Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Signature Grape for BC?

Does BC need to produce and promote a signature grape to become a world renown wine region for the international market? Some BC wine writers have suggested as much, but is it truly a practical venture for such a young and relatively small wine industry?

Which Grape?
Today, there is yet no true consensus on what BC's signature grape (or grapes) should actually be. The suggestions made most often over the past 12 months as the subject has gained attention, are Cabernet Franc or Syrah as BC's signature red varietal. On the surface, both seem to fit the bill: they are familiar to the worldwide market thanks to Syrah's prominence in the Rhone Valley and Cabernet Franc's use as a blending component by Bordeaux's famous Chateaux. Plus, both varieties produce a distinct and (most important) a pleasant flavour profile in BC's unique terroir. "Sounds great, where do I sign the signature grape petition?" you may be asking.

However, the problem with Syrah is that it doesn't survive well through particularly cold and frosty winters and the problem with Cabernet Franc is, there simply isn't that much of it.

Syrah seems like the clear choice to anyone who has enjoyed a sip of the excellent examples being produced in the past 5 years from the likes of Painted Rock, Cassini, Church and State, La Frenz, Stag's Hollow, Le Vieux Pin and Tinhorn Creek. All have produced world-class Syrah from hot years like 2009 and again from milder years like 2010 which emphasizes the natural spiciness of the grape in BC's cool climate. However, talking to these producers about growing Syrah is like discussing the ailment history of a self-diagnosing hypochondriac: you'll get a laundry list of complaints about keeping the vines healthy - even in good-weather years. Mention the particularly cold winter of 2008 and you'll be amazed that the vines survive at all. In short, it is not easy to grow Syrah in BC and we shouldn't expect to see a large increase in acreage unless climate change removes the threat of severe cold during the winter - which isn't likely.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc ranks only 5th on the BC Wine Institute's Red Varietals by Acreage list as of 2012. This early budding and late-ripening variety has some vocal local supporters who champion the variety's unique flavours and delicate structure achieved in the Okanagan Valley. But how does one market a grape as the signature wine of a region when few producers even grow the vine and fewer still are able to consistently ripen the grapes to the degree that the finished product can stand on its own? That's a tough sell.

"Come to the Okanagan, try the fabulous Cabernet Franc... (assuming you can find some)."

Naming a relatively rare vine like Cabernet Franc your region's signature grape is also a bit of a slap in the face to the many other vines that excel and produce world-class wines when planted in the appropriate micro-climate within BC's diverse wine growing regions, including Syrah.

"But can't we plant more or graft vines to produce more?"

Yes, but there's an economic angle to the debate as well...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monthly Picks: April 2013

The on-set of Spring calls for light wines, both white and red, that don't attack or overly challenge your palate, but rather, express their fruit and terroir gently with refrained charisma. We're looking for effortless balance and an easy-going drinking experience that pairs easily with a wide range of foods.

Sperling Vineyards 2010 The Market White - $16
Billed accurately as a crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking, off-dry, mid-week sipper that combines Pinot Blanc with lesser-known aromatic varieties like Bacchus and makes a food-friendly companion when the night calls for fish or spicy fare.
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Crowsnest Vineyards 2011 Stahltank Chardonnay - $18
"Stahltank" refers to the strict un-oaked, steel tank approach to this crisp, refreshing and very pure Chardonnay from Cawston producer Crowsnest Vineyards that delivers ripe green apple, Asian pear and stonefruit characters on the soft nose and vibrant, mouth-watering palate.
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La Frenz Winery 2011 Alexandria - $20
Muscat wines have the ability to most closely mimic the experience of biting into a bunch of grapes; it's exciting, sweet and fun.
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SpierHead Winery 2010 Pursuit - $22
An assemblage of 57% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc, the Pursuit seems to be after a pleasing balance of juicy, dark berry fruit and meaty, menthol cigarette flavours supported by a savoury spine of charred oak and fresh acidity.
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Upper Bench Estate Winery 2011 Riesling - $22
A well-balanced Riesling with a juicy entry of tangerine, kiwi, honeydew and pear fruit flavours that finishes dry due to the prominent, yet, appropriate level of lemon/lime acid.
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Stag's Hollow Winery 2010 Renaissance Pinot Noir - $35
The Renaissance Pinot Noir is produced from 100% Estate Grown fruit from the winery's home vineyard in Okanagan Falls. Both the nose and palate transition nicely from an intense red fruit intro through to a more reflective warm earth finish. Complex, long and very tasty.
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 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013