Posts Tagged ‘Okanagan wines’

The Essence of Okanagan Wines

Posted by Susan

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
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The 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival’s featured region was British Columbia – a treat for those of us who enjoy BC wines, yet rarely see the range of them here in Ontario.  The opening plenary, and a number of the trade seminars, provided a unique opportunity to meet and hear from the owners and winemakers, as well as to taste some of their most outstanding wines.

And then, to bring all these attributes together into fabulous wines, you have the “cultural mosaic” of owners and winemakers – pioneers Adolf Kruger and Anthony von Mandl, who left Europe for the BC interior; John Symes, one of the early pioneers who emigrated from New Zealand; Grant Stanley, a Canadian who spent many of his early years in New Zealand, only to return to the Okanagan to produce outstanding Pinot Noir; Lawrence Herder, who came back to the Similkameen after years of producing “big Cabs” in California; Tom di Bello, who has migrated up the coast from California ahead, as he said, of global warming; and the newer arrivals, Brooke Blair of Australia, who produced a Shiraz judged best in the world in 2004, her first vintage here; and Pascal Madevon, a Bordelais who moved his family to the Okanagan in 2002 and has become a Canadian citizen who produces outstanding Bordeaux-style blends.  The outstanding wines of BC are created from this mosaic of terroir, varietals and people, and are enhancing Canada’s reputation on the world wine stage.

BC wines ready to be enjoyed

BC wines ready to be enjoyed

As I listened to the various speakers, the concept of a mosaic came to mind.  In fact, many aspects of the wine industry can be characterized as ‘mosaics’.  The terroir includes a range of soil types, aspects, exposure, microclimates, elevation.  And this wide range of conditions facilitates growing many varietals, and ripening them in ways not found anywhere else in the world – from fully-ripened Cabernet Franc, to brawny tannic Merlot, to lean, crisp Riesling, Ehrenfelser or Gewurtztraminer with exquisite acidity.

 

 

 

These themes were threaded through the discussions and tastings, but an overarching theme was the “coming of age” of the BC wine industry.  As pointed out by the moderators, the industry has grown from 13 wineries and 1500 acres under cultivation in 1990 to now over 160 wineries with more than 9100 acres under cultivation.  Yet, BC is still a small player on the large wine world scene.  Quoting Scholefield, a well-known BC wine critic and one of the moderators, “Yellowtail began producing Pinot Gris two years ago, and now delivers approximately 1.5 million cases to the market.  This is the ENTIRE production of the BC wine industry.”  BC is a niche market that must be characterized by high quality wines, a unique story, and its incomparable terroir. 

Anthony von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill, said it is time to “take BC wines to the world.  As the Okanagan, as BC winemakers, we have to go to the world . . . There’s an enormous opportunity.”  There was a consensus that BC has what the world wants!

And speaking of the terroir, there were many discussions concerning the varying terroir from north to south in the Okanagan, and into the Similkameen valley.  According to Anthony Gismondi, wine critic and Editor-in-Chief of Wine Access magazine, his opinion is that while the rest of the world is attempting to move away from big, bold, powerhouse and overextracted wines, BC wines are naturally crisp, clean and fresh wines.  “Acidity is our friend” was an oft-quoted phrase, attributed to Grant Stanley of Quail’s Gate  

Howard Soon, a veteran of the industry and winemaker at Sandhill Winery, discussed his Pinot Gris.  “This is how we might describe BC white wine to the world:  lean, edgy, crisp, fresh.  Profoundly food friendly and appetizing.” 

As I listened to pioneers of the industry including Harry McWatters, who founded Sumac Ridge on a golf course; Anthony von Mandl, who founded Mission Hill and used to come to the Okangan for holidays during his childhood, as well as some of the more recent arrivals – Brooke Blair, Australian winemaker who immigrated to work at Jackson-Triggs and who made an immediate impression with her first Shiraz in 2004 winning best Shiraz in the world at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. 

Anthony von Mandl (standing with mic), Harry McWatters (sitting at right with beard)

Anthony von Mandl - owner of Mission Hill Winery (standing), Harry McWatters - founder of Sumac Ridge Winery (sitting at right)

There was also a significant amount of discussion regarding the unique character of varietal wines made from Cabernet Franc in the Okanagan.  Not only has the Cab Franc in the southern Okanagan been shown to have unique terpenes (winespeak: flavor components), it continues to ripen through the summer heat (some other varietals shut down temporarily) and well into the late autumn.  It delivers wonderfully rich, intense wines with aromas of cocoa and herbs.  And Merlot, which is often soft and round in other regions, is the tannic backbone of the outstanding red Bordeaux style blend wine created by such wineries as Osoyoos Larose (wine name: Le Grand Vin), Mission Hill Winery (Quatrain), Black Hills Winery (Nota Bene), Herder Winery (Josephine), the newly named Road 13 Winery (Fifth Element).  Tom di Bello, of CedarCreek Estate explained, “The Okanagan is one of the best places in the world to grow Merlot.  The fruit is bright, vibrant, with more natural acidity.  And we’re getting mature tannins with less sugar because the fruit ripens sooner physiologically.”

 

 

 

To these pioneers – old and new – BC’s microclimates are critical.  Early pioneers planted with their palates, for instance, trying to grow Pinot Noir in the southern Okanagan.  But the ‘heartbreak grape’ lived up to its reputation, suffering through the long hot summers.  It was soon either ripped out or grafted over with more suitable varietals, such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz.  Brooke Blair’s award-winning Shiraz thrives in the deep sandy soil beside a sun-warmed rock formation on the 49th parallel.  And winemakers have learned that the aspect and soils of the Black Sage bench are uniquely different from those of the Golden Mile, although these sites sit across from each other in the narrow valley near Oliver. 

Lawrence Herder explained that the components of his red assemblage come from three very different parcels in the Similkameen Valley.  “We’re barely discovering what to plant where.  Each section of the valley is a specific microclimate.”

But along with this diversity, there is a unique defining character to the wine of the Okanagan.  You might call it the essence of these BC wines.  Both David Scholefield and Anthony Gismondi highlighted the characteristic earthiness and the unique flavors of Okanagan wines.   “I think you’ll find a dry herbal character somewhere in every single one of these wines.  Herbal, savory character . . . when you see that, think Okanagan,” said David.  “I encourage visitors to get out of their car, walk off the road and look at the sagebrush and everything that’s growing there . . . and smell.  That scent is somehow transposed into our wines,” said Anthony.    

While there was great focus on the wines, Howard Soon reminded us all that you have to remember to lift your head up when you’re in the vineyard – there is a breathtaking view to be had, whether you are near the lake just south of Kelowna, in some of the higher vineyards near Okanagan Falls, or on the Black Sage bench near Oliver.  “Don’t forget the unique scenery that is the Okanagan.” 

So, if you’re planning a trip to a wine region, consider a visit to the Okanagan.  Whether you visit this dynamic wine region after next years Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival in 2010 (tip: the Okanagan Spring Winefest occurs April 29-May 8, 2010), during the peak summer months, or in the fall (the Fall Winefest is September 30-October 10, 2010), there are a wide range of wineries to visit, all led by people passionate about their wines and excited to share the fruit of their vines with you.

Drop me a note if you’re planning a trip to the Okanagan, as I’d be happy to help you plan your winery visits. 

Here are a few of the many BC wines I discovered while in Vancouver last month:

  • CedarCreek Ehrenfelser
  • Wild Goose Stony Slope Riesling
  • Thornhaven Estates Gewurztraminer
  • Road 13 Old Vine Chenin Blanc
  • Quail’s Gate Family Reserve Pinot Noir
  • Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Merlot
  • Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc
  • Jackson-Triggs Sunrock Vineyard Shiraz
  • Herder Winery Josephine
  • Mission Hill Quatrain
  • Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin

 Cheers & Enjoy,

 Susan

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Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2005 – Meet the Winemaker!

Posted by Susan

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
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For those of you with an interest in fine wines and great blends of the traditional Bordeaux varietals, don’t miss the opportunity to obtain a bottle of one of the Okanagan’s great wines – Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin. 

Not only can you purchase a bottle of the 2005 vintage at LCBO Vintages as of its release date, February 28, 2009, you can make an advance purchase in Ottawa on February 27, meet the winemaker, Pascal Madevon, and perhaps have him autograph your bottle!  As a gift to yourself, for a special future event, or for that special winelover, this is a rare opportunity to purchase an outstanding BC wine.

All this is happening at Ottawa’s flagship LCBO shop, at Rideau and King Edward, between 1-3 p.m. on Friday, February 27.

Last October, we had the opportunity to meet with Pascal Madevon at the winery, as the grapes were making their way from the vineyards to the winemaking facility near Oliver.  With rain forecast in the coming days, Pascal and his team were working day and night to ensure the harvest was completed in time.  Said he, “The grapes have to be perfect.” 

Pascal is a friendly and charming Frenchman, whose classical studies in mathematics took a unique turn when he decided he wanted his career to include outdoor work.  When he met with his university counselor and expressed an interest in the wine industry, the fellow questioned his decision – “Pascal, are you sure you want to drive a tractor the rest of your life?”  Undaunted, Pascal moved to Bordeaux, living there, studying, and working in the wine industry for 15 years. 

He first came to the Okanagan in 2001, bringing his young family with him in 2002.  “When I saw the grapes and this location, I knew I could make great wine.”  While this most southerly area of the Okanagan reminded him of Bordeaux, he felt that the steady temperatures in the summer favored the flavors in the grapes, while the warm September weather favored soft tannins.  As he carefully monitored the arrival of the grapes, he commented that he spends 80% of his time in the vineyard.  “Once the grapes arrive at the winery, I worry less – you have many more variables in the vineyard.   Once the winemaking begins, I can control this process.” 

Pascal described what he sees as the critical factors in the creation of outstanding wines:

 – the terroir is primary; and he feels that the southern Okanagan offers an outstanding terroir

– the age of the vineyards has an influence on the wine.  The Osoyoos Larose vineyards were planted in 1999, so we can expect the wine to evolve with each vintage

– climate is an important factor.  He says that certain parcels always produce the best grapes.  For instance, his best parcels of Merlot are located lower on the hills so that they get early shade, while the Cabernet Sauvignon is planted higher to obtain the longest exposure to the heat of the sun.

– the viticulturalist acting on the vineyard is the final factor; for instance deciding how much and when to prune leaves or thin fruit.

Each year, Pascal applies a similar “recipe” in the production of Osoyoos Larose, including similar proportions of the five varietals and specific yeasts.  But each wine is unique, a reflection of the factors he described.  While he has shared vintages of Osoyoos Larose with his colleagues in Bordeaux, Pascal insists that he has no desire to duplicate Bordeaux wines.  “You have to focus on terroir, reveal the terroir.  We want to make a great wine that is uniquely Okanagan.”

Osoyoos Larose was created as a result of the unique partnership established in 1998 between Vincor Canada and Groupe Taillon of Bordeaux.  Their goal was to create great wines of stature, based on the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, which express the unique character and terroir of BC’s southern Okanagan valley.  Each vintage is selectively allocated to markets around the world, as the wine is sought after by collectors and connoisseurs.

The wine’s name reflects its origins:  the vineyards are located on the gently sloping dry hills above Lake Osoyoos, a few kilometers from the Washington State border; Larose is the name of one of Groupe Taillon’s prestigious estate wineries, Chateau Gruaud-Larose.  The wine is more in the “right-bank” style of Bordeaux, with the primary varietal being Merlot (67%), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), Cabernet Franc (4%), Petit Verdot (4%) and Malbec (2%).  Sixteen months in a combination of new and one-year-old French barrels were followed by six months of bottle-aging.  Acclaimed by critics, it is a wine meant to be enjoyed with a great meal, an elegant wine which can age for many years.

Don’t miss this opportunity to begin your collection of Osoyoos Larose.  It will be available in Ottawa the afternoon of Friday, February 27, at Rideau and King Edward (LCBO # 626325, $44.95).

If you’d like a unique opportunity to participate in a component and vertical tasting of Osoyoos Larose, consider a trip to the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, taking place March 23-29, 2009.  Read my blogs for more information about the Playhouse Winefest.

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