Monday, January 16, 2012

Robin's Return

My last entry to the blog saw a new winery - and a not so familiar Fraser Valley wine - added to The List. Tonight I'm adding another BC winery to The List for the first time; however, this one hails from the Similkameen Valley - the little brother sort of neighbour to the Okanagan Valley and only 30 minutes away from some of the most celebrated vineyards gracing the southern reaches of the Okanagan.

Back in September, the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual Bus Tour took a day trip over to visit some of the up-and-coming wineries in the region. Tonight's wine is one of the first I picked up on that trip to actually be opened. With the No Buy Leash now firmly secured around my neck, we're likely to see more and more making it to The List in the foreseeable future.

1046. 2008 Robin Ridge - Robin's Return (Similkameen Valley)

Robin Ridge wasn't a winery that I knew much about until we made that visit with the bus tour. Owner and winemaker, Tim Cotterill, greeted our swarthy gang for an early Sunday morning service of our own. Our visit was about as down-to-earth as you'll find at a winery. This is definitely a family-run operation - to the extent that the kids were all helping out due to our larger than usual group.

As we were taken through a tasting of his wines, we were regaled with some interesting stories - including the fact that Tim arrived at winemaking through a somewhat surreptitious route. The family arrived in the Similkameen after Tim decided that the boom and bust of construction wasn't the be all and end all of his life's plans. They purchased the old hay farm thinking that growing grapes for sale might be a reasonable means of making a living and being able to continue working outdoors. Opening a winery was not the original intent - at least not as far as Tim's wife was concerned. Growing the grapes for sale, however, led to a little bit of winemaking for the family - and to some nice praise - and that, in turn, led to a decision to make a go of producing wine for sale.

That fateful decision was made approximately five years ago and Robin Ridge now produces about 1500 cases. I found it interesting to hear Tim say that he can't really see a bigger production down the road. Thus far, he thinks one of the biggest lessons he's learned is that, in order to maintain any sort of success in the wine business, you either need to stay small or you have to become one of the big boys. He doesn't really see a way to find success in the middle ground.

I grabbed a bottle of the Robin's Return in particular because it's features yet another varietal that I couldn't recall having run across before - and that's another check mark on my Wine Century Club list. Robin's Return is a blend of approximately 40% Pinot Noir and 60% of the hitherto untasted Rougeon. Rougeon is a hybrid grape that was developed in France as part of program originated by Albert Seibel, a French physician and viticulturist, in the late 1800's and early 20th Century. Seibel and his company produced over 16,000 new hybrids and nearly 500 of them were being commercially grown at some point in time. Rougeon is also known as the romantic "Seibel 5898."

The grape isn't grown much nowadays and it is likely best known in the North-East US; however, there are still some pockets of vines to be found elsewhere. The grape was first introduced in BC during the 1960's and 70's when a newly developing industry was experimenting with hybrids in an effort to add some additional quality to local blends. (Back then, growing more classical Vinifera varietals was pretty much unheard of because no one felt those vines could survive the cold winters.) As late as the 1990's, Rougeon was still being produced - and even made into a varietal wine by Calona - however, the provincial government sponsored vine pull in the 80's saw most of the Okanagan's Rougeon torn out and replaced by today's Vinifera vines.

Indeed, Tim said that he inherited a block of Rougeon but that even he has since ripped out that last small block. I'm not sure that anyone else is still growing it for production but this may be be the last bottle that I'll add to The List that contains any Rougeon.

Will it really be that much of a loss? Probably not in today's wine world. You might be able to use some Rougeon in a blend - after all, it is known for its deep red colour - but it's not likely to sell for big bucks on its own and, with the price of land in the Okanagan and Similkameen, most growers are going to change over to more lucrative varietals. Just like Robin Ridge did.

The blend started off quite light and cheerful, but it actually had a bit of oomph (that's a technical term) on the long finish. The flavour profile, however, was different enough that you had to really think through your reaction to the wine. Finishing off the bottle was no problem but I think I'll think of the blend as more of a novelty than a go to.

Interesting all the same and I'll happily return to try some more of this Similkameen start up.

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