Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 12

12 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Halfway!!  As in past years of blogging Advent, I arrive at the midway point of the calendar wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into and why on Earth I keep doing this every December.  The pre-Christmas pressure is getting to all of us, but we persevere — these wines aren’t going to analyze themselves.  The random division of blogging days is starting to coalesce into possibly pre-ordained wine patterns:  while Ray’s calendar selections tend to focus on things from 2013 and things from Austria, mine all seem trapped in calendar nostalgia, directly harkening back to bottles we pulled one year ago.  And here we go again:  tonight’s wine is a trip down memory lane squared.  When I first opened the wrapping paper I actually thought it WAS the very same bottle that kicked off the inaugural Half-Bottle Advent:  the 2016 Bella Wines Rose Brut Natural “Westbank”.  From the front it looks identical, but closer examination of the back label reveals that, while this is also a Bella traditional-method sparkling Gamay, it’s from a different vintage (2017 vs. 2016) and a different vineyard.  And what a difference both of those things can make.

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Bella Wines is uncompromising in its vision and is probably unlike anything the Okanagan Valley has otherwise seen:  a 100% bubbles-only natural wine producer that makes only single-varietal, single-vineyard offerings, most of which are from a single vintage.  They source grapes from organic vineyards, avoid any additives in the winemaking process, ferment only with indigenous yeasts and use cooler fall and winter outdoor temperatures to help with cold stabilization.  The goal is to create the purest and most transparent picture of the place and time that gave the grapes life; the flip side of that coin is that, when the land and the season do not want to cooperate, the picture painted may not be an appealing one.  But Bella is like a war-zone photographer:  the idea is not to appeal, it’s to reveal.

2017 severely tested the mettle of this philosophy.  Many of Bella’s vineyards were beset with powdery mildew, and the wildfires that plagued BC throughout the summer blocked the sun in a smoky haze and didn’t permit enough UV light to get through to get rid of it.  Combine that with a major spring frost and a steadfast refusal to use herbicides and the result is extremely low yields and highly unfavourable growing conditions.

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Last year’s “Westbank” sparkling rose hailed from the Beaumont Vineyard in West Kelowna.  It doesn’t appear as though Bella makes the “Westbank” wine anymore, although in a supremely weird coincidence, the 2016 wine from Beaumont (what we had) is blended with 2017 wine from the Cavada Vineyard (what we’re about to have) that’s mid-ferment to kick-start the secondary fermentation that creates Bella’s new NV TRADNAT offering (all-caps syntax entirely theirs).  So through consecutive Advents, we get to test out the ingredients of Bella’s new blend.  Unlike Beaumont, the Cavada Vineyard is in Naramata, located directly above Bella’s lakeside estate vineyard on the bedrock-laden hillside at 1600 feet of elevation.  The grapes, after their 2017 ordeal, were harvested in early September at a biting 3.04 pH and a very low Brix (19.4, which results in something like an 11% maximum potential alcohol level in the finished wine…this gets boosted by the secondary fermentation, which introduces more sugar for the yeasts to eat, but the final ABV in the Cavada is still only 11.8%).

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (Still loving the retro creamy look.  This screwcap looks like something you’d get at a malt shop in 1963.)

The first thing I notice upon closer inspection is that this can’t possibly have been the same wine as 2017 Advent after all because the colour of these two bubbly Gamays is nothing alike.  The 2016 Westbank had this electric psychedelic watermelon colour that blared like a neon sign; the 2017 Cavada is a much more subdued orange-y hue (which you can see in the picture as it blends in with my couch).  It smells strongly yeasty, almost pickled:  brine, cucumber, apple cider vinegar, the pungent aromas of fermentation.  Expecting something muddied and wishy-washy on the palate as a result, I am unprepared when it jumps down my throat in feral fashion, flashing claws of vicious acidity and sweeping hordes of angry bubbles, aggressively wild and everywhere at once.  What fruit is there isn’t pink, instead trending towards sour lemon, exceedingly underripe orange, grapefruit and celery; parchment paper, gumboots, ocean spray and pitch are laced with an intense stoniness among pervasive autolytic notes.  This could not be less like last year’s Bella, and that’s the point:  to tell the story of a site and a season, even when the tale is about the hardships each faced.

87- points

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