Wine Review: The Reds of Sunrock Vineyards

4 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

You cannot make truly good wine without ripe grapes. Simple, no? Insufficient sugar in the fruit is not going to leave much for yeast to consume, and such starved fungi are not going to produce something with sufficient body (and alcohol) to merit any sort of “greatness” mantle. Moreover, grapes need heat if they are to attain physiological ripeness. This refers to the changes in tannins and other chemical components that occur largely in grape skins, stems and seeds during the ripening cycle beyond the mere increase in sugar.  These changes are what produce the key varietal aroma signatures we know and love, preventing a wine from tasting green, weedy, and brittle.

Although sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness are clearly correlated, it would seem that grape hang times might be a stronger predictor of physiological readiness than just heat alone, although in my view (and botanically speaking) you aren’t going to get any degree of maturation, period, without heat. The key question for wine quality is: how much heat is too much? Overly ripe grapes mean clumsy, muddled wines that are boozy, lacking in precision or definition, and often almost devoid of any sense of place or regional character. Such wines are going to be tremendously fruity and powerful, but may not offer much in the way of nuance or balance. As I read up on Sunrock Vineyards, which could very well be the hottest single vineyard site in British Columbia, I wonder how they approach these ripeness issues.

Sunrock is owned by Arterra Wines Canada, formerly the Canadian subsidiary of the massive Constellation Brands, but recently acquired in 2016 by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan (for some reason that tickles my funny bone…I’m sure we drove many a substitute teacher to drink). Arterra farms around 1300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, with the expected corresponding range of quality tiers. Jackson-Triggs might be the best known of Arterra’s brands, and the single-vineyard Sunrock labels formerly carried this name as the top tier of that portfolio. Sunrock is now a standalone winery, a fine example of a large corporate entity with the good sense to recognize and preserve the unique character of a single site. And what a site it is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

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

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.

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British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Spring Releases

16 05 2017

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

Some people chart the seasons using a calendar; others look to the melting snow and the first robins to mark the start of spring.  For me and this blog, the new season only arrives when the box of new releases from Burrowing Owl is delivered and tasted.  I can now happily announce:  spring is here.

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OK, yes, I had a glass of the Chardonnay before the tasting started.  I regret nothing.

Burrowing Owl is one of the few Canadian wineries that has been consistently able to juggle both quantity and quality, producing 35,000 cases annually from 16 different varietals grown across 170 acres and three different estate vineyard sites encircling the scorching southern Okanagan hubs of Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is likely best known for its Bordeaux varietals, but also makes room in its vineyard sites for less expected offerings like Tempranillo and Viognier, not to mention a killer Syrah that is proof of concept of the region’s suitability for the grape.  Burrowing Owl’s two largest vineyards are scant minutes away from the US border, on western-facing slopes angling down towards the temperature-modulating Lake Osoyoos, which both restrains the Okanagan desert heat during the day and extends it at night.  The third is due west of Oliver, in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, using its proximity to Keremeos Mountain to help grow Bordeaux whites Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, where 2017’s spring releases conveniently start. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Stag’s Hollow Grenache

20 09 2013

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

You may be looking at history -- Canada's first 100% Grenache?

You may be looking at history — Canada’s first 100% Grenache?

I will spare you the details of why I haven’t posted in awhile; suffice to say that it involves multiple children under the age of 3, potty training, vomit, and the inexorable loss of sanity.  As a result of the above, these first 50 words have taken 25 minutes to write.  But I will not be deterred, because today is something bigger than you or I or the trials of parenting.  Today is International Grenache Day.  And today I get to write about a wine that I have followed from a distance for a long time, even though it is brand new to market.

I have recently come to realize and embrace that, when it comes to reds, I’m a Rhone guy.  I have adored Syrah for quite some time, but in the last few months I have become increasingly enamored with the southern French region’s other red offerings as well.  I tried with piqued curiosity my first varietal Carignan, the ’70s shag carpet of wine.  I devoured Mourvedres from Bandol to Washington State and back.  And I opened my heart to the joy and beauty of Grenache.  There may be other grapes that I enjoy more at their peak expressions, but I don’t know if there’s another grape out there that disappoints as seldom as Grenache does.  No matter how much it costs or where it’s from, it always hits the mark and is reliably bright and juicy and enjoyable.

But what it’s not, at least until now, is from Canada.  Grenache is generally a hot-climate grape, one that needs a lot of sun and a lot of warmth to ripen.  It’s best known in the Mediterranean climates of southern France and the arid deserts of Spain, occasionally popping up in the equally balmy South Australia or the equally parched eastern Washington.  In Canada, where every grape imaginable seems to be planted with hope somewhere, I had never heard of Grenache being grown, and certainly had never seen it being bottled on its own, until I happened to stumble on a Twitter mention of this project by Stag’s Hollow winemaker Dwight Sick.  I have been thoroughly intrigued by the idea of Okanagan Grenache ever since, and after some relentless cyber-stalking, I was lucky enough to snag a bottle of this inaugural experiment and see for myself how this warm weather red adapted to my home and native land. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Moraine Winery Cliffhanger White & Red

26 06 2013

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

Before I get started, let me first express both my condolences to anyone whose home or business has been impacted by the recent flooding in Calgary and my gratitude to the legions of municipal workers, police/fire/rescue crews and citizen volunteers who have worked tirelessly to repair and restore affected areas.  I think we’re all a little desensitized to disaster coverage that we see on the news, but when the areas underwater are streets in your own city where you’ve walked, shops that you’ve frequented, or the arena of the local team, the veil of distance gets ripped away and the footage quite literally hits home.  Hang in there, Calgary.

Welcome back, blogging.  It's been awhile.

Welcome back, blogging. It’s been awhile.

So you haven’t heard a lot from me in recent times, but I have marginally decent excuses for my prolonged blogging absence.  In the past couple months I have changed jobs, moving back into law firm life at a boutique shop recently founded by some former (and now current) colleagues, and I have also welcomed a new child into the world.  My second son Max was born on Fathers Day, and events both leading up to his birth and since his arrival have taken up most of my attention.  I therefore feel somewhat justified in playing the Major Life Events card in an attempt to excuse the rather ridiculous gap between PnP postings.  If my last 10 days has been any indication, I would expect more of the same down the road, but I will try to keep the blog moving forward, if only to ward off the comment spambots that have descended like hungry vultures in the past few weeks.  I’m not dead yet, Internet.

Anyway, on to the stars of today’s post, which are two wines from a relatively new Okanagan producer that I was lucky enough to try recently.  Moraine Winery is a recent addition to the renowned Naramata Bench subregion of the Okanagan, located just northeast of Penticton along the eastern shores of Lake Okanagan.  Naramata has gotten enough critical attention recently that many wineries with any trace of property there are trumpeting the affiliation with the area, even if the bulk of their vineyards lie elsewhere in BC.  Not so with Moraine:  each of its two vineyards, named Anastasia and Sophia after the owners’ two daughters, lie within the Naramata Bench itself, and all of the grapes for its wines come from these sites.  Moraine’s proprietors Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov relocated from Alberta to pursue their winegrowing dreams, so I like them already.

Stelvin Rating:  1/10 (Give me something to work with here...giant Ms next vintage?)

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (Give me something to work with here…giant Ms next vintage?)

The Cliffhanger series of wines are Moraine’s entry level offerings, each likely checking in at under $20 retail in Alberta ($15 at the cellar door).  This is the price point at which Canadian wines tend to make me nervous, as it can often be challenging for an Okanagan or Niagara producer to put together a compelling, estate-grown, quality bottle for less than $20 given the land, labour and equipment costs and climatic challenges common to all Canadian wine regions.  Thankfully, both the 2011 Cliffhanger White and the 2011 Cliffhanger Red are strong and enjoyable introductory efforts from a producer that I’ll be watching going forward. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Cachet No. 01 by Stag’s Hollow

27 02 2013
There is no debate:  this is a baller-looking bottle of wine.

There is no debate: this is a baller-looking bottle of wine.

Apologies in advance to my local Alberta readers:  this review will be almost useless to you.  I have never seen this bottle in our fair province, or on a retail store anywhere else for that matter.  I got it for Christmas a couple years ago from a cousin-in-law out in Vancouver (thanks Brad!), was immediately impressed by the rap-video blinginess of its container (the bottle must weigh 2 pounds empty) and then discovered through research that it was created as part of a unique and forward-thinking experimental line of wines by stalwart Okanagan producer Stag’s Hollow.  The Cachet wines are limited edition blends of top quality grapes which are outside of the standard SH catalog; they are made once, as a small run in a single vintage, and then never replicated again.  So while this is the 2008 vintage of Cachet No. 01, there is no 2009 or 2010 bottling — the 1500 bottles (125 cases) of this wine from that single year are all there is.  I have no idea how this is commercially workable, but I find it fascinating.  These high-end one-off blends put the power in the hands of the winemaker to express a different vision with these specialty wines every year…or at least that was the plan.  As it turns out, only two Cachets have ever been made:  this one, and the sequel Cachet No. 02 (made from Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne) that was released around the same time.  The world is still waiting on Cachet No. 03, and I’m sort of wondering whether the concept has died before it ever really got off the ground. Read the rest of this entry »





The Prospect Winery White Showdown

5 11 2012

[The bottles below were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The competitors.

Over the past few weeks I have become quite a fan of BC’s Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery.  I have long retained a lingering suspicion about any bottle of inexpensive Canadian wine, fearing that elements both natural (shortened and uneven growing seasons/smaller ripening windows) and economic (high land costs in winegrowing areas/little access to cheap labour) would inevitably combine to make it impossible for a homegrown bottle to compete for my $15 Tuesday Night Bottle attention with those bastions of cheap and cheerful wine:  Australia, Argentina, California, Chile, Spain.  While I am increasingly convinced that we’re in the midst of a quality revolution in Canadian wine, I saw little hope that it would trickle down to the entry-level bottles in any winery’s lineup.  Then I got sent a six-pack sampler from the folks behind the Prospect Winery, an Okanagan producer with ownership ties to the more famous Mission Hill and a focus on the budget-conscious end of the retail shelf.  First a remarkably complex Shiraz and then a substantial Merlot captured my attention as each were downed with surprise and admiration and made the subject of solo reviews.  Left in the sampler box were four whites from Prospect’s 2011 vintage:  Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay.  Quicker than you could say “easy excuse for a tasting”, I knew what had to be done.  I rounded up my tasting panel from this summer’s Mission Hill Pinot Olympics and we went to work on a head-to-head-to-head-to-head showdown of Prospect Winery’s whites. Read the rest of this entry »








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