Entering The Hatch, Spring 2017

23 05 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

IMG_6146Ever since I first saw The Hatch’s avian-Thomas-Crown-Affair primary logo shortly after it opened a couple years ago, I have been sort of transfixed from a distance, finding both the winery and its artistic ethos strangely compelling despite knowing basically nothing about them.  Based out of a rustic-modern “shack from the future” in the heights of West Kelowna and sourcing grapes from across the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, The Hatch initially comes across (quite intentionally) more like an artists’ collective than a commercial winery, listing Salman Rushdie on its personnel page and expounding in esoteric wine-code about “Ross O” and B. Yanco” (I’ll give you a second to sort that one out).  They confidently found their visual style from the outset thanks to the remarkable imagery provided by local western Canadian artist Paul Morstad (who is also found on The Hatch’s personnel page, playing a banjo); once people have been drawn in by the graphics, it’s up to winemaker Jason Parkes to keep their attention.  The whole artistic cacophony and the simultaneously grand yet whimsical presentation lends The Hatch a jolt of personality that the generally strait-laced BC wine scene can happily use…but does the buzz extend to what’s in the bottle?  Happily, I got to find out.

FullSizeRender-601The Hatch releases its wines in stylistic series, of which I had the opportunity to experience two:  the mid-tier Hobo Series wines, featuring a panoply of hand-drawn labels of hobos (seriously) that risk making you cry thanks to their sheer beauty (also seriously), and the ambitious Black Swift Vineyards series wines, which collectively form an expansive single-vineyard project focused on the various facets of BC’s glorious dirt.  The wine, like the winery, was never boring.

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2016 The Hatch “Life Cycle Of A Hobo” Muller-Thurgau

Look at the majesty of this wine label.  It has to be in my top 3 of all time.  Every time I look at it, I just can’t stop…it is absolutely beautiful and utterly perfect.  To continue to beat a drum that most of you are probably sick of by now:  labels matter, corks matter, and presentation matters, both as a marketing tool and as a visual expression of what the consumer is going to encounter in the bottle.  To say that The Hatch gets this understates it; the concept is infused into everything that they are.

To make a great thing even better, this wine is 100%…Okanagan Muller-Thurgau!  This is a very wine-geeky thing to get excited about, but bear with me.  Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German scientists created an absurd number of new grape varieties by constantly crossing Riesling with a rolodex of considerably worse grapes in a hopeful quest to arrive at a new super-grape that combined Riesling’s grace, quality and complexity with Random Lesser Grape X’s higher yields, or cold-hardiness, or early ripening, or ability to adapt to different soils and climates, or other commercial aptitude in order to make the business of wine easier at the northern limits of viticulture.  Spoiler:  it never, ever worked (moral:  don’t mess with Riesling).  But that isn’t to say that it didn’t result in some grapes that made their mark on the world.  One of them was Muller-Thurgau (which was created by a Swiss scientist as opposed to a German one, but he was working in Germany at the time, so it counts), a crossing between Riesling and the anonymous but awesomely named Madeleine Royale.  M-T rose to become the pinnacle of German jug wine and the most popular planting in the country, the workhorse of Blue Nun and its ilk, and it remains responsible for a shade under 15% of the plantings in Germany.

FullSizeRender-606It also played an ignominious role in British Columbia’s wine history, although it was quickly left behind as the Okanagan looked for better quality and a path to a stronger identity.  However, a few scattered vineyards have yet to be eradicated, and The Hatch decided to pounce on one and make the best possible Muller-Thurgau it could out of it.  I love the idea of taking a nondescript afterthought of a grape and seeing how far you can push it; in combination with the hobo label, I was about as conceptually committed as possible to this wine before even tasting it.

FullSizeRender-608But taste it I did.  It was a pale but shimmering lemon colour in the glass and gave off honey, white peach and white flower aromas, but in echo form, as if they were one step removed from the senses, pale and fleeting.  My first sip of artisanal quality Muller-Thurgau possessed a light but still unctuous body and was an utter taste bud conundrum, part fruity, part salty, part bitter, which made the wine instantly scatter across all parts of the tongue as soon as it hit.  If I had to assign flavours to it, I would go with honeydew, wet rocks, pink salt and Thrills gum – fairly neutral and yet utterly interesting.  A thrilling inside-joke patio wine produced in all seriousness.

87+ points

$25 to $30 CDN

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2015 Black Swift Vineyards Kurkjian Farm Riesling

The Hatch describes their Black Swift Vineyards project as “the first exclusively single-vineyard multi-regional wine project in British Columbia”, isolating at least a dozen hand-selected vineyards from the Okanagan and the Similkameen and then cultivating small-production hyphen-inducing expressions of the grapes that best showcase their soil.  There were only 900 BOTTLES (75 cases) of this particular Riesling made (mine was #634) from the Kurkjian Vineyard, located just a touch south of Kelowna on the eastern side of Lake Okanagan on an organically farmed west-facing plot with deep heavy clay soils.  Bone dry and Aussie-style, this one could pierce into your very soul, although it is going through an aromatic shy phase at the moment, offering up a hint of red apple and lime with mineral accents of Epsom salts and falling rain.

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Three different corks from three Hatch bottlings! Collective Cork Rating: 4.5/10 (Given the artistic heights reached by all other parts of this venture, I think more is possible on the closure front.)

Unrelenting, tightly acidic and austere on the palate, this Riesling is currently puckered and citric, all grapefruit and lemon rind and talcum powder, pulsing with energy but not yet able to expand beyond a linear flavour profile.  It is strangely mouth-drying as you swallow despite its potent acid levels, but its rocky, high-pitched, alpine flavours linger and persist for at least a minute, suggesting that there may be more layers that unfold with more time in the bottle.  I would sit on this one for at least a couple more years, but for those who like their Riesling as a laser beam of icy intellectual rage, this may be a stellar drink-now proposition.  At a shade over $25, it also represents a remarkable value for its depth and quality.

89+ points

$25 to $30 CDN

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2014 Black Swift Vineyards The Long Road Syrah

If the Black Swift Vineyards concept is to showcase the diversity of BC’s vineyard terroir, The Hatch could not have picked a better dichotomy than the two bottles provided to me:  The Long Road Syrah comes from warmer, more arid and more southerly climes than the Kurkjian Farm, from a single vineyard on the northern end of the scorching Osoyoos Bench, and could not be more different than the taut, skin-peeling Riesling from east Kelowna.  It is not fooling around either visually or aromatically, coursing out of the bottle a glass-coating, light-sucking dark purple colour and taking no olfactory prisoners, actually making me emit a reactionary Keanu Reeves “whoa.” when I put my nose in the glass.

IMG_6120There is an almost distressingly pure aroma of blackcurrant fruit, laced but not distracted by oak-induced dark chocolate and coffee notes, so pristine and focused that it doesn’t seem real at first, like a too-perfect glossy hologram, the world’s best scratch-and-sniff.  But it persists and then elevates once the wine hits your lips, bolting an elegant yet weighty, languid texture and beefy, olive-y umami flavours onto this Platonic form of currant, this out-of-body fruit experience.  Softer on acid, this still seems built to last, and I expect it will become a wildly savoury, borderline-inappropriate party with some time in the bottle.  That said, while there may be more to come with this wine, I have no earthly idea why you’d want to wait, because this is next-level juice right now.  Okanagan Syrah, I’m starting to feel you, loud and clear.

92 points

$45 to $50 CDN

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