wines of B.C.

By Rick VanSickle

From the Golden Mile Bench in the Okanagan Valley to the cool northern tip of the Naramata Bench, we begin a two-part look at the wines of B.C. with reviews for new wine releases from Culmina, Coolshanagh (top photo), Time, McWatters, Evolve and Hester Creek.

Culmina Family Estate Winery

B.C. wines

Culmina Family Estate Winery is the result of a lifetime of experience in the wine industry for Don, Elaine and Sara Triggs. Having worked in the industry for a combined 40+ years, Don and Elaine began in 2006 with a simple goal: to make the highest quality wines possible from their own family estate on the Golden Mile Bench.

Here’s what we liked from recent releases.

Okanagan wines

Culmina Dilemma Chardonnay 2016 ($34, 92 points) — Such freshness and elegance on the nose of this Chardonnay that went through partial malolactic fermentation. Look for summer apples, pears, integrated spice and chalky/stony minerality with a lemon-citrus lift. It is pure harmony on the palate with a lovely note of elegant spice, swirling minerality, fruits of pear, baked apple, quince and finesse on the finish. A lithe and pretty Chardonnay.

Culmina Decora Riesling 2017 ($21 plus tax, 89 points) — From estate fruit planted on the high-elevation Margaret’s Bench, this has an impressive nose of lime, grapefruit, a floral accent, minerals and a touch of ginger. First impression on the palate is that of minerality and personality with bin apple, lemon, lime and racy, tingling mouth-watering acidity to carry all that goodness to the finish line.

Culmina Susser Reserve Riesling No. 005 ($25 plus tax, 90 points) — This is the fifth in the “numbered series” hailing from the estate’s Arise Bench. It’s made in a light and sweeter “susser” style with a range of lime, grapefruit, wild honey and minerals on the nose. It’s off-dry on the palate with sweet citrus, ginger, dripping in wild honey but all together nicely balanced with racy acidity.

R&D Red Blend 2016 ($23, 89 points) — This moderately priced second label from Culmina is a Merlot-dominated red blend with a nose of rich, fragrant black currants, kirsch, raspberry bramble, tar, black licorice, earth and spice. It’s decadently appointed on the palate with succulent red and dark fruits, great concentration of flavours and added spice, earth and length on the finish.

Coolshanagh Vineyard

Coolshanagh Vineyard farms a select 10-acre site on the rustic north end of the idyllic Naramata Bench. Coolshanagh has been planted exclusively to carefully-chosen Dijon clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, grafted to their ideal rootstocks. The small production is made at the Okanagan Crush Pad by winemaker Matt Dumayne.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2016 ($37, available at orderdesk@okanagancrushpad.com 93 points) — Made by Matt Dumayne at the Okanagan Crush Pad, this is a beautiful Chardonnay from the estate vineyard of the same name on the Naramata Bench. A combination of oak puncheouns and concrete eggs were used for fermentation, with minimal handling, lees stirring and bottle unfiltered and unfined. The nose shows creamy apple, lemon, quince, and elegant spice accents. Such lovely texture and purity of fruit on the palate with creamy, bready pear/apple notes, citrus, minerals and well-integrated spice that’s all lifted by firm acidity on the finish. Just a gorgeous, personable Chardonnay.

Hester Creek

Now well into the 50th anniversary celebrating the old vines at the estate, Hester Creek has just released its top reds including the signature wine at the estate — The Judge 2015.

Here’s what Wines In Niagara liked:

Hester Creek Syrah-Viognier 2016 ($29, 89 points) — An earthy nose with raspberry, pepper, dried herbs, blueberries, violets and spice. It’s quite ripe on the palate and gives rise to roasted herbs, savoury red fruits, black peppercorns and earthy/meaty notes through a lifted finish.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Cabernet Syrah 2016 ($33, 91 points) — An attractive nose of perfumed red fruits, heavily scented black currants, anise, cherry, cocoa, spice and pepper. It’s soft and round on the palate with broad fruit flavours lifted by spice, pepper and meaty notes.

Hester Creek Block 3 Reserve Cabernet Franc 2016 ($29, 91 points) — From the estate’s 50-year-old vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench, the nose is pure and impressive with brambly raspberry, cherry, blackberry, savoury spices, cocoa and subtle earth and fine herbs. Meaty and rich on the palate, it’s a full-bodied Cab Franc with a mouth-filling range of red fruits, spice, herbs and supporting tannins that all nicely integrated right now, but with still room to improve in bottle 4+ years.

Hester Creek Limited Edition The Judge 2015 ($50, 93 points) — This signature wine from Hester Creek sourced from the estate’s oldest vines (some of the oldest in B.C.) is the opposite of restrained and will appeal to lovers of big red wines and will not impress those looking for nuance and (perhaps) balance at this young stage. This is a wine that needs years of cellaring until it approaches any sort of balance. The nose is rich, dripping in generous notes of blackberries, black cherries, black currants followed by caramel spice, toasted vanilla and eucalyptus. It’s a well-structured wine on the palate with a riot of red and dark fruit backed up by plenty of oak spice, bramble, earth and a minty accent on the finish. It needs some aging to polish it all up and round out the wall of thick tannins, but you will be rewarded. Cellar 8+ years.

Time Winery

Time Winery, which is owned by Harry McWatters and his family’s Encore Vineyards, and is the sister winery to Evolve Cellars and the McWatters Collection label, just opened its new winery in downtown Penticton. And to coincide with the opening of Time Winery the Encore Vineyard team announced the appointment of former Black Hills winemaker Graham Pierce as director of winemaking.

With more than a decade of experience producing award-winning wines in the Okanagan, Pierce, seen above right with Harry McWatters and Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, is a local British Columbian who grew up in Horseshoe Bay and received his winemaking and viticulture education from the Okanagan College in Penticton.

“We have been industry friends with Graham for many years,” said McWatters, CEO of Encore Vineyards. 

“It is great to have him join our team. His pedigree of winemaking and knowledge in handling Okanagan fruits will allow Evolve Cellars, McWatters, and Time Winery to continue making exceptional BC VQA certified wines that is a reflection of the land where the grapes are grown and the talented people who craft them.”

We have new wine releases for Time, Evolve and McWatters Collection.

Time Winery

Time White Meritage 2017 ($25, 91 points) — This Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from Harry McWatters’ Time Winery has lovely notes of gooseberry, grapefruit, apple, pear, honeydew melon and integrated spice. It’s has a bright mélange of pear, grapefruit, gooseberry and spice on the palate all kept lively by racy acidity.

Time Red Meritage 2016 ($30, 92 points) — The blend is 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. It has such a nose of elegance and complexity with a range of black currants, cassis, anise, cedar box cigars and spice. It all comes together on the palate with integrated fruit and spice, bright acidity and fine-grained tannins holding it all together through a nice, long finish.

Time Viognier 2017 ($23, 90 points) — An exotically styled Vio with a range of apricot, grilled pineapple, spiced apple and ginger on the nose. It has some weight and viscosity on the palate to go with ripe tropical fruits, grapefruit, honey and ginger with a core of spiced apple pie that benefits from racy acidity through the finish.

Time Riesling 2017 ($25, 88 points) — Redolent in lime, grapefruit, lemon and peachy/apple notes. It shows sweet-tart lemon and lime on the palate with mouth-watering acidity to keep it lively through the finish.

McWatters Collection

McWatters Collection Meritage 2016 ($30, 92 points) — The McWatters label flips the blend around from the Time version with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. It’s quite tight at the moment, but intense swirling/decanting reveals elegant cassis, black currants, blackberries, caramel and oak barrel spice notes. It’s more open knit and evolved on the palate with a lovely mélange of dark fruits, elegant spice, beautiful tannic structure and finesse through the long finish. Great aging potential here, say 5+ years.

Evolve Cellars

Evolve Cellars Pinot Gris 2017 ($17, 88 points) — A nose of peach, cut citrus and fresh apple. It’s quite juicy on the palate with pure orchard fruit flavours and supporting acidity to keep it clean and fresh through the finish.

Evolve Cellars Riesling 2017 ($19, 89 points) — The nose shows lime cordial, peach, floral notes and grapefruit. There’s a nice tug of sweet and tart citrus on the palate with notes of apple and peach that’s clean and fresh though the finish.

Evolve Pink Effervescence 2017 ($20, 88 points) — The blend is pretty much all Pinot Blanc with a touch of Merlot. It pours a frothy mousse and shows a range of attractive red fruits and touch of peach and apple on the nose. The colour is pale amber with a vigorous bead on the palate to go with flavours of cherries, raspberries and stone fruits in a fresh, lively style.

Evolve Frizzante 2017 ($20, 88 points) — A sparkling Gewurztraminer with a low 11% abv and a nose of honeysuckle, lychee, peach, grapefruit and ginger notes with a nice mellow mousse. It’s fruity and frothy on the palate with a tasty melange of citrus, peach, lychee and spice with good zip on the finish.