Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cowichan Valley celebrates its food and wine

Photo: Vineyard at Averill Creek with bird netting

It takes a few years for a wine festival to establish itself.

The Okanagan Wine Festival was a modest affair for about a decade after being created in 1982. Now it consists of four festivals a year, culminating in the 10-day-long fall festival that ends each year on Thanksgiving. It draws thousands of wine tourists and tasters to the Okanagan each year.

The Cowichan Valley Wine & Culinary Festival has just completed its seventh festival. Also quite modest when it began, it has started to attract crowds to the wineries of the Cowichan Valley. The festival still has untapped potential for development but a good start has been made.

The festival idea also has been picked up elsewhere. This weekend, there is an inaugural food and wine festival on Salt Spring Island, even though the island has only three wineries. However, they all have good wine and the island has many culinary treasures.

In the Cowichan Valley, this year’s festival included launch of a number of wines and the opening of Unsworth Vineyards, the valley’s newest winery. It is located at 2915 Cameron-Taggart Road, Mill Bay.

Photo: Tim Turyk

The winery has been launched by Tim and Colleen Turyk, who were first attracted to the region because they have had a summer home in nearby Shawnigan Lake and their son, Christopher, worked for a time in Amusé Restaurant in that community. That fired an interest in both food and wine to the point of developing the winery and persuading the restaurant to relocate to the winery property.

Born in Victoria in 1951, Tim started a career in fishing through a summer job in a Prince Rupert packing house while he was completing an economics degree at the University of British Columbia. In 1972, Tim bought a boat and spent the next four years as a commercial fisherman. His partner was Colleen, whose father was in the fishing business as well. In 1978, with his father-in-law, he founded Bella Coola Fisheries, based in Delta, now the fourth largest fish packer on the coast. Now he is easing into a new lifestyle.

Unsworth Vineyards is on a 13-hectare (32-acre) farm not far from Shawnigan Lake and within sight of the Merridale Estate Cidery. A previous owner had planted about a hectare of Maréchal Foch in 2006 but sold the property to Tim just as the vines were producing a first crop. There is a substantial area of new plantings there as Tim and Daniel Cosman, the winemaker, ramp up the business.

Unsworth (it is an old family name) opened with two wines. The Pinot Gris 2010 is fresh and crisp, with aromas and flavours of citrus (88 points). Symphony 2009 is a blended red, equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Libre. Deep in colour, the wine begins with the dusty, smoky aroma typical of Cabernet Libre. On the palate, the rich, sweet berry flavours of Merlot take over (88).

Tasting room guests were also given samples of Ovation, the winery’s port-style wine. That wine is not ready to be released yet, as Tim acknowledged, because it needs time in barrel and bottle for the fruit and the spirits to knit.

Photo: Andy Johnston and his wine releases

Averill Creek’s Andy Johnston also used the occasion of the festival to release new vintages, beginning with the Averill Creek Pinot Gris 2009. The wine, which is barrel fermented, begins with spicy aromas and offers a rich palate packed with fruit flavours – pear, peach and apricot. The winery has released 1,200 cases at $20 a bottle (90 points).

Averill Creek Foch Cabernet Reserve 2009 ($39.99) is a dark, swaggering blend of 65% Maréchal Foch and 35% Cabernet Foch (the latter, like Cabernet Libre, is a Blattner hybrid). The wine has ripe flavours of figs and black cherries, with a rustic undertone of olives and even earth. It is rich and round on the palate and altogether satisfying (90).

Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2009 ($26 for 1,300 cases). This variety is the flagship at Averill Creek and this wine is from a good recent island vintage. The wine has vibrant fruit, with notes of strawberry and cherry and with the classic Pinot Noir texture (89).

Averill Creek Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60 for 200 cases). This wine was made from grapes that were allowed to hang on the vines an extra two weeks because the fermenter was already full. It was a really fortunate accident. This dark wine begins with an appealing aroma of spice and cherry. On the palate, it is rich in texture, with flavours of black cherry and mocha and with spice on the long finish (92).

Photo: Xavier Bonilla

At Cherry Point Estate Wines, owners Xavier and Maria Bonilla started guests to a winery dinner with glasses of Cherry Point Ortega-Siegerrebe 2010 (88 points), a blend that combines the fruity flavours of the Ortega with the elevated aromatics of the Siegerrebe.

At that time, the winery released its latest take on Cherry Point Bête Noir, a label created four or five years ago for a big, full-bodied wine made with the Agria grape. The current release is quite a different interpretation, being a blend of 2007 Pinot Noir, 2009 Agria and 2009 Castel. Xavier says the wine reminds him of a Rioja red with its earthy berry and oaky aromas and its mature flavours.

Photo: Jeff MacLeod

At 22 Oaks Winery near Duncan, Jeff MacLeod also had new releases. The 22 Oaks Pinot Gris 2010 is made in a style that reminded me of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. By leaving the juice on the skins for two days, Jeff extracted vivid aromas and flavours of lime and lemon. The bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing finish (89).

He also had a blend called 22 Oaks Drink You Pretty 2010. It is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. It is a wine with citrus flavours and a texture of minerality to give it a firm structure (88).

Photo: Roger Dosman

Alderlea Vineyards rarely opens its tasting room. However, Roger and Nancy Dosman opened the doors to the benefit of festival wine tourists. The releases included Alderlea Pinot Gris 2010 ($21), a lovely wine with notes of grapefruit and peaches and with a bright and crisp finish (89).

Alderlea Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 ($35) has the fullness of a maturing wine on the palate, with flavours of cherry and spice (90)

Alderlea Clarinet ($26) is the winery’s first-rate Maréchal Foch, a big, juicy red with flavours of cherry and plum, and with the touch of smokiness on the nose and finish that this variety sometimes gives (89).

Photo: Brock Windsor sabering a bottle of bubbly

The numerous dinners around the Cowichan Valley during the festival also showcase the region’s wines. I was fortunate to be at the Stone Soup Inn near Lake Cowichan where chef Brock Windsor paired five wines with exceptional food. In the few years that Brock has had this restaurant (and B&B) open, his food has been acclaimed across the country.

He built his dinner around five excellent island wines. Venturi-Schulze Brut Naturel 2008, which accompanied a salad, is as fine as Champagne. (Why do we not see more island sparkling wines?). Brock added to the appeal by sabering four bottles for his guests.

A chanterelle and corn soup was paid with Rocky Creek Ortega 2010. The Ortega grapes is one of the most reliable varieties for the island. Rocky Creek captures its citrus and melon flavours in its dry version.

Smoked salmon was paired with Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2008. This winery is recognized by its peers for producing an elegant Pinot Gris, with a fine core of sweet fruit on the palate and a dry finish.

Tenderloin of beef was paired with Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2008. This vintage is a little fuller than the 2009, at this stage in its evolution.

Poached pear was put beside Alderlea Hearth 2005, a very satisfying Port-style wine.

I did not score the wines during dinner (how geeky do you think I am?) but there is nothing there under 90. Ditto for the cuisine.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Icon wine releases from four producers

Even in a time of economic uncertainty, some British Columbia wineries continue to produce icon wines – that is, wines selling for around $50 a bottle (or more) and rated at 90 points or more.

The fact is that there is always a demand for these wines from collectors and from those who need something great for a special occasion. No one would cellar Two Buck Chuck (even if it were available in Canada) or consider it more than an honest wine with burgers.

So if you collect wines or have a special event coming up, here are new releases to consider from boutique producers Foxtrot Vineyards, LaStella, Le Vieux Pin and Seven Stones Winery.

George and Vivianne Hanson, the owners of Seven Stones in the Similkameen Valley, might not think of themselves as boutique producers because most of their wines are made in good volume and sell at less than icon prices (good value?).

However, for several years now, the winery has been releasing about 100 cases of a super-premium Bordeaux blend immodestly called The Legend. The new release is due in a few weeks.

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Seven Stones The Legend 2009 ($45), a selection from the winery’s best barrels, is a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc. The wine begins dramatically in the glass with aromas of red fruit, vanilla and chocolate. On the palate, this is a muscular wine with long ripe tannins and with a very complex array of flavours: currants, plums, coffee and cedar. The wine finishes with flavours reminiscent of spice cake. 91.

Foxtrot Vineyards has an established reputation as a leading Pinot Noir producer. In recent vintages, it has begun to release equally fine Chardonnay wines.

Foxtrot Chardonnay 2010 ($45) is a textbook example of how to make good Chardonnay where the fruit glows within a subtle frame of oak – and not the other way round. This begins with appealing aromas of tangerines. On the palate, there are layers of citrus and tropical fruit flavours, lifted by the wine’s refreshing acidity. The finish is long and elegant, with a delicate note of cloves. 92.

Le Vieux Pin and LaStella are sister wineries in the south Okanagan, both producing a number of icon wines, generally from single vineyards and in very small volumes. The release of these wines begins with the fall equinox later this month. Collectors will need to move quickly to get some.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Cabernet Franc 2008 ($120 for a production of 25 cases). This is one barrel of wine from a single row in the winery’s Feuille D’Or vineyard south of Oliver, cropped very low and aged 22 months in new French oak. The berries were destemmed entirely by hand before fermentation, a treatment some would think over the top but effective in making a top wine. The result is a wine with 15.1% alcohol and with the power of Amarone. It begins with a dramatic aroma of figs, black currants, liquorice and spice. On the big rich palate, there are flavours of blackberries, prosciutto, leather, cedar, finishing with layers of red fruit. 93.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Merlot 2008 ($70 for a production of 120 cases). These grapes are also from the Feuille D’Or vineyard. (This was the vineyard that was partially destroyed last year in the landslide.) The wine was aged 21 months in French oak, 60% of it new. This wine has a chewy, concentrated texture, with aromas of lingonberries and flavours of black currants and blackberries. 92.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2008 ($70 for a production of 70 cases). This is a remarkably charming wine, considering it comes from three year old vines. One wonders what this Golden Mile vineyard will deliver at 10 or 20 years. The wine has a fresh, inviting aroma of red fruit, with flavours of cherry, red liquorice and with a hint of pepper. The youthfulness of the vines likely accounts for the vibrant freshness of the wine. 91.

LaStella Allegretto 2008 ($45 for a production of 188 cases). The winery is also releasing 30 cases of half bottles, aimed at restaurants. This is a Merlot from grapes grown near Osoyoos. The wine begins with jammy blueberry aromas and has flavours of plums, black currants; with sage notes on the finish. 90.

LaStella Maestoso 2008 ($90 for a production of about 150 cases). This is another Merlot, a big, hedonistic wine with dramatic aromas of blueberries and sweet red fruit. On the palate, the wine is hugely rich, with every-changing flavours of spice, game meats, sage and blueberry. This is a wine that almost struts its personality. 95.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gray Monk releases its first Meritage

Photo: Gray Monk Estate Winery

I don’t recall who said that the first duty of wine is to be red but it certainly was not George and Trudy Heiss, the founders of Gray Monk Estate Winery.

The winery opened in 1982 as a producer, almost exclusively, of white wines, only edging into red wines in the 1990s to respond to a rising demand for reds.

The winery continues to make white wines, and very good ones, as well as sparkling wines. But this year, the winery has staked out a serious presence as a red wine producer with a quartet of reds under its premium Odyssey label, including the winery’s first Meritage.

As I discovered at a recent tasting in the winery, these are impressive wines.

One of the original estate wineries, Gray Monk’s early focus on white wines reflected the white varietals that the Heiss family planted in their Okanagan Centre vineyard. They sent their son, George Jr., to wine school in Germany to learn how to make wine from those varietals.

He learned well. In the 1980s Gray Monk wines consistently won awards at Okanagan wine competitions. The popularity of those wines laid the foundation for the success that Gray Monk is today, with a production of 60,000 to 80,000 cases a year, depending on the harvest.

The whites have remained popular because of their appealing, fruit-forward style, the result of fermenting the wines cool in stainless steel tanks and then getting them into bottle quickly to preserve the freshness.

George Sr. was not a great fan of oak initially. He sometimes cracked that if people wanted oak in wine, they could always chew on a 2X4.

How times have changed! Today, there are about 400 barrels in the Gray Monk cellar. The winery first learned to deal with barrels by employing Christine Leroux, a Bordeaux-trained consulting winemaker. Then in 2005, the winery added winemaker Roger Wong to its team, both for his expertise with sparkling wines and his experience with barrels.

The addition of red wines to the portfolio required Gray Monk to contract growers, primarily in the South Okanagan, who have the reds the winery needs. Several of excellent 2009 Bordeaux reds are made with grapes grown in Harry McWatters’s Black Sage Vineyard.

As well, Gray Monk recently purchased an Osoyoos orchard, converting the 15 acres into what the winery calls its Paydirt Vineyard. The vineyard, which began producting grapes last fall, is planted primarily to the red Bordeaux varieties.

The real first duty of wine – wine, red or sparkling – is to taste good. Gray Monk is doing its duty.

Here are notes on the wines.

Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois 2010 ($16.99). This Alsace variety is one of the varieties that the Heiss family imported from France. While a number of other wineries grow it, or did grow it, the variety has not developed a significant following even though the wines are attractive. Perhaps consumers have difficulty with the pronunciation: I actually had a server in a good Okanagan restaurant ask me recently how to say it. It is ox-er-wah. What really matters is what is in the glass. This wine begins with clean, fresh aromas of herbs and apricots. On the palate, there are flavours of melon and apricots, with an herbal spice on the dry finish. 88.

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2010 ($16.99). This was another variety that Gray Monk imported from Alsace. The consumers have fallen in love with Pinot Gris, now the most widely planted white in British Columbia. This wine is the classic Gray Monk style: it has a slight bronze hue from the skin contact and flavours of pink grapefruit and citrus. The texture is appealingly juicy. 88.

Gray Monk Ehrenfelser 2010 ($17.99). This wine has aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots, with a core of sweet fruit and raisins on the middle of the palate and a juicy texture, with a hint of residual sweetness. The finish lingers. 89.

Gray Monk Kerner 2010 ($17.99). This delicious wine, which also has a slight hint of residual sugar, is juicy on the palate, with tropical flavours of mango and citrus and with tropical fruit aromas. 90.

Gray Monk Chardonnay Unwooded 2010 ($16.99). This luscious wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, peaches and melons, with a finish that is crisp and fresh. 89.

Gray Monk Rotberger 2010 ($15.99). This is a Gray Monk exclusive, a wine made from a true rosé grape grown only by this winery. It has lovely aromas and flavours of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry. The flavours are plumped with 15 grams of residual sugar but nicely balanced with acidity to achieve a refreshing and almost dry finish. 90.

Gray Monk Estate Merlot 2009 ($17.99). It would be hard to find a better Merlot in this price range. The wine has aromas of lingonberry and blueberry and delivers big plush berry flavours to the palate. It is a satisfying red. 89-90.

Gray Monk Odyssey Pinot Noir 2009 ($26.99). This is a single vineyard wine, made from grapes grown by Bill Collings in his Sumac Slope Vineyard at Okanagan Falls. Deep in colour for a Pinot Noir, the wine has aromas and flavours that made me think of spice cake with black cherries. The texture is still a touch firm, suggesting the wine will benefit with a year or two in the cellar. 89.

Gray Monk Odyssey Merlot 2009 ($23.99). This robust, concentrated wine is rich and tasty, with aromas of blueberries and nutmeg and with flavours of plums and figs, with a hint of chocolate. 91.

Gray Monk Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($N.A.). Here is something new for Gray Monk; and not yet released. The wine has a dense, chewy texture with cassis and vanilla aromas and with flavours of black currant, figs and olives. The wine is still firm, with a potential to age well for five years at least. 91.

Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2009 ($34.99). This is a blend of about 56%, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. I know it does quite add up but the winemaker was working from memory. It is a rich, generous wine with aromas of black currants, chocolate and vanilla and flavours of dark plum, figs and chocolate. The finish is long with earthy and smoky notes. This is another wine with aging potential. 92.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seven Stones and Friends: Random tastings

Photo: Gewurztraminer grapes at vintage time

From time to time, tasting notes accumulate or so not necessarily support a narrative.

But that is no reason for sitting on notes of good wines. Indeed, as the notes below show, a few are made in small enough volume that they are sold out at the winery. You might get lucky at your favourite wine shop.

Here is a romp through some wines I have enjoyed this summer.

Domaine de Chaberton Canoe Cove Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($20.25). Here is a Cab from a solid vintage that is drinking well now. It begins with vanilla, spice and plum on the nose and in the finish, with a tasty scoop of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Council’s Punch Bowl 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (restaurants only). Think of Graves. This dry, even flinty, white has aromas of herbs and peach and flavours of citrus and sage, with a spine of minerals. 87.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Birch Bark Canoe Pinot Blanc 2010 ($12.99). This wine has appealing aromas of apples, with flavours of apples and citrus. The clean, refreshing finish is lingering. 89.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Ogopogo’s Lair Pinot Grigio 2010 ($12.99). This has a pleasant fruity aroma and flavours of peach, apple and citrus, with a delicate fruity finish. 88.

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Larch Tree Hill Riesling 2010 ($12.99). This wine begins with appealing citrus aromas and delivers juicy flavours of peach and lime. It relies on a little too much residual sugar to plump up the texture and lift the flavours but a lot of consumers like their Rieslings this way. 87.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2009 ($29). This winery has two blends, a red and a white, that are released as Blind Trust. The components of the blends, which change each year, are hidden under the capsule. The idea is to challenge consumers to guess before peaking. This red is 70% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec. It is a delicious, voluptuous red, tasting of blackberry, black currant and lingonberry, with soft, ripe tannins. 90.

Laughing Stock Syrah 2009 ($34). The 14.8% alcohol on the label signals that this wine, from a ripe year, will be muscular. However, there is so much intense fruit that the alcohol is nicely in balance. It begins dramatically with aromas of black cherry, lingonberry, mocha and vanilla. The chewy, earthy palate has flavours of plum and cherry, with a good grippy structure around the scoops of sweet fruit. 90.

Laughing Stock Rosé 2010 ($N.A.). Here is a fine dry rosé for summer, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cranberry. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 88.

Osoyoos Larose Pétales d’Osoyoos 2007 ($25). This is the “second” label of Osoyoos Larose, echoing a Bordeaux tradition to making a more accessible second wine either from the fruit of young wines or from the barrels that are left over when the premium blend has been put together. These are not inferior wines and usually are good value. This is a juicy and elegant red, with aromas of red currant and cherry and vanilla and with flavours of red berries. There is a hint of cedar and oak tannin on the finish. 89.

Road 13 Rockpile 2009($24.99). This is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is big and bold, with aromas of plum, blackberry, black currant, vanilla and chocolate, all of which the wine delivers to the palate. The texture is concentrated, even muscular, but ripe and the finish is long. 90.

Seven Stones Speaking Rock Syrah 2008 ($ Sold out). This is a satisfying, chewy red, beginning with aromas of meat and cherries. On the palate, there are layers of flavour – plum, black cherry, chocolate. It finishes with hints of spice and pepper. 91.

Seven Stones Standing Rock Meritage 2008 ($31.99). This is a blend of 58% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine begins with appealing aromas of raspberries, blackberries, olives and vanilla. The generous flavours include blackberry, plum, mocha, coffee and vanilla, with a long finish of spicy berry flavours. 91

Seven Stones Row 128 Merlot 2009 ($24.99). This is a vivacious Merlot, beginning with the striking berry aromas, supported by vanilla and mocha from the 17 months barrel-aging. On the palate, the wine shows a concentrated texture, with flavours of blackberries, blueberries and plums. 91.

Seven Stones Cabernet Franc 2009 ($28). This is a lively, brambly red, a swashbuckling expression of the variety. There are aromas and flavours of blackberries, currants, cherries and red plums, with an earthy edge to the long finish. 89.

Seven Stones Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($N.A.). Here is an exceptional Similkameen Cabernet Sauvignon, with a hint of mint and layers of sweet fruit – blackberry, plum, mocha, black cherry. The wine has long ripe but firm tannins and will cellar very well for seven to 10 years. 91.

Sperling Vineyards Pinot Gris 2010 ($19 for a production of 261 cases). This is crisp and dry, with flavours of melon and apples. It has what the winery calls "grip" on the palate, along with a backbone of minerals. This is a food wine if ever there is one. 90.

Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2010 ($24 for a production of 224 cases). Old vines make a difference. This wine is made from 25-year-old vines and that accounts for its rich texture and its rich flavours. There is spice, lychee, event a hint of peach, with a good dry finish. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($19.99). The winery’s notes on this wine trumpet that it does not have “any of the usual overbearing personality issues of some Sauvignon Blanc wines.” I would agree, even if I prefer a Sauvignon Blanc that swaggers. This wine has delicate herbal and peach aromas and flavours of peach and citrus. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine has residual sugar (it has hardly any). This is an eminently quaffable wine even if it could do with a bit of personality. 88.

Stag’s Hollow Con-Fusion 2009 ($17.99). This is 63.0% Gewürztraminer, 12.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 9.0% Riesling, 7.0% Pinot Gris, 6.0% Viognier, 2.5% Muscat. It is an elegant white, with aromas of spice, herbs and melons. On the palate, there are flavours of melons, pears and grapefruit. The blend has tamed the Gewürztraminer characters and produced an elegant white with a long finish. 90.

Stag’s Hollow The Heritage Block 2008 ($24.99. This is a blend of 47% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. It is a big, generous red with aromas of cassis, plums, sage and cedar. The palate is a medley of bright red fruit, with a dash of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. The tannins are ripe but firm enough to give this five or so years of cellaring potential. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2010 ($17.99). This is a wine that never lets you down. It delivers flavours of pears and citrus with a crisp, refreshing finish. 88.

Van Westen Vivacious 2010 ($18.90) This is Pinot Blanc with a dash of Pinot Gris to lift the fruity aroma. The wine is tangy and refreshing with flavours of crisp, ripe apples. 88.

Van Westen Vino Grigio 2010 ($18.90)Here is a wine with a brilliant, laser-like focus, with citrus aromas, flavours delicately of lime and a spine of minerals. 90

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stoneboat Vineyards releases for 2011


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Photo: Lanny Martiniuk with a young vine

Since this family winery opened in 2007, Stoneboat Vineyards has released consistently good wines, vintage after vintage, winning three Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence.

How do you get to be an overnight success in the wine business? Well, it takes time and experience. Lanny Martiniuk, the scion of the family, began growing grapes on a vineyard south of Oliver about 1984.

Today, he manages three vineyards for Stoneboat and, in his vast expanse of greenhouses, he propagates thousands of vines each year for other growers and wineries.

If anybody understands how to grow good grapes, it is surely Lanny.

Wanting to be fully integrated in the wine business, he launched the winery with his wife Julie and their three sons. One of those sons, Chris, is becoming a commercial pilot. His brothers, who are twins, are both involved in the winery, Jay as an emerging winemaker and Tim as the marketing manager. Because Jay is still working on his enology studies, Stoneboat has tapped various consulting winemakers as well.

Some of the wines in the portfolio reflect Lanny’s history as a grape propagator. His vineyard is one of the few in British Columbia that still grows Müller-Thurgau, a German variety that was brought to the Okanagan about 40 years when the wineries wanted to make Germanic wines. Most vineyards now have pulled it out because it is hard to grow and can yield bland wines. Stoneboat retains Müller-Thurgau because the variety is a critical part of Chorus, the winery’s delicious white blend.

Stoneboat also has one of the largest blocks (seven acres) of Pinotage in the Okanagan. On its website, the winery asserts that the variety has great potential for the Okanagan. At least three other wineries also make Pinotage: Lake Breeze. Hillside and The View Winery.

This variety was developed in South Africa, a cross of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was first brought to the Okanagan about 20 years ago by the original owner of Lake Breeze. Lanny propagated those vines and developed his own vines from that source as well.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Stoneboat Chorus 2010 ($17.90 for a production of 1,532 cases). This excellent white is a six-grape blend: Pinot Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Schönburger, Kerner, Pinot Gris and Viognier. It begins with herbal, floral and citrus aromas, and has crisp refreshing flavours of lime and green apple. Light and lively, it dances on the palate, finishing with clean fruity flavours. 91.

Stoneboat Faux Pas Rosé ($18.90 for a production of 135 cases). This is a delicious rosé of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. It begins with an appealing aroma of strawberries and delivers flavours of strawberries and rhubarb, with a slight hint of spice on the dry finish. This is a crisp and refreshing wine. 90.

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2009 ($24.90 for a production of 1,054 cases). This is a charming wine (a winner of a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence) with a light color that hides a fairly common surprise with Pinot Noir: a palate far richer than the colour suggests. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries and raspberries. The flavours include strawberries, truffles and a touch of chocolate. 90.

Stoneboat Pinotage 2009 ($24.90 for a production of 1,013 cases). This wine is dark in colour and begins with aromas of vanilla and mocha. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, blueberry, lingonberry and mocha, with a lingering spicy finish. 90.

Stoneboat Pinot Blanc Very Late Harvest 2008 ($24.90 for a 375 ml bottle, with a production of 160 cases). This sensational dessert wine is an Icewine in all but name and price. It was harvested and crushed on December 18, 2008, at -10°C, which is ideal for Icewine. The wine begins with lovely aromas of honey and botrytis. It is sensuous on the palate, with flavours of baked apples, pears, honey and even a touch of tobacco. The wine has the charm and the length of good Sauternes, with an exquisite balance that allows the wine, sweet as it is, to have a tangy, fresh finish. 92.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Class of 2011: 40 Knots Winery

Photo: Bill Montgomery

Vancouver Island’s newest winery, 40 Knots Winery in Comox, has just released its first four wines.

You will need to move smartly to get some. The winery produced only 185 cases in 2009 and 219 cases in 2010.

However, there is a large and professional managed vineyard here as well as a staff winemaker. Expect to see more production in the future.

I profiled the winery in John Schreiner’s BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide, which was released this spring by Whitecap Books. Here is the entire profile, followed by notes on the four wines.

Occasionally, extra drama in this vineyard is provided by the thunder overhead of CF-18s, taking off or landing at the nearby Canadian Forces Base at Comox. Bill Montgomery and Michal, his wife, have grown accustomed to the roar of military aircraft since buying this property in 1990 but it still is a thrill for visitors and for those tending the 32,000 vines here.

Growing wine is quite a departure from Bill’s previous career. He grew up in Prince Rupert, where he was born in 1949. His father owned a towboat company there. Subsequently, Bill established his own towboat company, Burrard Towing, based in the Port of Vancouver. He and his wife moved to Comox after selling the company and for many years were hobby farmers with a few head of cattle. Bill delayed ordering grape vines for a number of years when, as he recalls, his wife said, “You can’t do that—you have to be born into the industry.” But most other new entrants into the wine business were hiring advisors and Bill decided to do the same.

He prepared the six-hectare (15-acre) vineyard on a gravel-rich plateau above the Powell River ferry dock, burying drain tiles so that the vines, supplied by a nursery in France, would not have so-called wet feet. The vines were planted in 2007 and 2008. About a quarter of the vineyard is in Pinot Noir. The other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Merlot. The latter was a surprising choice for this cool growing region, a choice showing that advisors do not always get it right. Subsequently, Bill has begun converting that block to early ripening Auxerrois and Siegerrebe.

40 Knots’s winemakers, Natasha Ponich and consultant Christine Leroux, produced the first vintage, a few thousand litres, from a small harvest in 2009. “We made a very good Pinot Gris,” Bill says. He expects to have wine for public sale in 2011, depending how the vines produce fruit as they become established. “I am not rushing this,” he says.

The winery and tasting room have been installed in a renovated former barn that overlooks the vines. The new structure is so grand that you would think Bill was, in fact, born into the wine business.

Here are my notes on the wines.

40 Knots Pinot Gris 2009 ($22 for a production of 30 cases). Clean and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of apples, citrus and peach. The wine has good weight on the palate and has a tangy, lingering finish. 88.

40 Knots Chardonnay 2009 ($23 for a production of 115 cases. The wine was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and French oak. The winemaker was carefully to keep the oak subtle, showcasing the delicate citrus flavours and the floral aromas. The hint of butteriness on the palate suggests that the wine went through malolactic fermentation to achieve its soft acidity. 87.

40 Knots Rosé 2010 ($21 for a production of 60 cases). This is a Merlot rosé (with the addition of 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay). I have only once before tasted a Merlot rosé from an island winery and this one is head and shoulders better. It has a lovely salmon pink hue, aromas of strawberry and strawberry jam and flavours of strawberries and red plums. The wine gets an extra punch of flavour from 20½ grams of residual sugar; yet it is well balanced and does not come off as a sweet rosé. 89.

40 Knots Pinot Noir 2009 ($25 for a production of 56 cases). This wine, which has a fine dark colour, spent nine months in new French oak before being bottled. It begins with aromas of spice and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, chocolate and spice, with the gamey, earthy undertones that are sometimes called “forest floor.” The texture is still firm and I would recommend cellaring this for another year to let it develop all its complexity. 88.

40 Knots Winery
2400 Anderton Road
Comox BC V9M 4E5
Telephone 250-941-8810