This year’s Playhouse International Wine Festival cast a vivid spotlight on BC wine and from all indications the afterglow is still shining. Being from California, I’m always drawn to the winemakers from Sonoma County, and after the festival I followed up with a few of them to gauge their thoughts on British Columbia wines. I asked what styles and brands stood out and whether they think the wines are globally competitive.
Winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood started off by expressing a feeling of déjà vu: “The sense of enthusiasm and attitude of the producers I met made me feel as though I had stepped back into the 1980’s California wine scene. There was lots of experimentation, a huge amount of enthusiasm and what I like to describe as the 3 musketeers syndrome “all for one and one for all” kind of attitude.
But, he wonders about BC’s identity: “It seems to me that it is a wine region that is in its adolescence; still trying to sort out what varieties it wants to work with and what styles are most suitable for soil and climatic conditions. While there are some really terrific wines, the styles and types range widely – everything from dry whites, to light reds, to heavy reds, to ice wines. It’s a very heterogeneous mix for so small an area.
“With Pinot Noir, for instance, I tasted things that were quite rustic to things that were very stylish and subtle. I also strikes me that red Bordeaux varieties didn’t seem to be the strong suit of the region. While there were frequently very dark in color, they were also quite hard and frequently had a very strong green component that indicated to me climatic shortcomings for this group of grapes.
“And who knows, given the possibilities of global warming, you may find your wines shifting to a riper style,” he adds.
“There is no reason, based on what I tasted, that this region cannot become globally competitive. Think Burgundy, Northern Rhone, Chateau Neuf du Pape – and you get my sense.”
Julie St. John, VP of Marketing at Pedroncelli, has been traveling here for many years, but this was the first time the winery had participated in the festival. She is eager to come back next time.
“I personally would like to see BC wines in the market in the US. The price point might be a little high for our current economy but there are some very good, sound wines coming from BC. And I have been traveling on business to Vancouver for 20 years so I remember first tasting the wines that long ago. Here are a few of the brands that stood out for me:
“Wild Goose: their Stony Slope Riesling might be the best one I have ever tried. A wow factor of 10 on a 10 point scale.”
An astute choice, since this wine just won the 2009 Okanagan Wine Award for Riesling.
“Noble Ridge Pinot Grigio as well as the Meritage, and Averill Creek Pinot Blanc were very good. Hester Creek Pinot Gris was my favorite white and their Reserve Merlot was nice. Dunham and Froeser’s Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir were very nice.
“Elephant Island Pink Elephant was very good and the Framboise excellent. The Sumac Ridge Pinot Blanc as well as the sparkling wine were both very good. The Road 13 – I have tried their wines previous to this trip to Vancouver –make a very good Syrah. Quails Gate I have also tried previous to this trip – excellent Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir!”
As Director of Heck Estates, Paul Young oversees operations at Kenwood, Valley of the Moon, Lake Sonoma and Korbel wineries. He is a guy who knows his wine styles and here’s what he told me by phone:
“My wife and I have enjoyed B.C.’s finest for over two decades on our forays to your lovely province. I remember the early days, the heyday of whites and hybrids, and it’s been a treat to watch them evolve over time, the Ehrenfelser especially. There is a lot of variety, which is fun. The reds are also exciting, like the Pinot Noirs and Merlots.
“Some of my favorites wines are from Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl and the Mission Hill Reserves. And the Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer at Sumac Ridge are very reasonably priced for their quality.
“There is a real spirit of pioneering in BC, which is good to see. I think BC winemakers have dialed in on what to plant and they’ve identified wines to go with the Pacific influenced food, so that it is all of a piece. It’s fun to watch the adventuresome approach of BC winemakers. Malahat on Vancouver Island is an example of people who are willing to experiment. It’s great to see the boom ahead because I don’t see it slowing down.”
While hardly a scientific survey, I’d say this constitutes a giant thumbs up to the young BC industry from three old hands who are themselves in a relatively new wine region. So, you go BC.
And go Canucks!