Pretty Outspoken, Getting to Know Perseus Winery’s Tom diBello

 Who is Perseus Winery?

Perseus Winery & Vineyards

Perseus Winery & Vineyards

Perseus winery is located in the South Okanagan, Penticton in particular. It was founded in 2009 and originally known as Synergy Winery & Vineyards. In 2011, three long-time friends—Rob Ingram, Sam Elia, Bob Hole—acquired the winery through their company, Terrabella, and joined forces with the three founding owners and other expert wine-industry consultants to produce high quality wines.

They have 3 vineyards to produce the grapes for their wines.  Their Blind Creek Vineyard bridges the two towns of Keremeos and Cawston in the Similkameen Valley.  They grow the range of red Bordeaux varieties. I also read that they planted whites including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, here, and are most excited by the establishment of the Rhone varieties: Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  Their Old Station Vineyard (now Silver Barrel) overlooks Skaha Lake in the Okanagan Valley and their last vineyard, Lower Bench Vineyard,  is located beside their tasting room and wine shop in the on the Bench to Naramata.

Who is Tom diBello?

Tom DiBello wine maker

Tom DiBello wine maker

From the Perseus’ website “Tom DiBello is highly regarded among his peers as one of Canada’s foremost winemakers. He started his career with a top Napa Valley winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and spent 10 years as winemaker at BC’s Cedar Creek Winery, where they twice won Canadian Winery of the Year and 100s of other top wine awards, including five Governor General Awards. Tom is a graduate of the University of California at Davis in viticulture and oenology and brings 27 years of experience and passion to the Terrabella team.

Knowing about Tom’s past experience in Napa, and his 10 years at Cedar Creek, it was interesting for me to sit down with Tom and see how this new adventure at Perseus compares to his past experience and accolades.

Our Interview

MyWinePal: What’s your favorite red or white Perseus wine that you make? 

Tom: I think right now it’s probably be our Invictus blend.  It has all five Bordeaux varietals.  There should be Carmenere but there isn’t yet; mostly Merlot but it varies year to year.  This year there’s much more Malbec in it.  There is a new one coming out which were just blending now.  60% Merlot, almost 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and  some Cab Franc.

MyWinePal: You have three different vineyards.  Do you have your Cabernet growing at more than one vineyards or coming from one vineyard? 

Perseus Invictus 2010 and Merlot 2011

Perseus Invictus 2010 and Merlot 2011

Tom: We buy some Cab.  The Blind Creek in the Similkameen, I’m rapidly deciding that this is my favorite vineyard. I love the fruit coming out of this vineyard.  I’m not a numbers winemaker; it’s more of an art.  I’m getting low acidity and low PH from the grapes, which is very odd.  That’s for all the grapes not just Cabernet and Merlot.  The vineyard produces grapes with lots of flavor and lots of physiological maturity.

MyWinePal: What do you get from the other two vineyards?  You’ve talked Blind Creek, what about Lower Bench and Silver Barrel. 

Tom: At Blind Creek we get Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon,  Cabernet Franc, Merlot,  Malbec, Petit Verdot, Viognier and Pinot Gris.  The Pinot Gris comes from from right behind our winery on the Bench our own vineyard.  The real heart of our Pinot Gris wine is right from our home vineyard.

Old Station on Skaha Lake is between Painted Rock and Blasted Church.  A nice sloped vineyard, we have Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.  It was called Goldfish at one time but the owner sold it and it was renamed Old Station. It was called Old Station because there were restored, beautiful, old, antique gas pumps at the vineyard.  That owner sold it to Bob Archer.  Bob didn’t want the gas pumps so they removed them and some people called the vineyard “No Station” <chuckles>.  Bob changed the name to Silver Barrel because he made his money in silver mining.

MyWinePal: So how does this Syrah compare to the Similkameen syrah? 

Tom: They’re different, they don’t get quite as ripe and have as big sugars as in Skaha.  A little bit more delicate flavor and little bit of black and white pepper.

MyWinePal: Do you blend the two syrahs together or keep them separate?

Tom: Both of them will go into Cab Syrah  blends.  I would save the Blind Creek for a pure Syrah.  This year it will not be pure Syrah,  as I added in some Malbec; just messing around.  This year I co-fermented 10% Viognier with the Syrah.  The Viognier and Syrah ripened at the same time so we co-fermented them.  When we co-ferment it’s a better then adding in the Viognier later. If they ripen at the same time and I can add in both grapes I like that better.

MyWinePal: Are you looking to produce any particular house style?  So that people when they taste  they can say that this is a Tom di Bello wine?

Tom: No. My wines taste like my wines. For some reason my wines just come out elegant.  Fine grained tannins. Elegant, pretty wines, that’s been my trademark forever.  I don’t know how that happens.

MyWinePal: How does working at previous wineries like Stags Leap and Cedar Creek for so many years how does that compare starting off almost at square one again? 

Tom: Every time you change wineries you start at square one.  I find it keeps me alive.  I don’t stay at one place too long.  What’s fun here is I have a little tiny cellar   It’s in the basement, 120 barrels.  It’s Garagiste wine making.  It’s on my little private world down there.  It’s a very private and it’s fun. I’m totally enjoying it.

MyWinePal: Is there anything upcoming at Perseus; a sparkling or an ice wine? 

Tom: We may do a prosecco using Pinot Blanc or Pinot Noir. I think my Syrah Malbec blend is pretty weird.  I thought I was in the first one making it, but I went to Hester Creek and lo and behold they had one.  They beat me to it and I really liked it.  So maybe I’m not completely crazy.  Someone else thought of it and it did well.  It gives you some validation. We’re also making Pinot Noir again.

MyWinePal: What kind of style are you looking at for the Pinot Noir?  A riper style like you can get out of California or a lighter style? 

Tom: The grapes come from the Naramata Bench so whatever the wine is that comes from those Naramata grapes.  I don’t really go into making a wine with the attitude than that I want it to taste like this or that.  I let my grapes be what they want to be.  I tried to style my wines from the grape’s side.  To me, my philosophy is figure out what your grapes want to be.  And do your best to make them what they want to be.

MyWinePal: Do you have any position or feelings towards organic or biodynamic viticulture?  

Tom: It’s been my goal to be organic or biodynamic forever. I have not succeeded in pulling that off 100%.  I’m always trying.  That is one of our goals.  We’re as close as we can without being a certified; it’s difficult with neighboring farms.  We tried to use as little as possible or nothing at all.

Our climate pretty dry here in the Okanagan.  It’s really conducive to organic and biodynamic farming.  I don’t know if anybody knows this but we have the most disease free grapes in the world.  Our climate is so conducive to doing that, that we should probably should be.  We have less pests, less diseases than anywhere in the world.

MyWinePal: I’ve been down to Chile and it’s been pretty dry. 

Tom: We actually got beat them by a pretty large margin.  My goal is to be biodynamic and organic I’m pretty close.

MyWinePal: In the Okanagan are there any other Okanagan wineries that you admire the stuff they do or how they do it? 

Tom: Lots of them. I love the Pinot Noir that Grant Stanley makes that Quail’s Gate.  Wild yeast fermentation. Painted Rock.  Laughing Stock, I like their reds.  Van Westen.

MyWinePal: I like Van Westen as well. I always have them as my top picks. 

Tom: Great big a massive reds. They are big wines.  He is an amazing winegrower.  Nk’Mip, Black Hills, Wild Goose, I guess there’s a lot there’s a lot of people I admire.

MyWinePal: What do you think about Washington State, I know you tried to stay in BC?

Tom: They know me down there.  I’ve worked down there (Claar Cellars and Washington Hills).  There are some really nice wines from a guy named Gilles Nicault.  He is at Long Shadows.  I had Gilles’ wine last night which I thought was superb and elegant.  It was a Cab Syrah mix which I fell in love with that wine right away. There are a lot of wineries in Washington that I love like Brian Carter (used to work with him).

MyWinePal: I really like the Syrahs out of Washington State especially from Red Mountain. 

Tom: Red Mountain is a really intense area. I worked with a lot of vineyards in that area.  They are big wines , massive, kind of hard to make, to refine the tannins.  I really think Syrahs and Merlots from Washington State and BC are some of the best in the world.  And I do not think that either of us are getting credit for what we’re doing.  I think for Merlot our wine are very similar to Washington wines.  In Washington State they are little bit bigger and more tannic. Ours are a little brighter, better PH, and better acidity, but our fruit is a less over-ripe.  Our fruit is a little brighter.  I love them both.

Tom diBello and Karl MyWinePal

Tom diBello and Karl MyWinePal

MyWinePal: After you’ve produced your wines and put them out there the big thing is to get people like Robert Parker to review them.  What do you think about all these points systems?  I personally whenever I do a wine review I never give points. I’ll just say this is an excellent or to buy this wine and give my reasons for it. 

Tom: I give wines 92.7 points or 92.3 points. I don’t really care how they rate them I’m not really into points either. <chuckles>  I just grade them A to D or F to A.  I’ll rate barrels with a letter grade, A or B minus.  Mostly I like to see a description.  I think some critics have too much power in the world.  I don’t really like all their tastes.  I’m actually glad I’m not reviewed by some of these people.  I actually have some good friends in California and throughout the world who call me crying they have to make a wine that they hate because corporate structure demands that they make a wine that a certain individual likes.

MyWinePal: So you say come on up to the Okanagan? 

Tom: I’m glad that I’m not rated by those people otherwise I might have to do the same thing.  That’s pretty outspoken I think.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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