In November 2020, I interviewed a few BC winemakers about their current harvest. From their discussions, I determined that overall the growing season was average, but there was a cooler rainy spring. August and September had good weather. Harvest started a little later than usual. Rain and the crazy snowfall in October influenced smaller yields, but there was still some maturation of red grapes after the snow melted.
It is now May 2021, many White and Rosé wines are in bottle, and the Red wines are maturing for later release. What does the 2020 vintage look like to winemakers now that they have gone through the winemaking process? I and other media were invited to a virtual preview with 3 BC winemakers:
- Fraser Valley: Andrew Etsell, Winemaker, Singletree Winery
- Lillooet: Eckhard Zeidler, Winemaker, Cliff and Gorge Vineyards
- Kootenays: Wes Johnson, Winemaker, Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery
The seminar began with our host Barbara Philip giving us some general information about the average temperatures over the growing season for these three regions vs the actual temperatures for 2020. The temperatures as I noted were cooler than average, then did warm up, but still remained cooler than the overall averages. This moderate year gave a balanced acidity with fruit flavour maturation.
Andrew Etsell from Singletree winery noted that in the Fraser Valley they do not have to worry about Spring frosts like you do in the interior regions of BC, but there is more humidity which can cause mildew issues. With all the west coast rain Andrew can dryland farm, plus the clay soils in the area hold water so no irrigation is necessary. Andrew has planted some very early ripening Pinot Noir and Gruner Veltliner grapes in their Fraser Valley vineyard to see if they will ripen and produce some tasty wines for us to all enjoy. Stay tuned.
I tried the Singletree Winery Rosé 2020 during this virtual seminar. It is a blend of grapes from the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan. This wine is a blend of Pinot Noir from the Fraser Valley, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Naramata. All the grapes were brought to their Okanagan facility for fermentation. The grape varieties were fermented in separate tanks then blended. The wine is a bright deeper salmon colour. Has a blend of red fruit and some flintiness on the nose. It is off-dry (14g/l of residual sugar), is round and thick, and is balanced by medium-plus acidity that leaves a prickle on your tongue. Red fruits and tart red berry flavours. A lightly sweet finish with a mix of red fruit and tart red cherries.
Wes Johnson from Baillie-Grohnam noted that 2020 was cool in the Kootenays with bud break on May 8, which is slightly later than the usual bud break in April. He also noted that the 2020 weather was similar to the 2010 vintage weather, and wondered about 10-year cycles. Wes said that their Pinot Noir this vintage ripened and gave them good tannins and acidity. They also grow Gewurztraminer and noted that for 2020 the grapes did not quite reach the same level of ripeness as previous years, which you can tell in part by the changing of the colour of the skins of the Gewurztraminer grapes. Wes noted that in Creston, where the winery is located, that acid intensity may be a trademark for the area as it does not drop very quickly, plus lifted aromatics and smooth tannins.
I tried the Baillie-Grohnam Rosé 2020 during the seminar. Wes noted that the Pinot Noir grapes had 3 days of skin contact, which to me is very interesting as I would think that the wine would be a much deeper colour. It had a lighter orangy copper colour in my glass. A medium intensity nose with strawberries, rhubarb, red fruit, and some flinty aromas. It tastes dry (but comes in at 12 g/l of residual sugar), has a medium-plus body and acidity and pronounced fruit flavours. The higher acidity though is balanced nicely with the fruit and a smooth mouthfeel. You get strawberries, red fruit, and rhubarb, a touch of candied red fruit. High toned flavours. Wes mentioned cranberries and I agreed that I detected this flavour from the mid-palate to the finish. It finished with a medium-plus length, with red fruit and rhubarb, and acidity providing structure. An exceptional wine in my opinion.
Eckhard Zeidler from Cliff and Gorge Vineyards was our last winemaker speaker. I knew nothing about Eckhard or his winery before the seminar. Their winery is located in Lillooet together with Fort Berens Winery. Eckhard mentioned that in this region there are only 30 acres of vines planted. He did start planting grape crosses (many Blattner varieties) about 12 years ago and has trailed 37 varieties to date. He did note that Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen at his vineyard sufficiently. Lillooet is known for its heat, which matches the climate of the Oliver area. Eckhard noted that 2020 had a slow start but then the weather warmed up and caught up to where it should be. He aims for an austere, clean style of wine, and does not oak his red wines. He wants consumers to taste the pure flavours of their grapes. He became enamoured with wine when he visited the Alsace region and decided that he wanted to make wine back in BC.
I tried the Cliff and Gorge Vineyards Pinot Auxerrois 2020 during the seminar. Eckhard indicated that the grapes had some Botrytis, which gives the wine some tropical fruit and banana aromas. The wine has a bright lemon colour. A medium intensity nose with citrus, citrus rind, pear, pineapple, and a touch of peach on the nose. It is off-dry, soft, with a light body and light acidic prickle. Pineapple flavour primarily along with some minerality and pepperiness toward the end. It does finish with light sweet citrus flavours and a touch of acidic prickle.
I really enjoyed hearing the winemakers talk about their region, the 2020 vintage, and the wines we were tasting from that vintage. I look forward to seeing how the Red wines progress to bottling later this year and onward.