries that make wine from that Austrian red varietal. When she could find no buyer, she appealed to Charlie. He turned the grapes into an excellent rosé called Oråcle.

Now, who wouldn’t want a son-in-law like that?

Located near Cawston, Corcelettes is a recent addition to the wineries of the Similkameen Valley. It released its first wines last year and now offers four wines in its recently opened tasting room. Visiting hours are 11 am to 5 pm Thursday through Monday (and by appointment at 250.408.8825).

Here is the profile from my new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which will be released by the end of July.

Chasselas vines dominate the one-hectare (2.5-acre) vineyard at the winery, reflecting the Swiss heritage of Urs and Barbara Baessler and son Charlie, the winemaker. However, this family came to launch a winery in the Similkameen Valley by a circuitous route.

“It all started because my mom and dad on our place in Switzerland had the best blood line in Simmental cattle,” Urs says. A friendly big-boned man with a booming voice, Urs explains that his given name means bear; it fits him. Born in 1954, he was 17 when four Manitoba farmers bought six Simmental heifers from Domaine de Corcelettes, the Baessler family farm on Lake Neuchatel. Urs accompanied the heifers to Canada, stayed the summer and decided he wanted to farm here. He spent several years travelling back and forth, learning how to farm in Canada while finishing compulsory military service in Switzerland. Staked by his grandfather with a down payment, Urs and Barbara bought a grain farm near Brandon and grew their first crop in 1978.

When wheat prices collapsed in the early 1990s, they diversified with a buffalo farm in Wyoming. Urs figures he was 10 years too early. There was little market for farmed buffalo among consumers who thought he was selling an endangered species. “I said let’s quit this,” he declared in frustration. “We did not like the winters either.” He and Barbara moved to British Columbia in 2007, attracted by mountains reminding them of Switzerland, bought an organic garlic farm near Cawston and converted it to vines in 2010. “The goal always was to have some grapes,” Urs says.

The goal became feasible after son Charlie, born in 1985, completed a degree in environmental engineering at the University of Lethbridge and came to visit his parents, taking a job as a vineyard worker. “Farming chose me,” he says. In 2008, he joined Burrowing Owl Vineyards, eventually becoming one of the vineyard managers. The Baessler family decided that Charlie would be their winemaker, with Charlie learning under the tutelage of Bertus Albertyn, then Burrowing Owl’s winemaker.

The winery, with a modest target of 1,500 cases by the fourth year, debuted with 112 cases of Trivium 2012 , a white blend anchored by Chasselas, and 85 cases of Menhir 2011, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Menhir is the name for stone obelisks erected throughout Europe for ceremonial purposes by prehistoric peoples. A menhir stands on the Baessler family farm in Switzerland and Urs intends to erect a similar boulder at the winery.

Since that was written, Charlie has become the vineyard manager for nearby Clos du Soleil Winery. His wife, Jesce, has become the tasting room manager for Clos. They juggle these day jobs with helping Barbara and Urs Baessler run Corcelettes.

Corcelettes bottled 785 cases of wine for the 2013 selling season. The growth plans are measured and cautious.

“Next year, with our red production and our whites coming on, we will do closer to 1,000 cases,” Charlie says. “We don’t want to get to a place too soon where we have to do a lot of additional renovations and add-ons. We’ll probably do 1,000 to 1,200 cases for the next couple of years and then look at 1,500 cases; and evaluate the sales and see how interested people are in the wines.”

Consumers should be interested in these wines, which are well-made and reasonably priced.

Photo: Sign in Corcelettes vineyard

Here are notes on the wines.

Corcelettes Trivium 2013 ($19.90 for 365 cases). This wine is 50% Chasselas, 36% Gewürztraminer and 14% Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of spice and rose petals, leading to favours of citrus, apple and peach. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Corcelettes Gewürztraminer 2013 ($17.90 for 165 cases). This begins with classic spicy aromas. A richly textured wine, it has flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a long finish. 90.

Corcelettes  Oråcle 2013 ($17.90 for 125 cases). The red flesh of the Zweigelt grape has given this wine the pink hue of a Provence rosé. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and pomegranate, with a spicy, dry finish. 90.

Corcelettes Menhir 2012 ($24.90 for 93 cases). The wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. It begins with smoky red berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, mulberry and plum. The Syrah adds a gamey, earthy not. The long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 91.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Class of 2014: Deep Roots Winery

Photo: Deep Roots Winery owners Bryan and Debra Hardman

The Naramata Bench’s bumper crop of new wineries in 2014 (fine and counting) includes Deep Roots Winery, operated by one of the region’s pioneering farming families.

The Deep Roots tasting room, which opened last month, has some advantages. It is close to two other wineries, Van Western Vineyards and Elephant Island Orchard Wines. That sort of critical mass appeals to wine tourists. Secondly, the compact tasting room, with a second-floor deck, provides great views over vineyards and Okanagan Lake.

More important, there is a warm welcome provided by the Hardman family, who are the owners, and the other tasting room personnel. Most important, the wines are well-made and moderately priced.

Here is the profile from the new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which will be in stores by the beginning of August.

The winery’s name was prompted by the Hardman family’s four generations on the Naramata Bench. Bryan Hardman’s grandfather came here in 1919 after four years of military service, working initially with pioneer fruit grower Carl Aikins who once owned about 250 hectares (600 acres).
The Hardmans became major fruit growers as well. Bryan, who was born in 1950, once owned 20 hectares (50 acres) of apple trees. He was also an industry activist, serving as president of B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., the Okanagan’s apple marketing organization. It is famously tough to make a living with apples, even for a grower as progressive as Bryan who regularly embraced trendy new varieties like Gala and Fuji. “Behind any successful farmer around here, you will find his wife has a good job,” Bryan quips. His wife, Debra, who has a master’s in clinical psychology, manages the Ministry for Children and Families in the South Okanagan.

Bryan planted two hectares (five acres) of grapes in 1996 “just to see if I liked it.” When he did, he gradually replaced his apple trees with vines and left the apple business entirely in 2010. Now he owns eight hectares (20 acres) of vineyard and manages another four hectares (10 acres).

He began thinking about a winery after his son, Will, who was born in 1983, began working in the vineyards in 2006. That propelled Will toward winemaking. In addition to taking course at Okanagan College, Will has done crushes with wineries in New Zealand and South Africa. He also worked with Rob Van Westen where Deep Roots made its 2012 vintage, a total of 13 barrels of Merlot, Malbec and Syrah. The new Tillar Road winery was completed for the 2013 harvest when the winery added Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gamay Noir to its portfolio.

The winery launched with just over 1,000 cases of wine, most of which likely will be sold from the wine shop. The winery has the capacity to produce between 3,000 and 5,000 cases, with Bryan still selling some of his crop to CedarCreek, among other wineries. Almost all of the Deep Roots wines are estate grown. “We’re not going to release anything that we are not proud of,” Bryan promises.

Deep Roots Winery
884 Tillar Road, Site 5, Comp 20, RR1,
Naramata BC V0H 1N0.
T 250.460.2390
When to visit: daily 11 am to 5:30 pm

Here are notes on the wines.

Deep Roots Pinot Gris 2013 ($19). Slightly off-dry, this fleshy wine has aromas and flavours of peaches, apricots and spicy baked pears.  88.

Deep Roots Chardonnay 2013 ($22). Although 40% of this wine spent time in new French oak, the 60% that was matured in stainless steel ensures bright, fruit-forward flavours of peach, pear and papaya. 89.

Deep Roots Rosé 2013 ($19). Made with Merlot, this wine charms with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. A touch of residual sugar gives it a juicy texture. 88.

Deep Roots Gamay 2013 ($24). This is a lively red, with aromas and flavours of cherries. The distinctive peppery notes on the finish add complexity to this very quaffable wine. 88.

Deep Roots Merlot 2012 ($24). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry and black berry. On the palate, the vibrant flavours include black cherry, black currant and spice. 89.

Deep Roots Malbec 2012 ($28). One of the wine shop’s personnel calls this a “cowboy wine.” The characterization is not as offbeat as it seems. The wine is both robust and rustic, with boisterous aromas and flavours of black cherry, vanilla, plum and leather. 90.

Deep Roots Syrah 2012 ($34). The winery describes this as a “ripe and brooding” cool climate Syrah. It begins with aromas of blueberries, blackberries and black cherry. Those carry through to the flavour, along with notes of raspberry. The wine also shows the classic gamey flavours and the hints of pepper. 90.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Class of 2014: Mocojo Winery

Photo: Ken and Dianne Oh in the Mocojo winery

The Naramata Bench now accounts for almost a quarter of the wineries in the Okanagan.

While such a concentration of wineries must bring some problems (traffic jams, shortage of hotel rooms), a wine tourist can set himself or herself up here for a week of exceptional tasting.

Mocojo Winery, which opened this spring, can’t do anything about the traffic but it has addressed the accommodation issue: there is also a bed and breakfast here. Tasting room hours are limited; call ahead.

Here is the profile of Mocojo which appears in the soon-to-be released fifth edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

Kon Oh came to Canada from South Korea at 16 when his family moved to Alberta. It was his father’s background in agriculture that brought Kon to wine (eventually).  In Korea, his father was a leader in the 4-H movement, an international agricultural youth movement. That brought him into contact with 4-H members in Alberta. “He got a taste of western culture and lifestyle and he decided to immigrate to Canada,” Kon says.

The family settled in Lacombe. “When we were going to school, my father started a little vegetable garden and we were supplying mostly Korean stores in the city,” Kon says. “We were growing radishes and cabbages, and stuff like that, for Korean people. We started with a little greenhouse in the early 1980s.”

After a stint at retail employment, Kon picked up the family’s bent for agriculture. “The farming life started with vegetables,” he recalls. “I was not really thrilled to grow vegetables. It is a lot of work. I spent a year of research to develop the fresh-cut flower business in the greenhouse. We did that for 10 years, growing fresh-cut roses, competing with the South American cut flower industry.”

He and his wife Dianne built a successful business, even with the disadvantage of heating a greenhouse in Alberta’s winters. “We were working pretty much 24/7 cutting roses,” Kon remembers. Ready for a change in lifestyle, they closed the flower business in 2008 and bought an established vineyard near Naramata.

The number of visitors they hosted that summer led them to develop a bed and breakfast; and the enthusiasm of wine touring guests prompted the opening of a winery. “The amount of wine that was purchased by our guests, it was crazy!” Dianne says. There also was the need to add value to the vineyard’s production. “You know what the vineyard can bring in financially after five harvests,” she says. “We would like to be a little more self-sufficient.”

For winemaking, Kon has been mentored by winemaker Richard Kanazawa, a neighbour and a friend. The debut production in 2013 was 700 cases, including Maréchal Foch, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Malbec. The wines are marketed under the Mojoco label, created from the first syllables of the names of their three children. And Kon is not planning to get much bigger than 1,000 cases, leaving time for a new interest – a lieutenant in the Naramata fire department.

Here are notes on the wines.

Mocojo Gewürztraminer 2013 ($18 for 227 cases). The touch of residual sweetness will make this popular in the wine shop. The wine has aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lychee. 88.

Mocojo Viognier 2013 ($20 for 143 cases). For those who don’t care for the fat and oily style with this variety, this is the ideal wine. It is light and fresh with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and mango. The finish is crisp. 89.

Mocojo Maréchal Foch 2013 ($18 for 300 cases). This was a tank sample but the wine has since been bottled for release later in summer. It is a soft, juicy red with black cherry flavours that mingle with a fruitcake spiciness. 89.

Mocojo Malbec 2013 ($24 for 62 cases; October release). This wine begins with aromas of pepper and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry and cherry, with a light dash of pepper on the finish. 90.

Mocojo Winery
1202 Gawne Road
Naramata BC V0I 1No
T 250.496.4063
W www.mocojowines.com

Burrowing Owl and Calliope releases in 2014

Photo: Burrowing Owl's Tom DiBello

Among the new releases from Burrowing Owl Winery, the 2013 wines draw a little extra attention.

That was the first Burrowing Owl vintage for Tom DiBello, the University of California-trained vintner who spent 10 years at CedarCreek before leaving in 2010 to consult and to develop his own label.

Consulting went on the backburner in 2013 when he was offered the cellar at Burrowing Owl, one of the south Okanagan’s most iconic wineries.

It must have been a comfortable fit. A solid California winemaking style has been stamped on Burrowing Owl from its first vintage in 1997. Consulting winemaker Bill Dyer, who had been the winemaker at Sterling Vineyards, was hired and the first seven vintages were made under his direction.

He was followed by a succession of winemakers including Steve Wyse, Scott Stefishen, Jeff Del Nin and, most recently, Bertus Albertyn. While Steve was mentored by Bill Dyer, Scott and Jeff both trained in Australia. Bertus is a graduate of South Africa’s top wine school.

Throughout all those changes, the Burrowing Owl house style remained remarkably consistent. In part, that is because the vineyard sources have been consistent and have been farmed very well by Burrowing Owl. However, the Dyer style still seems clear, especially in the winery’s ripe and full-bodied reds.

The winery has yet to release any of the reds made by Tom in 2013. Judging from the whites, however, there are no major departures in style that was not dictated by the vintage.  And the 2013 vintage generally was a good one. Undoubtedly, the wines were tweaked by Tom. Good winemakers never rest on the laurels of their predecessors.

While that was Tom’s first year working with Burrowing Owl fruit, he is quite familiar with the south Okanagan terroir. He made some of CedarCreek’s big reds from that winery’s vineyard just north of Osoyoos. If memory serves, CedarCreek also had a vineyard southeast of Osoyoos, as does Burrowing Owl.

The new terroir for Tom probably is the Similkameen. Chris Wyse, Burrowing Owl’s president, has a vineyard near Keremeos. The fruit for those vines support production for Calliope Wines, a winery that the Wyse family launched several years ago. The new Calliope releases include three delicious whites from the 2013 vintage.

Here are notes on current releases.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($13.90). This is made with Similkameen fruit. Refreshing crisp and tangy, the wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with herbal notes on the finish. 90.

Calliope Viognier 2013 ($15.99).  This is also made with Similkameen fruit. The wine begins with aromas of apricot, peach and pineapple; it delivers flavours of apricot, cantaloupe and citrus. There is a touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.

Calliope Figure 8 White 2013 ($15.99). This is quite a complex wine at a budget price. It is a blend of 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 21% Viognier, 15% Chardonnay and 12% Riesling. The Chardonnay was fermented in oak barrels while the Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in oak puncheons. The other varietals were fermented cool in stainless steel. The individual wines were blended four months after vintage and bottle-aged another two months before release. The wine is vibrantly fresh with aromas of grapefruit, melon and grass. It delivers flavours of lime, peach and apples, with a backbone of minerals and a dry finish. 90.

Calliope Rosé 2012 ($13.90). This is 70% Syrah, 30% Viognier. It has aromas of raspberry and spice, with flavours recalling raspberry jam. 89.

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2012 ($15.99). This is 54% Merlot, 34% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the fruit in this exceptional vintage came from Burrowing Owl’s Oliver and Osoyoos vineyards. The wine is generous in texture, with aromas of plums, cherries and spice herbs. It delivers flavours of black currant, blueberry, cherry and vanilla with notes of pepper on the finish. 90.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This wine begins with aromas of Asian pears, apples and nectarines, leading to flavours of pear and grapefruit with notes of herbs and spice on the dry but refreshing finish. Most of this wine was cool-fermented in stainless steel but a small portion was barrel-fermented, adding texture and spice. 90.

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011 ($25). This wine was barrel-fermented (mostly French oak) and was left on the lees in barrel for nine months. The lees were stirred every two weeks to promote the wine’s texture. The oak provides a subtle and elegant frame around the citrus aromas and flavours of papaya, nectarine and grapefruit. 91.

Burrowing Owl Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22). A new wine in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, this is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sémillon. Sixty percent of the wine was barrel-fermented and a portion was aged in a remarkably complicated selection of new (7%) and older French oak, along with some American and Hungarian oak. Here, the winemaker was giving himself a rich palate for blending the final wine. The wine is luscious with tropical fruit aromas and flavours – lemon, guava and gooseberry. The creamy texture is balanced against bright acidity. The finish just doesn’t stop. 92.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010 ($30). A wine has the juicy and generous style that is the hallmark of Burrowing Owl. Savoury on the nose, it has aromas of black cherry, plum and blackberry. The wine delivers flavours of those fruits and berries, along with notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. 91.

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2011 ($30 and available only at the winery). This wine also is new in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, made with fruit from the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. The wine begins with aromas of violets, spice and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and mulberry mingled with notes of spice and black pepper. Even though the wine has been aged in oak for 20 months (only a third new), the texture is still firm. It will age well. 90-91. 

Burrowing Owl Athene 2011 ($38). This wine was born several years ago when Burrowing Owl had to top up a half-filled tank of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah. The wine was a big hit. Now the grapes – 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon – are co-fermented and aged 18 months in barrel. This is a ripe and juicy wine; while 2011 was a cool year, the grapes were not picked until November 7. To steal another winery’s quote, this is the steel fist (Cabernet) in the velvet glove (Syrah). There are aromas of pepper and black cherry, leading to flavours of  blackberry, blueberry and cassis. There is a touch white pepper on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011 ($33). These grapes were also picked late in the season, resulting in a big ripe wine with 14% alcohol. It has black cherry and vanilla aromas with black pepper. On the palate, it shows the variety’s classic gamey, leathery flavours that recall the meat counter of a deli. The texture is rich and generous. The touch of pepper on the finish wraps up a delicious wine. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2011 ($33). The winery was an early proponent of this variety, which is now being embraced by many other producers. The appeal lies in the brambly aromas and flavours – raspberry, blackberry – with touches of pepper and tobacco on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($35). Aged entirely in French oak (30% new), this elegant wine begins with aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, coffee and cola. The texture is firm; this is clearly a wine for cellaring at least five more years. 91.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2009 ($30 for 500 ml). This wine, almost sold out, is now available only at the winery. The winery bottled some in half-litre bottles, thinking that size would be more appealing to restaurants and other consumers than the usual 750 ml size. The winery skipped bottling that size for 2010 and 2011 but have bottled some 2012 in the smaller bottle. The 2009 Meritage is a terrific red from a great vintage. This is 38% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, it begins with a dramatic aroma of black cherry and cassis. Fruit flavours fill the mouth with grace notes of coffee and cocoa on the finish. 95.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Class of 2014: Lusitano Estate Winery

Photo: Fernanda and Fred Ganhao (courtesy Lusitano)

This recently-opened winery is the newest addition to the burgeoning group of Okanagan Falls wineries.

This is the profile appearing in the new edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. The book will be available in late July.

To name their winery, Fred and Fernanda Ganhao simply dipped into their Portuguese heritage. Lusitano derives from Lusitiania, the name applied by the Romans to indigenous peoples in central Portugal. While they are only a small percentage of Portugal’s modern population, the name occasionally is applied to expatriate Portuguese. It is better known today as the name of Lusitano horses, a breed of beautiful show horses.

Fred and Fernanda both were born in central Portugal. He came to Canada in 1966, when he was eleven, when his parents joined relatives who already lived in Osoyoos. Fernanda immigrated in 1978 to marry Fred. In the same year, they bought an orchard near Vaseux Lake, north of Oliver, and operated it for 25 years before selling it. Several times during that period, Fred suggested switching to growing grapes but his cautious wife talked him out of it.

“We sold the orchard in 2003 and we were semi-retired for three years,” Fernanda says. However, retirement was not appealing after a life full of activity and they looked for ways to re-engage with agriculture. In 2006 they bought a rural Okanagan Falls property that enchanted them. “When you come up the driveway, it feels like you are closer to the sky,” she says. “You have a beautiful view of the valley.”

The property included a meadow where the previous owner kept horses. Most of it was covered by pine trees. Fred proposed replacing the trees with vines and this time Fernanda agreed. In the spring of 2007, they planted close to 25,000 vines in a 5.5-hectare (13.5-acre) vineyard. The major varieties here are Pinot Gris, Merlot and Pinot Noir, with smaller blocks on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and – on a sunbathed south-facing slope – Cabernet Sauvignon.

After several years of selling their grapes, they retained consulting winemaker Philip Soo to make their debut 1,200 cases in the 2013 vintage. They continue to sell about half of their crop while easing their wines into the market. “We did not want to go too far ahead of ourselves,” says Fernanda, who has not lost all her caution.

She looks forward to selling wines from the Lusitano tasting room. “When we had the farm, we had a fruit stand,” she says. “I enjoyed being out there, meeting new people every day. When you have good products, you can see the smile on peoples’ faces.”

A recent visit to the tasting room confirmed that Fernanda runs a welcoming wineshop and that visitors have reason to smile.

Here are notes on the wines.

Lusitano Chic 2013 ($18). This is the name given to the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc. The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas, delivering flavours of limes and tropical fruits. The finish is crisp and tangy. 88.

Lusitano Rolling Hills Chardonnay 2013 ($17). This is an unoaked Chardonnay, in part because Fernanda is not a great fan of oaked white wines. This wine has citrus aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and white peach. It is crisp and refreshing. 88.

Lusitano Luscious Rosé 2013 ($17). Made from Pinot Noir, this juicy rosé has aromas and flavours of strawberry. A charming wine with a slight touch of residual sweetness, it has a silky finish. 88.

Lusitano Marco’s Pinot Noir 2013 ($19). This is great value – a full and silky textured Pinot Noir with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry and an intriguing note of cloves on the finish. 89-90.

Lusitano Prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($18). This wine is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot. It has had seven months in oak but it would have benefitted from more time in barrel and bottle. The wine is too young to rate but will be satisfying with at least six more months of bottle age.

Lusitano Estate Winery
2318 Rolling Hills Road
Okanagan Falls BC V0H 1R2
T  250.497.7055
Open daily 9:30 am – 6 pm May to October