Calgary Wine Life: City & Country, YYC’s Urban Winery, Part I

26 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Calgary’s craft beverage game has been significantly elevated in recent years.  When I first moved here for good in 2005, the idea of buying small-batch booze made locally was barely a possibility, let alone a point of pride.  Fast forward 15 years and a tweaked legislative regime, and our fair city is now home to over 50 breweries (and even a brewery district), multiple distilleries, and a surprising number of cideries, complete with a now-permanent homemade presence in restaurants and retail outlets.  But even with this dramatic expansion in Calgary-created alcoholic options, I can’t say that I ever expected that we would have a fully functioning wine producer within our civic boundaries.  Well, colour me an insufficient visionary:  meet City & Country, Calgary’s first ever urban winery.

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Located just east of Macleod Trail and just south of Erlton, a couple minutes north of Alloy restaurant, City & Calgary is a bricks-and-mortar winery as of this year but has been a producing brand for a couple of vintages before that.  Owner and hospitality industry veteran Chris Fodor and his wife Karen have long had a dream of making their own wine, and they accomplished that goal in 2017 with some assistance from friends at Pentage Winery in the Okanagan, which served as their initial base of operations.  A 2018 vintage in BC followed, but the Fodors’ dream was not site-limited:  the ultimate goal was to establish a production facility in an urban locale and to source grapes from a variety of different regions, both inside and outside of Canada.  As long as the fruit (or pressed juice or must, depending on the supply arrangement) could be transported quickly, safely and in a temperature-controlled manner, this setup offered greater flexibility, more winemaking options and the ability to avoid, or at least mitigate, the vagaries of weather, animals (damn you bears!) and other local conditions in a given region and vintage.

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In 2019, the Fodors obtained the necessary funding to set up their urban winery in Calgary, moving production to the city late in the year and officially opening the doors of City & Country winery on February 1st, 2020.  The cosmos, of course, scoffed at mortal dreams and aspirations, and the Fodors’ grand opening lasted only a month and a half or so before the doors were forced to close back up as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response directives.  Like so many others rolling to adapt with the times, City & Country is still trucking along virtually, focusing on its online storefront, offering up its wines to retail locations in the province and arranging for contactless deliveries.  They are the only Calgary wine business I’ve seen to date to offer free delivery across Alberta, available on all orders over $60.  They have assembled 3-bottle and 6-bottle tasting packs allowing people to sample both their base lineup and some limited-edition specials, complete with tailored videos, tasting notes and pairing recommendations.  They continue to run their business and pursue their dream, in a world that makes no sense but that needs wine more than ever.  I recently got to raise my first ever glasses of local wine to their vision and toast to their continued efforts to make us a winemaking town.

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2017 City & Country Okanagan White ($22)

City & Country’s marketing efforts focus heavily on the fact that their wines all feature no added colours, flavours or sugars, additives which are often employed in mass-produced or lower-priced wines to mask or mitigate flaws in the underlying raw materials.  They also note that their wines are vegan-friendly and gluten-free, the latter of which relates to the winery’s decision not to use expensive oak barrels in its winemaking processes, some of which can be sealed with wheat-based paste.  (Not all barrels use this type of paste and it is not likely to become present in the wine itself in any event.)  City & Country largely makes use of plastic cube fermentation vessels instead, which have a similar oxygen permeability to oak but do not transfer any flavours to the finished wine.

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The primary white of the current C&C lineup is this Okanagan blend of 85% Chardonnay from Kaledon and 15% Semillon from Skaha Bench.  It is immediately noticeable thanks to its vibrant, shiny greenish lemon colour, which pulls the eye to the glass (if perhaps not as emphatically as its pink brethren below).  Canned pear, Fuji apple, white flowers and sea breeze form a compact and varietally correct aromatic profile, accented by whiffs of cantaloupe and a vaguely tropical tutti frutti/Del Monte fruit cup note that arises in other similarly value-priced Okanagan whites.  There is some tension on the tongue between textural breadth and flavour delivery, the wine inexorably spreading and expanding as lemon curd, pina colada, honeydew, apple skins and icing sugar advance and recede, prickle and retreat, cautiously feeling their way towards a bitter-tinged finish that offers a pleasant contrast to what came before.  The combination of quiet acid and a creamy but medium-weight body make this the kind of glass that could disappear before dinner without you even realizing it.  At three years of age already, it is not likely to improve further in the bottle.

87- points

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2017 City & Country Similkameen Rosé ($22)

Like the white above, this 2017 pink wine was also vinified at Pentage Winery in Penticton, prior to the 2019 establishment of City & Country’s Calgary production facility. Rosés are generally made from red grapes (with their juice separated from the grape skins fairly quickly after the initial crush so that the resulting wine carries only a hint of their colour), though at times some white grapes can form part of the blend.  This bottle takes that exception to the extreme:  it is actually predominantly a white, anchored by 63% Viognier and rounded out by 20% Petit Verdot (!!), 10% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc.  My primary question about the wine is how it managed to obtain its electric transparent cherry hue despite only 37% of the blend contributing pigment — co-fermentation perhaps, where all of the disparate grape varieties are fermented together in the same tank, which can help to preserve colour in red/white mixed blends?  The wine’s tagline is “I’m naturally this pink”, and I believe it, but it would have taken some work and creativity to get there with this varietal split.

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I had to come back to this one a few different times to try to get a handle on it.  The aromas flash from delicate (cherry blossom, lemon zest) and mineral (chalk, purple and orange Flintstones vitamins) to ragingly flamboyant (Sunny D, Hubba Bubba), not building to a crescendo but all hitting simultaneously, like three movies playing at once.  There is a heft to the notably fleshy mouthfeel, Viognier’s textural oiliness singing through and remaining a focal point throughout in light of what is again overly subtle, measured acid.  Strawberry Astronaut Ice Cream and purple Rockets lend confection to a slightly discordant flavour symphony, although behind them calmer flavours of violets and pink lemonade provide some needed stability.  This looks gorgeous and would serve its required patio purpose without difficulty, but would likely benefit from some increased acidic vibrancy, particularly after three years in bottle.

86- points

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Stelvin Rating:  7/10 (From one ampersand-based brand to another, I gotta give props.)

2019 City & Country Californian Rosé (~$35)

We now move into the limited-edition component of the C&C portfolio.  Only 50 cases of this notably non-Okanagan wine were made, and it has the distinct honour of being the very first City & Country wine that was vinified in the new Calgary production facility.  It is proudly, unabashedly, happily…white Zinfandel.  Made from 100% California Zin, this bottle’s ABV is 12.1%, significantly below the 13.8% ABV of the prior rosé, because there is significant unfermented residual sugar left in the wine, in true white Zin style.  It looks to currently only be available in the City & Country tasting 6-pack, but it may end up with a presence at local retailers as well.  I have not had a bottle of white Zin in over five years, but the style remains as popular as ever with casual drinkers and this will forever be the first Calgary-created commercial wine I’ve ever tasted, so game on.

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As you can see before you even open the bottle, this is a terrifyingly vivid crushed-strawberry/Tahiti Treat red colour, hinting at the bouncy and boisterous beverage to come.  It emerges with a notable spritz at first, a swath of bubbles that coat the side of the glass and generate a healthy froth before slowly dying down.  You quickly forget about this, however, as you are immediately plunged into a world of sweet cherry cobbler, cream soda, Nibs, pomegranate juice, Fruit Roll-Ups and banana Runts, all ringed with turbo-charged redcurrant that pulsates on the taste buds well after you swallow.  It’s sweet, it’s earnest, and frankly it’s goddamn delicious, probably topping my all-time white Zinfandel podium with relative ease.  I don’t know that it is the type of bottle that is intended for detailed technical analysis and evaluation, so I won’t give it one, but it will most definitely be a gateway into the world of wine for those new drinkers who happen to come across it.  Hopefully it will nudge these people to explore further what this marvellous beverage has to offer, and hopefully they will be able to do so at an open-for-business City & Country tasting bar in the near future.

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2 responses

26 04 2020
Warren Piers

WHAT?! This is interesting, had not heard about it. What was your rating on the Cali Rose?

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26 04 2020
Peter Vetsch

Hi Warren, I declined to rate the white Zin because it didn’t strike me as the type of wine built for technical evaluation in the same way as the other rosé was. It’s delicious but not structured like a standard wine is, more for quaffing than study.

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