Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Oregon on The Quick

One of the most daunting tasks Boo and I faced on this road trip was going to be how to figure out which wineries to visit.  An afternoon in this valley or a day in that region didn't exactly afford us a leisurely visit to multiple wineries - particularly when I didn't really have a good grounding in any of the areas we'd be passing through.

We were going to have to wing it for a lot of this trip and draw on our "inner Blanche" to rely on the kindness of strangers to map out this little "streetcar" of a tour for us. I simply started asking wine folks we encountered "Where would you send your out-of-town friends if they only had time for one or two wineries?" and "Are they any wineries that shouldn't be missed?"

Certain names tend be repeated if you ask those questions enough and I figure they're likely going to be the best starting points. Bergström Wines was one of those names. I don't recall having ever run across them before but it seems that all the big names in the wine world definitely have: Robinson, Parker, Tanzer, Burghound, Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits have all sung the praises of the family owned, boutique operation that only produces around 10,000 cases (depending on vintage variation) of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Our's was simply a drop in tasting. Had we known about Bergström beforehand - and had more time - I might have tried to set up a more comprehensive tour. That's not to say that we didn't have a thorough tasting though - four Pinots, a Chard and their just-released Pinot Rosé. An added treat was that we lucked into a chance to chat briefly over a glass of that Rosé with owner, John Bergström, who had just returned from out of town and had wandered by to try the Rosé for the first time himself.

Such a pleasure. Bergström will definitely be included the next time we manage to make it down Oregon way.

Considering how the morning had pretty much flown by, we figured we only had time for one more Willamette winery before we headed off to hit the coast and another name that had come up a couple of times was White Rose. Due to vineyard work and minimal signage, we didn't recognize White Rose's tasting room and we drove right by it - a couple of times - thinking it was just someone's home. We'd pretty much given up and decided that we might as well take our chances with another winery that we'd driven past during our hunt. Turned out that Domaine Serene, the neighbouring winery we happened upon, was no slouch either.

It's not hard to understand how "Serene" plays a role in the winery's name. Gorgeous lands. Beautiful facility. Sitting back and enjoying a picnic and a bottle of wine here would definitely result in some serenity - although I'm not sure how serene a morning after might be should anyone try and make their way through the whopper of a bottle they had on display. This one wasn't even full and lifting it was a good workout.

We mentioned our difficulty in finding White Rose and our host at Domaine Serene confirmed that the house we'd driven by was, indeed, the winery tasting room. Apparently, we weren't the first folks that had raised the issue. Although we were running behind, we hit White Rose's dirt road for the fourth time and finally managed to find the front door. I got the feeling that an extended visit and tasting here would be a very interesting time. From the site's history of producing quality fruit (before White Rose set up shop) and the rather unique take (to me at least) of their vine trellising, there was plenty of interesting information and sipping that had to be left for another time.

Besides, we had a coast to catch and the day wasn't getting any longer.

Our hope had been to leisurely cruise the ocean highway and fit in a couple of stops along the way but we also wanted to finish off the better part of the Oregon Coast before evening kicked in. After our hesitation to leave the Willamette wines behind us and our late start, our highway drive wasn't quite as languid or relaxed as it might have been. We drove the whole afternoon and decided to call Coos Bay and the Mill Bay Casino our home for the evening. While the casino accommodation itself was fine (if a tad pricey), we certainly didn't get any chance to find out if Coos Bay had anything to offer tourists. What little we saw would suggest the answer is no.

1298.  2011 Duck Pond Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

The casino restaurant had a limited wine list and we wanted to stay local; so we chose a Willamette Pinot Gris thinking it would match nicely with our largely seafood-based dinner choices. This Duck Pond Pinot Gris apparently had the pedigree as it had won Double gold at the 2012 Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging Competition - one of a handful of competitions that I actually take some stock in. Sorry, but for me, the wine came across more as a commercial, bulk wine than it did a double gold winner. Perhaps it was the fact that we weren't overly impressed with our meals (except for the oysters) and, as a result, the wine itself suffered.

At least we finished the bottle - which is more than I can say about the bottle of bubbly plonk that greeted us in our room. It's not often that we open a bottle and we don't drink enough that it makes it to The List. We took one sip of our gift and promptly put aside our glasses, deciding to make a martini with the duty free vodka we'd picked up at the border instead.

I suppose there are some benefits to freewheeling a vacation and having the ability to play it by ear and set your agenda as the days progress. That's not usually me though. As a rule, I tend to have vacations - and particularly accommodation - mapped out long before we hit the road. This time, however, we decided to leave some gaps in the trip for flexibility and this was the first of those gaps. I think next time, I might need to do a little more planning when it comes to taking in the Oregon Coast  though. Winging it didn't seem to work so well for us this time.

Ah well. One evening and one dinner do not a vacation make. After all, we'd picked up some lovely wines in the morning and we've still got plenty of miles ahead of us - and lots more wine that will agree with us. Of that, I'm sure.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rex Hill and Me

Par for the course, the start to our road trip was later than we'd hoped but then can you expect anything but a delayed onset when you don't finish packing the night before? Luckily, we weren't hit with a long wait at the border and we actually found ourselves driving over the Portland bridges by early afternoon.

Thinking we'd likely stop for a bit in Portland on the way home, we just kept on driving to try and fit in a couple tastings in the Willamette Valley. I know very little about Oregon wines and wineries but I certainly had my interest tweaked last summer at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. I considered myself lucky enough to be part of the bus that enjoyed a tour, tasting and dinner in the vineyard at Rex Hill as a conference side trip. Being thoroughly impressed at that time, I figured Rex Hill would be an appropriate place to start this time around.

Our schedule was limited to a quick sidle up to the bar in Rex Hill's gracious tasting room - and it quickly became clear that Boo and I were going to be sorely tested on this trip. Firstly, we brought the Miata for the trip. I mean who wouldn't for a summer road trip? Top down on winding coastal roads is a no brainer - even if trunk space was going to present a major challenge. But, on top of little space for wine purchases, Canadian Customs only allows each of us to bring back two - that's TWO, as in one, two, not two dozen - bottles of wine.

We could have easily gone over our limit at Rex Hill alone. We limited ourselves to a couple of single vineyard Pinots though and took off for Raptor Ridge, one of the other wineries I had a favourable impression of at WBC12.

Raptor Ridge is named for the many raptors that make their homes in the vineyard - red-tailed hawks, kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks and owls. The vineyard is located on a ridge of the Chehalem Mountains  and the tasting room offered a superb view of the surrounding area. A small producer, each vintage consists of only around 7,500 cases; however, in addition to Oregon's celebrated Pinot Noir, Raptor Ridge also interestingly produces a Grüner Veltliner and a Tempranillo.

Our afternoon had flown by and it was time to make our way to McMinville, our resting spot for Day One.

While trying to locate the historically handsome Hotel Oregon, we happened to drive past Dobbes Family Estate. With Boo's last name being "Dobbs" (without the "e"), we had to make a pit stop - even if there was only about 15 minutes until closing time. Despite our late arrival, we were treated to an extensive tasting flight of single vineyard and cuvée Pinots, as well as some Syrah and a fortified, port-styled wine that we needed to buy regardless of our Custom's limitations.

Throughout our wine tastings, we checked with our hosts for their top recommendations for wineries and restaurants when visitors are faced with restrictive time frames. One of those suggestions was to head off to the back room of Nick's restaurant, which just happened to be around the corner from our hotel.

We also discovered a possible saving grace for our wine purchase and storage problems - Bring Your Own wine. By taking advantage of as many BYO restaurants as possible on this trip, we were going to be able to be a little more appreciative with our wine purchases.

1297.  2009 Rex Hill - Shea Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

I don't generally reach for a Pinot when dining on Italian fare, but they certainly drink lighter Chianti and Valpolicella by the gallon in Italy. So, I didn't think we'd be losing out on our Shea Vineyard Pinot. One thing we quickly learned is that there seems to be a lot of correlation between the Shea Vineyard and fine Oregon Pinot Noir. All three of the wineries we visited today offer a Shea Vineyard Pinot. We were advised that Shea is perhaps the state's best-known vineyard site and that wineries line up to buy the fruit produced by Dick and Deidre Shea. Fewer than a couple of dozen wineries are fortunate enough to get the coveted fruit.

Even those wineries that do get their hands on Shea fruit don't necessarily get a lot of it. The 2009 vintage was a big one in the Willamette but Rex Hill was only able to make 247 cases of Shea Pinot Noir.

Seeing as how special our bottle was, I was a little concerned that we were drinking it too soon. I'd normally like to lay bottles of this pedigree down for at least a couple of years, but I think it's fair to say that it was drinking beautifully. Lush and fruit forward, it was a big Pinot but it was a great match to our meatballs, pizza and lasagna. Starting off with this Rex Hill was a real treat. Indeed, if every bottle we tried on this trip were this tasty, it was going to be one enjoyable trip.

If only.

It had been a long first day though and we wanted to try and hit another couple wineries in the morning before heading out to the coast. As such, we reluctantly passed on the Hotel Oregon's rooftop bar and their McMenamin's home brews.

And this was only Day One.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Terracotta and Kung Fu

Boo and I are heading off on our West Coast road trip in the morning and neither one of us felt like cooking or cleaning - especially when we still had to pack our bags. The obvious solution was to head out for a bite to eat. We decided to hit Terracotta, the new "Modern Chinese" restaurant that's opened up in Gastown.

Terracotta is on the small side and, not too surprisingly, they have a limited wine list - maybe four whites and four reds. We were hoping for a bit of spice with our crispy squid and ginger beef. So, we went full bore and hoped to pair everything with the Riesling.

1296. 2011 Charles Smith Wines - Kung Fu Girl Riesling (Columbia Valley - Washington)

The Kung Fu Girl seemed appropriate seeing as how we were hoping to hit the Washington border in less than 12 hours. Charles Smith is one of those bigger than life Washington winemakers that I see in all sorts of articles and news stories. I don't know his wines however and, having made a quick search of the blog, I think this is the first to be added to The List.

Charles Smith Wines is a second brand, started in 2006 and was "themed as 'The Modernist Project'" as it focused on immediate drinkability - since that's how most modern drinkers consume the wine they buy. Immediacy doesn't mean that craftsmanship needs to be tossed out with the grape skins though. Kung Fu Girl might be an entry level bottle but it is still a single vineyard production that isn't afraid of letting the minerality and acidity of the grape shine through. Indeed, this 2011 vintage was named a Best Value Wine by Wine Spectator for the third year in a row.

No doubt, Smith gets asked "What's the story behind the name" in every interview he gives. His stock answer is that "both Riesling and Girls kick ass."

This might be the easiest of Smith's wines to find. He produces a good number of wines (perhaps up to thirty) but he often doesn't make more than a hundred or two cases of many of those wines. Kung Fu Girl sees a bigger production though and it's become a bit of a signature wine for him.

I don't know that the Kung Fu knocked me out - considering all the wonderful Rieslings we see in our market - but it was certainly good enough that we'd finished off the bottle long before we ran out of food. That's got to be a good sign.

With the wine gone, however, it was time to head home and get down to packing. I might've preferred sticking around to order a second bottle though.

Friday, April 26, 2013

President's Night and a Preview Cab

Prior to becoming the wine geek that I am today, I downed my fair share (in fact, more than my fair share) of beer during my university days at the Deke House. I don't get out to UBC and the old alma mater very often nowadays - just the odd visit to Alumni Weekend or an alumni night at the fraternity. This was the first time, however, that the boys have gathered at the actual Deke House for President's Night. The old house, where I experienced all my school days memories, is now long gone. Indeed, the new house has likely been around for at least a decade but this was the first time that I've been at the house while there was still daylight.

Doesn't look too bad from the outside.

There wasn't a huge turnout for the evening's festivities but there were enough of us to keep the stories flowing - not to mention the wine. I'm not sure but this may well be one of my few evenings at the Deke House where there was more wine than beer consumed and, at least for me, I have a feeling the evening's primary wine might have been chosen because of the lion that is part of the logo. The fraternity's symbol is the Rampant Lion after all. Regardless of the reason, it's a California wine that I wasn't familiar with and it provided for some good conversation seeing as how Boo and I are heading down to California wine country in a matter of days.

1295.  2008 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

As mentioned, I'm not familiar with the Hess brand but I believe I've noted that the Hess Select label is the more the entry level of their three labels. Made more for "immediate enjoyment" (according to their website), the wine is primarily Cab Sauv with a bit of Syrah (8%) and Merlot (7%) added for good measure. The grapes are sourced from Mendocino, Lake and Napa Counties to incorporate the different qualities that each of the different regions have to offer and it was easily approachable enough.

Seeing as how I'm as far behind in my writing as I am, I think I'll just refer you to one of the more interesting pieces I saw in researching the winery and the wine. I thought this "Forbes Wine of the Week" story did a nice job on capturing a bit about the winery, the man behind the wine and the wine world that is California. The actual wine of the week wasn't this Select Cab but I think you'll get the idea.

My evening at the Deke House was a tad different from days of yore though. My earlier days were truly filled with "school nights" and they often didn't end after a couple glasses of wine. Nowadays, I just use the "school night" term as a reason for behaving when I have to work in the morning. The lesson learned might be a tad sad - watch the celebrating when work's going to come a'callin soon enough - but it's a valuable one.  Maybe I killed fewer brain cells than I might have originally thought.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Florida Wines?

Boo had to take a short trip to Florida for a family gathering. So, I asked him to keep an eye open and try to pick up a couple local wines as something different to try.

Locally made wine isn't usually the first agricultural product one thinks of when talking Florida, but the history books apparently note the St. Augustine area as being the birthplace of American wine. Spanish missionaries are credited with growing grapes for sacramental wine as early as 1562.

Despite the state's storied past, I don't think there are any Californian winemakers quaking in their boots yet. There does appear to be a couple dozen wineries in Florida nowadays though, producing wines made from grapes and from tropical fruit. Due to the state's tropical climate, traditional vitis vinifera grapes do not grow well and, accordingly, grape growers look more to hybrid varieties that have been developed to flourish next to the beach loving locals. The primary grapes used for winemaking in Florida - like Muscadine, Blanc du Bois and Noble - are hardly varieties that you'd find in Napa, Oregon or Washington but I have seen them grown further up the East coast to be used in making Virginia and North Carolina wines.

I've also seen mention of Florida wines made from tropical fruit like mango, key lime, oranges and grapefruit and I was rather hoping that Boo would bring back an orange or a key lime wine. That was not to be, however, as he didn't see any of those bottles on his limited journeys. Indeed, his kin and most stores looked at him rather strangely when he even asked about Florida wines.

1295.  N.V. San Sebastian Vintners White (Florida)

Boo did manage to find a few Florida wines though and we opened one promptly upon his return. San Sebastian has been around since 1996 and the winery is found just outside of the St. Augustine historical district. They currently produce just shy of a dozen different wines - including cream sherry and a port - and all of their wines are made from grapes.

The Vintners White is made from Muscadine and, although the website proudly trumpets all the awards and medals the wine has won, I don't know that this is the wine that is going to put Florida wineries on the international map. I don't try a lot of Muscadine wines; so, I can hardly speak from any position of authority, but the simplicity of the wine and the decidedly off-dry nature aren't going to result in my lobbying for local wine shops to bring in some Floridian wines any time soon.

I will still look forward to trying an orange or key-lime wine though.

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 5 - Painted Rock

The first so many stops on this Pre-WBC13 tour of favourite BC wineries have largely been long-time players and innovators on the Okanagan wine scene. Today, I'm stopping at a new kid on the block - albeit a NKOTB that sang out loudly "look at me" from Day One. And with good reason.

Painted Rock Estate Winery offered its first wines for sale in September 2009 and there really hasn't been any turning back since that time. From his earliest conception of establishing a winery, proprietor, John Skinner, has focused on delivering premium wines - and, in producing a "premium" wine, he takes a global perspective. John doesn't just look to see his wines compared to those his Okanagan neighbours are making, he wants the world to notice Painted Rock. He's a firm believer that the Okanagan is capable of making - and needs to make - superb wines and he set out looking to participate in and, hopefully, to help elevate an industry that was still largely in its infancy.

During his previous life as an investment broker, John travelled extensively and had become both a student of and collector of wine. That hankering for fine wine ultimately developed into the goal of owning his own winery and, although considerations were given to locating in France or elsewhere, numerous visits to the Okanagan to scout vineyard sites or operating wineries, led John to ultimately decide to start from scratch. By starting anew, he realized that he wouldn't inherit any problems or issues of an existing vineyard or winery.

He found his site in 2004 - a 60 acre parcel on bench land just south of Penticton on Skaha Lake. The site had been an apricot farm - the largest in the British Commonwealth at one time - however, it had lain fallow for 17 years as the farm had fallen prey to and had been devastated in the 1980's by a gypsy moth infestation. John purchased the property in 2004 and the first year of operations consisted of a massive clearing of old tree stumps.

Over the next two years, the newly cleared vineyard was planted with Bordeaux reds, Syrah and a small block of Chardonnay - with multiple clones of each variety. Planting Syrah wasn't part of the initial planting strategy; however, John tips his hat to BC wine writer emeritus, John Schreiner, who strongly suggested that Painted Rock consider planting it as writer John was keenly aware of what was succeeding elsewhere in the southern Okanagan. Nowadays, winery John gets a special thrill working with the Syrah, particularly because it wasn't part of the original plan.

Indeed, during his years in business, John knew that you needed to trust others when you weren't the expert. When setting the groundwork for Painted Rock, John saw the biggest obstacle to making great wine in BC as simply being the relative youth of the region. Not having any experience himself in farming or winemaking, he brought in consultants to help build the business from within. Whether those consultants have been recognized international winemakers like Bordeaux's Alain Sutre or experienced locals like Michael Bartier, John looks to learn from prior experiences that are there to be shared by other growers, owners and winemakers.

A few years back, John and his new Painted Rock wines paired up with the Rain City Grill for one of the BC Wine Appreciation Society's most memorable dinners. One of the entertaining stories John told that night revolved around a bit of self-deprecation and his learning curve in winemaking. He recounted how, knowing that they were growing two clones of Syrah in the vineyard, he asked Alain Sutre if they should consider producing both a Syrah and a Shiraz to take advantage of the two clones. Sutre apparently looked at him and asked if he was crazy. Sutre went on to tell him that, with wine, 1+1 do not equal 2 but that, rather, they can equal 3 or more when blended. He advised John that he'd be better off to capitalize on the strong points of both clones and trust that the resulting wine would be both more complex and more enjoyable.

A second story goes that Sutre was so impressed by the Painted Rock terroir that he asked to have his contract extended so that he could continue to see how the vineyard would evolve. He's been quoted as having said that Painted Rock could well be the Pétrus of the Okanagan. Not a bad comparison when you consider that Pétrus is perennially one of the most sought after wines in the world.

Sutre has also played a large role in determining the blend for Painted Rock's flagship wine, Red Icon. In striving to get the most from the vineyard, John asked Sutre to look for a real expression of the Okanagan and the Painted Rock lands and to not simply look to practices that speak purely of Bordeaux. The fruit was all estate grown and John and Sutre were both surprised to find that their blending tests on the first vintage consistently led them to a result that was unique - even for the Okanagan - one that featured Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot as the predominant components.

The resulting wine helped validate John's mandate to cut no corners and to strive for excellence. Indeed, when asked, if given the opportunity, was there was one of his wines that John would like all WBC13 attendees to try, he advised that it would be the 2009 Red Icon. It's the 2007 vintage that I'm adding to The List with this post though. We'd been saving it - both for a special occasion and to give it some time to age - but this seems like an appropriate time to pull the cork.

1294.  2007 Painted Rock Red Icon (VQA Okanagan Valley)

If they hadn't taken note already, BC wine drinkers in the know certainly cottoned onto the arrival of Painted Rock when it was named Best New Winery at the 2009 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival or when the '07 Red Icon and the '07 Cabernet Sauvignon took two of only eleven BC Lieutenant Governor's Awards for Excellence given out in 2010. Red Icon was that unique blend of 33% Cab Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, 16% of both Cab Sauv and Merlot and 15% Malbec. Painted Rock's terroir was speaking - and loudly.

That award worthy pedigree was still evident as Boo and I were both enthralled with the wine. The nose immediately jumped out of the glass with ripe dark fruit but the wine was hardly aggressive with an Aussie or a Californian fruit forwardness. Rather, what struck us most, was the almost velvet texture of the wine on the tongue. There was an integration of smooth, ripe tannin, acidity and fruit that just lingered and got even better when paired with some grilled flank steak.

This was our only bottle of the '07 Red Icon, but I'm happy to say that we have a few other Painted Rock bottles salted away.

The accolades have continued for the winery. Indeed, Painted Rock won another two Lt. Gov. Awards in 2012 for the '09 Red Icon and the '09 Syrah and that same Syrah took a Silver medal at the 2012 Syrah du Monde in France where it was up against 445 wines from 24 countries. The winery was the #1 rated BC winery at the 2011 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards and '09 Red Icon as named Canada's Best Red Blend in that same competition.

For that first vintage (and, indeed, the second) Painted Rock didn't have its own winemaking facilities and the 2007 and 2008 vintages were made with the assistance of fellow Okanagan wineries - the '07 at Poplar Grove and the '08 at Stag's Hollow - and, to date, the public tasting room at the winery has been a small shack with a great view.

The story on the tasting room is about to change, however. The winery is excited by the prospect of opening up a spectacular, new tasting room by the end of the summer. One that might be just a tad more representative of the premium wines that are served there.

Unfortunately, as you can see by the photo that John forwarded to me this week, there's still a ways to go with the new facility and it won't be completed by the arrival of the Wine Bloggers Conference. The winery's hoping for an August 1st opening and I'm certainly looking forward to a first opportunity to enjoy some wine there. If we're lucky, maybe this year's BCWAS Fall Bus Tour will feature a tour of the new digs.

Even with the new facilities, Painted Rock's target production is a relatively small 5000 cases a year. That doesn't make for a whole lot of availability - especially when John has already entered into agreements to export his wines to growing markets in China and Japan.

With all the recent discussion and debate over a possible need for Okanagan wineries to focus on a signature variety, John takes the view that the region is starting to identify grapes that do particularly well in different parts of the region. He notes the excitement arising from how beautifully Syrah is working from Penticton south and how Riesling and Pinot Noir are seeing equal success further north. He's quick to point out, however, that the Okanagan is a diverse region and that real progress isn't necessarily going to come from a signature variety. Rather, he sees that progress coming from the knowledge and experience that continues to build as winemakers and growers become more aware of Okanagan terroir and regional strengths - and as more wineries commit to producing wines of even higher quality.

It's that commitment to understanding the specific strengths and terroir of his own vineyard that also makes John passionate about the creation of sub-appellations in the Okanagan - starting with the Skaha Bench as being a prime example of lands that are different from anywhere else in the province. Believing that it honours the consumer to define exactly where the wine they're drinking is from, he probably couldn't have a better argument on his side than the ability to pour his Painted Rock wines.

Sub-appellation or not, John Skinner and Painted Rock have definitely put the Skaha Bench on the BC wine map. If any WBC13 participants hadn't heard of Skaha before they arrived in Penticton, hopefully, they'll know a lot more before they leave. I know that if John has any say in the matter, his presence will be prominent at the Conference.  I'd catch him if you can.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Run, A Broom and Some Bubbles

Busy day today.

Photo from Vancouver Province
The morning started off with the 2013 Vancouver Sun Run. Coming only a week after the Boston Marathon bombings, there was a special feel to this year's run - particularly as much of the course and many of the runners were decked out in blue and yellow - the colours of the Boston Marathon.

My "training" for the annual 10k jaunt hadn't been what it might have - or, perhaps, should have - been. So, I wasn't expecting to set any personal bests or anything similar. I did, however, have a bit of a time deadline hanging over my head.

Our curling season was coming to an end today and I needed to get to our playoff game on time and in a reasonable state. The run started at 9.00 a.m. and I had to finish my run, get home, shower and make it to the curling rink by noon. There wasn't going to be much time to hang around with 50,000 or so of my closest running buddies.

Luckily, I made it to the curling rink with a couple of minutes to spare. Unfortunately, we lost our playoff game.

The good thing about our league is that, win or lose, there's generally going to be a little something to drink after the game. We drowned the sorrows of our season-ending loss with a beer and, promptly, headed off to get ready for the league's closing "banquet" that evening. Seeing as how Kaz lives only two blocks from the banquet location, he invited Fisher, M'og and me to meet at his place for a further cocktail before joining up with the other teams.

1293.  N.V. Chamdeville Blanc de Blancs Brut (Bordeaux - France)

To toast the season that was, Kaz popped a celebratory cork on a bubbly that's new to me. I couldn't find out any information on the wine during a bit of an internet search - other than it seems to be readily available in all sorts of markets. Given its approachable price of $15 (in the Vancouver market) and its "generic" pedigree, I'd assume this is a commercially produced, value-priced, crowd pleaser. And, please our crowd is exactly what it did.

I don't think this Chamdeville will ever be confused with higher end Champagne but I can see it taking the place of any number of Cava's or Prosecco's as a regular pour. Quite pleasant on its own, it could easily pair with OJ for brunch or with Aperol when lounging in the back yard, dreaming of Venice. It was well worth taking a note of the label.

After our quick celebration, it was off to our beer-guzzling curling buds and a few last cheers before we all took the summer off from the ice and brooms. Between the run, the curling, the beer and the bubbles, I was fairly tuckered and called it an early night - leaving the real partying to the younger guns. Busy day, indeed.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Some Island Aromata

1292.  2009 Salt Spring Vineyards - Aromata (Vancouver/Gulf Islands)

When I grabbed this bottle, I thought it might be one of the Salt Spring Vineyards wines that feature the new Swiss-engineered Blattner grapes - particularly since this bottle featured a little Silver Medal sticker from the 2010 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. I knew Salt Spring's white Blattner wine had picked up an award on the national stage and I thought that might have been the reason I picked up the bottle. Looks like Salt Spring picked a second medal from Wine Access because there are no Blattner grapes to be found in this bottle.

There may be none of that new breed of grape evident in this glass but Aromata is still a blend of largely unknown grapes - try Auxerrois, Sylvaner and Bacchus. I wouldn't bet too much on your average wine drinker being able to tell you much about any of those grapes. That is, if your average wine drinker could even identify them as grapes.

On the other hand, while I know of all three grapes, I have yet to add Sylvaner to my tally of grape varieties for my Wine Century Club list. I took a quick look back on my blog posts and I've referred to Sylvaner on a handful of occasions, but those mentions have mostly revolved around its having been a parent (or grandparent) in the creation of grapes like Bacchus and Ehrenfelser. I know that Sylvaner has been used in some white blends that I added to The List. I guess I just missed adding it to the Wine Century Club list.

Adding it now works for me. Particularly when the wine didn't exactly jump out of the glass for either Boo or I.  Being an aromatic, light blend, I might have waited a bit long to open it (seeing as how it's a 2009 vintage) because it didn't really have the bright nose and sharp acidity that I was expecting. The bottle was under screw cap but I was rather hoping that it would cut through the cream sauce on our pasta a bit more than it did.

Oh well, I get to add #153 on my way to a second century and that's a pretty good replacement for a little lost acidity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 4 - Fairview Cellars

We're six weeks out from the start of the 2013 Wine Blogger's Conference and it's time for a fourth stop on my little Pre-WBC13 Road Trip through some of my favourite BC wineries. This time round, it's a visit to the top end of the Golden Mile and to Bill Eggert and Fairview Cellars. To get there as you head South of Oliver, you just need to remember to turn right when you see the sign for the golf course. It's important to watch for the golf course because you're likely never going to find the winery if you're relying on Hwy 3 signage. I'm not sure if Bill has finally relented and put up a sign but, from Day 1, he had been deliberately avoiding one. If your wine preferences lie with big reds though, you're going to want to find Fairview.

Fairview is synonymous with Bill and Bill is synonymous with Fairview. It's hard not to be when you've pretty much been a one-man operation for over two decades. And, if there's one common response about Bill from folks in the Okanagan, it's likely going to be that he's about as big a character as there is in the region. "Iconoclast," "Madcap," "Bear," these all might be names of Fairview wines but they're also words that easily come to mind when describing the man himself. Indeed, the "Madcap Red" moniker was born when one of the higher profile wine scribes in Vancouver referred to Bill as the "madcap winemaker." Being the rogue that he is, Bill simply worked the comment into the name of a wine. You only need to ask but there are, naturally, stories behind additional wine names like "Bucket O' Blood" and "Two Hoots."

Born in Ottawa and raised in Northern Ontario, Bill was first introduced to the wine industry while working on his uncle's vineyard near Beamsville on the Niagara Peninsula.  At the time, Inniskillin and Chateau des Charmes were the only small wineries in existence. His uncle grew grapes and sold them to Jordan Wines. Back then, the majority of grapes were still hybrids that were blended with imported juice. "The wines were wonderful, but they had no real attachment to the terroir" and the story goes that Bill had no luck in convincing his uncle to replant the hybrid vines with vinifera grapes.

Bill also worked for a short time at Charal Wines in Ontario before he ultimately made his way out to the Okanagan in 1984. Upon arriving, he worked at Covert Farms (which is now a winery itself not that far from Fairview) but ended up heading back to Ontario for a bit. He returned to BC, for good, in 1986 - the lure of vinifera grapes and better skiing were just too much of a draw.

Bill purchased his own property in 1989, when he found and fancied a six acre parcel with a South-East facing slope, located on an alluvial fan of the Reed Creek and overlooking the first tee of the neighbouring golf course. He began planting grapes in 1993, starting with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - and a bit of Cab Franc since it arrived in his order by chance. His experience in the valley and with growing grapes, generally, convinced him that his land was best suited for the red Bordeaux varieties and he saw no reason to plant white wine grapes when the land was telling him red was the way to go. Financial constraints and water issues made planting a lengthy process, however, and he didn't finish planting the vineyard until '99.

During those early years of setting up the vineyard, Bill found that the biggest obstacles to making wine in BC all revolved around the relative size of the industry. Being such a small industry, the ability to source supplies and information was limited. Luckily, Bill finds that this isn't as serious of a problem nowadays as the industry is maturing and the introduction of technological practices is exploding.

Fairview Cellars finally opened the doors to its wood cabin tasting room in 2000 - although the winery didn't really have tasting room hours.  If you knew about the winery, you could call to see if Bill was going to be around or you could just drive by and honk. If he heard you arrive, he could likely arrange for a tasting.

It didn't take long for Fairview's reputation as one of the best small, premium wineries in the Okanagan to grow as Bill's wines found favour with folks looking for BC reds that had some oomph to them. Fairview only offered reds until the 2006 vintage when Bill was given some Sauvignon Blanc that he vinified. The Sauv Blanc proved to be very popular and he's promised to keep making it as long as the grapes continue to be made available. The Sauv Blanc has yet to be given a catchy name for the label but Bill does refer to it fondly as his "oyster wine."

As much as he likes drinking Sauv Blanc, Bill's admitted that his favourite grape to work with is Cab Sauv. There are certainly those that feel the Okanagan just isn't suited to ripen Cab Sauv on a regular basis but Bill isn't one of them. He'd much rather "listen to the vines, not the wine writers." It may just be that his vineyard is particularly suited to the variety but he finds Cab "easy to grow, easy to ripen and easy to make wine with." He particularly likes the fact that his Cab Sauv's drink well in their youth but are still holding well into their second decade.

There's also plenty of discussion around Okanagan growers focusing on Cabernet Franc as it is seen as an earlier ripening grape than Cab Sauv and Bill originally thought that he might end up growing more Franc than Cab Sauv himself. As much as it might be out of the ordinary though, Bill finds that his terroir lends itself to the Cab Sauv regularly ripening sooner than the Cab Franc and the end result is that he doesn't have a whole lot of Cab Franc planted - although he certainly wouldn't mind having more as he finds that he tends to garner bigger accolades for his Cab Franc varietal wine than he does for his other wines.

1291.  2007 Fairview Cellars Cabernet Franc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

After taking a look at the Fairview Cellars wines we had on hand, I decided to go with a Cab Franc since, in keeping with the raison d'être of this blog, I need - and want - to add a new wine to The List. I would dearly loved to have open a bottle of The Wrath Cab Sauv - likely a one-time only vintage due to the hail storm right around picking time - but I don't think it's quite as ready to open yet. Another time. When you find yourself making a decision on which bottle of Fairview to open, one thing Bill is known for is putting a "Best After" date on his reds. In this case, he advised the the '07 bottle would be "best after Dec 2010." I think we're safe.

The fact that there were only 300 cases of the '07 Cab Franc produced just goes to illustrate how difficult it can be to find Fairview's wines. If memory serves, I ran across this one when Bill was serving it at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of years ago.

If I had to choose a most memorable characteristic of this wine, it would be that the nose just jumped out of the glass and it was stellar. Being Franc, the wine was more nuanced than a big Cab and it tasted better with every bite of our BBQ'd rib-eye. Once the steak was gone, I didn't find that the fruit was as big on the palate as it was on the nose but there's no doubt that the bottle was empty long before we would have liked it to be. Funny that.

Looking back, I remember first hearing about and meeting Bill, some years ago, at one of the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival tastings. We were advised not to miss trying his wines because he was a "winemaker's winemaker." Funny thing is that a healthy number of articles over the years have quoted Bill as refusing to call himself a "winemaker" because he's never had formal training. Rather, he considers himself, first and foremost, a grape grower.

Indeed, when the UBC Alumni Association recently held a panel event titled, "The Grape Debate - Should BC Have a Signature Wine Varietal," Bill was vocal in his disappointment with the fact that neither the pro- nor the con- side of the panel featured a grape grower to discuss the topic. Bill sees the topic as being one driven more by Vancouver media than by growers and winemakers. He doesn't agree with the premise that BC needs to have a signature grape in order to be able to market and export its wines to the world.

For Bill, there are more factors involved in resolving a signature variety than marketing concerns. He advises that "the Okanagan, where a vast majority of the grapes are grown, is a very unique area for many reasons. Its small area, mountainous terroir, soil variability and the long, narrow North/South aspect make it difficult to identify similarities in terroir required to produce a big enough volume of one varietal to call it a signature grape." He continued, "as a result it has always been my humble opinion that BC should celebrate its diversity. We have the ability to grow successfully almost every commercial grape save those grown in extremely warm climates. By celebrating diversity, we also embrace other regions with their completely different terroirs such as the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and many of the other small pockets of vineyards popping up around the province."

He posits, is there any economic sense in pushing for a signature grape when the act only seems to elicit a race to the bottom on pricing? Not from his standpoint. He finds it hard enough trying to make a living when you might aim to produce 4000 cases in an exceptional year.

Being a one man show in such a demanding business is a helluva way to make that living; so, Bill has actually changed things up a bit in the last year. He's finally hired a "general manager" to work with him at the winery. Bill's keeping the head winemaker's hat but he's also now referring to himself as Fairview's CEO - a moniker he rather fancies.

The assistance at the winery will also allow Bill to keep up with what's happening in the political realm of the business. He plays an active role in the structure of the BC Wine Institute, currently sitting on the Board of Directors and on a number of committees. The help also comes in handy as Bill is adding to the portfolio by embarking on a Pinot Noir operation with some additional lands further up the valley. With a different terroir and an unfamiliar grape now in play, Bill's encountered a whole new learning experience.

He also looking forward to completing some expansion of the Fairview facilities. He's looking to double the size of the cellar. The expanded facilities will provide him with the opportunity to bring all of his primary fermentation tanks inside where he'll be able to address temperature control and work toward an even more accomplished end product in the bottle.

And, speaking of a favourable end product, when asked if he had the opportunity to serve any one of his wines to all of the WBC13 participants, what would it be, Bill said that he'd love to serve up either his Cab Sauv or his Bear (Cab/Merlot blend) from the 2005 vintage. He doesn't think they're showing at their peak yet but he does think that they show what can be done with Cab Sauv in the Okanagan. He considers 2005 to be the best vintage in BC since 1994 and is pleased that the wines are showing particularly well - thanks to his vines being that much older and his collective understanding of vineyard characteristics and the winemaking process being a decade stronger. He believes that the '09 and '12 vintages are also excellent but that the wines just haven't had enough time to mature yet.

As you might imagine, the man and his wines are quite intriguing - if not downright fascinating. His involvement in social media is tempered for the time being. He has a limited presence on Facebook and you can find him regularly enough on Twitter with his @FairviewCellars handle - particularly if there are political issues being discussed online. He's not convinced that social media does much to increase sales at the winery though.

If you run across him during WBC13 - or otherwise - and want to hear some first-hand tales, you can't go wrong if you show up with "any Scotch over 15 years old." Not to say that he wouldn't be open to other options. I think it's safe to say that it'd be worth your effort.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Memories of Mendoza

I joke a fair bit about Boo putting me on a No Buy Leash, but he is serious and I generally try and limit my purchases as much as can realistically be expected. Sometimes there is simply no choice in the matter though and I have to buy the bottle - regardless of the consequences at home.

Plus, this time I was pretty sure Boo wasn't going to be upset at all. After all, I was truly surprised to see this wine on a local shelf and there was no telling if it would be a one-off or a new regular to Vancouver.

1290.  2009 Tapiz Torrontés (Mendoza - Argentina)

Boo and I have some incredible memories of our time in Argentina back in 2010. Without a doubt, it would take no arm twisting to get either of us to return to dig a little deeper into an amazing world. One of our fondest memories was staying at Club Tapiz for two nights while in Mendoza. While planning the trip, I'd thought that it'd be special to spend a couple of nights at an Argentine winery. We managed to succeed but it wasn't the easiest of tasks. The possibilities are definitely expanding nowadays as wine tourism grows but, even as short as three years ago, the opportunities were limited.

Finding our winery accommodation is where Lucila Planas of Exotic Patagonia came in. She suggested we stay at Club Tapiz. We did and we loved it! Part of an estate that dates back to 1890, our stay included a walk through the vineyard (despite a pending thunderstorm), evening cocktails with the other guests, a wander through the old winery and dinner at their acclaimed restaurant.

Ironically, we couldn't fit in a tour of the current Tapiz winery. It was a couple of miles down the road and we didn't realize that until we'd already fully booked our limited time there.

And, to make matters "worse," we didn't really have an opportunity to bring back Tapiz wines. Canadian customs are such that each person is allowed to bring back a whopping two bottles of wine and Boo and I were well over our limit by the time we had to make our decisions about picking up some Tapiz wines. Considering we'd enjoyed two Tapiz tastings and wine at our dinner, we had to decide to pass on more bottles and had to keep our hands in our pockets.

That's why it was so exciting to see a bottle locally.

The winery is well established and produces a couple dozen different wines under the Tapiz label (and further wines under the second Zolo brand) - from the expected Malbec (including young vines, select label, reserve and single vineyard icon), Bonarda and Torrontés to the more adventurous sparkling wines, reserve cab sauv and a special edition blend of all three "signature" Argentine grapes.

I don't know if the Torrontés would have been my first choice if I were forced to only pick one bottle of Tapiz while in Mendoza but, then again, beggars can't be choosers. We chilled it down as soon as I got home and served it up with that Argentine culinary delight, panini. Okay, maybe panini isn't so much an Argentine delight - but the tropical fruitiness matched well with the melted cheeses and prosciutto.

If we ever make it back to Mendoza, we'd definitely look into staying at Club Tapiz again. In the mean time, we'll just have to remind ourselves with the odd bottle of Tapiz wine when we come across them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Belated Birthday Wishes

We seem to have been experiencing a bit of difficulty when it comes to catching up with Elzee. I know that Boo's and my schedules can be difficult to coordinate because of his forever shifting shift work but, goodness, Elzee has been crazy busy. As such, we all looked to the skies in disbelief when we finally figured out a night where we could get together.

There was a bonus for Boo and me as well. Elzee had been feeling "guilty" - for some strange reason - about not seeing us lately; so, she offered to cook dinner as a birthday treat.

Now, Elzee is one helluva cook. So, the dinner invite is something in itself but she served up a bit of a trump card as well.  She popped the cork on our first bottle of the night - one she'd been holding on to for a special occasion. Luckily for us, we qualified.

1287.  1998 Duval-Leroy Authentis de Champagne Trépail Brut (AOC Champagne - France)

We actually have a bit of history with this bottle. A couple of years back, Elzee ran into one of those landmark birthdays and she managed to forget about all the drama of entering a new decade by celebrating in Paris with very good friends, Toolin and Q. We knew that her travelling cohorts would have a bit of time in the City of Lights before Elzee arrived. So, we arranged for Q to find a special bottle of Champagne to present to Elzee for her b-day. The expectation was that they'd pop the cork while in Gai Paris but, lo and behold, Elzee brought the bottle home with her.

And she decided to finally pop the cork for an entirely different b-day.

We'd given Q free rein when it came to choosing the bottle and I certainly don't know much about his ultimate pick. I have run across one Duval-Leroy Champagne previously - and it too was a special bottle (see #417 on The List) - but it was a non-vintage house cuvée. The Authentis label appears to a premium release from the winery and the Trépail is a vintage blanc de blancs made from organically grown Chardonnay grapes from a single Premier Cru vineyard in Trépail. If Wikipedia is to be believed, however, the Trépail Authentis is no longer being produced.

The aging on the wine showed through in the deeper colour and dominant biscuit notes. Fully dry, with little evidence of fruit on the palate, I was hoping for an explosive mousse for a bit of birthday surprise but, alas, this was a rather unbubbly bubbly.

I think it still qualifies as a treat though.

1288.  2001 Tahbilk Shiraz (Nagambie Lakes - Victoria - Australia)

Our second bottle for the evening is an Aussie producer making another appearance on The List and in our glasses. I added the 1999 Shiraz way back at #323 and wrote more about Tahbilk than I'm going to repeat here. Suffice it to say that, while I don't see or taste a lot of Tahbilk wines, they always seem to impress. We are starting to see more and more Victorian wines in the Vancouver market. So, I suppose I should keep my eye open for some more.

Being located in Victoria (north of Melbourne), this is a cooler climate Shiraz for Australia. That is if any Aussie wine regions can really be thought of as cool climate from a Canadian perspective. I tend to find the hallmark, calling card of Victorian Shiraz is that it isn't as ballsy or big as Barossan or South Australian Shiraz. That said, nowadays, there seems to be a general trend of pulling back on the over-the-top nature of premium Barossan Shiraz. Victorian Shiraz just seemed to start from that point a little more naturally.

This is one bottle that definitely disappeared a little too quickly for my liking.

1289.  2010 Alderlea Vineyards Bacchus (Vancouver Island)

Because the Shiraz vanished as quickly as it did, we sacrificed ourselves to the chore of opening a third bottle. There was a little bit of self-justification in that we were moving into a white with a "much lower" alcohol content. After all, how strong could a Vancouver Island white be?

I was actually quite surprised to see the Alderlea bottle in Elzee's stash. Their wines don't tend to appear much on this side of the Georgia Strait. Elzee wasn't positive about the bottle's provenance but she thought it might have been a gift from a colleague on the Island.

I've said on many an occasion, and definitely in this blog, that Alderlea is a fave of mine from Vancouver Island. I don't think, however, that I've tried their Bacchus before. Light and bright with tree fruit, it matched beautifully with Elzee's signature apple and pine nut tart (which I'll take practically any day over a birthday cake).

I understand that we may see even less Alderlea Bacchus in the future. Owner Roger Dosman is known for his striving to determine what grape varieties are best suited for his vineyard and for the challenging Island climate. Accordingly, he has replanted a good portion of his Bacchus with more disease-resistant vines such as the Blattner varietals. Good thing we got to enjoy this one when we did.

Not that we needed a night cap but Elzee recently vacationed a bit in Mexico and she wanted to pour a little high end Tequila that she'd picked up. The Clase Azul Reposado Tequila was definitely a sipping tequila - as opposed to a simple margarita mix bottle - although I would never have expected the ceramic bottle to contain tequila. As a night cap, Elzee could have easily used this as a Mexican replacement for Grappa in the cafe corretto we tried on a previous visit when Mama and Papa Elzee were visiting as well.

Maybe we can try that next time we're visiting and the folks join us. In the mean time, we just need to find more occasion to get together with this gal!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 3 - Blue Mountain

Like bubbles? If so, you may well be apt to agree with Lily Bollinger when she states that "I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."

It's time to gear up for a third stop on this pre-WBC13 road trip and I ran across that quote while taking a look at Blue Mountain's website. Obviously, you can't buy a true "Champagne" from this - or any other winery in the Okanagan - but Blue Mountain is well known for making some of the finest bubbly in BC. Indeed, the range of sparkling wines makes up about a quarter of the winery's total production and they are all made as Méthode Traditionelle or Méthode Champenoise wines.

Blue Mountain makes four bubblies: a Non-Vintage and a Vintage Brut, a Blanc de Blancs and a Rosé Brut and I think it's safe to say that any one of them - if you can find a bottle - will compare favourably to similar wines from the "real McCoy." And, no doubt at a far more reasonable price. The sparklers are made predominantly from the traditional Champenoise grapes - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir - however, both the Non-Vintage and Vintage Brut feature a small percentage of non-traditional Pinot Gris, giving the Brut its own touch of a house style.

As highly acclaimed as Blue Mountain's sparkling wines are, they may not be the wines that the winery is best known for. Indeed, there's a lot more to the winery than some well-made Brut.

The Mavety family has been farming the home vineyard since 1971; however, at that time, the family was only growing grapes for sale. During those early years, the BC wine industry definitely suffered from a lack of a clear vision. It was really only a change in economic times during the 80's and a desire on the part of Ian and Jane Mavety, Mère and Père, to improve the basic nature of BC grape-growing and winemaking that resulted in Blue Mountain's transition from grape vineyard to winery in 1991.

The winery has been a favourite of BC wine lovers basically since that first vintage in '91 and the view from the vineyard is now one of the most recognizable vistas when it comes to BC winemaking. Standing at the winery, the view overlooking Vaseux Lake towards McIntyre Bluff has graced their label since Day One and become iconic. But, more than a pretty view, consistency has been a hallmark of the winery - as in consistently good - and Blue Mountain really did come out of the gate running.  Perhaps it's true that, back in 1991, there wasn't all that much competition, but there is now and Blue Mountain has had to work hard to stay in the public's eye.

The winery has always been family-owned and operated and, even today, production is limited to around 16,000 cases annually.

As much as the wines have been consistently popular, the winery itself has had to adapt to the changing industry. A new tasting room was opened in 2011 and public access changed dramatically. Prior to the new tasting room, visitors needed to call in advance to arrange a tasting. Whether it was because there was often no wine available to sell or not enough family members around to man a tasting room, the winery was often associated with an unfortunate reputation of being aloof or unapproachable. When a forest fire ravaged the Okanagan in 2003, the Mavety's were lucky when the fire stopped short of their vineyard. The joke of the day, however, was "Why did the fire stop at Blue Mountain's gate? It didn't have an appointment."

Suffice it to say that that was then and that the winery has raised its profile and is far more interactive with the wine buying public nowadays. The winery welcomed the BC Wine Appreciation Society during its annual Fall Bus Tour last year - the first bus to invade the winery on mass - and current winemaker, Matt Mavety, led a BCWAS tasting last Fall that was a great hit with the club. The updated website is informative. A winery blog premiered in June 2012 and there's even a Twitter handle @BlueMtnWinery. Whether the expanded approach stems from greater competition and an ever-growing number of wineries, to a more direct involvement of the next generation of Mavety's in day-to-day operations or just to the fact that the winery has a larger staff today, the change seems to be well received.

Ian and Jane Mavety have been the face of Blue Mountain for decades but the winery is seeing a thorough integration of the next generation. As briefly mentioned, their son, Matt, is now head winemaker. After contributing "cheap labour" to the winery since he was 14, Matt finished his viticulture studies at UBC and in New Zealand and jumped into the winemaking business full bore, taking over the reins, as winemaker, in 2005. His sister, Christine, now operates the marketing side of Blue Mountain.

The story always comes back to the wines though. For the most part, the winery has been inspired by French wines as opposed to New World styles. They currently grow six varieties of grapes - primarily Burgundian: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc - and all of Blue Mountain's wines are made only from estate grown grapes. After 40-plus years in the vineyards, the Mavety's have a great handle on what's been done in the vineyard and what might be expected. The vineyard itself has a bit of everything in terms of terrain: east-, south-, north- and some west-facing slopes that are all planted with the same grape varieties. Over the years, the family has learned that each of the layouts of the terrain impart different characteristics to the fruit and that diversity allows for a greater depth of complexity when the grapes are blended together.

I'd mentioned the prominence of the sparkling wines in Blue Mountain's portfolio and, indeed, Boo and I served the Non-Vintage Brut at both our original commitment ceremony in 1998 and at our 10-year anniversary party (and formal marriage ceremony since it was legal in Canada by then). The winery, however, might be recognized even more for its Pinot Noir - and it's a bottle of Pinot that I'm going to add to The List for the purposes of this post.

1286.   2007 Blue Mountain Striped Label Reserve Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley)

The winery grows nine different Pinot Noir clones - three of which are used solely for the sparkling wines - the assortment of clones giving Matt, as winemaker, an opportunity to take advantage of the different traits that each of the clones exhibits and impart a greater complexity to the finished blend. Aficionados of the winery already know that Blue Mountain has traditionally produced a cream and a striped label. The striped label wines have always been known to be a reserve level; however, it's only been recently that the word "Reserve" was actually added to the label. A quarter of the winery's production is released as striped label wine; but Matt was clear to point out to the BCWAS crowd that they make all their wines to a "reserve" level. There is no difference in how the fruit for the two labels is grown - whether it be thinning, shoot positioning or any other means of vineyard care. Furthermore, they ferment and age their wines block by block in the same manner. It's just that certain lots or barrels seem to offer a fuller expression of what happens in the vineyard.

Whatever the winemaking régime was behind our Pinot, it worked. The wine had a gorgeous nose, full of cherries and red fruit with hints of vanilla and spice. The flavours were just as expressive. And smooth. We had our first glass with duck confit and thought it matched wonderfully and, then, the wine opened up even more as we whiled away the evening, glass in hand.

Returning from our bottle at home to the winery as a whole, Matt has also advised that their vineyards enjoy a rocky soil and a micro-climate that is distinct from the sandier soils found on the Black Sage Bench, the sub-region that is on the same side of the valley but found to the South of Blue Mountain and its Okanagan Falls neighbours. The Mavety's refer to their little area as the "Vaseux Bench" and it is a few degrees warmer in the winter - which can be critical to a vine's survival in the Okanagan - and is a few degrees cooler in the summer which is beneficial for the winery's white varieties. Accordingly, all of Blue Mountain's wines are made from cooler climate grape varieties.

Starting in 2001, Matt also oversaw the introduction of some wild yeast fermentation of their wines (as opposed to using cultivated yeasts). The use of wild yeasts can be risky but many feel that it also lends itself to more expressive wines. Up to one-half of some particular varietal wines at Blue Mountain might now have seen wild yeast fermentation.

Blue Mountain is also one of the few BC wineries to emphasize the possibility of the Gamay Noir grape as a star in the Okanagan. Few wineries consistently offer a varietal Gamay wine and Matt has been quoted as saying that the "varietal has so much potential and is under-rated." He feels that Gamay Noir offers so much more than just being used as a blending grape or for Rosé wines and he notes that the winery always sells out of the thousand or so cases that they release each year.

Personally, one of the most interesting practices that has been introduced at the winery is that their latest plantings are seen as adding a new facet to Okanagan vineyards. The winery has decided to change over to high density planting - where both rows and vines are planted closer together. The new alignment of vines is closer to Burgundian practices and results in almost twice or even three times as many vines per acre than were previously planted. The vines are only just starting to reach their potential and the winery is still learning how these vines might need to be tended to differently in terms of canopy management and exposure to the sun and optimal yields but, so far, they are happy with the "interesting fruit" that is resulting from even the young vines.

With the new plantings, the winery is also introducing a higher degree of sustainable viticulture and they have worked hard on expanding the winery's composting program. The new planting method has also required the introduction of some new equipment. With the tighter spacing of the rows, the old tractors no longer fit amongst the rows. When I saw one new piece of machinery, my immediate thought was that I'd stepped onto the side lot of a Star Wars production. I'd love to see that baby in action.

Old. New. Consistency. Innovation. Blue Mountain and the Mavety's seem to be spokesmodels for all of those topics. I just know that the winery and I go back a long ways and that I hope to enjoy their wines for many years still to come.  After all, we're well on our way to needing some bubbly for our 20th anniversary - and WBC13 attendees would be well advised to accept a glass of Blue Mountain if one should be offered during the Conference.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Treats at The Pear Tree

As the years continue to pass me by, I don't put a whole lot of stock in birthday celebrations any more. I can handle being showered with affection by friends and family on the landmark dates, but I'll happily forget that the ones in between that continue to pop up.

That is unless the Significant Other is offering dinner at The Pear Tree Restaurant as a birthday treat. If it takes me turning another year older to be able to let Scott and Stephanie Jaeger wow yet again, so be it.

Knowing that it's rare visit to The Pear Tree where one of us doesn't gravitate to a pork belly or lamb dish, we decided to take advantage of the BYO rules now in place and we brought a celebratory red along with us. Not that this stopped us from ordering house cocktails and a glass of white for the lighter dishes.

Boo had forgotten to make a reservation but, luckily for us, Scott and Stephanie had room for us. Our good fortune was magnified in that Scott was working on some new seasonal dishes and, as such, was offering a tasting menu that night. I think this might be the first time I'd been privy to such a treat at The Pear Tree. So, it was a no brainer to take that route for dinner. It meant that I didn't get my fix of Scott's Twice Cooked Pork Belly and Spot Prawn Cassoulet, but we managed to keep a perpetual smile through our six courses - including halibut, duck and lamb. Oh my.

1285.  2005 Barrosa Valley Estate E&E Black Pepper Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

The wine we took with us was a fave from the Barossa Valley. We first ran across E&E Black Pepper Shiraz at a small tasting that was put together by BVE's local agent, close to a decade ago, when winemaker Stuey Bourne was in town. Following the tasting, a small gang of us, including Stuey, took in another couple of bottles in Yaletown before Lady Di and I took our "early" leave on a school night. Now, Stuart Bourne has a rep of being a wild one - even for an Aussie - and I understand the balance of the evening included a trip to the Roxy and a little "more cowbell" with the band on stage.

I may not have made it to the Roxy that night, but I did head immediately to one of the specialty liquor shops and grabbed a couple bottles of the E&E. They aren't the easiest of wines to come across.

I think it's fair to say that some of Stuey's big personality shows through in his wines and the Black Pepper Shiraz is his icon. Stuey has since left BVE and moved to another Barossa stalwart, Chateau Tanunda, but the '05 vintage was definitely his. The BVE website states that the "Black Pepper Shiraz is the pinnacle of Barossa Shiraz, representing the best parcels of Shiraz that Barossa has to offer." The '05 vintage saw three vineyards selected from nine different blocks in the northern Barossa. It's big. It's beautiful. And, with a $100 price tag, it's a special occasion wine.

An occasion, much like a birthday dinner at one of the best restaurants in town.

I mentioned the halibut, duck and lamb that we enjoyed. I've yet to mention the chicken and waffles that we were fêted with. This is a new combination to me - although I understand it's quite popular in the States - but I told Stephanie (and Scott) that they were welcome to come by and serve me waffles (with or without the chicken, but preferable with) any morning that they'd like. In fact, I think I said that, if need be, they could come over and get hooched the night before, stay in the spare bedroom and get up to cook breakfast at whatever time struck their fancy. We're taking tasty here.

And, I'm hoping this isn't the last I see of this dish. I think it could easily be a long term fave on the menu.

As we were leaving to head home, Boo and I were thinking exactly the same thing. I'm not sure who verbalized it first, but we both agreed that we need to make it back to The Pear Tree so much sooner than later. Celebration excuse, or not.

That is, unless the Jaeger's take us up on our breakfast offer first.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Curling Dinner

Generally, I only get to add a whack of wines to The List in one night when it's our Dinner Club gang getting together or a Wine Boyz tasting. Tonight, however, Fisher threw a dinner for our curling team now that our regular season is over and the playoffs are about to begin.

And I can attest that the wine was flowing - particularly when you consider it was a school night. Guess we really worked up a thirst on the ice today. Ending the regular season with a win might have had something to do with it.

Despite the fact that we had two bottles of one wine and two of the wines have already made it to The List, I'm still adding four new wines to the total.

2011 Lang Vineyards - Farm Reserve Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

2006 Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

The Langmeil Shiraz is a favourite around our home; so, it's hardly surprising to already be on The List. The Lang Riesling isn't quite as common since Lang was in receivership and this is the first vintage of wine that's been produced in a number of years. Nice to see that the Riesling doesn't seem to have lost any of its tastiness.

1281.  2011 Domaine de Milhomme - Cuvée Le Mûrier (AOC Beaujolais - France)

Fish was new to our team this year and a rookie to the league. Turns out that he and his partner, Paddy, are wine aficionados as well. I'm all for chumming around, on and off the ice, with wine geeks - especially when Fish can dig into his cellar of wines for bottles like this Beaujolais that I wouldn't normally see otherwise. Fisher and Paddy are members of the Opimian Society and I understand their case deliveries can be full of surprises. This was pretty big for Beaujolais but I'm not complaining. I'm not sure that, in retrospect, I caught the "hint of blueberry, cognac and balsamic reduction" that the Opimian notes mentioned though.

1282. 2010 Pierre Henri Morel - Signargues Côtes-du-Rhône Villages (AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages - France)

The man behind the label is the Commercial Director at Chapoutier wines and Monsieur Morel established the winery in 2007 when he purchased the assets of a winery that had gone bankrupt. He makes two Châteauneuf-du-Pape with grapes grown on the home vineyard and three wines, including this Côtes-du-Rhône from purchased grapes. The wines are made by the staff at Chapoutier and this primarily Grenache sip is blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre to meet the specifications required by the AOC in order to be designated as Signargues - a small plateau region in the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. It looks like he's aiming to match Chapoutier's reputation of delivering nice wines at reasonable prices. It's certainly nice to see at least this one of his wines hitting our market because he's apparently only making about 250 cases of each of his wines.

1283.  2008 Quinta da Barreira Reserva Touriga Nacional & Cabernet Sauvignon (Portugal)

I think this was another of Fisher's Opimian bottles because I can't find much reference to the producer or the wine in local searches. I can't say that I can recall a blend like this. We're starting to see a few more still, red wines from Portugal in our market but most of them are entry level commercial bottles and the mixing of Cab and Touriga Nacional sure seems like a bit of new school Portugal to me. It would appear that Portugal will no longer simply be known for Port in local markets.

1284.  2010 Layer Cake Garnacha (D.O. Calatayud - Spain)

Seeing as how, thus far, the evening's additions to The List hailed from France and Portugal, I suppose it might make sense that we sipped back on another bottle from that part of the world. The last wine of the dinner - although we were long past the ever-so-tasty crab cakes and lamb stew that we feasted on - was from Spain. This Garnacha (or Grenache) is one of the newest entries in the Layer Cake collection. As a side project, California cult wine proprietor, Jayson Woodbridge, produces wines from regions around the world, picking what he feels is the top grape grown in a particular region and making big, fruit forward wines.

The Spanish Garnacha joins a Californian Cab (and Chardonnay), an Oregon Pinot, an Argentine Malbec, an Aussie Shiraz and an Italian Primitivo. The wines are continually lauded as over-delivering with bang for your buck. Despite the number of bottles that had already been polished off, there was no problem finishing this one off as well.

That last bottle pretty much polished me off for the night though. Being the oldest member of the team, I know better than to try and match the younger bucks glass for glass. For all I know, Kaz and M'og probably hit a bar on the way home. All power to them - provided they've sobered up for our playoff game next weekend.

There was no doubt that Fisher and Paddy passed Fish's rookie initiation! He's definitely invited back for next season - regardless of whether he offers to cook up another dinner or hit the wine cellar for us. Hell, he even earns a few "free" hogged rocks next year as a thank you for the evening. We might normally end our games at the club with a pitcher of beer, as opposed to a bottle, but get togethers like this might just harbour the start of a new trend. Curlers getting their rocks off with a bottle of wine. I like it.