Life is a journey, and for Sandra Oldfield, CEO and owner of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, BC that applies perfectly for her new flagship wine, “The Creek”, as well as the process to reach this point.
Sandra’s journey has been an evolution. They didn’t know everything when they started. Their flagship wine, The Creek, is named for Tinhorn Creek next to them. The Creek grounds them. It has been part of their life for a long time. In the last few years, Tinhorn Creek has gone through changes, but they have tried to stay on the edge, relevant, and innovative. Part of the change is Sandra moving from wine maker to CEO, and hiring Andrew Windsor as their new wine maker. How did that work for Sandra? The answer is you expect change when you hire your replacement, otherwise you don’t hire a replacement. She is delighted with Andrew Windsor.
Launching a flagship in later vintages, rather from the first vintage, makes sense to Sandra; it shows an evolution and progression of wine making, starting with the Oldfield Series of wines.
The Creek is also a special wine for Andrew Moon, their viticulturalist. He joined in 2009 and had to learn about BC’s Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench, which is different from Australia, where he is from. You don’t start with a flagship wine, you work your way up. Improving the vineyards. The varieties in these wines are difficult to grow, and take time to figure it out. Their soils on Black Sage are very sandy which does not lead to a chunky, structured wine, rather more elegance and finesse.
The Creek is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend. In BC we need lots of heat units for Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen. It took a while to get the phenological ripeness from this grape. Irrigation, canopy management, and crop yields all had to be considered. They use a reflective material wrapped around, the Cabernet Sauvignon trunks so the vines ripen 2-4 weeks earlier and reach full ripeness. This is one of the innovations they have brought to the vineyard.
Their wine making progressed over time with Andrew Windsor. The original concept for The Creek started shortly after Andrew Windsor’s first vintage. They knew they wanted to create a wine that is unique to their vineyard sites and portfolio of wines. They did some tastings of other top tier BC Okanagan wines and came to the conclusion that led them to believe a Cab Sauvignon dominant wine would give them something unique, an expression of variety and expression of Black Sage Bench. 50% minimum will always be Cabernet Sauvignon for The Creek. The 2014 spent 2 years in French oak with a little Hungarian oak. In 2015, the amount of Hungarian oak increased. There is no greenness in these wines, which you get with under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The wine does not overpower you, such as can happen from Cabs in hotter climates according to Andrew. The 2014 is a pure expression of Cabernet, with the weight of Merlot, fleshiness and texture from Cabernet Franc, floral from Malbec, and grip from Petit Verdot. The 2015 shows the heat of the vintage. The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and lesser amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot. It is less floral, more fruit driven, more powerful. An outlier vintage. Andrew expects the 2016 to be more like the 2014.
Tasting The Creek
We were given the opportunity to try the first two vintages of The Creek; 2014 and 2015. 2014 was a cooler vintage, while 2015 was quite hot, if you remember our past summers. But how did the differences in summer heat show up in aromas and flavours in the glass?
Tinhorn Creek The Creek 2014 – 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot in this blend. Deeper garnet, almost opaque in the glass. Medium plus intensity nose, with ripe dark fruit, sweet spices, red cherries and some dustiness. The wine is dry with light mouth feel and medium fine tannins. Higher acidity. Flavours of tart red cherries, sweet spices and light vanilla. Elegance and finesse in the glass. And able to age.
Tinhorn Creek The Creek 2015 (barrel sample) – A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Deeper, almost opaque garnet. Deeper than the 2014. Medium intensity, dusty, dark fruit, cocoa and cedar notes on the nose. Full body, round and soft, with flavours of light nutmeg, red cherries and a hint of floral. Fine tannins. With the heat and softer tannins, this wine will probably not age as long as the 2014, but it can be enjoyed as soon as it becomes available for purchase, so do not hesitate to open it when it is ready for the market.
The Innovation Series
If you don’t experiment, you may not find out new and exciting experiences, whether that is by taking a fork in the road, taking a bite from a new ethnic cuisine, or trying a new way to make a wine. Andrew Windsor from Tinhorn Creek has experimented with small batches of grapes to come up with new and exciting wines, two of which are an “orange” Kerner wine, and a white Pinot Noir. These wines are labelled part of Tinhorn Creek’s Innovation Series. You may see these Innovation Series wines produced only once, so if you are interested, you need to purchase your bottles before they are gone, or drink them at Tinhorn Creek’s Miradoro Restaurant.
Andrew Windsor started the Innovation Series in 2014; all small lot. The Kerner grapes are from the Golden Mile Bench, but will have no further vintages of this wine as the Kerner has been removed from the vineyard. Orange wines are skin fermented white wines. The Kerner went through natural fermentation and natural malolactic fermentation, then into French oak barrels for one year, and bottled 6 months later. The white Pinot Noir was whole-cluster pressed from their Black Sage Bench vineyard, barrel fermented in second fill French barrels, natural yeast and natural malolactic fermentation, then 6 months oak aging.
So how do they taste?
Tinhorn Creek Kerner Orange Wine 2014 – Ripe apricot skin colour. Nice nose, with aromas of dried and fresh apricots. Dry with medium minus body, which may surprise you at first sip, as the aromas of the wine are so fruity, you would guess the wine is sweet. The wine has a lighter mouth feel with lots of apricot flavour along with a cider note. Medium dry, tannic finish, and a long length. A really different and neat wine that you can only get at the winery.
Tinhorn Creek White Pinot Noir 2016 – Pale, pink and orange in the glass. Toasty oak, apple and honey on the nose; light, not too strong. Medium body, round with full mouth feel. Flavours of apple followed by sweet spice, in particular nutmeg, along with a touch of oak and honey. Medium acidity.
Enjoying With Food
Sipping wine on its own can be wonderful, but sometimes combining wine with food brings out the best in both the food and wine. We did have a chance to try these four wines with three dishes at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar at the Sutton Place Hotel downtown. All pairings were very complementary. Very good food-friendly wines.
The Kerner Orange wine was paired with an apricot and burrata salad. The apricots in the salad complemented the apricot flavours in the wine, as well the sweetness of the apricots softened the dryness of the wine.
The White Pinot Noir was paired with a slow cooked spring salmon along with creamed corn, succotash and local chanterelles. Again a nice, complementary pairing. The salmon was soft and delicate, the corn provided a creamy texture, while the wine provided acidity to the dish.
Lastly The Creek was paired with a charred hanger steak with pepper corn sauce, soubise, potato “glass”, and pomme pont neuf. The steak had a rich, deep meaty flavour, texture, and a mix of butter and peppercorn. The cherry flavour became quite prominent with the steak and the tannins softened. The acidity in the wine blended with the richness of the steak. An excellent pairing. I have had charred hanger steak from Boulevard before and it is always done to perfection. Try it if you can.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
As I mentioned the Innovation Series wines are only available to us in BC by going to the winery to purchase or enjoy at their Miradoro Restaurant. There will be some bottles available through select agencies in Western Canada. The Creek will be able to be ordered online starting September 1, 2017 to their Crush Club members at this web link. I believe The Creek will also be available to the public through Tinhorn Creek’s website, at the winery, and also through private wine stores, although I do not have information on wine store locations.
I think it would be a great idea to begin purchasing this first vintage of The Creek, 2014, and continue to purchase upcoming vintages when they become available. The Creek will only be produced in years where the grapes reach the flagship level of quality dictated by the winery. Build a vertical to enjoy in the future. Congratulations to Sandra Oldfield for her flagship wine launch of The Creek and the many vintages to come.