Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cinderella Comes to the Table

Noted wine journalist, Oz Clarke, has written that he "can't think of a single region in the world where Pinot Blanc is regarded as a star grape.  It's widely enough grown, but never plays the leading roll. "  PB "is one of the world's genuine Cinderellas."

The Okanagan is one area where Pinot Blanc has a bit of a foothold and some very nice wines are being produced.  During the 1990's, when the first steps were being taken to move BC winemaking into a new era of free trade, Pinot Blanc was one of the varietals that was identified as having good potential in the province.  The varietal is currently the fourth most planted white grape in BC; however, its  prominence seems to be declining, if anything.  

The varietal does have its supporters though.  Barbara Philip, Canada's only female Wine Master, wrote her thesis on Pinot Blanc production in BC and often poses the question of whether it could or should become BC's signature grape in the eyes of the world.  Naturally, there are pros and cons for any BC winemaker willing to risk their reputation on the grape as a showcase wine - the primary con seeming to be that PB is generally seen as having a more subtle and uncomplicated taste profile than other more popular white varietals.

70.  2007 Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc (Okanagan - BC)

Although Pinot Blanc is far from a flagship for Blue Mountain, the winery does make one of the better received PB's.  This is the first time I've added a Blue Mountain wine to The List; however, the winery is one of the very first that I encountered when drinking BC wines started becoming "acceptable" at the gourmet table.  The winery set some early benchmarks for BC wines.

Blue Mountain is a family estate operation - with the Mavety family being fully involved from growing all their own grapes, to making the decisions in the winemaking process and through the marketing stages.  The family has been continuously producing grapes, traditionally from Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace, in the Okanagan Falls area for over 30 years now. 

The Mavety's have never shied away from taking their own position in the business.  They have never applied for VQA certification (although no one doubts that they would get it at the drop of a hat) and they are one of the Okanagan growers to introduce biodynamic principles in the vineyard where they can.

They have, however, often been painted as being somewhat standoffish or not that customer friendly.  The biggest "complaint" always seeming to be that you can only buy their wines at the winery but that it is so difficult to visit them.  I recall the "joke" making the rounds during the Okanagan fires of 2003 - "Why did the fire stop at the gates to Blue Mountain Winery?  It didn't have an appointment."

I've heard some say that such a stance comes from the fact that they don't need to court the public since they know that their wines will always sell out.  I'm going to be more generous and say that I think it stems from the fact that they're a small operation and are generally out working in the vineyards or in the offices and they're just short of both wine and bodies to fully stock or man a tasting room - something that is not so foreign at other BC estate wineries nowadays either.  Although I haven't tried to recently, I presume you still simply have to call a day or two in advance to arrange a visit and tasting.  

Whether you want to characterize the winery as an ugly stepsister or not, Blue Mountain has invited Cinderella to the dance and their Pinot Blanc is a welcome addition to The List.

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