I'll be presenting two sit down seminars the weekend of Nov 18-19 in Whistler, BC for Cornucopia Wine Festival, on topics I'm passionate about: Blockbuster BC, and Wines from Old Vines. Hope to see you there! Tickets are available online from Cornucopia.
When I woke up this morning, it was to some fantastic news: my first article for Wine Enthusiast has been published! What a thrill to see my story on their home page:
When I started the WSET Diploma, it was my dream to become a wine writer, so you can probably imagine how exciting this is.
It's a story about buying our small organic vineyard in the Similkameen, and getting to know what's involved in fixing up some very overgrown vines. I hope you enjoy it, please do leave a comment on the Wine Enthusiast page.
Hopefully there are more stories to come!
Sandra Oldfield has a list of accomplishments a mile long. There's a new one to add, she's now officially one of Canada's Most Powerful Women.
Each year, 100 women are celebrated by the Women's Executive Network WXN. Sandra was selected in the 2016 Trailblazers & Trendsetters category.
Here's a selection of Sandra's achievements, which demonstrate her leadership in the Canadian wine industry:
- After studying winemaking at UC Davis, she moved to Canada, becoming one of the only women winemakers in the country when Tinhorn opened 20 years ago - she's now the CEO of Tinhorn Creek.
Created BC's first winery members club that shipped direct to consumer!
Sandra was instrumental in the delineation of BC's first wine sub-appellation: the Golden Mile Bench, on the former gold-mining hills west of Oliver.
- Sandra embraced controversy to make an important point for the Canadian wine industry. Should it be easier to ship a 12-gauge shotgun or a case of wine across provincial borders? In 2012, she proved it was easier to order the gun. Canadians owe Sandra a debt of gratitude for her advocacy on the free trade of wine.
Speaking of advocacy, Sandra has also been a strong proponent for clearer labelling on Canadian wine that contains grapes or juice imported from other countries, the result of which is most often of inferior quality, and sold as 'cellared in Canada'.
- For the past 5 years, she's run #BCWinechat on Twitter each Wednesday evening, a go-to forum for BC wine lovers, winemakers, growers, and somms to discuss a variety of wine topics.
Congratulations Sandra on this well deserved recognition.
This family-owned and sustainability focused winery is featured in my book Winetripping as a key stop in the Oliver area.
They've got spectacular views across the valley from their welcoming tasting room, plus a fantastic restaurant, Miradoro, and host many fun activities on site (concerts, yoga in the vines, access to hiking trails). The wines are made wholly from their own vineyards on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Benches. 2.5% of the winery's net income supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada. My favourite wines there are the Oldfield Series reds, make sure you give them a try.
537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver BC
Open for tastings year round:
March 1st to October 31stfrom 10-6
November 1st to December 31st from 10-5
January 2nd to February 28th from 10-4
Images courtesy of Tinhorn Creek
Have you ever belonged to a wine club? It's a thrill that never fades, to get wine in the post, but sometimes that commitment can be pricy.
Is there an alternative? How about a wine club focused on local wine producers, with no membership dues or commitment to buy for members, that gives the wineries themselves a healthy profit. A win-win-win business model for the consumer, wine club, and winery. OWC have quickly amassed a solid following, with over 25,000 wine loving fans on their FB page.
Instead of collecting membership fees, they scout out and select a new winery for each offering of 6 bottles, allowing members the chance to opt-in to purchase. I love that they're exposing the wine loving public to some very delicious but under-the-radar wineries like C.C. Jentsch & Lunessence. The orders and payment are fulfilled by the winery, and members pay the winery price. Each shipment arrives with a nice write up about the winery and each of the bottles included.
Pricing is key: members aren't paying a mark-up from the price they'd pay by buying directly from the winery (most non-producer wine clubs operate on the mark-up margin plus the negotiated volume discount, whereas OWC operate on volume discount alone).
When I heard about the cool things OkanaganWine.Club were up to, especially the promotion of niche BC wineries, I reached out to co-founder Ivan Gonzalez to chat about the club.
Q What drew you to starting OWC? How did you become interested in BC wine?
Many things drew me to start OWC. Personally the fact that I wanted to provide a service that would empower local wineries and help develop the local wine industry.
During my college years I volunteered at the WestJet Wine Festival and realized that there was a huge demand for local wines. I later tasted some leftover wine from the event and was surprised by the quality.
Q How did you develop your wine tasting skills?
WSET 1, plus I literally go out to the wineries and speak to winemakers, local somms, and chefs. Each one of them has taught me something. Last time I counted I had visited 90% of wineries in BC. The secret is to ask, listen and pay attention to what you are tasting. I also have mentors that introduce me to new wine.
I'm really impressed with your commitment to visiting the wineries, it's something I'm very passionate about as well.
Q What are your customers’ favourite wines, are you seeing a trend towards any particular styles?
Tricky question. I do see trends but I immediately try to avoid falling into that. The idea of OkanaganWine.Club is to provide a platform where people can comfortably order wine that they have not tried, and discover. So if I see a trend, I try to bring a different style of wine to keep them on their toes. Saying that, the only trend I really have noticed are people tasting wine that they had no idea about or thought they wouldn't like and end up asking for cases.
Q What changes have you seen in BC wine over the past several years?
I must say I'm not a veteran in this industry but from the two years I have been involved, I've seen many changes. Wineries are discovering that there is an online market and people are realizing that BC's wine regions are producing some very high quality wines.
Congratulations Ivan on your success, and I look forward to seeing which winery OWC will be featuring next!
Winery Visits: Daily 9:30-7
Location: 1730 Mission Hill Rd, West Kelowna
Located in West Kelowna, with a commanding view over Okanagan Lake, this iconic winery is a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers touring the Okanagan, its soaring Tuscan profile and bell tower visible from miles away.
If you'll be visiting the area, Mission Hill is a benchmark setter, and you'll want to have lunch on the Terrace just for the view, or catch a concert in the grass-stepped amphitheatre; the extensive cellars make it a memorable place to take a tour, where you can spot the antique drinking cups, admire the barrel-vaulted ceilings and dramatic lighting, and peek into the winemaking area to see a wide variety of fermentation vessels: the Italian amphorae, concrete eggs, and big German oak tanks, bubbling away with the many wines produced here.
Owner Anthony von Mandl made a fortune with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and used the considerable funds to build Mission Hill. In 2014, Kelowna's CedarCreek Estate Winery was purchased, becoming part of the von Mandl Family Estates, joining Mark Anthony Wine Merchants, along with CheckMate Artisanal Winery (focused on ultra premium small lot wines) later in 2015.
Darryl Brooker, who was Chief Winemaker at CedarCreek, took over winemaking from John Simes as of the 2015 Mission Hill vintage, after assisting with the 2013 and 2014 blending. Darryl has worked all over the world, including Villa Maria Estate in New Zealand, recognized as a leader in sustainable wine production. John is now in charge of viticulture for all the von Mandl properties.
According to Darryl, he's excited by the wines produced in "what may prove to be the best harvests ever in British Columbia from 2013 to 2015". You heard it here, it's time to stock the cellars!
Being one of the largest producers in the province, it might be assumed that this is a bulk wine operation, but that's far from the case. I'm very impressed by Darryl and Mission Hill's commitment to improving farming techniques and sustainability, along with making small lot and site specific wines. They're one of the first BC wineries to use drones to map vigour (very cool), by flying over vineyards to measure how the vines are growing.
They're now releasing their first organic Merlot, which comes from a special spot in Oliver. The 2013 Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot, is not just grown in a certified organic vineyard, but also meets Canada's tricky organic wine production rules.
If such a large company is willing to make a commitment in moving to biodynamic and organic production, I say kudos to them.
Mission Hill makes wine in several ranges, tasted below are wines in the following categories:
Terroir: Very premium, made with the top 3% of their estate grown fruit in small lots $$$$.
Reserve: Well made wines from select vineyards and special sites, in limited quantities. Offering a good balance of quality and cost. $$
Five Vineyards: Larger production wines and keenly priced, from the five Okanagan Mission Hill vineyards, offering full flavour and surprisingly good value for money! Look out for the appealing new redesign on the labels in shades of blue and rose. $
2013 Mission Hill Family Estate Whispering Hill Organic Merlot
Picking up the bottle, I'm struck by the substantial weight, and the sense of craft in the embossed golden crest, and sepia vineyard photo. Being part of the Terroir series, it's noted up front that only 19 barrels were produced, and there's a nice level of detail on the back label about the making of the wine including site, clone, and winemaker (John Simes).
A romantic deep garnet red shade, with notes of mocha cocoa out of the glass, along with spiced plums. On the palate, soft and full with dense yet fine tannins. Cocoa with dried mint, and black cherry in the background. The glass is pleading with me for a food pairing: cherry sauced duck, Dijon mustard sauteed mushrooms, or slivers of crumbly Manchego cheese. PS: this wine opened up quite a bit after two hours of decanting, and gained an added dimension of cherry and plum fruit.
2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Limited Edition Viognier
An unctuous and mouthcoating wine, delightfully textured, with honeysuckle, baking spices and ripest peach (reminding me of sneaking a slice of peach from the pie dish). Has a hint of sweetness, but balanced.
2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio
You had me at hello, lemon citrusy nose. A very zesty Mandarin orange flavour is joined by honeyed pear at first sip. Fuller bodied, this might be heading in to richer Pinot Gris territory. A little heat on the finish at 14% ABV. Delivers lots of flavour and very good value for money.
2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé
A vivid watermelon pink hue, and strawberry nose. It might be the power of suggestion, but the flavour is decidedly watermelon, zingy, with red cherry and a snippet of red rose. Dry, but generous. Could stand up to roast chicken, but best shared with friends at a Friday sunset.
All images courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate. Wines samples were provided by Mission Hill. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!
Winery Visits: May-October - Daily from 10am-6pm
Location: 20623 McDougald Road, Summerland, BC, V0H1Z6
With its 2015 releases, the first full vintage under winemaker Lawrence Buhler, one year old Evolve Cellars in Summerland is carving out a reputation for juicy, fruit forward, and enjoyable wines that are easy-drinking and most definitely food friendly.
2015 Pinot Gris $15.99
A glass of nectarine and ripe peach, wildflower honey, and a touch of desirable grapefruity acidity to keep things fresh. Well chilled, this dry Pinot Gris is a wonderful choice for a patio sipper, served with a guest-worthy platter of antipasto, tangy chunks of aged white cheddar, and paté.
2015 Riesling $16.99
This off-dry Riesling tastes almost dry due to the juicy acidity that's a hallmark of the grape variety. I very much enjoyed the honeysuckle aroma, and rich guava and lime flavours packed into my glass. Would pair beautifully with summer fruit (think grilled peach and pineapple), along with corn on the cob, and sweet fresh-caught halibut, crab, or prawns.
2015 Gewurztraminer $15.99
A full-flavoured expression of this grape, with tropical fruit, zingy ginger, and rose on the palate. It's lightly off-dry, making it a great match for meals with pungent spices and full flavour, like curries, tajines, or sweet chili BBQ.
2015 Rosé $16.99
A total crowd pleaser, this super juicy rosé has generous flavours of strawberry and melon, and just the right touch of sweetness. An ideal partner for salmon or grilled seafood, or a burger on the patio. I found it to be the perfect aperitif match for lightly spicy piquillo peppers and guacamole.
Wines samples were provided by Evolve Cellars. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!
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.
Winery Visits: Daily 10 am-5:30 pm Easter to Oct 31st / Mon-Sat 11 am-4 pm Nov 1st to Easter
Location: 799 Ponderosa Road, Oliver, BC
I recently had the chance to taste through some of Road 13 Vineyard’s best reserve bottles. The winery, located in the Okanagan’s Golden Mile, has some of the oldest Chenin vines in Canada, planted in 1968. They’re having fun making a wide variety of wines, and experimenting with Rhone varietals like viognier, mourvedre, and syrah. GM Joe Luckhurst was on hand to walk us through the tasting, and he explained the Jackpot series is named for the old gold mine once open near the property.
The 2011 Jackpot Chardonnay ($40) stood out among the whites, and is the perfect gift for the Chardonnay hound in your life. Full bodied, vanilla finish, barrel fermented in French oak, this is a big, ripe, smooth wine that tasted like “liquid luck”.
Among the reds, their 2011 Jackpot Syrah ($40) was notable for its incredible nose, with tobacco smoke, and an earthy, savoury leather character. It tasted of ripe cherries and blackcurrant, with a pleasant meaty note and silky tannins. This would be a real hit with your next Sunday lamb roast.
Also of note was the 2011 Petit Verdot, at $75, a contender for the next big cult BC wine. Opaque ruby in the glass, this had candied violets and mocha on the nose, with big high acid black fruit and a long peppery finish. Lay it down for a couple of years, and you would have a spectacular special occasion wine.
All the wines we tasted were well made, with attention to detail and obvious pride. While the whites shared a full bodied style, with a distinct mouth coating waxiness, moderate acidity, and interesting character, the crowd pleasers were the ripe, luscious reds. Road 13 is making some great wines which are worth seeking out.
Road 13 Vineyards
799 Ponderosa Road, Road 13
Oliver, BC V0H 1T1