Friday, July 26, 2013

Get To Know... Your Vintner

You know their wines, but do you know the people who made them? The winemakers, the small business owners, the viticulturists, the marketers; all have important roles to play in getting your favourite bottle of wine to your door or local wine shop. At the larger firms, each role may be supported by a dedicated department, but as often as not at the smaller shops, one or two people perform all of the keys roles themselves.

It takes a special kind of business and crafts person to bet on Mother Nature providing the essential elements needed to produce one's product every year. This line of work tends to attract the more eclectic characters among us; storytellers, risk takers and impassioned farmers. We like to Get To Know... these folks to enhance the overall experience of appreciating their wines and we hope you'll be interested as well. Each interviewee answered a series of questions that gives insight into how they became involved with winemaking and their experiences in the industry.

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2015

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What's In Your Cellar, Leslie?

Photo courtesy Artesana Winery
Leslie Fellows
Artesana Winery, Uruguay
Proprietor and Director

I met the charming and well-spoken Leslie Fellows at the recent Wine Bloggers' Conference in Penticton and was intrigued by her story: the California businesswoman who became an owner of a winery 1000's of miles away in Uruguay thanks to an adventurous father and a willingness to take a leap of faith that lead to a drastic career change.

As owner and director of Artesana Winery, a small estate winery in Canelones, Fellows splits her time at the winery and back home in California where she's busy evangelizing the merits of the signature varietal of Uruguay; Tannat. Tannat is an under appreciated grape that is perhaps best described, to the uninitiated, as Malbec with twice the tannin. The star-factor of Tannat is its range. Some producers create easy-going, juice'n'fruit explosions while others produce serious, age-worthy, cellar-dwellers. Fellows' mission is to champion all styles of Tannat and to help develop a place for it in the North American market.

What are your favourite wines to cellar/collect?
As an owner of a winery in Uruguay (Artesana), my favorite wine to collect/cellar (and drink!) is Tannat, the signature varietal of Uruguay. Tannat produces rich, full-bodied wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors. Tannat is from the Madiran region of southwestern France and was brought to Uruguay in the 1870s. It is named for its high tannin content and has been found to be the healthiest of red wines with 3-4 times more antioxidants and an average resveratrol concentration of 4.2. Tannat is the only grape with 5 seeds vs. 3, so it lends itself well to cellaring.

What are your favourite wine regions to cellar/collect?
Canelones is Uruguay's most acclaimed wine region and though Tannat is the main variety grown, other reds include Merlot, Cab Franc and Tempranillo and whites include Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

What is the purpose of your wine cellar/collection?
We keep a library of all the wines we produce at Artesana and taste through them at least once a year to see how the wine is evolving in the bottle. In addition to Tannat and Tannat-Merlot, we produce Zinfandel, the first and only Zinfandel to be planted and produced in Uruguay. The wines exhibit a classic Zinfandel profile, but expressed in very interesting ways in Uruguay’s distinctive terroir. In 2011 we made a Zinfandel Reserve (18 months in French oak) and a Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot Reserve (24 months in French oak). 2011 was an historic harvest in Uruguay and the grapes achieved a greater level of ripeness than normal. The Tannat wines and the 2 Reserve wines are delicious now, but are structured to age 10 years or more and will cellar very well.

Is there a jewel of note or a favourite wine in your collection?
One of the best wineries in Uruguay is Bodega Carrau and I have a bottle of their 1998 Amat Tannat that was a gift to me from the winemaker. Bodegas Carrau has been making wine for 10 generations and they have some amazing wines in their library.

What inspired you to hold onto that first bottle or case beyond when it was ready to drink?
I’ve had a few life-changing experiences tasting some older vintages of Grand Crus and was completely amazed at how complex these wines can become with bottle aging. Well-structured Tannats and Cabs are really the only wines I lay down. The fascinating thing about cellaring is to see if and how the wines become more interesting with time.

What causes you to actually pull the trigger on a special bottle from your cellar?
Very special occasions that I want to remember by the wine I drank. In Uruguay when we open a vintage bottle of Tannat for a celebration, it usually includes a parrillada, a Uruguayan BBQ which is an open-flamed grill with every kind of meat you can imagine. Uruguayan beef is all organic by government decree and it pairs beautifully with Tannat.

What advice would you share with anyone wanting to start a collection of wine?
Try a Uruguayan Tannat if you see one. Buy two and cellar one, you’ll find it's one of the most age-worthy red wines. And come to Uruguay for a visit, it’s only 2 hours by ferry from Buenos Aires. You will love the wines and the people, not to mention the gorgeous beaches…it’s an extraordinary country.

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Winery Spotlight: Painted Rock Estate Winery

Painted Rock Estate Winery is the brainchild of former stock broker John Skinner and his family who purchased the century old "Blackhawk" apricot orchard site on Skaha Bench, just outside of Penticton, in 2004 which had been left fallow for 17 years prior to their investment. Working with a hand selected winemaking and viticulture team that includes world renowned consultant Alain Sutre, the site was transformed into a truly world class vineyard site planted to Bordeaux varietals, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Since their first vintage from 2007, the winery has received a mountain of medals for every wine they've produced. Including making it to the top of our wine awards list in 2012 for their 2011 Chardonnay. With distribution growing worldwide and as a must have for BC's top restaurants' wine lists, it will be harder and harder to find their coveted wines in the future now that the estate vineyard's production has reached its maximum and optimum output of 5000 cases per year.

Gorgeous Vistas
The Painted Rock estate vineyard has been expertly tapered with a gentle slope that leans toward Skaha Lake to maximize its natural aspect to the sun for the south-west facing mountainside location. This gives visitors an infinite pool-like view of the vineyard pouring into the lake below. It's a lovely sight that the winery would like to capitalize on more in the future with a visiting center under construction and future accommodations. For now, we're limited to making the drive up the mountain and visiting the makeshift tasting room set-up in the winery's warehouse-like cellar building. Be sure to leave time to stroll-up the road to the vineyard to soak up the view and appreciate the finely sculpted rows of vines.

Key wines to try:
Red Icon 2010, 2009
Chardonnay 2011, 2010, 2009
Syrah 2009, 2008, 2007

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get To Know... The Stohlers

Photo courtesy of SummerGate Winery
Gillian and Mike Stohler
Vintners, SummerGate Winery
Summerland, BC

Running any small business is difficult and all-encompassing. Running a small business where you must rely on the unpredictability of Mother Nature dials the stress amplifier up to "11". Add to the mix raising four children while staying positive and welcoming to your paying customers (and occasional workforce) takes a special kind of person. I give you the Stohlers, the charming, down-to-earth couple behind one of the Province's smaller wineries, SummerGate, who manage to keep it all together while producing some of the best (and certified organic) white wines on the market today.

Stop-by their winery/house in Summerland for a taste of their pure, un-manipulated, Summer-in-a-glass whites.

Get to know the Stohlers a bit better and get to know SummerGate's wines...

Key wines to try:
Muscat Ottonel

1. What do you enjoy most about making wine?
Being outdoors with nature; or working late into the evening in the winery; hearing the great stories from our customers how they saved a bottle of wine and shared it with friends or family on a special occasion. We’re really glad we’re able to be part of that in a meaningful way. Seeing our repeat customers come back year after year and seeing them be part of our wine making process; our winery production area has basically become part of the tasting room where we’re always happy to invite someone into the tank room for a tank sample.

2. What inspired you to become a winemaker?
Tired of other people messing around with what we’re eating and drinking. I am amazed by the number of chemicals used and additives winemakers put into wines that don’t require any disclosure; from invert sugars (like fructose, glucose) to increase residual sugars, to sorbates as preservatives, to di-ammonium phosphates as yeast nutrients; yuck! We just wanted to create quality wines using the most natural techniques possible; without all the “junk”. Our customers appreciate it too.

3. What causes you the most stress during harvest?
Weather. You almost need to be a meteorologist; plus many of our loyal harvesters are actually really good customers coming in from Vancouver or other areas so it’s hard to plan in advance when you will pick. Sometimes even day-of you wake up see the clouds on the horizon and have to evaluate to “go” or “no go”. We’re very careful not to pick wet fruit; inadvertently it waters down the juice!

Being a small winery and not knowing for sure if there is enough tank capacity for the pressed juice was a problem for us this past year. A few anxious moments and a few calls later and we had secured some rented tanks which turned into an order for about 4800litres more capacity with local Ripley Stainless – I have a video coming which shows the tanks being created from a flat piece of steel into the three-dimensional tank!

4. What is your favourite and/or least favourite wine cliché?
Making wine is effectively a lot of good old fashioned farming; so my favourite is “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine”; after a long day of work in the hot fields I head for the fridge and pull out a beer!

5. Away from the cellar and vineyard, what’s your greatest passion in life?
Family; growing a business and growing a family is what we are doing hand in hand.

6. After a long day of work in the cellar, what do you turn to for refreshment?
Howe Sound Brewing Beer

7. If you could take credit for one other BC wine on the market today, which would it be and why?
Tough one; Gehringer Brothers Riesling (consistent award winner; and great value) or something like Gray Monk; from a business point of view and costing model I love that their properties and infrastructure are paid for in 1960’s and 1970’s dollars and what a wonderful price point for their wines $12-$15. This is where our entire industry needs to be but makes it much tougher on the small guys who have to pay $100k per acre plus start-up costs and much of the equipment has a 100 year payback life cycle or more ; i.e bottling lines; thank goodness for Artus Mobile Bottling.

8. Of the wines in your portfolio, do you have a favourite food pairing to go with one of the wines?
Pan Seared Bay Scallops, or black pepper crusted pacific northwest halibut with our Muscat Ottonel (or as you said once just a pair of sunglasses and sunny patio) Sweet Chili Currie with the Kerner; Cedar Plank Sockeye Salmon with a bit of Soy Sauce with the Riesling

9. What do you think will be the next big trend in BC wine over the next few years?
Probably see some more consolidation of smaller wineries as interest from Chinese investors continues and who will then produce and export product (especially ice wine) to that market. The virtual winery concept scares us a bit because we’re seeing saturation for BC wines already in the market; I think this will put downward pressure on prices but at the cost of quality too. From a tasting perspective, more cooler climate, aromatic styles will prevail; watch for some great Gewurtz, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay from Summerland!

10. Screwcap or cork? What’s your preference?
Has to be screwcap for whites for sure; I came across a study a while back from Ontario where the some white wines were bottled under screwcap and some under cork and after two years put in front of a panel of judges for blind tasting; the screw capped whites were still lively and crisp; full of aroma and flavour; the cork wines were flat and flabby. Some exceptions could be Chardonnay. Our style is fresh and crisp and aromatic; so SummerGate will always be screwed! (lol!)

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Monthly Picks: July 2013

As it is with movies, most of the year's awards go to wines released towards the end of the year when most of the big reds find their way to your local fine wine shop or are finally available for order via the website of your favourite local producer. With this month's wine picks we're going to focus on the wines that have impressed us the most mid-way through the year; the best of the best (thus far released). Welcome to Icon Wine's Mid-Year Wine Awards.

We're using unique categories for this mid-year celebration for a clear distinction to our annual (official) wine awards that come out in December.

Best Resurrection
The now defunct Soaring Eagle Estate Winery was a relatively insular properly and easy to ignore when driving between more prominent and press-engaged wineries on the Naramata Bench. A stylistic re-birth has taken place using the winery's address along Naramata Rd as inspiration. Expect Bench 1775 to actively woo your patronage as it positions itself to be the next must-visit winery on the bench.

Bench 1775 Winery 2012 Chill - $16
A fun, off-dry blend of (mostly) Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc offering loads of tropical fruit and mineral characters with Summer-friendly low-alcohol.
Icon Score

Best Spring Release for Summer Sipping
What I look for in a great Summer Sipper is a great balance of drinkability and complexity. You want something tasty and complex enough to keep you engaged in the wine but not be distracted by it. The last few year, my go-to Summer Sipper has been a BC Sauvignon Blanc (from various producers) due to its underrated complexity (especially those blended with Semillon) and its ability to deliver crisp citrus and honeyed tropical fruit flavours that keep your palate entertained and refreshed for hours.

Howling Bluff Estate Winery 2012 Summa Quies Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon - $20
Even Sauvignon Blanc blended with only minuscule amounts of Sémillon (like Fairview Cellars', another perennial favourite) benefits from the added candied fruit and sweet honeydew complexity which compliment the raw citrus and grassy twang of Sauvignon Blanc perfectly.
Icon Score

Best Cellar Dweller
Now entering our 5th year as a wine review site, we're able to revisit wines occasionally and this award goes to the previously-reviewed wine who's short-term development has impressed us the most.

Cassini Cellars 2009 Maximus - $32
First tasted in September 2011 and then re-tasted again in May 2013, the 2009 Maximus is a delightful wine that shows that BC wines can age when consideration has been made to how the wine has been enclosed; cork or screw cap VS. synthetics.
Icon Score

Most Promising Preview
We have a tie here. I had the privileged to taste two big reds that will knock your socks off when they get released. And we're not talking barrels samples steeped in mystical promise, these are completed wines in bottle and simply waiting for the right moment to be revealed to the public. Both are early candidates for the 2013 Icon Wine of the Year.

Painted Rock Estate Winery 2010 Red Icon - $55
Not yet released. The 2010 sees 39% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 18% Petit Verdot, 11% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon blended to produce an aromatic nose of dark berries, violets, mint, licorice, cedar and dark chocolate aromas while the dry palate charms with intense dark fruit puree flavours supported by fine tannins, mouth-watering acidity, warm earth and toasted oak notes.
Icon Score

Cachet Wines 2010 Cachet no 3 - $50
Just released. Tasted at an April event where a proud proprietor (@SimplyPinot) was happy to explain the wine's unexpected origin due to a fortuitous forklift accident producing a blend of 49% Tempranillo, 43% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Just 55 cases exist of this gorgeous wine with loads of character and depth. Was recently awarded a 2013 Lieutenant Governor Award.

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

BC Wine Deal: July 2nd, 2013

The following VQA wines have been reduced in price for a limited time. Find them at your local VQA and participating BCLDB stores.

49 NORTH RED was $9.99 is now $7.99
Andrew Peller Cabernet/Merlot was $14.99 is now $12.99
Broken Shadow Weathervane was $17.99 is now $15.99
Calona Sovereign Opal was $14.99 is now $12.99
Cedar Creek Gewurztraminer was $17.95 is now $16.95
Chaberton Gamay Noir was $17.45 is now $15.70
Chaberton Madeleine Sylvaner was $14.90 is now $13.40
Fork in the Road White was $15.99 is now $13.99
Hillside Rose was $18.99 is now $16.99
Jackson Triggs Cabernet Sauvignon Black Series was $16.99 is now $15.99
Jackson Triggs Chardonnay Private Reserve was $12.99 is now $11.99
Mission Hill Pinot Blanc Five Vineyards was $14.99 is now $13.99
Mission Hill Pinot Noir Five Vineyards was $19.99 is now $17.99
Open Sociable Sparkling was $14.99 is now $13.99
Prospect Pinot Blanc was $13.99 is now $12.99
Prospect Shiraz was $16.99 is now $14.99
Recline Ridge Ortega was $17.90 is now $13.90
Red Rooster Chardonnay was $16.99 is now $14.99
Red Rooster Gewurztraminer was $16.99 is now $14.99
Rigamarole Red was $14.99 is now $13.99
See Ya Later Chardonnay was $19.99 is now $18.50
See Ya Later Pinot Noir was $22.00 is now $20.00
Sumac Ridge Stellar's Jay Brut was $24.99 is now $23.99
Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer Private Reserve was $14.99 is now $13.99
Therapy Freudian Sip was $17.50 is now $14.99
Therapy Pink Freud was $17.50 is now $14.99
Therapy Pinot Gris was $19.95 is now $17.99
Therapy Pinot Noir was $22.99 is now $19.99
Township 7 Chardonnay was $19.99 is now $18.99
Wayne Gretzky Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah was $17.99 is now $15.99
Wayne Gretzky Chardonnay was $15.99 is now $13.99