Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 8 - Tantalus

With just one week to go before the 2013 Wine Bloggers' Conference kicks off in Penticton, I've got time for one more stop on my Pre-WBC13 Tour of favourite wineries - and for a Riesling lover, like me, it's killer. There's one big difference between today's winery and all the others I've written about in this series however. I've never actually been to or visited Tantalus Vineyards. It's not that I haven't enjoyed their wines or attended their tastings with the BC Wine Appreciation Society. I even had the pleasure of a "speed date" with Tantalus winemaker, David Paterson, a few years back at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I've just never made it up to the winery itself in Kelowna.

I'm happy to say that this travesty is set to be remedied next week though!

Following that shocking reveal, I might as well start this post by getting another little story out of the way - especially since it's a marketer's dream come true and it'd be remiss of me not to tell it. Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most renowned wine writers has heralded Tantalus on a couple of occasions and one site even quoted her as announcing Tantalus as the "crème de la crème...of Canada." Just this Spring, Ms. Robinson chose Tantalus wines as two of her top three picks for Canadian white wines in a scheduled tasting - the 2008 Old Vines Riesling was her top choice and the 2010 Riesling was third. If that doesn't cause you to stop and take note, I don't know what does.

The winery and vineyard are found a short distance from downtown Kelowna, where Tantalus is part of the Lakeshore Winery Route - along with CedarCreek, Summerhill and St. Hubertus. Their first vintage was only in 2005; however, the vineyard has a storied history. Fifty acres of undulating topography, it was first known as Pioneer Vineyards when, back in 1927, the Tantalus site was one of the first in BC to be planted with grapes. As such, it is now noted as the one of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the province - if not the oldest.

Now, no one in BC was growing vinifera grapes back in the early 1900's; indeed, the grapes were largely being grown as table grapes. So, it's no surprise that the vineyard has undergone change over the years. Ownership has as well. In 1948, the original owner, J.W. Hughes, sold individual vineyards to some of his vineyard managers. Marin Dulic was one of those foremen and three generations of the Dulic family shepherded the property for the next half century. Initial steps were taken to change over some of the hybrid vines in 1978 when Den Dulic started planting Riesling vines. Those experimental vines are still producing - making them some of the oldest in the valley - and the fruit provides the backbone for some of those wines lauded by Jancis Robinson and others. The family also started planting some German clone Pinot Noir vines around 1983.

The Dulics sold all their grapes through the decades until Marin's granddaughter, Susan, took the family operation to another level and opened Pinot Reach winery in 1997. As the name might indicate, Susan's goal was to highlight Pinot varieties. The reality of the vineyard, however, was that Pinot Reach received its highest accolades for its Rieslings. A note that wasn't lost on Vancouver investment dealer, Eric Savics, when he purchased the property and winery from the Dulics in 2004. Savics uprooted some of the lesser hybrid varieties still found on the property, like Bacchus, and focused almost entirely on Riesling.

Photo courtesy of Lakeshore Wineries
The old Pinot Reach building played home to the new winery's first four vintages - made by Matt Holmes, a transplanted Aussie, who was hired as Tantalus' initial winemaker - but the building proved to be too cramped and plans were made to build a new showpiece winery. It's still easy to find pictures online of the designs created by noted Vancouver architect, Bing Thom; however, the financial crash intervened and the decision was made to proceed with a more reserved building. That new building was completed in 2010 and it expanded the old 2,000 square foot winery to a new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, 13,000 square foot production and tasting facility.

As you might expect with the LEED certification of its new building, Tantalus also practices environmental sustainability in the vineyard. Although the vineyard isn't certified, organic farming methods are used as much as possible.

It was around the time of the planning for the new winery that Matt Holmes moved on and was replaced by current winemaker, David Paterson. From day one, Tantalus wines have been particularly terroir-driven but, as part of his job as a winemaker, David strives to capture "the purity of flavours straight from the vineyard." He states that, "If we get it right in the vineyard, I don't have to do a lot of 'winemaking.'" It can only help in the goal of "getting it right" that all of Tantalus' wines are made from estate grown fruit.

Photo Courtesy of Wine Access
Having as much control as possible in the vineyard is of utmost importance, especially since Okanagan weather patterns aren't always going to be a vineyard manager's or a winemaker's best friend. David also advises that "Winemaking in BC can yield some pretty frightening chemistry to start with - definitely not the numbers we are taught to look for in New Zealand." And that's coming from comparisons with New Zealand - another cool climate region.

"Rumour" has it that David was born in Canada but raised in New Zealand. He returned to Canada and the Okanagan in 2009, however, as a particular Canadian lass had caught his eye. Once married, "the Okanagan Valley became very attractive if I wanted to stay in the wine industry and in Canada."

Prior to his return to Canada though, David managed to fit a variety of wine regions onto his resumé. He spent time with Neudorf and Giesen while in New Zealand and he still owns a share in Auburn Wines in Central Otago, managing to travel back every year for harvest. He also spent time with heavy-hitting Aussie producer, Henschke Cellars, with Oregon producer, Archery, and in Burgundy with Domaine Dublère. While each of those wineries was different from the others, David found that "a similar core value of vineyard first ran through all of the cellars."

When it came time to pick a wine to add to The List with this post, I looked for an '09 Riesling that I was supposed to have in our "cellar." It wasn't there and I realized that it must have been the bottle that I took to WBC12 in Portland last year. The conference had an event where all the attendees brought a bottle of their own choosing to be opened for the enjoyment of all. I'd taken a bottle of Tantalus Riesling, feeling that it would be a wonderful ambassador for BC. Funny thing was, Luke Whittal, my bud behind the Wine Country BC blog, had brought the very same bottle. Of all the wines in the world, we both chose the same bottle. It also meant that I had to scramble to find another bottle for this post and that's not necessarily the easiest thing to do. Luckily, some new white wine releases are starting to hit local shelves and, as a result, Boo and I were treated to our first white of the 2012 vintage.

1326.  2012 Tantalus Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

After a slow start, 2012 was a warm and sunny vintage for the Okanagan and that only seemed to help bring riper fruit notes to the resulting wine. High acidity and a "racy citrus" profile have been a hallmark for Tantalus Rieslings and, despite the heat of the season, that zing was still there. Citrus notes just leaped out of the glass at us but the palate was so much more than just lemon and lime. The wine is produced from vines planted in 1985 and 2005. The juice from those 1978 vines goes to the Old Vines Riesling - and recently to the Natural Brut sparkling wine that David is having particular fun making - and I think that's why I don't find this wine to show nearly as much minerality as the Old Vines wine does. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, particularly when just sipping away. I generally find the "regular" Riesling to be more approachable to most palates.

I know that there definitely wasn't enough wine in the bottle that we opened though. Too bad Luke hadn't dropped by with a second bottle again.

After Riesling, Pinot Noir sees the largest production at Tantalus and there is a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier (used in the Rosé) grown as well but total production is definitely limited. I'm not sure of current totals but I read that only 4,500 cases were produced in 2011. I believe that, with the new facilities, the hope is that the winery might eventually hit the 10,000 case mark.

I've got to admit, as well, that I've always found Tantalus to have the most striking labels. Each of the wines features a First Nations mask that was carved by Tlingit artist, Dempsey Bob. Simple. Elegant. Stunning. If you ask me.

Photo courtesy of 
Despite just having returned from harvest in New Zealand and having to jump head first into the new season's winery activities here, David took the time to respond to a few additional email questions I had forwarded. I wondered about whether he sees any foreseeable trends happening in BC wine and what his take might be on the debate around BC's needing or not needing a signature grape or grapes. As for trends, he believes the bigger producers will continue to get bigger and that a lot of the "ma and pop" operations are going to struggle unless they have deep pockets.

Despite the fact that the Okanagan Valley isn't that big, he also sees more and more regional focus happening down the road and an even further reduced presence of the old hybrid varieties. He knows that, unless global warming kicks into overdrive, the Tantalus vineyard isn't capable of fully ripening Cab Sauv or Merlot. He advised that he'd love to work with Syrah - and the vineyard does have a tiny plot - but the best he's been able to attempt so far is an icewine version as the vineyard is just too cool to fully ripen the Syrah. On the other hand though, he figures that Pinot Noir in the south of the Valley tends to get too high in sugar before flavour ripeness occurs, resulting in big, heavy Pinots that resemble Syrah more than they do varietal Pinots. He posits that, as more growers and owners understand the terroir of their vineyards, there will be an increasing spread between what is planted in the southern and northern parts of the Valley and will be fewer wineries trying to produce a wide variety of wines to appease all palates.

Even with all the history behind the Tantalus vineyard, David points out that the Okanagan is still a young wine region. He notes, however, that it is "coming on in leaps and bounds." Many of the region's more interesting vineyards still haven't been planted for even ten years. He states, "if you like what we are all doing here in BC now, just wait and see what we will be producing in another ten years."

When asked about the roll of social media in Tantalus' game plan, David notes that it "is imperative to the success of our company and will have more and more weight as the world turns to social media as a primary source of communication." He is particularly glad, however, that Stephanie Mosley, the winery's social media/jill of all trades is excellent at it and he can leave it in her capable hands - even though he tries to understand it as best he can. Their website can be found at and you can follow them on Twitter at @tantaluswine.

On a final note, if he could, David would love an opportunity for all of the WBC13 delegates to have a chance to try their Old Vines Riesling. They "make very little from our best parcel of fruit every year and it is the best lens into our vineyard and winemaking philosophy of site and vintage expression being paramount." I'm certainly hoping that opportunity arises. You likely should as well - because, if it does, you should jump at it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bob,
    Great post on touring wineries! Please e-mail me at It’s about wine of course :)