Viognier is not a grape that you typically think of when you consider white wines in BC, but you should. Although the grape originates from the northern Rhone Valley, which can get quite hot in the summer, the grape does well in our Okanagan Valley, which can have cooler and hotter vintages. I have two Viognier wines from two separate wineries and two separate vintages: Blasted Church Vineyards Viognier 2022 and Township 7 Benchmark Series Fool’s Gold Vineyard Viognier 2021. I thought it would be interesting to taste both of these wines and see the differences in them in part by winemaker style and part by growing season temperature/rain variation.
Here are my harvest notes for 2021 and 2022 with information coming in part from Wine Growers of British Columbia.
Wine Growers of British Columbia, “Following a late budbreak and slow start to the growing season, August through September brought warm temperatures and sunny days ushering in the start of an exciting harvest season in British Columbia. The BC grape harvest began on September 7, 2022, with winemakers like Mary McDermott picking Viognier from their Township7’s Fool’s Gold vineyard site in Oliver. It is the early ripening varieties, and those destined for sparkling wine production that are the first to come in off the vines, and while harvest this year has begun just shy of three weeks later than last (August 18, 2021, in the Thompson Valley), winegrowers are celebrating the outstanding quality of the fruit.
September reached record-breaking Growing Degree Days (GDD), the highest since 2011, as reported by Summerland Research and Development Centre (SuRDC) Monthly GDD Report. Winegrowers across BC welcomed these warmer days allowing the grapes to gain the desired ripeness for harvest.
Without a doubt, the story of the 2022 harvest season will be the sunny warm days of late summer and early fall, these conditions ushering in outstanding fruit quality. “Our early fruit has been excellent,” said Ross Wise, winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery in the south Okanagan Valley. “Intense fruit aromas, great acidity, and moderate sugar levels, as you would expect from a cooler growing season. It’s still early, but I think the freshness of fruit and acidity could be the hallmark of this vintage.” ”
2022 had moderate temperatures, average rainfall, and average crop yield.
During the summer there were major fires in BC, and now in the Fall, heavy rains and flooding. The harvest started about the very end of August and ended almost at the end of October on average for the wineries. For most of the wineries, the heat dome did reduce the overall yield a bit and compressed the growing season, but they still produced quality grapes. The smoke from forest fires may have slowed the ripening process a bit in the Interior so that the grapes did not overripen losing our characteristic acidity. So far there has been no indication of smoke taint in their wines. With the lower volumes in general you should buy the wines when they come out sooner, rather than later.
Bailey Williamson from Blue Grouse Vineyards mentioned, “Condensed the ripening window was shorter due to the heat dome we figure Volumes were up due to purchasing the home vineyard was within 5% of last year. GGD (Growing Degree Days) were up this year over last and there were a couple of major rain events that required careful attention regarding pick dates Last year, 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.”
Michael Alexander from Summerhill Pyramid Winery mentioned, “This year we saw smaller and more concentrated berries, the result was a smaller than normal harvest. It also meant more concentrated wines. With all the heat we had around veraison we saw great phenolic ripeness without sugars shooting up. The wines that came from this fruit have an incredible depth and concentration already but still have balance.”
2021 had hot temperatures, low rainfall, and low crop yield.
My Wine Tasting Notes
Blasted Church Vineyards Viognier 2022 (BC $24)
Winemaker’s notes, “Our 2022 Viognier brings together fruit from our estate vineyard, Redbrick Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench, and Crespo Vineyard on the Osoyoos West Bench. Each block was hand harvested at its ideal balance of sugar, acid, and phenolic ripeness and handled separately until blending in the weeks following harvest. We incorporated a few hours of skin contact on some batches to increase the aromatic intensity and the mouthfeel, while the remaining fruit was whole cluster pressed directly to tank for overall freshness and balance. A portion of the juice (25%) was racked to barrel for fermentation and aging to bring more richness to the blend, while the remaining juice (75%) was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Our estate Viognier contributed beautiful white florals and apricot, while the fruit from the Redbrick Vineyard brought the classic Viognier profile of apricot, tangerine, and mango, while the Crespo Vineyard brought the balancing acidity to keep the wine fresh and nimble. The final blend provided a beautiful, complex assembly of a classic Okanagan expression of Viognier from the 2022 vintage.”
Appearance: Clear, bright, medium-intensity lemon colour.
Nose: Medium-plus intensity aromas of pine needles, citrus, orange, grape stem and a touch of pear. A sweet fruit nose. Same aromas after decanting.
Palate: Dryish, medium-plus body, with a round thicker mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity leaves a light prickle on your tongue. Citrus (lemon and Iime) with touches of orange, pineapple, pear, peach, and grape stem. Pine needle flavours come out with air. Same flavours but maybe lighter mouthfeel with decanting.
Finish: Medium-plus to long length finishing with mouthwatering acidity and light pepperiness. Acidic prickle to the finish. Citrus and grape stem flavours, with a touch of peach and pine needles with air. Steely finish. Less steely and more stony finish after decanting.
Lots of fruit flavours that persist. Drink at your leisure over a few days. The moderate temperature during the growing season looks like it kept the acidity and citrus and pine needle flavours of this wine up front.
Rating: – A wine with medium-plus intensity aromas of pine needles, citrus, orange, grape stem and a touch of pear. Dryish, medium-plus body, with a round thicker mouthfeel. Citrus (lemon and Iime) with touches of orange, pineapple, pear, peach, and grape stem. Pine needle flavours come out with air. Medium-plus to long length.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Fool’s Gold Vineyard Viognier 2021 (BC $30.97)
Winemaker’s notes, “Our 100% Viognier is from Fool’s Gold Vineyard in Oliver. The warm sites allow for full ripeness of this Rhone variety which enhances the fruit-forward aromatics and palate. The Viognier was fermented in stainless steel tank and 2 barrels to add texture to the palate. It was fermented between 16-18C to allow for some roundness to be incorporated into the finished wine…pH 3.4, TA 6.5 g/L, RS 2.8 g/L, Vegan.”
Appearance: A bright, clear, medium-plus intensity lemon colour.
Nose: Light aromas of stone fruit, peaches and pears, and hints of lime, blossom and apple. No change to the aromas after decanting.
Palate: Dry, medium-plus body, with a round, smooth, thicker mouthfeel. The wine does get a bit lighter mouthfeel with light. Medium-plus acidity leaves a light acidic prickle on your tongue. Understated flavours of peaches and apricots, with touches of orange, floral, and apple. Stoney toward the finish. Mouthfeel moves to medium and has a less thick texture with decanting. No change to flavours.
Finish: Medium-plus to long length, finishing with mouthwatering acidity and light pepperiness. Lingering flavours of peaches and apricots. Tart finish. Light stoniness on the finish. No change with decanting.
An understated, elegant Viognier. No big changes with decanting, so open and enjoy today and tomorrow. The hotter growing season does not appear to have adversely affected this wine. I think it may have helped with the round, smooth, thicker mouthfeel. Primarily fermented in stainless steel tanks also helped to keep the fruit flavours.
Rating: Light aromas of stone fruit, peaches and pears, and hints of lime, blossom and apple. Dry, medium-plus body, with a round, smooth, thicker mouthfeel. Understated flavours of peaches and apricots, with touches of orange, floral, and apple. Medium-plus to long length.
Suggested Food Pairings
I think these two wines need to be sipped with food to be fully enjoyed. A simple pairing would be with creamy cheeses. Stepping it up, a mild curry or Thai dish that uses coconut milk. A rich shellfish dish that is cooked with butter may also be a delicious pairing. Give them a try.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
You can purchase these wines from each winery’s website:
- Blasted Church Vineyards Viognier 2022
- Township 7 Benchmark Series Fool’s Gold Vineyard Viognier 2021