By Rick VanSickle
It has only been 10 years since the owners of Vanessa Vineyard decided to plant grapes in the extremely rocky terrain of a hillside overlooking the vast and pristine Similkameen Valley in B.C.
By 2012, Vanessa owners Suki Sekhon and John Welson made the risky transition from grape growers to vintners. After ensuring the fruit was of superior quality, they began crafting small quantities of premium red wine from the 75 acres they own in Cawston.
The grapes were planted under the guidance of respected viticulturists Robert Goltz and Richard Cleave. The quantity of rocks on the site initially made vineyard development exceedingly challenging. The rocks, however, are a key asset to the property’s unique terroir, allowing day heat to be harnessed and imparted throughout the cooler nights enabling the fruit to produce distinct flavours and minerality.
“Despite our literal very rocky start a decade ago in planting the land, we’re thrilled with the reception our grapes and wines received right out of the gate,” says Sekhon. “This critical acclaim from competitions and critics, gave us the confidence to proceed with building a tasting room inspired by our strikingly beautiful Valley.”
The new tasting room is a 20- minute drive from Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley and is located at 1090 Highway 3, Cawston. Daily summer hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Co-owner Welson says, that “to produce Vanessa Vineyard wines, we start with 100% estate grown grapes that reflect the unique terroir of our vineyard and then use traditional wine making techniques and blends to produce wines of original character.”
Inspired by the region’s natural grandeur, Vanessa Vineyard’s tasting room is designed to show elegance in its simplicity, incorporating the unique local terrain. A burgeoning appellation, the Similkameen Valley is touted as “the next great Canadian wine region.”
Miles Prodan, President and CEO of the B.C. Wine Institute said at the ribbon cutting for the tasting room in July (the public grand opening takes place Aug. 11): “Over one million tourists will visit British Columbia wineries this year with B.C. wine tourism generating $246 million in revenue for the economy. What’s impressive about these numbers is that most B.C. wineries and grape growers are independent, family-owned farmers like Vanessa Vineyard. It’s exciting to see these small businesses grow and expand to offer visitors a farm-to-glass experience that showcases the wines of the Similkameen Valley.”
From the beginning, Vanessa has been all about super-premium, uncompromising red wines with character and charm that are inherently derived from the terroir of the Similkameen Valley.
This is my second vintage of tasting the wines and I was impressed with the depth of flavour and complexity of the wines, including the new and delicious rosé from estate Syrah and a splash of Merlot.
Here’s what I can recommend from the wines I tasted recently.
Vanessa Vineyard Rosé 2016, Similkameen Valley ($23, 89 points) — A blend of 68% Syrah and 32% Merlot with both seeing limited skin contact with the juice to give the wine its rosy colour. The nose shows a basket of fresh red fruits with a hint of meadow flowers and minerality. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with a range of raspberries, cherries and strawberries and a refreshing and vibrant finish.
Vanessa Vineyard Merlot 2014, Similkameen Valley ($35, 90 points) — The 2014 vintage was perfect in the Similkameen Valley, which saw an early start and a record warm summer with no extreme heat spikes leading to a temperate autumn. The grapes for the Merlot were hand-picked, destemmed and underwent a gentle crush. It’s fermented and barrel aged for 26 months in new and one-year-old American and French oak barrels with medium-plus toast. The attractive nose displays highly aromatic cassis, dark cherries, dark chocolate, plums and fully integrated and elegant oak spice notes. It’s smooth on the palate with fine tannins and elegant structure that reveals earthy dark fruits, dried herbs, currants and fine oak spice that benefits from firm acidity through the silky finish.
Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2013, Similkameen Valley ($35, 92 points) — A smidge of Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah and the wine was aged for 18 months in French and American oak, 60% of which was new. The smoky nose shows an eclectic range of leather, charcuterie then opens up to thick and rich dark fruits, black peppercorns, vanilla and savoury spices. This is serious Syrah on the palate; dark, dense and concentrated with a silky feel. There is an array of fruit flavours — cassis, currants and plums — followed by tobacco, leather, grilled meats and pepper all carried on a bed of fine tannins. Will age gracefully for 6+ years. Fans of Rhone-style Syrah will not be disappointed here.
Vanessa Vineyard Meritage 2013, Similkameen Valley ($37, 93 points) — A typical meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that spends 18 months in American and French oak barrels. The nose shows an intense array of black cherry, raspberry, black currants and interesting and elegant oak spices. It’s nicely balanced and integrated at this point with a smooth delivery on the palate showing equal parts red and dark fruits that are layered and melded to beautifully evolved tannins and spice. This is simply a gorgeous red wine with seamless integration, highly structured, good length and all propped up by firm acidity to give it a long life in the bottle. Cellar 10+ years.