BC’s emerging wine regions is rather large and encompasses different climates and terroir. From my tour to the region, the places that I visited I think can be divided into two sub-regions: the hot west, and the cooler northeast. There is still an area to the southeast that I did not visit on this trip, so cannot comment on its characteristics. For this article, I would like to concentrate of the hot west, the wineries and their wines. I classify the west from Lillooet (250m asl, avg July temp 22 degree Celsius) to Kamloops (345m asl, avg July temp 23 degree Celsius), and a little to the east. These are desert areas, and get as hot as the south Okanagan. Oliver, in comparison, is at 310m asl with an average July temperature of 23 degree Celsius.
While we can see that temperature and elevation are very similar for these regions, what is different is the length of the growing season and the winter temperatures. Lillooet and Kamloops do have a compressed growing season, starting later and finishing sooner than the Okanagan. The winters are also harsh in these two areas. In our latest winter, 2016-17, the cold weather damaged many vitis vinifera vines. One way to try to prevent winter damage to the vines is to bury the canes which is very labour intensive, while another approach is to plant winter-hardy vines, which is what Monte Creek Ranch has done. University of Minnesota’s winter-hardy Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and La Crescent are planted by Monte Creek Ranch. There is also the hardy red grape Maréchal Foch, developed in Alsace, France. “Foch”, as it is commonly known, can be found across BC.
Many people do not recognize these hybrid grape varieties yet, and tend to drink what they know. Fort Berens, Privato, Harper’s Trail, and Monte Creek Ranch, do grow vitis vinifera, cooler climate varieties, as these have shown to be able to get enough growing degree days to ripen. In this region you can find Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, and Cabernet Franc. From this trip, and my ongoing tasting of wines from this region, I can say that these grapes are good choices, as they have produced very good quality, flavourful wines.
I took tasting notes during this trip, but not to the same degree as I do from home. Some of our tastings were outside, with a hot wind blowing on us, while others were inside a climate controlled tasting room. Let me tell you a little bit about each of these wineries and their wines.
Fort Berens Estate Winery
Meeting with Rolf and Heleen de Bruin, on their tasting room patio, we felt the dry, hot air of Lillooet upon us. As we sipped on our glass of Pinot Gris, they told us of the history bringing them to Lillooet from the Netherlands, the climate, and soil of their vineyards. They noted that they have similar growing conditions to Oliver, in the south Okanagan. The soils are fluvio-glacial, coming from receding lakes that formed benches some 10-15,000 years ago. Some of the soil comes from blown beach sand, while river rock sections are higher up in their vineyard. They also have some loamy spots, and slate on the north end. Quite an assemblage, which I think gives them a chance to try the same grape variety on different soils to see which grape characteristics come forth. They do have a new area to the north to plant grapes, with Cabernet Franc and Merlot next year, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Gruner Veltliner in subsequent years. They produce 10,000 cases and plan to bring production up to 12,000 cases.
Rolf and Heleen moved here in 2009 to grow grapes and produce wine. 150 years before in 1859 onward the gold rush was on and many gold seekers came to BC. The Hudson’s Bay Company built a fort on the land now owned by Rolf and Heleen to trade with gold miners. That fort was called Fort Berens. Rolf and Heleen feel like pioneers, much like the gold rush miners, as they are the first to grow grapes and produce wine in the area, so Fort Berens seemed like an appropriate name for their winery. They took time to grow their winery. In 2013 decided to build a tasting room. It was finished in 2014, and then they opened their kitchen in 2015.
- Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2016 very fruity stone fruit and vibrant acidity.
- Fort Berens Chardonnay 2016 ripe pears and vanilla. Light oak. Good acidity.
- Fort Berens Dry Riesling 2016 floral Gewurztraminer-like nose. Med acid; Gewurztraminer flavours and sweet spice. .
- Fort Berens Meritage 2014 a red blend, with spicy cassis and oak nose. Full body, higher acid really peppery. Full cassis fruit flavour. Some wild, animal component.
- Fort Berens Late Harvest Riesling 2016. Ripe apricots on nose and palate. Semi sweet. Medium acid. Nice.
Privato Vineyard & Winery
Kamloops is on the fringe of desert that stretches south into the USA. Kamloops is in what is known as the Thompson Valley. Privato is in the north end of the Thompson valley and the hill above their property is the start of trees and end of the desert and as such is about 5 degrees cooler than Kamloops. John and Debbie Woodward have been growing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay grapes for 7 years on their property, but have lived there for 30 years. They grew ginseng for 10 years and still grow conifers for Christmas trees. The 2016-17 winter was very harsh for Privato, with 70% of their Pinot Noir vines damaged.
They do purchase some grapes from The Rise Vineyard, which is in Lake Country. They offered for us to try a 2016 barrel sample from their Rise Vineyard Pinot Noir to compare to their Estate vineyard Pinot Noir. All these wines were tasted inside, so a more controlled tasting. I’ve tasted their wines in the past and they produce premium Pinot Noir.
Privato Vineyard & Winery The Rise Pinot Noir 2016. Nice raspberries and spice and vanilla nose. More on palate. Finished with red cherries. Med body and acid. Dry. Long length. Fine tannins.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2016. Light nose. More floral and red cherry. Soft, dry, firmer tannins. Med acid. More floral, sour red cherries and spice on palate.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Pinot Gris 2016. Very light pears and vanilla. Light bodied , dry, semi round. Tart finish. Light stone fruit and mineral. Med spicy.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay 2014. Light vanilla and pears nose. Med plus body, pears and apples and oak and sweet spice. Round, buttery. Nutmeg. Balanced.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Estate Ortega 2016. Ripe apricots and some green fruit nose. Round dry soft. More herbal flavours. Pine needle. Light apricots. More herbal.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Rosé 2016. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Light cherry and raspberries nose. Bright light cherries, crisp acidity . Light body and flavours. Tasty.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery 2015 Pinot Noir 2015. Aromatic nose, nutmeg, fresh herbal and red cherry nose. Med plus body, soft. Light nutmeg and red fruit. Mineral. Soft tannin. Light; elegant.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Fidele Pinot Noir 2013. Vanilla and bright red fruit and raspberries nose. Dry, med body and acid. Light spice, light mouth. Light red fruit and savory. Longer length.
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Tesoro Pinot Noir 2014. Complex nose, tea leaves, red fruit, and sweet spice nose. Med body soft. Mouth filling. Silky. Rich. Red fruit and sweet spice. Light floral. – .
- Privato Vineyard & Winery Grande Reserve Pinot Noir 2012. Sweet kirsch cherries nose. Some floral. Med minus body, soft. Floral, red apples, red fruit, some sweet spice. Light tannins. Mouth-filling, dense. Nice. 4.5-5
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery was the first winery in the Kamloops area. They g
row only vitis vinifera grapes, which as I mentioned, can be hazardous when there is a very cold winter. For this winter, their Cabernet Franc had lots of damage, and they are now considering burying the canes this winter. Their vines, along with the other wineries in this region are own rooted. It seems that the phylloxera louse does not like the soil and weather.
Harper’s Trail is quite lucky in their choice of vineyard site as they have limestone cliffs above them and water when percolating through the soil picks up the calcium and other minerals for the vines to absorb. Their soil also has some silty loam and 15% clay. Besides the limestone soil, they also benefit from being next to the South Thompson River which acts as a heat sink which keeps the vineyard cooler in summer.
Ed and Vicki Collett started planting their vines in 2008. The cold winters led to the removal of their Merlot vines. Cabernet Franc succeeded so more was planted in 2012. They also planted Pinot Noir, Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Besides still wine Ed and Vicki also produce sparkling wines; both white and rose.
Harper’s Trail Rose 2016. Made from Pinot Gris, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Nice crisp strawberries and red cherry aromas. Off dry, bright acidity. Flavours of red fruits and strawberries, together with hints of floral, bramble, crisp apples. Some pepper on the finish.
- Harper’s Trail Field Blend White 2016. Nice nose. Lychee, melon and citrus. Slightly off dry. Ripe tropical fruit and stone fruit flavours. Round with fuller mouth feel. I also pick up lime and some minerality. –
- Harper’s Trail Pinot Gris 2016. Closed stone fruit nose. Medium body, soft, with medium minus acidity. Light peach flavour, along with citrus pith and skin. Some pepperiness on the finish.
- Harper’s Trail Gewurztraminer 2016. Flowery, lychee nose, together with pine needles and honey. With more air you also get stone fruit aromas. It’s dry, medium body and acidity. Lychee and flowers followed by pine needles and peach flavours. Mineral.
- Harper’s Trail Pioneer Block Riesling 2016. Very light citrus nose. Off-dry, medium mouth feel and medium plus acidity. Lots of apricot flavour, along with honey. Finishes clean with mouth watering acidity. Silky feel. Excellent.
- Harper’s Trail Silver Mane Block Riesling 2016. Very light stone fruit nose. Off dry with light acidity prickle on the tongue. Soft with medium plus body. Soft stone fruit flavour.
- Harper’s Trail Chardonnay 2016. Rich pears and honey aromas. Light tropical fruit, vanilla and oak on the palate. Very silky. Medium acidity. Elegant. Good acidity to balance the wine.
- Harper’s Trail Pinot Noir 2015. This is the first harvest of this grape on their land. This wine has a tart red fruit nose. There is a green flavour at the start, but it quickly dissipates. There is also some dustiness, red fruits, tomatoes and sweet spices. Pepper toward the finish.
- Harper’s Trail Field Blend Red 2016. A mix of Pinot Noir primarily, with lesser amounts of Gamay and Cabernet Franc. This wine has a mix of floral, green beans and red fruit on the nose. Later I also picked up some tea leaves. More floral, green beans and red fruit on the palate. The green bean flavour goes away quite quickly. The wine is soft, with fine tannins. Some minerality.
- Harper’s Trail Cabernet Franc 2016. Light capsicum and red fruit on the nose. Fuller body, round and soft, with firmer tannins. Ripe cherry flavour. A yummy wine. –
- Harper’s Trail Sparkling Chardonnay 2015. Their sparkling wines are made in the traditional method, but do not need to do riddling as they use beads that contain yeast inside. The wine can get into the beads, but the yeast cannot get out. A very cool tool for making sparkling wine. This wine has a deep lemon colour, with a green tint. Toasty, with a roast beef and lees nose. Higher acidity with tiny creamy bubble. Citrus flavour.
- Harper’s Trail Sparkling Rose 2015. Light toasty, strawberry nose. Dry, higher acidity along with salty minerality. Small bubble, Light strawberry and toasty flavours.
- Harper’s Trail Late Harvest Riesling 2015. Lime, honey and peach on the nose. Semi-sweet, round with medium acidity. Some petrol on the palate, along with peaches and honey. Long length.
Monte Creek Ranch Winery
We sat down to lunch outside at a long table, beneath a tall tree, and in front of the vineyards. The wind was quite strong, and it was warm, so some of my tasting notes may have been affected by temperature and wind. We did sample these wines with a delicious multi-course lunch.
GM Erik Fisher led us through the following wines, as well as walked us through the vineyards along with Trish Stathers, the Vineyard Manager. Trish had taken time for lunch with us, but was then going back to the vineyard to plant more vines that day. She is an organic grape grower and loves the climate of Kamloops. She notes that they only spray the grapes one time a year, while in the Okanagan you may have to spray up to 7 times. The property was purchased in 2009 and initial vines planted.
Livestock share the ranch with grape vines and wildlife. The cattle are used in the restaurant, as well as to make beef jerky that they sell in the Tasting Room. Within the 1,200-acre ranch sits 65 acres of vineyards on either side of the Thompson River, with plenty of room to expand. As I mentioned earlier Monte Creek Ranch decided to plant a significant amount of hybrid grapes, which provides insurance for risk against the cold winter weather. Erik noted that they did not have a problem with this past winter. As we walked among the vines, Erik pointed out the different varieties of grapes. The hybrid grapes, e.g. Marquette and Frontenac Gris, are prolific producers of bunches of grapes. I was quite amazed how much fruit can come from one vine.
Monte Creek Ranch Winery Hands Up White 2016. Lots tropical fruit nose. Higher acid. Tropical fruit on palate. Med plus acidity.
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery Frontenac Gris 2016. Light tropical fruit nose. Med plus body, soft, ripe fruit. Good.
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery Marquette Rose. No skin contact. Light sweet cherry and banana nose. Medium body, high acid, spicy, tart red cherry and banana.
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery 2015 Ranch Hand Red. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Frontenac Noir make this blend. The Merlot and Frontenac Noir were co-fermented, which seemed to produce a more flavourful wine than if both grapes were fermented separately. Ripe juicy cassis nose. Very spicy, more cassis, dry, cherry cola, very soft tannins. Higher acidity.
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery Hands Up Red 2015. Lots of ripe raspberry nose. Hint of capsicum. Full body, round, higher acid. Spicy. Cassis flavour. Very fruity. Low tannins.
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery Cab Merlot . Nice med intensity cassis nose. Fuller body. Dry. Med tannins. Good quality; straight forward.
The climate for all these wineries is challenging; hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and has a short growing season. But with persistence, grape vine selection, and vineyard management these wineries have been able to produce award winning wines. I invite you to give their wines a try. You can order their wines through their websites, and as well through some private stores, such as Save On Foods. Links to their websites:
- Fort Berens Estate Winery
- Privato Vineyard & Winery
- Harper’s Trail Estate Winery
- Monte Creek Ranch Winery
Stay tuned for the next half of this article, which is on the cooler climate side to BC’s emerging regions.