A Conversation with Winemaker Galen Barnhardt from Monte Creek Winery at VanWineFest 2022

Winemaker Galen Barnhardt from Monte Creek Winery
Winemaker Galen Barnhardt from Monte Creek Winery

At the Vancouver International Wine Festival, in the Tasting Room, I did have a chance to go through a flight of Monte Creek Winery wines with Winemaker Galen Barnhardt.  Below is a discussion of the wines with Galen.  Mostly Galen speaking, which is how an interview should be.  Enjoy.

Galen:  Here we have our sparkling Rosé.  It is 2020, from the Monte Creek Ranch vineyard and has some Marquette in the wine.  It is a bit cooler than our Lions Head vineyard across the street to the north so we make the sparkling wines from the Monte Creek Ranch vineyard. 2020 was a hot vintage and we were picking the first week of September.  <Karl’s note.  The Lions Head vineyard would have the vines facing south, while the Monte Creek Ranch vineyard vines face north, so the south-facing vines would get more sun and heat than the north-facing vines.>

Karl: I get lots of crab apple flavour on this wine.

Galen: I get bright cherry and a bit of a savoury palate. There is tons of natural acidity. We are using a combination of Charmat method with pet nat to make this wine.  The wine undergoes an indigenous yeast ferment and then instead of fermenting it dry, just leaving a bit of sugar after primary fermentation and then warming the wine up when it stabilizes, so I don’t add extra yeast or sugar.  

Karl: It is quite refreshing.  Nice acidity.  Bright colour too.

Galen: It is a Teinturier variety so the flesh of the grape has colour to it as well.

Galen: Our 2021 Riesling.  We have two Riesling wines coming out.  This wine is from our Keremeos site.  We will also have a Thompson Valley Riesling coming out this Fall as the ferment did not finish till March. 

Monte Creek Winery Sparkling Rose and Riesling wines at VanWineFest 2022
Monte Creek Winery Sparkling Rose and Riesling wines at VanWineFest 2022

Karl: Nice lime nose on this wine.  Is the Keremeos area a little cooler than Thompson Valley? 

Galen: No generally, I’d say Thompson Valley is a little cooler.  I am still trying to figure it out vintage by vintage.  Our Keremeos vineyard is cooler, located on the south side of the river near Keremeos.  Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are planted there.

Last year, 2021, was crazy hot, so picked the second week of September.  I am always looking to keep elegance and restraint in my wines.  I like to pick early. This wine has a zesty style which is normal for us. 

Karl:  I get some lime, stone fruits, and tropical fruit on the palate.

Galen: I think that tropical character is typical of a warmer vintage and a little bit steely in the cooler vintages.  

Karl: I’d say that this has a fairly steely finish. 

Galen: The Residual Sugar is around 8 g/l.  Our Rieslings will always be a little off-dry so that they are not too austere. 

Karl: Tell me about your wine tiers.

Galen:  Hands Up Red and White are our Blend series. Our past Varietal series is now the “Living Lands” series. And our top tier is now labelled the “Ancient Waters” series.

We are trying to tie back to the sustainability push at the winery for Living Lands and Ancient Waters wines.  Next year we will be fully certified organic.  We did lots of work to resuscitate the biodiversity in the vineyard and build up the soils.  That is where the Living Land series comes from.  The Ancient Waters series is a homage to the geological processes that shaped our vineyards. We have glacial lacustrine lake bottom in the South Thompson. Keremeos has 5 different soil types, mainly alluvial; Different from the lacustrine from South Thompson – River bed vs lake water.  We are trying to give the brand some identity in regard to what we are doing in the environment. 

Karl: Tell me about the new label symbol.

Galen: It looks like a thumbprint and gives a homage to the fact that the wines are hand-crafted. When you look at the logo, you have a circle and an M and C in the logo.  There is a little circle at the base that represents the river, then there is the negative space a V in the space that represents the Thompson Valley. 

Galen: This is the 2019 Ancient Waters Chardonnay.  The grapes came from a Naramata grower we worked with for 8 years.  We hope all our growers will go organic.  We will be 90% estate-grown organic grapes and then the remaining 10% will need to be organic.  All part of the process of being certified organic. The Naramata vineyard makes our top tier Chardonnay. 

Karl: I get a lot of brown butter on the nose.  

Galen: We try to find a sweet spot between the reductive nutty or match stick edge and still have some orchard fruit.  For this wine 1/3 was fermented in concrete eggs to preserve fruit and texture and 2/3 fermented in French oak, with 15% being new oak.  That 15% also undergoes malolactic fermentation.

Karl: It is very elegant.

Galen: We are trying to base all our wines on having bright acidity which is part of our hallmark. 

Karl: Definitely good acidity, oak, and mouthfeel from the malolactic fermentation. Apple flavour.

Galen: Next, our 2020 Pinot Noir

Monte Creek Winery Ancient Waters Chardonnay and Living Land Pinot Noir at VanWineFest 2022
Monte Creek Winery Ancient Waters Chardonnay and Living Land Pinot Noir at VanWineFest 2022

Karl:  It is clear garnet coloured.  Light tannins.  Acid driven. Red berries and red cherries flavours.  An easy sipper. 

Galen: We made two Pinots in 2020.  This one is from East Kelowna.  There is also a Thompson Valley Pinot but it is already sold out.  You can get it at a few restaurants, like Hawksworth and Nightingale. This wine is more structured than the one from Thompson Valley.  It is bigger-bodied with more tannins.  But not a full-bodied Pinot.  It is still based on acidity.  East Kelowna vines have smaller berries so you get more tannins.  

I like to pick earlier, keeping the acidity and freshness in the grapes. We are conscious of keeping ferment temps lower so you are not extracting too many tannins, especially harsher seed tannins.  This wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged 16 months in barrels. 

Karl: What would you eat with this wine?

Galen: It is versatile with the acidity. You can have a dish with richness, like duck.  Some fattiness, but not too fatty. A mushroom pasta would also be nice, or something roasted.

Galen: Cabernet Franc 2020.  This wine is kind of like our Pinot where we are aiming for a lighter extraction. Again, I am basing the wine on bright acidity. The 2020 vintage is one of my favourites as the grapes had moderate sugar levels and ripe fruit making a 12.8% Cab Franc.

Karl: Was 2020 a perfect vintage?

Galen: It depends on who you ask.  It started off cool then rainy in Kamloops through the summer, but the fall was really nice and a crucial time for ripening.

Karl: I sometimes get dill flavour in Pinot Noir but this is the first time that I get it in a Cab Franc. Dill plus cedar. 

Galen: Interesting.  Sometimes Cabernet Franc can get a slightly herbal character, and when you pick it earlier you will get more of that.  We are doing whole berry ferment to this wine giving it some carbonic maceration.  

Karl: I picked up the berry brightness on the nose and palate from the carbonic maceration. It is not heavy-bodied.  It is a wine you could sip on its own.  It has a bit of acidity plus tannin on the end.   I can see having this with a nice cheese platter. Or with a tomato-based dish, or a lightly spiced curry.  

Karl: How was the winter?

Galen: It was challenging in the winter in the Thompson Valley.  We have been burying the vinifera vines and they appear to be ok.  The hybrids are hardy and can handle everything.  Bud break is starting so we will soon know if there is any significant damage to the vinifera grapes.

Karl: Thank you for the time to share your wines and talk with me.

Author: mywinepal
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.