Sunday, November 6, 2011

B.S., You Say?

As established as the BC wine industry seems to be now, there's no getting over the fact that the industry is really still in its infancy. Whether you want to debate the merits of producers focusing on specific varietals or you want to bemoan the high costs of vineyard land and operations - or discuss any one of multiple other topics - it's clear that the industry scene of today is exponentially different than it was ten years ago and that it will likely look completely different in another decade.

With each passing vintage, a dizzying number of new wineries and new industry initiatives (or lack thereof) seem to appear. One new concept that arrived this year was the emergence of custom crush wineries in the Okanagan - a take on cooperative wine production facilities that can be found in other winemaking regions. I understand that two different options for custom winemaking are now available for Okanagan vintners who neither own nor have access to winery facilities. I've seen brief mention of Alto Wine Group, one of the new facilities, but I know nothing about them.

The second initiative is Okanagan Crush Pad and there's been no shortage of press and marketing to celebrate their arrival. There is a whole team of folks behind Crush Pad, but two of the driving forces are Michael Bartier and David Scholefield, the "B" and "S" that make up B-S wines.

971. 2010 B-S Rosé Table Wine (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Michael Bartier's name has appeared previously in this blog as I think it's fair to say that he's one of the better known winemakers in the Okanagan. A native-born son of the Okanagan, he's made wine at Hawthorne Mountain (now See Ya Later), Township 7, Stag's Hollow and, perhaps most notably, at Road 13.

David Scholefield, on the other hand, has played a completely different role in the development of the BC wine industry. A long time writer, speaker and competition judge, he was a senior wine buyer for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch - one of the largest, single buyers of wine and alcohol in the world - for many a year. His experience has resulted in his travelling the world and meeting with wine icons from every region.

The two of them have joined forces to try and put a stronger face to Scholefield's long held belief that "BC is capable of producing distinctive wines that articulate their origin." Scholefield argues that the Okanagan environment can deliver a "natural style" that is "light, clean, juicy and refreshing." What's more is that he sees the wine-buying public as being ready for a distinctly BC wine.

This first vintage has only seen the release of two wines so far - a white blend and the Rosé that we've opened here. The Rosé is made from 100% Gamay Noir grapes and this first vintage is limited to a release of 792 cases. We're not likely to ever see big numbers coming B-S in the future either. Home base, Okanagan Crush Pad is dedicated to the production of small lot wines and currently only has the capacity of 25,000 cases for all of its customers.

Small release or not, the wine - and the partnership - has garnered a lot of buzz, with almost all of it being favourable. Almost everyone has commented on the ever so dry and brilliant acidity that dominates on the palate. There has also been plenty of comments on the deeply hued colour. For having soaked on the skins for only 24 hours, the wine was definitely on the darker range of Rosé. Boo and I thought we could have easily been sipping away on some beach in the South of France.

I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Rosé wines. I don't see there being a BC style of production yet, but this is definitely an interesting gambit for a first release. And I'll be interested in learning more about Crush Pad and the wines that get produced there down the road.

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