Winery Visits: By Appointment Only
Location: Golden Mile, Oliver, BC
A no-expenses-spared undertaking funded by the Mission Hill umbrella, this top secret project is finally available to taste. The winery has released just five wines: all are 100% Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.
CheckMate’s winery is tucked away off the road south of Oliver in the Golden Mile area - near CC Jentsch and Culmina - available to visit only through privately arranged appointment (and it sounds like those are very exclusive indeed). Actually, until recently almost everything about this project has been cloaked in a shroud of prestige and mystery, including the wines themselves.
Before we talk wine, though, a little history: in 1994, Mission Hill Winery's reserve Chardonnay won Avery's Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was to put it mildly, a game changer for the Okanagan. The grapes used in that wine are from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, from a plot on the Golden Mile that’s newly under the ownership of CheckMate. The plot’s still planted with this not yet identifiable clone that's being called Heritage.
These are wines several years in the making, and no corners have been cut. From three different sites, Aussie winemaker Philip Mcgahan (a transplant by way of the Hunter and Russian River Valleys) had his pick of the best rows from the best sites. Grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and in the winery they’re experimenting with wild ferments. Kudos for their championing of no fining or filtration, instead letting the work of gravity and time take place. The bottles themselves are a tactile person’s delight, heavy and stubbily 19th century in shape.
The five wines, in what some may consider hubris, others brilliant marketing, range from $80 to $125 per bottle, and are available only through direct purchase on their website or from a restaurant wine list. Online, they are offered in elegantly packaged sets of three or five wines.
As I tasted the wines, I had a mixture of thoughts: not wanting to be accused of provincialism, but proud that these marquee wines may further help put the Okanagan on wine lover’s minds and maps. I’ve talked with some people ready to dismiss them as outrageously priced, and others ready to drink the kool-aid before they’ve even drunk the wines.
After tasting, I’m converted. They’re impeccably made, beautiful wines with soul.
Capture $90 - 94 points
The grapes for this wine are from the Border Vista vineyard, a warm site on the east bench of Osoyoos overlooking Osoyoos Lake. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, and only seven barrel’s worth was made.
This was my favourite of the five, peaches and cream in the mouth, mineral, then with a clementine-citrus ring of acidity that kept going and going. Just amazing.
Queen Taken $125 - 92 points
Made from those mysterious Heritage grapes, on the cooler slopes of the Golden Mile, aged in French oak for 17 months.
Pear, apple, white peach, less linear than Capture but there’s lime here, and a touch of feminine floral perfume.
Little Pawn $110 - 93 points
Grapes are from the Barn vineyard, on the sunny eastern side of the valley’s Black Sage Bench.
Playful, with mineral on the nose, then pepper and ginger spiced apples on the palate. Sophisticated, hinting at ripeness yet taut.
Fool’s Mate $80 - 91 points
A blend of all three vineyard sites, aged 17 months in French oak.
Delightful yeast and biscuit nose. Generous but balanced oak, vanilla cream, mandarine, citrus, and peach.
Attack $115 - 93 points
A blend of grapes from the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile sites. Aged 18 months in a substantial and new French oak foudre (large oval barrel).
Restrained toast and vanilla nose, silky textured palate, with gunmetal and gravel, then a hint of lemon, almond blossom, white pepper and ginger root.