Thursday, March 31, 2005

Great Time of Year in the Wine Cellar

grapes and bottle
I really enjoy this time of the year in the winery cellar. The '03 reds and some fresh '04 whites are making their way to bottle and anything staying in the cellar gets a thorough assessment.

It's been about six months since the reds of 2004 went to barrel (Chards too). Now's the time they're starting to emerge from their rough and tumble youth and beginning to take the form and character that they'll carry into the bottle.
For the Chards, I'm beginning to make some blending decisions and trying to determine which lots will get a little extra time in oak, if any.

All this requires a lot of tasting.
I put on some music (big reds get big tunes; yesterday it was Creed: My Own Prison) and get out the glasses. I make copious notes. I try to get a sense of what the wine has done and what it's going to do down the road. At this time, there is the opportunity for critical intervention, to borrrow a term from my first aid training. If there's potential for a flaw, this is the time to set things right.
After this year's exercise I'm quite pleased with the way things are shaping up. I'm taking a vacation away from my usual skeptic's stance and enjoying the uniform of an optimist for a day or two.

The Curse of Ice Wine: the Frozen Outlaw.

There's no denying the runaway success of Canadian ice wine made here in B.C. and in Ontario.

The conditions for it are perfect. Both regions experience the kind of temperatures that are required to freeze the grapes on the vine before they're picked. A period of time at -8 C is the warmest they can be. The result: a cordial-like sweet dessert wine that displays intense flavours and aroma. Balanced with enough acid, the wines somehow avoid being cloying.

For the wine maker and the winery, the success can be a curse.

The natural rhythm of the winery means that after the autumn crush the ferments slowly dwindle and the cellars begin the long, stable aging processes. Everything gets a thorough cleaning (or should) and sanitized surfaces help prevent the spread of microbiotic spoilage.

And then in December, or January or February (!) a big load of sticky, half-rotten grapes arrives to start filling the air with yeasts and whatever else. The whole procedure of warming tanks and fermenting starts again. Icewine just happens to be one of the slowest fermenters in the business. It's not unheard of for ferments to last up to six months.

Talk about inconvenient. It's a good thing it's sold for about $50 CDN for a 375 ml. portion. For a small winery it can be a nice cash flow crop. But it can also potentially disrupt the production of everything else in the cellar.

Large wineries have less to be concerned about. Their resources allow specialized facilities that are dedicated to ice wine production, keeping their other wines safely segregated.

Once you start fermenting products "out of season" the winery passes from a function of the harvest to a kind of factory where wine can be made year round.

The decision to make ice wine is more than a financial risk, it's also a lifestyle change. Forget about booking that great deal to Cuba at the end of January. You may have to be a the beck and call of Mother Nature, waiting for the big freeze.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pressed for time

Originally uploaded by Extraordinary Wine Maker.
Another day on the crushpad and a good photo to try Flickr

Sunday, March 27, 2005

2003 Pinot Meunier, Lake Breeze Vineyards

Walking through the vineyards of the Naramata Bench, it's easy to pick out the occasional lot of Pinot Meunier. The leaves of the vines appear as though they've been dusted with a little flour which relates to the principal translation of 'meunier' as 'miller' in English.

This grape is a stalwart of the Champagne industry and by some estimates is the number one grape in that region by tonnage, exceeding its more famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir cousins.

Occasionally, wine makers will use it to produce a red still wine. It never quite reaches the lofty heights of Pinot Noir but can result in a pleasantly fruity wine that drinks well young.

Garron Elmes at Lake Breeze Vineyards on the Naramata Bench does a stand-up version of PM.
Note: At this writing the website was not functioning.
If this is corrected I'll edit this post.
Please notify me if you're able to connect
The colour is as expected; don't look for Shiraz purple. The clarity is brilliant. There are fresh berry flavours like strawberry and raspberry that yield to some light spice notes. It's a light bodied red; I suspect it would mesh well with summer foods off the BBQ but avoid thick, spicy sauces and over-powering vinaigrette. I'd definitely consider popping it into the fridge for 10 minutes or so to keep the fruit aspects lively. The nose has some mushroom and earth; some wine drinkers may need to stretch their perspectives a bit to accommodate these nuances. It finishes a little dry taken without food. It's something I'd stock for drinking this season with a few bottles in reserve to see how time treats it. 14.5 / 20 Buy

Wines of Fairview: Big, Bold, Elegant

Bill Eggert runs a winery in Oliver, BC that is the definition of a successful, small operation.

Fairview Cellars grows and vints everything on the property. Bill handles it all from vineyard work to sales. And he's doing something right as Fairview wines are approaching cult status. This year's releases ( all red) will probably sell out sometime in the summer - leaving his fans clamoring for more.

The winery and vineyards are worth a visit. Located just outside Oliver on the west side of the valley, the winery could have been called Fairway being adjacent to the Fairview golf course

Getting hold of Fairview cellar wine is straightforward. Almost everything is sold through the cellar door. You'll have to contact Bill and have it shipped or drop in to the winery and pick it up yourself.

The core of the Fairview stable are the Bordeaux varieties. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and blends of the same make up the bulk of the offerings. Current releases all show great character and definition. I tasted several this weekend and was particularly impressed with his work on the 2001 Cabernet Franc. The nose has that hint of pencil shavings that sets it apart from Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich berry notes give way to a palate loaded with dried cherry, plum and currant. The wine has good weight and an extended finish. Tannins and acid are in balance and assertive enough to promise a stable cellaring. I'd give it a 15.5 / 20 and a BUY recommendation. Chances are the rating on this wine will go up after a little time lying around in the dark.
I was also treated to several Merlot/Cab blends and a full-on Meritage. More about those in later posts.

You can reach Bill at Fairview by email at or call at 250 - 498 - 2211

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Rating of Wine

There's a different way to judge wine for every day of the year. Most scales are based on 20 points, 100 points or something akin to a report card with A's and B's et cetera.
There's lots of yak out there right now (see the Fermentaions link down the left side and the Professor Bainbridge site).
A lot of wine people want to put a value segment into their assessments. I think wine judging or rating is full of subjectivity as it is. Value adds another wild card. I say, just state the price and let the reader decide if there is some value to purchasing that wine experience.
I use the 20 point system. One of my reasons is that Wine Dictator doesn't use it.
Roughly, the 20 points are assigned thus:
  • 4 for clarity and colour. My least favourite category. When you buy a case for the cellar it will probably taste the same whether you still have your eyesight or not in 20 years.
  • 5 for bouquet, aroma and nasal heat (irritation)
  • 5 for taste, texture, varietal or other style.
  • 3 for finish, balance
  • 3 bonus points should the wine create an epiphany or other spiritual event.

At the end of it all I ponder, "Would I buy this wine?". Generally anything over 14 is worth considering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Township 7

Only 107 cases of this wine were made from select Okanagan fruit. The result is a majestic effort that is at once subtle yet forthright.
Big fruit and rich flavours star in this feature. The wine is still very young and will continue to develop over the next few years. I strongly recommend a little air time. The last glasses of this bottle really began to open up. So decant.
Look for currant, plum and cherry throughout with that edge young Cab exhibits. The work of the oak barrels is well-integrated, taking a supporting role rather than a starring one. The finish is particularly good with hints of humidor, chocolate and vanilla. See the Township 7 website for availability.
17.5/20 Buy

Township 7 Winery Has Two Locations

Winery owners Gwen and Corey Coleman really rack up the kilometres.
Their superb winery has two facilities; one at their original location on 16th Avenue in Langley and the newest outlet in Penticton.
The family-run premium winery produces award winning chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and more. Having two units to their operation means a visit from one location to the other means a 3.5 hour commute (one way).
The Township 7 Langley location is just 45 minutes south and east of Vancouver and was an instant success with daytrippers when it opened a few years ago. The small acreage is picturesque and conveniently located for urbanites on a "Sunday drive" on any particular day.
The wines have met with resounding success in the restaurants of the province, especially in Vancouver where the stock must be carefully allocated to make availability fair.
Grapes for their wines are sourced from experienced growers in the Okanagan Valley and from their own Langley property. They must be doing something right; one of the Township 7 Chardonnays was selected as best white in Canada a short time ago and things continue to proceed along the same general direction.
The Township 7 Penticton location made an appearance last year and is home to the production facilities. The wineshop had a "soft" opening with little fanfare but quickly became a favorite stop for the wine touring public. Located right at the beginning of the Naramata Bench, it's one of the first winerys encountered as you leave the city of Penticton.
The wines are all worth having, right across the board. These tasting rooms are a "must" for anyone wanting to enjoy one of the top producers in the province.
Check out the Township 7 website for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

These Boots were made for Winemaking

I've worn some godawful footwear while slogging my way through various vintages. And I've seen some inappropriate foot gear on people who should know better (Right Ian?). If you buy nothing else for yourself this year at the winery, buy a good pair of boots. There is nothing in the Canadian marketplace that comes close to Blundstone boots for function and comfort.

I don't plug for products unless I truly believe in them. Blundstones, made in Australia for over 130 years, are the boot. I wear them every damn day. There's no laces, they've got acid resistant soles and they're as comfortable as a pair of slippers. I recommend the #500 model. Nothing fancy.

A couple of years ago I thought I'd save some money and buy some copycats from Zellers sold under the Snap-on label. Cruel shoes! They make my feet ache.

The Blunnies are pricey. But if you treat them right you should get about 3 good seasons out of them. If you can't get what you want from the link above you may find it easier to drop into Robertson's in Kelowna. They have them there as well.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spring Wine Festival Only A Few Weeks Away

The Spring Wine Festival in the Okanagan Valley gets underway May 5 from Osoyoos to the Shuswap and everywhere in between. In Oliver, Penticton, Kelowna, Summerland and Vernon; the valley will be bursting with wine festival events.
Almost every winery and scads of restaurants, bars and accommodators get into the act with special dinners, tastings and musical events. With over a hundred events scheduled, there's too many to list here. But try the website to get a full picture. Some are serious and traditional; some are whimsical and some are really out there.
I've picked out a few I think are, well, interesting ideas:
  • Mastering Wine Through Golf - Harvest Dining Room, Kelowna. Wine tasting, putting and a 5 course dinner
  • Miami Vice Nights - My Martini Place - Kelowna. Enjoy the 80's and a three course dinner.
  • Volare at the Vineyard - a five course dinner and ballet at Gray Monk winery
  • Cleopatra will serve Egyptian food in the Pyramid at Summerhill Winery.

These are the big ones:

Bacchanalia - A celebration of fine local food & wine $50 Penticton. From my perspective this one seems to be getting better each year as the organizers fine tune the event. It's at the Penticton Lakeside Resort and over 40 wineries are booked.

Kelowna Consumer Tasting - $40 The Laurel Packinghouse can get a bit stuffy but where else can you get a chance to try the work of 35 wineries?

Unless you can work magic, you can only attend one of these as they both fall on May 7.

Also worth noting these "sub-regionals":

Raising the Bench - Naramata Bench Wineries Association present an afternoon of barrel tasting with local foods and cheeses

1st Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend - six participating wineries of the Golden Mile area (Oliver)

If you like to build up a little stock in the cellar, a spring tour is ideal as the wineries are full of new releases, some of which will not even make it to a conventional retail outlet.

Radical New Changes in BC WINE biz

It may not be apparent to the average BC wine drinker but the provincial industry is currently going through a regulatory refit.

The provinical government is working on introducing the new BC Wine Authority. This body will operate as an autonomous organization and will take over many aspects of the wine and grape quality program now run by BC Wine Institute through the VQA program. The VQA program will continue as a marketing, education, sales and advocacy instrument of the Institute.

All BC wineries will participate in the Wines of Marked Quality regulations administered by the new Authority.

Some of the features of the new Authority will be:
  • a registration system
  • wine standards
  • recognition of geographical indicators (sub-regions, vineyards designations etc.)
  • assessing compliance
  • establishmet of taste panels including eligibility of tasters and procedures

The point of the exercise has been to try and create a level playing field bewteen the larger interests and smaller, independent wineries. The program will be supported by proposed user fees that will be proportionate to the production levels of each winery operation.

On the surface, consumers may not see much change in everyday operations. But wineries will have an opportunity to try a new system that will attempt to harmonize regulations regarding quality and day-to-day opertions without the present bias towards larger operations.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Great Wine at the Hill

As many of you know, when I'm not making wine I volunteer with the local ski patrol at Apex mountain. The skiing wasn't great but the wine was! This weekend featured a mini-wine fest at the hill and about a dozen Okanagan wineries were represented.
A couple worth noting:
Red Rooster 2003 Pinot Noir: This is typical Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley. There is a lack of forceful character. The wine is well made but I think the fruit failed to gain complete phenolic maturity. There's lots of fresh strawberry, some red licorice and a hint of spice. The body is a bit lean and the finish was one dimensional. 13/20
Hillside 2003 (?) Cabernet/Merlot : Great balance and fruit expression. The cabernet segments (both Franc and Sauvignon) are restrained and mesh well with the Merlot. There is good blueberry and raspberry in the palate. The nose is full and hints at caramel and oak. The oak is subdued throughout as are the tannins. I'd have to verify the vintage. Good effort and worth buying. 15.5/20

Congratualtions to the mountain staff for putting on a successful event. I look forward to next year.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bottling the Wine - it starts now.

Schedules have tightened up in my wine world as I rush to keep deadlines set for the bottling plan. I'm juggling various wine projects while stumbling towards the finish line. The wine has to be re-checked for flavor profile and various chemical parameters like alcohol, residual sugar and SO2 levels. Add to that the co-ordination involved with packaging and it's a wonder I get break from wineland to add anything to this epic.
I'll be away for the weekend but next week look for more store reviews, some wine reviews (NEW) and a personality profile.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wine Stores = Wine SERVICE

Wine stores are like every other retail category. If the store doesn't have something special to offer, what makes it stand out from the herd? I hope to make that one of my criteria as I begin to sift throught the inventory of wine stores in BC to help the consumer determine what they offer.
While it helps if you can actually drop in to talk to staff, let it be known that most of these stores can arrange shipping. So if one store has that certain bottle you're looking for, don't hesitate in making a virtual visit.
One of my favourite stores is Discover Wines in Kelowna, BC. Suzanne Mick and Tracy Gray have set up a very attractive establishment and have staffed it with quality personnel. These people really know their wines. This is a VQA store, with many difficult to find titles. Service is the key word here; you won't find some gum-chewing, catatonic cashier idly waiting for your money. The staff at Discover is keen to find you exactly what you want from their list of hundreds of wines.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wine Can Be Fun

Take a moment to check out the
Silly Tasting Notes Generator
Just when you thought you've see some far-fetched wine descriptions.
Makes your own references to "kelp" seem tame.

Work on BC Wine Issues Rewarded

One of the pioneers of the BC wine industry - at least the modern era - has received another honor recognizing his tremendous effort in promoting the industry.
Harry McWatters was inducted into the BC Restaurant and Foodservice Association's Hall of Fame yesterday. The move draws attention to McWatter's long career over five decades in the wine biz, most of which is centered on the Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and associated companies.
Sumac Ridge is BC's oldest operating estate winery and it was with Sumac products (in the 1980's) that McWatters managed to sell people on the quality that was beginning to emerge in BC wines after years of mediocrity.
McWatter's impact on the BC industry is substantial. Many successful wine people can trace their beginnings back to the influences of Harry McWatters and his businesses.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bring your own Wine in Ontario

Legislation was recently enacted in the province of Ontario that allows members of the public to bring their own wine to their favourite restaurant. If that restaurant wants to go along with the idea.
Restaurants are allowed to charge corkage and set rules. As an example, some diners may have to pay up to $30 corkage and the wine must be something the restaurant does not carry.
I recall years ago when I worked as a waiter in Vancouver that often regular customers would sometimes ask to bring a special bottle. We didn't do it for Joe Blow but sometimes we'd allow the big spenders to bend the rules. On one occasion this fellow brings two bottles to share with his party of 12. We couldn't believe it when we opened the bag. The stuff was so low-end that I think our bus boys would probably give it a pass. Mr. Customer was very happy, though.
Check out

Friday, March 04, 2005

This Wine List is for Wine Lovers

Anyone in and around Vancouver knows the success that CRU is enjoying. It's a restaurant that provides superlative service up front and dynamite creations from the kitchen. To top it all off, Mark Taylor's human-friendly wine list breaks a few rules to produce a really cool tool for the customer. Old school wine lists are just, well, lists(!). It's as if the restaurant was saying: "Well, here are the wines. I've put them in little categories according to country and grape. Hope that helps. Have fun." CRU's list functions. Wines are colour coded and accompanied by section descriptions like 'crisp'. Who gives a rat's bum about what side of a hill in Burgundy the wine comes from? Is it mellow or crisp? Wine drinkers need a clue about what the wine tastes like, not the grape's parentage or the size of the farm. CRU has a website so check it out. You other restaurants - go ahead and copy the format after you talk to Mark. I'm sure he'll be flattered.

Gismondi Knows Wine

It's going to take awhile for me to build up this blog into the kind of resource that I know people will enjoy. In the meantime, let me introduce you to a couple of sites that are worth the visit.
If you like wine try Gismondi on Wine. Tony has been writing about wine and he covers a lot of ground. His site has a special section on the BC scene and he engages John Schriener to write a few pieces.
I enjoy Natalie MacLean's work as well. She's truly an internationalist but being based in Ontario means she's the source for checking the offerings of the LCBO. She's got a great writing style: light and little bit flippant. But not her wine reviews. They're dead on.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Be a Clicker

Make me glad.
Click on one of the google ads off to the right.
You don't have to buy anything.
Click all of them if you like!

Cork or Cap?

For the last few hundred years, a lot of special oak trees have been de-barked every once in awhile so the world could stuff bits of it into bottles. This was a "stopper". It stopped what ever was inside from coming out.
For some strange reason, the only mass produced beverage still using this closure is wine. Because it's an imperfect but natural product it has a tendency to spoil wine on occasion.
The solution is to use artificial 'inert' products to seal the bottles.
As you may have already noticed, more and more wine producers are turning to various manufacturers for a whole range of different closures.
And we're going to see more. But don't toss your corkscrew yet.
Corks won't disappear completely over the next few years but their role is diminishing. The replacements are various type of plastic blown or extruded to look like cork. The other big contender is the old reliable screwcap. This technology is growing fast and is eating up market share. Taste trials reveal that wine in a screw cap bottle may actually age some wines better than the traditional cork.
Wine makers feared the public would be put off when their expensive wine showed up in bottles with twist off tops. But early reports suggest the folks are taking it in stride.
Waiters and sommeliers are still trying to glamorize their tableside presentation. It's just not the same when you present the esteemed vintage and then casually rotate the top counterclockwise.