Friday, April 1, 2011

Charles in Charge

Winemaker Charles Herrold heads south and things are looking up.
Photo courtesy of Celebrity Wine Tasting
 After a seemingly innocuous October departure from Langley-based Blackwood Lane, which he had co-founded with current winery president and now majority-owner Carlos Lee, winemaker Charles Herrold is more forthcoming on why he requested to be bought-out of the partnership. Differences in vision for the boutique winery, whose business model is to produce small-lot, ultra-premium wines and charge equally ultra-premium prices, are at the root of Herrold's desire to distance himself from the firm.

I had originally reported that upon his formal departure as winemaker in October, Herrold would remain a consultant to the winery which seemed wise due to the lengthy incubation of the firm's high-quality, Bordeaux-styled blends: The Referènce and The Alliànce. However, Herrold is eager to update that he no longer has any ties to the winery and is focusing his attention on his Washington State projects. This means that, for the Blackwood Lane faithful, the recently released 2007 Reference will be the last of the big reds to have been blended and shepherded by Herrold. Future releases are now under the direction of Lee who has taken over the head winemaker duties.

However, every winemaker I know is a proud poppa (or momma) to their wine and despite the split from Blackwood Lane, Herrold was enthusiastic to sit down with me to taste the new releases (now available via the winery's wine shop in Langley) and preview barrel samples from his new Washington State winery - yet unnamed.

The setting was at The Pearl on the Rock restaurant in White Rock while the restaurant was closed and the staff were busy prepping for the evening and attending to business. The business in question, on this afternoon, was a blending session with the executive chef, Jeremy Keighley, and wine director, Jordan Carrier, that was equal parts sales pitch and masterclass in the art and application of combining different varietals of together to produce a wine whose sum is greater than its parts.

Seeking a new white and red house blend, Pearl has hired Herrold to produce the wines for which he will use contracted and proprietary Washington State fruit - the focus of his winemaking activities post Blackwood Lane. Sitting in on a blending session is like witnessing the birth of a work of art or a creative idea - in physical form. The detail with which Herrold can speak to the properties and process behind each varietal is astonishing. One can see the passion and pride for his vocation in every description. From custom grooved oak barrels to attentive fruit selection, Herrold speaks with the demeanor of a master craftsman and the air of a minister inspiring his flock.

A Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, all from the 2010 vintage, are tasted in order and then in various combinations. The consensus is that the clean and crisp Riesling is to be the backbone of the blend but that its muted nose needs a lift. First, the Gewurztraminer is tried and 15% is added to the Riesling - too sweet and oily. Next, 10% Pinot Gris is added to the Riesling and the missing aromatic element found - we have a winner.

The red varietals, except the Cabernet Franc (Wahluke Slope), are all from the Columbia Valley area known as The Benches. As with the whites, the red varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petit Verdot/Malbec bottled together) are each tasted separately to appreciate what each may bring to the finished blend. The Merlot: mid-palate expression of dark berries and major tannins. The Cab Franc: candied fruit and good acidity. The Cab Sauv: smoky texture and round tannins. And the Petit Verdot/Malbec: tobacco and toasted raspberries.

After various combinations and pricing considerations (the Cabernet Sauvignon is too expensive for a restaurant house wine) the consensus was a Cabernet Franc-heavy blend with both the Merlot and the Petit Verdot/Malbec added to round out the desired flavour profile. Follow The Pearl on the Rock on Twitter @PearlRestaurant for news on when the new blends will be available in house.
Also tasted during the session was a test blend of what Herrold expects to be his Referènce-like flagship red blend and a standalone Syrah for his new Washington State label. The Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend shows great promise and classic Herrold character but needs time in barrel to come together (2012 release is estimated). The Syrah, with concentrated black cherry and white pepper notes, was absolutely outstanding and almost seemed ready for market. 95+ point territory for this barrel sample - simply divine. We will eagerly track the development of the new wines and winery and post follow-up information here and via our Twitter account @IconWines.

Notes on the new Blackwood Lane releases:

Blackwood Lane 2009 Pinot Noir - $44
Possibly, the quintesential BC Pinot Noir as it requires no "Burgundy-esk" or "Central Otago-like" descriptor. This Pinot is pure BC... and that's a major compliment.
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Blackwood Lane 2008 Vicuna Roja - $24
A unique blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 10% Malbec, the 2008 Vicuna Roja makes for an excellent "entry" wine for a winery who's portfolio boasts some of the most expensive wines in Canada.
Icon Score

Blackwood Lane 2007 Cabernet Franc - $44
An excellent Cabernet Franc with red berry, cedar, licorice, spice and oak characters whose mid-palate has been filled-out with 10-12% Merlot adding to the excellent and succulent texture.
Icon Score

Blackwood Lane 2007 The Referènce - $99
A BC Wine icon whose nose possesses the depth and mystery of a Louis Carroll rabbit hole. Falling in can prove to be very rewarding and very expensive.
Icon Score
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011

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