Should you stock up on the red and white wines from BC’s 2016 vintage? BC wines are known for their fruit flavours and their accompanying natural acidity. But the 2016 started very early and hot in the Spring, with bud break being the earliest on record. In the Okanagan bud break was as much as six weeks early.
Would this continue through the summer and force the grapes to be picked early without letting the grapes reach their full phenolic ripeness? No. We had a cool July so that the grapes could mature more slowly. But then came the hotter, drier weather typical of August and September. The heat in August brought on veraison in the Okanagan about two weeks early for some wineries. But it was not detrimental to the grapes’ development. The results in the Okanagan produced grapes with mature fruit flavours, lower alcohol and balanced acidity.
The same weather pattern and grape development occurred in the Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and our Emerging Regions in the Thompson and Shuswap.
What can you expect when you open a bottle of BC 2016 vintage wines? I, and other media, were invited to sample some white and rose wines from this vintage, and to listen to 4 wine makers talk about their experience with this vintage. As the red wines are still in barrel aging, we did not have a chance to try these wines, but will, I’m sure in the future. For the moment, let me tell you about the wines I did taste, and what the wine makers said.
Starting off our tasting was two sparkling wines made by wine maker, Jay Drysdale. Bella Wines is located on the Naramata Bench. Their soil is granite and alluvial loam and they are transitioning to organic practices. They grow 1.1 acres of Gamay which they use for their Bella Sparkling Rose 2016.
The Bella Sparkling Rose 2016 production is small at 259 cases. Their initial fermentation is a “feral ferment”, meaning they use the indigenous yeasts, not cultured yeasts. Always a gamble, but you can gain additional complexity. The second fermentation, which occurs in bottle, and causes the bubble, uses Champagne yeast. The sparkler spends less than 1 year on the lees, but it is still an experiment for the winery. Should it spend more time? They want to still get good fruit flavours, but also balance the acidity and sugar in the wine. The wine was a very pale pear skin colour. There was more apples and less pears on the nose for me, along with some bready lees. It was dry, with high acidity, and lighter body. Crisp red apples and pears, with some breadiness. It also finished with tart fruit, mouth-watering acidity and some pepperiness. Medium minus creamy bubbles. Flavourful from the start to finish. Very fresh flavours. Very good quality. –
Their other wine was the Bella Sparkling Ancestrale Brut 2016, a sparkling wine made using a single fermentation, rather than 2 fermentations as is traditionally done in Champagne. Only 140 cases produced. You may not have heard of Ancestrale method, but maybe Pet Nat? Pétillant-Naturel. Natural Sparkling. With Pet Nat, you ferment in barrel or tank but not till all the sugar has been consumed by the yeast. Then when the wine maker thinks it is time, the wine is bottled and the fermentation continues; making the bubbles. For Bella, the grapes are 100% Chardonnay from the Keremeos Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, fermented in neutral wood barrels using indigenous yeasts. The wine has fairly high residual sugar at 14.2 g/l, but the acidity in the wine and the creamy bubble hides the sugar, and tastes dry to me. The wine is medium bright lemon in colour. It has a very light apple nose together with a cider note. High acidity but quite creamy bubble. It is round, with medium plus body and feels creamy on your tongue. Medium intensity apple and apple cider flavours, along with a hint of woodiness. Medium length. A great wine; not super fruity, but very tasty and good quality.
Fort Berens Estate Winery
Fort Berens Estate Winery is from one of our Emerging Regions; Lillooet, BC. Founding partners, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek started the search for suitable vineyard land in 2005, and settling on Lillooet in 2009. Wine maker, Danny Hattingh, who was trained and worked in South Africa, is their wine maker, and spoke with us about their 2016 vintage. They currently have 20 acres of vines planted and plan on planting another 20 acres. They grow Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Their harvest followed a similar timing as Osoyoos, which is the hottest region in the Okanagan, but Lillooet is the hottest region in all of BC.
We tried their Dry Riesling and Pinot Gris wines. Both wines, just like all the other wines in the line up have high acidity, keeping our reputation for good acidity in the eyes of the wine world.
The Fort Berens Dry Riesling 2016 is mainly from Lillooet grapes, but due to demand for this wine, there are also some grapes from Vernon and Similkameen. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and use a variety of different yeasts to increase the aromatic complexity of the wine. Fermentation was stopped before the wine was fully dry in order to balance the taste of the wine. This wine has 4.6 g/l of residual sugar, which is still quite dry, and has acidity levels of 8 g/l. The wine is light straw coloured. Lots of lime on the nose, along with some Mandarin orange. Medium minus body, light mouth feel and medium acidity. Not quite round on the palate. Light acidic prickle on the tongue. The sugar is not too obvious. The wine has light tropical fruit and lime flavours, enhanced with a hint of minerality, and some pepperiness on the finish.
The Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2016 comes from 81% Lillooet grapes and 19% Similkameen grapes, which were co-fermented. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented with Montrachet yeast. A small portion of the grape juice was fermented in new American oak barrels. The wine is light pear skin in colour. Ripe pears, yeast and a light floral component on the nose. Fuller bodied, with pears primarily, but also some pineapple and some herbaceousness (which I was told comes from the Similkameen grapes). At the finish you get a pop of apricot flavour. Medium acidity. A complex, layered wine.
CedarCreek Estate Winery
One of the first wineries started in the Okanagan, CedarCreek is now owned by the von Mandl Family, who owns Mission Hill Family Estate. Taylor Whelan is the wine maker for Cedar Creek and noted that 2016 was the largest harvest to date for him. We had a chance to try Taylor’s Riesling and Pinot Gris.
The fruit for the CedarCreek Riesling 2016 comes mainly (90%) from their Kelowna vineyard. The grapes come from a mix of their “heritage” clone, which is a bit of a mystery to them, and also clone 21B, which is quite famous across BC and Ontario where 75% of Riesling vines in Ontario were from Herman Weis (imported from the Mosel Valley). BC also owes their Riesling 21B grape vines to Herman Weis. This Riesling is made in a German Kabinett-style, which is higher in acid, can have a floral note and minerality, and may also have a sweet component to it. This wine has 19.5% g/l of residual sugar but total acid of 9.5 g/l. The wine is pale lemon with a green tnge. Medium intensity tangerine nose, which I quite liked. It was semi-sweet, with high acidity and medium body. I did pick up some minerality, along with the flavours of orange and peach. –
CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2016 comes from grapes sourced from the length of the Okanagan Valley. It is a big sellers and this year 6798 cases were produced. This wine had a mix of pears and baked pears on the nose. Medium body, off-dry (with 8 g/l of RS), round, almost viscous in the mouth. Pears and pear skin flavours along with some pepperiness that shows up from the mid palate to the finish. This wine has texture going for it.
La Stella and Le Vieux Pin Wineries
These two wineries are sisters in the Okanagan. La Stella produces “Italian” style wines, while Le Vieux Pin produces “French” style. Assistant wine maker Jonathan McLean was here to talk us through 2 rose wines.
The La Stella La Stellina Rosato 2016 is a blend of primarily Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with a hint of Sangiovese (a tip to Italy). This wine has aromas of ripe strawberries and red cherry. It is off-dry with RS of 4.9 g/l. Medium mouth feel and acidity. It has light strawberry and cherry flavours, along with some capsicum. –
Le Vieux Pin Vaila 2016 comes from the pressed juice from Pinot Noir grapes and is 100% steel tank aged. It has a medium strawberry colour. Some smoky, dried herbs and red fruits on the nose. A complex nose. Dry, round and medium bodied. High acidity. Lighter red fruit and red cherry flavours, together with some pepperiness and tartness on the finish.
Little Farm Winery
Little Farm Winery is located in the Similkameen Valley, which is known for being cooler climate than the Okanagan, and for having a fairly consistent wind that blows through the valley. Rhys Pender MW is the owner, wine grower, and wine maker. He noted that in 2016 he was able to get an extra month of flavour development in the grapes due to the cooler summer temperatures. At their vineyard they only grow Riesling and Chardonnay grapes. Rhys noted that as of 2016 all of their wines are wild fermented. He indicated that wild ferments give more texture in their wines. Rhys provided bottles of both their Riesling and Chardonnay to try.
The Little Farm Winery Riesling 2016 is a geeky wine. The grapes did spend some time with skin contact (as other orange wine producers do with their wines), and followed the fermentation with 7 months aging on lees. I don’t think I have seen many Rieslings aged on their lees. This wine is deeper golden coloured. Very aromatic, with apple and pear cider aromas. Full bodied, higher acid, with flavours of apples, pears and apple cider. The wine is semi-round. There is tart fruit and bitterness on the finish, and maybe some chalky minerality. I noted that this is a geeky wine, in part to the fermentation and aging process, as well as the flavour profile, which makes a Riesling that is not obviously Riesling. I think that as this wine ages it should become more interesting and complex.
Little Farm Winery Chardonnay 2016 was a very good vintage. The cool summer month extended the growing season and allowed extra flavour and complexity to develop in the grapes. The grapes were fermented in old neutral barrels and aged on their lees after a wild ferment. A tiny 240 cases of this wine is produced. It is right lemon in colour. The nose is a mix of light charcoal, toasted almonds, and lemons. It is medium body, soft and silky, with medium acidity and some creaminess on the palate. It has restrained peach, nuttiness and nutmeg flavours. It has good acidity to the finish. Lovely buttery popcorn flavour at the very end. –
Overall I’d say the 2016 BC vintage is a success for the white wines. You still get the acidity in the wines that we are famous for, plus with the cooler summer, we get good fruit flavour. But what about the red wines? We should find out about the red wines later this fall or Spring next year, depending on barrel aging length. My guess is that we will have a good balance of ripe fruit and acidity, and have that enhanced with some barrel oak and vanilla notes. Enjoy the summer, when it comes in BC, together with some terrific BC white wines.