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Announcing WineAlign National Wine Awards Winery of the Year

Four-Peat Sake! Tawse Winery of Niagara Does it Again
By David Lawrason

Winery owner Moray Tawse and winemaker Paul Pender have harvested Winery of the Year honours at Canada’s largest wine competition again this year, the fourth time since 2010. Tawse Winery is on a roll, with five gold medals in this year’s showdown, plus eight silver and eight bronze medals.

Tawse Winery

The National Wine Awards Winery of the Year identifies consistency of quality across a portfolio of wines, and the numbers tell the story.

Five gold medals, scoring 90 points or better over multiple rounds of judging, were squarely focused on pinot noir and riesling from Tawse’s organically farmed Niagara Escarpment vineyards in the Vinemount Ridge and Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellations of Niagara. The top scoring Tintern Road 2013 Pinot Noir is new to their ever-expanding universe, but good luck trying to find a bottle as it also shone at the Ontario Wine Awards earlier this year. The most widely available gold medalist is Tawse 2014 Sketches Riesling, currently at LCBO VINTAGES stores.

“The announcement of the winners of Canada’s most complete and in-depth wine competition is always greatly anticipated by everyone in our winery” said Moray Tawse. “It is the final summation of all the efforts we put into farming our vineyards, the exacting work in the cellars and the expression of the uniqueness of our terroirs”.

moray-tawse

Moray Tawse – Proprietor

The 16th annual WineAlign National Wine Awards were held this year at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre in the heart of the Okanagan Valley in late June. Over 1,500 wines were tasted blind (producer, origin, price hidden) by 21 wine critics and educators from seven provinces, plus guest judges Dr. Jamie Goode of the U.K. and Elaine Chukan Brown from California. There were 16 platinum medals awarded (outstanding), 103 golds (excellent) and many, many more silver and bronze medals all identifying ‘very good’ wines.

The runner-up for Best Winery, and winner of the award for Best Performance by a Small Winery (less than 10,000 case annual production) was Lake Breeze Winery, located on the Naramata Bench of British Columbia’s  Okanagan Valley. Co-Chief judge Anthony Gismondi profiles Lake Breeze here.

Each year the results are tallied to seek out the wineries consistently making the best wines. The top five scoring wines from each winery are assigned a ‘performance score’ weighted by medal ‘worth’.  As well as determining the top winery by this method, WineAlign has published a list of the top 25 wineries of the 230 entered in the competition. This is hallowed territory and rankings in the top ten went 50-50 to British Columbia and Ontario wineries.

paul-pender

Paul Pender – Director of Viticulture and Winemaking

Tawse Director of Viticulture and Winemaking Paul Pender, who was in the first graduating class of Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture, has been at Tawse since 2005. “It is such an honour to receive this most prestigious award” he said. “Our continued success is a testament to our dedicated vineyard and winemaking team. I feel so fortunate to work with such a talented and dynamic group of people.”

Tawse Winery was launched in 2002, with the vision of creating top quality Niagara wines, farmed organically and biodynamically. Owner Moray Tawse had been a long-time fan of wines from Burgundy, and from the outset consulted with viticulturists and winemakers from France and Canada who shared the same passion. Mr. Tawse now owns vineyards in Burgundy as well, and recently opened Redstone Winery and restaurant in Niagara.

The original Tawse wines were made primarily from old chardonnay and riesling vineyards he purchased on Cherry Avenue, which forms the boundary of the Twenty Mile Bench and Beamsville Bench appellations. Through acquisition of adjacent escarpment sites, then others farther afield on the Niagara escarpment, the Tawse portfolio has expanded rapidly in the intervening years. No one in Ontario is bottling as many site-specific wines as Tawse, giving voice to the diversity of the landscape across many styles of wine.

Tawse Winery Tintern Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013Tawse Winery Carly's Block Riesling 2014Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2013Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2014Tawse Winery Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2014

And no else in Ontario, apparently, has been able to bring such a consistently high level of quality to as many labels. Tawse is an encyclopedia on Niagara wine, terroir and its evolution, and bravely forging the path for the future.

Congratulations to Tawse Winery and all the winning wines in this year’s Nationals.

Announcing the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year

Canada’s Top Wineries

Top 25 Wineries in Canada

Top 10 BC Wineries

Top 10 Ontario Wineries

Top 10 Best Performing Small Wineries

Results Summary Page

 


Sponsors

We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors: Post Hotel and Spa Lake Louise for the glassware used throughout the judging, and Container World for shipping and logistics. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

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Announcing the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year

Lake Breeze, Where Small is Beautiful
By Anthony Gismondi

Lake BreezeThis year’s National Wine Awards was the most inclusive yet, with 230 wineries entering over 1,500 wines from across the country. The numbers only make the achievement of Lake Breeze as Canada’s 2016 Best Performing Small Winery of Year all that more impressive. It’s been more than two decades since Lake Breeze founders, Swiss natives Paul and Vereena Moser, first opened the winery doors along the scenic Naramata Bench back in 1995. And believe it or not, winemaker/president Garron Elmes has made the wine for all 22 vintages, working through four different sets of owners since.

The laid-back Elmes, who spends his spare time sailing Okanagan Lake, arrived fresh out of Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch. “If you think the Penticton airport is small you should have seen it back in 1995 when I got off that plane” he recounts. In one of those inexplicable twists of fate, the aspiring winemaker’s stepfather was in the tool business in South Africa, as was Paul Moser, and well, one thing led to another and the young South African found himself on the Naramata Bench long before most British Columbians could find it on a map.

“The original plan was to stay for three or four years but when you look around the world there are worse places to live,” Elmes says. Twenty-two vintages later he is still in charge of the cellars and it would appear the low-key, talented South African is the match for current owners Barbara and Drew MacIntyre. The Calgary power couple have been around fifteen years now, nurturing more than meddling, and giving Elmes the tools he needs to make better and better wine.

Now that their kids are teenagers the MacIntyres will spend more time in Naramata and slowly deepen their involvement in the wine business. Just last week they launched two new wines under a new MacIntyre label: MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Astra Chardonnay 2014 and MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Ardua Merlot 2014. Astra and Ardua represent another level to come from Lake Breeze and reflect the MacIntyre’s interest in raising the game even further on the Naramata Bench.

Garron Elmes - Lake Breeze winemaker

Garron Elmes – Lake Breeze winemaker

Pinot Blanc is the unofficial winery flagship wine. According to Elmes, “It is what they make the most of and sell the most of” in the Okanagan Valley. “With our cooler climate, we get higher natural acidities and some great fruit flavours out of it,” he says. “It is kind of an underrated grape, but we love it. We hung our hat on it from the start in 1995. I describe it as a fruit salad with all sorts of fruit: a bit of tropical, a bit of citrus, good crisp acidity and so versatile, it goes with so many foods.”

Lake Breeze only farms 0.2 hectares of land but Elmes works with a cadre of growers all along the bench to supply him with top-class fruit. As it happens the judges were agog over the Lake Breeze 2014 Semillon, ranking it a top scoring Platinum medal. Elmes and his team also took home gold medals for the Lake Breeze 2012 Winemaker’s Series Riesling; the Lake Breeze 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the Lake Breeze 2015 The Spice Jar White Blend. All have a cool-climate undercurrent that reflects the winery’s prime position, mid-Valley, overlooking the lake.

Lake Breeze Semillon 2014Lake Breeze 2012 Winemaker's Series RieslingLake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Lake Breeze Winemaker Series The Spice Jar 2015

If Lake Breeze has a weakness, you might suggest they make too many wines, but when you are the number two winery in the country, number one in British Columbia, and Canada’s Small Winery of the Year for 2016, you can do what ever you want.

If you haven’t visited the winery, do so. In fact, lunch at The Patio is highly recommended and the place to experience the wines of Lake Breeze, not to mention the refreshing breezes off the lake.

Congratulations to Lake Breeze and all the winning wines in this year’s Nationals.

Announcing the Winery of the Year

Canada’s Top Wineries

Top 25 Wineries in Canada

Top 10 BC Wineries

Top 10 Ontario Wineries

Top 10 Best Performing Small Wineries

Results Summary


Sponsors

We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors: Post Hotel and Spa Lake Louise for the glassware used throughout the judging, and Container World for shipping and logistics. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

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Announcing the Results of the 2016 National Wine Awards

Platinum & Gold Medals Shine the Light on Canada’s Strengths

Anthony & David

Anthony Gismondi & David Lawrason, Head Judges

There was a dazzling array of top quality Canadian wines at this year’s 16th WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada with over 1,500 entries from 230 wineries in six provinces. There were 16 coveted Platinum medals spread over 14 wineries, and seven different wine categories.

East Kelowna’s Spierhead Winery took two Platinums for a pair of outstanding pinot noirs, while Road 13 Winery from Oliver took two Platinums for syrah-based wines. Chardonnay was the most awarded Platinum category with five shiny medals (four from Ontario), while syrah and syrah-based came a close second with four (all from British Columbia). Platinum medals also went to a riesling, a riesling icewine, a semillon, a red blend and a crème de cassis wine. Platinum medals represent the top 1% of wines entered, achieving an average score of 91 points or better.

Close behind among the 103 Gold Medals (reaching an average score of 90 points or higher) the range of wines widened to include most categories, but it is clear that chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, riesling and sparkling wines are emerging as Canada’s most consistently awarded wine styles.

The excitement generated among the judges in the tasting room by these types of wine ran high this year. We were all noticing a real bump in quality. The wines were all served blind (producer, origin, and price were not revealed) but identified and organized into flights by grape variety or style. The top medalists were tasted in multiple rounds by several different judges.

The full results by medal, and by category, are published on WineAlign, Canada’s largest wine review and editorial website.

Results from the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada

The location for the Nationals alternates between east and west each year. This year the judging was held in June at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre in the heart of the Okanagan Valley. It attracted over 1,500 entries from 230 wineries in six provinces. British Columbia had the highest representation with 143 wineries entered, Ontario came second with 65, followed by Quebec 13, Nova Scotia 6, New Brunswick 4, and Prince Edward Island 1. This generally reflects the distribution of wineries in Canada.

There were 66 new wineries entered this year, 36 from BC, where the growth of new wineries is most rapid, and 16 from Ontario.

The highly anticipated awards for Winery of the Year, Best Performing Small Winery of the Year, and the list of the nation’s Top 25 Wineries will be announced July 28.

The wines were judged over five days by 21 judges from seven provinces. The judges are all well-established wine writers and educators with broad international wine experience. There were also two international guest judges – Dr. Jamie Goode from the United Kingdom, and Elaine Chukan Brown from California.

Results from the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada

The Awards were designed and managed by Chief Judge Anthony Gismondi of Vancouver, and operated by staff of WineAlign with the assistance of dozens of volunteers who poured approximately 8,000 glasses of wine, all to exact temperature.

The announcement of the NWAC results comes at a historic time for Canadian wine, with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec signing an agreement on July 23 to allow their citizens to directly import any wines from the other provinces. BC has been allowing this since 2012. Ontario has – just today – introduced this capability as part of an e-commerce website being launched by the LCBO. Quebec will soon announce how it plans to handle direct sales of Canadian wine, and other provinces are being invited to join the movement.

In any event, it means that more Canadians will have better and more rapid access to the medal-winning wines of the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Winery of the Year

Best Performing Small Winery of the Year

Canada’s Top Wineries

Top 25 Wineries in Canada

Top 10 BC Wineries

Top 10 Ontario Wineries

Top 10 Best Performing Small Wineries

Results Summary Page


Sponsors

We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors: Post Hotel and Spa Lake Louise for the glassware used throughout the judging, and Container World for shipping and logistics. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

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Canada Thinks Pink, Drinks Pink

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring at The Nationals

Treve Ring judging at the 2016 Nationals

No matter what shade, it’s pretty obvious that more folks are thinking pink.

And with fresh results from the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada held in Penticton, BC last month, Canadian winemakers are stepping up with terrific offerings. The full medal results of the Awards will be revealed Tuesday, July 26 – with Winery and Small Winery of the Year being announced July 28. But we thought we would tease you with ten of the top rosés (in alphabetical order) from this year’s competition. So get out there and a grab a few.

Worldwide, rosé sales are skyrocketing as drinkers embrace these fresh, food-friendly and approachable wines. The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) and the Provence Wine Council (CIVP) released a detailed study on rosé sales and production worldwide in 2015, showing rosé represents 9.6% of global table wine production.

While the world rosé wine consumption has increased 20% from 2002-2014, Canada was up 120% in consumption during that same period. When we keener Canucks like something, we really like it. The same study shows that Canadian pink drinkers were pretty evenly split between men and women.

DZIVER-160625-_V0A1103

Why all the rosé coloured glasses? More about refreshing than refinement, the accessibility and friendliness of rosé, especially dry rosé, has made it an easy choice. Rosés really are the best of both wine worlds, especially when it comes to pairing. Wine industry faves, the versatility of these wines is a huge part of their appeal. You have the freshness, acidity and best food-friendliness of white wines, with the structure, berry fruit, tannins and best food-friendliness of red wines. The majority of rosé wines are priced affordably, even for premium and large format bottles, comparatively speaking. Have you ever rocked up to a party with a magnum of rosé? Trust me – you’ll be the most popular person there.

It’s no surprise that France is the world leader in the production of rosé, with approximately 141 million bottles of AOP Rosé annually. Provence represents 35% of the French production of rosé and 5.6% of the world production of rosé wines. Provence is also the only region in the world that specializes in rosé, with almost 90% of total wine production. Even still, there are pink wines from every corner of the globe at your local liquor store, from Spain and Italy to Chile and Argentina, and California to South Africa – and beyond.

Thankfully Canadian winemakers have paid attention. After a simple, sweet and confected start, producers are embracing dry, finessed and grown up rosés. We tasted 90 still rosés at the Nationals this year; the majority were dry or veering in that direction, with off-dry examples deftly balanced out with a vein of acidity. The wines below, almost all from BC, made it to the final round of deliberation and tasting. While colours ranged from near clear to deep pink, and residual sugar varied from bone dry to double digits, they all carried a steady bead of refreshing acidity and a thirst for food-pairing. And really, isn’t that what wine is for? Think pink, drink pink.

Bench 1775 2015 Glow, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Bench 1775 Winery Glow 2015

CedarCreek 2015 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

CedarCreek Rosé Pinot Noir 2015

Haywire 2015 Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rosé 2015

Henry of Pelham 2015 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Henry Of Pelham Rose 2015

Niche 2015 Pinot Noir Blanc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Niche Wine Company Pinot Noir Blanc 2015

Quails’ Gate 2015 Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Quails' Gate Rosé 2015

Red Rooster Winery 2015 Reserve Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Red Rooster Winery Reserve Rosé 2015

Salt Spring Vineyards 2014 Rosé, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

Salt Spring Vineyards Rosé 2014

Seven Directions Wine 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé Canyonview Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Seven Directions Wine Pinot Noir Rosé Canyonview Vineyard 2015

Sperling 2014 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Sperling Vin Gris Of Pinot Noir 2014

 

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!


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 9, 2016

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration Preview, & Killer, Almost-Chardo Whites
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s July, which means it’s that time again for some of the world’s top chardonnay producers to join their counterparts in Canada for the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara, July 22-24. Since 2011, over 174 wineries from planet wine have poured their coolest chardonnays in Ontario, and this year, the 6th edition, another 30 visiting vintners will show their wares alongside 30 Ontario oenologues, well over 100 wines altogether, with many extra-curricular options. The program this year is as jam-packed as a winery tasting room on a long summer weekend, full of fun, covertly educational events, including the main event, the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner on Saturday night. See the schedule and get your tickets. I’ll see you there.

The LCBO joins the celebration with an i4c preview for the July 9th VINTAGES release. By design or diplomatic faux pas, the Ontario selections largely outshine the foreign ones, all from the watershed 2013 vintage, arguably the best yet for Ontario chardonnay. Read on for the best of the lot in the release, plus a few others great chardonnays I’ve swallowed lately. And for those of you who love chardonnay, but would enjoy a little dalliance, I’ve got three irresistible whites, which in a dark glass at the end of the night could pass for a delicious chardo, with an exotic twist.

Chardonnay: You Are The One

It’s never the special bottlings or experimental lots that define a wine region, no matter how impressive they are. It’s the baseline and the top end, and everything in between, which proclaim a region’s signature grape status. What’s the most consistent and reliable variety, at all price points, capable of displaying a range of styles yet still regionally recognizable?

By these criteria, Ontario has a clear champion: chardonnay. Riesling, it’s true, performs superbly and dependably well, and easily anchors the best value category. But it hits a glass ceiling of price and, more contentiously, quality. I know of no Ontario riesling that sells over $40, which would be hard to justify in any case in my view, and most are under $20, right where they should be, with notable exceptions.

Chardonnay, on the other hand, while weaker at the bottom end, can nonetheless peak interest under $20, and ramp up all the way to $50-$60+ with plenty of points of interest along the way. And at the ultra-premium end, the top wines handily equal, and often best, similarly priced wines from around the world. It’s rare that a young wine region hit upon a signature variety within the first generation, but with barely forty years of serious commercial winegrowing, Ontario has found a successful vector with chardonnay.

“We focus so much on Chardonnay as we believe it’s the first white grape of Ontario in terms of consistency, quality, and also its expression of terroir”, declares Daniel Speck of Henry of Pelham, one of the original Niagara wineries, echoing the sentiments of many others. You can bet that if I were planting a vineyard in Ontario, there would be a healthy percentage of chardonnay in the mix. As further evidence, last week at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada judging in Penticton, BC, there were no fewer than three flights of chardonnay, the largest group, along with pinot noir, that made it to the final rounds. This clearly shows that the bulk of entries was very strong (including wines from elsewhere in Canada, but many from Ontario) – it was a sheer pleasure to taste through them all. But it was also bloody tough to pick a top wine. (You and I will have to wait a few more weeks to discover the overall top wines.)

NWAC16 Chardonnay_SZ

And The Original

In a move of supreme foresight, or sheer luck, chardonnay was the first vinifera planted in Ontario in the late 1950s by Bill Lenko. The local Horticultural Research Institute had cautioned Lenko that European grapes wouldn’t survive; how fortunate that he defied those warnings. Today, chardonnay is the most important grape by number of varietal bottlings in the province. It’s also the protagonist of Ontario’s biggest and most important event, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or colloquially “i4c”. Ontario vintners are proud to put their wares on display alongside chardonnays from all of the world’s coolest regions.

Summer School at i4c

So, if you’re still not convinced spend some time over the i4c weekend getting to know the top drops in your backyard. And for the particularly keen, take some summer school courses. I’m chuffed to be back as moderator for the weekend opening “Summer School of Cool” day of seminars on Friday, July 22nd. This year’s three riveting topics are Harvest Timing and Implications – for me the most important decision a winemaker makes every year, which dramatically impacts what’s in the glass. It’s a move you can never take a mulligan on. As the great Chablis producer Bernard Raveneau once told me, “twenty years ago only the most audacious producers had the courage to wait and harvest late. Now, only the courageous harvest early”. It’s a make or break call.

The second seminar explores the age-worthiness of Cool Climate Chardonnay, and the factors that most directly affect it, an FAQ if I ever heard one (plus we’ll be tasting some tidy old vintages – always a treat). And lastly, we’ll get into a deep topic of increasing relevance and bring it out of the winemaking shadows: Skins & Stems: Whole Cluster Winemaking (or Not): Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I know I know, it sounds geeky. But considering the increasing prominence of whites made with skin contact, it will be stimulating to examine chardonnay under this light. And as a first, red wine – in this case pinot noir – has been allowed into the celebration, opening the door to a discussion on the use of stems during vinification. If you’ve ever wondered why this pinot is more deeply coloured and exuberantly fruity, while that one is pale, floral, spicy and earthy, you may want to check this tasting out.

In the meantime, warm up your chardonnay palate with the following excellent examples.

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Buyers’ Guide: Cool Chardonnay

Jay Johnson must have been possessed. Or maybe he reached enlightenment, or solved the mystery of the universe. Whatever happened, it conspired to make the Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($24.95) the best yet from this chardonnay-pinot specialist. It hits pitch perfect balance between fruit and wood, acids and alcohol-richness, while offering a fine array of still youthful citrus and pear/apple/orchard fruit. This is a head-turning wine.

Another ‘best yet’ in 2013 comes from Pearl Morissette and the 2013 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($38.20). It’s the most ‘chardonnay-like’ chardonnay to emerge from the Pearl Morissette cellar to date, fermented in assorted, mostly old oak casks, then left unmolested without racking until bottling save for a partial short passage in Georgian clay qvevri which, according to Morissette, snapped the wine back into shape after a period of ‘laziness’. It really excels on the palate – this is all about the texture, unctuous and luscious – and palpable salinity that acts like the fulcrum in tandem with acids to rein in and balance the billowing, lightly oxidative orchard fruit. You’ll get a good ways through War and Peace before the finish dissipates.

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013 Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2014 Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013

The Speck boys found a terrific groove in 2013 as well, offering us the conspicuously excellent Henry of Pelham 2013 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, VQA Short Hills Bench ($29.95). It’s delightful to see this top tier wine from Henry of Pelham crafted with such restraint and delicacy – I suppose it’s the confidence that comes with 30 years in the business that you can let your old vines and vineyard speak more loudly than your barrel supplier or winemaking savvy. This is a wine of genuine presence and depth.

Also at the top of their game, Hidden Bench’s 2013 Estate Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($28.75), is another Niagara classic with every bit the complexity, flavour, savouriness and seamlessly integrated wood of the best. And this is just the ‘entry level’, a blend of HB’s three estate vineyards designed for earlier enjoyment. But it delivers marvellous density and intensity on a lithe and vibrant frame. And it’s a steal for the price. Buy a few bottles to enjoy while you’re waiting for the trippy 2013 Felseck vineyard chardonnay to be released later this year.

And lest our guests feel slighted, here’s the top value non-Canadian selection from the July 9th release: Tabalí 2013 Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($18.95). The Limarì valley and its high active limestone and cool coastal influence is in my view Chile’s most suitable chardonnay region, at least of those in commercial exploitation. This is a complex, well-balanced wine to be sure, but what excites me most is the palpable saltiness, the crunchy acids, the well-integrated oak (9 months in barrel), and the lingering, lightly creamy finish. A fine value in premium chardonnay, at a sub-premium price.

Buyers’ Guide: Killer, Almost Chardonnay-like Whites

I’ve enthused about Soave’s Pieropan before, so you won’t be surprised to see the Pieropan La Rocca 2013 Soave Classico DOC Soave, Veneto, Italy ($37.95) on this list. It’s one of the great single vineyard wines of Soave, and indeed of Italy, from a limestone-based site that delivers an exceptionally rich and creamy wine here in 2013. The texture is absolutely gorgeous, creamy and layered, ample and mouthfilling, while crackling acids aided by palpable saltiness reel in the richness and retain balance. Best 2016-2025.

Admittedly I find the wines of Paso Roble in California’s Central Coast area often overblown, but one of the mighty exceptions is the great estate of Tablas Creek, a joint venture between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, and American importer Robert Haas. The 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California ($33.95) is a superb white blend of viognier, grenache blanc, marsanne and roussanne, inspired of course by the Rhône, and grown from cuttings brought directly from Beauscatel. The vineyards sit on the west side of Paso on cooler, limestone soils, which, coupled with the old world winemaking philosophy, result in exceptionally well balanced wine, ripe and rich but equally fresh, with neither excess nor deficiency of any elements. The creamy, orange peel-laced finish lingers on and on. Very classy and collected; best 2016-2024.

Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2013 Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Palacios Remondo Plácet 2012

Palacios and quality are virtual synonyms, so don’t miss the Palacios Remondo 2012 Placet Valtomelloso, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($29.95), a pure viura grown at nearly 600m one of the highest vineyards in Rioja, just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It can be considered a more modern style, which is to say absent the obvious oxidative and coconut/sandalwood flavours of long American oak-aged, traditional examples, but it has an impressive range of flavours of its own. I like the gently creamy but balanced palate and the long finish, all white flowers and soft fruit. Really lovely; best 2016 2022.

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All July 9th Reviews

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That’s all for this week. Happy Canada Day!

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John Szabo MS

 


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Jun 25, 2016

Canada’s Day is coming
by John Szabo, MS with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

WineAlign critics and invited judges are currently sifting through over 1500 entries at the annual WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, BC, a record number. This will be the most comprehensive look at Canadian wine ever held to date, and I know we are all keen to get the latest reading on our growing industry, and uncover the very best. Stay tuned for complete results in the coming weeks.

We are also aware that Canadian wine is gaining significant traction internationally. Listings are more and more common in top US wine bars, while in the UK, the number of wineries with distribution has grown from two or three a half decade ago to nearly a dozen and a half wineries, and growing. Cracking hyper-competitive markets like London and New York is a massive coup, and confidence builder, to be sure.

But before you say that it’s terribly Canadian for vintners to need outside validation in order to feel secure about the quality of their wines, I can tell you that the sentiment is hardly uniquely Canadian. Everywhere I travel, even in the most well-established, historic wine regions, producers are desperately seeking recognition and validation of their work. It’s inherent in the nature of anyone making a non-essential, luxury, hedonistic good. So, Canadian winemakers, don’t feel insecure about being insecure. You’re not alone. And be proud of the massive strides you’ve taken in a short period of time.

For more news, read Dr. Jamie Goode’s recent WineAlign article on the tasting held at Canada House in London last month, in which Emma Finn of the Canadian High Commission reported that ‘You can tell by the buzz in the air and the record number of guests at this Canada House tasting that it’s an exciting time for Canadian producers.’ Yes it is.

Canada House - photo by Janet Dorosynski

Celebration-worthy Ontario Wines

So, to celebrate Canada’s birthday this year, as well as the terrific rise in quality engineered in a single generation, here are some premium local wines for the occasion.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine BrutBubbly is a logical point of departure, and while competition has stiffened considerably in the last decade, nobody has been doing it for longer or better than Henry of Pelham, since 1999. The standard Cuvée Catherine is a reference bottling for Ontario sparkling, but step up to the top-of-the-line Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs, VQA Short Hills Bench ($44.95). Since the introduction of this premium, pure chardonnay cuvée in 2008, it has been in the very top echelon, made from the best 30 year-old estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench where heavier clay naturally restricts yield and berry size. Part of the finest free-run juice is fermented in old 500l barrels before secondary bottle fermentation and aging about 54 months en tirage. The 2010 vintage finds a very elegant expression, building layers of citrus and green apple fruit, delicate brioche and puff pastry-yeasty notes, on a firm acid frame. Concentration is evident, though this is all about finesse, delicacy and refinement.

Riesling has become a Niagara calling card, and the June 25th release features the excellent Hidden Bench 2014 Estate Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95). It’s organically-grown and classically styled, which is to say properly balanced by bright, crunchy-fresh acids that cancel out a pinch of residual sugar, resulting in an essentially dry expression. Typical pear and citrus flavours lead, with a backbeat of florality. I’d be sipping this all afternoon.

Chardonnay remains the most bottled single variety white in Ontario (300,000+ cases in 2015) and a Niagara signature (don’t miss the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this July in Niagara). So there are plenty of excellent wines to choose from, but year after year I find myself captivated by the Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95, winery). I love tasting the Tawse chardonnay range blind, and I’m comforted to have picked out the Quarry Road again from the line-up of 2012s. It may not be the most immediately appealing; indeed it’s a little more reticent at this stage than the Estate or the Robyn’s Block, and with perhaps less mid-palate flesh, but has the most crackling seam of acids, and the tightest fruit expression (very subtle, light citrus), and the greatest range of non-fruit (read: mineral) flavours that keep me coming back for more. I also love that the price has remained the lowest within the premium range.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2014Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012 Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis 2014 Stratus Red 2012

When it’s time to shift into red, consider the Pearl Morissette 2014 Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00, winery). Former sommelier-turned-Burgundy-trained-winemaker François Morissette has quietly been crafting some of Niagara’s most intriguing experimental wines, not without controversy, since 2007. But in 2013-2014 he appears to have hit full stride, having made an uncontestably cracking range across the board. This 2014 is a dead ringer for cultish Loire Valley cabernet franc (think Pierre & Catherine Breton), a wine of fully engaging floral perfume, perfectly ripe fruit, and the herbal twang beloved by cab franc drinkers. Enjoy with a slight chill for maximum effect.

Full-bodied red drinkers will revel in the Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($44.00), the premium bottling from one of Niagara’s most experienced winemakers, the indefatigable JL Groux with 35+ vintages under his belt. The 2012 is the best yet from Stratus in my view, an impressive Bordeaux style blend that would be equally at home in Tuscany with its high-toned, floral and dusty-herbal red and black fruit, thanks in part to long hang time, and long ageing in wood to develop complexity. The style is unique, and concentration, length and range of flavour are all excellent, with genuine depth and density on the palate. Decant this before serving.

Buyers’ Guide to June 25 Ontario & VINTAGES Essentials:

Wildass Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Aromatically off the charts for Niagara Peninsula Rosé, like strawberry mingling with marl. Wildass strikes ruby in 2015.
David Lawrason – I continue to find the Wildass branding rather silly, and beneath the quality of the wine and winery. This is a bright, fresh and gentle rose with complex florality, cinnamon spice and fresh currant/strawberry fruit. Some sense of sweetness, but nicely bright as well. Exotic and perfumed, with very good length.

Thirty Bench 2014 Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Available as a VINTAGES Essentials. This is a riveting riesling! It sports very lifted aromas of petrol, green pear, lime and fine balsam notes. It’s light bodied (10.8% alch), off-dry taut and juicy.  Another riesling that should age very nicely.

Wildass Rosé 2015 Thirty Bench Riesling 2014 Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2014Tawse Sketches Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Quarry Road 2014 Organic Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($23.95)
David Lawrason – From a cool site up on Vinemount Ridge, this is a slender, juicy riesling with mouth-watering acidity. Classic lime, fresh herbs, pine and green apple on the nose; the latter really following through on the palate. There is wisp of nicely balanced sweetness. A VINTAGES Essentials.

Tawse Sketches of Niagara 2013 Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Now replacing the 2012 in the VINTAGES Essentials portfolio, the is a fine, well balanced, sipping chardonnay with fresh pear, lemon, vague vanillin and spice from a short time in barrel. Very good value.

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($31.95)
Michael Godel – Paul Pender has indicated that this may be the last of the Laundry Vineyard mohicans. You could absolutely drink this now and also watch it slowly turn over 10 years time. Might it have been the last?

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2013 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, VQA Beamsville Bench ($29.95)
David Lawrason – I have tasted this VINTAGES Essentials often over the last six months, choosing it to represent Niagara pinot in the Canadian Wine Scholar course being held across Canada.  It’s still two years away from prime, with some tannic grit, but the structure is solid, the cran-cherry fruit and oak are nicely harmonized.

Norman Hardie 2014 Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($39.00)
David Lawrason – Although not from PEC where Norm Hardie is located this elegant, tart-edged pinot shows the styling and intensity making his wines famous. It’s sleek, sour, bright with lifted cran-cherry fruit, toast, smoke and some spice. A VINTAGES Essentials.

Szabo’s Smart Buys from elsewhere in the release

Domaine Bott-Geyl 2012 Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace, France ($50.95)
John Szabo – This may be more than you’re used to paying for Alsatian riesling, or riesling of any kind, but it is truly an exceptional wine. Bott-Geyl is a young organic/biodynamic producer aiming at the top level in the region, and Schoenenbourg is an exceptional riesling site, a steep south-southeast-facing vineyard on shaley-marl and dolomite soils. This shows maturity, but also amazing perfume and complexity, offering caramelized citrus and candied floral notes, honey spice and ginger. The palate is fullish and fleshy, bone dry, intensely flavoured, with memorable length and depth – a real powerhouse that demands attention and commands respect. Drink or hold another decade.

St. Urbans-Hof 2014 Old Vines Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)
John Szabo – Germany continues to turn out top value riesling, and this is a terrific old vines Mosel from Nic Weis, perfectly pitched, succulent and juicy, genuinely flavourful in the classic register. St. Urbans-Hof is also coincidentally the origin of much of Ontario’s riesling vine material, brought over to Vineland Estates in the late 1970s. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine Bott Geyl Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling 2012 St. Urbans Hof Old Vines Riesling 2014 Domaine Roux Père & Fils Bourgogne Chardonnay 2014 Parker Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2014

Domaine Roux Père & Fils 2014 Bourgogne Chardonnay AC France ($20.95)
John Szabo – The 2014 vintage in Burgundy made for more riveting wines, with less fat than the mean, but all the livelier for it. Roux’s version is nicely stony, minimally oaked, properly tight and chiselled, a classic cool climate chardonnay with an extra measure of depth and complexity all in all, and solid value at that. Best 2016-2020.

Parker Coonawarra Estate 2014 Chardonnay South Australia ($19.95)
John Szabo – John and Faye Parker established Parker Coonawarra Estate in 1985 with an ambitious plan for quality, which has not wavered since. This is a pleasantly lifted and perfumed, fresh and deftly wooded chardonnay from cool Coonawarra, with lovely acids and a fine streak of flinty reduction that runs through the long finish. For the money, this is superb wines – I love the limey flavours and acids with a touch of fresh cream.

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey Les Champs Martin 1er Cru 2012

Podere La Cappella Querciolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2011Podere La Cappella Querciolo 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)
John Szabo – Established in 1979 in the southern part of Chianti Classico by Bruno Rossini, though bottling only since 1995, La Capella is now run by daughter Natascia and quality is exceptional. Organically-farmed sangiovese is rendered in a nicely evolved, elegant, old school style, crafted with authenticity and complexity in the crosshairs. It offers lovely length and depth, not on a big frame, but rather a perfectly pitched, mid-weight, elegant frame designed for wine lovers sitting around the table. Drink or hold into the early-mid-’20s.

Domaine Michel Juillot 2012 Mercurey Les Champs Martin 1er Cru AC, Burgundy France ($45.95)
John Szabo – Based in Mercurey, Laurent Juillot is one of the regional leaders in the Côte Châlonnaise (southern Burgundy). The domaine’s parcel of Les Champs Martins was planted in 1973 with high-density, 10,000 vines/hectare, and generally yields wines for medium to long term cellaring. The 2012 is classically styled, fine red fruit and spice-scented, with no evident wood influence save for the gentle oxidation and textural development that develops best in barrel. I like the lightly stemmy-herbal character that lifts and freshens the palate; tannins are medium-fine grained, lightly dusty and grippy but sufficiently coasted by fleshy fruit, and length is excellent. All things considered, this is fine value for fans of traditional red Burgundy. Best 2018-2024.

That’s all for this week. Happy birthday, Canada.

johnszabosignature

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES June 25, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Sara’s South of France feature
All June 25 Reviews

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!


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Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin

Spenser Massie, of Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil winery was on the ground today in Bordeaux for the official opening of La Cité du Vin, a new museum based on the culture of wine. Massie was the Canadian representative for wineries from coast to coast, and the participating regional bodies. Here is a brief release from him ~ TR

Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin
May 31st, 2016

Canada’s fine wines and emerging regions were part of the excitement around the opening of La Cité du Vin today here in Bordeaux. French President Hollande, who opened this major new museum dedicated to wine and the world’s wine regions, noted that one-third of tourists who visit France come for wine and gastronomy.

©Anaka – La Cité du Vin

 

Spencer Massie, Founder of Clos du Soleil Winery in Keremeos BC, an artisan winery focused on a small production of ultra-high end fine wines, was in attendance at the Inaugural visit.

“It was fantastic for us to be invited here as an industry – based on the budding international recognition for the quality of wines coming from our country. Very honoured to be the Canadian representative, on behalf of all the wineries that participated in the vanguard of this relationship:

©Anaka – La Cité du VinBlack Hills Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Cave Spring Cellars – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Château Des Charmes – Niagara on the Lake Ontario
Clos du Soleil Winery – Similkameen Valley British Columbia
Culmina Family Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Laughing Stock Vineyards – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Legends Estates Winery – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Nk’Mip Cellars– Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Painted Rock Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Pelee Island Winery – Pelee Island Ontario
Sea Star Winery – Gulf Islands British Columbia
Summerhill Pyramid Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Unsworth Winery – Vancouver Island British Columbia
Vignoble Carone – Lanaudière Valley Quebec
Vista D’Oro Winery – Fraser Valley British Columbia

These wineries stepped up to the plate on behalf of the industry and are hopefully just the initial wineries participating, with the objective of introducing the estimated 450,000 Wine Tourism visitors expected to visit La Cité annually, to learn about Canadian Wines, appreciate them, and eventually come visit us.”

Just north of the City of Bordeaux, this impressive, architecturally significant building set adjacent to the Garonne River is stunning – and reminiscent in form of a fine wine decanter. La Cité opens to the public tomorrow.

For more information http://www.laciteduvin.com/en

 


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County in the City 2016 – Try and Buy Event with Special Offers

Join us on Thursday, April 14, at Berkeley Church in downtown Toronto for the 5th Annual County in the City, and sample some of the best wines Prince Edward County has to offer! Small-batch and family-owned wineries will sample more than 70 different wines, including many vintage and specialty wines.

County in the City

This tasting event will delight the palates of Torontonians and introduce them to some of the most enticing flavours of Prince Edward County; Ontario’s hottest growing wine region.

This is the place to taste and buy some of Canada’s top cool climate wines. Most you’ll never see outside of PEC.” – John Szabo MS

“County in the City’ is the most efficient way for city folk to slice and dice the fascinating and increasingly diverse range of Prince Edward County wines, most made in such small quantities that you will never see them at the LCBO.” – David Lawrason

Many of the County wines showcased at the event are not available at retail wine outlets in the GTA, so guests can take part in the “Try and Buy” program and have delicious County wines delivered right to their door. Mix and match bottles from different wineries and receive FREE shipping on 12 bottle orders and only $5 shipping on minimum 6 bottle orders!

County-in-the-City-Collage-2

Two Special Offers:

Buy a ticket to County in the City and receive a complimentary Thursday night ticket (June 16th) for the Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival ($20 value).  It’s the best outdoor wine beach party you’ve ever seen!

We’ve struck a great deal with Zalto to include their incredible glassware with a special Zalto ticket.

Zalto Universal Wine Glass OfferEvent Details:

Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Location: Berkeley Church – 315 Queen Street E, Toronto
Time:  5pm to 9pm

General Admission Tickets: $49 in advance (includes all wine and two food items)

Special Zalto Wine Glass Tickets: $99 in advance (includes all wine, two food items and a beautiful Zalto “Universal” wine glass (retail value of $74.95))

Door Tickets: $60.00 at the door (subject to availability)

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Confirmed wineries to date:

Broken Stone Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery 
Closson Chase
Grange of Prince Edward
Huff Estates Winery
Karlo Estates Winery
Keint-he Winery
Lighthall Vineyards
Norman Hardie Winery
Rosehall Run Winery
Sandbanks Estate Winery
Stanners Vineyard
Three Dog Winery
Trail Estate Winery
Traynor Family Vineyard

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

About Berkeley Church:

Built in 1871, The Berkeley Church has been transformed into Toronto’s most original event venue. Nowhere else will you find such a beautiful blend of traditional ambiance and modern decor. Details such as the original 17-foot stained glass windows, hard wood floors and Victorian Inspired bar makes the Berkeley Church a stunning escape from the ordinary.

Beck Taxi is Drink Inc.’s official Taxi sponsor and will have taxis ready and waiting for safe transportation.

A portion of all ticket sales from this event goes directly to the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund.

Please drink responsibly.

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 Photos courtesy of GrapeSelections.com


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Culmina: No Stone Unturned

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Many of the world’s most iconic wines have taken single word names that evoke classicism and ring with entendre. Many end with the letter “a” –  Solaia and Ornellaia from Italy for example, or Insignia from California. I am wary of such wines as often the names can portend more than the wines deliver. It is much easier to sound important than be important.

Culmina, the latest ‘single-word-ending-with-an-a-winery’ from B.C.s Okanagan Valley is indeed important to B.C. and Canadian wine! As I sat with the range recently at the WineAlign offices I kept telling myself that they were clearly in a state of grace (literally) that many from B.C. have not yet attained. There is a sense of detailing and compactness that is actually quite rare in wines so recently out of the gate.

(At the bottom of this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent Culmina tasting.)

culmina_table_crop4450_4 (1)

That may be because Culmina is not really new. The winery is new, the vineyards are new and the name is new, but the wines are truly the culmination of the careers of three men and two women with deep roots in winemaking, and who have brought not only experience, but a particular understanding of what it takes to make wine in the southern Okanagan.

The founders of Culmina are Donald and Elaine Triggs, whose surname still appears on more bottles of wine than any in Canada. After the partnership of Alan Jackson and Donald Triggs dissolved within a series of corporate acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s, Donald was left to his own devices. He could have retired as a grandfather, but instead he and Elaine launched into a new project that would bring their years of experience to bear.

Part of that experience was having overseen the launch of Osoyoos-Larose in the southern Okanagan. Osoyoos-Larose was a joint venture between Vincor (of which Donald was president at the time) and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, and from the outset it was conceived as a “one wine” house focused on a red blend of Bordeaux varieties. In other words, ‘très serieux’.

Triggs hired two Bordeaux trained specialists for that project. One was renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre, the other was winemaker Pascal Madevon. Together these men knew the soils on the bench lands overlooking the valley; knew about temperature ranges at various elevations and about air and frost drainage; and knew the vagaries and caprices of vintages in this northern latitude. Madevon, through ten years of blending, had honed his ability to create excellent wine on a consistent basis.

Both men would become instrumental in the creation of Culmina. With Sutre’s help the search for a southern Okanagan site ideal for Bordeaux varieties began in 2006, with the first section of the current property being purchased in 2007 (of which more in a moment), with higher altitude benchlands being acquired in 2009.

Much of Donald Triggs experience and skill was administrative and operational – in building, brand development and marketing – tasks which he shares now with Elaine and daughter Sara. Elaine had been very hands on when the couple purchased and farmed the Delaine Vineyard in the Niagara River sub-appellation in 1998, turning it into one of Niagara’s best vineyards for sauvignon blanc and syrah. Daughter Sara, the youngest of three children, earned her Masters in Wine Business from Adelaide University in Adelaide, Australia and brings her very wine focused business and marketing skills to the table. In fact, I have rarely seen such careful, well-timed and sustained marketing efforts in Canada

Culmina_viewnorth-6

The Vineyards

I first visited Culmina’s vineyards on the Golden Mile Bench in 2014, while in the Okanagan to judge the WineAlign National Wine Awards. I climbed into a truck with Donald and Madevon, and we stopped first near the winery at a site that once contained 12 acres of vines belonging to a previous winery (in total 44 acres were purchased, but the rest had not been planted). There were some red Bordeaux vines immediately identified as unsuitable, but also a tempting patch of chardonnay. The first tough decision Triggs had made was whether to keep them, which would give him some immediate production, or start again with his own vision. He decided to rip them out.

Culmina’s vineyards sit on the western slope of the valley with south-east-facing vineyards that capture early morning light when temperatures are cool, and are shaded when late afternoon-evening sun is hot. Their height above the valley floor was also a major draw; the Margaret Vineyard is the highest in the south Okanagan, a decidedly cool site that doesn’t qualify for the new appellation Golden Mile Bench boundary because it is above the mapped altitude line.

But knowing the basics was not enough. Triggs set up 20 temperature stations. He dug 66 pits to explore the soils of the site. He then mapped the site based on micro-climates and soil types, coming up with 45 different blocks of about 1.25 acres each. Once this information was analyzed he had a good idea of not only which grape varieties to plant but which rootstocks to use as well. No stone unturned.

That first vineyard – called Arise Bench – has similar heat-summation degree days to Bordeaux and is planted to cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, with a touch of syrah and malbec in its warmest location. Cabernet franc was also placed in the areas containing soil with high calcium content, while the merlot was planted in areas nearest to the mountain shadow to protect the variety’s delicate aromas

Back in the truck we climbed steeply to a vineyard that curved along a long terraced bench. Out at its edge there was a rocky promontory which we climbed on foot to absorb one of the most spectacular views of the south Okanagan, from Oliver in the north clear to Osoyoos in the south. Out on this rock edge Donald Triggs was actually so excited that he danced a quick jig, kicking up dusty soil.

Donald Triggs

We were on Margaret’s Bench, a cooler site with heat summation closer to Burgundy. Three white varieties – chardonnay, riesling and Austria’s grüner veltliner – were selected, with soil variations further determining the placement of each clone and rootstock combination on the Bench. Grüner veltliner was chosen for the schist-like soil areas, whereas riesling was planted on stonier soils.

Back in truck we drove across (south) to Stan’s Bench. Here again they planted riesling, and chardonnay on the cooler, higher sections, but then decided to plant late ripening varieties of petit verdot and malbec in the lower areas, with the highest number of degree days on the property. And surprisingly at the far end of this patch, on a very steep slope he showed us the most daring of his vineyard exploitations – a patch of head pruned, unirrigated vines. This too was a culmination, the crescendo in a carefully orchestrated grape-growing scheme.

The Winemaking

With the combined experience of Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon, Culmina’s winemaking is grounded in both tried and true methods and some new pieces of technology. Born in Paris, France, winemaker Pascal completed a Technician’s Degree in Viticulture and Oenology and went on to complete an Oenology National Diploma from the University of Bordeaux in 1989. He came to the Okanagan in 2002.

His philosophy revolves around two principles: gentle handling of fruit and minimal intervention of wine. All of the grapes harvested from the estate are picked by hand. They are then protected in small stacked bins so that their own weight does not cause their skins to break before they reach the winery. Upon arrival, the fruit is hand-sorted on a vibrating table so that the fruit is gently deposited into the de-stemmer. The grapes are processed in a gravity-flow designed winery, built into the side of a hill – allowing for pump-less rackings and transfers from the fermentation hall into the barrel room.

The winery’s simple design also allows for each tank to only be used once each vintage. By allowing the fermented wine to sit on the skins for up to 24 days after the fermentation is completed creates wines with softer and more approachable tannins.

Lastly, a simple basket press is also used for all pressings. Even though this kind of press is less efficient yield-wise, and is much more time consuming and manually intensive to operate, its gentle pressing ensures that stems and seeds are never pressed so hard that they crack, thereby preventing unwanted green tannins from being added into the pressed wine.

Among more high-tech processes, Culmina uses a Bucher Oscillys de-stemmer from France – the first of its kind in Canada – that allows more gentle handling during the crushing and destemming of fruit. In addition, modern, stainless steel, temperature-controlled conical red fermentation tanks were imported from France. And when a pump is required (pumping over) they use a peristaltic pump, the kind used to transfer live fish at aquariums from one tank to another.

The Wines

Full reviews by several WineAlign critics can be viewed by following the links below.

I have sat down with the range twice in the last year, and both times, as I mentioned at the outset, I was impressed by the sense of poise and layering.

The flagship of the range is a red blend called Hypothesis, based on merlot (as are many southern Okanagan reds) with cabernet sauvignon and cab franc.  It is not the most expensive of its sort in the Okanagan, but it is easily among the best, especially the 2013 to be released next year.  Three years does not quite a vertical tasting make, but the 2013 has a fine sense of fragrance and poise, whereas the currently available and quite ripe 2012 is a bit more powerful and youthfully tense at the moment. The 2011, the debut vintage from a cool year is quite refined, more subdued and showing subtle evolution. The less expensive blend called R&D Red is quite lively, complex if a bit more sinewy. And the 2014 rosé blend from the red wine shows considerable finesse and liveliness as well.

Culmina 2014 Saignée

“It has a very pretty, gentle nose of red currant jam, raspberry and fresh herbs. It’s medium weight, elegant, smooth yet nicely fresh with a dry finish.” David Lawrason

Culmina 2013 R & D Red Blend 

“Begins like elegiac poetry, with a Bordeaux sensibility and a nod to blends distinguished by site.” Michael Godel

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis 

“The palate offers an abundance of black cherry, plum and blackberry fruit along with graphite and saline. Excellent concentration with flavours that build like crescendo.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina Saignée 2014 RoséCulmina R & D Red Blend 2013Culmina Hypothesis 2012Culmina Decora 2014Culmina Dilemma 2013

Most people discussing Culmina whites leap onto the fact that Donald Triggs has planted the Austrian variety grüner veltliner – a rarity in Canada – and he has done an amazing job extracting varietal veracity.  The wine is called Unicus, and it was an immediate hit, selling out the  2013 and 2014 vintages. I am just as impressed by the bold, taut riesling called Decora, again with vineyard altitude imparting unexpected tension for South Okanagan riesling. The chardonnay, called Dilemma, is richer of course, but also based on fine acidity and minerality.

Culmina 2014 Decora

“Dynamic and age-worthy.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina 2013 Dilemma 

“I like the freshness and the balance here – acids snap and crackle on the palate, while concentration and density are genuine, weaving in some intriguing resinous-savoury-herbal character into citrus and white fleshed orchard fruit.” John Szabo, MS

The production at Culmina is relatively small, and clearly pointed to the premium end of the market – although fairly priced given the quality. So it may not be as easy to find as many in our national audience might like. But again, for a young project the family Triggs is keenly aware of the need to get their wines out to key buyers across the country. Their website provides points of contact.

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery.

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Culmina is pleased to offer complimentary shipping across Canada to WineAlign Members on purchases of 12 or more bottles.
Have the warmth of the South Okanagan shipped directly to your door just in time for the holidays. All shipments are temperature-controlled to assure the integrity of your order. Purchase by Monday December 14th to best ensure delivery by December 24th.
 
We’ve exclusively made two cases of our sold-out 2013 Dilemma (Chardonnay) to WineAlign Members from our library (maximum two bottles per order). Try a mixed-case with our 2014 Decora (Riesling), 2014 Saignée (Rosé), and flagship 2012 Hypothesis (Bordeaux-Style blend) to share with friends and family.
 
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Have any questions? Call the winery directly at (250) 498-0789.
 
To ensure access to upcoming limited production releases – such as our first single varietal red, the 2013 Merlot, and 2015 Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) – become a complimentary Member to receive your own Allocation. No commitment is required.
 
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13th Street Winery: Giving a Voice to the Vines

A WineAlign Winery Profile
Written by WineAlign

Although long known for its coveted, small-batch production, by 2007 it was high time for 13th Street to take it to the next level. This is when Doug and Karen Whitty along with friends and partners John and June Mann purchased the old winery with the full intention of stepping it up a notch. From 1500 to now 13,000 cases, finally, the lineups of cult followers are satisfied and more than just select collectors and restaurateurs can get in on the game.

Although the winery has undergone change, most notably with new winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas bringing decades of Burgundian and Niagara winemaking experience, it has been able to retain its reputation as a small, artisanal winery with a highly coveted product. The wines have been traditionally rustic in character, full of charm and intrigue and have evolved into wines that are more sophisticated and express themselves more fully.

The 13th Street vineyards are a collection of older estate vineyards plus those new to the portfolio from Whitty’s farm and subsequent new holdings. They are varied parcels in age and in aspect but provide a complete tapestry of grapes on which to draw on for the winery’s various labels and levels. It is this collection of unique vineyards sites that makes the wines of 13th Street stand apart. (Following this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent 13th Street tasting.)

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery.

13 Street Winery

This mosaic of vineyards sites is responsible for the both the complexity, concentration and age-worthy character in the wines. Some of these sites are considered historic in Niagara, such as the original 13th Street vineyards yielding estate fruit planted as far back as 1976, some of the oldest working vinifera in the province. Here, limited quantities of riesling, pinot noir and cabernet franc are selected for premium, reserve level wines.  Sandstone vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation in Niagara, planted in 1983, is managed by friends of the winery, Erv, Esther and Eric Willms and provides the fruit for the wild and unique reserve level gamay as well as chardonnay. The gamay in particular has notably contributed to the winery’s elevated profile, exposing the variety’s unique expression in Niagara. Along with producers such as Malivoire Estate and gamay’s long time champion in Niagara, Chateau des Charmes, the grape is seen as expressing unique character in our hot and cold Niagara climate. Our gamays have been subject to wide critical acclaim and have created and contributed to a significant cult following of the variety in the province. This has led to a much greater presence of gamay than ever before on more widely available commercial channels, such as the LCBO.

Jean-Pierre Colas, former winemaker at Peninsula Ridge, has leant a unique touch to the wines of 13th Street since his arrival in 2009. Striving to meet the expectations of the winery’s followers, the historic nature of the estate and improving quality while drastically increasing quantity has been the great challenge. He has been able to accomplish this task due to new facilities, but also through a singular goal – the respect for fruit, for terroir, for history and a zeal for the continued improvement of the wines of the portfolio. Jean-Pierre knows that this change cannot come about overnight and in his patient, French way, has developed a unique understanding for individual parcels and how best to facilitate the expression of the fruit in the bottle. In recent conversation with Colas, he has spilled some of his secrets and his hopes for his long apprenticeship with the unique  terroir that makes up 13th Street. Colas tends to put all of himself, full–throttle into new projects and enjoys the challenge of new situations. Always learning and experimenting, he is fully invested in understanding the vineyard and adjusting practices to specific needs of the parcel. His work extends far beyond the cellar, into the birthplace of quality wine: the vineyard.

Jean-Pierre Colas

You have a breadth of experience working in cellars both in France in Niagara and worldwide. What is unique about your experience with 13th Street?

The story itself of 13th Street is unique – a little hobby winery shared by four different individuals open only on Sunday with a few special openings during the year. It was small with a good reputation and had consumers lining up at the door. It had old vines and a very special portfolio of sparkling, gamay, riesling and a little pinot noir. A little private gem, not known by a lot of people save the sommelier community and a solid reputation with the trade. So, I arrived here and was taking over a portfolio that I was not very familiar with. Although I had made gamay for a few years in the past in Morgon when I was a student, it was a long time ago and with different conditions. Besides that, I didn’t have big experience with riesling – I had only done one or two small batches in the past. Sparkling, I had no experience at all and no specific taste for sparkling, really, nor was I a consumer of sparkling. So it was a pretty big challenge for me, similar to when I started at Peninsula Ridge and had never done rosé in my life or sauvignon blanc. I decided to do it in my own way, to work on my feelings, my base and my experience to translate that to a different varietal without having made it before. It was a big, crazy challenge.

To develop volume at the same time while maintaining the quality was my task. I try to stay on the same wavelength and quality level while maintaining public and professional recognition. Even in 2009, when I arrived, we started with 4500 cases which was already twice the volume they were doing before, always with the same kind of flagship wine: riesling, gamay, sparkling. Now I have introduced more chardonnay. With pinot noir, I try to stay with the same spirit as they were doing before – of course, I reduced the sugar on the riesling, on the sparkling and on the rosé to remain true to my own taste and feeling but we try to follow what was done before. But, we need volume to be present in the market so things are a bit different now. They have planted the new vineyards but also have still been working with old Sandstone fruit. Now, much of the production is coming from younger vineyards.

You have been well known for your work with sauvignon blanc and syrah in Niagara, in this most recent chapter, you take on chardonnay and gamay. Why are these varietals so important to you and to the region?

Riesling is renown and exhibits great behavior in Niagara, in Ontario and is a perfect fit. We have new vineyards and we have old, established vineyards that now have about 30 years of age. We have a traditional way of dealing with them. Of course, now I am working a little bit differently at managing maturity at picking, the amount of extraction and vinifying less sweet. Stewart Piggot gave us recognition for this 2012 [riesling] cuvée – he was totally crazy about it but we are basically continuing something that has already been done. We also have June’s Vineyard which is over 15 years old with very special soil. You don’t need to be a genius at winemaking to make riesling in Ontario. If you don’t screw it up, it should be ok. It is a bit more difficult to make it great but we have largely good results.

On gamay, I continue to work with the Sandstone old vines coming from Niagara on the Lake. I am still convinced that there is only one vineyard like that – it is very special, very unique. No clonal selections because it was planted from cuttings, we don’t know exactly what they are but the results are great. I think I have moved, changed the style a little bit with better control of the oak. They were not really oak people [previously at 13th Street], they were more focused on riesling and sparkling.

Harvest

I remember that one of my best bottles from Niagara was an old Sandstone gamay when I arrived here in Ontario. But, I realized that with different choice of barrels, better selection, if we did better work on it we could refine and bring this cuvée to a different level.

Gamay is a naturally good cropper and it is working very, very well in Ontario. 13th Street has a good 15 years of experience with gamay and we continue to be able to deliver quality year after year. Between Chateau des Charmes and Malivoire, the top traditional producers of gamay, producers at large have been convinced that gamay can work and that it is working. We have to work in the vineyard for sure, it is a very productive, fertile, vigorous varietal but if you do the job in the vineyard, you can deliver very good bottles. This group of three producers was there before anybody but now, what a surprise, all the other wineries want to have gamay in their portfolio, everyone wants to produce gamay. Gamay at the LCBO, at Cellier at the SAQ is now more readily found. There is a buzz about gamay this summer buzz and for the last 2-3 years. Not only is it a varietal working well in the vineyards and in the wineries but the consumers are starting to realize that we can produce gamay and we don’t have to wait for the crappy Beaujolais Nouveau every year.

What is your take on the use of oak in wine? How did you bring oak culture to 13th Street? 

You know, everyone wants to put chardonnay in oak but you have to have a special affinity with the oak barrels and have a bit of practice. Through my experience in Chablis, I have worked a lot with barrels, with different coopers, with different forest selections and I was dong lots of special tasting, calibrations with the coopers and colleagues. I have a pretty extensive knowledge of barrels, fermentation, treatments, etc.,. It has always been very interesting for me but even finding the right barrel is nothing more than finding a tool for winemaking. You have to find the right tool, the right barrel to fit with the wine you are going to make. The barrel has to be there to reveal the wine, to reveal the signature of the soil, the power of the wine and not to act as makeup. Too many people use barrels to put oak flavour in their wine.

For the Sandstone chardonnay, I have a brand new selection of barrels now after 2009 and because of the nature of the farm, the nature of the grapes, my choice of barrels will be used to bring the wine to lightness, to make it fresher, avoiding a fat and heavy feeling. To choose the right barrels, you have to understand your vineyard and your wines first. Oak shouldn’t hide the wine; it is there to help you to showcase your wine and not the reverse. 

13th Street Winery HarvestWhat do you look for in high-quality fruit at harvest? 

Firstly, the sanitary aspect – clean fruit and free of disease is the prerequisite for high-quality fruit. It is through maturity control, twice a week that you continue to see the evolution of the classic three: sugar, acid and pH, but also, the evolution of the flavour. You have to understand your vineyard, you have to understand your grapes and you have to taste your grapes.

The real key is that you have to understand your vines first and understand what wine the grapes can give you. You are going to make the wine that nature gives you; you are not going to try to re-invent something that the vines are not going to be able to give you. If you try to make a bold wine with big extraction and tannins when you have grapes at the limit of unripe then that it is a mistake. You don’t have to decide that you are going to make a wine in a certain way; instead you have to discover the real potential of the grapes. And the potential of the grapes is not what you want, the potential of the grapes is what nature and the field and the vintage gives you.

Could you describe, briefly, your sustainable production program?

The vineyard is pretty simple, we don’t have the pretention to say and to follow some kind of organic structure because I am not totally convinced – we need to be more clever than that. If you are just dogmatic, it is not going to help. We have to be more reactive. So we are not doing that [organics] but we try to be as clean and respectful as possible. I have always been convinced that you have to protect your own tool and your first tool is your vineyard. You have just to protect your vineyard, your soil to be in good shape so you have good growth and a good crop, not to saturate it with some pesticide or herbicide – you need to be efficient. We are just trying to do the smartest thing on different levels.

Blending and experimenting tends to be important to you. Can you share some of your current projects?

When I arrived, I was given a big project of creating an aromatic white blend that became “White Palette”. The blend is riesling-based and we have included a few other varietals like gewürztraminer, chardonnay musqué and pinot gris. My biggest challenge in terms of blending right now is more on the sparkling side, with work on the base wines – the pinot and the chardonnay with a little bit of gamay on the cuvée rosé. I am working with the percentages of reserve wine integration, how to work the reserve differently and even working the base wine with oak.

Experimenting for the sake of experimenting doesn’t make any sense – it is just a waste of time and money. I am still doing new experiments and am taking some risks but those risks have to be calculated and the results anticipated. Temperature, yeast, length of maceration, so many things, the kinetic of fermentation on the reds, the combination between delestage and pumpover along with experimenting on different equipment are day to day life. Now on riesling, I have clones with enough production now that I can keep them separate. New single vineyard definition based on individual clones leads to a better understanding of your farm (this side of the block is reacting differently, how are you going to work with these specifics during growing and after in the winery.)

Finally, could you share some thoughts on the 2015 vintage?

First, and you are not going to be surprised, it is a short crop. It was a cold winter and the outcome is dependent upon location as the cold hit Niagara inconsistently. Around us and going west to Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland, is one of the worst spots in Niagara this winter. We are seeing a great deal of inconsistency in the vineyards, even among one varietal in the same block, from clone to clone and from year of planting. Even riesling and gamay have been badly hurt. Adjacent areas can be as different as 25% crop loss to a full loss. We don’t really have an explanation for that at that moment. It is too early. After two years in a row of bad winters, the vines are getting weaker and weaker. If you take the example of merlot which is an area at the corner of 7th Street and the North Service road, a 15 year old vineyard – last year it was just devastated by the winter, we have no crop, nothing. But, on the vineyard that we rebuilt from the trunk, coming from the suckers that we rebuilt from 2014 winter, we will probably have 80% crop on the same block this year even if it was colder. We are going to pick the grapes and we are happy to have some but I don’t have the explanation. It is a little bit surprising.

13th Sparkling

The old vine gamay at Sandstone farm was picked this year in September – never before has it been so early. That is pretty surprising. You also have varietals that are later than usual and some that are just reacting totally differently. Mother Nature decided to do what she wanted and sometimes we cannot plan for it. It is not because this one is ready early that this one is going to be ready too.

Besides that, the grapes we do have are pretty good. It is not going to be crazy maturity but we have good flavours, good balance. There has even been a bit of botrytis due to a recent rainy weekend. If we don’t have the crop or yield this year, at least we variation and surprising quality.

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign.

Click on the links below for complete, multiple reviews by WineAlign critics for recent 13th Street Winery releases:

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013

“Nicely structured, with ripe fruit and fine tannin-acid balance. Some earthy-clay notes add depth and interest. Great depth.” – Platinum Medal winner at The Nationals

13th Street 2012 Meritage

“Rich and nicely ripened with freshness and traditional old world appeal. Clean and with notable focus, this well-structured wine shows a progressive layering of flavours showing off complexity and elegance rather than power.”

13th Street 2010 Essence Pinot Noir

“…delivers fresh, crisp, red apple, strawberry leaf, red cherry fruit, light cinnamon spice…a fine range of aromatics, and bold, densely concentrated palate.”

13th Street Gamay Noir 201313th Street Meritage 201213th Street Essence Pinot Noir 201013th Street Essence Syrah 201213th Street Essence Cabernet Franc 2011

13th Street 2012 Essence Syrah 

“Loads of freshly cracked black pepper and black fruit… This makes a good argument for syrah in Ontario, in the right places it certainly matures very well.”

13th Street 2011 Essence Cabernet Franc

“This is a quite intense yet elegant, nicely maturing cabernet franc with fine, complex aromas of forest floor, tobacco, leather and fine strawberry/raspberry fruit nicely framed by oak.”

13th Street 2007 Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noirs

“…creamy texture and outright tuber vigour and backbone…a slow-simmered chalk breathes limestone and then ginger…”

13th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut

“A lovely traditional method rosé from pinot noir and chardonnay with a maturing colour. Notes of strawberry and cherry on a palate that is clean and rather rich.”

13th Street Grande Cuvée Blanc De Noirs 200713th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut13th Street Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris 201213th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2011

13th Street 2012 Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris

“This ripe, rich pinot gris from the warmer 2012 vintage is showing some of the opulence of Alastian styles.”

13th Street 2011 Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay

“There is beautiful colour to this rich and delicately matured chardonnay. Notes yellow apple, pear, brioche and honey.”

~

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. See below for more details provided by the winery. 

More from 13th Street Winery

13th Street WineryLocated in the Creek Shores sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, 13th Street Winery is devoted to the creation of world-class wines that provide an authentic expression of our local terroir.

Our boutique winery, set among 25 acres of estate vineyards, is located just minutes west of St. Catharines and minutes from the QEW (exit at 7th Street).

Don’t have time for a visit to the winery but want to restock some of the fabulous wines you tasted on your last visit? Or perhaps you enjoyed some 13th Street wine at one of the many fine restaurants that feature our products and would like some for home?

Ordering online is easy and convenient!

13th Street Order Online

Wine Clubs

Join one of our WINE CLUBS and enjoy the convenience of having 13th Street wines automatically sent to your home or office plus many other great benefits including access to our Member’s Selection exclusive bottlings and two complimentary tickets to all our Wine & Food Seminars!

13th Street Wine Clubs

We have two different clubs to choose from:  Cellar Door Wine Club and Staff Picks Wine Club

Explore 13th Street Winery and awaken all your senses!

 


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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008