Amulet Wines: Fall 2021 Releases

1 11 2021

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes]

One of the most anticipated sets of releases out of the Okanagan Valley for me every year are those of Amulet, winemaker Dwight Sick’s Rhone-fuelled collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche. Made at Roche’s winery near Penticton, from grapes sourced via Sick’s extensive network of prime vineyard sources (including Kiln House Vineyard, which is assuredly Canada’s most established Grenache site), the Amulet wines are always honest, complex and expressive, firmly demonstrating that Rhone varietals might be BC’s most exciting viticultural play right now. The most arresting part of the Amulet visual experience is the striking golden metal medallion painstakingly hand-glued to each bottle, a replica of an Elizabethan era talismanic coin showcasing St. Michael battling a dragon. Amulet’s recent set of releases breaks new ground in two different ways: not only do they feature a brand new Amulet wine, but also a second medallion, this one dragon-free, featuring a merchant ship at sea and an embossed inscription that translates to: “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous.” It sure is. It took all my willpower not to peel it off the bottle so I could collect the whole set.

The Amulet wines are all crafted using minimal intervention in the cellar: indigenous yeast fermentation, no fining or filtering, and very low doses of SO2 at bottling. Production is microscopic and demand increasingly high, so much so that individual bottle limits had to be imposed on online orders in the Roche Wines shop. The new addition this year is a reserve-level Syrah that pushes its way into consideration as our country’s best rendition of the grape, cementing the vision and increasing confidence of this fledgling label. Bring on the medallions.

New medallion!
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Southern Rhone Unknown: Welcome To The Luberon, Part II

6 10 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

A common tactic you’ll hear about value hunting in the world of wine is to take a highly exalted and pedigreed region whose wines always sell at a premium — and then see what grows next door, which is quite often similar grapes in similar (albeit never identical) conditions, for a fraction of the price. So if you like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, you should check out Gigondas and Vacqueyras just to the east, which produce reasonable facsimiles of the region’s top dog (absent religious uprisings) without breaking the bank. Of course, when too many people start to follow this advice, the region next door starts to gain its own cachet, and its own prices start to increase, leading value hunters to look even further afield. In part, the Luberon is the region next door the region next door (Ventoux) the region next door (Gigondas / Vacqueyras) the region next door (Chateauneuf), one of the last untouched frontiers of the Southern Rhone on the global export market. However, it is equally a lesser-known mirror of the name region on its other side: Provence. This helps explain its focus on rose, as Ray noted in his introductory post on the area, as well as the need to separate it slightly from its Rhone Valley neighbours.

After a 35+ year wait, the Luberon was established as a formal wine region in 1988, although winemaking has existed in the area for two millennia. It was initially known as the Cotes du Luberon until changing its name to the much-snappier Luberon AOC in 2009. One thing it seems to have in common with both the Southern Rhone and Provence is an affinity for blending: ONLY blended wines are permitted to hold the formal Luberon AOC classification, with any single-varietal offerings forced to bear the inferior IGP Vaucluse designation. The specific blending rules are labyrinthine to the point of being exhausting. For reds, the primary red grapes of the region, Grenache and Syrah, must collectively make up at least 60% of any blend, with Syrah accounting for at least 20%. Other permitted grapes in the red blend include Cinsault (20% or less allowed), Carignan (20% or less), Marselan (10% or less), white grapes (! – 10% or less), Mourvedre and Counoise. Rose rules mirror the red blending rules but allow up to 20% of white grapes to be used. For whites, Ugni Blanc can make up no more than 50% of the blend and can be paired up with Roussanne/Marsanne (20% or less), Viognier (10% or less), Clairette, Bourboulenc, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. The people who care enough about the tradition and the legacy of the Luberon to comply with these blending rules clearly deserve to have their stories told.

La Cavale fits into that category. Founded in 1986 by successful businessman-turned-senator Paul Dubrule, the estate sits within a UNESCO-protected Regional Natural Park, and is currently reflecting the hallowed designation placed on its lands by auditing its soils and converting to fully organic viticulture. Over the last decade, famed Rhone winemaker Alain Graillot has taken on a consulting advisory role at the winery to enhance the end product, and La Cavale has designed and constructed a massive no-expense-spared facility to plant its flag as the centre of wine tourism in the Luberon. Dubrule’s goal is clearly to embed the Luberon permanently in the global wine consciousness, but for this to succeed, the wine itself has to speak the truth of the region. Let’s see if it does.

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