For a minute, I thought I was in California. The woodsy tasting room was filled with raucous wine tasters sipping white wine and nibbling cheese, and in the warehouse a string band played hot jazz as a crowd gathered around a table in the corner, where the red wines were being poured. Stainless steel tanks on one side, racks of oak barrels on the other, and stacks of case boxes behind the band made it look like any garage winery release party you’d attend in Santa Rosa. Not only did the location feel like our backyard – requiring just under a half hour from central Vancouver – other thing reminded me most of home: the wines were made from California grapes.
Welcome to Pacific Breeze, British Columbia’s only garage winery. Located near the Fraser River in New Westminister, it was opened five years ago by winemakers Frank Gregus and Maurice Hamilton with a mission to make big, bold and powerful wines. The Fraser Valley, south of Vancouver, is home to numerous wineries that source grapes locally or from the Okanagan Valley. But what makes Pacific Breeze unique is their use of California fruit. Grapes from Alexander Valley and Carneros in Sonoma County and High Valley in Lake County are monitored from a distance and hauled north in 4-5 refrigerated trucks every August and September.
“I just love California grapes,” he said. “It produces the kind of wine we want to make, and we’re not going to change the style because another source is closer.”
Sauvignon Blanc has become a signature varietal for Lake County, with AppellationAmerica.com describing it as “refreshing citrus fruit laced with bracing minerality, and good balance tilted toward crisp acidity.”
True to form, the inaugural vintage of Pacific Breeze Sauvignon Blanc from High Valley is lean and refreshing with green apples, tropical and citrus fruits with fresh grassy notes. So inviting, we drank it for Passover.
With Sangiacomo Vineyards grapes and new French oak barrels, P.B. made a 2005 Chardonnay that is a real California oak bomb. Full of buttery coconut, vanilla, apples and lemon, it finishes like a banana cream pie. The 2006 version has the same lovely fruit profile, but with the barrels being used once, it has milder oak and a sharp mineral edge – the kind of French style popular with today’s Chard lovers. $29.95
Lake County’s High Valley is one of the newest AVA’s and at between 1,700 and 2,200 feet above sea level, it’s considered a cool climate area. The 2006 High Valley G.S.M (Grenache, Syrah, Morvedre) had that classic rich body of well-ripened fruit that we love about California wine. Opaque in color, it had dried plums, blackberry jam, Christmas spice and a hint of charcoal and a smooth, supple mouthfeel. $29.97
The 2006 Lake County Syrah hit all the black notes with spicy berries, plums, brambleberries, pepper and tobacco smoke. Good acid and muscular tannins make it worth lying down for a while. $39.95
Taking their garagiste moniker to a different level, P.B. makes Vin de Garagiste P1 and the new release, P2. (Think parking garage.) P1 is the 2006 vintage of this Bordeaux blend of Cabernet with Merlot, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot from Lake County fruit. It is a mélange of black and red berry fruit with hints of chocolate, nice acidity and a long, rich finish. An excellent value at $19.97. The 2007 version, called P2, is a darker, gothier Vin de Garagiste that lacks the complexity of P1, but is still a bold quaff worthy of a rare steak.
Pacific Breeze wines are so rich, ripe and well oaked, they are truly a taste of California. California wine, by way of New Westminister.