Amulet Wines: Vinous Talismans

6 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

When the intrepid Dwight Sick left his longtime position as winemaker at Stags Hollow Winery and took up the same role at the Naramata’s Moraine Winery, he took two things with him:  (1) a trailblazing sense of adventure, forcing drinkers to check their premises regarding which grapes can work best in the Okanagan Valley, and (2) access to the best and most established plantings of Grenache in Canada, from the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton.  That combination could never lie dormant for too long.  Sick helped plant the Kiln House Grenache vines over a decade ago, and he nurtured them into the Okanagan’s first bottling of varietal Grenache after years of effort and patience.  It didn’t seem right to let the red Rhone dream die, so soon after it had been realized.  So Sick didn’t.

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Enter Amulet Wines:  a special new side project that Sick has undertaken in collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche of the thrilling recent Okanagan venture Roche Wines, fulfilling a vision 15 years in the making.  Amulet is focused solely on Okanagan-grown Rhone varietals, a lesser-known but burgeoning (and shockingly effective) subset of British Columbia’s melting pot of grape influences.  The inaugural Amulet release is a duo of bottlings, both blends, both heavily featuring the Kiln House Vineyard, both aimed at proving that Canada is (or at least can be) a New World Rhone haven.  As Dwight Sick was one of the first to make me believe the truth of this latter proposition, I was eager to see how far an entire brand focused on this goal, and inspired by his vision, could carry it.

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First things first:  god damn are these visually commanding bottles of wine.  I don’t know how gripped I am by the “good versus evil” thematics that pervade the Amulet branding, but I am entirely enthralled by the bottles themselves, which harken back somewhat to Sick’s old Cachet bottlings from Stag’s Hollow in their transparent monochrome-and-red colour scheme.  However, what particularly elevates these new offerings are their centrepieces:  the curved golden metal coins emanating from the heart of each bottle, which are apparently replicas of Elizabethan-era “Gold Angel” coins, depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon, that were carried or worn as amulets to ward off evil.  Whatever these coins added to the overall production cost of the bottles, it was worth it — they are simply stunning.  I tried to pry mine off the bottles once they were empty, but to no avail.  I’ll look for a dragon next time.  Were the wines equally as compelling as their packaging? Read the rest of this entry »





PnP Panel Tasting: Weird Canada – BC Carmenere Supremacy (Plus Special Guests)

21 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch & Raymond Lamontagne

It all started with Carmenere.  It snowballed from there.

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Sometime last year we became aware that there was at least one winery growing and making Carmenere in the Okanagan.  (I am now aware that this has been the case since at least 2005, but allow me my joy of discovery nonetheless.)  Then we were told of another.  And then another.  Then we decided, emphatically though without particular reason, that we MUST gather and taste all of these Canadian Carmeneres, even though we had no real plan for achieving this goal — it will not surprise you to learn that these idiosyncratic bottles are small-production, not in the Alberta market and often produced for winery club members only.  Then one such winery club member, who I had never previously met, happened to be IN the Okanagan while chatting with us about this now-fanatical obsession and picked up a couple of the Carms for us, along with some of the other weird vinous glory you will see below.  Then another local benefactor, who I had also never met, traded us the final piece of our Carmenere puzzle from her cellar.  Thanks to the kindness of electronic friends, we now had ourselves a proper comparative tasting, an honest-to-goodness BC Carmenere showdown.  The first ever?  I can hardly believe it myself.

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The Carm contenders:  Black Hills Estate Winery, which normally plays it fairly strait-laced but which allowed itself a foray into the wacky with this Club-only offering; Moon Curser Vineyards, whose entire portfolio is dedicated to oddities like this which fall outside of the Canadian mainstream (stay tuned for a future Panel Tasting when we dive into their Touriga Nacional and Dolcetto, among others); and Lariana Cellars, which has made Carmenere its signature red and a focal point of its streamlined offerings.  In addition to the main event wines, we couldn’t help but test-drive some other intriguing bottles from these producers, as well as a…Canadian Brunello?  Frankly, if you start a tasting premise at “Canadian Carmenere”, why stop there?  Tyler, Ray and I were born for this.  Bring it on. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Moraine Winery Spring/Summer Set

28 06 2019

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

Wine is indelible.  It can leave impressions and fasten itself onto moments or events with surprising, graceful ease.  Show me a bottle or producer that I’ve had before and I will often be immediately taken to the scene where I had it last, even if it was otherwise unmemorable.  In the case of Naramata’s Moraine Winery, the scene already had memories to spare, and every bottle since has carried them back to me.

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My first encounter with the wines of then-up-and-coming Moraine was almost exactly six years ago today.  I remember because Calgary was underwater, as the great flood of 2013 wreaked havoc on the heart of my hometown.  I also remember because I had become a dad for the second time ten days prior, on Father’s Day; the power and energy of the tempests that made the waters rise seem to have imbued themselves in my son Max ever since.  The white, black and red labels of Moraine marked my first return to the blog after Max’s birth.  He just finished kindergarten two days ago.  The wheels of time continue to spin, but our wines mark our occasions.

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Moraine was founded by current owners Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, ex-Albertans who headed west to follow their passion into the world of wine.  Their two estate vineyards, the older and larger Anastasia and the younger Pinot Noir-devoted Sophia, are named after their two daughters; the winery name reflects the glacially deposited rocks that form a key part of the terroir at their Naramata site.  When I first came across Moraine it was in its early stages of life, just finding its way as a new winery.  In this current encounter it is in a different phase of life, and in the midst of a significant transformation:  a new winemaking facility and cellar is being built, a new larger tasting room and hospitality centre has just opened, and as of last year the wines are being crafted by a new winemaker, albeit one who is a familiar face on the BC wine scene.  Dwight Sick, who spent the last decade as the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, came to Moraine just before the 2018 harvest, the final critical piece to this next stage of the winery’s growth and development.  Yet Moraine’s focus still remains anchored in Anastasia and Sophia, and the ever-maturing vines they hold.  I got the opportunity to taste some of Sick’s first Moraine releases, as well as an early single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Sophia, to get a sense of how far Moraine Winery has come. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »





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. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record. Read the rest of this entry »








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