Friday, September 23, 2016

Vanessa releases its 2013 reds

Photo: John Welson and Suki Sekhon of Vanessa Vineyard

At a recent private tasting, members of the Vanessa Vineyard wine club got their first look at the two reds comprising this new winery’s second release.

A public release is imminent. These are remarkable wines, not to be missed by those who like their reds bold and ripe. Who doesn’t?

I am including Vanessa Vineyard in a forthcoming book on British Columbia wines that, in my view, should be considered for collector wine cellars. Currently, the wines are being sold through Vanessa’s web site. There are plans to build a tasting room next year at the vineyard, just beside Highway 3 south of Cawston.

For background on the winery, here is a sneak preview of the profile in the book, which is scheduled for release next spring from TouchWood Editions of Victoria.

This 30-hectare (75-acre) Similkameen Valley vineyard was developed on exceptionally rocky raw land. To prepare it for planting in 2006, the vineyard managers brought in a rock crusher more appropriate, perhaps, to a quarry. The machine wore out two sets of teeth while pulverizing the rock. It is not surprising that the red wines from this vineyard have a spine of minerality that should contribute to their longevity.

The specifications released with the first wines outline this terroir: “The vines grow in rows of rocks, stressing the plants, absorbing the day heat and imparting that warmth during the cooler nights. This gives the grapes their unique and complex character. The west to southwest exposure on which the rocky vineyard sits benefits from the afternoon sun, which contributes to lengthening the growing season and producing low yields of intensely ripe fruit.”

Proprietors John Welson and Suki Sekhon did not necessarily have a winery in mind when they bought this property in 2005. Suki is a successful Vancouver developer, while John is a retired stockbroker who is passionate about wine. In his Vancouver business, Suki constructs buildings that are leased to clients. He thought he could develop a vineyard and then lease it to a winery. That is not the wine industry’s usual business model. Wineries need to know the quality of the grapes before committing to buying them. When the vineyard produced fruit, Suki and John began selling grapes to Andrew Peller Ltd., the owner of nearby Rocky Ridge Vineyard and also Sandhill Wines. In 2010, Howard Soon, the Sandhill winemaker, added a Vanessa Cabernet Merlot blend made with their grapes to his portfolio of single-vineyard wines.

That wine helped encourage John and Suki to open a boutique winery. “We kind of went into this initially, basically to build a vineyard, and then, as you get into it, the industry just pulls you along,” John admits. They arranged to have Howard’s colleague, Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis, make their initial vintages, beginning with 440 cases of Meritage and 186 cases of Syrah in 2012. This grew to a total of about 3,000 cases in 2014. The intent is to plateau at that level of production of premium wines while continuing to sell grapes.

Except for two acres of Viognier, the Vanessa vineyard is planted entirely to sun-loving reds: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Suki had concluded that it is one of the warmest sites in the sun-bathed Similkameen and is best suited for red varietals. He will find a cooler site if he and John decide they need white wines in their portfolio.

Old maps show that an easement for a stagecoach road from Osoyoos to Princeton ran by the property. For a time, the partners considered calling the winery Stagecoach Road or Old Stagecoach Road. In the end, they opted for Vanessa, the name of Suki’s eldest daughter.

Here are notes on the wines.

Vanessa Meritage 2013 ($36 for 625 cases). This is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc 32% and 24% Merlot. It is a bold red, beginning with aromas of vanilla and spice that reflect the 18 months the wine had in barrel. The barrel regime was complex: individual varieties were fermented in and aged eight months in barrel. Then the wine was blended and aged another 12 months in French and American oak barrels, of which 60% were new. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, black cherries, coffee and licorice. The finish is lingering, with notes of spice and cedar. 92.

Vanessa Syrah 2013 ($39 for 270 cases). This is 91% Syrah co-fermented with 9% Viognier in the classic style of the Rhone. This wine has been aged 18 months in French and American barrels, again 60% new. Powerful aromas explode from the glass: white and black pepper, gamy red fruit, chocolate and licorice. All of this is echoed on the palate, along with flavours of plum, figs, black olives and leather. 92.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

White wine specialists: Gray Monk, Township 7 and Terravista

Photo: Gray Monk Estate Winery 

Surely, the end of summer does not bring down the curtain on enjoying white wine.  I would like to recommend interesting wines from three different Okanagan producers.
The senior member of this trio is Gray Monk Estate Winery which is making its 34th vintage this year. The winery made its reputation with its white wine. While the winery now includes good reds in its portfolio, white wines still rule. No winery in the Okanagan makes as much Pinot Gris as Gray M0nk (almost 26,000 cases in 2015).

Gray Monk was one of the earliest wineries to plant Pinot Gris in the Okanagan. It may well have been the first, importing the variety fr0m a nursery in Alsace in 1976, along with Auxerrois and Gewürztraminer. Pinot Gris took a long time to catch on with consumers. The variety was only five percent of total white grape production in 1997. Today, it is the most widely planted white, well ahead of Chardonnay, and the go-to house wine for many restaurants and many consumers.

The second member of this trio is Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, which celebrated its 16th anniversary in September, 2016. Unlike family-owned Gray Monk, Township 7 has changed ownership three times. Each new owner has invested in expanding Township 7’s production and market penetration.

Township 7 operates two wineries. The original winery in Langley gives it year-round exposure to wine consumers in the Lower Mainland. The second winery, just expanded, is near Penticton, almost at the start of Naramata Road. The location guarantees steady tasting room traffic.

The third member of this trio is Terravista Vineyards. This winery, located on the upper Naramata Bench, is operated by Senka and Bob Tennant. They were one of the two couples that started Black Hills Estate Winery on Black Sage Road, south of Oliver. After Black Hills was sold in 2006, the Tennants took a few years off and then, in 2009, planted two Spanish white varieties – Albariño and Verdejo - entirely new to the Okanagan.

During the last five years, or so, these have been blended into a wine called Fandango. In the past two vintages, some of the Albariño has also been released as a single varietal white. These are exceptional wines, as is the Terravista Viognier, made from purchased grapes and now sold out.

The volumes of wines made at Terravista are never large. You need to react quickly when there is a new release. I happened to be in Scandinavia in August when these wines were released and when I would have preferred to review them. All are superb seafood wines and equally great patio wines. And these wine have each won gold medals at the Canadian Wine Awards.

Here are notes on the wines. With the exception of Terravista, prices exclude taxes.

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2015 ($15.99 for 25,946 cases). The volume of this wine is greater than the total production of most B.C. wineries. Clearly, there is no problem selling the wine because each refreshing glass tastes like you want a second glass. It begins with fruity aromas of grapefruit and peach which are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of citrus and pear. 90.

Gray Monk Gewürztraminer 2015 ($14.79 for 7,175 cases). Gray Monk also pioneered this variety in British Columbia. It begins with aromas of lychee, spice and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, pink grapefruit and peach. The wine’s 14 grams of residual sugar makes this a very consumer friendly wine, although it finishes too sweet for my palate. 88.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2015 ($19.97 for 548 cases). Consumers should pick up a few bottles of this wine if only because most of the grapes in it came from the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Harry McWatters sold it early this year and the current owners are expected to phase out selling fruit as they develop a new winery over the next few vintages  This wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple. Half of the wine was fermented in French oak and the subtle toasty oak aromas and flavours delicately frame the apple, peach and vanilla flavours. 91.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 ($17.97 for 398 cases). This is an exuberant wine brimming with pure fruit, including apples, pears and pineapple. With just three grams of residual sugar, the wine is crisply refreshing. Once again, each glass tastes like you want to have a second glass. 90.

Township 7 Riesling 2015 ($24.97 for 398 cases). The price premium says a lot about the rising profile of Riesling. This wine has laser focus of aromas and flavours, beginning with citrus aromas that lead to flavours of lime and lemon around a backbone of minerals. The racy acidity a refreshing tang. Think of a dry Mosel. 90.

Terravista Fandango 2015 ($24.90). This is a blend of Albariño and Verdejo. It begins with aromas of melon and Asian pear. The flavours are intense, with notes of apple, green plum, cantaloupe with a delicate and refreshing squeeze of lemon.  The wine’s 14% alcohol contributes to the good weight of this delicious wine. 91.

Terravista Albariño 2015 ($24.90). This is a fresh and fragrant wine, with floral and fruity aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of honeydew melon, green apple and citrus, with bracing but refreshing acidity on the finish. 91.

Terravista Viognier 2015 ($18.90). This wine begins with aromas of pears and stone fruit, leading to apricot on the rich palate. 90.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Sage reds show off great 2014 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Jason James

Several years ago, Black Sage Vineyard was spun off from Sumac Ridge Winery to become a standalone brand, beginning with wines from the 2010 vintage.

The current releases are from the 2014 vintage. In the opinion of many, that was one of the best vintages yet in the Okanagan this century.  

The notes accompanying the wines include a harvest report. “The summer of 2014 was particularly hot in the Okanagan Valley for extended periods, and stretched out into the fall with warm days and nights,” the report says.

“This seemed like perfect weather for grape growing, yet the heat did provide some challenges for our vineyard team,” the commentary continues. “Harvest was delayed for the Merlot grapes to reach peak flavour development and slightly higher alcohol levels, while varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz thrived in the heat on Black Sage bench.”

The varieties reviewed here were picked in late October, with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon. The season gave the winery the luxury of picking fully ripe grapes in early November. There is no variety that benefits from a long hang time like Cabernet Sauvignon.

The quality of these five wines, all made by winemaker Jason James, certainly solidifies Black Sage Vineyards as a standalone brand. There is enough volume of the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that the wines are available across Western Canada. The Shiraz and the Zinfandel are available at Sumac Ridge and selected private wine stores.

“This new family of wines will showcase what happens when the right vines are planted in the right location,” Constellation wrote in a brochure when the new brand was unveiled.

Black Sage Vineyard, a block of 115 acres on the east side of Black Sage Road, was planted in 1993 by Sumac Ridge partners Harry McWatters and Bob Wareham. At the time, it was the single largest planting of Bordeaux red varieties in the Okanagan. Conventional wisdom still questioned whether the vines would survive in the Okanagan.

Several years ago, after Harry retired from Sumac Ridge, the vineyard was divided. His half, then called Sundial Vineyard, was sold earlier this year. The new Chinese owner is building a new winery there.

The other half of the vineyard, along with the Black Sage name, stayed with Constellation.

In 2005 Constellation also developed a 45-acre vineyard nearby. It was originally called the Thorpe Vineyard but has since also been renamed Black Sage.

That was a fortunate viticulture decision. The original Black Sage Vineyard suffered serious damage in the 2008 and 2009 winters. The winters were hard and early. It did not help that a neighbouring vineyard had installed wind fans which shoved cold air onto slightly lower Black Sage Vineyard.

“Black Sage is extremely hot but also extremely cold in the winter,” said Troy Osbourne, the vineyard manager. “We tried to figure out whether we can fix it with earthworks, and how much would it cost, and is it going to work in the end. We realized it would not be viable. We would create one big flat area that still would be frost prone.  So the way to do it would be with wind machines.”
As a result, the vines, protected with wind machines, are productive again, season after season, growing the fruit that made the Black Sage Vineyard name legendary in Harry’s day. The Shiraz and presumably the Zinfandel in the group of new releases is from the 2005 planting.

Here are notes on the wines. All were tasted over two days and most were richer on the second day. That shows these wines have the structure to develop to a peak in about five years. Prices do not include tax.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2014 ($22.99). This wine was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% French, 35% American – of which 20% was new oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. The palate has good concentration, with flavours of plum, black cherry, black currant and blackberry. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24.99). This had the same barrel treatment as the Merlot. The wine begins with spicy, brambly aromas, leading to flavours of cherry, blackberry and raspberry with undertones of spicy oak. The texture is firm. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2014 ($20.89). This was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% American, 35% French – of which 20% was new. The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, black cherry and vanilla. The ripe flavours include plum, cherry and chocolate with a touch of spice. The finish lingers, with savoury game notes. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2014 ($23.49). This wine had a barrel treatment similar to the Shiraz. It begins with brambly aromas of red berries, cherries and red licorice, leading to flavours of plum and blackberry. Long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($24.99). The barrel treatment is similar to Merlot. This is an elegant and satisfying wine. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and spice, leading to flavours of black cherry and black currant. A hint of oak lingers on the long finish, mingled with ripe tannins. The surprise came on retasting the wine on the second day, when the tannins had developed a bitter edge, threatening to overwhelm the fruit. I would recommend enjoying this as soon as you decant it. 90.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reviewing Painted Rock's Red Icon

The British Columbia Wine Institute has facilitated at least two visits to the Okanagan by the eminent British wine writer, Steven Spurrier, a consulting editor at Decanter.

It has begun to pay off. In the August edition of Decanter Magazine, he published a list of British Columbia wines that have most impressed him. They included a pair of 2013 reds from Painted Rock Estate Winery – the Red Icon and the Syrah.

All of the wines on the Decanter list have also been reviewed favourably by Canadian writers, myself included. What Spurrier’s comments prove is that we are not just the hometown cheering section.

I detest the cliché, world class, but the fact is that there are plenty of wines in British Columbia every bit as good as those of other important wine regions. It helps to have outside verification.

Spurrier awarded 94 points to Painted Rock’s Red Ic0n 2013. Curious, I went back to my reviews of Painted Rock reds late last year. Here is what I found for Red Icon:

Painted Rock Red Icon 2013. This is a blend of 33% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 21% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with an inviting aroma of vanilla, black cherry and chocolate. On the rich and full palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, dark chocolate and coffee. On the finish, there are notes of cloves, pepper, vanilla and chocolate. The texture is elegantly polished. 94.

To stay one step ahead of Decanter, here is my review of the recently released 2014 Red Icon.
Painted Rock Red Icon 2014 ($55). This is 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec, 16% Petit Verdot and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again, it was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new), accounting for the svelte, polished texture of its long, ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currant, spice and vanilla. The palate is rich, with flavours of black cherry and black currant mingled with notes of blackberry, mocha, tobacco, vanilla and spice. The wine, if decanted, is accessible now but is built to age for 10 or 15 years. 94.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

La Frenz Winery to add a sparkling wine

Photo: Winemaker Dominic McCosker

For years, I have thought that the wines from La Frenz Winery would an excellent choice for a desert island cellar if one were limited to just one Okanagan winery.

The La Frenz portfolio is extensive and the wines have always been well made, as a review of the winery’s awards will attest. Until now, there has been one hole in the portfolio – no sparkling wine. How would one celebrate being rescued from the island?

However, Dominic McCosker, the winemaker who joined La Frenz owner Jeff Martin in 2014, delivered good news when I tasted with him this summer. “We have started doing a sparkling that will fall under the reserve portfolio,” he says.

He admits it is a challenge to develop a focus in a portfolio as extensive at that at La Frenz. “But what do we drop?” he asks. “I enjoy making them all and we believe we make them well. When you are making everything well and selling it all, it is hard. With our vineyards, we have most of the varieties covered.”

Like Jeff, Dominic, who was born in 1976, is from Australia. “Previously, I was working in agricultural labs, research labs; and travelling a lot,” he told me in an interview in 2013.  “I liked wine from an early age; my family liked wine. And I like the whole science background to it. I was working in agricultural labs and travelling on and off with my partner … backpacking in Europe. Then we decided to do one last travel and we came to visit some friends here [in the Okanagan] and decided to stay.”

He started in the Okanagan wine industry 2007, in the vineyard and cellar at Tantalus Vineyards. “Then I did some harvests at home,” he said, “and did a college course here to back up my biology degree from at home.”

In 2008, he moved to CedarCreek Estate winery to spend four years as an assistant winemaker. Then he became the winemaker at St. Hubertus Estate Winery for two vintages before moving to La Frenz on the Naramata Bench.

“I took the opportunities that I could,” he said. “The two vintages I did in Australia [2008 and 2011] were really helpful.  I worked at Harewood Estate Winery in The Great Southern region for a really good winemaker. He was just super generous with his knowledge. Then the last one I did was at Cape Mentelle.”

Clearly, it has given him the experience and the confidence to take over at La Frenz, one of the most respected wineries in the Okanagan. He has begun to bring some slight changes in the style of some of the wines (less oak in Chardonnay), but not so much as to upset the regular buyers of La Frenz wines.

“I have been working on adding a little more depth and weight to the wines since I got here,” he says. “The Syrah - we have changed from labelling it as Shiraz to Syrah, because that is the style I am doing. If the consumers see Shiraz, they think Australian Shiraz. And that’s not what we are doing. I don’t want them to be disappointed or confused about what it is. I am co-fermenting it with the Viognier and trying to get more finesse. I think it matches better with the fruit we have.”

And he says the 2014 Syrah is his favourite red from that vintage.

Here are notes on current releases. Some are sold out since I tasted with Dominic because I was in Scandinavia for most of August and reporting in tastings was delayed.  The prices do not include tax.

La Frenz Riesling 2015 ($17.30). A youthful Riesling, this should be cellared a year to let it develop. It is a wine with pristine aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with just a hint of petrol. 90.

La Frenz Viognier 2015 ($20.78 but sold out). One-third of this was fermented in a concrete egg while the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with ebullient tropical fruit aromas, leading to flavours of guava, stone fruit and citrus on the palate. The texture is rich and the finish is remarkably fresh for such a ripe wine. 92.

La Frenz Alexandria 2015 ($19.04 but sold out). This Muscat wine has a huge following among fans of off-dry white wines. The winery describes it, aptly, as “flamboyant.” It has layers of aromas and flavours – mango, peaches, lychee and rose petal spice. 91.

La Frenz Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($25.13). This wine was aged 15 months in barrel. Dominic has begun to reduce that by a few months but age it longer in bottle before release. But he is moving carefully since there is a wide following for a Chardonnay with noticeable oak. I enjoyed the toasted oak notes on the palate because they are balanced by the bold buttery flavours of guava and marmalade. 91.

La Frenz Vivant 2014 ($21.65). This is Dominic’s take on a Rhone white, with Chardonnay standing for the Marsanne that La Frenz does not grow. The wine is 52% Viognier, 38% Chardonnay and 10% Roussanne. When the varieties were pressed, the free run juice was kept separate; all was fermented very slowly in barrel (10% new) and kept on the lees for nine months, with regular stirring. The result is a wine with floral and fruity aromas, leading to flavours of guava, orange peel and cantaloupe.  The texture is rich and the finish is persistent. 92.

La Frenz Ensemblé 2014 ($21.65). This is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. The wine was fermented slowly in barrel (10% new) and aged 11 months on the lees. The model for this wine is Graves. The wine’s racy acidity brings an appealing freshness to both the aroma and the palate. There are layers of exotic tropical flavours and a long, long finish. 93.

La Frenz Pinot Noir 2014 ($19.91 but sold out). The winery grows its Pinot Noirs on a Naramata Bench vineyard called Desperation Hill, perhaps because of its steep aspect. It has proven to be an excellent vineyard, with variations in soils between the top and the bottom that deliver an array of flavours and concentration. The regular Pinot Noir has plum, cherry and strawberry on the nose and the palate. Silky in texture, the wine has a feminine delicacy. 91.

La Frenz Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 ($30.35). Four clones from the best blocks in the vineyard are in this wine, which finished its slow ferment in French oak (30% new). It was aged a total of 15 months in barrel, two months longer than the regular. The wine has more depth of flavour and concentration. The wine begins with aromas recalling flowers as well as forest floor. It delivers flavours of cherries and strawberries mingled with savoury spice. The texture is absolutely plush and the finish is very long. 94.

La Frenz Syrah 2014 ($24.26). Perhaps five percent Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah, a technique to fix the dark colour and lift the subtle note of violets in the aroma. Full-bodied, the wine has flavours of plum and black cherry, with a savoury earthiness on the palate. There is white pepper both in the aroma and in the finish; and the texture is firm. This is definitely a Rhone-style wine, not a Shiraz. 92.

La Frenz Malbec 2014 ($21.65). Dominic wonders whether this variety is suited to the Okanagan because it is difficult to get it adequately ripe in a cool year. However, 2014 was an very good Malbec year. This is a dark, concentrated red with big ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of blueberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of black cherries, plums and mocha. 91

La Frenz Grand Total Reserve 2013 ($39.04). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, a dense wine built to age for at least 10 years. (I think La Frenz, like most Okanagan wineries, is on the conservative side about how long the top blend can be cellared.) This is 58% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc. The single varieties were aged 22 months in barrel (50% new) before being blended and aged 12 months in bottle. The wine has aromas of black currant mingled with leather. The palate is big (14.7% alcohol). The layers of flavour – black currant, espresso coffee, dark chocolate – are still held tightly by the tannins. Decant for immediate consumption if you don’t have the patience to wait. 93.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Tinhorn Creek on the Golden Mile sub-appellation

Photo: Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards president Sandra Oldfield was a leader in the successful initiative to create the Golden Mile sub-appellation in 2016.

The irony is that Golden Mile might not appear on many of Tinhorn Creek’s labels because this winery also has a 100-acre vineyard, the Diamondback Vineyard, on Black Sage Road.

Two of the most recent releases, the 2Bench White and the Syrah, are made with fruit from both Tinhorn’s Golden Mile vineyard and its Diamondback Vineyard. Hence, the term 2Bench (there is also a red), since the grapes come from two benches.

The winery’s efforts on behalf of the sub-appellation may benefit its peers, however, if consumers begin looking for wines from that designation.

In its media kit, Tinhorn Creek includes some useful background on the sub-appellation.

The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard is in the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation.

The Golden Mile Bench starts at Fairview Road in Oliver and extends south to Road 13. Although this area measures longer than a mile, it was first referred to the “Golden Mile” in the mid-1940s as it gained its reputation for its rich farmland.

In the late 1910s, the area was divided into plots for soldiers to farm upon returning from World War I. An open irrigation canal (“the Ditch”) that was completed in 1929 between Vaseux Lake and Osoyoos turned the arid land into a lush area suitable for ground crops and tree fruits in the mid-1930s.
At the same time an old mine site reopened and the area enjoyed an economic boom. The reputation of this farming community combined with the area’s history of gold and silver mining led to the area’s name “Golden Mile.” The area became a highly desirable viticulture site beginning in the late 1960s when vineyards were first established here.
The Golden Mile Bench is located on a bench above the valley floor, and the elevation makes it significantly warmer than the valley floor. These features also help the vineyard escape damaging spring and fall frosts. The Tinhorn Creek vineyard site enjoys the early morning sun exposure. By late afternoon, the sun dips behind the hills, providing cool summer evenings [and] allowing grapes develop their exquisite flavours.

To the west of the vineyards lies the Thompson Plateau. The sun goes behind this ridge early in the day relative to the other side of the valley. The vineyard can be in shade as early as 17:00 in the summer months, making it a cooler, slower ripening area. The downward slope of the vineyards provides good airflow and, mainly due to water drainage, varietals ripen differently uphill versus downhill.
The soils on the Golden Mile Bench consist primarily of rocky clay loam soil, characteristic of the Golden Mile Alluvial fan. In fact, the stone archway above the winery entrance was constructed with rocks from the Gewürztraminer vineyards. These heavier soils are more difficult to plant due to the large number of rocks; but the soil holds moisture longer, so less irrigation is required.
Additionally, less fertilizer is needed due to high nutrient content and vines grow more vigorously in these conditions. As a result, the vineyard team does shoot removal and leaf thinning during the summer to keep the fruit exposed to the sun and to ensure the vine is in balance.
The previous owners planted Pinot Noir in 1989, Merlot between 1989 and 1991, and Kerner and Chardonnay in 1990. Today, there are eleven varieties of grapes planted at this site including Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Here are notes on the current releases. Note the three are Oldfield Series wines, as Tinhorn Creek designates its reserve tier.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2015 ($19.99 for 1,500 cases). This blend is 29% Chardonnay, 27% Sauvignon Blanc, 26% Viognier, 13% Sémillon and 5% Muscat. The wine’s lovely aroma of tropical fruit is immediately appealing. The nose is followed by almost honeyed flavours of passionfruit and cantaloupe. The opulence and the richness on the palate create the impression of slight sweetness even though there is almost no residual sugar, just luscious fruit flavours. The creamy texture is modified by the backbone of the Viognier. 93.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2014 ($20.49 for 9,105 cases). The varietal has long been one of Tinhorn Creek’s most popular reds. This release reflects a fine ripe vintage that produced a concentrated, full-bodied Merlot with ripe, juicy flavours of spicy black currant and black cherry. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc 2013 ($31.99 for 520 cases). Aged 18 months in barrel and one year in bottle, this has matured to a wine of elegance. It begins with spicy aromas of dried cherries and raspberries, leading to flavours of spicy red fruit with a hint of vanilla on the finish. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2013 ($31.99 for 762 cases). Remarkable effort went into the making of this sultry wine. Before the wine had completed fermentation, it was pumped into older barrels to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine was then left on its lees for 18 months to mature in barrel. Then it was bottled and aged another year before release. Consequently, the tannins are soft and polished. The wine begins with an earthy and smoky aroma mingled with rare steak and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, blackberry and licorice with a light touch of black pepper. 92.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lawrence Herder in memoriam

Photo: Lawrence Herder

Lawrence Herder, the California winemaker who helped launch many of the Similkameen Valley’s best wineries, is reported to have died on September 3 at the age of 49.

He was found unconscious during a hunting trip, but not from a gunshot wound. The coroner has not yet determined the cause of death. 

 Lawrence had been working in vineyards in Paso Robles after the closure and ultimate sale of Herder Vineyards near Keremeos.

His winemaking career in the Okanagan spanned nearly a dozen years, starting in 2002 with a two-vintage stint at the Jackson-Triggs winery and concluding with the 2013 vintage at Lang Vineyards.

During that period, he started his own Similkameen winery twice. He worked for or consulted with Road 13 Vineyards, Stoneboat Vineyards and Perseus winery in the Okanagan; with Seven Stones Winery, Orofino Vineyards, Clos du Soleil Winery and Eau Vivre Winery and Vineyard in the Similkameen. And he started planting a vineyard just east of Keremeos that, after he sold it, became Kettle Valley’s Great Northern Vineyard.

Born in 1967 in San Diego, Lawrence was 14 when he tasted his aunt’s amateur wine at his family’s dinner table. “I was so enthused with it that I went into the attic and fired up a winemaking kit we had,” he told me in 2002. He continued to make wine from both fruit and grapes. “I was quite popular as a teenager,” he laughs.

Ultimately, he enrolled at Fresno State University to learn winemaking professionally.  “Anybody can become a winemaker,” he told me. “But the advantage of having the training about chemical defects is to know what to do when something goes wrong.” 

After working briefly for other wineries, Lawrence established his own winery on a 32-acre (13-hectare) vineyard near Paso Robles in 1995. “You get your MBA on your first project,” he described the experience. Having committed so much to a large vineyard, he run out of money just as the vines were starting to produce. He managed to find a buyer and retreated to Burnaby to help his wife, Sharon, manage a family-owned printing company.

The job bored him and he was soon looking for winemaking opportunities here. When he had moved to British Columbia, his settler’s effects included most of the equipment needed to outfit a small winery. He canvassed British Columbia wine regions carefully. “I looked all over Vancouver Island,” he says. “I went so far as to write a paper comparing the Cowichan Valley to Burgundy or to Paso Robles.” His controversial conclusion: “You’re never going to grow world-class wine on the island.”

The Oliver area in the Okanagan had the right soils and climate but the cost of vineyard land with water rights deterred him. He did not want to overextend has resources again.

But the Similkameen Valley was underexploited. In 2002, he bought a small plot near Cawston and planted vines. “I am much more comfortable to start with a small piece of property and develop the winery’s business,” he said. “My objective is to show the potential of big, ripe reds.”

Herder Vineyards opened in 2004 with wines made from purchased fruit. The Cawston vineyard was ill-suited for big red varieties. The vineyard, now owned by Eau Vivre, now grows primarily Gewürztraminer.

Lawrence sold the property to Eau Vivre’s current owners in 2007, having found a far better vineyard site for big reds on Upper Bench Road. Then an orchard, this rocky terroir became the site of the relocated Herder Vineyards. The large three-storey house on the property was modified to become both a winery and a tasting room.

Here, he began to craft the powerful reds that developed a good reputation for Herder Vineyards. The flagship was a wine called Josephine, a Merlot-anchored blend first made in 2006. The last release was from the 2010 vintage.

Herder Vineyards was listed for sale in 2013 after the Herder marriage fell apart. Sharon, now his ex-wife, ran the business for several years while looking for purchasers.  Late in 2014, Corcelettes Estate Winery, which opened the year before on a small Cawston vineyard, acquired the property and relocated to the Herder winery.

Charlie Baessler, the winemaker and co-owner of Corcelettes, briefly considered rejuvenating the Josephine label but has opted instead for the continued development of Corcelettes labels already in the market. His prestige red is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Menhir.

Nevertheless, the rising profile of Similkameen Valley wines is a remarkable legacy of Lawrence Herder’s time in the valley.