Sunday, July 5, 2009

Canada's First Syrah

93. 2000 Nichol Vineyard Syrah (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

Nichol is one of the Okanagan wineries that was in the forefront of moving BC wine to the next level back in the 90's. It hasn't been one that we usually get a lot of chance to try as they've always had a limited production as might be expected from a small, private estate.

Alex & Kathleen Nichol, the original owners of the winery, were, in 1990, the first growers in Canada to plant the syrah grape. Although many thought they were crazy at the time, their studies told them that degree days on their land were on par with (if not in excess of) Bordeaux and the Rhone. Syrah/Shiraz is now one of the most popular grapes grown in the Okanagan.

Original in their varietal plantings, they also used a unique pruning and training method which involves a "V" formation to provide a different approach to exposure to the sun.

Although the current owner operator, Ross Hackworth, purchased the winery in 2004, he and the Nichol's maintained a two-year transition to allow and ensure that the standards introduced by the Nichol's could be better understood and incorporated by Mr. Hackworth in his first full-on venture into wine. Although he spent a number of his formative years growing up in Naramata, that was long before the area became marketed as the "Naramata Bench." He spent his youth working in his family's orchard, not learning the tricks of the world of BC wine.

The particular vintage we opened carried quite a pedigree with it. In 2004, it won a gold medal in the NorthWest Wine Summit. There are so many wine competitions nowadays that I tend to look at claims of medal-winning wines with a jaundiced eye; however, the Summit is one of the few that I put a fair bit of stock in. The wine was also selected to be listed by the Ontario Liquor Board at their Vintages Specialty Store. Considering how rare it is to find a BC wine for sale in Ontario (and vice-versa), that in itself is an accomplishment.

We got this wine as part of a "Best of the Bench" specialty collection - a unique wooden case that contained each member's "best" effort. The Naramata Bench Vintners' Association was started in 2004 as a collective effort by ten of the local wineries to try and raise the profile of the area. I don't think that anyone can argue that they didn't succeed. Other than the Okanagan region as a whole, I think the Naramata Bench is perhaps the best known wine "term" for BC. The Bench might have the highest concentration of wineries in the province and many of the producers are known for high quality. The original ten has multiplied every year and its profile continues to grow.

Many, if not most, of the orchards from Ross Hackworth's youth may have been replace by grape vineyards, but it's hard not to love the Bench.

No comments:

Post a Comment