Monday, February 28, 2005

Our friends - the diatoms & Merlot

I just finished filtering the 2004 Vidal at Stag's Hollow winery. The Vidal is one of the better white hybrids for cool climate wine making. In years when the vitus vinifera have a tough go of it, the Vidal comes through with flying colours. It buds late. This is handy in case there is a spring frost. Late killing frosts are notorious for knocking production back by damaging tender young buds.

The Vidal also ripens late and by the time harvest comes around it seems almost impervious to the vagaries of autumn weather. The birds seem to eat it last. It's a great aromatic varietal. It makes a great patio sipper.

The filtering of wine consists of some kind of apparatus that holds the medium in place as the wine passes through it. The purpose is to screen and retain impurities of a certain size. Often the process requires substantial pressure to force the wine throughout the system and maintain the integrity of the medium.

Today I was using diatomaceous earth (DE). This is a substance used through out the beverage industry in its quest to satisfy the consumer's demand for clarity. It's also used in the filtration of non-edibles as well.

It resembles talcum powder when dry and gooey clay when wet. It's made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Tiny creatures that inhabit the ocean and leave tiny skeletons that have an affinity for forming complex web like structures when compressed on a filter screen.

The beverage is forced through the screens with the diatomaceous earth already in suspension. It creates a cake that continues to build as the filtration proceeds. The wine passes through the cake but any large particles are caught. The size of the captured particles depends on the type of DE used. DE is generally used for rougher filtrations at the beginning of the filtration procedure. Other media are used to finish or "polish" the product at the end.

Why filter? Lots of wine can emerge from the cellar visually brilliant. But many substances, including wine spoilage microbes, are smaller than what most people can see. Filtration allows wine to proceed to packaging in a more stable state. The wine maker can have more confidence that it will reach the customer as he intended it to be.

Some people say that filtration diminishes the wine, that it takes something out. I say what's the point of selling wine unless you can guarantee the wines stability? I put so much into my wine that a little filtration isn't going to be noticed.

2003 Merlot - I promised this a couple of posts back. I'm in the process of doing a final blend on the Stag's Hollow Merlots for 2003. The estate is great and contains about 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. It will drink well on release but I don't think it will peak until a few more years of bottle age. Instead of a Renaissance version of Merlot this year Stag's Hollow has plans to produce a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend for the first time. About 20% of the blend will be Cabernet Sauvignon from an excellent vineyard - Heritage in Osoyoos. The cab really comes through - cocoa and cigar box, a hint of kelp and eucalyptus. Hope you have a chance to enjoy it as much as I had putting it together.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Serve your wine with pride

It’s no secret, B.C. wines can compete with the best in the world. So why are B.C. consumers shy about putting it on their dining room table?
If you travel the world you’ll experience great diversity. If you’re lucky to enjoy hospitality in a citizen’s home of the nation you’re visiting chances are when the wine is served it will be something special. And there’s even a greater chance the wine will be actually made in the region you’re visiting.
It’s been a source of pride for many cultures over the centuries; when guests call you bring out the best of your land.
That’s not all always the case in B.C.
For years the wine made in this province was ordinary at best. I can recall many situations that would normally have called for something representative of our vineyards but what was served came from Germany or France or California; anywhere but here.
And for good reason.
Wine making here was sloppy and lacked any sophistication.
Now almost everyone agrees that B.C.wine can compete with the best the world has to offer.
It’s been this way for 10 years or so. Restaurants have caught on. Just about any eatery of any note features B.C. wine prominently on its wine list.
So why hasn’t the general public responded the same way?
A recent consumer survey showed wine drinkers were only using B.C. wine for at-home entertaining about 50% of the time. Some said they didn’t know B.C. wine was that good and others mentioned not wanting to appear na├»ve or unknowledgeable.
Even here in the Okanagan, the core of the B.C. wine renaissance, it’s common to be invited to a friend’s for dinner and be offered French bubbly or Australian Shiraz. We go out of our way to obtain lamb from Saltspring or fresh wild salmon but drop the ball in the wine game.
Don’t get me wrong, people should drink wine from other countries. It’s great to compare. But not when you’re showing off for out-of-province guests.
When I lived in New Zealand in ’99 it was common for the average Kiwi to drink inexpensive wine from Australia or Chile as their everyday wine – their supermarket special. But when I was a guest at their homes for a special dinner it was always top shelf New Zealand wines that were offered.
As a result, I grew to appreciate the wonderful wines of that country and remain a faithful fan.
Anyone can see how this demonstration of pride can convert to good economic practice. Serving B.C. wine to your guests in your home or business creates demand. And that’s good for the economy.
If you don’t already have favourites, here are a few guidelines to help you choose:

Don’t go cheap
I hate to use price as an indicator of quality but try to stay over $15 a bottle. There’s a far better chance of getting a good bottle above this mark than below.
Let’s talk about it.
Private and government wine stores are great sources of information and you’ll find trained personnel to help you out. Staff can take into account your tastes, your meal plans and your pocketbook limitations before picking the right B.C. wine for you.
Calling all winemakers
Most BC wineries are just like other small businesses – they enjoy calls from people because it often results in a sale. The smaller the winery the greater the chance you’ll speak directly to the owner or the wine maker. It’s a great way to get a personal perspective on a wine.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pruning has begun for Okanagan wine business

Throughout the Okanagan Valley, pruning and other springtime activities are well underway. Although pruning is best accomplished early in the winter, one can still wait around here as long as the sap hasn't started to run fast and the buds are swelling.

Wine growers are already anticipating a good season. With February almost over, the threat of a deep freeze that would damage the vine's potential is becoming less likely as each day passes.

Sure, it's possible. But harsh temperatures in the -20 C range are very rare in March around here.

What is more worrisome is the threat of a spring frost once the buds are already engaged in their growth phase.

Wine makers reflecting on the 2004 vintage are pleased. A cool and wet period lasting most of August last year slowed the ripening process. This created ideal conditions for developing complex flavours in the grapes; flavours that were passed on to the ferments. Most vineyards and wineries reported excellent harvest conditions once September and October rolled around.

At Stag's Hollow, all three whites produced are showing qualities worthy of praise. The award winning Sauvignon Blanc promises to be as inspiring as the 2003 (now sold-out) with less grapefruit notes in favour of a lush, tangerine expression. The hybrid Vidal, bottled as Tragically Vidal, is it's usual fruit salad character with slightly less alcohol than last year. It's the perfect off dry patio sipper. The Chardonnay is quite bold and displays unusual balance in the palate at such a young age. The Chard should emerge as another excellent example of this premium varietal. Look for the Vidal and Sauvignon Blanc this spring with the Chard going to the bottling line in August. However, Stag's Hollow Chardonnay traditionally is best after at least a year in the bottle so don't look for this one on the shelves until early 2006.

The 2003 Pinot Noir is the red that's drawing plenty of attention. Barrel samplers remarked on the huge fruit and deep garnet colour. Very rich and assertive. The plan is to bottle this spring and release it in the early summer. A Pinot like this will require another year or so in the bottle to harmonize all the robust components. The 2004 is more like a classic Pinot at this stage; plenty of soft berry flavours and spice notes.

NEXT: The news about MERLOT