Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Second Look Ahead to WBC13 - Tinhorn Creek

Sandra Oldfield. Tinhorn Creek.

Need I say more when it comes to BC wine and social media? As such, I think it only makes sense to pay a virtual visit here for my second stop at a BC winery as we lead up to WBC13.

If you're a blogger who's attended a previous Wine Bloggers Conference or you're intent on making your way to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference - or even if you just immerse yourself in the social media side of wine - you're probably well acquainted with @SandraOldfield and her blog, Oldfield's Wanderings, She's prolific. She's interesting. She's responsive. When you add in she's full time mom, I swear she must be the busiest woman in the business. And she happens to make some fine wine to boot.

Sandra started out as a California Girl. She grew up there and completed her Masters in Enology at UC Davis. It was there that she met her future (and current) husband, Kenn Oldfield. Once the schooling was completed, Sandra joined Kenn when he returned to Canada and the Oldfields established Tinhorn Creek with their business partners - Calgarians Bob and Barbara Shaughnessy. The Oldfields arrived back in BC in 1994. During the intervening nineteen vintages, the four partners have built the winery from nothing into one of the most dynamic operations in the province.

Moving to a new country and to a fledging wine region had to have caused some trepidation for a woman who had previously worked for California's Rodney Strong Vineyards and did the leg work for her Master's thesis in Robert Mondavi's To-Kalon vineyards. She called the Mondavi experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; however, Sandra also advises that when she "first saw the Okanagan stretched out before me, it was not a difficult decision. It is simply spectacular up here and a new wine industry that I could grow with was right up my alley."

The Okanagan's experience with growing European vinifera grapes really only started in 1988 with the introduction of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the US. Prior to that the Okanagan was primarily planted with hybrid vines or even old lambrusca grapes. Accordingly, the Oldfields and Shaughnessy's put that UC Davis schooling to test when deciding what grapes to plant in their two vineyards - found between Oliver and Osoyoos. They knew that they only wanted to rely on estate-grown grapes. They also knew that they wanted to focus primarily on red wines - there was just that feeling that it might be too challenging to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon in the Okanagan. So, they planted Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. For whites they planted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Be it global warming or not, weather patterns have changed enough that the folks at Tinhorn have added sections of the later ripening Cab Sauv, Syrah and Viognier, plus a bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Although hardly exhaustive, they have a good selection of varieties to work with. The flip side, of vourse, is that there has been plenty of speculation in the press in recent years as to whether or not BC needs to focus on a specific grape varieties - or grape varieties - if the industry ever wants to garner a bigger global reputation. Sandra's take on the debate is that the Okanagan is far from being "one homogenous area." She notes that neither Pinot Noir nor Riesling thrive in the Southern part of the valley where Tinhorn is found and, similarly, the Northern parts of the valley around Kelowna find it difficult to ripen red varieties (with the exception of Pinot Noir). Far from wanting to see the local industry pigeonholed like a Kiwi Sauv Blanc or an Argentine Malbec, Sandra loves that the Okanagan, with its range of micro-climates, is still in "high experimental times" and notes, furthermore, that the main markets the region is serving love the diversity of wines that are available.

Despite her love of variety in the vineyard, there's no doubt that Sandra has become a bit of a spokesperson for Cab Franc. She was a pioneer in BC when she insisted on those original plantings and Tinhorn has probably been alone in having made a varietal wine since 1996. As a testament to her perseverance, a couple of years back, Sandra delivered one of the BC Wine Appreciation Society's more memorable tastings when she shepherded BCWAS members through a 12 vintage vertical tasting of her Cab Franc - every vintage that had been released to date from the first vintage in 1996. The tasting even included some of the difficult 1999 vintage that Sandra referred to as her "Jesus wine." I no longer have my notes from that tasting but local wine luminary, Sid Cross, wrote that Sandra called the wine that because "it started out as bad green beans but with age has turned into an unusual orange peel chartreuse like wine - Jesus turning water into wine." She also admitted that the '99 vintage almost made her turn her heels and head back to California.

Luckily for us, she decided to stick it out though and, earlier this year, Sandra took to Twitter to proudly announce the first release of a reserve level 2010 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc. The wine is a single block beauty from their Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench and it was one of the wines Sandra poured this year at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Folks needed to jump quickly if they liked it, however, because only 374 cases were made.

If anything, Sandra is heartened by the fact that Cab Franc is generating "great buzz" in BC - as are lightly oaked Chardonnays and Syrahs that are starting to reveal distinct regional variations. But, if she could serve one wine to all the incoming WBC13 attendees, it'd be her Cab Franc. In addition to the variety's ability to facilitate her desire to capture and evoke the unique terroir of the region - that of sage-covered desert - she'd love the opportunity to tell a story about Cab Franc from a "vineyard, cellar and social media aspect." Indeed, she's been working at this already. The team at Tinhorn followed one vine of Cab Franc over the past year and, in conjunction with an Ontario producer that did the same thing, discussed "the 2012 season through the use of those two vines" weekly for six months. You can visit Sandra's blog and click on the #CabFrancTuesday 2012 tab to read her comments and follow the vine's progression through photos. I understand that she's about to start a second journey with #Gewsday (Gewürztraminer Tuesday).

When it comes to adding a bottle of Tinhorn Creek to The List with this post, it might seem natural to open a bottle of Cab Franc - especially since I have a couple bottles of that 2010 Oldfield's Reserve - but that Oldfield's is just a baby and I'm going to let it lay for awhile. Sandra and Tinhorn also produce a series of blends - their 2Bench Red and 2Bench White - that I'm very fond of and I think one of them will satisfy just as well.

1279.  2009 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The 2Bench White has been part of the Tinhorn portfolio for a longer time than the Red but I happened to have a bottle of the Red at home. The 2009 2Bench Red is only the third vintage of Sandra's Bordeaux or Meritage blend for the premium series and this year's blend is 45% Merlot, 30% Cab Sauv, 22% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. This is also still a young wine but we allowed the bottle to breathe and took our time with it. Our patience was definitely rewarded in that the wine opened up noticeably and the tannins retreated some into the bright, dark fruit.

I suppose if I'm ever to finish this post before WBC13 actually arrives, I'd best make a few final points and call it a day. There is plenty to write about, however. Perhaps I should consider doing my own Master's dissertation on Sandra.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tinhorn's efforts in sustainability and innovation. Tinhorn was the first winery in BC to try bottling wine with Stelvin screw cap enclosures when they bottled a portion of their 2001 Merlot. They introduced a sharp, two-bottle package that contained one bottle finished with cork and the second topped with the screw cap. It was novel and an effective way to show the BC market that the Stelvin closure could arrive in a good way and it let consumers see first hand if they found any difference. The winery carried forward from there and was also the first to bottle its entire portfolio with Stelvin caps.

The winery was additionally the first in Canada to be declared "carbon neutral" and it makes extensive efforts in composting, using biodiesel fuel and water conservation - among such other activities as habitat preservation.

The opening of Miradoro Restaurant at the winery, in April 2011, created quite a buzz in the Valley as it heralded a joint venture with two top names from the Vancouver restaurant scene. Being named, by Wine Access Magazine, as one of the "World's Best Winery Restaurants" only helped make Tinhorn even more of a destination winery. And that doesn't even take into account the winery's 350-seat amphitheatre that spectacularly overlooks the valley and plays host to a series of outdoor summer concerts.

One thing that doesn't come to mind when thinking of Sandra is shyness. The lady doesn't seem to have a problem when it comes to speaking her mind and I quite loved all the press she received last year as the debate over shipping wine across provincial boundaries was growing into a bit of a brouhaha. Sandra upped the ante by showing it's easier to order a firearm and have Canada Post ship it half way across the country than it is to order a case of wine and ship it to another province. It was legal for Sandra to order her first firearm - a Maverick 88 shotgun - and find it delivered four days later. It was not legal, however, for anyone to order a case of Tinhorn wine and have it shipped outside of BC. Steps are slowly being made on that front but I'm quite sure Sandra could give a tip or twelve to provincial bureaucrats when it comes to legislative regulations.

In fighting her good fight, Sandra has utilized social media to great effect and she launched #BCWineChat as a means of discussing topics near and dear to industry insiders and BC wine aficionados. BC WineChat and its 8-9 p.m. timeslot on Wednesdays is now a fixture on Twitter - regularly trending as a topic in BC and Canada - to the point where a recent Oysters and Wine topic attracted "porn-bots" en masse.

I'll end with Sandra's response to the question of whether there is any particular aspect of or fact about BC winemaking that she'd like visiting bloggers and guests to learn or be exposed to. She stated that, "I'd like them to focus on wines other than Icewine and not come with too many preconceived notions about us. I'd love for them to explore the touring aspect we have here - a beautiful area with many wineries and lot of other activities to do as well. it is a great place to go for a vacation. Lastly, there are many opportunities to combine touring with eco-tourism and agri-tourism that make BC so unique. There are wineries with major investments here - small and large and every size in between - so we are working hard at building on something here that will last." That about sums it up, doesn't it?

Speaking from experience, BC's oft-proclaimed "Twitter Queen" and Tinhorn Creek are well worth catching up with - and, should you run into her at WBC13, you can likely keep her willingly engaged by arriving with something Alsatian, a glass of Portugese table wine or a Riesling. You won't regret it.

No comments:

Post a Comment