Riding the Okanagan theme again this week, I had the opportunity to attend two wine tastings devoted to BC wineries.
On Thursday, September 20th, it was Colour BC the Fall version of the biannual showcase, held at the Vancouver Convention Center East.
The usual suspects were on hand, pouring their new releases, but I also got to try wines from a bunch of new wineries, some of whom opened their tasting room doors just this summer. They made me think of what Bradley Cooper said to me about emerging producers, “The Okanagan is a slightly larger piece of pie but with a lot more cuts in it.” Looking at all these new cuts in the pie, I wondered how they would all survive.
The most compelling start up story is from Judy Kingston at Serendipity Winery on the Naramata Bench. In her previous life as a Toronto attorney, she was in an automobile accident which resulted in a bad case of amnesia that forced her to give up law. Then in 2005, driving around the Okanagan Valley searching for retirement real estate, she found and bought a 12-acre orchard on Lower Debeck Road. Suddenly, the attorney was a farmer, hence the serendipity. Kingston planted syrah, merlot, viognier, sauvignon blanc, cabernet france, malbec and pinot noir. After planting, she went back to school: first agricultural school, then vinicultural school. 2009 was her first harvest. This was the first vintage she began selling. With some help, she is doing all the farming and winemaking.
I tasted Judy’s 2011 White Lie blend ($18), 2011 Rose ($18), 2007 Pinot Noir (40) and 2010 Devil’s Advocate ($25) all of which tasted solid and demonstrated the start of a bright winemaking future.
Another new winery is Platinum Bench on Black Sage Road in Oliver. The 14-acre vineyard was purchased in 2009 by Fiona Duncan and Murray Jones, two Winnipegers who decided to chuck their city life and trade it for wine country. She was in the garment industry and he was the partner in a company making soft wall structures. Sounds like a perfect blend to me. To get them started, they hired Michael Bartier of Road 13 as their winemaker. They’re growing pinot gris and chardonnay for single varietal bottlings, as well as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and gamay noir to be blended into Benchmark Red. Currently, producing 1200 cases, Duncan and Jones expect to max out at 4000 cases.
The 2010 Benchmark Red ($30) tasted quite smooth and substantial, the 2011 Gamay Noir ($20) smoky and warm. Bartier is doing a good job there and it will be interesting to see what comes next.
In this tighter wine market, one can only hope for the best for these fledgling BC wineries, as well as looking for them at the local VQA store.
Black Sage Vineyard Launches Labels
On Friday, my husband and I attended a launch for a new wine label. The wine was a secret to everyone, but the serving of Stellar Jay sparkling provided an accurate cue. The crowd gathered near the podium where a large canvas was covered, ready for the big reveal. When Jody Levesque, Marketing Manager for Western VQA Estates, stepped to the microphone and announced the new winery, Black Sage Vineyard, I thought, for a new label, this sounds a lot like the old label.
In fact, Black Sage Vineyard comes from one of the oldest of BC wineries, Sumac Ridge. The grapes come from the 115-acre Black Sage Vineyard planted 30 years ago by Okanagan wine godfather, Harry McWatters who sold half of them to Vincor in 2000 along with Sumac Ridge winery. Constellation then purchased Vincor and now the folks at Constellation have kicked Black Sage out of the Sumac Ridge lineup, although all the wines will be made at the Summerland facility. All the white vines will be grafted with reds to include merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc only.
Oh, and the Steller’s Jay sparkling? It will be its own brand too.
For an extensive analysis, check out John Schreiner’s post Sumac Ridge spins off two iconic brands
The wines were carefully paired with creations by Market restaurant Chef Wayne Harris. I found the 2010 Merlot a little hard-edged to drink now. It was paired with venison-wrapped plums on a leek blade. But the smooth, approachable 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon with a lamb/truffle paté proved a delicious combination. My favorite wine was the elegant 2010 Cabernet Franc, well paired with duck confit on a crostini.
Winemaker Jason James told me there are plans to plant some syrah and zinfandel. Eventually, they will blend the varietals together, but unlike the old brand, they won’t be calling it a “Meritage.”
On the way out, we were given an elegant two-bottle gift box containing the merlot and the cab franc. It was the best wine swag I’ve received in a long time. I might lay the merlot down to smooth it out, or maybe I’ll blend them together at home and make my own Meritage.