Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Last Mexican Cat Dance

GatuBela, one of our old neighbours, is in the 'hood. It's time for her annual fundraiser - the Mexican Cat Dance. Even though GatuBela may have moved away from the neighbourhood last year, it's a definite case of "gone but not forgotten." In fact, we probably see and hear from her more than most of the other folks that actually live on our block.

GatuBela has been organizing her Mexican Cat Dance for a decade now. The funds she raises are used to keep street cats and dogs healthy, help locals spay and neuter pets, offer euthanasia for sick animals and, generally, assist the displaced cats and dogs of Mazatlan's streets.

This is to be the last dance however. GatuBela is spending more and more time in Mexico nowadays and planning the dance in Vancouver has become a little too taxing.

That meant we had to mark the night down in pen on our calendar even though there were other events scheduled for that night. For the last so many years, she's held the Cat Dance at the Casa Verde Restaurant; so, a small batch of neighbours met to have a little dinner beforehand. Boo and I were joined by Mr. D, Red (and a spunky friend who has yet to pick her "nom de blog"), Mr. Principles and Nature Boy.

N.V. Aveleda Casal Garcia - Vinho Verde (DOC Vinho Verde - Portugal)

Seeing how this is a non-vitage wine, it's no surprise to me that I'd already added it to The List. I found it amusing though that, when it was added back at #933, we were at an earlier edition of the Mexican Cat Dance and the accompanying picture is with some of Casa Verde's calamari. Some things are just constants in life I suppose. No sense repeating myself all over again and writing the same blurb about the wine. I think it'll suffice to say that Casal Garcia has been for years - and continues to be - an easy drinking "go to" bargain kind of wine for Latin food and picnics.

1433.  2012 Vila Regia - Douro Vinho Tinto (DOC Douro - Portugal)

Our second wine of the evening is a new addition even though it's apparently the #1 selling Portugese red wine in British Columbia. The Vila Regia may not be a constant pour for us; we were, however, far more predictable with our choice of the restaurant's flaming chorizo. It's a house specialty and I mean, really, could there be a better dinner offering for a gay guy than a flaming sausage?

Vila Regia is one of the brands that is part of the huge Sogrape Vinhos portfolio. The wine's made from some of the most traditional grapes found in Portugal's Douro region: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barocca and Tinta Roriz. Those grapes may not mean much to the average drinker, but anyone who tried a Port - or one of the new Portugese table wines that are starting to become better known in BC markets - has quaffed them. It's marketed as a drink now wine that's easy on the pocket book and, while it's definitely Old World in its profile, it takes a more modern New World take on emphasizing the fruit. I doubt I'd run back to it like I do the Casal Garcia, but it served its purpose and worked nicely with the sausage.

Following dinner, we carried on into the "banquet" room to scope out the silent auction and take in a little cat dancing. Being the old mean guy - who covets lots of dancefloor to work my patented moves - I hadn't noticed that the little guy in the picture had wandered onto the floor to join us and I knocked him flat on his posterior. Many might think that I was trying to take out the competition for the limelight but, really, I was simply trying to teach him that, if you want floor space, you need to keep your elbows up.

Feeling guilty about making the little guy cry, I retreated to the silent auction to spend a little more money than I would have if I hadn't caused the tears.

Boo felt guilty by association and used the accident as an excuse to get me to leave before the big floorshow of the cats dancing their choreographed routine around a Mexican sombrero to the dulcet strains of Donna Summer belting out "Last Dance." I'm not so sure that floorshow actually took place - it is rather hard to choreograph cats after all - but I had suggested to GatuBela that it'd be a marvellous way to end the run of Cat Dances on a high note.

With or without the dancing cats, GatuBela has done a lot of great work in Mazatlan and I'm sure she'll continue to find ways to keep up her good deeds. Buenos Noches Muchachos.

We're a Happy Team at Hawthorn

This was hardly a stellar season for either Boo's or my teams in this year's Australian Football League. Neither his Brisbane Lions nor my West Coast Eagles even made it into the playoffs, let along the Grand Final. All the same, we made sure we were all set up to watch the big game in Aussie Rules. It can be a bit of task to find Aussie Rules live on Canadian TV - particularly at a reasonable hour - but the Grand Final is, luckily, pretty much guaranteed to be on the tube.

For a number of years now, we've thrown a steak or shrimp on the barbee, popped the cork on a lively Shiraz and settled in for a crazy game of high flying "marks" and brutal tackles. On occasion, we've had friends join us for the game - despite their not knowing anything about the game except that the players wear short, tight shorts and jerseys specifically designed to accentuate bulging biceps. Not this year though. We were on our own. As if that would stop us. We simply pulled out all the Hawthorn gear that our favourite Aussie, Merlot Boy, had given us over the years and hoped for a good game.

As much as I love me a grand Aussie Shiraz, we decided on a bottle in honour of Merlot Boy since his beloved Hawthorn Hawks had made it to the Grand Final for the second year in a row. Funny, but we didn't have any Australian Merlots sitting around at home.

1432.  2008 Le Vieux Pin Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

There was no fear of this baby not being up to the rough and tumble game.
The LVP was much bigger than expected - even with a bit of aging on it. Indeed, it was so big with tannin and heft that the fruit was largely buried. I doubt that I'd have identified it as a Merlot had I not known in advance and it's not often that I find a BC Merlot to be too big to enjoy as a simple sipper once the steak was done. Thinking back though, I maybe shouldn't have been so surprised since Le Vieux Pin's sister winery, La Stella, produces its monster Maestoso Merlot - perhaps BC's only $100 Merlot (not that many wines of any grape variety pull in that sort of price).

Luckily, our Merlot opened up some as the evening and the game carried on. It probably helped as well when I started drinking the wine out of a wine glass instead of sipping it from my Hawks coffee mug.

It's funny that, last year, Boo, Merlot Boy and I saw Hawthorn play at the MCG and tonight's opponent, the Freemantle Dockers play in Perth. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly a gripping final sitting at home. I'm sure it didn't help that there was plenty of rain falling in Melbourne and the player's grip on the ball kept slipping. It might have been more exciting if we'd been there watching the game live at the MCG with Merlot Boy. But, that would have been a tough ticket to pull off. On this side of the pond, the game doesn't start until 10 p.m. local time. So, by the time Hawthorn had built up a decent lead in the 3rd quarter, it was well past midnight and we were having to work at keeping our eyes open.

We were well into our next day before we finally saw the Hawks hold off the Dockers claim the cup by a 77-62 score. I'll just assume that our cheering and our choice of wine for Merlot Boy were the determining influences on the outcome.

You're welcome Merlot Boy.

Next year, however, I want to see my West Coast Eagles battling for the glory. Since they're a Perth based team, I'm sure I could rustle up a prime Margaret River wine for the occasion.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tyrant and Panda Guy's Big Day

When the timeframe of my last post ended, the weather sucked. Rain was pouring down just as we were primping to attend Tyrant and Panda Guy's wedding. Luckily, 15 minutes on the Gulf Islands can see an entirely different weather pattern kick in. As we arrived at the lakefront site for the wedding, the sun was shining and the smiles were almost as bright.

Tyrant's and my friendship is into its fourth decade now and he's always been the consummate entertainer. He's one of my most mentioned drinking buddies in the Blog and we've chatted over and thrown back many a bottle of wine in our days. Seeing as how Tyrant has one of the most extensive wine collections I've had the pleasure of knowing, I was excited to see what wines he'd chosen for his and Panda Guy's big day. He didn't disappoint with a collection of some of the biggest icons in BC wines.

N.V. Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut (Okanagan Valley)

Everyone was greeted at the door with a glass of Blue Mountain Brut. I wasn't surprised to see this favourite bubbly. Tyrant had asked what my first choice would be for a BC sparkler and - even though there are many equally fine BC bubbles produced - I didn't hesitate in nominating the Blue Mountain. Seeing as how Boo and I served it at both our commitment ceremony all those years ago and, again, at our "formal" wedding when gay marriage became legal in Canada. The winery has a range of traditional method wines available now but the vintage and Rosé wines can be difficult to obtain. This Gold Label Brut is generally available and, at under $25, is a bargain.

Thing is, the bottle doesn't get a number for The List since it was added long ago, back at #261. As mentioned, this is a bit of a "go to" wine for me. Consequently, I'll gladly quaff it back anytime - number on The List or not.

After the scene had been set with Brut in hand and sun in the sky, the faithful were gathered out in the lakeside garden for the ceremony. Thinking back on one's own marriage ceremony seems rather de rigueur at every wedding, but this one held a little special magic for Boo and I. Tyrant and PG had asked long time friend, Hizzonner, to perform the nuptials. I believe this is only the third ceremony that Hizzonner has officiated at - the other two were both Boo's and mine.

When you add the fact that Tyrant had M.C.'d at our commitment ceremony reception and then remembered that Tyrant's old love, Cher, had helped decorate the cake and arrange flowers for this day as well as for our commitment, we started joking that Tyrant should have just engaged us to re-stage our wedding - albeit with a much expanded budget and a fiercely fabulous setting.

There was definitely one difference though. Tyrant recited part of his vows in Mandarin. The closest I had to worry about when it came to a foreign language was to speak slow enough so that Boo's relatives from the Southern US could understand seeing as how I couldn't realistically recreate a drawl.  Following the ceremony at hand, we tried to determine just how flawless Tyrant's pronunciation in Mandarin had been. Mandarin isn't the easiest of languages to fake and I always recall one story where a Cantonese friend was practicing his Mandarin at a formal dinner and got slapped by his wife for ordering rather "delicate lady parts" instead the crab. Who knows what Tyrant could have ended up promising?

2007 Monmousseau Cuvée J.M. Brut (AOC Touraine - Loire - France)

The "I do's" seem to have passed without incident and they were heartily toasted with Monmousseau. This far into the wedding, I wasn't having much "luck" in adding bottles to The List. I'd added the Monmousseau last December, at #1323. when Tyrant served it at his legendary Winter Solstice/ Mayan End of the World party. No wedding had been announced back then but maybe they were trying out the bubbles to see how they'd go over with the gang. Obviously well enough to see their corks popped all over again.

And I might add that, indeed, many corks were popped.

In going back over our photos, it would seem that I was more concerned about being caught up in the wedding and the event than I was thinking about the blogging to come. There were wines being served from an assortment of top BC wineries - including the likes of Black Hills, La Frenz, Laughing Stock and Red Rooster - but do you think I took a picture of all the different wines on offer. Not a chance.

Then again, I didn't try every wine on offer either. Even if I'd wanted to, some of the bottles were quickly gone as many of the guests knew the pedigree of Nota Bene and Portfolio just as well as I did.

I probably did some damage to a couple other wines through the evening - particularly downing some white wine while noshing on the sushi being made to order on the lake dock. (Tell me they weren't happy at this station when the rain clouds cleared up.) But I must have given up on wine pictures after reining in a couple reds to add to the bubbles.

1430.  2010 Marichel - Deep Roots Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

As I was writing this, I realized I'd better check to make sure I haven't already added this bottle to The List as well. Both Tyrant and Lady Di have been big fans of Marichel ever since I introduced them to the new (at the time) winery on the Naramata Bench. I've added other vintages of Marichel Syrah to The List and a 2010 Viognier has been added but, luckily, I'm good to go with this Deep Roots Syrah.

Not that I could find out much about it online. The winery website doesn't refer to the wine at all but I figure that's likely because it was sold out and/or the "Deep Roots" label might have been a one-off vintage in 2010.

I do know, however, that Marichel might have been the smallest producing winery - and the least known amongst the bunch being offered - and, consequently, I cold keep refilling to my heart's content because not many others knew how nice the wine was drinking.

1431.  2011 Tribunal (Sonoma - California)

While checking to make sure that I hadn't added the 2011 Tribunal to The List either, I was surprised to see that I added the 2010 vintage to The List on the same night as the Monmousseau. Looks like Tyrant was doing some major "market testing" that night at the Solstice party. Either that or he was serving up some of his faves just in case the Mayan "predictions" were right and we weren't going to make it past last December and he wanted to go out on a good note.

In any event, the Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cab Sauv and Merlot blend was the only non-BC red being served. Whereas Boo and I decided to serve Blasted Church and Church and State as two of our wedding wines in a tongue-in-cheek nod to the arguably blasphemous standing of our marriage, Brent wittily chose Tribunal as a tip of the hat to all the old law school chums in attendance and to the fact that there are still many folks who will sit in judgement of a gay wedding and proclaim guilt.

The only thing we were guilty of that night, however, was being guilty of being in love - and of enjoying all the wines and the delicious food at hand. Add in some love for the live jazz band and the plentiful dancing and the makings of a truly memorable evening were all there.

Incredibly, the afternoon's rain clouds stayed away until well into the evening - after most people had moved inside or left anyhow. So the outdoor beauty of the venue was fully enjoyed by all.

Although Boo and I had wished the happy couple all the best and made our way back to our cabin, I'm told that the boys' wedding had one final point of similarity to Boo's and my earlier ceremonies. We always joke that it ain't a party unless the police come by. Our commitment ceremony saw three different squad cars come by over the course of the evening and even our much smaller, formal marriage ten years later - held in our back yard with maybe 50 people - saw the police arrive to ask us to tone it down. When they told us our neighbours were complaining, I said, "I kind of doubt it since most of our neighbours are here," the response was that "these neighbours were two blocks away."

Considering Tyrant lives in a rural setting on a lake, I'm thinking the party levels must have kept building after we'd left.

I probably should have stayed longer.

Congrats boys! Here's to many years of happiness of good wine to come.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hills, Cheese, Cupcakes and Rain

It's a good thing that Boo and I were rather well behaved at the BBQ last night. Part of the "excuse" I gave for leaving at a reasonable time was that I hoped to go for a run in the morning. Mentioning that fact out loud simply added some pressure to actually put the running shoes on and take in a bit of a tour of the island. During the party, one of Tyrant's neighbours gave me the low down on local roads. He said to follow the road out front to the end and turn _______. I remembered him saying that turning one way was be relatively flat while the other direction would be continuous hills. Could I remember which way to turn? Not a chance. After a kilometre of local "mountain," I reached the conclusion that I'd either taken the wrong turn or that this was going to be one short outing.

True enough, the opposite direction was far more amenable to a morning after jog. Who knew that Salt Spring was so hilly? Never seemed that way in the car.

A trip to the Farmer's Market was far more important than the run though. We may not make it to Salt Spring very often but, with any luck, we strive to hit a couple local producers every chance we get. Having worked up a bit of an appetite during my run, I was completely agreeable to patronizing the ever-so-tasty bakers that had set up at the market. But, the primary goal was to load up with some Moonstruck Cheese! The Moonstruck gals used to frequent our local Trout Lake Market in Vancouver but, ultimately, the commute got to be too much for them. We were having a rough time choosing which of their organic, free range milk cheeses to take with us. So, Boo simply said, "We'll take one of everything." The woman behind the counter told us that, in all her years, she'd only had one other person ever do that before.

Pleased to help. But, there's no doubt that this is some damned tasty cheese.

While grazing at the Farmer's Market, we ran into Jeaux and Matinder. They'd caught the morning ferry and were going to share the cabin with us tonight. Not sure that they'd be able to access the cabin yet, we told them that all systems were go and that we'd be heading back as soon as we'd grabbed a coffee.

1428.  2012 Cupcake Pinot Grigio (IGT delle Venezie - Italy)

Upon arriving back at the resort, Jeaux proved that she was indeed the perfect roommate. She opened a little wine so that we wouldn't have to primp for the wedding empty handed. Regular visitors to the blog may recall that Jeaux is the master (or mistress) of theming. This time around, she figured Cupcake had to be a good take on the wedding cake to come. Little did she realize that she'd picked a producer that travels the world to create wines that are representative of the regions they visit. Although based in California, Cupcake's Pinot Grigio is produced in Northern Italy.

Without trying to wax on too ambitiously, the bringing together of distinct facets of the world is quite apropos to this wedding as well. Tyrant is a born and bred BC boy but he has spent extended periods of time in the Caribbean, Hong Kong and the US. If you couldn't guess from his nom-de-blog, Panda Guy originally hailed from China. The guests hailed from all over and from all aspects of life too. The wedding, like Cupcake, was going to be joining of cultures and regions.

During our prep time, however, we could only imagine how much Tyrant must be NEEDING a drink - a strong one. It was to be an outdoor wedding - taking full advantage of the setting - but it was pouring rain. It had been quite sunny for most of the morning, but it was sure coming down now. And I do mean pouring. It was just pounding away on the cabin skylight.

Normally, for me, a rustic setting and the sound of rain on the roof is an entirely appealing thought. Not so much when you're you're expecting a hundred or more guests for an al fresco party though. We sipped away on our Cupcake - checking for blue sky every so often - just hoping for a break. Luckily, the skies started clearing about 20 minutes before we were set to go.

Tyrant must have hired Jeaux and her party planning prowess to time things perfectly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Prenuptial BBQ

Since very few of the guests attending Tyrant and Panda Guy's wedding actually live on Salt Spring Island, the guys graciously opened their house for a prenuptial BBQ on the Friday night before the big day. As if they didn't have enough on their plate already.

Spending an extra night on island time was a treat in itself but having the additional chance to chat up the bevy of faces - some of whom I haven't seen in years - was a definite bonus. As I've mentioned many a time in this blog, Tyrant has one of the most comprehensive - and exciting - wine cellars I've had the pleasure of knowing. I always look forward to seeing what wines he chooses to serve at large gatherings because I often find that he's uncovered another bang-for-your-buck gem.

1427.  2011 M. Chapoutier - Les Vignes de Bila-Haut (AOC Côtes du Roussillon Villages - France)

I've seen Bila-Haut around but I don't think I've ever had more than a taste of it previously. M. Chapoutier, on the other hand, is a long time French favourite. Probably like most people familiar with M. Chapoutier, I know the winery mostly for their Rhône wines. The Bila-Haut hails from the Roussillon region, still found in the South of France like the Rhône but much closer to the Spanish border.

In recent times, Roussillon and neighbouring regions have been known more for producing great swaths of cheap bulk, if not insipid, wines. While this wine is still on the bargain end of the wine scale, M. Chapoutier is helping to raise the bar in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Indeed, for an entry level wine that has only been around since 2002, Bila-Haut has garnered hefty praise and scores from both Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.

Although he wasn't aware of the fact, Tyrant was actually participating in International Grenache Day since the Bila-Haut is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. I overheard a number of folks saying how much they liked it when asking for a top up of their glasses. At around $15 in the Vancouver market, there's a good chance this won't be the last time I'll find Bila-Haut at a BBQ. It's a fine fit.

I'm afraid I didn't spend the whole night in the South of France though. Wanting to bring along a bit of a treat for the occasion - both Grenache Day and Tyrant's wedding - I have to admit that I pulled Tyrant aside and we did a little damage on a bottle I'd put to the side.

2008 Langmeil The Fifth Wave Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Unfortunately, the '08 Fifth Wave Grenache didn't get a number for The List tonight. This vintage had already been added to The List way back at #817 but we've still got a few bottles stashed away and I'm more than prepared to sacrifice a new number if it means enjoying a wine this nice another time.

And, if special occasions like this aren't perfect opportunities to share a favourite bottle, I don't know when it would ever be appropriate.

Despite plenty of reminiscing over years and good times gone by, our cabin by the lake called us home at a most reasonable hour. Leaving the nightcaps to the die-hards (and apparently to a small crowd of midnight arrivals - those having caught the late ferry), we opted to catch a good night's sleep in preparation for the big day ahead.

A Tipple for Grenache Day

For the last so many years, the only occasions we've had to visit Salt Spring Island have been when Tyrant was hosting our Dinner Club there. Our reason for this visit also related to an invite from Tyrant; however, this time around, there was a tad more excitement in the air. Tyrant and Panda Guy were getting married and I think a wedding trumps a dinner party, no brainer.

In true Tyrant style, there was to be a weekend's worth of events and the guest list included many a face that I hadn't seen for some time. Boo and I had been looking forward to the wedding for some time now - particularly since we snagged the last cabin at the lakeside resort down the road from Tyrant and Panda's property. Knowing that Tyrant enjoys his wine as much as I do, the stumbling distance between the party and our beds was a welcome treat.

We're officially out of peak season now; so, ferry service to the island has been reduced. Our choice was to catch the 10 a.m. boat - which we did - or not arrive until 11 p.m. which would have seen us effectively miss the BBQ being held this night before the ceremony. Not exactly a choice I would readily accede to.

Our early arrival allowed us to catch a quick lunch in the thriving metropolis of Ganges and check into the resort with a bit of time to catch a nap before hitting the BBQ.

That is, time to catch a nap and grab a relaxing sip. The day's showers were hardly conducive to lounging on the cabin deck or on the lake wharf, but the cool temps did lend themselves to a bigger red. Good thing since today was International Grenache Day.

1426.  2011 evohé Garnacha (VDLT Bajo Aragón - Spain)

We'd brought a favourite wine to take to the BBQ but hadn't really planned anything for the afternoon. So, we stopped in the local liquor store after lunch and picked up a Grenache that I don't recall having seen before. An entry level wine, evohé's producers took a bit of a chance when they established their winery in a part of the Aragón region that is not included in any of the regions forming the more respected D.O. (Denominación de Origen) system. As a Vino de la Tierra, the project could be seen as a lesser product and the three partners behind evohé were cautioned against such folly.

I guess they've managed to beat the odds seeing as how we picked up the bottle a continent away in a small town liquor store.

I don't think anyone will take this as one of those incredible Spanish bang for your buck wines. It seemed a bit over-blown to me but it was certainly big enough to beat the chill of the weather and there was an abundance of dark fruit - enough to challenge any New World bargain wine that you'd like to put it up against.

The little marketing blurb and the back label was interesting enough as well. It reads, "Evohé was the world with which Jupiter encouraged Bacchus when he defended his father's throne during the Giants' War. Today, Bacchus followers still use this word to evoke the spirit of joy when celebrating."

That sentiment seemed to match the occasion. So, we toasted Grenache Day and the weekend to come and then headed off to the BBQ and the real party.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New Kid on the Rosé Block

Prior to preparing for this year's BC Wine Appreciation Society's Annual Bus Tour, I can't say that I knew anything about Culmina Family Estate Winery. With the doors to the winery only having been opened to the public for a couple of weeks prior to the Bus Tour, I'd seen the name mentioned once or twice but had no idea of who was behind it or how it was looking to fit into the ever-growing BC wine landscape.

Luckily, all that changed when one of our BCWAS gang arranged a tour and tasting at the winery on the Monday after the Bus Tour had ended. I briefly mentioned in my last post that I intended to open one of Culmina's wines in the near future. I hadn't quite expected for that bottle to be the first one opened upon my return - but when Boo served up a squash and roasted garlic agnolotti, I thought this new Rosé I might be able to smooth over some of his ruffled feathers when he found out that I'd brought another five cases of wine home with me.

The thought was that, if I served him a wine that he really liked, I'd just tell him that all the wines I bought were of that calibre and that I had to show great restraint to limit myself to the number of bottles that I did buy.

I'm not sure that my plan succeeded, but it did provide an opportunity to tell Boo (and you) some of Culmina's interesting story. The winery is the newest adventure of Don and Elaine Triggs, and daughter Sara, in the Canadian wine industry. Don is - or was - the "Triggs" component of  Jackson-Triggs, one of Canada's most celebrated wineries, and was one of the driving forces behind the establishment and success of Vincor Canada before the country's leading wine producer was purchased by Constellation Brands.

Everything about Culmina reads careful thought and high end investment. Even the winery's name alludes to the Triggs' hopes that this will be a fitting tribute to the culmination of Don's years of love for and hard work in the wine business. There certainly doesn't appear to be any sparing of expense in laying the ground work for what will hopefully be a strong family legacy.

Don took our group out into the vineyard immediately next to the winery and gave a "master class" in considerations to be addressed when setting up a winery and vineyard. During the couple of years that Don "took off" from the business, his mind was clearly still looking toward the establishment of Culmina. A number of winery and vineyard sites in the Okanagan were considered before Don purchased the current lands - and even then the process behind choosing this site involved extensive deep pit excavations to view soil type, ongoing temperature and sunlight measurements, satellite studies to track shadow patterns of the local mountains, elevation studies and water retention levels.

The studies continued even after the lands were purchased. Don had engaged the services of consultant Alain Sutre to maximize the potential of the Okanagan site. Sutre had been exposed to the Okanagan through his work with Osoyoos Larose, Burrowing Owl, Painted Rock and Poplar Grove - all premium producers in the region - and he was confident that Triggs could produce the premium wine that he was looking for. With Sutre's assistance, Culmina determined that the best varieties for the 44-acre home, or Arise Bench, vineyard were the red Bordeaux varieties. Wanting to produce high end white wines as well, thoughts turned to adding another 60 acres on two hillside benches above the Arise vineyard. Margaret's Bench (named in honour of Don's mother) has seen the planting of Riesling, Chardonnay and what could possible be the Okanagan's first Grüner Veltliner and Stan's Bench (named for Elaine's father) where Chardonnay and Riesling are grown in the cooler section and Petit Verdot and Malbec planted in the lower part of that bench - where those blocks receive the "highest Degree Days of anywhere on the Culmina property."

Trying to determine the best grapes to plant in the vineyard wasn't the end of decision making process however. The vineyard has been divided into blocks that average in size at around 1.2 acres. The blocks were demarcated for uniformity of soil and the vines have been planted on five different rootstocks, each chosen to best match the soil type. They have also used at least two clones of each of the grapes (with the exception of the Grüner Veltliner and the Viognier) to try and best match the clone to the varying micro-climates above the ground. The end result is a "patchwork quilt" of plantings according to Don.

They have also decided to go with high density plantings - up to 2044 vines per acre - whereas the norm is generally between 900 and 1300. The thought is that the higher density forces the vines to fight harder to find nourishment. That fight, in turn, forces the roots to dig deeper into the soils, hopefully leading to a greater expression of the vineyard or terroir in the finished wine.

Although they don't currently anticipate that the winery will seek certification, they are trying to incorporate important sustainable aspects into vineyard practices. While not fully organic or biodynamic, all the vineyard posts are untreated wood, they use organic sprays on the vines and they water in the middle of the rows to encourage greater plant and bug diversity. An example of the high end technology being put to use at the winery is that vineyard sensors relay ongoing information to a winery computer, allowing vineyard management to choose to water only in specific blocks as needed.

It was also intriguing to hear Don tell of their decision to undertake a research study by planting 500 vines of Viognier in a bush vine manner. The intent is to use drip irrigation and gobelet pruning (which involves no trellising) - common in Spain and Southern France - to see if the roots will go deep enough to find their own source of water.

We even experienced a novel method of discouraging perdition of the ripening grapes by local birds - new to me at least. Rather than using the ubiquitous cannons to scare the birds off, Culmina has speakers in the vineyards that randomly play the calls of predatory birds. The first time we heard those calls, we all wondered "what the heck was that."

I could go on but it might be best to just direct you to the Culmina website where you can find extensive notes on their site selection and vineyard development. It's kinda like a touch of wine geek paradise.

After our vineyard tour, we visited the inside of the new winery as well and, after hearing about all the care taken outside, it was no surprise to learn that no expense was spared on the inside either. Culmina's approach is seen right at the start with their use of a Bucher Oscillys destemmer - the first to be imported into Canada - that incorporates a more gentle handling of the fruit during the destemming and crushing stages. A full gravity fed production. Tanks chosen for an easier punchdown of the fermentation cap. Extended maceration periods. Particular specifications for their barrels (sourced from five French coopers and incorporating a blend of oak from four different forests). All decisions and procedures chosen to lead to a more complete wine.

As many of the vines are still too young to produce fruit that can be used for winemaking, Culmina only offers three wines currently and production of those wines was so small that all purchases are limited to two bottles of each of the wines.

I particularly liked the story behind the Dilemma Chardonnay. Much of the Arise vineyard had been planted previously, including an 11.6 acre block that featured 16 year old vines. After testing samples from previous vintages and deciding to release a couple of vintages of the Chardonnay, Don and crew faced a dilemma - do they continue with the Chardonnay as planted or re-start? It was ultimately concluded that the method for planting of the vines was wrong, the root stocks weren't suited for the soils and even the Chardonnay grape wasn't the best choice for the vineyard. Accordingly, all of the existing vines were ripped out and replanted. That difficult choice is now reflected in the name of the wine.

1425.  2012 Culmina Saignée (VQA Okanagan Valley)

As much as I liked the Dilemma story, it's the Rosé that I reached for to accompany dinner. A 50/50 blend of Cab Sauv and Gamay Noir, this is a Rosé named for the production method used. The word "saignée" finds its root in the French word for "bleeding" and the wine is made by bleeding off some of the crushed juice before it has had much contact with the skins (part of the process that imparts the deeper colours of red wine). The method allows a greater concentration in the red wine that is left to ferment on the skins while the juice that was "bled" off, is fermented separately to produce a Rosé wine.

The Culmina Rosé is completely dry and very reminiscent of the Rosés of Southern France. This is no White Zinfandel. It's alive with acidity and subtle fruit and it will be interesting to see how this current - and rather unique - Cab/Gamay blend changes over the years as more vines mature and additional fruit becomes available to the Culmina team.

In fact, it will be interesting to see how the whole Culmina portfolio develops in the years to come. I truly enjoyed our visit so soon after the doors to the winery were opened to the public. I look forward to more visits in the future. I'm not so sure that the opening of the Saignée was enough to get me out of  Boo's bad books, but I don't think there'll be any problem getting him to join me for that future visit.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Long Road Home

It would seem that, no sooner than the 2013 BCWAS Bus Tour had started, it was over. It was one jam-packed weekend - plenty of laughs, wine and food. But regular life - read, "work" - was calling and, as much as I would have liked to keep on keeping on, I needed to hit the long road back to Vancouver.

But not without a couple of quick stops along the way.

For some time now, I've been looking forward to checking out Painted Rock's brand spanking new - and spectacular, I might add - tasting room. We actually timed it (almost) perfectly because the "ribbon" hadn't been cut on the grand opening for even a week. I say "almost" perfect timing because, unfortunately, owner John Skinner was back in Vancouver and we couldn't enjoy the new digs with its "proud papa." In retrospect, it might be a good thing that John wasn't there because there's no way we would have been able to fully take in everything there'd be to tell in the short time that we had. A group of us had booked one last "side" tour and tasting and we were definitely cutting our time short if we were going to arrive in time.

Painted Rock may have the newest showcase showroom but everything about Culmina Family Estate is brand new. After six years of preparation, Don and Elaine Triggs (Don being the Triggs of Jackson Triggs - one of Canada's best known and lauded wineries - before he sold his interest) threw open the doors to Culmina. Quite the character, Don took our little gang for a quick visit into the vineyard where he relayed all the decision making that went into the site selection and planting for his dream of producing a Bordeaux wine to hopefully rank up with the best that BC - and the world for that matter - has to offer.

Don was very generous with both his time and his take on the BC wine industry. We'd seen some pretty crazy machinery over the last couple of days - some of the "toys" (that are anything but) at Mission Hill and Poplar Grove were of sorts I'd never seen before - but Don has spared no expense in pulling together some of the sharpest equipment to be found. That dedication is even more inspiring when you consider that Culmina is currently producing a fraction of what the big boys are producing.

The culmination of Don's years of experience in the wine industry, I'll be sure to open one of his wines soon so that I can give a fuller recount of our visit.

Culmina was my last stop before heading home and, since Culmina is on the Golden Mile below Oliver, it made sense to continue down to Osoyoos, connect with Hwy 3 and take in the views of the Similkameen Valley - one of my favourite driving routes. I wasn't stopping at any of the top notch Similkameen wineries this time (say "hey" Orofino) but with vistas like the one below, can there be any wonder why the valley and the Hope-Princeton hit countless "top scenic driving routes?"

As entertaining as this long weekend might have been, it certainly kept me away from the computer. And that, unfortunately, just compounded the number of wines I still have to blog.

Heavy sigh.

PS. Just for those who know that I was on Boo's "No Buy Leash," personally, I think I was pretty well behaved. I only bought a total of four cases of wine. Not bad, I figure, for 13 wineries and what's likely one of the biggest VQA bottles shops in the entire province. (Well, four cases if you don't count the one that was pre-ordered at Red Rooster that I was just picking up - and I don't.)

2013 BCWAS Bus Tour - Day 2

Day 2 of the Annual BCWAS Bus Tour was gearing up to be another full day. So, being the excellent wine tourists that we are, we prepped ourselves early by popping the corks on another couple Breakfast Bubbles. I guess, however, that I was so caught up in getting ready for the day that I didn't take any shots of the individual bottles. Luckily, I did take a group shot of all the bottles we polished off in our room over the weekend. At least, that way, there is some visual record of the two bottles - one of which I'm adding to The List (the second bottle being Non-Vintage and having already been added).

1424.  2012 8th Generation Integrity Frizzante (Okanagan Valley)

N.V. See Ya Later Ranch - SYL Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Unlike yesterday's start, there was no sabering of these bottles. The Integrity featured a bottle cap enclosure and no one had heard of sabering that type of bottle before. As for the SYL Brut, we had a volunteer all lined up but - surprise, surprise - the cork just flew out on its own volition as soon as the wire enclosure was removed.

There was an interesting contrast between the two bubblies. The SYL was a traditional method sparkling wine while the Integrity is made as a lighter, crisper wine - closer to a Prosecco than to a Champagne - and, as such, doesn't see any second fermentation but needs specialized equipment for bottling the wine under pressure. 8th Generation was on the day's itinerary but, unfortunately, we wouldn't get to see the almost vintage equipment that was brought back from Germany just for this bottling process.

Once again, despite my painstakingly (yet lovingly) made OJ, none of it was added to either of the sparkling treats. There were no nay-sayers amongst this crowd when it came to BC bubbles.

Rather than recount the day's events, winery by winery, I decided to simply show some pictures from the road and add in a baker's dozen or so of the more interesting comments made during the course of the weekend. For the record, however, our focus for the day was the Bottleneck Drive region and we made stops at Sumac Ridge, 8th Generation, Okanagan Crush Pad (where we also enjoyed a grazing lunch with Joy Road Caterers) and a little tasting, serenading and dance interlude at Sonoran Winery.

As for the wino's who made these comments, I'm leaving their identities hidden to protect the not-so-innocent. I will also admit to leaving out some of the even racier editorials. These bons mots, however, should give you a bit of an impression of the shenanigans that ensued on the Bus Tour.

1. "Just watch what you say around T. He's always looking for material for the front of the bus."

2. "And when exactly was the last time you saw a droopy old granny boob?"

3. "Bottoms up. Pants down."

4. "I'm gonna Tweet your cheat."

5. "First time I've been splashed like that in a long time."

6. "I'd rather be a rich, boorish f*cker who's intolerable than just a boorish f*cker who's intolerable."

7. Q. "P. could you please top me?"
    A. "I'd rather not." (In relation to filling up a wine glass of course.)

8. "I hear that heritage tomatoes are good for the prostate." "Just how would one insert a tomato though? The thought of a tomato enema isn't all that appetizing." "Come on down to the back of the bus and we'll show you."

9. "Don't believe what any winemakers tell you about the 2011 vintage. They'll tell you...___________ and_____________... but_________________... It was shit."

10. "I'm always just looking for an opportunity to drop my pants."

11. "You mean like how Chef punished pescatarians: serving tuna tartare with Pinot Noir?"

12. "What happens on the BCWAS Bus Tour stays on the BCWAS Bus Tour."

13. "Don't forget our BCWAS motto: 'We're not happy until you're not happy.'"

Bonus - simply because, for me, this gave me the biggest laugh all weekend. When talking about our participation in Red Rooster's Adopt-A-Row program, Mr. Technicolour announces to all, "the big difference between Bob & Charles' row and all the others is that their Malbec is much fruitier."


Once the bus dropped us off at our digs, it was time for another dinner at the resort's Local Lounge and Grill - with the evening's dinner featuring wines from McWatters Collection and Time Estate. Once again, there was no shortage of either wine or food and we all bid adieu to the gang at large for another Bus Tour and waddled back to our room, trying to figure out just how we were going to get all the wine we'd purchased home with us come the morning.

As if the weekend hadn't been enough for most of us, our "benevolent dictators" - Glum and Sparkle - announced that planning was already under way for the 2014 Bus Tour and that the BCWAS gang would be heading a little further North, up to wineries in the Kelowna area.

Be there or be boring.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 BCWAS Bus Tour Begins

One of the perks of sharing a suite for the Annual BCWAS Bus Tour with Shelback and Chewbacca is that they coordinate breakfast so that we're well prepped to take in a day of wine tasting. Having Chef Boy KC in the suite with us made things even easier this year. He was so omnipresent in the kitchen that all I had to do was worry about OJ and coffee. A task that is not beyond me - even early in the morning.

Chef KC's treats were offered to Dolce & Gabbana (otherwise known as Gloushan - in honour of the great couple names like Brangelina or Klaine), Mr. Technicolour, Haley and Cockney Queen. With Mr. T. joining us, the "Sabering of the Breakfast Bubble" became a must event for all future Bus Tours - even if some attempts to sabre were less successful than others.

1421.  2006 Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs (Okanagan Valley)

As far as starts to the morning go, this special vintage Blue Mountain brut is hard to match. I can't speak for the others, but there was NO OJ being mixed with this baby in my glass. Made in the Méthode Traditionelle, this 100% Chardonnay brut was aged sur-lie for five years before being disgorged, finished off with dosage and aged for an additional nine months before release. This was anything but an easy bottle to find; so, it was a very generous bubble to be shared with our  assembled gang - especially before 8.00 a.m.

1422.  2008 Steller's Jay Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It's a whole lot easier to find a bottle of the Sumac Ridge stalwart but Steller's Jay is a treat in itself. Sabering a bottle of Jay seems entirely appropriate to the Bus Tour as well - seeing as how Sumac Ridge is on tomorrow's itinerary. I also recall that my first attempt at sabering some bubbly was a bottle of Steller's Jay while on the BCWAS Bus Tour two years ago.

The Steller's Jay is also made in the traditional Champenoise method; however, Sumac Ridge adds a component of Pinot Blanc to the classic Champagne grapes - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Serving up both of these lauded BC bubbles was just the kick we needed to get us started for our first day on the bus. A true breakfast of champions, I'd say.

Our first stop with the entire BCWAS gang was Upper Bench Estate Winery - the new-ish winery found at the start of the Naramata Bench. 2013 will be only the third vintage for Upper Bench and winemaker/proprietor, Gavin Miller. Gavin and his wife, cheesemaker Shana, purchased the winery from part of the Lang/Holman bankruptcy a few years back. Accordingly, they are still working primarily with the grapes planted by the previous owners. Gavin is working on revamping the vineyard and is transitioning to organic farming.

They currently offer four whites, three reds and a rosé and our tasting was a first introduction to the winery for most of the folks on the bus. The accompanying cheese tasting was equally eye-opening to the crowd. I'd dropped in on Upper Bench during a previous visit to the Naramata Bench because I'd heard that Shana used to be the assistant cheesemaker at Poplar Grove. That asterisk on her resumé and the fact that Gavin had previously been part of the winemaking team at Painted Rock made them folks to be contended with in my book.

If part of the reason for the Bus Tour is to introduce our members to new facets of the BC wine scene. I think a check mark was earned with Upper Bench.

My fave of the tasting was the 2012 Chardonnay and, yes, despite the No Buy Leash, I did pick up a bottle of that Chardy to add to The List in due course (as well as two of Shana's tasty cheeses).

Our next stop was just up the road at Poplar Grove. I doubt anyone on the Bus Tour was unfamiliar with Poplar Grove - long a star producer in the Okanagan. This was the first time, however, that I'd been on a tour of their facilities and a first chance for an extensive tasting in the winery's new showcase, reserve tasting room. The unveiling of the general tasting room a couple of seasons back was incredible enough, but there's just a touch more cachet to a private group tasting being led by Poplar Grove's founding winemaker Ian Sutherland. He was particularly engrossing when talking about the process behind the design and construction of the new showcase winery. Ian talked of his years of travelling the world - something that allowed him to, fortuitously, co-opt some of the best ideas he'd encountered in wineries visited along the way.

The wines are always impressive at Poplar Grove but, during our tour, I admit I was immediately drawn to Maxine, a 40 foot tank used to blend the red wines. The tank is so big that it holds the contents of four smaller tanks and thereby allows all of the finished wine to be the same blend - instead of a "mostly the same" blend. The shipping behind this baby was a story in itself.

Picking a favourite wine at Poplar Grove is like choosing a favourite child. I will say, however, that I was particularly taken with the 2012 Viognier during our tasting. That might well be because it's a limited production wine that is generally only available to Poplar Grove's wine club members. Lucky them.

And, lucky us, not only because we got to try the Viognier but because lunch had been arranged at the winery's on-site restaurant, Vanilla Pod. Sitting out on the patio - with a commanding view of Penticton and Okanagan Lake, we had a superb lunch. I'm hard pressed to come up with a memory of ever having tasted a better tomato salad. Each of the myriad of heirloom tomatoes was better tasting than the last and combination of those tomatoes, high end olive oil and balsamic and a delectable fresh burrata was sublime. They could have served me another three of those salads and I'd have been good for the rest of the day.

There was more food - and wine - to come though; so we moved on to our next stop on the tour - Township 7.

Brad Cooper, winemaker at Township 7 - and all-around funny guy - arranged for all of us bus folk to get involved in an inter-active blending exercise. Soon, Brad was going to need to start work on the winery's flagship blend, their Reserve 7. He thought it would be an interesting exercise for us to break into groups - and work with the same component wines that he'd have to work with - to come up with our own blend. He led us through a tasting of each of the separately aged wines and spoke of what he saw as their most compelling traits. We then tried a team approach at creating a wine worthy of impressing Brad and the buying public.

Working with Dolce & Gabbana and R-Ball, I'm sure there was little doubt that our take on the classic Bordeaux blend was the "winning" blend. I will say that, in all honesty, even Brad said that he was impressed with our finished wine. Now, he might have said that to everyone, but we gave him our systematic breakdown all the same so that he could re-produce it for the winery. We agreed that no credit or consultancy fee would be necessary, but that we'd be more than happy to take a case of the finished product.

There were additional wines to try in the tasting room but, after a couple, I opted to take a glass of red and plop down in the sun (and shade) for a bit - because, of course, blending and tasting a winning wine is hard work.

Our last stop on the Tour for Day One was Red Rooster. Anyone familiar with this blog knows that Boo and I are very well-acquainted with the gang at Red Rooster since we've been long time participants in the winery's Adopt-A-Row program. The winery was in full motion during our visit. Not only was winemaker, Karen Gillis, off-site tending to early harvest concerns but General Manager Blair Dufty was busy tending to all the parents and kids that had shown up for the local Fire Department interaction and appreciation day.

I'll admit that I missed a bit of the very extensive tasting of the winery's portfolio. I knew I'd tried most of the wines already (and probably had most of them at home in our "cellar") but I wanted to check out how our Adopt-A-Row babies were doing and, naturally, to chat up a fireman or two. Our Malbec grapes were coming along nicely and so were the firemen and their hoses. Being the intimate that I was with Red Rooster, I was even made a Junior Fire Chief.

Try and top that one.

I will give Mr. Technicolour his due though when he cracked up the gang by announcing that "the big difference between Bob and Charles' row and all the others is that their Malbec is much fruitier."

And on that happy note, we all got back on the bus and headed home for a brief respite before dinner.

Dinner was at the resort's Local Lounge and Grill and they didn't hold back anything in an attempt to add a little wow factor. Dinner featured a combination of wines from Tom DiBello and Van Westen Vineyards. Tom's is a well known name among Okanagan winemakers as he steered the way for many years at CedarCreek. He left CedarCreek a few years back and now spends his time consulting and producing a very limited 300 cases of his own Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. Originally basing his wine production at Okanagan Crush Pad, he has just relocated to Van Westen Vineyards.

1423.  2011 Van Westen Vineyards VD Pinot Noir (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I don't generally add a bottle to The List from wine dinners but tonight's extravagance calls out for one. I think my favourite pairing of the evening (before everything just got to be a little bit too much for one sitting) was the VD Pinot Noir with the bison tartare. This has to be one of the most interesting choices in wine marketing that I've ever come across. For those not familiar with Van Westen Vineyards, all of their wines have proprietary names that start with the letter "V." This Pinot is a co-effort between Rob Van Westen and Tom and, wisely or not, they took the first letter from both of their names and came up with "VD" since the wine was being released on Valentine's Day.

I'm not so sure that everyone will want to offer up a glass of VD to their sweetie on Valentine's Day but I was okay with it tonight.

Plenty of food. Plenty of wine. And a bunch of plumbed tuckered BCWAS folks. If there was any effort in taking the party a little further into the night, it did so without me. I definitely needed a little beauty sleep before doing it all over again the following day.