Defining the Root of BC Terroir Masterclass at VanWineFest 2023

To start off the Vancouver International Wine Festival, I attended this masterclass which featured 11 British Columbia wines from across the province, “Defining the Root of BC Terroir“.  Our panellists, the winemakers at the wineries, discussed the unique growing conditions of their vineyard and terroir of the area. There was also some discussion on what BC winegrowers are doing in the face of climate change so that we can continue to make exciting quality wines with a sense of place, from terroir that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Our moderators were: Maude Renaud-Brisson; Christina Hartigan
And panelists: Charlie Baessler, Garron Elmes, Jim Faulkner, Richard Kanazawa, Michael Kullmann, Sandy Leier, Lynzee Schatz, Amber Pratt, Chris Turyk, Taylor Whelan

Defining the Root of BC Terroir masterclass flight of wines
Defining the Root of BC Terroir masterclass flight of wines

Featured Wines:
Unsworth Vineyards Charme de l’île Rosé NV (Chris Turyk)
Bench 1775 Viognier 2021 (Richard Kanazawa)
Nk’Mip Cellars Pinot Blanc 2021 (not in attendance)
Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2020 (Jim Faulkner)
Chronos Cabernet Franc 2020 (Lynzee Schatz)
Osoyoos Larose Grand Vin 2012 (Michael Kullmann)
Lake Breeze Riesling 2018 (Garron Elmes)
Moraine Estate Winery Syrah 2020 (Amber Pratt)
Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah 2020 (Sandy Leier)
CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Jagged Rock Syrah 2020 (Graham Nordin)
Corcelettes Estate Winery Syrah 2020 (Charlie Baessler)

Maude started off by discussing our setting in BC.  We are at the same latitude as the Champagne region, between 48 and 51 degrees north latitude, in France.  We have a range of mountains, lakes, desert, and coastal areas, which affects the grapes we can grow and the wines we can make.  BC is quite small in production area so we will compete with the wines from around the world with our quality. VQA certification started in 1990 and has increased the quality of our wines. Our wine industry is growing with many new wineries starting on Vancouver Island.

A few of our speakers at the Defining the Root of BC Terroir masterclass
A few of our speakers at the Defining the Root of BC Terroir masterclass

Chris Turyk noted that Charme is a homage to the Charmat method (think Prosecco method). The wine is aged on lees in tank which is different from other Charmat-produced wine to give the wine more weight and texture. Cool climate sparkling wine production fits perfectly with the cooler climate on Vancouver Island and Cowichan Valley specifically. Charme de l’île can be blanc or rosé, dry or sweet. This wine is made from Pinot Noir as this grape prefers this cooler climate area.  The mountains to the west of the Cowichan Valley block a lot of the rain so that the valley stays fairly dry and that the ocean moderates the temperature, day and night.  So you get a long steady temperature for grape ripening.

Richard Kanazawa is at Bench 1775 on the Naramata Bench.  He thinks Viognier is suited to the Naramata Bench because it is a little behind the warmer south Okanagan.  It is an early budding grape and has a longer growing season.  The lake keeps the frost at bay.  The key is not to overripen the grape.  Richard makes the wine whole cluster ferment in stainless steel to keep the wine lighter, fresher, and crisper.  They leave more fruit on the vine so that the acidity stays and the grapes do not produce too much sugar. The grapes from this wine come from two vineyards so that if one vineyard has too ripe grapes, the other vineyard can be more acidic so that the combination of the two vineyards’ grapes will balance the acidity with the sugar. Going further south in the Okanagan, the grape can overripen quickly.  The cooler temperature on the Naramata Bench makes it easier to pick at the optimal time.

Jim Faulkner talked to us about Pinot Noir in Lake Country, north of Kelowna. The soil is clay/gravel/sand. The sand is good for drainage.  The clay retains the water.  The style comes from the clay according to Jim.  Minerality comes from the gravel.  The temperature is only four degrees cooler than to the south of them, so not too cool for grape growing. Their growing season starts off a few weeks later than the south Okanagan, but they can keep their Pinot Noir grapes on the vine till early November so that they can fully ripen. Further south when the temperatures are too hot the grape vines can shut down so that they do not continue ripening till the temperatures go down.

Lynzee Schatz presented a Cabernet Franc wine from the Penticton area. Cabernet Franc style said that the wine style is going in many directions from big and bold, with heavy tannins, to medium-bodied with lighter tannins. Her wine was partially whole-bunch fermented, with light pump-overs. Neutral barrels for ageing and 20% new French oak to produce a medium-bodied lighter Cabernet Franc. She likes that style more than the over-extracted styles that can be made from this grape. Lynzee thinks that Cabernet Franc can be grown in other areas of BC, but to be careful if the area is too cool, the grapes can have a green herbal character.  

Michael Kullmann from Osoyoos Larose presented a red Bordeaux blend.  Plus it is an aged wine, 2012, to show that we can age our wines. They grow all their grapes in one vineyard. He noted with climate change that they have to be clever on how to manage the grapes to produce the best quality each season.  Michael thinks that BC can produce aged wines and their Le Grand Vin is a great example.  This is a Merlot-dominant wine and that Merlot works well with our climate.  Making a blend allows him to have more freedom to pick dates for the different varieties. He noted that irrigation is key to managing grape maturation.  Sugar loading and alcohol can be issues with climate change.  Too much sugar makes lots of alcohol in the wine.  Irrigation allows him to manage the sugar level and thus alcohol.

Garron Elmes talked about Riesling and presented an aged Riesling to us.  The grapes come from a small plot near to where Bench 1775 Viognier grapes are grown.  Riesling is something that needs to be ageable according to Garron.  He likes to keep the wine at least three years in bottle before tasting it. The area is susceptible to frost so they need fans to keep the frost away.  They don’t make a Riesling wine every year, only years that they think they will make an exceptional wine.  It needs to be a cool start to the year and then a long growing season.  He pays attention to the acidity level for picking.  2018 had a cool spring, a cool September, but a warm October. He thinks that the Naramata Bench is well-suited to grow Riesling grapes, but notes that across BC Riesling is made in a variety of styles.  There is no one particular signature style for BC Riesling.

Moderator: Does BC Syrah have a style?  We have four examples below.

Amber Pratt feels that Syrah reflects its terroir in BC.  She is growing Syrah in the most northern area where it can ripen in Naramata.  Light silty mineral-rich soil and the roots can go deep.  Their Syrah comes in with higher acidity but by the time the wine matures in barrel 18 months, it is at the perfect level of acidity and freshness.  Naramata Syrah florality and marmalade aromas and flavours are their trademark.  They do co-ferment with Viognier. Viognier adds apricots and violets and makes the wine fresher.  Okanagan Syrah clones also are important.  Some give smoked meat while other clones give a floral component.  The variety though is very sensitive to cold winter events.

Sandy Leier from Laughing Stock in the South Okanagan shows the heat of the area in this Syrah.  Their vineyard is up above Osoyoos Lake and is sandy and loam, well-draining. The Syrah is planted in an elevated site within the vineyard area with good drainage.  They get longer heat units in this area so the Syrah can hang longer there if it is a cooler year.  They also co-ferment with Viognier. The site is a little drier so they can control the vigour of the vines through irrigation. They do some leaf removal but not too much so that the grapes get sunburned.  Hand-picked grapes, double-sorted, destemmed and try to do as much whole-berry fermented as possible.  Long fermentation on skins. 

Graham Nordin from CedarCreek in Kelowna uses Syrah from two vineyards in the South Okanagan. This was their first single vineyard Syrah.  This wine comes from the Jagged Rock Vineyard in the Black Sage Bench and was planted in 1997. Glacial outwash and granite soil. This Syrah is planted on a higher stony cliff area, south facing, as opposed to closer to the lake where it is flatter and more sandy soil. The Syrah is planted right against a rock face. You get the benefit of heat retention from planting near the rock face.  This site is still a cooler site compared to Osoyoos.  This wine presents rustic tannins, earthy, savoury, white pepper, and gamey, vs a Syrah more fruit-driven from Osoyoos. Their wines are naturally fermented in concrete then goes into French oak barrels to age. With climate change, Graham thinks that Syrah will slowly be planted in a cooler more northerly area of the Okanagan like around Kelowna.

Charlie Baessler from the Similkameen Valley. They are in the south Cawston area.  The steep mountainous terrain creates a dramatic diurnal temperature variation.  The rock faces heat up during the day in the south and west-facing slopes of the valley it creates a thermal uprise to keep the cool mountain air away, and then this slows at night with the cool air replacing it.  There are also some winds coming from the diurnal changes.  The grape skins are tougher in the Similkameen in part due to the intense sunlight they receive and part from the diurnal wind.  The Similkameen has a lot of different soil types throughout the valley; alluvial fans and steep stony hillsides.  There is still lots of exploration in the Similkameen to figure out which grapes will grow the best in the unique growing regions within the valley. Their Syrah is co-fermented with Viognier. The Viognier is crushed and destemmed ahead of time before adding it to the Syrah.  This is their first year in 2020 to try to build a mid-palate with the Viognier tannins, to make a fuller-bodied wine. American oak adds a bit of sweetness to the wine.

Moderator:  Should we be changing grape varieties or moving grape varieties around BC due to climate change?

All speakers:  Location is important to protect grape vines from the still cold winter events.  Some vines are being removed, e.g. Syrah, where the grapes do not mature, well and are being replanted with other grape varieties. With the overall warming climate, the Okanagan likely will not need the cooler climate hybrid grapes to be planted.  Our years are not consistent in climate, so we are still experimenting with which grapes will grow best in each area. Other speakers mentioned that what we can do to mitigate the heat domes in the summer, may not be replanting varieties, it may be more viticultural management such as using new rootstocks that are drought resistant or that control water uptake, other practices such as leaf management, growing cover crops, and irrigation practices can manage the grapes we currently have in the vineyard.  We are in a drier climate so water conservation and how we use water is important.  We can learn about water use from areas that are already affected by this problem, like in Napa Valley or Australia.

My Wine Tasting Notes

Unsworth Vineyards Charme de l’île Rosé NV – made from the Pinot Noir grape. A medium orange colour.  Light aromas of strawberries and crab apples. Dry, light body, with high acidity.  Crisp crab apple flavour.  Some creaminess on the bubble.  Medium length. 4 stars
Bench 1775 Viognier 2021 – Medium-plus intensity lemon colour.  Pronounced nose with aromas of sweet spices, ripe pears, toast, tropical fruit, and stoniness.  Medium-minus body, soft and round.  Bright acidity.  Tart stone fruit flavours.  Very concentrated flavours.  Some grape stem flavour as well.  A crisp and fresh wine. Light pepperiness on the finish. 4 stars
Nk’Mip Cellars Pinot Blanc 2021 – Medium intensity bright lemon colour.  Lighter aromas of green fruits and pine needles.  Medium body, dry with a smooth mouthfeel.  Light acidic prickle on your tongue.  Light tart stone fruit flavours and some bitterness.  Medium-minus length. 4 stars
Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2020 – Medium-minus translucent to the core garnet colour.  Quite aromatic; lots of red fruits, dill, oak, and sweet spices.  Pretty aromas.  Medium body, smooth and round mouthfeel.  Dill, red fruits, sweet spices, light oak and a touch of bitterness.  An interesting blending of aromas and flavours.  An elegant wine. 4 stars4.5 stars
Chronos Cabernet Franc 2020 – A deep garnet colour.  Light aromas of ripe cherries and capsicum.  Medium-plus body, dry, smooth and round with a thicker mouthfeel. Light-intensity flavours of ripe black cherries, dark chocolates, and touches of oak and sweet spices.  Medium tannins. Medium-minus length. 4 stars
Osoyoos Larose Grand Vin 2012 – Opaque garnet with bricking.  Light aromas of red fruit, black cherries, and touches of nutmeg and oak.  Medium-plus body, smooth with lower acidity.  Light to medium fine-grained tannins.  Restrained fruit flavours of black cherries and a touch of floral.  Medium length with some candied red cherries on the finish.  Firmer tannins on the finish. 4 stars- 4.5 stars
Lake Breeze Riesling 2018 – A bright, medium-intensity lemon colour.  Strong aromas of toast, with lesser amounts of apple, citrus, petrol and apricot.  Medium-plus body dry and round with a thicker texture.  Medium acidity.  Bruised apple flavour primarily with some toast, and then apricot and honey toward the finish.  Medium-plus lingering flavours.  A unique wine with character. 4 stars4.5 stars
Moraine Estate Winery Syrah 2020 – A deep dull garnet colour.  Lighter aromas of citrus, red cherries, mint, oak, cedar and cinnamon.  The aromas evolve when you take a sniff.  Lighter body and mouthfeel.  Lean.  Ripe red fruit, red cherries, tart juicy berries and touches of sweet spices and violets.  Medium acidity and light tannins.  Medium-minus length. 4 stars4.5 stars

CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Jagged Rock Syrah 2020 – Opaque dull garnet colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of dark fruit and black pepper.  Medium-plus body, roundish with a smooth mouthfeel.  Medium tannins.  Dark fruit, black pepper and oak on the palate.  Black cherries and some bitterness to finish.  Medium length.  A dark brooding Syrah. 4 stars
Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah 2020 – A deeply coloured mix of garnet and ruby.  Citrus, mint and juicy berry aromas; light intensity.  Smooth mouthfeel.  Medium acidity and light-intensity fine-grained tannins.  A buttery texture.  Nutmeg, juicy sweet blackberries and other black fruits, along with hints of black pepper, floral, nutmeg, and meatiness. Medium length. 4 stars4.5 stars
Corcelettes Estate Winery Syrah 2020 – A deep, dull garnet colour.  Light-intensity aromas of red fruit, citrus and touches of nutmeg and cedar.  Medium body, soft and round mouthfeel.  Medium acidity and fine-grained light tannins.  Red fruit, floral, vanilla plus some candied cherries.  Medium-plus length with lingering flavours. Red cherries and candied red cherries on the finish along with medium-intensity drying oak. 4 stars4.5 stars

Thank you to Wines of BC for sponsoring this masterclass.

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.