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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8, Part Two

The Wines of EcoTopia
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This weekend VINTAGES releases 24 wines from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon – collectively the Pacific Northwest. It is a generous feature compared to many of late, and it hits all the right buttons in terms of identifying grapes and styles that define the region. The selection is centred on the average $19.95 price point that VINTAGES calls home, with a subsequent good to very good, 85 to 88 point scoring range generally defining the quality. The exceptions are some more expensive and higher quality Oregon pinot noirs. To delve into a wider and higher end selection, you could attend Vintages Goes Northwest event at Toronto’s Corus Quay Building Atrium (Queens Quay & Lower Jarvis) on Monday August 17. I hope to see you there!

The Pacific Northwest prides itself on a certain eco-freshness and sensitivity. An intriguing book called The Nine Nations of North America published in 1981 by American journalist and professor Joel Garreau, parsed the continent by geographic and economic influences – instead of the arbitrary political boundaries imposed by colonial powers in the 19th Century. It called the Pacific Northwest nation – wait for it – EcoTopia. I have never forgotten that name, or concept, because it is just so right. And if you don’t think so, just ask a resident of EcoTopia. They will set you straight.

What does this mean in wine terms? Well I look for freshness at these northerly latitudes and altitudes, and it does underpin the wines, especially when comparing them to the softer wines of California – the great southern seductress. But something else strikes me about PNW wines – a sense of winemaking newness and trying-too-hardness. There seems to be a pre-occupation with winemaking over terroir. Over-oaking is frequent, as well as pushing alcohol levels. And in some wineries – especially on the American side – pushing sweetness. It may just be at the quality and price level of this release, but that is what is being presented to you this time out.

It is of course still relatively early days for the Pacific Northwest, a premium wine region just 30 years, or one generation, down the track. And given its mountainous spine, there are great terroirs to be had – even if still being prospected. Many of the regional appellations on PNW labels, duly noted in VINTAGES catalogue, remain rather broad. The only real exception I noted in the release is the Similkameen red by Sandhill, which catches a riveting mineral nerve and less ripeness.

Here are some of the better and more definitive wines on the PNW feature, plus other reds of note. Last week John Szabo covered off the Loire Valley and other whites.

Pacific Northwest

Cedar Creek 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($18.95)
David Lawrason. CedarCreek remains at standard-bearer for Okanagan wines of great clarity and varietal definition. This is a light, tart and juicy riesling loaded with green apple, lime and some flinty minerality. CedarCreek, along with winemaker Darryl Brooker (formerly of Flat Rock and Trius in Ontario) was recently acquired by Mission Hill.

A To Z Wineworks 2013 Chardonnay, Oregon ($19.95)
John Szabo – A to Z may be Oregon’s largest producer, but the range is highly competent. This is clean, fresh, nicely representative chardonnay from grapes sourced from throughout the state, mostly from the south. Oak is not a feature – this is all about the apple-citrus fruit in a cool climate idiom.
Sara d’Amato – America’s best selling Oregon chardonnay has thankfully graced us with its presence and offers a great deal of complexity, charm and vibrant energy for the price. The oak here, although present, is nicely restrained and bolsters the elegant fruit. Sip on its own or with buttery shellfish.

CedarCreek Riesling 2013 A To Z Wineworks Chardonnay 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2013 L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Chateau Ste. Michelle has long been known as a riesling specialist, and this nods to that experience. It’s not a profound, complex example but the acid-sugar balance is very fine, and I really like the peach, floral and spicy nose that is nicely clean and expressive.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The little schoolhouse on the road to Walla Walla has become synonymous with this wine region. They have been making semillon from day one – and I can’t think of another American winery that has. This has a rich, dusty, spicy semillon nose of fresh fig, some blossom florality and candle wax. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and spicy.
Sara d’Amato – This striking semillon offers fresh acids but more body and viscosity than its more famous South African counterparts. Lush and appealing with just a touch of funk to keep it interesting.

Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($41.95)
John Szabo – David Adelsheim may be best know for having brought the “Dijon” chardonnay clones from Burgundy to Oregon in the early 1990s, but his pinot noirs are certainly among the best in the state. Even this non vineyard-designated example delivers the bright, savoury, crunchy red fruit and elegance that makes Willamette pinot so intriguing.
David Lawrason This is a very bright, generous, structured, quite youthful pinot with surprisingly lifted floral, raspberry plum fruit plus a hint of beetroot. It’s medium bodied, quite firm and tart with a mineral edge.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($45.95)
David Lawrason – This is an In Store Discovery in limited release, but well worth seeking out. Drouhin was the first Burgundy producer to invest in any pinot noir region outside of Burgundy. This has a reserved, very pretty nose of red cherry, nicely fitted with seamless oak vanillin, spice and cedar. Very delicate and fine aromatics! It’s medium weight, supple and refined.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2012 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012  Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2011

Burrowing Owl 2013 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95) (556613)
Sara d’Amato – These ambitious pinots tend to evolve unpredictably and with varying degrees of success but I am particularly pleased with this example at this point in time. Mid-weight but voluminous with bright acids, supple tannins and lovely woody integration.

Sokol Blosser 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($34.95)
John Szabo – Be sure to give this some time in the glass (or decanter, or cellar), this is very reductive (grapefruit-tinged) off the top, from a cool vintage. But the palate delivers fine, succulent balance, inviting savoury acids, and genuine mineral-saline character. All in all, a classic Jory-volcanic soils, Willamette pinot. Best 2015-2019.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $26.95
David Lawrason – This VINTAGES Essentials has taken one of two golds in the Cabernet Sauvignon category at the 2015 National Wine Awards. It is a really stylish, well composed red with generous oak melding nicely with currant/blackberry fruit. There are herbal notes, vanillin, tobacco and spices – all nicely integrated.
John Szabo – Perennial performer Mission Hill presents a nicely polished and firm, classically styled cabernet, with all of the necessary elements at the price: dark spicy fruit, integrated wood, balanced-crisp acids and fine length. Comfortably in the premium range. Best 2015-2022.

Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The Similkameen – a parallel valley west of the Okanagan – is emerging has a great zone for energetic, granitic/mineral reds. This single vineyard red has a lifted nose with blackcurrant, herbs and spice. It’s medium weight, terse and coiled with intense slightly green flavours.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet MerlotAirfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 Lone Birch Syrah 2013

Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington ($22.95)
John Szabo – A rare firm and dusty, grippy merlot, with no concessions to the typically soft and oaky style prevalent in eastern Washington. I like the herbal flavours and vibrant acids, as well as the lingering finish. Another year or two will benefit this to be sure. Best 2016-2022.

Lone Birch Syrah 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – This sustainably farmed syrah, well priced and upbeat, is substantial, rich and modern in style. It offers harmony, style and concentration in a widely appealing package.

Other Reds

Espelt Viticultors 2013 Old Vines Garnacha, Emporda, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – What a great summer burger and ribs red! It is a lovely, supple yet fairly rich and powerful garancha that shows off the fragrant strawberry/cherry jam fruit of the variety without soupy or confected excess. Pretty floral peony and white pepper aromas as well.
John Szabo – A hell of a wine for $15 from a little known corner of northern Spain, this should be bought by the case for summer BBQs, and/or winter stews. It’s big, ripe, wild and savage, balanced even at 15% alcohol, with inviting Mediterranean scrub-herbal flavours and firm acids/tannins. Best 2015-2023.

Vicchiomaggio 2010 Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico Docg, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
John Szabo – Classy and refined, elegant Classico with terrific balance, succulent acids, and fine-grained tannins. The perfumed finish lingers nicely. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Indeed a classically style, for the short term cellar, although you could aerate and drink now as well.

Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013 Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2010

Dei 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – A producer who stands its ground often producing wines of spectacular heights. Despite the obvious concentration and approachability, there is a traditional feel here with impressive structure and compelling notes of  briny black olive, peppery violets and succulent black currant. Excellent value.

Paolo Conterno 2010 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A great vintage, a great price, a great producer. Can’t go wrong here! It is not a powerhouse or a dynamo, but it is well woven, complex, complete and well structured. The nose weaves classic nebbiolo sour cherry, spice, herbs, leather and earth – again all juxtaposed so well. The length is excellent.

Cosme Palacio 2009 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Lovely, succulent and harmonious Rioja, entering a fine stage of maturity, infinitely drinkable. Tannins are still firm, but the saline-juicy acids will keep you coming back for more. Nice stuff. Best 2015-2029.

Cosme Palacio Reserva 2009Château de Lancyre Esprit de Garrigue 2013Château Plaisance 2009Clos des Brusquières Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

Château De Lancyre 2013 Esprit De Garrigue, Languedoc, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Great value is charming, juicy summer red – a syrah, grenache blend that over-delivers! It is fairly pale but has a lifted very savoury, indeed garrigue nose, with pepper, balsamic, lavender and wild strawberry “fraise du bois” fruit.

Château Plaisance 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Great value in Bordeaux can be hard to come by so this stunner for under $20 made me take note. Matured but still pleasantly youthful. This nicely composed blend is dry and savory with grippy tannins and elegant floral notes. Wonderfully balanced and ageworthy.

Clos Des Brusquières 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($47.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small producer in Châteauneuf was one of the first in this prestigious appellation to bottle its wines to current standards in the early 1900s. Super traditional, the wine is fermented stem and all in concrete and barrel and is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. This was an immediate hit with me and is a textbook example of this distinguished wine offering plenty of muscle, earth, leather and garrigue.

Ramos Pinto 2013 Duas Quintas, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for this Douro table classic, the 2013 is forward, dark and deeply fruity with sweet currant and blackberry inflected with floral and old wood spice notes. I appreciate the succulence and density, the fine-grained but firm tannins, the impressive weight and length. Terrific value. Best 2015-2023.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2013 Angove Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Angove Vineyard 2013 Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bad Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon is hard to come by so you’ve got great odds when something like the Angove Vineyard Select graces our shelves. A joyful example of this standout style that offers delightfully sweet brine, a touch of iodine along with an abundance of fruit peppered by notes of violets and roses.

Penfolds 2013 Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a new mid-priced multi-regional blend from Penfolds. It sports great cabernet lift with soaring eucalyptus, searing blackcurrant, cordite and black pepper aromas. It is full-bodied, dense, tense and focused with great fruit and mint arching across the palate.

And that’s a wrap for this week. I will return next week with the lead up to the August 22 release that features wines scored 90 points by someone, somewhere. As we are not interested in promoting or debating scores by other reviewers we will pass on that theme and simply work to find you the best values, at any price or score. As we always do.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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British Columbia Wine Report – January 2015

Sub-Regions in British Columbia
by Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender MW

There are many questions a wine industry must face as it grows. Some of these issues require long-term thinking, such as which grape varieties and wine styles will consistently produce the best wines in the long run. Other issues are more immediate and the decision can have a vital impact on the direction the industry takes. Something that the British Columbia wine industry needs to think hard about right now is the creation of sub-regions. In order for the industry to build the quality reputation it needs to be sustainable, there needs to be a correlation between place, grape variety and style that consumers can start to understand.

There are a few simple reasons why sub-regions are needed for BC wine to flourish. It is mostly about the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan, known as the hub of BC wine, is too big and too varied to have any real meaning to consumers in terms of a recognizable wine style. With 84% of the acreage and probably a much higher percentage of production, although well recognized as a name, it tells you little about what you will get in a bottle. The distance from one end of the Okanagan to the other would, if slapped on a map of Europe, cover areas that could stretch from the northern Rhône to the Côte d’Or or Chianti to Venice. The second reason is that there are too many grape varieties to get any real sense of specialization. You can’t be everything to everyone. The good news from all this, though, is that there are some areas within the Okanagan that are starting to specialize and build a reputation for a certain grape or wine style. Hence the need to capture these developments in sub-regions and give a meaningful sense of terroir to consumers.

One of the big questions is when, when is the right time to carve up the mighty Okanagan? I would argue that the time is now, but that the industry must not rush in and instead concentrate on building a long-term strategy that will develop in complexity only as the industry needs it too. In other words, any new sub-regions must be meaningful to consumers. There are a couple of risks, one being that the sub-regions be driven by regional marketing bodies rather than the wine in the bottle and the other being the temptation to create too many sub-regions too soon. Some have speculated that the Niagara Peninsula’s 10 new sub-appellations in 2005, although based on impressive science, were too many for consumers to grapple with.


There have been a number of opinions as to how the Okanagan should be divided up, with the most scientific study published in Geoscience Canada in December 2005 by Pat Bowen and the team at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland. They broke the Okanagan into five regions, or six including the Similkameen Valley, which already has its own appellation. The five regions were Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux – Oliver, Golden Mile and Black Sage – Osoyoos. This study takes into account of a number of the key issues – the difference in the ability to ripen certain grapes as you head further away from the USA border and also the fact that vineyards on the east side of the valley that get long afternoon sun are often hotter than those on the west.

An even simpler, and very consumer friendly method, would be to initially just break the Okanagan Valley into three sub-regions called North Okanagan, Central Okanagan and South Okanagan. There are some logical geographical points where the lines could be drawn and each of these three sub-regions can be quite comfortably linked with a group of different grape varieties that over-perform in the area. To name a few, the North Okanagan, starting from around Peachland, can do some great, lighter Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Central Okanagan makes for firmer, riper versions of the same varieties while the South Okanagan is home to most of the burly red wines from Syrah and the Bordeaux varieties. Of course there are exceptions but the concept holds true for a large percentage of the wines. Further sub-regions could be created once quality, reputation and style have been achieved within these areas.


There is already one sub-region of the Okanagan that has completed the arduous requirements of section 29 of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation, waiting only to be signed into law to come into use. The first sub-region of BC is Golden Mile Bench. While it might have been ideal to start with a bigger, broader sub-region, as mentioned above, the Golden Mile Bench proposal, which I consulted on, was important because it has laid the groundwork for future applications and helped the BC Wine Authority (BCWA), who decides these things, figure out a process for creating sub-regions that did not yet exist. Golden Mile Bench was one of the few areas distinct enough to be able to be clearly demonstrated as unique in an application.

The creation of sub-regions wouldn’t eliminate the Okanagan Valley as an important region, nor would it necessarily make it appear less prestigious. There are some great wines that are blended from different parts of the Okanagan Valley and these would not change. What would happen is that producers would be able to start developing a reputation for a specific area for specific styles of wine, something meaningful to consumers. Having the right grapes in the right place naturally makes better wines with less winemaking influence needed to try to force the fruit they have into being something it isn’t. With the high cost of making BC wine and the resulting high prices, it only makes sense for consumers to start to be able to hone in on which sub-region is best for which grape variety or style.


The next step is figuring out who is going to be behind the development of further sub-regions. Somebody has to pay for all the science and research that goes into it. Because it will become part of the law, legal terms for labelling that will have to be followed by all wineries, it should likely be a combination between industry and government. The British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI), which represents a large percentage of BC wine production, has recently created a BC Wine Appellation Task Group to work in partnership with the BC Minister of Agriculture and the BC Wine Authority to look into any recommended changes to the Regulation. Open to all interested 100% BC wine producers it will be exciting to get more opinions on the issue out for discussion.

While the BC industry is still young, there are many top quality wines being produced and it is time to start developing a system to help producers showcase which varieties and styles perform best in which areas. As a result, quality can only improve, the reputation for BC wine will continue to grow and producers and consumers alike will be better off. But, it must be approached carefully because creating meaningful sub-regions is something you only get one shot at.


Rhys Pender MW

Photos courtesy of Treve Ring

Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian Wines & Wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries


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The British Columbia Wine Report – August

It’s Time for B.C. Wineries to Look Further Afield
by Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender_Blog

Rhys Pender MW

In British Columbia, we have a strange pricing system for wine, a system that a lot of consumers will not know exists. It is a system not built on the direct cost of making the wine plus markups but rather one of setting a goal final retail price and then working backwards with a series of different discounts depending on which distribution channel the wine is sold through. Needless to say, this isn’t how the rest of the wine world, or any other business that I can think of, operates. While you might say “who cares, it is what it is”, this pricing system has an impact on the way British Columbia wineries do business, especially in times when supply creeps ahead of demand.

Right now, the British Columbia wine industry is in just such a state. Wine production is currently growing at a faster rate than sales. While this may be temporary, there are significant impacts on the short-term stability of the industry. For many years, demand for British Columbia wine far outstripped supply creating a positive environment for wineries to expand, invest in equipment and improve quality. Because of this profitability, many new vineyards were planted and new wineries started to take advantage of the booming industry. The big growth period came between 2006 and 2008 when the acreage leaped from 6,632 acres in 2006 to 9,100 acres in 2008, a 37% surge in just two years. With around three years until a crop is realized off a new planting, the supply should have jumped in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We all remember a significant financial crisis that hit at exactly this time, which resulted in a big dent in demand for higher priced wines.

Okanagan FallsIf it wasn’t for Mother Nature stepping in, the supply and demand issue would have been a lot more serious. In the end, cold winter temperatures damaged many vineyards in 2008 and 2009 reducing crop significantly and resulting in lots of replanting of damaged or killed vines. In fact, production levels didn’t significantly top 2008 levels until 2012. Just a few months ago the British Columbia Wine Institute announced the 2013 crop level as 31,383 short tons harvested, another 18% increase over the record 2012 (27,257 short tons), itself an increase of 20% over 2011 (22,722 short tons). Rumours abound of grape contracts being cancelled and stocks building up in winery warehouses.

Sales of VQA wines increased 11.4% in volume in 2013 (3.7% in 2012), significantly better than the wine category over all but still falling well behind growth in supply. Figures reported by the British Columbia Wine Institute show production levels of about 1.9 million cases (2013) with sales volumes of 1.1 million cases (2013/14). By my quick calculations, if production levels stay the same and sales rates continue growing at 11.4% it will be 2019 before demand for British Columbia wine balances supply. Time to rethink how and where the wine is sold.

A few things have happened as a result of the oversupply. The first is that growth in acreage has slowed down, now steady with around 10,000 acres planted (the results of the first grape acreage survey in three years should be out this summer). The second is the significant increase in the number of wineries as many of those growers whose contracts were cancelled chose to add value to their crop by starting a winery rather than taking a big hit on grape prices. Grape prices in British Columbia are amongst the highest in the world, but making and selling wine is still much more profitable, even if many underestimate the difficulty of slicing off a chunk of the market. The number of wineries in the province has grown from 131 in 2006 to 232 as of July 2014 making it increasingly hard for the new wineries to establish themselves in what is already a competitive marketplace.

There is really only one answer to correct the oversupply – sell more wine outside of British Columbia. Because of the preferential pricing system British Columbia wineries have in their own Province, there has been little incentive to look further afield. Neighbouring Alberta has to be the number one target but even here few wineries currently have a presence. The reason is money. Basically, the high profit glory days where everyone can sell everything they make through high profit channels are over for many wineries.

King Vineyard, Naramata BenchPricing strategies that the rest of the wine world uses will become more commonplace in British Columbia and top quality wines rather than creative brands will be the only way to justify higher prices. Instead of starting with a target price and working backwards, wineries will need to develop a FOB (free on board) pricing model where they set a base price for which the wine can leave the winery and then let the market costs of broker, agent, shipping, taxes and markups be added beyond that. It would not be surprising if many wineries do not know what their FOB price would be because of the way pricing is calculated in British Columbia. If a winery knows what figure they are willing to sell a case of wine for, they should not care which market it goes to. Guaranteed, the price of selling outside the Province will be a lot lower than the high profit channels of selling direct to consumers or restaurants in British Columbia, but it will open up new markets, increase demand and sell the excess supply.

There is always the option of lowering prices but this too will have a significant effect on the industry as the challenging climate of British Columbia makes it a very expensive and sometimes risky place to grow grapes. Also, when supply and demand do come back into balance, the prices would have to increase again, something never popular with consumers.

The government in British Columbia is helping out by opening up some small new distribution channels, such as farmers markets, and overhauling liquor laws but with the higher average price of British Columbia wine ($17.75 a bottle in 2013/14 versus approximately $12.79 for import wine) it will not be enough to soak up all the extra production. Whether lowering prices or pushing the export market, for winemakers the car in the driveway may be a little less fancy, the holidays shorter and closer to home and the brand new state of the art winemaking equipment may have to wait a few more years, but the business will be viable beyond relying on preferential local market treatment.

From Culmina Vineyard, on the Golden MileThere are other benefits that go along with wider distribution too. Those in the British Columbia wine industry often voice their disbelief that their wines aren’t better known in the wider world, but with such narrow distribution it is not a surprise. If the wines start appearing across Canada, in neighbouring States in the USA and further afield, then the reputation will start to grow. Canadian wine can stand $ for $ on quality and as long as the pricing is calculated to compete with the global competition in these markets, success will follow. But that means giving up trying to make the same profits as selling a bottle out of the front door of the winery.

The British Columbia Wine Institute has seen this developing for years and has been working on an export strategy to encourage wider distribution. While many wineries are quite able to sell their entire production in the local market, this is impossible for the current level of wine production. More and more it is becoming necessary for wineries to get on board and develop their own strategy to export across Canada and beyond. It is time for those with wine sitting in cellars or warehouses to take a serious look at how much they need to charge for a box of wine (the FOB) and start looking at selling it far and wide. The bonus will be drawing some attention to all the great things happening in the British Columbia wine industry.

Rhys Pender MW


British Columbia photo credits: Treve Ring


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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

In June 2014, WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the WineAlign 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

We thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!

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Cool, then Hot, then Wet, and Finally Dry: Skill, Hard Work and Courage Rewarded in Vintage 2013

The  BC Wine Report
By DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

The 2013 vintage has ended the reign of cool in our winelands. After a few years of distinctly challenging, dour growing seasons, the kind of warm dry weather our winegrowers always expect returned. The rebound to normalcy started hesitantly last year, and my WineAlign colleague Treve Ring wryly captioned her 2012 vintage report “When average is amazing”, referring to the fact that blessedly average 2012 was happily much better than the previous two. All things being relative (especially in wine vintages) 2013 has been described as ‘rewarding’, ‘promising’, ‘solid’, and ‘one of the best in the last 15 years’.

Please see reviews of some of my picks below as well as a link to the BC Crop Report.

However one wants to state it (given that the first rule of wine marketing is that the vintage you are selling is the BEST vintage), there have been a series of trying growing seasons, save for the joyously average 2012. But then came 2013 with a bigger crop (27,000 short tons) and climatic statistics that place it in near 2006 and 2009. Merlot again topped the tonnage list with 6,233.2 tons and Pinot Gris edged back in front of Chardonnay with 3,224.4 tons.

Switchback Vineyard in Summerland at thanksgiving

Switchback Vineyard in Summerland

In the Okanagan Valley (where 95+% of BC wine is made) the season started with a good-looking April. The road to bud break was smooth until the beginning of May which dawned cold but turned warm later in the month and drier than the norm, receiving only 26 millimetres (rather than 36 mm which is the 30 year average). June was rainier than the norm throughout the Okanagan (40 mm versus 36 mm average) and first signs of bloom were as early as June 10th but most flowering occurring in early July. Growth took off then with rocket boosters, creating a flurry of shoot positioning, tucking, plucking, suckering and general uninterrupted canopy management for the next many weeks. All this was done in considerable heat too, allowing for an even budbreak, flowering and fertilization. Watching acid, sugars and phenolic ripeness levels became a bit nerve wracking as the grapes galloped along in the heat, about ten days ahead of the norm. Mike Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad spoke of the constant need to control vigour in these growing conditions. Withholding irrigation, using cover crops and a distinctive adaptation of cane pruning were three tools used at OCP this vintage to lower yields and promote optimal ripening.

Mother Nature can always be casually two-faced, and in mid-September she dealt a gift of growth-slowing cooler weather but a slap of heavy rain throughout the interior. Vintners were faced with tough picking decisions. Bob Johnson of Baillie-Grohman said “our gewürztraminer simply did not have the flavour development we were looking for, so we let it hang until after the rains”. October was a truly odd month and the heat shut off in a hurry, making it cooler than any vintage in the past 15 years, and allowing acids to hang in there for balance. Speaking of acid, winemakers who work with older vine riesling have observed that greater age (20 plus years) allows acids to hold in a special way, even through intense mid-summer heat.

In the southern Okanagan, reds are expected to shine and Darryl Brooker of CedarCreek observed that their merlot, cabernet franc and syrah were ripened nicely by the summer heat and well-refreshed by the early autumn cooling trend. They should carry a little more fruit than the 2012’s, with balanced acids and ripe enough tannins. Pinot and gamay look promising too, especially for those who picked before the rain.

The Similkameen experienced fairly similar conditions but Orofino’s John Weber noted that the harvest began well before the mid-September rains and fruit was in great shape.

Vineyard from roof

Little Farm Vineyard in the Similkameen

Jay Drysdale of Bella Wines, a sparkling specialist estate, observed it will prove to be a “good vintage for sparkling as acidity and sugar took its time to balance, even with the heat, but the shorter ripening season didn’t develop as much flavour as 2012”. Traditional method bubble from 2013 will be great canvas for autolytic character.

There was a bountiful icewine harvest this vintage, doubling that of last year. 2012 delivered a small harvest of high quality wines, but in 2013, the arctic express came early and producers were happy with both quantity and quality.

Other challenges in 2013? Hail, high winds, wasps and episodic sour rot. JoieFarm’s Robert Thielicke estimated that there were 40,000 wasps in a few of the vineyards he visited, and severe selection of fruit was essential on the sorting tables. He says they lost 4 tons for the rosé program directly to rot and insect devastation, and in one contract vineyard, they called in 30 pickers to salvage 36 tons of pinot (at only 21 Brix in early September). Happily some great fruit was available and JoieFarm have in fact upped their 2013 rosé production.

The cool-hot-cool cycle has caused the odd combination of suppressed aromatics, flabby, dilute yet over-ripe whites, where crop lowering and picking times were not managed severely.

Vancouver Island had their challenges too. After the soggy and wet 2012 vintage, 2013 was looking stellar: April budbreak, June flowering and July veraison all on time and successful then, as Averill Creek’s Andy Johnson said, “it all changed on the night of September 14th when 35 mm of rain hammered the vineyards”. The rain persisted through the end of September; bunch rot spread (Averill Creek lost 6 tons of pinot noir to bunch shatter) and they ended up picking 42 tons of pinot noir instead of the usual 65-75 tons at Brix readings of 20-23 degrees. A cool and dry October saved the day and in the end, the pinot noir and gris quality was “some of the best we’ve seen” said Andy, “but disease pressure had to be managed”. Animal pressure too, as hibernation-bound bears were attracted to the fruit in numbers only seen in 2010.

BDO Crop ReportAll in all an improvement on 2012 even though vintners did not get the fruit volumes they wanted, there will be some lovely juicy, elegant and balanced Island whites and reds. Chris Turyk of Unsworth Vineyards noted: “The weather turned in the second half of September so better growers and better sites picked early and people who kept the fruit on the vine suffered. Yields are down overall because 10-15% of fruit had to be dropped. Quality is probably on par with 2012”. The Islands are always a challenge, Chris continues, “Those who waited for every extra degree suffered because the rain didn’t stop, so all their fruit became waterlogged or rotted on the vine. That’s every harvest for us in a nut shell. How long can we wait to get the brix up and attempt to lignify seeds (rare in vinifera here), without losing the crop to the eventual rain? How to work with lean and acidic musts with green seeds, botrytis and mildew is oenology 101 here.”

All in all, a vintage that reflects British Columbia’s wine regions that cling to the vinous fringe. Our northern latitude curtails the growing season, ensures extremes of weather, massive diurnal shifts, and never, ever a dull moment. This is how you respond and cope, says Mike Bartier, “set yourself up for an over-vigorous vintage, then you can adapt”.

So what has 2013 given us? A bountiful vintage with fragrant richer whites, streamlined flavourful reds, tangy sparkling wines and a bumper crop of icewine.

BC 2013 Crop Report

DJ’s first look at 2013 in BC: 

Baillie Grohman Gewurztraminer 2013CedarCreek Riesling Platinum Block 3 2013Joie Farm Unoaked Chardonnay 2013Orofino Vineyards Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2013Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2013 Stag's Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé 2013

Baillie Grohman Gewurztraminer 2013, BC VQA British Columbia

CedarCreek Riesling Platinum “Block 3” 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

JoieFarm Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley

Orofino Vineyards Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2013, Similkameen Valley

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Stag’s Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia


Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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WineAlign Launches in British Columbia

TORONTO/VANCOUVER – February 27, 2013 – Vancouver International Wine Festival – WineAlign, Canada’s largest and most popular online wine site, today announced its launch in British Columbia. WineAlign is making its debut in B.C. with more than 4,500 wines from the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) being amalgamated into the WineAlign database.

WineAlign answers the question shoppers ask themselves every time they go to the wine store: “What is the best wine in my price range that I can buy in this store right now?” WineAlign will provide B.C.-based wine consumers with ratings and multiple critic reviews on wines available at their local BC Liquor Stores. It will also provide inventory levels at their nearest BCLDB store. 

WineAlign was founded four years ago by Toronto web entrepreneur and wine lover Bryan McCaw, with the aim of providing immediate, objective and comprehensive advice to shoppers at Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. In 2012 WineAlign attracted over 967,000 different people, making it one of the busiest wine sites in Canada.

Anthony GismondiWineAlign is pleased to announce that Vancouver’s Anthony Gismondi is now a partner and will be the lead critic in British Columbia. Well known and respected in B.C. as wine columnist for the Vancouver Sun and co-host of the Best of Food and Wine with Kasey Wilson on AM650, Anthony is also a national and international voice in the wine world, and brings a wealth of experience and his ‘consumer-first’ perspective to WineAlign.

“I have a great deal of respect for the WineAlign team already in place and am excited to be joining them as a principal critic and partner in a purely wine-focused role,” says Gismondi. “I also look forward to assisting with taking WineAlign to a new level nationally as plans are put in place to roll it out across the country.”

Other B.C. based critics will be announced shortly, joining a national team that includes partners David Lawrason (Toronto Life, Ottawa Magazine), Master Sommelier John Szabo, Margaret Swaine of the National Post, Wine for Life educator Steve Thurlow, Rod Phillips of the Ottawa Citizen, wine writer Janet Dorozynski of Ottawa, and sommelier Sara d’Amato of Toronto. The team is set to become even larger as WineAlign prepares to launch in Quebec in the months ahead.

Each critic provides their own reviews, giving consumers a spectrum of opinions with which they can “align”.  The pro’s reviews are complemented by thousands of consumer reviews. The highly engaged community can offer their opinions and use WineAlign as their personal shopping list and wine cellar inventory system.

Following its debut in B.C., WineAlign will be exploring partnerships with private wine retailers in an effort to provide an even wider service to B.C.-based consumers.

Visit WineAlign at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival to meet the team and see a demonstration.

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Anthony Gismondi Joins WineAlign!

Press Release: Another highly respected wine critic added to the WineAlign team

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

TORONTO – January 18, 2013WineAlign, Canada’s largest community based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine, today announced that Anthony Gismondi is joining its highly respected team of professional wine critics. Gismondi is one of Canada’s most respected wine critics and one of Canada’s best-known critics on the international stage. He has been writing about wine for almost 30 years and has been the wine critic for the Vancouver Sun since 1989. Gismondi was the former editor in chief of a national wine magazine and founded several wine awards.

“I have a great deal of respect for the WineAlign team already in place and am excited to be joining them as a principal critic and partner in a purely wine-focused role,” says Gismondi. “I also look forward to assisting with taking WineAlign to a new level nationally as plans to roll it out across the country are put in place. Canada has a diverse collection of wine drinkers, none more enthusiastic than those on the West Coast, and I look forward to sharing the team’s thoughts and opinions on wines with the rest of the country as we move forward.”

WineAlign’s VP of Wine, David Lawrason added: “I have tasted, judged and travelled with Anthony for over 20 years, and have grown to admire not only his knowledge and experience, but his straightforward approach to wine and whether the wine in turn is honest and good value for the consumer.”

“We are delighted that Anthony is joining us,” says Bryan McCaw, President of WineAlign. “Anthony is joining some of the most respected wine critics in the country in helping consumers find the best wines at their local wine store. He’ll bring a new perspective to our readers and will be a key part of our B.C. and national expansion.”

WineAlign is a free community-based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine. It was launched in December 2008 in collaboration with several top wine critics to create a resource for consumers to find the best wines at the LCBO. WineAlign, which is growing rapidly with close to 1M unique annual visitors, answers the question: What wine do I buy? It combines reviews from top-critics and community members to create an objective resource to help users find great wine. For wine lovers outside of Ontario, Canada, WineAlign provides the most comprehensive wine resource, including reviews of the latest wines and vintages from some of the country’s top sommeliers and wine critics.

About WineAlign

WineAlign is the ultimate service for making informed buying decisions at the LCBO. Use it before you shop from your home or office computer, or while standing in the store aisle with your mobile device. It aligns current store inventory, professional critical ratings and reviews, your budget, your food choices, your taste preferences and those of your friends. It is also a practical site, providing valuable tools to manage your own cellar and inventory and build your own personal rating system. It is also a social site that enables you to share information and discuss wine recommendations with friends and associates. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook/WineAlign or on Twitter @WineAlign.

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Highlights and Values; Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Jan 19 Release

Highlights & Values from Spain, B.C. and Around the World, plus Postcards from New Zealand

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The January 19 release is a large and rambling affair with over 100 wines, and the vast majority are priced under $25 to reflect the post-holiday impecuniary blues. I must say that there were more disappointing wines than normal, with several scoring below 85 points. But there were also many worth your attention, which is why we spend hours in the VINTAGES lab tasting them all.

Spain’s Priorat and Montsant

Baronia CIMS Del Montsant 2010Planets De Prior Pons 2008The many faces of Spanish wine are featured in this release, in a selection that manages to cover most of the country, albeit with only one or two selections each. WineAlign colleague John Szabo has penned a comprehensive look at the various wines and the fortunes of Spanish wine in Ontario, so I won’t repeat, except to highlight very good buys from two of my favourite DOCs – Priorat and Montsant. These appellations neighbour each other in the harsh, arid mountains of southern Catalonia not far from the Mediterranean.

Whereas many Spanish reds are softer, there is a nerve and minerality to the wines of this region that is invigorating, which will appeal to those who like pinot noir and some of Tuscany’s reds. Priorat in particular emerged in the 90s as a super-premium niche region, followed soon after by less expensive Montsant that sits in less steep terrain nearby. Both use the same blend of Mediterranean grapes like carignan and grenache along with syrah, cabernet and merlot. Planets De Prior Pons 2008 from Priorat at only $22.95 is a fine example of the value that can now be attained in post-recession pricing of Priorat. And the 2010 Baronia CIMS Del Montsant is simply a steal at only $15.95.

B.C.’s Range

Unlike four other provinces, Ontario has still not “approved” the direct purchase and importation of B.C. wines via the internet for your personal use here in Ontario, despite the federal government legalizing the practice last June through Bill C-311. Many Ontarians are doing it anyway, as the government’s position is unenforceable. If you are squeamish about doing it however, or you just want to buy a bottle or three, instead of ordering by Gray Monk GewürztraminerMission Hill Quatrain 2008the case, then VINTAGES offers a small but quite good selection on this release. It’s a microcosm of what the Okanagan Valley is doing in terms of styles – aromatics in the north, chardonnay and pinot noir in the centre, and big reds in the south, including the iconic plush reds of Burrowing Owl, the winery that first drew attention to just how big and rich B.C. southern reds could be. I draw your attention to two wines that define the polar extremes of Okanagan winemaking.

Gray Monk 2011 Gewürztraminer ($19.95) is a super bright, fresh and fruity example of a lovely patio/picnic style of gewürz – indeed Gray Monk (sitting right on the 50th degree of latitude) is a veteran, reliable producer of good value, pristine aromatic whites. Consider this one for spring/summer drinking.  From the opposite end of the valley, almost within view of the 49th parallel and the US border, comes a big red from almost desert vineyards that leads the way in a growing field of multi-grape blends based on merlot and cabernet. Mission Hill 2008 Quatrain ($41.95) deftly adds about 30% syrah to the mix, and ferments them in small French oak to create a wine of considerable depth, complexity and elegance.

Three White Highlights

Château De Montmollin Chasselas 2011Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne ChardonnayMcnab Ridge Shadow Brook Farms RoussanneThe roussanne grape, which is indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France, is in global expansion mode, especially in New World as winemakers in warm climates grow to appreciate its natural acidity and tropical yet understated fruit. McNab Ridge 2009 Shadow Brook Farms Roussanne ($18.95) from Mendocino California is a fine example. The Parducci family is a pioneer in this neck of the woods, and this off-shoot winery by Chris Parducci is focused on less well known grape varieties.

Roche De Bellene 2010 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay from Burgundy’s Nicolas Potel is not all that unusual, but it is made in a bright, pure style that defines the grape and region very well for $19.95.  A dandy, affordable and quite classy chardonnay.

And Château De Montmollin 2011 Chasselas from Auvernier-Neuchâtel in Switzerland is also very well made. Chasselas can be soft, flabby and boring, but this fine effort brightens the quiet fruit and presents flavours that remind me just a bit of sake. It’s all very subtle, very nicely balanced and easy to drink.  Very much worth exploring at $18.95.

Four Red Values

For several years now I have watched Chile struggle with pinot noir. There is a juicy exuberance in Chilean reds that somehow does not wear well in pinot, which should be very layered, restrained and elegant. Terra Noble 2010 Reserva Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley is still exuberant, with raspberry and evergreen scents, but somehow manages better balance and more length than most, and at a very good price of $14.95. A fine little chillable summer patio pinot.

Terra Noble Reserva Pinot NoirHeartland Shiraz 2009From Australia, Heartland 2009 Shiraz has shockingly intense, perfumed and pure aromas of cassis, a signature I have come to expect in reds from the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia that borders the Murray River delta. Langhorne is home base for Heartland, a collaboration among several partners but Ben Glaetzer is the magician behind this wine. And Ben Glaetzer is the nephew of John Glaetzer, who put Wolf Blass on the map with some remarkable Langhorne reds back in the day. In any event, this is a real mouthful for $19.95, richly fruited and wonderfully vibrant.

Château Ksara Réserve Du Couvent 2009The Grinder PinotageSouth African pinotage, a hybrid grape bred on the Cape, has over the decades, become something of a plaything for winemakers. There is a shrill and unusual native character in pinotage that many seem to want to avoid, and the latest trick is to infuse highly roasted coffee bean flavours, as in Café Culture. The Grinder 2011 Pinotage is in that camp, but less coffeed than I expected given the blatant coffee references in the packaging. I think one reason that the pinotage fruit manages to stay so vital in this example is its origin in Swartland, a warmer area of old vines. Anyway, at $13.95 you can afford to try this out for yourself.

And for something really off the beaten track, don’t miss a great little winter red from Lebanon. Château Ksara 2009 Réserve Du Couvent is a blend of syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon aged six months in oak. Ksara a historic 19th Century producer in the high altitude Bekaa Valley has modernized its production, but this wine maintains a very smooth, warm and leathery ambiance that is pleasantly older school. The main point is that offers a lot of character for $14.95.

Postcards from New Zealand & A Tasting of Villa Maria

I am writing this report from a small, comfortable motor lodge in the farming town of Cromwell in the heart of Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I am in the country for a three week tour of eight regions, that also includes three conferences, centred by Pinot Noir NZ 2013 in Wellington January 28 – 31. I am visiting three to four wineries per day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. But you can follow some observations on Twitter @DavidLawrason, and I am also sending updates via WineAlign’s Facebook page. You can check out the first in the series on Waiheke Island’s Man O’ War winery at Postcards from New Zealand

Auckland Winery

Villa Maria Winemaker – Alastair Maling
Auckland Winery

On my second day in the country I sat down to a terrific tasting with Villa Maria winemaker Alastair Maling, a Master of Wine and chair of Pinot 2013 conference. It was held at Villa Maria’s impressive new winery/restaurant/vineyard improbably located and almost hidden within a dormant volcano crater in an industrial area near Auckland airport. The quality across the range of wines rather took me by surprise. I was well aware of the Private Bin general listings in Ontario – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011 and Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2012. But as the tasting moved along I was struck by the consistent purity and accuracy and inviting drinkability of all the wines, regardless of variety and price point. Suddenly all the medals won by Villa Maria over the years made sense, and it proved that you can do things well on a large scale if quality control is truly the focus of the exercise.

In the very near future all my reviews from this tasting will be posted on WineAlign. It was assembled to reflect wine now available, or soon to be available in Canada, so if you want to search for a particular wine, or scan the entire range simply search by Villa Maria.

So that’s it for this time. I will be writing my next report from New Zealand as well. Meanwhile check out all my January 19 reviews below.

David Lawrason,
VP of Wine

From the January 19, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Beringer Napa Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008

Rosehill Wine Cellars

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Trending @ B.C. Wines

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With Nova Scotia now the third province to open its borders to direct shipping of Canadian wine, can Ontario be far behind? Perhaps not, as private members bill C-117 to allow just that has passed first reading at Queens Park. While we wait, Ontarians have been ordering in  anyway, and many B.C. wineries are now willing to ship. So here at WineAlign we are making efforts to review more and more B.C. wines.

Last month I enjoyed a 16-day vacation/work/family visit to B.C.. It was centred on the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, but I also had time to unwind beside Lake Windermere near Invermere, visit wineries in Creston, drive up and down the Okanagan, plus take a quick peek at wineries on the Saanich Peninsula after a family reunion on Vancouver Island.  Here are some observations about the dynamic and expanding universe of B.C. wines.

The Canadian Wine Awards Go Big

The 11th annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards judging was held August 12-15 in Penticton – the heart of Okanagan wine country.  I joined 14 other judges from seven provinces to spend four days sifting through over 1,250 wines – a record number of entries. The official results will be released by over the weeks ahead, with the distinguished Winery of the Year and Top White, Red and Sweet Wine Awards, to be announced during the annual Ottawa Wine and Food Show during November 7-11.

We dispensed a bushel of medals. With an average bottle price of $30 the wineries were clearly not submitting low end wines that didn’t have a snowball’s chance. Blind tasting by its very nature amplifies faults, and our experienced core of judges is quick to pounce when they hit upon flaws, or general weaknesses like blandness and dilution. So we found much to get excited about, especially in terms of oaked chardonnay, riesling, (improved) cabernet franc, pinot noir and syrah – most definitely syrah.

The final flight of syrah had the judges doing cartwheels. I presumed that most of the syrahs were from B.C. (although with the ripe 2010 vintage in Niagara, Ontario syrah could easily be among the medalists). And with wines this good I was left to muse whether B.C. had got off on the wrong foot by focusing so much vineyard acreage on merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Time, and consumer preference, will tell.

The Top Red Wine of the 2011 Awards last year was a B.C. Syrah from Church and State, and ironically this was the last wine I tasted in B.C. before boarding a plane in Victoria for the homeward journey.

Church & State, Saanich (Vancouver Island)

Church and State was founded on the Saanich Peninsula – very near Butchart Gardens and Victoria’s Airport. But it now has a winery in the South Okanagan as well, where they make their terrific Coyote’s Bowl Vineyard Syrah and Hollenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir. The winery and tasting room on the Island is surprisingly grand, spacious and complete with a restaurant. It is tucked against a stand of forest with several acres of vines out front. The Saanich Peninsula, just north of Victoria is rural-urban eco-Eden of forests, gardens, orchards, vineyards, small farms, large houses, coves and marinas. It is temperate enough here to grow figs, indeed it is dry enough in the centre of the Peninsula to have attracted several small wineries like Starling Lane, De Vine, Dragon Fly Hill Vineyard and Symphony Vineyard.  And Muse Vineyard (formerly Chalet Vineyards) sits at the very tip of the Peninsula on Chalet Road.

Back at Church and State, their perfumed, seamless 2009 Pinot Noir Island Estate, is very fine indeed, admittedly from a warmer vintage. The cool, wet 2010 and 2011 vintages did not produce pinot – indeed it was so miserable that last year they renamed June – June-uary. But clearly the best efforts of ex-Burrowing Owl winemaker Jeff Danner are from the Okanagan Vineyards, where he has made terrific almost tropical 2010 Chardonnay, a soft, pure white Rhone blend called Trebella, excellent 2011 Viognier and a battery of cab-based reds. I expect another good Canadian Wine Awards showing for Church and State.

Tantalus Vineyards, East Kelowna

Tantalus Riesling has become the iconic B.C. riesling – the darling of Vancouver sommeliers eager to match a steely, riveting, mineral-driven (Beamsville Bench style) riesling with their seafood bounty. I had not been to Tantalus since the 48 acre property high on a hill overlooking East Kelowna was purchased from Pinot Reach in 2004.  So I had to see why the riesling was so good, and I discovered several reasons including old vines of the Mosel 21B clone that is widely grown in Ontario. Tantalus is all naturally farmed and all its wines are estate grown.  Vancouver-born, New Zealand-raised and schooled winemaker David Paterson joined in 2009 (after stints in Australia, Oregon and Burgundy), and he has brought with him a flair for chardonnay and pinot noir. The Tantalus 2010 Chardonnay is among the best in B.C. in my view, and the 2010 Pinot Noir is also very fine.

Sperling Vineyards, East Kelowna

Nearby, at an ever so slightly higher altitude with a grand view south down Lake Okanagan, lie the Sperling vineyards – first planted to table grapes in the 30s, then to marechal foch in the 60s, to riesling in 1978, to gewürztraminer in 1987, and more recently to pinot gris. It is snapshot history of the development of the B.C. wine industry. The land has been in the Casorso family hands since the mid 19th Century, the story unfolding in a museum beside the general store, tasting room and retail shop on Pioneer Road.  This is where Ontario winemaker Ann Sperling (Southbrook) grew up, and she has launched a 2,500 case winery based on the unique setting. Part of what makes it unique is very diverse soils within the site, including a limestone seam beneath the oldest vines. The Sperling 2011 Old Vines Riesling is among the most concentrated and riveting in the country.  I also was very taken with a new 100% pinot blanc Sparkling Brut 2008 aged three years on the lees that is being released this fall, as well as a classy 2011 Pinot Gris, and the new, low-alcohol, cleverly named Sper-itz made from bacchus and perle of casaba. There is some seriously good viticulture and winemaking going on here.

CedarCreek, East Kelowna

The East Kelowna riesling tour de force continued over at CedarCreek, where lunch on the deck is now a tradition when I am in the area – even better with winemaker Darryl Brooker and owner Gord Fitzpatrick. Darryl migrated west from Niagara (Flat Rock, Hillebrand) a few years ago to take the reins of a winery that had already won the Canadian Wine Awards three times. The brilliant, steely yet delicate 2011 Riesling grown on estate, hillside vines overlooking the lake showed he is fitting right in. Lunch continued with a rounded 2011 Pinot Gris with vibrant acidity and no aromatic trace of being 30% barrel aged for four months. On came the rich, very pure 2011 Platinum Viognier from estate vineyards in Osoyoos; then a sneak peak of the estate grown, terrific 2010 Platinum Chardonnay and 2010 Platinum Pinot Noir that should wow one and all when released early in 2013.  Mr. Brooker is achieving great purity and balance in his wines, which he attributes to his viticultural efforts.  And I am expecting a strong showing for CedarCreek at the 2012 Awards.

Okanagan Crush Pad, Summerland

This was my first visit to the very trending little winery with a big idea. Tucked away on a spectacular, tough-as-nails ridge above Okanagan Lake in Summerland, OCP  is essentially a winery for hire, a place for aspiring grape growers to send their grapes and have a wine bottled under their name by a professional winemaker – like Harper’s Trail, the first winery in the far north near Kamloops. Or a place for celebrity sommeliers (Kurtis Kolt) and restaurateurs (Rob Feenie) to have a vanity bottling under their own name. “The Pad” is the brainchild of long-time B.C. wine marketer Chris Coletta, with a range of partners that include Italian consultant Alberto Antonini and winemaker Michael Bartier (ex-Road 13). The first label and wine out of the compact, ultra-modern winery was Haywire Pinot Gris – complete with concrete egg fermetnors – but the range has exploded in three years, with eight different labels, and 27 wines – most made by Michael Bartier in a very controlled, varietally precise and lean style.  Last year winemaker Tom diBello (ex CedarCreek) moved in to create his own brand of very supple, rich wines like the DiBello 2010 Syrah. If you only have time for one stop as you whisk down Highway 97 from Kelowna to Penticton, this is the place to explore wines from up and down the Okanagan

Painted Rock, Okanagan Falls

At the end of each day at the CWAs, the judges were hosted by various regional winery associations – the Naramata Bench bunch, the Similkameen Wineries Association, and two new groups – the Bottleneck Drive Wineries Association (Summerland area) and the Okanagan Falls Winery Association. The latter includes wineries from the benchlands region south of Penticton overlooking Skaha and Vaseaux Lakes.  Famed wineries like Blue Mountain, See Ya Later Ranch, Blasted Church, Wild Goose and Stag’s Hollow were joined recently by Painted Rock, which last year was the top B.C. winery at the Canadian Wine Awards. At the hospitality event owner John Skinner presented his Painted Rock 2009 Syrah. What a great wine, with all kinds of tension, complexity and depth! His cabernet and Icon Red are excellent as well, and by the way, you can taste them for yourself at a Painted Rock tasting in Toronto at Canoe, Sept 25th from 4 to 7 pm. You must however contact Jill at to pre-register.

Le Vieux Pin, Oliver/Osoyoos

The day I visited Le Vieux Pin near Oliver the thermometer peaked at 40-degrees C, which didn’t help to dispel the tendency to think of the south Okanagan – Canada’s only official desert climate – as one big sandy beach. The logical conclusion in the glass is that the region uniformly produces big, ripe, shallow and soulless reds. A barrel tasting of three 2010 syrahs at Le Vieux Pin with winemaker Severine Pinte proved very much otherwise. Being from the Languedoc region of southern France and having also worked I Australia she knows her way around syrah. In great detail she explained the terroirs of the south Okanagan. The first sample displayed the soft, smooth style of predominantly sandy soil in the centre of the valley.  The second showed the grittier, leaner style from a vineyard on the west side that loses evening sun behind the mountains; while the third showed the power and depth of a syrah from the rocky bench lands on the east side. Her job will be to blend these elements – into which some of their individuality will disappear – but hopefully the result will be a refined yet powerful wine that perfectly catch the French/Rhone interpretation of this grape with classic dark fruit, smoked meat and pepper.

Baillie-Grohman & Skimmerhorn, Creston

I took a vacation from my vacation in eastern B.C. to drive down to Creston, a new, very promising wine region. The Creston Valley spills south from the toe of Kootenay Lake (which like Lake Okanagan never freezes) and across the U.S. border into Idaho. The bench-lands on the east of the valley floor, right to the sheer wall of the Skimmerhorn mountains, are chock full of cherry, plum and apple orchards. And more recently with vinifera grapes. A winery called Skimmerhorn opened in 2006, producing a range of aromatic whites like riesling, gewürztraminer and Ortega.  And a very good value pinot noir at only $16.50!

Next door, Baillie-Grohman opened in 2009, with essentially the same range of varietals. Both wineries employ New Zealand winemakers who come to the northern hemisphere in their off season. (Baillie-Grohman’s Dan Barker of Moana Park in Hawkes Bay once worked at Niagara’s Hidden Bench, and is training hands-on co-owner Petra Flaa). Despite being from young vines the Baillie-Grohman wines in particular, are firm, bright and intense – again with 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve being a strong suit. The pinots of Creston have cool climate pomegranate-cranberry-wild blueberry fruit profile that is very Burgundian (Cote de Nuits in fact.)  But I also liked gewürztramineras well as pinot gris. New plantings by other growers are underway, making Creston a can’t miss quality wine appellation in the years ahead.

And so ends the tour, for this year. There is so much going on in the B.C. wine scene that an annual trip is virtually mandatory for anyone trying to follow the bouncing ball.

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Getting our Hands on B.C.’s New, Big Reds – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I recently spent four days in Kelowna, B.C. during the Canadian Culinary Championships, then another subsequent two days at home in Toronto, tasting B.C. reds.  There are many intriguing and excellent new labels on the market. (See picks below linked to WineAlign reviews). The vast majority however are not available on the shelves of the LCBO’s Vintages stores; and the prices of some that are available for order via local agents are bloated by 50% to 100% over retail in B.C., thanks to LCBO mark-ups.

The Crack in the Wall

Before you say ‘so what’s the point’ and click away, hear my tale.  Their availability may improve dramatically before this year is out, and you may be able to access them at something closer to B.C. prices.  Our archaic interprovincial wine shipping system is seeing its first official crack.

In the Air Canada departure lounge at Kelowna Airport I spent a few minutes talking to Ron Canaan, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country. He, along with MP Dan Albas of Okanagan-Coquihalla, have been championing a private members bill (C-311) that would make it legal for individuals to carry or import wines across provincial borders (which has been technically illegal since Prohibition almost 90 years ago). A website called has the full story.

The bill passed Second Reading in the House of Commons in the last session, and Mr. Canaan is “confident” it will pass third reading and become law this year. He is hoping in early summer.

Bill C-311 is an amendment to current legislation that would allow  “… the importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for re-sale or other commercial use”

Loose interpretation – consumers will be able to bring back, ship back, or order on line, as many cases as local liquor authorities says is allowable.  In Ontario, the limit of this “personal exemption” is still in the hands of the LCBO, and we all wait with bated breath to hear how much wine Father McGuinty and his flock think should be allowed to import before we might considered ‘traffickers’.  But hey, even a single case minimum would be a help.

The other all-consuming question that remains outstanding is how this will affect the pricing of B.C. wines coming through existing LCBO channels, i.e. Vintages, the Consignment program and private order?  I wouldn’t mind prices that fairly reflect the cost of shipping and local agents’ commissions, but let them be sold here at prices that are competitive and reasonable.  Once this happens agents and restaurateurs will offer a wider range of B.C. wines through official channels too.

Great New B.C. Reds

So what is the fascination with B.C. reds here in Ontario?  Perhaps it has to do with the notion that we don’t see that many, and that we want, as Canadians, to be part of a “big red” scene that Ontario doesn’t really deliver.

Born in hot, arid growing seasons that boost fruit ripeness and alcohol, yet tempered by nighttime, desert-like coolness that maintains acidity, B.C. reds have the potential to be dense, ripe and well structured at the same time.  Finding the balance is a struggle however, and many B.C. reds are hot and clumsy. But the proportion of more elegant reds is increasing every vintage. The 2009s tasted recently have upped the game.

B.C. is moving toward 200 wineries, most of them relatively new sub-10,000 case properties that are championing estate-grown, or at least regionally-grown fruit in so-far-unofficial Okanagan sub-appellations like Naramata, Osoyoos, East Kelowna; as well as the burgeoning Similkameen Valley. Although their production is small the retail market within B.C. is very competitive, and many would welcome shipping directly outside their province.

The Similkameen Wineries Association hosted the Grand Finale Event of the Canadian Culinary Championships (see a full report on this event at GoldMedalPlates) so I was able to taste from its eight member wineries in some depth.  Similkameen is 30 minutes west of Osoyoos in a warmer, dry, organic-minded lake-less valley. Its 600 acres of vineyard are largely situated on bench lands composed of very diverse soils. I was very impressed by the structure and age-worthiness of many of the reds from this region.  So let’s begin our new winery role call here.

Orofino Vineyards is the leading Similkameen producer with their tiny, already sold out production of Orofino Syrah 2009 being named Best of Show at the CCC Event.  But John Weber is doing great work throughout his range, whether in a Bordeaux blend called Beleza 2008, or with riesling. His maturing 2007 is terrific and his 2009 Riesling won the Gold Medal Plates competition in Saskatchewan, Weber’s home province. Fortunately there is some access in Ontario already through Terroir Wines and Spirits. Other very promising Similkameen wineries include Seven Stones, Cerelia, Clos du Soleil, Eau Vivre, Robin Ridge and a top notch fruit winery called Rustic Roots.

Painted Rock is the new star of B.C., the top finisher from B.C. in the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (won this year by Tawse of Niagara).  John Skinner, with the help of a top Bordeaux viticulturalist has done a masterful job with his new vineyard on a bluff above Skaha Lake.  His just released 2009s, from an excellent vintage in B.C., are stunningly good.  The Painted Rock Red Icon 2009, is one of the best Canadian reds I have ever tasted, and his Merlot 2009 and Syrah 2009 aren’t far behind. They are represented in Ontario by Lifford Agencies .

La Stella

Le Vieux Pin and twin-owned La Stella from Osoyoos have really turned on their A-game as well in the last two or three vintages.  Originally conceived by owner Sean Salem as a France-inspired winery Le Vieux Pin is following a natural path into Bordeaux and Rhone-inspired wines (they bade pinot ‘adieu’). The Le Vieux Pin Equinoixe Syrah 2009 is absolutely exquisite, not a term I would use easily for B.C’s often rough and tumble reds.  The not-yet-released Retouche Cabernet Syrah 2009 is a great beacon for a blend that B.C. needs to be taking very seriously.  Meanwhile, La Stella Fortissimo 2009 is a spirited tribute to Tuscany, with sangiovese blended with merlot and cabernet to take this wine into an engaging old world direction. Le Vieux Pin and La Stella are represented in Ontario by

Meyer Family Vineyards, based on 19 acres spread farther north in Okanagan Falls, Naramata and Kelowna has turned its sites on small lots of Burgundy-focused pinot noir and chardonnay. Canadian winemaker Chris Carson spent eight years in New Zealand, Burgundy and with Calera in California, before returning to this project.  The results are very impressive indeed. Meyer Family Pinot Noir Reimer Vineyard 2010 is a knock out, a modern B.C. classic. Meyer Family is also represented in Ontario by Terroir Wines and Spirits.

Haywire is perhaps the hippest new label in the Okanagan – a virtual label made at a new rental facility called the Okanagan Crush Pad.  The deep talent pool includes local hero Michael Bartier (ex-Road 13), former B.C. liquor board fine wine buyer David Scholefield, and Italian consultant Alberto Antonini. Haywire Pinot Noir 2010 is a fine effort that captures the essential vibrancy and sour red fruit of B.C. pinot. Famous Vancouver chef Rob Feenie selected it to match to his silver medal winning dish at the Canadian Culinary Championships.  Both labels are represented in Ontario by Trialto Wine Group .

Moon Curser is a funky new label from Osoyoos, very near the U.S. border. It has adopted a rather goofy ‘smuggling-under-the-cover-of-darkness’ motif in its marketing, but the wines are very good. I was impressed by a blend called Border Vines 2009 that incorporates six Bordeaux varieties.  It is available in Ontario via Terroir Wines and Spirits, but is sold out at the winery. Unfortunately Ontario won’t see any  Tempranillo 2009, a very promising, sold out, experiment with Spain’s signature grape.

Ex Nihilo – which means ‘out of nothing’- was founded by art and music aficionados Jeff and Decoa Harder, on the Lake County Scenic Sip Trail north of Kelowna (near Gray Monk). Their most public claim to fame was creating an icewine for the Rolling Stones, and riesling twice honoured at the Riesling de Monde in Europe. I was impressed by the reds sourced from a new estate-owned vineyard south near Okanagan Falls, and I draw your attention to Ex Nihilo Merlot 2008 in particular.

The list of interesting new wineries goes on and on. Terroir Wines and Spirits focuses exclusively on B.C. and you will find new WineAlign reviews from their portfolio when you search by Stoneboat, Desert Sage, Four Aces, Mt Boucherie and Lulu Island.  In Kelowna I also tasted the exciting portfolio of Spierhead by famous Okanagan photographer Brian Sprout, which will be posted to WineAlign soon.

Next week I return to B.C. for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, where I may uncover even more.  Meanwhile check out the  following fine B.C. reds now at Vintages, the very good  Mission-Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009, the spicy Township 7 Syrah 2007, the well-structured Nkmip Qwam Qwmt Meritage 2008 and the iconic Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007 (yes the 2008 is now arriving and I will taste it shortly).

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008