Fine BC Wines…

This year’s Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival provided me the opportunity to once again (lucky me!) to spend some time with Pascal Madevon, vineyard manager and winemaker for Osoyoos Larose.  He provided an entertaining and informative commentary alongside the tasting of the 2001-2007 vintages of Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, as well as a component tasting of the 5 grape varieties that are blended to create the final masterpiece.


Osoyoos Larose is the result of a collaboration between Canada’s Vincor and Groupe Taillon of France, who have extensive vineyards and winemaking experience in Bordeaux.  Pascal, himself, spent about 15 years in the region, completing his wine-related education there and working at some of the major Chateaux.  As he led us through the tasting, he spoke about his family’s experience moving to the Okanagan, as well as the outstanding opportunity the terroir provides.


The vineyards which produce the grapes for Osoyoos Larose are located on the western slopes of the hills overlooking Lake Osoyoos, just to the north of the border with Washington state.  Blessed with a very dry and relatively windy climate, the region experiences intense sunlight and heat during the growing season.  However, the location in a mountain valley means that the shadow created as the sun sets cools key parts of the vineyard, creating exceptional growing conditions for the Merlot and Cabernet Franc in particular. 


Pascal commented on the remarkable nature of the terrain in his southern Okanagan vineyard.  “In 5 kilometres vertically, you have the same variations in climate that one may find over 500 kilometres in France.  The mountains create a very dry valley, and you have soils which are both sandy and rocky.  The relief is critical – it is very hot during a midsummer day, but the shadow on the mountain allows cooling at the end of the day.”  He pointed out that there is one plot of Merlot which is consistently outstanding year after year, and it receives the initial afternoon shadow. 


As Pascal narrated the history of the vintages from the initial one in 2001, we sampled the wines.  The first vineyards were planted in 1999, with each varietal matched to the soil, and irrigation systems installed.  “One of my greatest challenges was learning how to manage irrigation, as it was not required in Bordeaux.”  After testing revealed the high quality of the fruit, it was decided to proceed with a small vintage in 2001.  Special fermentation tanks were imported from France, along with 80 barrels.  Only 3,700 cases of 6 were produced.  On tasting at the Festival, this vintage of Le Grand Vin was complex and elegant, displayed intense flavors and a long finish.  As Pascal said, “When my Bordeaux colleagues and I compare wines, they are amazed at Osoyoos Larose, given the vines are so young.”


In 2002, more vines were planted and Pascal and his staff began managing vigor and practicing a form of trellising that ensured optimum exposure of the fruit to the sun.  Production almost doubled to 7000 cases.  The 2002 vintage is a very big wine with a hint of eucalyptus on the nose.  With firm tannins, the wine will benefit from further cellaring.  Pascal emphasized the outstanding growing conditions in the southern Okanagan.  “When I first saw the grapes, I couldn’t believe it – the fruit was perfect.  We pick by hand, but we didn’t need a sorting table because all the grapes were in excellent condition.”  2003 had a bit more acidity, but like the 2002 vintage, will benefit from longer cellaring.


In 2004, Pascal felt he was beginning to understand the irrigation requirements of his vines.  In fact, he used 40% less water for the 2004 vintage than for 2001.  He was very pleased with the results of this vintage – “2004 is a turning point demonstrating the potential of Osoyoos Larose”.  The 2004 vintage is drinking well now.  It is complex and full-bodied, with layers of flavor and a persistent finish.  This vintage also marked the first production of the second wine, Petales d’Osoyoos, of which 4000 cases were produced.  2005 is very similar to 2004, but bigger and more tannic, requiring further cellaring or decanting to achieve its apogee.  As Pascal said, these are food wines – “In France, we may sip a white wine on its own, but we only drink red wine with food.”


Additional vineyards continued to be planted and, in 2006, when Pascal saw the great potential for fully ripening Cabernet Franc, a decision was made to increase the proportion of these vines under cultivation.


With the 2006 vintage and more mature vines, the wine is even bigger, with more volume and chewy tannins.  Said Pascal, “It has great potential”, as should a great Bordeaux-style red!


In 2007, Pascal produced 21,000 cases of Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin.  He now has 1,600 oak barrels, and each vintage Le Grand Vin is aged in 60% new French oak and 40% one-year-old barrels.  Racking is conducted every three months using gravity flow to avoid agitating the wine.  Like the 2006, the 2007 vintage has strong tannins and big volume.  Said Pascal, “It is showing some oakiness since it is so young, but it has great potential due to the age of the vineyards.”  He plans to add more Cabernet Franc to the blend in future vintages, as it provides great power to the wine without introducing any green or leafy notes.


After tasting these vintages, we sampled the five component varietals:  Merlot, the dominant varietal, contributes about 2/3 to the wine; Cabernet Franc, which Pascal sees contributing up to 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon, which contributes about 20%; and small portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot.


Pascal provided a wonderfully graphic description of how each grape contributes to the volume, depth and complexity of the wine.  Merlot, the base of Osoyoos Larose, contributes dense fruit, volume and big structure.  Cabernet Franc has a chocolate notes and contributes power and strong tannins.  Cabernet Sauvignon adds complexity and ageworthiness to the wine.  Petit Verdot has lovely aromas and intense chalky tannins, so a little enhances the nose and the finish.  Malbec has a big fruity, floral nose, but more acidity, so its contribution is largely to the nose.  “Too much Malbec thins the wine,” said Pascal.


Through the tasting, Pascal emphasized the quality of the terroir in the Okanagan.  Said he, “The success of Osoyoos Larose is the terroir!”  He spends 80% of his time in the vineyard.  Then, in the cellar, he applies the same “formula” each year to produce the wine (I think he’s a bit too modest about his winemaking!).  And an outstanding wine it is.  Eighty-five percent of Osoyoos Larose is sold in Canada, most of it in B.C. 


The 2005 vintage was recently released as a Vintages product in the LCBO  (#626325, $44.95).  There may still be a few bottles available.  So, be Savvy!  Purchase a few bottles of Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2005 for your cellar!  


Cheers & Enjoy,


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