Burrowing Owl Fall Release Set

12 11 2016

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

Burrowing Owl Fall Release Week is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the Pop & Pour blogging calendar.  The winery is highly engaged with consumers and media alike and  is ahead of the game in terms of finding new ways to get its wines into the collective consciousness, and its renown is expanding well beyond its home province of BC as a result.  When the season’s current releases arrive in Calgary around harvest time, I’m ready to do my small part to spread the word.  Bring on the new vintages!

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A glorious Pop & Pour fall tradition.

Burrowing Owl is an Okanagan Valley stalwart, and it’s become such a ubiquitous part of the region that it’s easy to forget the winery is less than 20 years old.  The story started in 1993, when founder Jim Wyse replanted a series of vineyards between Oliver and Osoyoos in the extreme southern Okanagan.  There were no immediate plans to build a winery, but Wyse’s vision expanded once he saw the quality of the new grapes.  Burrowing Owl’s first vintage was 1997, and construction on the gravity-flow winery and massive underground cellar on the property was completed in 1998.

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 Initially focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris planted on a single 130-acre site, Burrowing Owl is now up to 14 different planted varietals on 170 acres of estate vineyards in three different sites. It is no accident that the winery is named after the rare underground-nesting owl that was declared extinct in British Columbia in 1980 but is now back on the upswing due to the dedicated conservation efforts of a small group of individuals:  Wyse is one of those individuals, having contributed significant amounts of both time and money to the burrowing owl’s preservation.

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Stelvin Rating: 8/10 (Love the colour, love the side pattern and smoothness; not a huge fan of the top embossing.)

 This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a sextet of different bottles from the Burrowing Owl 2013 and 2014 vintages, including return engagements with a couple of wines I had in last year’s releases, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the particularly eye-opening Syrah.  Let’s see how the fall 2016 lineup compared, starting with my introduction to one of Burrowing Owl’s founding whites:  Chardonnay.

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Desert Hills Estate Six Pack

25 04 2016

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

One of the things I love seeing most in Canadian wine nowadays is a renewed sense of focus on locating, separating and promoting quality subregions within an overall wine area, those special geological or climatic zones that yield wines with a distinct character and personality.  Anyone reading this in Europe right now may be incredulous at any such modern quest for discrete sub-terroir, as this process took place in many Old World growing regions up to a millennium ago.  We have a bit of catching up to do, and now we’re doing it.

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This is critical for regions like British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, which currently sees almost all wines coming out of it released under that general appellation name.  If you’ve ever stood in the breeze by the lake in Kelowna in August, and then stood in raging parched inferno of the Osoyoos desert two hours later, you’ll understand why “Okanagan Valley” doesn’t exactly capture any of the nuance of those two highly individual experiences.  Last year saw big news on the BC subregion front, as the Golden Mile Bench, a stretch of slope just west of the highway running from Oliver south to Osoyoos, became the province’s first ever recognized sub-geographical indication, meaning you’ll start seeing that name on bottles released this year in place of (or in addition to) the broader Okanagan designation.

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If you walk east from the Golden Mile Bench and cross the highway, on the other side of the road you’ll find another slope, angled west, with extremely hot days and surprisingly cool nights, where vines grow on highly sandy soils that run hundreds of feet deep and require irrigation to retain hydration.  This is the Black Sage Bench, another obvious BC candidate for subregional distinction and home to some of Canada’s top wineries.  On the southern end of the Bench, nestled between Okanagan luminaries Black Hills and Burrowing Owl, is Desert Hills Estate Winery, a family-run producer founded by the three Toor brothers and focused largely on wines made from their aptly named estate vineyard, the Three Boys Vineyard, purchased in 1989.  The first released production from the vineyard was in 1996, and now, 20 years later, Desert Hills is solidly entrenched in the Okanagan wine world and making a renewed push into the Alberta market. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2013 Culmina Unicus

8 06 2014
There it is:  history in a (classically presented) bottle.  BC Gruner!!

There it is: history in a (classically presented) bottle. BC Gruner!!

In my last post, I celebrated an Old World country’s rich wine history.  In this one, I get a front row seat as a New World country, my own, takes a milestone step towards charting its own course.  I may be a little more excited about this development than is strictly necessary, but I’ve (seriously) been waiting and hoping for this moment for a few years.  Finally, fantastically, Gruner Veltliner has come to the Okanagan Valley.

If you’ve heard of Gruner before, chances are you’re either at least a semi-serious wine person or you’ve been bothered about it before by me.  I adore Gruner, which is the signature white grape of Austria and is rarely found elsewhere; given that Austrian wine doesn’t exactly fill retailers’ or importers’ heads with gleeful visions of dollar signs, there tragically tends to be much less of it around locally than its quality and value would otherwise dictate.  If you’ve never tried a bottle of Gruner Veltliner, it’s sort of like if a Riesling and a Chardonnay had a rebel baby.  It combines the powerful acidity and piercing minerality of Riesling with the luxurious, silky mouthfeel of Chardonnay, then takes a left turn and offers up a remarkable set of spicy, tangy and often downright wacky flavours all its own, from white pepper to rubber boots and elastic bands (all in a good way, I swear).  The result is a sensory experience unlike any other in wine, one that keeps you constantly engaged as you try to figure out what the hell is going on in your mouth.

One of the reasons that I have often thought that Gruner Veltliner might be able to find a second home in Canada is the climatic and geographic similarities between BC wine country and Gruner’s homeland:  northern Austria and southern BC share almost the exact same latitude (48.4 degrees North in Wachau, 49.1 degrees North in Oliver), the same continental climate and high day-night temperature shifts and, in places, similar soils.  Yet until now the Okanagan has churned out every conceivable white grape under the sun, but no GV.  Thankfully, Culmina has come to the rescue.  This new high-end venture from Don, Elaine and Sara Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) is based on a philosophy that combines old-school attention to detail and minimalistic winemaking with new-school scientific advancement, especially as it relates to vineyard mapping and matching grapes to sites based on detailed soil, temperature and exposure analysis.  Check out the details at Culmina’s visually stunning website – they’re fascinating, if you’re the sort of person who finds micro-block mapping and soil pit analyses fascinating (which I am).

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