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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PnP Panel Tasting: Midnight’s Children – The Many Syrahs of The Hatch

14 06 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It has been a prolific week for PnP Panel Tastings! This one was a doozy. Peter, myself, and PnP spirits guru Tyler convened to open some Okanagan wines; we also ended up taking a massively (possibly Okanagan-wine-induced) deep dive into ’90s alternative rock, which was good for a monumental spike of nostalgia and a slew of earworms for the rest of the weekend. Sometimes hangovers sound like Wide Mouth Mason. The company was of course excellent, tolerant of my occasional requests for overly long Rush tunes (OK, it wasn’t all ’90s). That aside, this was the sort of night from which memories are made, frivolously pleasant and soul-searching alike, and what better vinous companion for me than The Hatch?

The-Hatch-Wines-West-KelownaYou see, four of the suspects hailed from the cellars of the Hatch, subject of a previous PnP Panel Tasting and still my favourite BC winery. I defy you to find a similar blend of idiosyncrasy, creativity, whimsy, and sheer stubborn courage in our westernmost province. There is a true artist’s aesthetic behind the wines. These guys do what moves them, unabashedly and without any discernable pretense. That kind of genuine interface with the world at large is becoming an endangered species other than in the world of wine, where uniqueness has long been a virtue, one that has likely only gathered steam in recent years. I think The Hatch has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, pushing well beyond some initial growing pains into the world of truly fine wine, even as they never truly forsake the uncanny, the weird. After all, “a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”. The Hatch shall continue to keep us awake (except perhaps if you kill all four of these on the same night. Not recommended.) 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 »





Calgary Wine Life: Culmina Tasting with Don Triggs

5 06 2015
Don Triggs, visionary owner of Culmina.

Don Triggs, visionary owner of Culmina.

Okanagan wines are coming of age, and Don Triggs is helping to get them there.  More and more, producers from British Columbia’s top wine region are ceasing to be satisfied with being locally successful and a tourist charm; they are after quality, seeking distinction, looking to carve out an international identity.  Triggs’ current wine venture, Culmina Family Estate Winery, is a manifestation of this quest to be better.  In the past few years, Triggs has meticulously engaged in soil mapping and analysis of the 43(!) micro-blocks of terroir in his estate vineyards; he has relentlessly, and successfully, helped lobby for the creation of a new delimited sub-appellation (the first sub-geographical indicator in BC) for the Golden Mile Bench, an east-facing angled strip of land stretching southward from Oliver; and he has made Culmina’s winery facilities the most technologically advanced in the area.  This dedication to elevating the level of the Okanagan’s wine game is starting to show in the bottle.

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 »





Wine Review: 2010 Prospect Winery Major Allan Merlot

3 10 2012

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

Prospect Winery, colour me impressed…again.

After being quite pleasantly shocked by the first bottle of red wine that the Prospect Winery sent my way (the 2009 Red Willow Shiraz, written up here), I opened the second and final red they had provided last night thinking that it was fighting against a strong precedent.  I wasn’t heading into this bottle with the lowered expectations with which I had traditionally approached inexpensive Canadian wine; instead, after Prospect’s dynamic Shiraz, I was looking for big things, at least as far as sub-$20 BC Merlot goes.  And while I’m still trying to figure out whether I was satisfied or disappointed with the outcome, I continue to be refreshed and enthused by the fact that I’m starting to approach my own country’s wines with something resembling optimism…because of that alone, Prospect Winery has already succeeded in its mission to showcase the various varietals of the Okanagan in an affordable way.

Since I covered the winery’s corporate ancestral lineage in detail in my previous PW post, I won’t rehash it here other than to say that the Prospect lineup is part of the Mission Hill family once removed, with its own winemaker and plans to create a stand-alone winery.  Of the various brands falling under the umbrella of MH affiliate Artisan Wine Co., it may be the one with the brightest prospects (pun only half intended), putting out dependable, varietally-correct wines at very reasonable prices.  Each of Prospect’s bottlings is named for a different ecological or historical feature of the Okanagan Valley; the Major Allan Merlot is an homage to Allan Brooks, a prolific wildlife artist whose wildlife paintings are known across North America (and on this bottle’s label, which showcases one of them).  I was particularly interested to try this wine, because, as far as I could tell, unlike many of Prospect’s other offerings, the Major Allan is not currently available in Alberta.  In other words, unless my research is wrong, my home province may just have to take my word for this. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Prospect Winery Red Willow Shiraz

13 09 2012

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

They (thankfully) don’t make inexpensive Canadian wine like they used to.

Another day, another foray into the once-nebulous-and-terrifying world of inexpensive Canadian wine.  My connotations of this corner of the market harken back to my university days in Victoria a decade ago, when my roommate and I would stop by the nearest government-run liquor store to pick up a $17 magnum of something local and atrocious before having friends over for drinks.  I have only recently started to get over the stigma that built up in my brain due to the bad-wine headaches that ensued from those bottles, and I remain a touch leery whenever I see a bottle from BC or Ontario that dips below the $20 mark.  Thankfully for me, I recently received a vinous intervention in the form of a half-case sample of wines from the Okanagan’s Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery, all of which clock in under the $20 threshold, and one of which particularly intrigued me:  this bottle of 2009 Red Willow Shiraz. Read the rest of this entry »








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